Wednesday, May 30, 2007

America’s most famous soldier comes under fire

When Sergeant Alvin C. York returned to America in 1919 as the best-known hero of the World War, he decided to devote his attention to improving education in his native rural Tennessee. But by 1933 the state Department of Education was investigating charges that York was guilty of incompetence, negligence, nepotism, and bringing in outsiders. What happened?

York's tenure in the military overseas made him painfully aware of his own educational shortcomings and convinced him that an adequate education was the key to advancement. He originally wanted to create several small schools strategically placed in the mountains, but found the goal to be unrealistic. He decided instead to put his energy towards creating an institution known as the York Industrial Institute (later changed to the York Agricultural and Industrial Institute).

In 1925 the Tennessee General Assembly appropriated fifty thousand dollars toward the school's construction. York announced in 1927 that any future donations or gifts that would have gone to him would now go to the building of schools. He helped further finance the project by going on lectures. However, debt piled up, and when his health began to fail, his financial picture only worsened. He had raised only about $10,000 in a school fund. York, a Democrat, battled the local Republican Fentress County executives over the school's location. Local officials threatened the school’s eviction from the site, and York appealed directly to the state legislature and national media for support. As a result, the 1925 legislation was amended to give the state Department of Education oversight of York Institute.

The school finally opened in 1929, but even with state backing York's problems continued. County officials refused to support the school. In order to pay teachers' salaries, York twice mortgaged his home and paid the teachers directly from his own pocket. He also bought school buses with his own money because the county refused to provide them.

The 1933 investigation uncovered no corruption, but state officials recognized that York was ill equipped to assess the capabilities of faculty. And so, the Department of Education decided in 1937 that for the survival of the institution, the state would administer the school's operation. York was named president emeritus and presided over ceremonial functions.

More than twenty years after he returned home from France, Sergeant Alvin York signed with Warner Brothers to tell his life's story. He acted as advisor. Gary Cooper played York, for which performance he won an Academy Award. The movie was released in 1941.

With the $169,449.84 he received from Warner Brothers, York was able to pay off most of his debts.


Originally blogged at Appalachian History

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Boundaries of Appalachia

Since it is situated about 70 miles west of Nashville in Middle Tennessee, the area around Perry County is not considered part of the geographical region of Appalachia by most descriptors. This being my home town, however, I would disagree on the grounds that culturally and economically, it has more in common with Appalachia than, say, Birmingham, Alabama, a city recognized as decidedly Appalachian by the Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Its economy is centralized on small manufacturers, logging, and livestock farming, with some corn, hay and soybean cultivation thrown in for good measure. It has a rich history of bluegrass music, and contains geographic features not very different from those found atop the Cumberland Plateau.Next time you're down towards the area, stop in and decide for yourself.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Laurel Bed Lake

I was introduced to a new mountain gem this weekend. I considered myself an outdoor guru of Southwestern Virginia but more and more I'm finding new and hidden places that I had never heard of. This weekend on a fishing excursion, I was escorted to Laurel Bed Lake. On top of Clinch Mountain, at the borders of Smyth, Russell, Washington and Tazewell Counties, the man-made lake surface of 330 acres rests at 3674 feet above sea level. Being so far up and away from the closest town of Saltville (elevation 1718) made me want to find out why this lake was built. With most lakes in my area, they are to either provide water to a town nearby or electricity. It appears that Laurel Bed was made just for us to enjoy and to provide the state with additional fishing fee reveue. In an effort to find something digging a little more deeply into the history of the lake than what the site above told me, I came across the Laurel Bed Lake Liming Project. The article below by Dr. Dan Downey lays out a history of the lake as well as the efforts to preserve a habitat for native fish and eradicate an aggressor that was not intended to be in the lake.

A Brief History of the Liming of Laurel Bed Lake
By Dan Downey

Laurel Bed Lake is a 330 acre high mountain impoundment located in the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area (CMWMA). The CMWMA is a 25,000 acre piece of mountainous real estate that was acquired for Virginia hunters and fishermen in early the 1960s with revenues raised from fishing and hunting licenses. A central feature of this property is a picturesque stream known as Big Tumbling Creek that flows several miles down through a steep and narrow gorge filled with rhododendron and mountain laurel. When the CMWMA was created, times were different for trout fishermen in the Commonwealth and the name of the game was catch and keep. The trout season back then consisted of several stockings of catchable sized fish in the months of April and May, with most of the fish caught out soon after the season opened. In an effort to provide for a longer trout season and the opportunity for people to fish over freshly stocked trout, Big Tumbling Creek was made into a fee fishing trout stream. Under this regulation, trout are stocked daily (except Sunday) and fishermen pay a daily fee to fish for them. The fee fishery was very popular when it was initiated, attracting more than 35,000 people per year. (However, times have changed - with the many special regulation streams we have now, year round trout season and other changes in the trout program, about half the number of permits are sold as in the past.) Soon after the fee fishery was established it was found that as with most headwater streams in Virginia, Big Tumbling Creek experienced very low flows in the latter part of the summer that limited fishing. To offset the low flow conditions, Laurel Bed Lake was built in 1967 on a major tributary (Laurel Creek) to provide stream flow augmentation to the fee fishing area via regulated water releases.

Obviously a large lake in a Wildlife Management Area provides an opportunity for fishing even if the main reason for its existence is stream flow augmentation. Thus the lake was stocked with brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and included as part of the fee area. Unfortunately there were problems in the development of the fishery from the outset. It soon became apparent that low pH - acid conditions - were the cause of much of the trouble here. The watershed of Laurel Bed Lake is mainly low solubility siliciclastic rock. It provides very little natural buffer to offset the acid rainfall of the region. In addition, the lake was built on top of a wetland, which is naturally acidic. So in the 1970s, Bob Wollitz and John Jesse, the regional fisheries biologists at that time, added 60 tons of slaked lime to the lake to increade alkalinity. This was done manually by slurrying the material from a boat. This effort had remarkable results: aquatic vegetation established and the stocked brook trout resident in the lake grew fat from an abundance of aquatic insects. These were the glory days of the "bed" that many of the local fishermen still talk about. Catches of a hundred fish per day - with some in the 16" to 18" range - were not unusual. Unfortunately, however, things took a turn for the worse. First, rock bass (red-eyes or goggleyes, Ambloplites rupestris) became established in the lake. These small sunfish are often called the "schoolboy's friend" because they are prolific and easy to catch. But in Laurel Bed Lake, they were considered to be a nuisance fish as they outcompeted the brookies for the aquatic insect food supply and trout growth rates decreased. Worse yet, within a few years the pH of the lake gradually dropped. These things caused the brook trout fishery to become dependent on annual put and take stockings and there was little carry over of trout from year to year.

In 1996, the new fisheries biologist for the region, Tom Hampton, was handed the task of "re-making the bed" - to try to restore the fishery as before. Tom asked Dr. Dan Downey of JMU, who has done extensive research on surface water acidity and liming in Virginia, to assist in this project. The lake, its feeder stream, physical characteristics and water chemistry were studied in great detail. It was found that the lake was averaging pH 4.9 in 1995 and 1996. Clearly the fishery could only be reestablished by raising the pH with lime once again. It was decided to use a three prong approach to liming: first the feeder stream would be treated with a helicopter to deliver the limestone to the headwaters. This was the same approach that had successfully been developed for liming streams in the National Forest, such as the recently treated St. Mary's Wilderness. Then the upper lake shoreline, where there is a lot of wave action, would be limed. Finally the main body of the lake would be treated with lime directly. The idea here was to raise pH and other water quality parameters (WQPs), such as base cation concentration, as soon as possible, then to maintain this pH with a minimum of reapplications. Things became complicated from the outset. First, the concrete riser at the lower end of the lake, which contains the water release gate, had to be repaired. As it turned out, this reconstruction effort later necessitated the draining of the lake. Then the first phase of liming did not go well. The feeder stream was to be limed in November 1996. After only a few trips, the feeder stream liming had to be abandoned due to hazardous flying conditions, so the upper lake shoreline was treated with the limestone that was supposed to have been placed in the stream. In 1997, the lake was drained for the repair work. The residual water was treated with rotenone to remove the stunted population of red-eyed sunfish that had naturalized in the acidic lake. By the fall of 1997, the construction was finished and the lake was slowly refilled. Approximately 90 tons of aglime was slurried into the lake in a three day period in October, 1997. Concurrently over 15,000 brook trout fingerlings, four to six inches in length were introduced. With winter snows and rain, the lake had refilled to full pool by February, 1998. The WQP's were significantly improved, such as the pH values increasing from 4.9 to 6.5 and acid neutralizing capacity values increasing from negative values to good positive values.

By the spring of 1998, it was apparent that the brook trout had not only survived through the winter, but had grown and were doing quite well. Netting in the fall of 1998 revealed that they had grown to nine to thirteen inches in this one year period. A second lake liming was then conducted in October 1998 with over 150 tons of aglime slurried into the lake. Another 22,000 brook trout fingerlings were then introduced. The netting and other surveys revealed that the red-eye sunfish population had returned, either as a result of illegal introductions by fishermen or because they were not completely exterminated when the lake was down. After careful consideration, 8000 smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) fingerlings were introduced to provide a predatory fish which could control the red-eye sunfish. Smallmouth bass had previously been stocked in this lake years ago but had not survived. That was done, however, when the pH was low. Electrofishing along the shoreline in the spring of 1999 revealed that the smallmouth bass survived the winter and were doing well. There were large numbers of brook trout in the lake in the 10-14" range, with a few fish near 16" length, indicating a healthy population and good growth rates. By the year 2002, the lake had also become an outstanding smallmouth bass fishery with some bass exceeding 17" in length.

As mentioned above, Laurel Bed Lake is drawn down in the summer months to augment the flow of Big Tumbling Creek. This discharge releases much of the lime treatment. Thus maintenance liming has been done in the fall months to replenish the material lost to discharge or used up in the treatment of the acidity of the lake. It is expected that the lake will continue to be a popular fishery for brook trout and eventually also produce good smallmouth bass fishing. Thus liming has been found to be a successful tool for improving water quality habitat in this lake.

The Price of Gas and A Man Torn

Down highway 58 outside Damascus with the tank filled on mountain air, rhododendrons, music, and home grown conversation traveled a man torn between two worlds. This midnight sheltered switchback drive where a man pays attention to the difference of dark greens, blacks, and blues of the tree lines instead of the road is nothing new to me. Over and over throughout the years the Appalachians people rolled out of their beds and headed to one life far away in the city only to return to refill their empty bodies with another, the life I just witnessed this evening. We are a people of travel, not the elaborate “I am going to holiday in Europe for three weeks” type of people but the “I’m going home to sit on the porch with friends” type of travel. One story I heard this weekend was how one man who worked in Glade Spring, VA would ride the train to Meadowview, VA (6 miles away) to get off and walk over incredibly rugged terrain to Heyter’s Gap, VA (at least 20 miles away) just to go back and forth from work every day. I wonder what he saw and thought on those two daily trips?

Scores of temporary Appalachian nomads made that same trek across the mountain looking for a living just to turn back around for the mountain weekend. Many years ago a man had the option of working in the fields, or go off to the factories to support his family. More importantly he also had to make a choice between loving and leaving the place he called home. It is no wonder that when the jobs in the fields fell by the wayside the factory jobs started to look pretty good. The factories at the time, and even now, were far away from the lives these men cherished so they packed up the family and left the mountains in a max exodus parade of overstuffed cars. Bumper to bumper the shifty roads out of the valleys poured into the cites on a Sunday evening and on a Friday afternoon the cars turned around and headed straight home, some as far away as nine hours. My own choices between these two worlds hit really hard as I crept down the backside of Iron Mountain. Several years ago I found myself very lost in the pitch dark of that same mountain where each turn was another wonderful laugh and tonight I clinched the wheel a little tighter as I thought of the upcoming drive back to Richmond in the morning. This move between love and life has become an internal struggle for me. How fitting it takes place on my favorite road outside Damascus? Tonight I did not feel as alone. This time I felt a little sad for all of us who will be throwing the kitchen in the trunk in the morning instead of digging our hands into the soil. Furthermore as I sat there on the porch of the Konnarock General Store I fell through all the people in my life that would have enjoyed the evening as much as I did. I could place them all there in the rocking chair with me even if they were far away in their own factories. At the general store where Bruce, Dawn, and friends gather to celebrate that Appalachian way of life I could see Neal, Eric, Mike, Steve, and Sean sitting beside me. I could hear Allyson singing, Ron playing, Heather laughing, Kym reading, dad preaching, and my grandmother teaching. I could see us all there together and THAT is the true meaning. The life in this area is about community. Even if that community gets in the car and heads away for the bread and the butter we will always come back to sit once again on that porch just to enjoy being home. Thanks for the gas I just got to fill up this car.

First published at OurGoblinMarket

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Damn Yankees

I can no longer refer to the Bronx Bombers by that moniker. It is now solely reserved for Northerners that make their permanent residence south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Why? Well, you see, my blood flows orange and maroon, as in Virginia Tech. Now, the hated Yankees go and make nice...

"Yankees to tribute Hokies: The Yankees will hold a special pregame ceremony prior to Wednesday's [June 23] game against the Red Sox to remember the victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy, the team announced.

The Yankees will also present a $1 million contribution to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, established to pay tribute to the victims of the tragic on-campus events of April 16."

I grew up watching the Pulaski Braves, a former Appalachian League (go ahead, click the link) member, as they compiled the minor league players that would later win them a World Series. The Yankees were the nemesis verses the Braves in those days so I still harbor ill will toward them, until this evening.

Monday, May 21, 2007

17,400 pounds of string
Masking tape was invented in 1925, cellophane tape in 1930, and duct tape in 1940. What on earth did people use before these wonderful adhesives? Why, string or twine, of course. And chances are that the first two inventions were new enough in the culture during the 1930s that plenty of people, out of old habit, still relied on tying things rather than taping them. And furthermore, because of their newness, tapes were pricier than string.

You’re a thrifty farmer, it’s the Depression, and that new fangled tape, though appealing, is expensive. You might simply purchase store-bought string. Better yet budget-wise, you could pull odds & ends of string from say, butcher’s packages, or the morning newspaper ties, and create yourself a Big Ball of String to tap as needed.

So it comes as no surprise that a farmer would be the one to take this originally very sensible idea to its extreme conclusion, and create not just A big ball of string, but the BIGGEST ball of string! 17,400 lbs. and 12 feet in diameter, and twine, to be exact. Nor does it come as a surprise that the farmer, Francis A. Johnson, of Darwin, MN, was born in 1904. In other words he was of a generation used to using string or twine, not tape, to bundle things.

No, Johnson never lived anywhere in Appalachia, but you can bet there were and are plenty of farmers just like him throughout the region who’ve got their more humble, if perhaps a bit more useful, version of the big ball of string.

Orginially blogged at Appalachian History

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I Went to Virgina Tech...

I went to Virginia Tech and here is what I saw...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Town of Knox

In Knoxville, near the Tennessee River, stands a monument inscribed with these words from an 18th century traveler through the area. This isn't exactly the quaint little old frontier town that some would present Knoxville as being. And oddly enough, it sounds vaguely familiar to the sight one might come upon on a Saturday during the fall when there happens to be a home game.

"In the infant town of Knox the houses are irregular and interspersed. It was County Court day when I came. I saw men jesting, singing, swearing; women yelling from doorways... Whiskey and peach brandy were cheap. The town was confused with a promiscuous throng of every denomination -- blanket-clad Indians, leather-shirted woodsmen, gamblers, hard-eyed and vigilant. I stood aghast. My soul shrank back to hear the horrid oaths and dreadful indignities offered to the supreme governor of the universe.... There was what I never did see before on Sunday, dancing, singing, and playing of cards.

It was said by a gentlemen [sic] of the neighborhood that the devil is grown so old that it renders him incapable of traveling and that he has taken up in Knoxville and there he hopes to spend the remaining part of his days.... as he believes he is among friends."

- James Weir, 1798

Black Cash

Black Cash is also a Richmond-based band that y'all need to check out, especially if you ever loved Johnny Cash's sound.
Originally posted at Ashvegas.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tonight in Knoxville: Great concert, great cause

Tonight in downtown Knoxville, a few of us Savants will be hosting a very special evening of local music in support of a very important cause.

Grandpa's Stash is one of the newest, hottest bands to hit Knoxville in a couple of years. Their distinctive brand of experimental and catchy rock and roll has earned them a rapidly-swelling flock of loyal fans after only a few months. Grandpa's Stash is a full-on rock and roll band with a horn section that adds a unique twist to the band's always fun, always thrilling live show. They'll play a unique, one-night-only jam session with one of East Tennessee's hardest-working rock bands, Central Funktion. Kicking things off will be Doug Shock, a standard on the Knoxville music scene. Doug's pop-rock shows have been pleasing crowds night after night for years.

All of the money raised at the door will go directly to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, through its Team in Training program. In February 2006, Michelle Pfeffer lost her battle with Leukemia. Her friends Hannah Lowe and Sarah Surak will travel next month to San Diego to run in a half-marathon in Michelle's memory. Each is raising $4000 to donate to the research that hopefully will very soon bring an end to these terrible diseases. This concert will serve as the capstone event of our fundraising campaign.

I hope that all of our fellow Savants will join us tonight at World Grotto on Market Square. If you've not been to World Grotto before, it's a treat - an eclectic basement venue and art gallery with great acoustics. To get there, just walk to the east side of Knoxville's Market Square. Of course you can park for free in the Market Square garage, adjacent to the square on the west side.

We also want to thank our sponsors for all of their support:

Things will get kicked off around 8:00 or so. Bring your friends and join us!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Musical Treats to Kick-Start the Weekend isn't just for teenagers and creepy old dudes, of which I am neither. It's the best place to find new music, either under recording labels or by individuals trying to market themselves. So, I thought I would post a few sites for your listening pleasure. These fine musicians are either from the Appalachian area or love to play the music of the mountains. Friday is here so grab your favorite beverage du jour (it's G&T season since the sheep rain has just passed), crank up the hi-fi and relax.

First, have a listen to Brian Williams. No, not the NBC talking head but rather the master of the six string who honed his skills while living in Blacksburg & playing with some of legends of the music industry. I recently had the pleasure of pickin' with him over Easter weekend. Remember his name. Our kids will be referring to his playing as people these days speak of Doc Watson.

Next, a group of guys from Minnesota called Trampled by Turtles. My brother recently introduced me to this band and they have since been playing through my speakers on a daily basis.

Then listen to Scott Fore & His Hillbilly Hot Club. Fore has accomplished something only a handful of people have done, and he's done it twice. He has won the Wayne C. Henderson Guitar Competition then returned to the same festival to win the Championship of Champions, subsequently earning a Henderson Guitar for each. The trophy of all trophies! And to top that, he makes his home in Radford, Va.

From good ole Abingdon, Va., the Dixie Bee-Liners!

This next group reminds me of what would have happened if Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton had ever raised a bunch of kids then sent them to Charlottesville to play music for beer money. Well, the second half is right. The Wrinkle Neck Mules now call Richmond their home but the music is rooted in dark taverns in the Blue Ridge.

And we can't for get where we came from. The good Doc takes us home.

The Hand That Rocked the Cradle

I held the fragile photo in my hands and smiled.

"Who is this adorable child, Betty?" I asked her.

Betty peered a moment at the photo, then groped on the coffee table for her eyeglasses. She put them on to help her glaucoma-dimmed eyes see the small photo I had pulled out from her photo album.

"Child?!" She said, snorting a bit. "That's no child! That's a woman!"

It was hard for me to believe that the barefoot girl in the oversized dungarees rolled up to her shins was a woman. I must have looked at Betty with a questioning gaze.

"Oh, yes! She got married not long after that and had a baby by the same time the next year."

"How old is she here, Betty?" I asked.

"I reckon she's 'bout thirteen there."

I looked at the broadly grinning, scampish face in the photo. She looked like she'd just come in from gigging frogs, or some other common childhood pursuit here in the mountains.

There are many paradoxes here. The mountains cosset their children and insist that they indeed be children. Between chores, there are endless childlike fascinations to be found. Turtles to harass, fish to be caught, salamanders to hold and icy creeks to swim in. But the mountains also ask those children to grow up practically overnight.

Those paradoxes are far deeper and more challenging for girl children.

I look at the photo of the little girl often. I wonder about how she had to grow up so quickly, moving from barefoot child to mother in the course of a year.

I wonder. But I know, somewhere deep in my bones, I know, that she was strong. Strong like Betty and all of the mountain women I know. She may have stayed seated in church, but hers was not only the hand that rocked the cradle, that stirred the pot, that did the laundry and milked the cow.

Hers was the hand that shaped a generation of proud Appalachian people.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Vigil Alone With A Corpse

This is a story taken from "The Jacob Bauer-Bower Family" by Charles H. Bower. This is a glimpse into my family's past.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The New Deal -- social elixir or socialist plot?

“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people,” said newly nominated Democratic presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 2, 1932.

Editorial cartoonists had a field day with the alphabet-soup of agencies the newly elected Roosevelt spun out starting in 1933: the AAA, CAA, CCC, CWA, FAP, FCA, FMP and so on: 15 in his first year in office alone!

More than one agency held out promise to Appalachian residents. The TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) was an unusual entrance of government into business -- a government-owned network of dams and hydroelectric plants to control floods and produce electric power in the Tennessee Valley. The AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) was an attempt to organize agriculture, though it favored the larger farmers as the NRA favored big business.

“The New Deal is plainly an attempt to achieve a working socialism and avert a social collapse in America; it is extraordinarily parallel to the successive 'policies' and 'plans' of the Russian experiment. Americans shirk the word 'socialism', but what else can one call it?” noted British author H.G. Wells.

It did give jobs to the unemployed, helped the consumer with lower electric rates, and in some respect deserved the accusation that it was "socialistic." But the New Deal's organization of the economy was aimed mainly at stabilizing the economy, and secondly at giving only enough help to the lower classes to keep them from turning a rebellion into a real revolution.

That rebellion was fermenting when Roosevelt took office:. Desperate people were not waiting for the government to help them; they were helping themselves, acting directly. Aunt Molly Jackson, a woman who very soon became active in labor struggles in Appalachia, recalled how she walked into the local store, asked for a 24-pound sack of flour, gave it to her little boy to take it outside, then filled a sack of sugar and said to the storekeeper, "Well, I'll see you in ninety days. I have to feed some children . . . I'll pay you, don't worry."

And when he objected, she pulled out her pistol (which, as a midwife traveling alone through the hills, she had a permit to carry) and said: "Martin, if you try to take this grub away from me, God knows that if they electrocute me for it tomorrow, I'll shoot you six times in a minute." Then, as she recalls, "I walked out, I got home, and these seven children was so hungry that they was a-grabbin the raw dough off-a their mother's hands and crammin it into their mouths and swallowing it whole."


Originally blogged at Appalachian History

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Blue Fugates of Kentucky

Lorenzo & Eleanor Fugate
(Image from Hazard, Kentucky &
Perry County: A Photographic History)
Around the world there are legends of human beings who have skin of a unusual shades, folk whose skin color wasn't some variation on brown or pink. These people, as they are remembered by their neighbor's descendants, were usually of a supernatural ilk - elves or gods or some other genre of sentient being. More often than not, these legends have been explained in our oh-so-enlightened civilization as the product of imaginative storytellers, bad translations, and artistic flourishes. Yet, in the relatively recent past, in the hills of eastern Kentucky, there was a clan of folk who seem to have shared a genetic anomaly that, in effect, rendered them blue.

That's right blue.

Okay, well, maybe not entirely blue - but definitely a blueish tint.

Let me explain. Once, not so long ago, the only blue men I'd ever heard of were an off-Broadway-to-Vegas post-modern performance group featured repeatedly on the late, great Arrested Development. Then, say, two days ago, I got on a certain search engine and did a blog search for recent entries that specifically included the words "West Virginia." Well, as I scrolled through, just looking for pieces of interest, I came upon a site which, as luck would have it, is an old friend of ours at HS, a site better known for its political writing than its anthropological such have yous - West Virginia Blue. The entry was on the blue men, not of West Virginia, but of the Mountain State's neighbor, Kentucky, and it focused primarily on an article published in Science way back in 1982 - you can find that article here
, but I want to quote a couple points for you.
Madison Cawein began hearing rumors about the blue people when he went to work at the University of Kentucky's Lexington medical clinic in 1960. "I'm a hematologist, so something like that perks up my ears," Cawein says, sipping on whiskey sours and letting his mind slip back to the summer he spent "tromping around the hills looking for blue people."
Cawein is no stranger to eccentricities of the body. He helped isolate an antidote for cholera, and he did some of the early work on L-dopa, the drug for Parkinson's disease. But his first love, which he developed as an Army medical technician in World War II, was hematology. "Blood cells always looked so beautiful to me," he says.
Cawein would drive back and forth between Lexington and Hazard an eight-hour ordeal before the tollway was built and scour the hills looking for the blue people he'd heard rumors about. The American Heart Association had a clinic in Hazard, and it was there that Cawein met "a great big nurse" who offered to help.
Her name was Ruth Pendergrass, and she had been trying to stir up medical interest in the blue people ever since a dark blue woman walked into the county health department one bitterly cold afternoon and asked for a blood test.
"She had been out in the cold and she was just blue!" recalls Pendergrass, who is now 69 and retired from nursing. "Her face and her fingernails were almost indigo blue. It like to scared me to death! She looked like she was having a heart attack. I just knew that patient was going to die right there in the health department, but she wasn't a'tall alarmed. She told me that her family was the blue Combses who lived up on Ball Creek. She was a sister to one of the Fugate women." About this same time, another of the blue Combses, named Luke, had taken his sick wife up to the clinic at Lexington. One look at Luke was enough to "get those doctors down here in a hurry," says Pendergrass, who joined Cawein to look for more blue people.
Trudging up and down the hollows, fending off "the two mean dogs that everyone had in their front yard," the doctor and the nurse would spot someone at the top of a hill who looked blue and take off in wild pursuit. By the time they'd get to the top, the person would be gone. Finally, one day when the frustrated doctor was idling inside the Hazard clinic, Patrick and Rachel Ritchie walked in.
"They were bluer'n hell," Cawein says. "Well, as you can imagine, I really examined them. After concluding that there was no evidence of heart disease, I said 'Aha!' I started asking them questions: 'Do you have any relatives who are blue?' then I sat down and we began to chart the family."
Cawein remembers the pain that showed on the Ritchie brother's and sister's faces. "They were really embarrassed about being blue," he said. "Patrick was all hunched down in the hall. Rachel was leaning against the wall. They wouldn't come into the waiting room. You could tell how much it bothered them to be blue."
After ruling out heart and lung diseases, the doctor suspected methemoglobinemia, a rare hereditary blood disorder that results from excess levels of methemoglobin in the blood. Methemoglobin which is blue, is a nonfunctional form of the red hemoglobin that carries oxygen. It is the color of oxygen-depleted blood seen in the blue veins just below the skin.
Okay - that is only a slice of the article - - - you should really read the entire bit, frankly - it'll be well worth your time. When you've reached the end you'll understand why, even with diligent searches of the internet, you're unlikely to find many pictures of blue men or women, Kentuckian or otherwise - because those people affected with this genetic anomaly (I won't call it a defect or even a handicap, because I haven't read of any disabling physiological effects) fear, quite logically, that society would drag them out for public exposition. It is sad, really - a physical trait that could add to someone's uniqueness has had to be hidden out of fear that it will be exploited by the foulest pimps of the entertainment and yellow journalism - both printed and video tabloids. Indeed, I find it interesting that most of those folks interacting with the blue Fugates blame the geography of east Kentucky alone for their genetic inbreeding - I can't remember that any of them make the connection between their hesitancy to leave their family connections and the fact that these people, rational beings all, knew how they would be insulted, feared, abused, and most likely, very, very lonely. Ah well.

If you're interested, I have a few more links for you - not a ton, but enough to keep your eyes moving for a few minutes at least. . . consider:

The Radford University Geography Blog entry on "The Blue People of Kentucky"

The Straight Dope's "Is There Really a Race of Blue People?"

Wikipedia on "Methmoglobinemia"

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spirit In The Sky

I recently purchased a new digital camera. Eager to try it out, I loaded up in the car and drove around southern Greene County looking for churches to photograph. I found plenty, some old, some new and of various denominations. The post title comes from the Norman Greenbaum hit that played on WIMZ while I was out driving.

Git out there and hill them taters boy!

This time of year always causes me to reflect back on my early days growing up in Knoxville. Hot weather, walking barefooted through the finely tilled dirt, and hearing the mourning doves, cicadas, and whippoorwills in the distance. Ah... if I could only close my eyes and be transported back to those times. Although, I could probably do without the scolding from my dad.

Twas such a familiar thing for me to hear, my dad hollering at me to get off of my lazy hind-end and get out in the garden to hill the taters (that's potatoes for all of you Appalachianly challenged folks.) When you depended on vegetables out of the garden to keep your family fed, you did everything humanly possible to make sure that your efforts weren't wasted. One of the necessary evils of raising taters, is having to make sure that when they come in, they aren't damaged from sunlight. You see, even though potatoes grow underground, if the roots of the plants are not covered with enough dirt, the potatoes will get sun damaged and turn green. This green is actually an increase in the Glycoalkaloids which creates Solanine, a powerful toxin. If you eat a green potato, chances are you're gonna be trottin' out to the old outhouse soon after. Solanine causes a number of things to happen to you. Mainly, it gives you severe diarrhea! They say that you can die from Solanine poison, although I've never known anybody to croak from eating green taters.

So, getting back to tater hilling... Just in case you don't know what tater hilling is, it's when you take a hoe and pull dirt up around the bottom of the tater plants. You pile it up nice and high so that the roots are covered well. It's a back breaking job, especially when you have an acre garden and nearly half of it is occupied by taters! It was always my job to hill the taters when I was growing up. Lucky me.

I was browsing the Web for articles about tater hilling and I ran across the neatest contraption, it's called the Quadivator™ Hilling Mold Boards (Potato Hiller) Attachment. My gosh, to think of all of the anger and frustration I could have been saved from. Of course, my Papaw's horse, Clyde, probably wouldn't have liked pulling this fancy contraption around the garden.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Coalfield Residents Take Mountain Top Removal to U.N.

United Nations

Grassroots Appalachian activists have taken their campaign to halt Mountain Top Removal (MTR) mining to their largest stage yet--the United Nations. Participating in this weeks UN Commission on Sustainable Development, groups from Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia are asking the commission to do what local, state and federal government has either been unable or unwilling to do. Squarely face and take action on MTR.

Coal is garnering lots of attention lately as a new, "clean" energy alternative. While some technology can yield cleaner emissions from the burning of coal, the ecological and social impact of mining it in a non-sustainable manner is another story.

More on the process of MTR and the impacts it is having can be found in this previous post.

Mountain Top Removal Site

News Coverage of the UN delegation:

PR Newswire

Yuba Net

WCPO - Cincinnati

Blog Coverage:

Appalachian Voice Front Porch Blog


"Frog Went A-Courting"

I have this book from my childhood called “Frog Went A-Courting” (History of Book) which is one of those little things in life that means more to me than any amount of money can buy. Most of us probably have a selected and secured library from our past that we wish to pass onto our own children. This morning as I sat down in front of my computer screen I came across a wonderful databank of Appalachian poetry, stories, and regional themes collected by Ferrum College. The guys in charge of this fantastic databank at Ferrum have collected so much information on Appalachian writings including children’s lit, poetry, folk tales, picture books, and even environmental themes. The range in work in the databank is enormous including the work of Jo Carson of Johnson City, TN and “The Soap Tale” collected by Emory L. Hamilton of Wise, VA (found under Fiction and Poems) among many many many other writers. Take a gander at the site and when your family comes rolling home pull them up to the porch for a cool afternoon read.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Planting Time

Subsistence Garden
(courtesy Rootsweb)

Warmer temperatures, longer daylight in the evenings, bugs beginning to hum through the air...all of these can only mean one thing. Spring has fully arrived and summer is quickly approaching.

This time of year always brings up thoughts and discussion about the coming growing season. My family, like many Appalachians, has always put out a sizeable garden every year, and it is always amusing to hear all the theories surrounding when to plant, what to plant, and most importantly, under what signs everything should occur.

I still get reports through phone conversations with mamaw and dad going round and round about these details, vigorously supporting their own ideas, theories and experiences. These conversations always abound with the many factors that have to be considered when planting: the lunar calendar, the zodiac, the different "winters" such as dogwood and blackberry, the 10th of May spell. Take for instance this tidbit of wisdom:
Potatoes should be planted by the light of a full moon. No matter how deeply planted during other phases, they will rise to the surface of the soil and be sunburned during the day.

Though I've never been an expert at such things, I always find myself listening to these conversations with child-like fascination. While I don't know that this is uniquely an Appalachian practice, many old-timers I know swear by it and don't touch the ground until they've consulted a calendar.

Several books and resources on the web touch on the topic, and are listed below:


The Foxfire Series, an authority on this and many other things Appalachian

Astrological Gardening: The Ancient Wisdom of Successful Planting & Harvesting by the Stars


Appalachian Traveller

Agricultural Forecasting; the Methodologies of Appalachia Farming and Maya Agriculture - Appalachian State University
A particulary interesting link.

Gardening by the Moon

Nature Almanac

It also applies to canning, for those inclined:

Catching Summer in a Mason Jar - Appalachian Voice

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him”

When I am back at the old homeland I love to crawl up into the attic and glance at all the old farm tools stashed up there waiting for the next planting season. Over the years of spring cleanings these are the things that will not be thrown away. You can wander into any little country store, antique mall, and sometimes even the occasional restaurant and see these beauties hanging from the rafters. The farming tool of the past has now become a symbol, like the forgotten skeleton of good old Yorick in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. When Hamlet reached in and pulled out this memory a flood of emotions of “the days past” came rushing in. It is the same for me when I glance into that dingy little space above the house.

Planting Machines
A collection of planting machines. The large central machine is a grass and grain planter. The one on the left, a potato planter. The one on the right, a corn, bean, and pea planter. The three smaller machines in front are hand seed planters. (The First Book of Farming FIG. 48.)

Sheep Shears
I love this image my grandmother took in the 20’s
By Hazel Holley Crabtree

Just for fun check out the artist Rodney Smith. I love it.
Don Jumping Over Hay Roll, No. 1

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

MAKE/Boing Boing: National Highlights on Appalachian Such-Have-Yous

Here at HS we pride ourselves as being, well, relatively blogtastic. Ahem.

Blogtastic: (adj.) 'bläg-'tas-tik, 1 - to blog in a blogrific fashion; 2 - to be able to recognize the attribute of blogrificness in other bloggers; Etymology: From Middle English blogtastique to recognize the attribute of endlessly talking about stuff and things; From Gaelic blaugh-tas'm, a spirit, ghost, or other phantasm endlessly spouting off at the mouth
That said, our blogtasticness is generally limited to regional blogs - that isn't to say that we don't read nationally oriented blogs - we certainly do - but that we usually don't cover them on herein. I used to think this was largely a product of our subject matter being fairly region specific - you know, it was mainly that we cater to a small, but (pleasingly) growing audience. Then I decided to pull a Technorati move - I went through and searched each of the 100 most popular blogs according to the Great Green Monstrosity's ranking system and found, much to my chagrin, that virtually none of the sites had entries with either the word Appalachia or Appalachian. I considered doing similar searches for states (e.g. West Virginia), cities (Charleston), and sub-regions (e.g. Watauga), but then decided that I'd rather not have my eyeballs melt from my skull. Gurgle.

Two sites on Technorati's list did manage to cover us, at least a little bit, that probably warrant a little note - coincidently they are two of the best damn blogs on the internet, in my opinion, and I check them out at least weekly, and often more than that. What are they, you're wondering? Tell us Eric! you're screaming. Well, alright then.

The first of the two sites is Make - to quote the by-line, "Void your warranty, violate a user agreement, fry a circuit, blow a fuse, poke an eye out... Welcome to the Make Blog!" Yeah, it reminds me of my friend Joe from high school as well. Ultimately, Make (and its mother magazine, Make) is about modifications (or mods, for the hip amongst us), or more specifically, about how ordinary people modify found and purchased goods with the intention of improving their operation or making them more aesthetically pleasing. Thus, it is unsurprising that the folks at Make have landed on the Foxfire series, if only long enough to post some links - check out the comments for a hint as to where to download free scans of the old reliables. Of course, Make is also kind enough to throw out a couple more links - one on on Heirloom Technology and one on Forgotten Arts and Crafts. All good stuff, even if all do take the Appalachia-as-a-living-archaeological-site perspective (though again, they are short entries, so they can't even do that too hard and rough).

The second site, and you're probably rolling your eyes that I'd even bring it up, is Boing Boing. That's right, the globally renowned "Directory of Wonderful Things." This blog, by the way, rules - even if they do get censored in Boston and China (long story - moving on). Boing Boing is run by several folks, but they build on a global recommendation base - folks write in, recommend sites, and if their description is quite adequate, well, they link'm up with a little commentary (or a lot of commentary, occasionally).

Enough gushing, on to the big dance. Boing Boing gives us three Appalachia-specific entries with plenty of meat on their bones and active links - I don't want to over describe them, so just hit'm up. Specifically, the subjects are:

1) Our friends over at Appalshop, described as "digital music for wired hillbillies," (with a reference to one of my favorite books on the region ever, Noah Adams' Far Appalachia);
2) Kevin Scanlon's railroad photography - for those of you who put up with us for our photo-contributors, well, this is a delicious dish - I know you'll like it; and
3) Gary Monroe's artwork, featuring snake-handling Christians is powerful - Albrecht Dürer meets pre-World War II murals.

Just thought you'd be interested.

The Bluegrass Blog

I just came across this wonderful blog from PULASKI, Virginia called “The Bluegrass Blog. Check out all the great work they are doing across the mountain.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Arundinaria appalachiana

Hill Cane in Polk County, Tennessee
(Image from BambooWeb)

We've been scooped by the folks over at Cryptomundo. Alas and bemoan.

Surprise, surprise! Two known species of North American bamboo discovered 200 years ago have been joined by a brand new one just found in the last year. The “hill cane” was discovered in the Appalachian Mountains. This new species of bamboo (Arundinaria appalachiana) grows only to about 6 feet, compared with the other North American species - river cane and switch cane - which each can grow much taller and thicker. It is the only species of the three that drops its leaves. Locals knew about it but had not recognized it as anything so new or special.
Hmm. Intriguing, eh? Okay. Read the rest of the article. Go on. We'll wait.

Done? Pretty awesome, eh? I'm not sure I've ever seen this plant before - I can say it reminds me of Palm Sunday palms that I've seen used all over the region, but I can't say that such an impression is anything more than, well, an impression. Awesome jonx, regardless.

Additional random point - Arundinaria literally means "cane" and appalachiana literally means, well, "Appalachian" - thus the scientific name isn't hill cane - its Appalachian cane. Just a clarification.

Now, I could end it there, but you know me - - - so I got on the old inter-hooey, went clickity-clack, and bam, prepped some more info for you hungry, Appalachianista botanists. Enjoy.

"Botanists identify new species of North American bamboo"

"Iowa State University botanists identify new species of North American bamboo"
Iowa State University

"Hill Cane"
University of Tennessee Herbarium

"Arundinaria appalachiana"
Bamboo Flora & Fauna From Around the World

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Down A Country Lane

A few years ago, my brother and his wife moved to Atlanta. Visiting the big city was fun, but the drive down I-75 was tedious at best. I could have gone down through Asheville and Greenville, SC and take I-85 to Hotlanta, but I wanted to avoid interstates and city driving for as long as possible before I hit my destination. I plotted out a route that would take me east of Asheville on NC209 through Hot Springs and down to Highway 23 which eventually runs to Atlanta (see the Google map). I didn't know what to expect when I set out, but I pleasantly surprised.
For about 45 miles, NC209 goes over mountains and twists through valleys. Following a winding road, I saw sights that seem almost lost to the world.