Appalachian Thursday – A Fickle State Capital

capitalToday I’m headed to Charleston, WV, the capital of my home state, to participate in the WV Book Festival. I’m not only excited to be going as an author, but also because Charleston is a great city with an exceptionally beautiful capital building. And turns out it has an interesting history . . .

The current capital is actually the sixth structure to house state government. The first was in Wheeling, WV, from 1863-70. Then it was moved to Charleston (capital #2). In 1876, they switched back to Wheeling where they built structure #3 even though the old one was still around (and is even today).

In 1877 the legislature let the people choose between Charleston, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg (what happened to poor Wheeling??). Charleston won and the governor said the capital would be moved there in eight years. That capital–built around the old one (#4)–was fully occupied by 1887. THEN . . . it burned down in 1921.

So a temporary wood-frame structure was erected and dubbed the “pasteboard capital.” It (#5) burned down in 1927. Luckily, they had already begun construction of the capital that houses state government to this day (#6). The west wing had been finished in 1925, the east wing was completed in 1927, and the main domed section in 1932. It cost just under $10 million, which was actually LESS than the legislative appropriation.

The gold dome is the capital’s most recognizable feature. At 292 feet tall and 75 feet in diameter it’s gilded with real gold leaf (over copper and lead).

I’ve visited before, but I’m thinking it might be time to stop by again . . .

Book Review – These Healing Hills

healing hillsI try to keep up with books set in Appalachia, so I was excited when I saw that fellow Baker Publishing Group author Ann Gabhart was writing a book about the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky in the 1940s. These were women who went into remote hills and hollers as nurse-midwives.

Ultimately, These Healing Hills is a sweet story of a healing romance between a jilted nurse and a soldier returning home from WWII. But what utterly charmed me about the story, was Gabhart’s use of Appalachian language and phrasing unique to eastern Kentucky. While there are some commonalities to Appalachia, there are certainly regional quirks. Here are a few Ann uses:

  • Sass patch – Nope, I’ve never heard a garden called that, but I loved learning how native Kentuckians refer to their vegetable patch.
  • Shank’s mare – I want to use this one! It means your own two legs. As in, he traveled by shank’s mare. I looked it up, and it’s of Scottish origin, referring to the bone in the lower part of the leg that was once called the shank.
  • Punishing – Used to mean someone is hurting really bad. A woman in labor is said to be “punishing real bad.” I’d heard it before, but had forgotten it.

It’s the use of language and phrases like this that I think gives Ann’s writing an extra dose of authenticity. She writes Appalachia well because she knows it and loves it–warts and all. I definitely recommend These Healing Hills for a true-to-life peek into an important part of the region’s history. Plus, the story is just plain GOOD!

Writing Historical Fiction

Lorraine
Ladies were not part of the battle, but when you’re doing a reenactment with only a handful of folks, the ladies might hide in the trees and fire off a dozen or so rounds to add to the ambiance.

Oh dear.

As I hope most of you know, I write historical fiction. But not VERY historic. I’ve written as far back as the 1940s, which means when I want to do research I can often pick up the phone and just call someone who was alive then.

But this past weekend I went to a reenactment of the Battle of Kings Mountain. That would be a Revolutionary War battle fought to the south and east of where I now live. And while there were only a handful of folks depicting the unexpected overthrow of the British, it was oddly moving when the battle was won and a spectator yelled, “Go USA!”

I attended because some friends are reenacters. And VERY authentic, too. Their clothing is all handmade and true to the period (no buttons for the ladies and yes, Lorraine was wearing stays). The muskets were reproductions of the real deals and while they weren’t firing musket balls, they did use paper powder cartridges as the soldiers would have.

Seeing men firing long rifles against the beauty of the mountains brought history to life in a way I hadn’t expected and it occurred to me . . . shooting

One of the main reasons I don’t write fiction from longer ago is all the research that’s required. I love to jump into stories having a pretty good idea about what daily life would have been like so I can focus on the people. (Lazy? I won’t argue if you think so.)

But with friends like Dennis and Lorraine if I DID want to write a story from the late 18th century, and I had a question . . . I could just pick up the phone and ask it. My family’s history in Appalachia certainly goes back that far. Brothers David & Elijah Phillips left Massachusetts for what is now French Creek, WV, because they were Patriots and their father and brothers were Loyalists. A family divided!

Like I said at the beginning. Oh dear.

My problem isn’t trying to think of something new to write, it’s deciding which of the hundred stories bouncing around inside my head I’ll give a voice.

Lest my editor or agent see this and get worried, I have no plans to write a Revolutionary War tale. It’s not really my brand. But maybe one of these days . . .

Appalachian Thursday–Civil War Stories

sarah brandon
Photo from Civilwartalk.com

I keep stumbling upon stories that make me think I may have to buckle down, do the research, and write a Civil War novel one of these days.

Last week I learned about Sarah Brandon, known as the “Mother of the Civil War.” I don’t think it’s the most apt nickname, but I didn’t get to choose. She lived in southern Ohio just across the WV state line from Moundsville and her claim to fame is having had 16 (SIXTEEN!!) sons fight in the Civil War. Of course, there were 23 (TWENTY-THREE!!) children in total and only ONE was a girl. Whoo-wee!

But the Civil War aspect isn’t what intrigues me most. It’s the sheer, raw character that Sarah Brandon presents. Here are a few bits and pieces gleaned from newspaper accounts:

  • She allegedly lived to be 113, although a birth record is hard to come by.
  • At the age of 15, she married a man who already had TEN children.
  • In all, she outlived THREE husbands even though she was the one who must have been pregnant pretty much all the time.
  • Her sons were described as “Large, rugged men, noted for their strength, stamina, and endurance.”
  • Near the end of her life she lived in a cabin with her son Evan who was known as an expert wood craftsman as well as reckless and adventurous (he was in his 70s by then).
  • Even when she was supposed to be more than 100 years old, Sarah would walk the mile to town regularly. Perhaps to buy the strong “scrap” tobacco she smoked in her pipe. She was quoted as saying, “Life without my pipe would not be worth living.”
  • She was blind in one eye since childhood. Her then 11-year-old brother shot her right eye out with a bow and arrow.

I mean c’mon. You can’t make up stories this good!