by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
John Edward Cosgrove
By the age of 61, John Edward Cosgrove had spent most of his life underground. The newly enacted Social Security Act was like the brass ring on a merry-go-round. In just four years he could grab the ring and retire. His allotment would be a paltry sum, but it would allow him to see daylight in more ways than one. The new program was enacted in the throes of the Great Depression as a means of supplying a steady income for retired workers aged 65 and older. Financing for the program was to be generated from a payroll tax imposed equally on the employers and employees. Benefits were initially paid only to the retiree; there were no benefits for dependent family members. The act was amended in 1939 to include surviving spouses and children.
John Cosgrove, killed in a mine accident in 1938, was too young to get a single payment. John was born in Maryland on August 22, 1876 to Martin and Catherine (Connolly) Cosgrove, Irish immigrants. The Cosgroves and their six children lived in Lonaconing, where Martin was a locomotive engineer. Catherine had three sisters living nearby, and when they came to visit, the four siblings would sit on the porch and reminisce about Ireland, and the family and friends they had left behind. Many a tear was shed over the lace they were making. Catherine could neither read nor write, but she often dictated letters to be sent home, always anticipating---with excitement--- the reply.
Two letters sent to Ireland were edged in black; the first in 1892, telling about the death of her husband, Martin, Sr. The second letter was written eight years later in 1901, describing the death of her son, Martin, Jr., who was killed at the age of 28 in a train collision in Pocatello, Idaho. Martin, Jr., like his father, was a railroad engineer. He was covering a run for his sick cousin when his train collided with another. Engineer Cosgrove, his fireman, and his head brakeman had no time to jump from the train. The brakeman was run over and died instantly; Mr. Cosgrove and his fireman were caught beneath the wreckage, but managed to free themselves. According to the Idaho Daily Statesman, Cosgrove had been “caught in the wreckage in such a way that the escaping steam literally roasted him.” He died soon after arriving at the hospital. Catherine continued writing to her Irish family, celebrating with them the marriage of her son, John, to Annie Wagner in 1903.
John, choosing a different career path than his father and brother, became a miner. John and Annie had three daughters: Katherine, born in 1903; Leonarda, in 1906; and Bernadette, in 1908. John had grown up in a household where neither parent could read or write, and he knew the importance of a good education for his daughters. He wondered how he would educate them on a miner’s meager wage. Somehow he was able to enroll all three in Frostburg State Normal School No.2, and they became teachers. Catherine (Fahey) taught at Jackson St. School in Lonaconing and at Bruce High School; Bernadette (Determan) taught at Little Orleans, Hammond Street School in Westernport, and at Luke School; Leonarda (French) taught in Hancock and Hagerstown.
John continued to work, and perhaps life got a little easier for him and Annie. The brass ring was within reach, only four years left to toil underground… and then the unthinkable happened. On January 29, 1938, the veteran coal miner was crushed and suffocated under a heavy fall of coal and rock in the Castle Mine. His buddy, Thomas McCormick, was caught under the fall and rescued with only superficial bruises to his legs. Both men had more than 40 years of mining experience and were considered to be experts in timbering. While engaged in timbering the roof and laying stringers (crossbars) a stringer in another section became dislodged, striking John on the head and causing the roof to collapse.
A requiem mass was held for John at St. Mary’s Church celebrated by Rev. James C. Murphy. He was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Westernport, and was joined there by his wife Annie in 1943. John and Annie Cosgrove worked long and hard without ever realizing the benefits of the Social Security Act. However, they were able to provide a better future for their children… and that’s what parents of every generation strive to do.
The committee would like to thank to Bill Determan and Kay Menees for sharing the legacy of grandfather, John Edward Cosgrove.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all of our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”