Editor’s note: Each week “Miner Recollections” will spotlight Georges Creek coal heritage, and the sacrifices made by those who mined it, by drawing upon biographical sketches, family narratives and historical research.
Accidental death in the coal mines had a devastating effect, particularly when the miner was a husband, father and provider. A mining family’s fate often took many unexpected and unfortunate twists and turns; the case of Raymond Furr was no exception.
Raymond was born on Dec. 8, 1887, in Loudoun County, Virginia, to Clinton and Catherine Furr. Raymond made his way to the Western Maryland area in early adulthood and found employment as a brakeman on the tram line at the Piedmont and Georges Creek Coal Co.’s Washington No. 5 Mine near Westernport. On Feb. 23, 1909, Raymond married Westernport native Nellie Mansberry in Mineral County, West Virginia. Nellie, born in Westernport on Aug. 8, 1891, was the daughter of Stephen Andrew Mansberry and Charlotte May “Lottie” (Patrick) Mansberry.
In April of the following year, Raymond and Nellie’s first child, William Furr, was born. Unfortunately, little William lived for only five months. The following year, the couple celebrated the arrival of a baby girl, Pansy Mae Furr.
When Raymond reported to work at Washington No. 5 on Feb. 24, 1912, it was a given that he was looking forward to his little girl’s first birthday party, just eight days away. Washington No. 5 was not operating on that fateful Saturday, so Raymond and several other men were asked to clean up the roads by removing dirt from the mine. Several mine cars were loaded and taken to the dump site at the dirt tipple. Dirt from the first car was dumped into the chute with no problem, but dirt from the second car became stuck in the chute, which prevented them from dumping more cars. Raymond and several of his fellow miners took the two empty cars and reloaded them, hoping that dumping another car would dislodge the dirt that was stuck in the chute. As the men were in the process of dumping, the trestle collapsed, sending the men tumbling 15 feet to the ground below. Raymond’s three co-workers suffered only minor injuries, but 24-year-old Raymond was not so fortunate. After he fell to the ground, one of the mine cars came down on top of the young miner, resulting in his immediate death. Raymond was laid to rest in Philos Cemetery in Westernport. Nellie Furr would commemorate her daughter’s first birthday as a widowed mother with no means of support.
In 1913, Nellie married John William Shipe in Westernport. The following year, the couple celebrated the arrival of their first child, John Washington Shipe. Within the next eight years, John and Nellie would welcome the arrival of two more sons and a daughter.
In 1917, for reasons unknown, Nellie relinquished custody of her 6-year-old daughter Pansy to her cousin, Florian A. Patrick. On Aug. 27, the paperwork was filed to transfer guardianship. Several months prior, in May 1917, Florian’s father, Marcus Anderson Patrick, was found floating in the C&O Canal near the Allegany County Fairgrounds. He had been missing from his Westernport home for nearly a week. No marks were found on the body, and the mystery of his death was never solved. Mr. Patrick, a prominent citizen, was president of the 1st National Bank of Piedmont, the Piedmont Grocery Co. and the 1st National Bank of Lonaconing. The adoption of Pansy by Florian Patrick was apparently never consummated. Pansy was raised in Westernport by her maternal grandparents, Stephen and Lottie Mansberry.
Over the years, Raymond Furr’s widow, Nellie, and his daughter Pansy both discovered that the twists and turns of such a tumultuous life were difficult to navigate. In August 1954, Pansy was living near Morgantown, West Virginia, when her short and difficult life came to an end. Cause of death according to the death certificate was coronary disease. Forty-two years after Raymond Furr’s fatal accident at the Washington No. 5 Mine, Pansy Furr Day was reunited in eternal rest with her father and her maternal grandparents in Philos Cemetery.
Nellie and John Shipe eventually divorced. By 1940, Nellie was living in California, married to Oregon native William Newby Ladd. Nellie’s long journey came to an end in 1969. Her last place of residence was Isleton, California. She was laid to rest beside her husband in the Rio Vista Odd Fellows and Masonic Cemetery, 40 miles south of Sacramento.
“Miner Recollections Volume One 2018” is a compilation of the first 100 Recollections and includes the growing list of miners who perished while mining Georges Creek Coal. Proceeds support the installation of a life-sized bronze statue and the educational landscaping that will surround it. Books are available at Armstrong Insurance in Frostburg or by contacting Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bucky Schriver at email@example.com.