Monday, October 29, 2007

Churches near Union, West Virginia

Here are a couple of interesting churches located in Monroe county, West Virginia. The Chapel of The Salt is located across from Salt Sulfur Springs.

This is Rehoboth Church and it is located just outside of Union, West Virginia.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Donora Death Fog

I have felt the fog in my throat --
The misty hand of Death caress my face;
I have wrestled with a frightful foe
Who strangled me with wisps of gray fog-lace.
Now in my eyes since I have died.
The bleak, bare hills rise in stupid might
With scars of its slavery imbedded deep;
And the people still live -- still live -- in the poisonous night.

The anniversary of the worst recorded industrial air pollution accident in US history - which occurred 59 years ago today in Donora, Pennsylvania (20 miles south of Pittsburgh) -will go virtually unmarked. The Donora incident, which killed 20 and left hundreds seriously injured and dying, was caused by fluoride emissions from the Donora Zinc Works and steel plants owned by the US Steel Corporation. The atmospheric conditions were in place to trap all of the pollutants being spewed by the smokestacks close to the ground. Although this incident took place just to the north of our targeted coverage area of Central Appalachia, it could have easily taken place in Alcoa, Kingsport, Charleston, Roanoke and any other industrial town in our region. The following is an excerpt of a published article on the Donora Death Fog:

The Donora Fluoride Fog:

A Secret History of America's Worst Air Pollution Disaster
This article appears in the Fall 1998 Earth Island Journal, by Chris Bryson

In the aftermath of the accident, US Steel conspired with US Public Health Service (PHS) officials to cover up the role fluoride played in the tragedy. This charge comes from Philip Sadtler, a top industrial chemical consultant who conducted his own research at the scene of the disaster.

The "Donora Death Fog"Horror visited the US Steel company-town of Donora on Halloween night, 1948, when a temperature inversion descended on the town [Inversion occurs when the air near the ground is cooler than the air above it, a reversal of normal atmospheric conditions. When that happens, manmade pollutants are trapped, resulting in smog]. Fumes from US Steel's smelting plants blanketed the town for four days, and crept murderously into the citizens' homes. If the smog had lasted another evening "the casualty list would have been 1,000 instead of 20," said local doctor William Rongaus at the time. Later investigations by Rongaus and others indicated that one-third of the town's 14,000 residents were affected by the smog. Hundreds of residents were evacuated or hospitalized. A decade later, Donora's mortality rate remained significantly higher than neighboring areas.

The "Donora Death Fog", as it became known, spawned numerous angry lawsuits and the first calls for national legislation to protect the public from industrial air pollution.

A PHS report released in 1949 reported that "no single substance" was responsible for the Donora deaths and laid major blame for the tragedy on the temperature inversion. But according to industry consultant Philip Sadtler, in an interview taped shortly before his 1996 death, that report was a whitewash. "It was murder," said Sadtler about Donora. "The directors of US Steel should have gone to jail for killing people." Sadtler charged that the PHS report helped US Steel escape liability for the deaths and spared a host of fluoride- emitting industries the expense of having to control their toxic emissions. (A class-action lawsuit by Donora victims families was later settled out of court.)

In 1948, Sadtler was perhaps the nation's leading expert on fluorine pollution. He had gathered evidence for plaintiffs across the country, including an investigation of the Manhattan Project and the DuPont company's fluoride pollution of New Jersey farmland during World War II.

For giant fluoride emitters such as US Steel and the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), the cost of a national fluoride clean-up "would certainly have been in the billions," said Sadtler. So concealing the true cause of the Donora accident was vital. "It would have complicated things enormously for them if the public had been alerted to [the dangers of] fluoride."

US industry was well-placed to orchestrate a whitewash of the Donora investigation. The PHS was then a part of the Federal Security Agency. The FSA, in turn, was headed by Oscar R. Ewing, a former top lawyer for Alcoa. Neither his old industry connections, nor the fact that Alcoa had been facing lawsuits around the country for its wartime airborne fluoride pollution was mentioned in Ewing's introduction to the official report on Donora.

Sadtler remembers seeing a PHS van in Donora conducting air testing after the disaster. "I looked in and the chemist said, 'Phil, come on in.' Very friendly. He says, 'I know you are right, but I am not allowed to say so.' He must have been influenced by US Steel."

Sadtler blamed fluoride for the Donora disaster in an account published in the December 13, 1948 issue of Chemical and Engineering News. He reported fluorine blood levels of dead and hospitalized citizens to be 12 to 25 times above normal, with "primary symptoms of acute fluorine poisoning, dyspnea (distressed breathing similar to asthma) ... found in hundreds of cases." He recommended that, "Changes should be made in suspect processes to prevent emission of fluorine-containing fumes."

Industry moved quickly to silence Sadtler, who had been a contributor to Chemical and Engineering News for many years. (C&EN is published by the American Chemical Society.) "I had a call from the editor that I was not to send them any more [articles]," Sadtler said. The editor told Sadtler that the head of the Alcoa and the US Steel-funded Mellon Institute, Dr. Weidline (who also had served as a director of the American Chemical Society) "went to Washington and told the magazine's editors that they were not to publish any more of what I wrote," Sadtler said.

The lessons learned at Donora resulted in the passage of the 1955 Clean Air Act.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Trouble in West Virginia

West Virginia cannot get a break. In 1972, the movie "Deliverance" with Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Jon Voight was quite a hit. Hillbilles causing trouble for city fold.
"This is the story of four men on a weekend canoe trip on the Cahulawassee River which turns into a frenzied retreat from horror." Although frequently associated with West Virginia, this movie takes place on the Chattooga River in Georgia. And it is set in Georgia. But the mention of hillbillies automatically brings West Virginia to mind. This gives hillbillies a bad name.
Then along comes "Wrong Turn" which is set in Greenbrier county, West Virginia. Where "Six people find themselves trapped in the woods of West Virginia, hunted down by cannibalistic mountain men grossly disfigured through generations of in-breeding." Another movie that gives West Virginia a bad name.
Next is "Wrong Turn 2: Dead End" set in a West Virginia wasteland where game show contestants are "being hunted by an inbred family of cannibals determined to make them all dinner!" Makes you want to make your vacation plans for West Virginia right now.
Most recent is the report of a lion being on the loose in Greenbrier county. A man "watched a full-grown male African lion, complete with a four-foot-long tail, pace around his hunting shanty for about 40 minutes before running off into the woods." A the woods of Greenbrier county, West Virginia.

What else would one expect from Wild Wonderful West Virginia?

Monday, October 22, 2007

East Tennessee's Own...

Has it really been ten years?

Not that long ago, WDVX was broadcasting from a tiny camper at the Fox Inn Campground in Clinton, TN, the signal available to but a few thousand lucky listeners. Since then, the camper has become the stuff of legend, and WDVX now broadcasts Americana and bluegrass music on four different FM signals and world-wide on the internet, direct form its decked-out new studios on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.

The Oxford American has proclaimed that WDVX is "probably the best radio station in the world." Donations to keep the listener-supported radio station on the air reflect its international audience.

If you've not yet had the chance to listen to WDVX, do your ears a favor and do so now. You will find perhaps the finest playlist you've ever heard on FM radio: New and classic bluegrass, the best in Americana, classic country, western swing, gospel, celtic, folk and other great roots music. At noon EST every week day, you'll also find perhaps the coolest feature on the radio anywhere, The Blue Plate Special, a live, one-hour concert direct from the WDVX in-studio performance stage. Consider some of the artists that have played the Blue Plate in not two years of existence: the everybodyfields, Joe Ely, Bela Fleck, R.B. Morris, Scott Miller, RobinElla, Cowboy Jack Clement, BR549, Marty Stuart, Tommy Emmanuel, Charlie Acuff, and many more.

Everyday at noon. Live. Free.

Of course, WDVX needs listener's financial support to keep things going. The station has an annual budget around $300,000. That ain't cheap and it makes it so that it's never guaranteed that this great piece of Appalachia will be here from one year to the next. That's where you come in.

I'd like to issue a challenge to all Hillbilly Savants readers. I will be manning the phones in the studio and taking pledges twice this week: On Wednesday from 5-9 pm, and on Thursday from 4-8 pm. Call me up during my shift and let me know you're a fellow Hillbilly Savant. There are some great premium items available, beginning with a $52 pledge. That's a buck a week! All you have to do is call the station and make a pledge: 1-800-946-9389 or locally at (865) 544-1029.

If you can't pledge while I'm working, no sweat! Call anytime, or make a donation online. All of your donation will go directly to keeping the great music flowing.

Finally, if you're looking for another fun way to support the station, consider buying a ticket to this Thursday's WDVX Ten Year Birthday Celebration at the Bijou Theatre in Downtown Knoxville. Jim Lauderdale with host the festivities, with performances by The Red Stick Ramblers, the everybodyfields, Robinella, Brett Thompson and the Hackensaw Boys. And get this: Tickets are a whopping $10!

You're out of excuses. Support WDVX now!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I learned how to push a machine without it biting me

On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first man to pilot the Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound, above the California desert at Muroc Dry Lake Bed.

"We just didn't know what would happen when we reached the speed of sound, because we didn't have any wind tunnel data. We could put a model in the wind tunnel and blow air by it at supersonic speeds, but what happened, a shock wave would form on that model at about .9 mach, or 90 percent of the speed of sound, and that shock wave then would bounce off the wall of the tunnel, and it would choke up the tunnel. We didn't have any data from about .9 mach to 1.1 mach. People really just didn't know. It was ignorance. They thought that an airplane would never go faster than sound, because of the shock waves that built up on it. But, as I say, that really didn't make any difference to me. I could care less. It's your job to try it. And that's the way it worked out."

Chuck Yeager
American Academy of Achievement interview
February 1, 1991
Cedar Ridge, California

After the flight, the Army clamped tight security on the whole thing, and Yeager wasn’t permitted to tell anyone. He celebrated with just a few other pilots at a local watering hole. He flew a dozen more transonic flights in the X-1, but still under tight wraps. His accomplishment wasn't announced to the public until mid-1948.

The supersonic X-1 in flight
"I lived my first 18 years of my life in Lincoln County, WV," says Yeager. "That's where you're molded. The rest of the time you're working. But you're molded into what you're going to be in those first 18 years."

Yeager says he had not thought much about the future when he was growing up. He had fun as a youth flying kites and hunting squirrels in the mornings. Sometimes, he says, he would arrive at school 15 minutes after starting time, and the principal would not be too sympathetic with the explanation that he had had squirrels to skin.

Yeager recalls spending a lot of time playing football and basketball.

"I was trained in sports," he says. "Sports are a big part of your life training for adulthood."

The Ford garage and Shorty Hager's garage, he says, were the vocational schools of his day. “They turned over their garages to us. They taught us what we knew.”

"A machine" he said, "will bite a person who does not understand it."

What he learned from Shorty Hager and from Carl Clay at the Ford garage he credited with keeping him alive over his flying years.

"I learned how to push a machine without it biting me."

After Yeager's historic flight was declassified in June 1948, he was awarded the Collier Trophy, the most prestigious honor in aviation, and accorded celebrity status as "The Fastest Man Alive."

Originally blogged at Appalachian History

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fly ash in Giles county, Virginia...

According to the Roanoke Times, if fly ash is dumped in Giles county, it will happen near the Riverview Campground in Narrows, Virginia. Here are some photos of the activity adjacent to the campgrounds. Since I go by this place at least twice per day, I will be able to watch the progress.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Agency extends comment period on buffer rules for mountaintop mining

by Eric Bontrager, E&E Greenwire reporter

The Office of Surface Mining has extended the public-comment deadline on proposed changes to rules that are supposed to protect streams from mountaintop coal mining, but environmentalists say still more time is needed to spread the word to isolated communities that would be most affected by the proposal.

OSM said yesterday it would allow an additional 30 days -- until Nov. 23 -- for comments on proposed standards for surface coal mine operations near bodies of water. Along with extending the comment period from 60 days to 90 days, the agency also scheduled four additional public hearings.

OSM spokesman Tom Geoghegan said the office extended the deadline in response to multiple requests from interest groups and members of Congress. "It's not out of the ordinary," he said, "People want more time."

At issue is mountaintop mining, which companies use to expose coal seams in West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian states. The controversial practice shears a ridge top and deposits waste rock in valleys that are often coursed by streams.

Current rules, which have been in effect since 1983, require coal operators to establish a buffer around streams. "No land," they say, "within 100 feet of an intermittent or perennial stream shall be disturbed by surface mining operations, including roads, unless specifically authorized."

The proposed rules would extend the stream buffer zone rule to all waters, including lakes, ponds and wetlands. But it would also exempt certain activities, including "permanent excess spoil fills, and coal waste disposal facilities" and would allow mining that would change a waterway's flow provided the mining company repaired the damage later.

Critics of the proposal say the 30 day extension still won't allow enough time to spread the word to isolated communities in areas affected by mountaintop mining.

"It's hard to reach the people and get the comments," said Judy Bonds, co-director of the Coal River Mountain Watch. "These are the very people that are affected by this rule change."

The West Virginia Council of Churches also condemned the proposed changes to the rule yesterday, claiming they would clear the way for more mountaintop mining that inflicts "permanent and irreparable" damage on the local environment.

"Once the top of a mountain has been removed, it cannot be put back," the group said in a statement. "The streams cannot be replaced, and the native hardwood forests and diverse under-story do not grow back."

OSM will hold hearings in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. Bond, whose group had unsuccessfully petitioned for a 90-day extension on the comment period, said the sites selected for the public hearings are "insufficient" and "a slap in the face" because they omit other coal-producing regions affected by the rule like Western states and Virginia.

A federal judge in West Virginia issued an injunction yesterday against a mountaintop removal mine in the state, agreeing with environmental groups that questioned permits issued for the project.

The temporary restraining order halts plans by the Callisto Mine in Boon County to begin work that could damage or destroy 5,750 feet of streams and tributaries that feed the Little Coal River.

Judge Robert Chambers of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of West Virginia ordered the fill activities suspended until the court can rule on the challenge to the Callisto permit.

The environmental groups "made a strong showing that the permits issued by the [Army Corps of Engineers] are arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law, and contrary to the economic and environmental balance struck by Congress in the passage of the relevant environmental statutes," Chambers wrote.

In March, Chambers blocked four permits for mountaintop removal coal mines, ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers did not properly assess the potential impact on streams. The permits, issued to subsidiaries of Massey Energy, would have allowed the stripping of about 3,800 acres of land and the burial of more than 12 miles of streams, according to court records.


Comments to the Federal Register can be made until November 23 at

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Witch Gets Killed

This incident occurs in Wyoming County, West Virginia, near the mining community of Itmann. Jennie Bower is my great grand mother.

An incident that occurred on Still Run, a stream that enters the Guyandot near Itmann on Route 10, provided the basis of one of Wyoming's traditional witch tales. In February, 1872, Phillip Lambert, known as the "Red Fox of Pinnacle Creek" because of his love of fox-hunting, was hunting a deer on Still Run with a company of his friends. Lambert knew that George Webb, a preacher and supposed witch, lived at the head of the stream. It was said that Webb had the diabolical power to cast a spell over a hunting ground by walking around it, preventing other hunters from killing game within its bounds. When Lambert, a dead shot, fired point-blank at a large buck but failed to harm it, he fell into a rage and swore Webb was responsible for his ill luck, and that he intended to "fix old George Webb and break the spell."

Using his sharp hunting knife, Lambert carved a crude outline of a human body on a beech tree and labeled it "George Webb." Not having the requisite silver bullet as recommended by all authorities on witchcraft, he chewed an ordinary one until it was very rough. He then poured a double charge of powder down the muzzle of his gun. Placing the roughened ball on double-gum patching and thrusting it home with the ramrod, he tamped it thoroughly and placed a percussion cap on the gun tube. When all was ready, he took aim at his rude picture and, quoting appropriate scripture, fired.

John Workman, building his Aunt Jenny Bowers a kitchen, was whipsawing lumber for the loft, but, to his irritation, neighbors borrowed his boards for coffin wood as fast as he sawed them. On the day Lambert went hunting on Still Run, Workman, despairing of outdistancing his borrowers, had begun to place a temporary clapboard roofing on the kitchen in order to ceil it while there was still sufficient sawed lumber to do the job. Late in the evening, as he was congratulating himself that on the morrow he could complete the job, a neighbor came to inform his aunt that George Webb, the "witch-man," had died suddenly under very peculiar circumstances, and that Mrs. Webb wanted to borrow enough lumber to make his coffin.

This was to much for Workman. Cursing the fate that constantly deprived him of his ceiling boards, and unaware of the unusual events preceding Webb's death, he asked the world at large, "Why, in the name of hell and damnation, don't they make George Webb a coffin out of chestnut boards and let him go through hell a-poppin' and a-crackin'?"

The final touch to the tale was given that evening when Aunt Jenny visited the Webb's to offer consolation. Seeing that the room was bare of anything to cook, she asked Mrs. Webb about breakfast arrangements for the wake. Mrs. Webb replied that there was nothing in the house but a "poke of coffee and a keg of honey," which George kept under the head of his bed. She explained that she disliked using those for fear it might "cause George to wander." Aunt Jenny bristled in pioneer impatience with such impracticality and opined: "I'm goin' to have some of that coffee and honey for breakfast, and if George wants to wander, just let him wander. I'm not afraid of him."


Pineville - Where Wyoming Trails Cross

Number 9 - Folk Studies

November, 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

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Turmoil in Giles County

Narrows, Virginia

One group wants to let Appalachian Power dump fly ash on a piece of land near the New River as fill material. The land would then be marketed for development. Another group says not in our back yard, or in this case, flood plain. In three weeks, the Department of Environmental Quality will weigh in on the issue. Will the propects of luring in an industry trump the concern to preserve one of Giles County's most marketable features?

Monday, October 01, 2007

The smallest church in 48 states

Along Route 219, in Silver Lake, WV, southeast of Kingwood (pop. 2,944), you’ll find "Our Lady of The Pines," promoted on old postcards and signs as the "Smallest Church in 48 States." It boasts seating for 12, with six pews. The church is always open. You may have to buy your postcards on the honor system, since it’s not always staffed. The yellow-stone sanctuary, 24 ft. x 12 ft. (16 x 11 on the inside), was built by Lithuanian immigrant Peter Milkint in 1958. (Both Hawaii and Alaska became states in 1959).

Our Lady of the Pines, smallest church in 48 statesJust beside the little church is the smallest post office - 26716. A sign inside the post office reads: "The mail is picked up daily. Window service every Friday the 13th. Parcel post February 29th."

And down in Crestview Hills, KY there's a tiny chapel called Monte Casino at Thomas More College. The chapel measures 6 ft. x 9 ft. -- the ceiling inside is eight feet high. It was built in 1878 at a nearby monastery by a couple of Benedictine monks, and named in 1922 by Ripley's Believe It or Not as "Smallest Church in the World." The monks subsequently left the area, the chapel was abandoned and vandalized, then rescued and moved in 1965 to the college campus. After a restoration, the Monte Casino Chapel was dedicated in 1971.

When all is said and done, however, both these churches fall short of their claims to smallness: both tower over the truly tiny 3.5-by-6-foot Cross Island Chapel in Oneida, NY. It holds three and seats two.


Originally blogged at Appalachian History