by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
The Muir Family's Gauntlet of Tragedy
John Muir and his wife, Mary (Craig) Muir, were married in their native Scotland. They immigrated to America in 1852 with their two sons, four year-old Michael and one year-old William Craig Muir. After a month-long journey on a crowded ship, the couple eventually settled in the town of Lonaconing. John supported the family by applying his coal mining skills acquired in his native country.
Young William found his bride and married Miss Elizabeth Robertson in Lonaconing on September 24, 1874. William and Elizabeth spent the first 25 years of their marriage in Lonaconing. The marriage produced a large family of seven boys and five girls. By 1899, the family was living in a house that they built near Clise's Distillery on Paradise Street in Midland.
On February 18, 1899, a series of tragedies began that took the lives of four of William and Elizabeth's sons. John Muir, a miner employed by the Consolidation Coal Company, was with several other men at William Bowden's tailor shop on Jackson Street in Lonaconing. Matthew Jones, a miner employed by the Maryland Coal Company, appeared outside of the tailor shop with a .32 caliber Winchester rifle. Jones claimed that one of the men had taken five dollars from him, and demanded that the men come outside. Muir was the first to come out. Muir rushed Jones, and Jones stepped back and fired…striking Muir behind the ear. John Muir died several hours later.
On December 1, 1906, William and Elizabeth Muir's second-oldest son, David R. Muir, died from typhoid. David had moved to the Pittsburgh area and had returned with typhoid. He recovered, but contracted it once again. This time, the disease proved to be fatal. David was reportedly one of Midland's most popular young men, and his premature passing greatly shocked the community.
Tragedy struck the Muir family again, on Friday, June 3, 1913. William Craig Muir, Jr. was crossing the tracks of a B&O rail siding at Banning, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where he had been working for some time as a coal miner. Muir’s foot got caught in a switch frog, and in spite of his frantic efforts to extricate himself, he could not dislodge his foot from the rails before an approaching freight train struck and killed him. William Muir, Jr. was only 28 years of age. His body was returned to Western Maryland on the Georges Creek & Cumberland Railroad, and he was buried in the Old Coney Cemetery.
Hugh Muir and his brother Gordon descended into the Ocean No. 1 Mine, north of Midland, on Tuesday afternoon, March 11, 1930, to begin work on the 2nd shift. As they entered the mine, they encountered Charles Owens, who was just finishing his stint on the day shift. Owens warned the two Muirs of a slide that at 2 p.m. that afternoon had knocked out a stringer bar. (A stringer is a narrow vein of coal that overlies a rock mass. The stringer bar supports the stringer so that miners can work the area safely.) Owens warned the Muirs that the place needed to be watched. At 9 p.m., the Muirs had removed two cars of rock and had set the stringer bar back in place. As the two were roughing the rock on the left side of the face in order to set a prop under the stringer, the rock fell, knocking the stringer bar out again. Hugh Muir was killed instantly, buried by five tons of rock. His brother Gordon Muir escaped injury. From the posture and location of Hugh Muir's body, it appeared as though he was trying to escape the rock fall, but his exit was impeded by the presence of the mine car.
In the official accident report, the Maryland Bureau of Mines advised against using chains or bars to support stringers, recommending that timber jacks be used instead. It was also advised that flashlights be provided for more accurate inspection of high places. A note at the end of the 1930 Bureau of Mines Accident Report, highlighted by an asterisk, said that "timber jacks are now in use." Too little, too late for Hugh Muir.
Hugh was a Navy veteran of World War 1. He was also a member of both the Georges Creek Valley Lodge of the Masons, and the Junior Order of Mechanics. The funeral was held at the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in Midland, with the Reverend Dr. U.S. Wright and Joseph W. Young officiating. Hugh Muir left behind a grieving widow, Marie Catherine (Winter) Muir, and a 1-1/2 year-old daughter, Eleanor Jane Muir. Eleanor retired from Memorial Hospital, where she worked as an LPN in the Surgery Department. She passed away on June 19, 2007, the last member of her immediate family.
William Craig Muir, Sr. and his wife Elizabeth were faced with the grim task of burying a son in 1899, 1906, 1913, and again in 1930. William, Sr. died in 1933, followed by Elizabeth seven years later. They are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lonaconing.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of a bronze statue to honor all of our coal miners and name those who died while mining. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
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