After Elijah “Lucky” Miller passed away Oct. 12, 2010, at age 104, I went to the Tunie Funeral Home in Homestead to pay my respects. On the way, I stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken in West Homestead to pick up a few drumsticks (original recipe), just as I had the last time I visited him in the nursing home. I’m not sure why. It just felt right.
His daughter, Ruth Hines, and her husband Joe laughed when they saw the KFC bag in my hand. As I met some of Lucky’s relatives and friends, I watched a video interview of him when he was 99, talking about the Negro Leagues and his life. Documentary makers Peter and Per Argentine had used only a 10-second clip from the interview in their short film, “Something To Cheer About,” that runs continuously at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. But their 40-minute interview was what inspired me to do my own interview with him.
Not having seen it in a couple years, I had forgotten how sharp he was, recalling details of conversations and incidents from 60 years earlier. No wonder I had wanted so much to meet him!
I wasn’t able to get to his homecoming service, but I heard it was beautiful, with his friend Leroy Gilliard singing the gospel song “Hallelujah ‘Tis Done,” Lucky’s favorite.
A few days later, after my Next Page article, “Lucky & Me,” appeared in the paper, I got a phone call from Bill McCallister of Whitaker, who had worked with Lucky at the U.S. Steel Homestead Works. He had been supervisor in the mill’s metallurgy department and saw Lucky at least once a day, when he stopped to pick up metallurgical samples or deliver them to the lab. Bill is in his early nineties now but he had a very clear memory of overhearing Lucky talking to someone one day when the mill was down and the lights were low:
“He said: ‘You ghosts, I’m not gonna bother you so don’t you bother me.’
“We had ghosts everywhere in the mill. Every division had a ghost. A woman, Mary, was the ghost of the 45-inch mill. Usually, they were people who had died in that part of the mill. I’m not sure what her story was,” Mr. McCallister said.
When I spoke to Ruth and told her the story, she laughed and said she remembered her father talking about ghosts in the mill. I decided to add the story to the book. I had been struggling with an ending. Now I had one.