for The Frostburg Express
by Polla Horn
Two Generations of Clarks
(left) John Thomas Clark Jr. & (right) John Thomas Clark Sr.
Underground mining was a dangerous, dark, and dirty job. Many disliked the work. John Thomas Clark, however, gravitated to the mines, and he loved it. John had a rough start in life. Born on May 12, 1850 in Berkeley Springs, VA, he was an orphan by the age of six. He went to live with the Roland Ravenscroft family in Rawlings Station, MD (now Rawlings) until he was fifteen years old. Striking out on his own, John began working in Lonaconing at the flour mill. He did odd jobs, eventually landing work in the engine room due to his gift for mechanics. Studiously, he acquired the fundamentals of running a stationary engine, and became adept at the task. The Georges Creek Coal Company sent out a plea for an accomplished engineer to work in the Old Coney Mine, and John accepted the position. When the engine was idle, John dug coal. If a driver was needed, he picked up the reins. Later he started working for the McKee-McNitt Coal Company, and was given the title of “all around miner.” John married Mary Jane Platter in 1875, and together they raised ten children. He remained in the mining industry for more than sixty years. In 1929, at the age of seventy-nine, John Clark was the oldest active miner in the state of Maryland, and possibly the oldest in the country. He was still digging coal from 6:30 AM until 3:00 PM every day, averaging three to four tons per shift. He said, at that time, that he liked the mines, and would continue to work as long as he could. For just how long he continued to mine remains unknown. Mary Jane Clark died in 1932, and John followed her four years later, on the day after Christmas in 1936. This hard-working man had run his race and enjoyed the challenge. He and Mary Jane are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.
John had several accidents during his many years of mining. Although he was carried home on four separate occasions, he always recovered and returned to work. His son, John Thomas Clark, Jr., was not as fortunate. John, Jr. was the eldest son of John, Sr. and Mary Jane Clark. He was born December 20, 1885, and was mining coal with his father before the age of sixteen. Like his father, he spent his life in the mines. John, Jr. married Odessa Viola Auvil on April 25, 1942. Five years later, on September 11, 1947, he was severely injured in Mine No. 5 of the Georges Creek Coal Company , mining the Waynesburg seam. John and several other men were taking down roof rock to gain height for the placement of headings and trolley wire. The mine foreman told one of the men to get a rock bar, which John then used to pry the rock down. The foreman turned away to check another part of the mine, and heard a thunderous crash. A piece of rock three feet wide, three and a half feet long and nine inches thick had fallen on John Clark’s head and chest. He was taken to Miners Hospital in Frostburg, where he died the following morning from severe head lacerations, a fractured skull, and a crushed chest. Although Mr. Clark had been a miner for nearly fifty years, he did not surpass his father’s record as the longest active coal miner. John Clark, Jr. and his wife Dessie are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. Both father and son pursued an occupation that others detested. They thrived on hard work, and together they perpetuated a family mining legacy for almost eight decades.
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 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.”