by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
John Henry Lapp
Charles Dickens’ novels were often based on an orphan who suffered an impoverished childhood and endured hardship. John Henry Lapp’s story could have been written by this author. John was born in Corriganville, MD on May 27, 1882, the son of Phillip and Anne Elizabeth (Everline) Lapp; he was one of seven children. When John was six years old, his family was stricken with typhoid fever. His brother Andrew, age 13, died November 15, 1888. Four weeks later, on December 17, typhoid claimed the life of his mother. Eleven days later, on December 28, the dreaded disease took the life of his father. Death struck again on January 25, 1889 taking the life of his nine year-old sister, Mary Elizabeth, just 16 days shy of her tenth birthday. Half of the family was wiped out within seven weeks. Five orphans survived: 12 year old Conrad, 6 year-old John, 5 year-old Barbara, 3 year-old George, and 1 year-old Phillip.
Unlike Dickens’ orphans, these children were not left to fend for themselves; they had family who loved and cared for them. John, Phillip, and possibly George went to live with their paternal grandmother, Mary Elizabeth (Stiehl) Lapp, in Ellerslie. Mary was the widow of Heinrich “Henry” Lapp, who died in 1867. Both Mary and Henry had been born in Hessen, Germany, and immigrated around 1851. John’s other siblings, Barbara and Conrad, went to live with an aunt and uncle, Jacob and Annie Matthews, and their three children, who also lived in Ellerslie.
In 1900, John Lapp was working in a stone quarry, helping to support his grandmother and younger brother. Four years later, on April 28, 1904, he married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kroll in the Salem United Church of Christ. John and Lizzie set up housekeeping at 51 Cemetery Road in Frostburg; they became parents of seven children. Perhaps it was the circumstances of his life that made John so passionate about keeping his own family together; he and Lizzie remained in the house on Cemetery Road, surrounded by many families of Lapps and Krolls. John was a hard working coal miner, but he made some time for fun. According to a newspaper article, he was the leader of the Ort Orchestra (named for his mother-in-law’s family.) Other members of the orchestra, which played at local functions, included Lizzie’s brothers Conrad, John and Herman.
On May 7, 1929 John Henry Lapp’s life ended in Bowery Furnace Mine No. 2 in Midlothian. He was fatally injured when the motor car in which he was riding crashed. He died from a fractured skull and internal injuries at Miners Hospital at 7 PM, twenty days before his 47th birthday. The Lapp and Kroll families reached out, as they always had, giving Lizzie and her children emotional support. Lizzie died in 1945 and was buried with John in Frostburg Memorial Park, at the end of the road where they had lived.
Writer’s note: This is the neighborhood in which I grew up during the 50’s and 60’s. Lizzie’s brother Conrad Kroll had opened a grocery store in 1903. When I was a child, Conrad’s children, John and Julia, ran the store. I remember buying bread there for 12 cents a loaf, and getting a bag full of candy for a few pennies. The East End Playground was just out the alley from my house. We had to walk past Lapp’s house, where John’s son Dick lived. Dick, or his wife Margaret, could be counted on to pass out candy to all the children walking to the playground. Dick’s garage was the favorite gathering spot in the neighborhood for all the men and young boys who were interested in motors and transmissions. There was never a lack of love, caring, or sharing in that neighborhood---perhaps it was passed down from Grandma Lapp, who had taken in her orphaned grandchildren, or from Conrad Kroll and his children, who made sure we got plenty of love in our bags of penny candy.
I would like to thank Eileen Beal White, Conrad Kroll’s granddaughter and a former East-End playmate, for helping with this “Recollection.”
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of a bronze statue to honor all our Georges Creek and Jennings Run Valley coal miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at email@example.com
Bucky Schriver at firstname.lastname@example.org
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”