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Miner Recollections
by Bucky Schriver
for The Frostburg Express

A CHILD BECOMES A VICTIM OF THE HALF TURN

 

Alfred Metz

The desperate financial circumstances of the miners in  Maryland's coal mining region in the mid to late 1800’s often made it  necessary for the father to employ his son as his helper in the mines.  The expectation was that an adult miner would produce two loaded coal cars per shift.  If the miner employed his son, he would be entitled to an extra car, since a boy was expected to produce only half as much coal as his father.  Hence, the term "half turn."

Before 1870, data on the number of child miners was highly unreliable.  The Census Bureau’s 1870 report characterized it’s own statistics as "distressingly inadequate."  The Bureau's insistence on  accurate data and the creation of the Bureau of Industrial Statistics in 1885 raised awareness of the plight of child miners. The employment of children in the coal mines gradually diminished. This allowed the boys to finish their education and break the coal miner's cycle of poverty.  In an early report by the Bureau of Industrial Statistics, it was observed that child miners between the ages of 12 and 16 were bright and could read without difficulty.  A passage in the same report also discussed how sad it was to see young boys going down into the mines.  In 1880, one in seven coal miners in Maryland were listed as being under the age of 16.  By 1910, the number had declined to one in thirty five.  This trend came too late, however, for 14 year old Alfred Metz, who was killed in the Potomac Mine in Barton in 1894.                
The Particulars of Young Metz's Death
                (From the Cumberland Evening Times - May 8, 1894 pg. 2)

The particulars of the killing of young Alfred Metz, at Barton, as learned today, are that he went into the Potomac Mine at that place yesterday morning with his father, Mr. William Metz.  At about one o'clock, Mr. Metz with his son, started toward the mouth of the mine with a car of coal.  The car had been piled too high and, catching a cap head, twisted it around, thereby knocking down a prop, which loosened a portion of the roof coal, which fell, and striking young Metz on the back of the head, broke his neck, causing instantaneous death.  Mr. Metz was also slightly injured about the head and shoulders.  Alfred was about 13 years of age and was greatly liked by all of the men in the mine.  A coroner's jury last evening at 5 o'clock returned a verdict of accidental death.         

Alfred Metz's brothers later gained great renown in the George’s Creek area for their baseball prowess.  The Metz Brothers baseball team, based in their hometown of Barton, turned back many worthy opponents in the early 1900s. The team was composed entirely of the Metz siblings.  In an article in the Cumberland Sunday Times in 1955, staff writer Jim Day bestowed upon the team the title "Brothers of the Bat."  Young Alfred Metz never got the opportunity to take his rightful place on the field with the Metz Brothers baseball team. 


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