Magyars in Morgantown

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 31, 2017

Great numbers of Hungarian immigrants came to the United States around the turn of the century. The wave of immigration from 1880 to about 1915 was called the ‘Great Economic Immigration’ for Hungarians, and it drew about 1.7 million Hungarian citizens, among them 650,000-700,000 real Hungarians (Magyars), to American shores.

Hungarian and Slavish Women Cleaning Mattresses, Sabraton, Morgantown, WV, circa 1914.  Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

Hungarian and Slavish Women Cleaning Mattresses, Sabraton, Morgantown, WV, circa 1914. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

These immigrants came almost solely for economic reasons, and they represented the lowest and poorest segment of the population.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 halted mass migration, but by 1922 7,300 Hungarian-born Magyars had found their way to West Virginia. The exclusionary U.S. immigration laws of 1921 and 1924 pushed the Hungarian quota down to under 1,000 per year.

Many Hungarian immigrants came hoping to make money and then return to their home country with enough capital to make themselves into prosperous farmers. Few of them achieved this goal—25% of Hungarian immigrants returned to Hungary—and virtually all of them became unskilled or semiskilled workers in America’s bustling industries.

They were the peons of America’s Gilded Age, who contributed their brawn to American coal mines and steel smelters, and who produced the mythical Hungarian American hero, Joe Magarac, who could bend steel bars with his bare hands. It was they who unwittingly created the negative “Hunky” image of Hungarians, which then was transferred to all of the East and Southeast European immigrants.

West Virginia Mining Laws published in HungarianMichael Bartucz’ story is fairly typical: born in Debrecen, Hungary in 1879, he became a barber in the Hungarian Army, according to his grandson, James Nagy.

When he read in a newspaper that he had been declared dead, he deserted a wife and the army and fled to the U.S. around 1900.

With his uncommon name, he feared that he would be easily found out, so he changed his name to Charles Nagy. He became a coal miner in West Virginia but finally settled in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

Family structure was very important to Hungarian immigrants, and they created close knit communities with their churches and other cultural societies. For example, the Hungarian Evangelical and Reformed Church in Morgantown, WV offered Sunday school instruction in Hungarian between the two World Wars.

Hungarian immigrants were likely victims of exploitation: they were handicapped by language barriers, used to abominable working conditions and were usually willing to take almost any kind of work. Traditionally, Hungarians typically look down on government aid and very few Hungarians ever received handouts.

Some Hungarians, totally unaware of the labor conditions in this country, were brought to the coal mining regions of West Virginia and Virginia as strikebreakers. Much hatred and violence was directed against them because of this.

Új Elore, a Hungarian-language labor newspaper based in Cleveland, published countless short stories and poems, starting in 1921, which conveyed the many hardships endured by Hungarian immigrant laborers. The stories were written about fictional characters, however, they were based on actual incidents related by the immigrants themselves.

Joe Magarac mural, Pittsburgh PAThere were short stories published about the mining towns of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where many of the Hungarians found initial employment. The writings conveyed the degradation of living in shabbily constructed company shanty towns, of having to work underground and breathing the soot and smoke of the mine.

There were many other stories as well: of children who were orphaned due to industrial accidents and of young girls who worked in sweatshops under stifling, unhealthy working conditions for meager wages.



One Response

  • Gábor Szántai says:

    Could you please tell me where can I find information about Hungarians living in Mannington WV ?
    Thank you very much:
    Gábor Szántai

Leave a Reply

− 2 = 6

Most all is in the brod road; you most keep in the narry road.

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 30, 2017

The following are daily notes Great Great Grandfather James Calloway Campbell wrote to his children near the end of his life.  The spelling of words is sometimes peculiarly his, but often times, the seemingly misspelled words are spellings found in the Old Blueback Speller of that time period.

These “dispatches,” as he called them, were found in my Great Grandmother Sally Campbell Vaughan’s possessions after her death in 1936.

—Austin Mitchell, 1993


Noah Webster wrote the spelling guide “The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language” in 1783. It was later called “The American Spelling Book” (1786) and “The Elementary Spelling Book” (1829). It became the basic speller for most schools in the United States. It was known as ‘Old Blueback Speller’ for its blue back cover.

No. 1

March the 28, 1902

Madison Co., Georgia

My dear children and grandchildren

I have concluded to write you a day by day dispatch to let you know that we are yet alive.  I have been sick and have a hard time getting through this winter and not through yet.  I am not well, verry paly, had cole all this winter.  Your ma is well, so that suits me, I can’t do well without her.

They say I am getting old, and I reccon I am.  I can’t get about mutch.  I an’t got mutch to do, I not able to do little, I have hard time doing noting.

Jerusha is getting dinner and that suits me.  I most go out and look around.

No. 2. March 30, 1902-Sunday

I very paly yestaday, it seems I almost got one foot in the grave and the other on land.

Yes, God is taking my tabineccle down, I feel resign to his will.  I also ready.  I am a burden to my self and this world don’t suit me now, its to fast, I can’t keep up, I will try and endure until the end.

Jerusha have been reading the paper, it fell, now she fast asleep.  So the Lord is good He gives us food, sleep and rest.

No. 3. April 1

We are well this morning, thank the Lord for all his blessings.

Jessy and Dory is married, they married brothers, their names is Odis and Joe Die, they are nice young men and well to do.  Jessy stade with us last nite.

Buly Bouhers has a girl, she pade us a visit Sunday.

Jerusha is stepping around verry lite.  Jimmy is going to Athens with a big bail of cotton for her.  She says she is going to kuit farming and rent the place out, so that suit me.

Everry thing is moving on finely.  I am calm and submissive.  I must go out and look around.

Farmers and mules lined up in a Madison County, GA cornfield ca. 1890.

Farmers and mules lined up in a Madison County, GA cornfield ca. 1890.


No. 4 April the 5

We are well by I am broke down.  I work in the garden all day and now I hafter rest, my legs will give out.

My children and grandchildren is so good and kind to us, we can’t do without them.  When I get sick they are standing a round my bed and giving me physic and mush and Milk and heap of good things.  They often bring us things that we haven’t got, so we are thankful for all their kindness.  We ought to be happy, but we are old, our limbs acks, we can’t be happy in this tabineccle.

No. 5. April the 6

I am feeling well, I am at home, I can ly down and get up when I plese.  Jerusha is setting up fast asleep.

I went to se Livona yestaday, they are all well.  I also went to se Cornelia, she gone.  And then I went to see Jessy and she gone, so I return back home.  Home is a good place to stay, but we must go slow, we may fall down.

I have nothing to rite about but foolishness, so I will beg your parden.  So, come see us.

J. C. C.

No. 6 April 15

We are well.  Jerusha says she is going to have a good dinner to day, so you know that will suit me.  I got through planting out my garden, I will hafter ly down and rest.

What have become of Gip and Hatty?  I recon they are looking after their own business, I hear nothing from them.  I note there is nothing pure now, from the pulpit down, every thing is corrupt.  Selfishness and money is all the religin.  Most all is in the brod road.  They say there is no hell fire.  You most keep in the narry road.

No. 7. April the 16

We are hear yet, thank the Lord.

Our town is on a boom, we have too many stores.  Jimmy and Loullen is getting rich, they got a big trade.  I am a fread they will get in the broad road.  Our doctor has several plantations and wants more, I am a fread he will lose his sole.

We have a roly mill and a blacksmith shop and a plain mill.  We have a new court house, it cost twente thousaend dollars.  A good many new houses have been built in the country.

I am content and submissive.  Another good dinner today.

No.8, April 17

Thank the Lord for this beautiful day.

I went a round my plantation, every thing is moving on finely.

I am nearly broke down, will have to rest.

Jerusha is getting dinner, she is verry handy, can’t do well without her.  She has 40 young chicks and a lot setting and wants more, so we aut to be happy

I went to see Cornelias baby, it is so sweet.  Jessy keeps a nice house, she is verry good, she says she has religin, so that suits me.  I love good people espeshily if they love more.

I have wrote enough of this stuff, must go out and look a round.

Yours Truly

J. C. Campbell

This selection has been edited; full version online at:

Leave a Reply

7 + = 14

It looks like a creature from hell, where it must be bent on returning

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 29, 2017

North Carolina is home to at least 48 species of salamanders, and the mountain counties are the most productive with at least 35 species. And among those 35 species is the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), one of only three giant salamanders found in the world—the other two are the Chinese Giant Salamander and Japanese Giant Salamander. The hellbender’s one of the largest salamanders found in the United States. Only the amphiuma, a salamander shaped like an eel, is longer.

According to a Missouri state herpetologist, Jeff Briggler, early settlers thought the hellbender looked like a creature from hell, where it was “bent” on returning, which is how this salamander got its name. In Western North Carolina hellbenders are also called ‘water dog,’ ‘devildog’ or ‘Alleghany alligator.’

hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)During the Middle Ages, people believed salamanders were born from fire, because they observed salamanders scurrying out of damp logs burned for fuel. Consequently, in some languages, the word salamander means “fire lizard.” Leonardo da Vinci wrote that the salamander “has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in which it constantly renews its scaly skin.”

Other early myths about salamanders claimed their saliva destroyed human hair. While salamanders probably did scurry out of damp logs back in the day, they no doubt did so to escape the fire, not to be born from it. Further, salamanders do not lack digestive organs, do not have scales, and do not have saliva that ruins human hair.

Hellbenders are not venomous, though their skin secretions are somewhat toxic (don’t touch your eyes after handling one!). They will bite, but only if they are really provoked. A common myth is that hellbenders will ‘ruin’ good fishing streams by eating all the fish. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, if you see hellbenders in a stream, this is an excellent indication that the water quality is still good.

They feed almost entirely on crayfish, but will also eat small fish, invertebrates, and other hellbenders. The hellbender is a nocturnal animal with poor vision; consequently it relies on touch and smell to catch food. They will scavenge for anything that smells good — this is why they are often caught on fishing lines.

The hellbender’s voracious appetite for crayfish also means that they are very important for keeping a stream’s food chain balanced, and this is good for fish and the entire ecosystem.

Mature hellbenders breathe entirely through their skin. Young hellbenders are born with gills. Gill slits located at the base of the throat replace the gills when the young reach 1 1⁄2 years. The young hellbender is then able to absorb oxygen through its skin.

Because hellbenders rely on the thousands of capillaries found in the fleshy folds of skin along their body and legs to get oxygen from the water, they spend nearly all of their time in fast-moving water where dissolved oxygen is plentiful.

In North Carolina, the hellbender can be found in mountain streams that drain toward the Ohio and Tennessee River systems. Streams noted for their hellbender populations include New River, Watauga River, South Toe River, Mills River and Davidson River.

The oldest known hellbender in captivity was 29 years and individuals in the wild likely live that long or longer. Because they live so long, the removal of adults from the wild can cause populations to dwindle.

North Carolina is fortunate that national forests protect many of the hellbender’s mountain watersheds, yet development in some mountain watersheds threatens its habitat. Stream conditions have been detrimentally impacted by increased urbanization, poor agricultural and forestry practices, and road-building. As these streams are disturbed, sediment builds up and smothers the rocks under which the hellbenders live.

The hellbender’s habitat has also been impacted as more rivers have been dammed. Damming of rivers has converted many of the free-flowing waterways into slow moving lakes no longer suitable for species like the hellbender.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has designated the hellbender as a species of Special Concern. This designation prohibits the taking and sale of hellbenders.


Leave a Reply

6 + = 10

Not much spectacular ever happened on North Fifth. The people just wouldn’t allow it.

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 28, 2017

Parcel post was one year old. The Pennsylvania Railroad ran six crack trains daily, right through the middle of town, headed for St. Louis or New York, not counting a dozen locals to Pittsburgh or Columbus. You stood under the shed of the station, enviously peering into the Pullman diners as supercilious patrons dipped into their soup and stared at you out there in the dark. Some day, you promised yourself, you’d sit in a diner too and stare too.

A nickel bought a shoe shine, a hamburger with onions, a box of Uneeda Biscuit, and a pound of soup beans. A pair of steel-rimmed spectacles from Doc Bougher cost a five dollar bill. Coal was 10 cents a bushel, dug out under the town itself by the High Shaft Coal Company. The best ice cream you’d ever taste, no matter if you lived to be a hundred, cost 25 cents a quart.

The people in 1914 took their politics, religion and their patriotism seriously. The Elks, K. of P.’s, the Masons, and the K. of C.’s were Very Big socially. So was the G.A.R. and Women’s Relief Corps, although their ranks grew thinner and thinner on Decoration Day.

John H. C. Barr Home, Steubenville, OH331 South Seventh Street, Steubenville, OH, several blocks over from where this piece’s author George A. Mosel grew up, typifies the look of the neighborhood he describes.

Thousands, young & old, thought nothing of toiling up Market Street hill to Union Cemetery on foot to hear some windbag froth at the mouth over the bravery of the boys at Gettysburg or San Juan Hill.

Automobiles were still pretty risky things to some people. They hadn’t learned to trust them much. Babies were conceived at home and not on a vacation trip to Niagara Falls or in a Tourist Cottage on the Lincoln Highway. Old folks died home-style. The shades were pulled down in the front parlor and services were held there and not in an antiseptic Funeral Home ten squares away.

The phonograph was coming of age. The little square boxes with the cornucopia horn and revolving disks were going out and “His Master’s Voice” was coming in. At Erwin & Robinson’s, you could squander your hard-earned money on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which had come out back in 1911, or on “It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary”(1912); “Peg ‘o My Heart”(1913). If you wanted to be strictly up-to-date you’d go for the very latest songs, “The Missouri Waltz” or “When You Wore a Tulilp.” The really ‘hot’ record was “The St. Louis Blues.” Harry Lauder’s “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’” was a prime favorite on records.

Home was more than a place where they had to take you in, no matter what you did. Families did things together. They played games, sang songs; they went to church en masse; they fought and argues with one another and they entertained their friends under the family roof tree instead of the country club.

Not much spectacular ever happened on North Fifth. The people just wouldn’t allow it. No big fires, or robberies, juicy divorce cases or scandals that I can recall.

That is not to say life was one soft bed of roses. There were many a heartache back of those austere front doors. Babies died too young and old folks turned into vegetables. A favorite diagnosis of sudden death was “acute indigestion,” known now as a coronary thrombosis. The people were beset by the fears and desperations of a long lingering illness, unemployment, and a poverty-stricken old age, without the modern blessings of Social Security, Relief Checks and free nursing for the aged. Many lived low on the hog.

But they put on a brave face to the world. They “made do,” bearing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with the quiet courage of their forefathers.

from Through a Rear-View Mirror, by an ex-child of the city of Steubenville, Ohio. George A. Mosel, publ. by Hamilton I. Newell, Inc., Amherst, MA, 1963

Leave a Reply

3 + 4 =

He made his boast that he lived here 40 years and had never done any useful work

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 27, 2017

When asked what brought him to this community, Joe Raines said the Lord had sent him here as a pest on the Maynors and Williames for their meanness. That is the only reason Joe ever gave for coming to Cirtsville, WV. However, he came, and once here, he proceeded to make the most of the generosity of the people of the community.

He established a circuit of enough homes that he would spend a night with so it took him two weeks for him to cover his route. If Joe was delayed in making his rounds, the people became worried about him and began to inquire about his whereabouts.

Joe liked to fish and spent many hours fishing in Paint Creek. Next to Dr. Billy Feazell, Joe was said to be the best fisherman to ever fish in Paint Creek. After fishing all day Joe would take his string of fish to the home he was going to spend the night with. He would dress them and give them to the cook to fry for supper.

Cirtsville, WVCirtsville, WV. No date. Collection of Carol Sue (Lively) Beavers.

Joe was always welcome whether he had fish or not. He was not a lazy man and always had some kind of project underway, but it was usually something that was of no benefit to him or anyone else. His first project in the community was a school. There was a small building at the foot of Spruce Mountain that was vacant and Joe took it over for his school. Some of the people paid a small fee and enrolled their children in Joe’s school. A few of them learned to read and write and a little arithmetic. Joe’s school lasted two months. All his pupils were tired of school and quit going, so the Raines School closed.

Joe was the slowest man I ever saw. The method used to speed up someone who was dragging behind was to say: “Come on, you are as slow as Joe Raines.”

Another project Joe tried that was hard work and very little profit was to gather up surplus from the gardens and haul it to Mount Hope and sell it. Then he would take the money he received for the products and buy such items as soda, soap, matches, and other things that the farmers needed and bring them back and sell them to the people who had given him the garden products.

One summer he used a wheelbarrow to transport his products. Another summer he used a small wagon which he pulled himself. Each year in April he would leave Cirtsville and go to Sandlick and spend a month with the Sandlick people, but he would return to Paint Creek by May 1.

Another visit that Joe made every summer was to the Tollison Stover home. This place was on Lick Run of Coal River. The route traveled was to go to the top of Spruce Mountain, then take a footpath along the Lick Run ridge. It was a good half day’s journey for any man, and at the speed that Joe traveled, it took most of the day.

So on this occasion Joe started early in the morning, and it was late afternoon before he arrived. He was tired and hungry. The girls of the family were good cooks and they were all glad to see Joe again. They prepared a good supper for him. Among the things that they had were biscuits, butter, and honey. That was Joe’s favorite food. Joe just could not quit eating honey and hot biscuits, so he overate. A short time after supper he began to feel pain in his stomach. Joe’s remedy for all ills was Japanese oil [ed- this is the liquid portion remaining after the separation of menthol from Japanese peppermint oil]. He is the only man I ever knew that could drink Japanese oil full strength from the bottle. Joe took several swigs of Japanese oil but it did not help.

The pains continued to get more severe so Joe decided to go to a higher power. Joe went to prayer and his prayer was: “O Lord, I need your help. If you don’t help me Lord, I am going to die, Lord, I know you can help me. I know you have the power to help me but the H— of it is, will you.” Joe’s prayer was answered. He recovered from the honey colic but from that time on, he put a limit on the amount of honey he consumed.

Joe stayed with the people of Cirtsville until he became too feeble to make his rounds and he was taken to the poor house at Shady Spring where he died. He made his boast that he lived in Cirtsville for 40 years, and had as much to eat and was as well dressed as anyone else, and had never done any useful work.

Okey R. Stover
Upper Paint Creek, WV
b. 1895
online at

Leave a Reply

8 − = 4

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2017 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive