Here’s another nifty tidbit of West Virginia history that may or may not ever make it into a novel. It’s surely a good story, though!
In 1949, a little community in Ritchie County, WV, halfway between Clarksburg and Parkersburg, became the unsuspecting target of a CBS network radio program called “Borden’s County Fair.” Producers had the idea to make a mountain out of a mole hill and set about changing the name of the little town of Mole Hill to . . . Mountain as a publicity stunt.
Of course, the main thing was changing the name of the post office, which meant going through governmental channels, which meant delays. Oddly enough, 100 locals reportedly signed the petition to change the name in a town where the 1940 census showed a total population of 93. I guess they’d been busy over those nine years . . . But still, the stunt dragged.
Then, when Life Magazine showed up on July 1, 1949, the post office came through with the name change on July 2. Politicians came out in droves. The Pennsboro News wrote, “The clouds parted, the heavens smiled, and the sun bedazzled; indicating the approval of Mother Nature of making a Mountain out of Mole Hill, W.Va. Standing on a hay wagon in front of Harvey Haymond’s post office at Mole Hill (Mountain), Governor Patterson legally proclaimed the change. Senator Kilgore explained, and Congressman Bailey declaimed while the merry crowd exclaimed in exultation.”
Now that’s journalism.
There was a big party that day of the coast-to-coast radio broadcast when Borden made a Mountain out of Mole Hill. But afterwards . . . ah, that’s where the story gets interesting.
It seems some residents thought the name would change back as soon as the stunt was over. And still others thought they were getting the main thoroughfare through town paved as part of the deal. Neither happened.
In 1999 a reporter from The Parkersburg News traveled to Mountain and chatted with Harvey Haymond’s widow who was there that day fifty years earlier. She said most of the residents regretted the name change which seems to have had no impact beyond that brief burst of attention.
“They, myself included, all think of the place as Mole Hill,” she said. “We’ve always thought of it as Mole Hill. We always will.”