by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
There have been many studies done on twins to determine the effects of “nature versus nurture.” Twins bond instantaneously; they share life’s experiences and respond in similar ways.
Peter and Paul McNerney, a set of twins born in Ireland in June of 1872, were almost inseparable for 24 years. In 1896, Peter left Ireland to find fame or fortune in the United States, leaving his brother at home. He sent for Paul a year later.
The brothers lived in Pennsylvania for a short time before relocating to Ocean, in western Maryland. They boarded with Philip McMahon and his wife, Mary Ann. The McMahon home was already bursting at the seams with ten “mostly-grown” children, a son-in-law, and an infant grandson. This good Irish family graciously squeezed in two more of their fellow countrymen. Peter and Paul soon became a part of the McMahon family. All the men living in the McMahon home worked at Ocean Mine, where Philip McMahon was the mine boss.
Ocean Mine was a slope mine, situated on the C&P Railroad. It was the first mine in the big vein where mining machines and air locomotives were used for digging and removing coal. Working conditions, except for being damp, were considered to be good. According to the Annual Report of the Mine Inspector, “Mine foreman, Philip McMahon, always rectifies any defects immediately after being brought to his attention.” The mine employed 440 men---two of whom were the McNerney twins.
Around the first week of May, Paul McNerney caught the train to Frostburg, visited the Hitchens Brothers store, and purchased a steam ship ticket to Ireland to visit relatives. His departure date was June 1st. He was on top of the world as he headed back home to Ocean.
On May 18, 1901, he and Peter headed for work discussing his upcoming trip. The green of the surrounding mountains reminded them of their native Ireland adding an element of excitement to the journey.
Paul was killed that afternoon as he was walking in the main heading; he was overtaken by a trip of empty cars that ran over him, crushing him to death. He died in a black hole, a daydream away from the emerald green fields of Ireland.
Paul’s funeral was held at the Midland Catholic Church just two weeks prior to his planned trip home. We don’t know where Paul is buried, although we do know that most of Philip McMahon’s family is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Frostburg.
How sad for Peter McNerney to have lost the twin brother he loved so much. With every glance in the mirror he was reminded of his brother Paul. Psychologists say that the remaining twin becomes “a living, breathing memorial for their lost half.” Our research has not uncovered what became of Peter. We’d like to think that he used the purchased ticket to return to his native Ireland.
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.
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.”