Mary Meyers - life in Lonaconing
Gail Herman: So when you were a little girl, and your grandfather or your father, either one, worked in the mines, what do you recall as the ritual or the events that would be preparation for going, or the things that happened when they returned at night?
Mary Meyers: Well, my mother always packed my father's lunch before he left to work. He had a lunch bucket. It was a tin bucket, round, cylinder. And he had tea in one section. There was a little one too, with a top had a little pan with the tea in it and then his sandwiches and pie usually, cake, usually pie, they had underneath. And often my oldest brother and I used to walk and meet him on his way home from the mine and he always saved something for us in his lunchbox. We thought that was great. But, it had the oddest taste, because it had, I can still know how it tastes. It was had been in the coal mine all day, way in the heart of the mountain somewhere. And just from that it just had a different taste.
But Daddy always had a garden and he would work in the garden and I think that relaxed him. But I don't know how he did as much as he did working long hours as he did then come home. He must have been tired, but he always had a garden. He always raised enough vegetables to keep up through the year, because he put his hill where he'd keep potatoes, carrots, and so on, all winter, and dig those out. Yes, indeed.
This town is a little different from a lot of the mining communities because most of the families owned their own homes. There weren't a whole lot of mining company houses and this made a difference in their lives because when there was a strike the men didn't go and look for work elsewhere. Their homes were here. They owned their homes. Their family was here and they just didn't feel free to go and they didn't want to go. So they would wait out the strike here until it was over and then they would go back to work in the mine. Meanwhile, they would do whatever they could. Whatever talents they had, they would shoe horses or raise vegetables or do anything they could.
Then later on in 1907 the silk mill opened, and that's across the creek here. And the women would work there, so they would, that would help with the family finances, and the wives and daughters got jobs in the silk mill when they could, while the men worked in the mines, 'cause sure weren't many jobs for women. 'Course most, I would say most, women didn't work in the silk mill because they all had large families.
All of the people I knew had large, maybe eight or ten children in the family. My mother and father had seven children who lived and one died as an infant. My grand, my daddy's family had ten children, four boys and six girls. My mother's family had six, then Mother was the youngest and her mother died when she was just a few weeks old. So there were no more children in that family. But that was the way it went here.
GH You mentioned a strike or strikes.
MM There were a number of strikes.
GH Do any stick out in your mind?
MM Now I was just a young child and all I knew was that it was a strike. I didn't know too much about it. My older brother would know because he was very interested in unions and he knew the whole history of that.
But at one time this was a very bustling town when the coal mines were working well. It was once larger than Frostburg. And it was a busy town. There were always people on the streets and the stores stayed open on Saturday nights. The farmers would come in from all around and everybody went downtown on Saturday night. And people, women with baby carriages, it was a great time to get together. And they would talk and they would shop and they would have a drink maybe. It was really a very social time.
GH Now when you say "town," is it the part where Marshall's is now?
MM Yes that was the main street, I guess, that was the main street.
GH What do they do down there at night? You said that this was bustling and …
MM Well, we had a lot of stores. They did a lot of shopping. We had a number of department stores. You could buy anything you wanted in Lonaconing at that time. That's not true now, but then you could, had, stores was just had shears, some had hats, some had jewelry and then there were a number of department stores that sold everything. You could buy yard goods and men's and women's clothing, household things. And then they had hardware stores. Just had everything.
And this went on until the time of the Depression I guess mostly, because then there was no work here and people had to go away. The younger people had to leave to get jobs. 'Bout the only thing we could do here was women were teachers and nurses, secretaries and then when the plants come in, like Celanese and the Westvaco, pulp and paper mill, and the Kelly-Springfield, so people got jobs there. Then there was a glass factory in town. Quite a few of the men got jobs there.
But, as the young people came out of school there was nothing for them to do and they just went elsewhere to work. So now, we have a lot of retired people in town, we have a lot of elderly people.
GH: Most of them worked at one time or another in the coal mine or most of them?
MM: At one time, almost, well most of the people, men, did work in the coal mines.
Mary Meyers, Gail Herman
"In the bean hole" is from John Collier Jr's photograph: Montour no. 4 mine of the Pittsburgh Coal Company. Near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1942. It is used with permission of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico.
In 1941 to 1943, Collier worked as a photographer with the Farm Securities Administration and the Office of War Information under Roy Stryker and documented many areas around the eastern U.S. More information is available at The American Image - the Photographs of John Collier, Jr.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980