by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
Most of the miners killed by a fall of roof coal or rock were killed by tons of debris. Robert “Bobby” Sturtz was killed by a mere 25 pounds of coal.
Bobby, born in Wellersburg, PA in 1931, was the son of Walter Sturtz and Edith Porter Sturtz. He was the last child welcomed into the family of three boys and two girls.
He attended school with his siblings in Meyersdale, PA, but like most boys, he would rather have gone huntin’ or fishin.’ His father was a farmer as well as a coal miner, and Bobby spent his summers working on the farm.
His eighteen year-old brother Elwood was listed as a “new worker” in the 1940 census. As soon as he was able, Bobby also joined the work force, digging coal with his brother and father.
On Tuesday, August 19, 1947, Bobby and Elwood went to work in the Michaels Mine, a small fuel mine near Mount Savage. The two young men were the only ones working that day. Bobby had fired a shot in the coal seam, which knocked down about one ton of coal. He and Elwood had started to shovel the load into a mine car, when Bobby noticed some coal dribbling from the roof. When he walked closer to the 44 inch face to get a better look, a piece of coal fell and hit him on the nose. He grabbed his handkerchief out of his pocket and held it to his nose to stop the bleeding. He and Elwood walked out of the mine. Mr. Michaels, the mine owner and operator, took the boys to Miners Hospital in Frostburg at 1:50 PM. Bobby was examined and admitted to the hospital, where he died at 1:55 AM on August 20th, twelve hours after the accident. Because of the unusual circumstances, Bobby’s remains were examined by Dr. H.V. Deming, the county medical examiner. The piece of coal which hit Bobby in the head was the cause of multiple facial fractures. Among the injuries he suffered was a fractured skull. Death resulted from an intra-cranial hemorrhage. Sixteen year-old Robert L. Sturtz was buried on August 22nd in Cook Cemetery, near Wellersburg.
After examining the mine, the inspector noted that only 25 pounds of loose rock had fallen from the roof; the largest piece did not weigh more than five pounds. He described the roof as “cropy and soft” and said more timbers should have been used to support it. Just 70 years ago, a small amount of coal fell a short distance and killed a teenager; a tragic example of the danger our ancestors faced while mining coal.
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.”