Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

In 1914, Garrett A. Morgan Patents a Breathing Mask

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

In 1914, Garrett A. Morgan Patents a Breathing Mask

Article excerpt

but because his world balks at black men

Garrett Morgan hires a white man to sell

his invention.

Standing before a tent swelling with smoke,

the fake Morgan serves up a sidekick to the crowd.

The real Morgan, masquerading as Big Chief Mason,

dons a canvas safety hood. He plunges into danger,

emerging ten minutes later to applause. Sales are brisk.

Two years later, on a beautiful July night, 31 men

die when a gas explosion traps Cleveland miners

in a tunnel under Lake Erie. Morgan rushes

into the dawn, pajamas yawning against the wind,

breathing masks swinging at his sides.

Mayor Davis tells Morgan, "The city will take care

of you for the rest of your days." Morgan hands out

three hoods, places one over his own head and slips

into the shaft. "Goodbye," the Mayor sighs.

With the weight of the lake pressing down, they stumble

over bodies, immigrant laborers, mainly Irish and Germans

who had, for minutes or hours, crawled along the soft-clayed

belly of Lake Erie, scouring for air.

Morgan and his team drag up the living, but mostly the dead.

In the pockets of the dead are poems and letters. Mothers

writing, Dear boy, I hope your cough is better. …

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