Steelworker Memorial Day set for Monday in Weirton
WEIRTON – Marvin Clifton didn’t go to work expecting to die when he walked through the Weirton Steel Corp. mill gates on an October night in 1999.
But Clifton became the last man to be fatally injured at the steel mill when he was struck by a railroad car that had left the tracks.
Clifton is one of 117 steelworkers who died from injuries received in the steel mill and are listed on a memorial wall where family, friends and steelworkers will gather at 9 a.m. Monday to remember those killed in the plant since 1919.
Lindsay Clifton, a niece of Marvin Clifton, will remember her uncle during the ceremony that will see the names of all the steelworkers read slowly followed by the ringing of a bell.
It is expected to be a solemn and subdued service that will recall Clifton, the husband, father, uncle and co-worker.
Clifton was a brakeman in the mill’s railroad department who reported for the midnight shift.
“The railroad was pushing empty coal cars onto the track near the No. 1 blast furnace when one of the cars came off the track and crushed Marvin against a slag car,” recalled union official Mike Vitello.
“Marvin was a down-to-earth guy who everyone liked. He was a strong family man with a wife and three daughters. I remember going to the funeral home in Richmond. It was a very sad day that I will never forget,” said Vitello.
Stephen Holter, a bagpiper from Youngstown, will play the opening song in the Steelworker Memorial Park and will conclude the service with his slow rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
The audience will hear remarks from USW Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis, ArcelorMittal USA Weirton General Manager Brian James and ArcelorMittal USA General Counsel Paul Liebenson.
Steelworkers and area pastors, Robert Macek and Robert Hoover, will read the 117 names, while Enid Williams and Diana Durst ring the bells marking each name. Mark Apesos of the American Legion will play taps.
“This is the fourth year we have held this ceremony and my heart breaks every time I go to the memorial park and read the names of the fallen. Our goal is to make sure we all remember the steelworkers who were killed on the job here. We are now four companies removed from the original Weirton Steel but we will never forget these men and their families,” stated USW Local 2911 Health and Safety Coordinator Mike Jacobs.
“I encourage the families and friends of the fallen steelworkers to join us at 9 a.m. Monday to remember the 117 men who died from injuries suffered in the mill. The public is also invited to join us Monday morning. We can look at the names on the wall but we also want to remember these men. They were steelworkers with a past and a future that was unfortunately cut short by tragedy,” added Jacobs.
“We are putting in two aluminum benches at the park this year that will allow people to visit the memorial park and sit down. The city of Weirton does an excellent job of maintaining the lawn at the park and we have seen people stop by just to look for a family member’s name,” Jacobs said.
The Weirton Steelworkers Memorial project was started in 2004 by officials of the former Independent Steelworkers Union who hoped to create a memorial park to honor those who died in the mill or as a result of work-related injuries.
Weirton officials donated the corner lot at Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to the project and have agreed to maintain the property.
Lewis Chaney was 21 years old when he died at Weirton Steel.
Chaney was the first work-related casualty at the new steel mill. He wouldn’t be the last.
Sally Stephens of Dover, Ohio, said stories about her grandfather were passed on to her from her grandmother and mother.
“Apparently he and my grandmother got married in Cadiz and then moved to Steubenville by horse and buggy because he was going to get a job in the steel mill,” Stephens related.
A newspaper obituary said Chaney died on April 11, 1919, in Weirton Steel, “from a concussion of the brain due to being struck on the head by a piece of steel.”
Frank Yanocha was the second steelworker to be killed in the plant in 1920, followed by Andrew Kazienko in 1922, and in 1923 Stephen Lamalfa died following a mill accident.
According to Thelma T. (Lamalfa) Kittle, her grandfather came from Sicily in 1909 to work in the new steel company.
“After establishing himself he brought his two sons, including my father Sam Lamalfa, to America. His intention was to bring his wife and daughter as soon as it was possible. But that was not to be. The story told in our family is our grandfather was run over by a Weirton Steel truck while at work on a project. He died in the hospital in Steubenville shortly after the accident,” said Kittle.
Paul Ellis, a 16-year-old son of Hungarian immigrants, died from an accident in the mill’s Machine Shop in 1927.
According to his sister, Margaret Heaton, “Paul was sharpening an ice pick for a family friend when a piece broke off and hit him in the intestines.”
Ellis would die of mastic peritonitis at a hospital in Steubenville three days after the accident.
“My dad was a welder working in the old Strip Steel. In those days the welders carried their welding rods in a metal container hooked to their belts. He was working near some power lines that were supposed to be turned off. His metal container touched the line and he was electrocuted,” recalled Richard Henderson who was 6 years old when his father died in 1937.
Steve Roseberry fell into hot slag in the Open Hearth in 1941 and died from his injuries.
“I remember he was a very handsome and gentle man. I also remember he was killed on a Monday and he was supposed to get married the next Saturday. He was just in his mid 20s when he died,” Virginia Roseberry would cite decades later.
Twenty-year-old Francis Ellek would die in the early morning hours of Sept. 30, 1957, after being crushed by equipment while cleaning numbers on the coke ovens.
“We were engaged to be married and had gone on a date that evening. I dropped him off at No. 1 gate because he was working night turn in the coke plant. After he got out of the car he just stood there for several minutes smiling at me. I finally asked him why he was smiling and he smiled once more and walked into old Weirton Steel Corp. mill,” Estelle Volosin would recall years later.
“There were no ball games with my dad, no father and son talks, no bouncing his grandchildren on his knee. I never really knew my dad. I wanted to give you a little history today. The mill is still a dangerous place today. We assume a risk coming to work. But you assumed a risk when you got out of bed and came here today. My dad and everyone on this memorial wall assumed a risk to take money home to their family. I encourage everyone here today, whether it is at work or at home, to stop before doing a job, look around and listen,” Earl Tuttle said at last year’s ceremony when he talked about his father’s death in the Open Hearth department in 1963.
“We have made our workplace a safer place today. But we must work harder to prevent any more tragic deaths. We constantly look for job hazards and correct the conditions so we all work safe and can go home at the end of our shift,” stated Jacobs.
USW Local 2911 Training Coordinator Nick Butto said he is proud to have been involved with the creation of the Steelworker Memorial Park.
“When I go to the memorial wall and look at the names there I think of all that we have gone through in the mill and the fact we have made it a safer place for everyone,” Butto said.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)