The Drowning Tragedy of a Disabled Teenager


Brothers Thomas and James Minerd


Likely born with a leg defect, James William Minerd (right) grew into a teen making many friends in the coal mine town of Helen, near what today is Smock, Fayette County, PA. Tragically, his lifelong disability led to his drowning death while at play at the age of 13.

On Aug. 9, 1911, while rafting in the reservoir at the Helen coal mine works, James fell into the water and struggled to rescue himself.  The Uniontown Morning Herald reported what happened next:

In plain view of Mrs. Harry Hassen and her two sons, who made a frantic effort to save him, James Minerd, aged 15, was drowned in the reservoir at the Atlas coke works, Helen, yesterday afternoon at 4 o’clock.  The woman, attracted by the screams of the boys who were bathing with Minerd, ran to the reservoir.  It took but a glance to see the plight of Minerd.  She quickly secured a rope, fastened one end around her waist and the other on the bank and jumped into the reservoir.  Before she could reach the spot where she had last seen the boy he had disappeared for the third time….

The boy, who was the son of Thomas Minerd, a driver in the mines at Atlas, was a cripple and while he and the two sons of Harry Hassen were swimming in the reservoir, Minerd got beyond his depth.  The two boys became so excited that they could not save the drowning boy but their cries brought the Mrs. Hassen to the scene….  Minerd was well known in the vicinity in which he lived and was one of the most popular boys at Helen.

To mark his awful passing, his parents Thomas Watt and Sara “Theresa” (Dowling) Minerd had this photograph produced, showing James seated with his older brother Thomas, possibly the only image of the ill-fated boy. The brother grew to adulthood, spent decades as a coal miner and married Anna DZiak, but never got over the heartache of the loss. The town of Helen, consisting of inexpensive worker-housing built by a coal company, eventually collapsed due to subsidence and no longer exists. Our long-time Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor Reunion-goers may recall the Minerds’ daughter, the late Theresa Charnovich and her family, who attended a number of our annual gatherings and graciously shared memories and photographs for the website.


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