by Bucky Schriver
for The Frostburg Express
The Leptic Family Finds Misfortune in America
Thomas Leptic was born in 1871 in Austria, and immigrated to America in 1891. Thomas' wife, Catherine Leptic, was born in 1884 in Hungary, and came to America in 1901. The couple married later the same year.
Emigrating from this poverty-stricken region of eastern Europe, the Leptics made their home in Lord, (Klondike) hoping to find a better life. Thomas gained employment in the local coal mines. The couple had eight children: Thomas, Jr., Mary, Steven, Andrew, Joseph, Anna, John, and Samuel. By 1918, both Thomas Sr. and his son, Thomas, Jr., were working as coal miners to support the family. In late 1918, the family's good fortune entered into a precipitous decline. During the winter, Thomas, Sr. died of the Spanish Flu. This epidemic killed at least twice the total number of the 18 million soldiers and civilians who perished during the World War. The deadliest pandemic in history, the Spanish Flu killed more people in one year than in the four year duration of the Bubonic Plague epidemic of 1347-1351.
On Tuesday evening, August 17, 1920, 18 year-old Thomas, Jr. was returning home after visiting a friend in Midland. As Thomas was approaching the front gate of his home in the darkness, he felt something brush his head. He instinctively reached up, grabbed onto a live electric wire, and was electrocuted. It was several minutes before he could be separated from the wire. Two years later, on September 11th, 1922, Catherine Leptic lost another young son with the death of 14 year-old Andrew.
On September 27, 1926, 20 year-old Steven was working with George Hausrath,Jr. at the Consolidation Coal Company Mine No. 10 in Eckhart. They were working to widen a room for a haulage way, and had removed the coal from around a large rock. After finishing their lunch at 7:50 pm, Steven and George were sitting under the rock, preparing to shoot it down with dynamite. The boulder, 8 feet long, 24 inches wide, and 20 inches thick, fell without warning, crushing the two young miners. The bodies were removed to the Durst Funeral Home in Frostburg.
Within seven years, a steady progression of tragedies had taken the lives of three Leptic family providers. According to the Cumberland Evening Times on August 18, 1926, "the funeral of young Leptic will probably take place tomorrow. He was the oldest of the children, and the sole support of his widowed mother and younger brothers and sisters." In order to provide for the family, Catherine Leptic worked as a laundress and took in boarders.
The Leptic story is emblematic of the fate of many of the immigrant coal miner families. After leaving desperately poor countries in search of a better life in America, they all, too often, found their life paths blocked by poverty, premature death from disease, and brutal accidents in the underground coal mines. Thomas Leptic, Sr., his wife Catherine, and six of their children (Thomas, Jr., Andrew, Steven, Anna, John, and Samuel,) are buried in Frostburg Memorial Park.
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 the
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.