JOHN SHELL, Jr.
The following story was written by Roy L. McCardell and published in the Frostburg Mining Journal on March 18, 1893.
The Wraith on Fourteen Hill- A True Story of Hoffman Mine
"John Shell built himself a home on top of Old Pompey mine. He worked, saved and was contented. His two boys, John, 18 and Earnest, 16, worked in the mine, also. Earnest worked with his father, while John drove a mule and made a man’s wages. Old Pompey didn’t amount to much as a mine. To bring the empty cars from outside and take out the loaded ones was an easy task for John Shell, Jr. His father and brother dug coal in the day time and John drove cars in and out of the mines from 6 PM until 3 AM. One night he took out four loads from Tom Higgins and Pat Blake in Higgins heading and did not come back. After a long wait, the men went out to see what was the matter. They found John at the bottom of Fourteen Hill. The mule and the four loaded cars were piled on top of him and he was dead.
It was a natural thing, that after the first grief had been deadened, that Willy Shell, fourteen, should be taken from school and get his half turn digging with his father. Earnest took his dead brother’s place and drove for the night shift. Nine days after his brother’s death, Earnest took out the four loaded cars and never came back. The night shift men didn’t wait long before they went to check on Earnest. A sigh of relief came from the men when the bottom of Fourteen Hill was free of wreckage and coal. They returned to the mine and saw two mine cars, a mule, Earnest with his father and mother, and the boy was weeping. The face of John Shell, Sr. was grave and pale as Ernest told his story.
“I was riding on the front car and had hollered “Steady” to the mule to slow, when we reached the top of Fourteen Hill, I raised up to jump aside and put down the first brake, when I saw my dead brother standing between the hitchings and the third and fourth cars. He jumped down and I hung on, trembling, to the front car, and then he threw down all the brakes, got three sprags in on the wheels on the other side and jumped back just as we plunged over the top of Fourteen Hill. I shut my eyes and prayed, and when we slowed up at the bottom I had courage to look. But my brother was gone.
“But with his mangled hands, I saw him do my work for me and brake and sprag on top of Fourteen Hill.”
When the men checked the sprags and brakes they saw marks of bloody fingers on them. The next day John Shell’s body was moved to a different burial site and the coffin was opened.
Although the body had been loving[ly] prepared for burial there, on the washed and mangled hands, were traces of coal dirt that showed where the dead hands had spragged and braked the loaded cars on top of Fourteen Hill."
The Coal Mine Memorial Statue Fund is gratefully accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial at the crossroads of Rt.36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor our George’s Creek Valley miners, and name those who perished while mining. Tax deductable donations can be mailed to the Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF, P.O. Box 765, Frostburg, MD
The committee has researched the above story. However, we realize that old sources were not always accurate. Dates and spellings of names may not be correct.
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