Saturday, September 29, 2007


Today I received an email message from John Bolton, M.D., a Southwest Virginia expatriate living in California. Much of his family remains in the St. Paul/Castlewood community which straddles the border between Wise and Russell Counties. I have reprinted below what Dr. Bolton has to say about the electric plant which Dominion Power proposes to build in Wise County. I welcome any opinions or insights about this hugely important issue, which will affect the region for generations to come.


The rape of Appalachia began in the late 1800's when wealthy entrepreneurs bought up the area's mineral rights for 25 cents or less per acre. This was possible after they had bribed the state legislatures to authorize the new "broad form" deed which allowed the mineral rights to be sold separately from the surface rights. It was only after this that the railroads were built, and the mining of Appalachian coal began.

The shaft mines employed thousands of miners and brought prosperity to the area, a prosperity which peaked in the 1950's. One after the other, the shaft mines began closing. Today, only a few remain active. Now, strip mining and mountain top removal mining allow wholesale destruction of the environment while employing only a handful of workers to harvest the exposed coal seams.

Unless citizens protest, the rape of the land will continue with unchecked strip mining, little or no restoration of stripped areas, mountain top destruction, holler fills, polluted water, and polluted air. My hometown of St. Paul, VA, could be be choked by rock and coal dust from thousands of trucks carrying waste coal from the old shaft mine gob piles in Russell County through the center of the town to the Virginia City plant two miles away.

If you think that having a coal fired power plant next door to your town will be an asset, drive up to what is left of the community of South Clinchfield,VA, in the shadow of AEP's Clinch River (Carbo) plant. Talk to the residents as I have. Listen to their stories of fumes from the smokestack flooding down to ground level when a cool night brings a temperature inversion. Hear how dust from the trucks coats the skin of their infants and blackens their bath water as if they had been working in the mines. Does it also fill their lungs? Sadly, only time will tell. I do not think that "black lung" benefits will be available to neighborhood children or adults who will be forced breathe rock and coal dust from the waste coal trucks. Add to this the fumes from a coal fired power plant and confine them in the small bowl that contains the town of St Paul. This could be a true witch's brew.

Please sign this petition and pass the link along to family and friends. We need to work together to save the air, water, and land of the Appalachian Mountains.

John Bolton, MD

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Not Real Money, But Scrip...

Until the late 1950's, when changes in federal and state laws, along with changing economic realities doomed the practice, many companies issued tokens, or scrip, for use by their employees in company run stores. This was especially widespread in the coal fields of Appalachia, where many miners also lived in company owned towns. In these company towns or "coal camps," the only store in town was usually owned or run on behalf of the coal company.

In theory, scrip was an advance against unearned wages and usable only by the employee to whom it was issued. In practice, many miners were never able to fully retire their debt to the company store and scrip became the unofficial currency of the community.

Paper scrip was first used by the Coal Companies. Metal scrip was issued after a determination was made that the paper scrip was not durable. Many companies had an identification punch in the scrip to help the store clerk identify it as their own. Each company had their own scrip and accepted no other.

Company scrip was often accepted at local schools for lunches, theaters, churches and saloons. Other local merchants would also accept the scrip, but taking a 20% discount.

The best working areas in the mines were often given to the miner drawing the most scrip against his wages. Refusing to draw scrip as pay for working in the mines often meant early discharge.

Camden-Carroll Library
Scrip pamphlet from the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

boingboing on Mothman

Image from Cryptomundo

Consider this a link post - specifically, dig on boingboing's coverage of the recent Point Pleasant, West Virginia's Mothman Festival. Much awesome.

Sept 10

Sept 17

Also - in case you're wondering:

Mothman Museum

and our ol' pals at Cryptomundo . . .

Saturday, September 15, 2007

How 'House of the Rising Sun' traveled from KY to Bangkok--and back!

The song "House of the Rising Sun" has a murky history, said to have originated in Appalachia, maybe New Orleans and perhaps even England. The song's ultimate odyssey began on September 15, 1937 when folklorist Alan Lomax recorded a version by 16-year-old Georgia Turner in Middlesboro, Ky. Lomax published the lyrics as "The Rising Sun Blues," and from there it only grew in popularity.

Ted Anthony, author of Chasing the Rising SunIn "Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song," author Ted Anthony searches out the twisted roots and many spreading branches of this lonesome ballad.

Dave Tabler: When did you first realize the origins of "House of the Rising Sun" would lead you to Appalachia?

Ted Anthony: I originally thought the song was OF New Orleans. But when you listen to the verses -- "DOWN in New Orleans," "going BACK to New Orleans" -- you realize it is from an outsider's perspective. Many of the early versions seemed to point back to the Appalachian tradition, and then I saw Alan Lomax's book "The Folk Songs of North America," which was the first time I encountered Middlesboro, Ky., and the name Georgia Turner.

DT: You say "House of...." is one of the most vital pieces of music in American history. Why?

TA: By "vital" I don't necessarily mean "necessary," though I think it's an important song. I mean vital in its more literal sense -- full of life. This song has so many incarnations that it keeps renewing itself and its ability to live on.

DT: Most readers will think of Eric Burdon's version of the song, recorded by The Animals in the '60s. How many versions have you managed to track down?

TA: More than 400 -- some on CD, some on vinyl, many on MP3. And then of course there are those I cannot get hold of -- the ever-receding holy grail. I never tire of the diversity of this song -- the "I contain multitudes" notion that, to me, is an underpinning of our culture.

DT: Will readers finally learn where this house is in New Orleans and why it's been the ruin of many a poor boy?

TA: Maybe. Maybe not. Read the book. But I would say this: This is a story about the song and the legend, and how it's traveled. I conclude in the end that the legend, and how it moved around, is more exciting than any one specific answer.

DT: In the book you say you sang the song in a Bangkok karaoke bar. Can you discuss how an American roots song might have found its way to Bangkok?

TA: I've spent chunks of my life in Asia, and American culture is a prized commodity there -- or at least has been. What's more, I have heard a great deal about how GIs in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War would play the song -- usually the Animals or Frijid Pink -- while stationed there. One of my regrets is that I never was able to track down a version in Vietnamese, which I'm told exists.

DT: In the course of the seven years it took to write this book, you met your future wife. Has she been involved with the project?

TA: She is my muse for sure. She challenged my preconceptions about it, talked about it with me ad infinitum, even agreed to take our honeymoon driving through the backroads of the Southern Highlands looking for the song. I can't imagine this book without her sharing the adventure. I'm available to accompany her on her next quest.

DT: For the benefit of aspiring writers/historians/genealogists in Appalachia, what were some of your favorite research facilities in the region?

TA: I thought Appalachian State University's archives were absolutely wonderful and extremely well organized, and the ETSU library in Johnson City, Tenn., was also pivotal to me. What I enjoyed just as much, though, were smaller libraries like the one in West Jefferson, in Ashe County, N.C., where people were as helpful as could be. The Middlesboro Historical Society was also great for capturing a flavor of the place.

As an aside: I love research; I'm totally a research geek. But to try to find the gossamer traces of oral history in printed materials was one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced as a journalist.

DT: You say in the book that folk music thrives on change, with songs remade to reflect changing times. Can you cite several examples from the book that illustrate this?

TA: The Animals are the perfect example. I got called out for referring to their version as "definitive," so I'll just say "iconic." But their take on it was such a product of its era, the 60s, with the attendant energy and insolence and dynamism that came to define the decade. It's hard for me to believe that their version, in 1964, was just 27 years after Georgia Turner sang it in Middlesboro 70 years ago today.

Another good example is "Paradise Club," by a North Carolina band called the Moaners. They adapted the song to be about a depressing strip club near Carrboro, where they live, and suddenly it became folk music again -- expressing current circumstances in a very personal way. It's not "House of the Rising Sun"; it's something totally original that is ... well, we'll call it a "descendant" of the original song. I suppose they all are -- progeny spreading throughout the republic.

DT: You say you don't consider yourself a musicologist. How does your 'American studies' approach to this topic differ?

TA: It's more of a self-inoculation. I don't read music, and I don't want to put myself forward as an expert in something I'm not. One review said I lacked musical knowledge, and I wholeheartedly agree. That said, I think it's valuable to come at it from my perspective. In many ways, this isn't a music book. It's about a song, yes, but it's about how culture changes and moves around, and how the enormous cultural and technological forces unleashed in the 20th century changed how we perceived the world. I never wanted it to be a music book; I wanted it to be a book about what it's like to be American.

DT: Your next project is a book on China. Do you envision any future projects that might take you back to the Appalachian region?

TA: I think, actually, that my next project will focus on how the entertainment economy is permeating the entire American landscape, though I expect I'll write on China down the road a bit. If I did go back to Appalachia, I'd love to explore how the federal highway system and, later, the Interstate Highway System changed communities and cultures. I'm also fascinated by the relationship between the railroad and Appalachia; there's a town in West Virginia I once wrote about called Thurmond, a place in the middle of the woods that was one of the busiest and most raucous communities along the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad line. And it had no main street -- the railroad track was Main Street. Stuff like that completely intrigues me.

DT: Ted, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us today!

Orginally blogged at: Appalachian History

OSM Proposes Weakening MTR Rule

MTR Valley Fill, Massey Energy Corp,
Lyburn, WV

The Office on Surface Mining has proposed a new rule to weaken regulations regarding stream buffer zones at Mountaintop Removal mining sites.

The current rule requires mining operations to obtain a variance showing no impact to water quality or quantity for activities within 100 feet of a stream, but the rule is often disregarded with MTR valley fills. The rule change proposed by OSM would lift the buffer zone protection altogether.

A recent survey conducted by the non-partisan Opinion Research Corporation found that two-thirds of Americans oppose the administration's proposed rule. More details on the survey can be found at:

OSM is required to receive public comment on the rule change through October 23. Comments can be submitted to the Federal Register at:

Documents on the rule change can be found on the OSM website:

Related Media:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Better than Randy Moss.....

Before Randy Moss, there was Joe Pendry

By by Frank Giardina, Charleston Daily Mail

In the 1960s and 1970s, the tiny coal camp area of Wyoming County produced two of the state's best ever multi-sports athletes.

In the late '70s Curt Warner from now consolidated Pineville High School was a football and basketball all-stater and a southern West Virginia legend. He went on to become an All-American running back at Penn State where he helped legendary Coach Joe Paterno win his first national championship in 1982.

While in Happy Valley, many fans may not realize that he also played baseball for the Nittany Lions.

Warner was a first-round NFL Draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 1983. He rushed for just under 7,000 yards in eight seasons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

But before Warner -- in the mid-1960s -- Joe Pendry proved to be one of the top multi-sports stars in state history while playing for now defunct Oceana High School. He was a three-sport star in football, basketball and track and was an all-stater in football and basketball.

Pendry won the Hunt Award in 1964 as the best prep lineman in the state. Then, he helped lead the Indians to the Class AA state championship in basketball in 1965. One of his teammates was Elwood Pennington, the father of former Marshall star and now New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington.

A former long-time state sportswriter, Mike Brown, was a sports editor of newspapers in both Beckley and Huntington. He was in Beckley during Pendry's high school career and had this to say about the Matheny native: "I did not see Randy Moss, but I can tell you unequivocally that Joe Pendry is without question the best multi-sports athlete that I ever saw in high school in West Virginia.

"I have seen better football and better basketball players, but I saw no one better as a multi-sport athlete. He had trememdous coaches in John Beckleheimer in football and Paul Greer in basketball and he represented his school and commmunity with class."

Many state natives have built national reputations nationally in coaching. Another Wyoming County native, Mike D,Antoni of Mullens is as respected as any coach in the NBA. Everyone knows of the Marion County roots of West Virginia University head football coach Rich Rodriguez.

But Pendry might be the most under-rated coaching treasure among the state natives. Because he is a long-time assistant, his profile is not as high as others. But among his peers, he is incredibly respected.

He coached at WVU from 1969-77 and was the offensive coordinator in 1976-77. Pendry also has coached at Kansas State, Pitt and Michigan State. Then, he began his NFL coaching career in 1985 and spent 19 seasons with six different teams. He coached 11 playoff teams during his NFL career.

Now, Pendry is back in college coaching, serving as Nick Saban's assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Alabama.

See Joe's info here.

If the stories my mom told me are true, Joe taught me swimming lessons at the Oceana, West Virginia, pool in the mid 1960s.

John Cooke comes to Oceana, Wyoming county West Virginia

In the autumn of 1799, John Cooke brought his wife, four sons and a daughter-in-law to the cabin on Laurel and Clear Forks. He had come a long way from the day in 1772 when he and a girl named Nellie Goodal (or Pemberton) had been shanghaied aboard a vessel on the Thames in London port (Cooke was born in London twenty years before) and started on his adventures in the New World. Apprenticed to a planter in the Valley of Virginia upon his arrival in some American port, Cooke was a victim of that system of slavery-with-a-time-limit that was used to provide England's colonies with white labourers. The girl he had invited to dinner aboard the ship of a supposed friend was also apprenticed. Cooke served out his apprenticeship, and then helped the girl serve out hers, feeling obligated, no doubt, because he was responsible for her misfortune. Misfortune, it must surely have seemed at first, but the opportunities of the frontier world soon became obvious to Cooke and Miss Goodal (Pemberton). As soon as their term an bonded servants ended, John and Nellie were married and established their home in Shenandoah County, Virginia, where their five children were born. His daughter married in Virginia. Indian uprisings in the western part of Virginia and along the Ohio River called John Cooke to military duty in 1774. A member of Captain Buford's Bedford County Riflemen, he marched with General Andrew Lewis to meet the forces of Cornstalk, Chief of the Northern Confederacy, at Point Pleasant. Before the actual fighting began in this battle, however, John, and others were dispatched to Fort Clendenin for supplies; nevertheless, he is listed on the Point Pleasant Monument as a soldier in that battle. In January, 1777, John Cooke enlisted as a private in the American Revolutionary Army, serving under Captains Jonathan Landon, Abraham Hite, and George Waite in Colonel James Wood's regiment, the Eighth Virginia Continentals. Cooke was in the battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, and was later with "Mad Anthony" Wayne in the storming of Stony Point on the Hudson. He was discharged from the army on December 29, 1779. At the close of the Revolution, seeking greater opportunity and freedom, Cooke moved his family to the Narrows of New River. While there, he and his sons served with the Rangers, an organization for protecting the frontier against Indian attacks. On May 27, 1793, John and his son Thomas, a boy, from Montgomery County, Virginia, were with Captain Hugh Caperton's Company of Rangers at Fort Lee on the Elk and Kanawha Rivers, guarding the Kanawha Valley settlements. "Mad Anthony" Wayne's victory over the Indians in 1794 ended the Indian menace of the Ohio, and permitted white settlement to move westward almost unmolested. The rich hunting grounds of the wilderness called to Cooke, who found life at the Narrows too tame after his military service. In 1799, he resisted the call no more, but with his small family moved into the region his children later named Wyoming County, after the Wyoming tribe of Indians.


Oceana and the Cook Family

Number 6 - Folk Studies

August, 1940

Sponsored by
State Department of Education
W. W. Trent, State Superintendent of Free Schools
Co-Sponsored by
Wyoming County Board of Education
Wyoming County Court

How Itmann, Wyoming county, West Virginia got its name

In 1916, the Pocahontas Fuel Company opened a driftmine operation a short distance from the mouth of Barkers Creek. The president of Pocahontas, Isaac T. Mann, had 120 dwellings built to house his employees. This coal camp grew into the town of Itmann, which was named after Isaac T. Mann. The Pocahontas Fuel Company flourished here for several years, but following World War I, a slump in business caused it to close. The mine remained inactive until 1958 when it was then acquired by Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company.

Reference Book of Wyoming County; Mary K. Bowman
Heritage of Wyoming County; Wyoming County Genealogy Society

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A school for subversives and Communists?

How would you like to have attended the same school that Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, and Fanny Lou Hamer all attended?

That would be Highlander Folk School, near Monteagle, TN, for many years the only place in the South where white and African-American adults could live and work together, something that was illegal in that strictly segregated society. The 1950s brought Highlander to national attention, as civil rights legends and social activists learned the ways of non-violent protest there in the school’s “Citizenship School Program.” Rosa Parks’ participation in a Highlander workshop in the summer of 1955, 5 months before her back of the bus incident, had a crucial influence on her. And during the subsequent Montgomery bus boycott, Highlander co-founder Myles Falls Horton introduced Rosa Parks to Eleanor Roosevelt as “the first lady of the South.”

billboard denouncing Highlander Folk SchoolPolitical enemies angrily erected billboards across the South showing Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks attending an integrated event at the Highlander Folk School in 1957.

But two decades earlier when the school was first begun, poor, uneducated miners learned about self-respect and self-empowerment at the school. In his autobiography, Horton wrote, "We didn't think of ourselves as working-class, or poor, we just thought of ourselves as being conventional people who didn't have any money."

Highlander, Horton once claimed, held the record for sustained civil disobedience, breaking the Tennessee Jim Crow laws every day for over forty years, until the segregation laws were finally repealed.

Horton attended Cumberland College in Tennessee, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and studied Danish folk school models on site before opening the Southern Mountains School, in 1932. A short time later, he and co-director Don West, a Congregational minister from Georgia, changed the name to the Highlander Folk School. At Highlander the purpose of education was to make people more powerful, and more capable in their work and their lives. Horton had what he called a "two-eye" approach to teaching: with one eye he tried to look at people as they were, while with the other he looked at what they might become.

Not everyone was tickled by the Highlander formula. One anonymous Tennessee citizen wrote FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1936: “This school is a hot-bed of communism and anarchy. This is proven by the part taken by its members in the strikes at Harriman Tenn., Daisy Tenn. and at the present at Rockwood Tenn.” Hoover promptly opened a file, one that over the years accumulated in excess of 1,000 pages.

For his outspoken support of union, civil rights, and poor people's organizations, Horton endured arrests, threats, violence, and denunciations from industrialists, politicians, and segregationists.

Finally, in 1961, the state of Tennessee closed the school, revoked its charter, and sold off the assets at auction. During this time, many of the buildings were burned by arsonists. Undaunted, Myles Horton redesignated the folk school as a research center under a new charter and moved from Monteagle to Knoxville, and then to the present location in New Market, Tenn., where it is now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center.

Related posts: "Don West background"

Originally blogged at: Appalachian History

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Blowing The Top Off Mountaintop Mining

Wired Magazine has an excellent look at the devastating realities of mountaintop mining on their front page today. It's a subject that's been discussed more than once here at HS, and should be of interest to just about everybody who lives in Appalachia.

The article presents a harrowing examination of mining's effects on our communities and ecosystems. I think this single quote alone hammers home a very immediate point:

The EPA estimates that at least 2,300 square miles of forest -- an area the size of Delaware -- will be lost by 2010.

That land is not being reforested. In fact, most of the abandoned mining land from the last few decades has been reclaimed by shrub growth and grasses rather than the essential hardwoods. You don't have to think hard for the math to make you uncomfortable - in a little over two years from now, we will have lost enough hardwood forest to fill the state of Delaware.

There is no excuse for that kind of environmental abuse - and you don't have to be a conservationist to realize it.

Take a moment to read the article and examine the photographic evidence. Maybe it's time the Hillbilly Savants community put our collective efforts into a little Congressional lobbying.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Poetry: Arthur Lloyd Mitchell

A.L. "Big Al" Mitchell

Some of you reader-folk are fully aware, I'd imagine, of our A.L. Mitchell writing contest we're sponsoring here at HS. That said, unless you were a member of the Emory & Henry College/Abingdon, Virginia-area community you probably didn't have the pleasure of knowing its namesake. I was close to Mr. Mitchell, looked up to him like grandfather, and still, even over the eleven years I knew him, there was still so much I didn't know about him. For instance, I knew he had an MA from Columbia University in literature, and I knew he had a deep and abiding love of poetry, but I never read any of his own work - in fact, I'm ashamed to say, I don't think I really ever knew he wrote poetry. Well, since Mr. Mitchell passed away, I have come into a copy of a small folio of poetry written and published by Mr. Mitchell, and I thought I would share a couple of my favorite pieces. They are a bit more traditional than I usually go into (I'm an e.e. cummings sorta' guy myself), but they are touching and, sometimes, quite beautiful - especially the pieces on nature. Consider:

Birth and Death of Day
Glorious rays of daybreak finger through the eastern sky
When the sun has kissed the morn.
Gold, scarlet, and flamingo
Are tints which glow when day is born.

Pastel shades of evening float across the western sky
When the sun has slipped away.
Pink, light blue, and lavender
Are the hues that attire the dying day.
Our Days Are What We Make Them (excerpt)
Some days I awake to a gray, misty morn
And the world seems ragged and bare.
The people I meet as I walk down the street
Seem loaded with burdens and care.
Nature is dull: the birds fail to sing;
Flowers have no fragrance or hue;
Things go undone till setting of the sun.
These days end in gray dampness of dew.

Other days I awake to a bright, rosy east
And the world seems happy and gay.
The people I meet as I walk down the street
Warmly smile as they go on their way.
All nature is stirring: the bird loudly carol;
The flowers are brilliant and sweet;
The tasks of the day seem to drift right away.
Night arrives on a million ballet feet.
Recollections of Boyhood on New River (excerpt)
The rippling stream met the wide, wide river,
And swirlets danced in the limpid pool
Formed by the union of waters rushing.
As a tender youth, I would stand and quiver
As I looked on this scene, where I cam to cool
The burning thoughts from my young heart gushing.

A winding path led up beside this little stream
Over banks of mossy green and through
Flats of mud where turtles played.
Barefoot, I would trace that path as in a dream,
Drinking in each scent and sight and sound anew.
I lingered by each lovely spot and stayed
Still as blood-red cardinals, perched high
On the top-most branches of the willow trees,
Whistled their crisp, clear notes. Then, here
And there, in the crystal stream flowing by,
Rippled ever so gently by the faintest breeze,
A silver minnow would rise without fear
And kiss the surface.

It was in the time of spring,
That emerald of the year I loved the best,
When dogwoods gleamed snowy white against the green,
And hordes of violets vied with purple passion to fling
Themselves about the rocks and rotten stumps in quest
Of choice spots where they might grow and blush unseen.

In idle gestures of boyish pleasure
I would search the path for pebbles, white as chalk,
To toss into the stream. When at last
This whim, satisfied in fullest measure,
No longer held my fancy, I would slowly walk
Away, soon to fall beneath some other spell cast
By wands of springtime waved above my youthful frame.
Then suddenly, with breathless anticipation,
I would set out for my favorite spot,
Racing through the mead and playing a game
Of tag with butterflies whose only occupation was sipping nectar from the bright yellow dot
Of ox-eye daisies growing in clusters along the way.

Wooded ridges rose from the meadow's edge
And stair-stepped themselves into distant mountains.
Just over the first ridge, in seclusion and stillness, lay
My private haunt, nestled beneath a little ledge
Where water oozed from cracks, making miniature fountains
Here and there among the rocks. The mossy ground,
Spotted by warm rays of sunlight drifting through
Gently rustling branches, was a leopard skin,
Soft and spongy to my step. Growing all around,
To hide the isle of mine from any outside view,
Were towering clumps of verdant rhododendron
And waxy mountain laurel. Trilliums grew
In the shadows, and lady-slippers, soft and pink,
Stood upright on their stems as if fairy feet,
Light and tripping, were on their way and knew
Just where to put them on.

O! I would think:
No place, not even Paradise, can be so sweet
And still and soothing to the soul as this -
A downy nest of Nature, a green Aladdin lamp,
Which only I can rub.

Though panting from my flight,
Across the meadow and over the ridge, I would not miss
The smallest bit of beauty there - even in the damp
Recesses where, half-hidden to my sight,
Salamanders played.
Before an Autumn Maple
I stood today before a tree
All red aflame with autumn fire;
And now I know how Moses felt
Before the bush in flame attire.
Each Fall I Watch My Dogwoods Die
Each fall I watch my dogwoods die
(The ones beside my lane)
And with each russet leaf that falls
My heart is stabbed with pain.

I think back when these lovely trees
Were blooming pink and white
And often in my mind's eye
That rare, breath-taking sight.

And I recall how later on
Their dark green boughs were spread
And how they shortly wrapped themselves
In coats of berries red.

And so each fall my dogwoods die
(The ones beside my lane)
And melancholy thoughts well up
Within my heart again.

But such sad thoughts will fade away
Because I always know
That spring will find my dogwoods back
Safe from the winter's snow.

And in all this there seems somehow
A message meant for me;
Life's autumn days are not the end;
New springs there'll surely be.
All poems are from A.L. Mitchell's (1974) Collected Poems (Carlton Press, Inc.).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Oceana, West Virginia, Monster...

The following is not from a Twilight Zone episode, it is from a news report in The Independent Herald, in Pineville, West Virginia. A creature is lost in Oceana, West Virginia, in 1978.

The Oceana Creature

by Ron Mullens; Courtesy of the Independent Herald

Is a seven-foot humanoid monster with Olympic jumping ability and an unearthly cry stalking the night shrouded streets of Oceana? Patrolman Bill Pratt of the Oceana Police Department says the monster exists "and it isn't any (censored) bird, either!"

Pratt says he had his close encounter with the beast early Monday morning while on patrol near the Oceana Town Hall. Others who have heard the creature's call or who have caught fleeting glimpses of the unidentified varmint write it off as misdirected crane or heron which somehow mistook the town of Oceana for the marshlands of the Atlantic or Gulf Coast. But Pratt, questioned by town officials, citizens, Department of Natural Resources personnel, the news media and even monster chasers from Ohio and beyond, remains steadfast in his contention that what he saw near the Johnny Aliff residence early Monday morning was not a bird "and it wasn't like anything else I ever saw."

Oceana Town Recorder Vaughin Cozort says Pratt is a level-headed officer, not given to flights of fancy or exaggeration. "I think he really believes he saw what he says he did, and since I didn't see it, I can't very well say it isn't so." Cozort said of Pratt.

The officer's encounter with the whatever-it-is came before dawn Monday morning while he was on patrol.

"I radioed the jail and told them I'd be out of the car checking on some babies crying." Pratt explained, with a shudder and a "you can believe it or not, but I'm not lying"look in his eye. "I checked this trailer and the man said it was probably cats fighting. We couldn't find any evidence of a cat fight, so we started to check the neighborhood to find out where the weird sound was coming from. Then it let out a squall that scared me to death. I mean, the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. I've never heard anything like it"

The policeman, recounting the episode in the dark, foggy pre-dawn hours the day after the encounter, paused, took a deep breath and cast a nervous glance around before continuing. "I went on down toward Johnny Aliff's house and I saw what I thought was a man standing under a street light. I noticed that it was big, but he didn't move to hide from me and with that noise, it wasn't really usual for somebody to be out there. When I got closer, it kind of turned around with it's back to me. It was near the river bank and it crouched down."Pratt said. "Then it kind of leaped and I hollered at it. I thought it was somebody who'd been into something and was trying to get away form me, and it had jumped down over the bank to the edge of the river. But I shined my spotlight down and it wasn't there. It had jumped completely across the river. It had to have jumped, because I didn't hear any splashing and as close as I was, I would have heard if it had hit the water. I saw it moving up the bank on the other side, and I fired six shots at it. After that, I just don't remember. I was scared to death." The river at that point is 50 to 75 feet across, he said.

Oceana Police Chief Raymond Walker said he heard the shots and came to Pratt's location on the river bank to assist.

"When I got there, Bill was still trying to shoot but he'd emptied his gun at it. He was standing there pulling the trigger, and the gun was going 'click, click, click.' He was white as a sheet, and shaking." Walker said. He noticed movement in the brush, and fired three or four rounds, but he said he never got a good look at the thing.

Searchers gathered at the river at dawn and just before they crossed the river, the creature's blood-curdling cry was heard again. Pratt said it was more distant, and sounded as though it came from halfway up the mountain. The searchers checked the area where Pratt said the "thing" landed on the river bank and found broken branches, trampled weeds and what appeared to be heel prints next to an upturned rock. No blood, feathers or any other evidence was found, however.

"I hope I never see anything like it again." Pratt said. "I honestly don't know what it was, but it wasn't like anything I ever saw or heard of before. And that scream..." Pratt broke off, shuddering again.

Personnel from the state Department of Natural Resources investigated the area and spoke with witnesses Monday night but were unable to reach any conclusions. The operative theory at this point, according to a spokesman, is that it was a large wading bird, perhaps a crane or heron, possibly with wing damage which prevents it from extended flight.

Oceana Mayor John Roach said other residents have reported what appeared to be a crane in the area over the past two weeks, and joined the Department of Natural Resources in urging that the creature not be shot at. Pratt, meanwhile, remains unconvinced.

"It was dark colored, and it looked like a man. A bird has spindly legs and a crane would have a long neck. This didn't have either. It was like a man, only big, and it must have weighed 300 pounds. You can laugh at me and think I'm crazy if you want, but I saw it, and I don't want to see it again" the officer said.

Whether bird, beast, or prankster, the sightings have created a minor uproar in the community, but Chief Walker said to this point, the creature hasn't harmed anybody or made threatening moves.

"I don't think it could hurt you, because it's had the opportunity to attack and it hasn't. It's moved away, so I don't think anybody should fear for their safety," Walker said. "Maybe not," Pratt responded, "but if I see it again I'm sure not going to go up to it an try to start a conversation."

{Story Courtesy}
Independent Herald as published 16 Aug 1978, Volume 55 Number 33.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Merlin Rides Again

I made my way over to FOAMHENGE this weekend and wanted to post my own photos. This thing is just off the road and free to visit. Just south of the Natural Bridge Petting Zoo, the Enchanted Castle Studios, Dinosaur Kingdom, and the Safari Ride. :)

Can't forget Merlin!!!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Congratulations Mountaineers!

Upset ain't the word.

The Appalachian State Mountainers went to Ann Arbor this afternoon and defeated the 5th-ranked Michigan Wolverines. A nice opening salvo for the 2007 college football season, I'd say.

North Carolina Ghost Town

You can still see part of the boiler room and a few intact boilers from the old cotton mill in Mortimer if you know where to look. There's also a white maintenance building built by the CCC during the 1930s, and some other CCC building foundations remain behind it. Today these silent remnants welcome hikers and campers at the entrance to the Mortimer campground in the Pisgah National Forest. What a story they hide!

Mortimer, NC had been built rapidly to house workers for the Ritter Lumber Company, which had bought the land for timber in 1904. Ritter Lumber Company's sawmill and a small textile mill provided jobs for the community's 800 residents. Substantial logging took place between Wilson and Steel Creeks, and the trees were hauled to the mill via Ritter's narrow gauge railroad, which followed Wilson Creek much of the way before ending in the village of Edgemont. The Hutton-Bourbannis Company operated various other narrow gauge logging railroad lines fanning out from Mortimer.

There was a company store, a blacksmith's shop, a church, a school, a hotel, and numerous houses. By 1906, the newly incorporated town even had a motion-picture facility and the Laurel Inn, which Teddy Roosevelt reportedly visited.

Mortimer NC 1940 floodThen disaster struck. In 1916, a fire burned from Grandfather Mountain to Wilson Creek, and was immediately followed by a flood, which destroyed the logging railroad and the Lake Rhodhiss Dam, and devastated the Ritter Company's operations. The company left the town entirely about a year later. The flood is considered to be the worst in Caldwell County history.

United Mills Company, a cotton mill, opened in 1922 and revitalized the town for a brief period. The Civilian Conservation Corps opened Camp F-5 at Mortimer during the Great Depression, and by 1933, had repaired many buildings damaged in the 1916 tribulations. In 1934, O.P. Lutz started a hosiery mill in the cotton mill buildings, but it never really succeeded. The Carolina & Northwestern Railway brought in mail every other day, but closed in 1938.

Then, on August 13, 1940, Wilson Creek jumped its banks again (this time prompted by a coastal hurricane.) The creek reached a flood stage of 94 feet and engulfed the town. This second flood, coming only 24 years after Mortimer's first horrific experience, was enough to drive most remaining families from the area.

The CCC hobbled along until the arrival of World War II in the 1940s. The railroad that used to run through Mortimer was taken up during WWII and melted down for the war effort. After the railroad was removed and the CCC left, the valley was left essentially unchanged for the next several decades.

Today, there are only about 16 permanent families living along the stream. Much of the mountain property in the northwestern part of Caldwell County is public land held by the U.S. Forest Service.


Related posts: "Appalachia's Katrina"

Originally posted at Appalachian History