Appalachian Thursday – Mother’s Day Started in WV

shrineYup. That’s right. The woman who invented Mother’s Day was born in Grafton, WV.

Anna Jarvis campaigned for the holiday in honor of her own mother Anna Reeves Jarvis. Mother Anna was a social activist who organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs during the second half of the nineteenth century. The clubs raised money to help needy families and nursed those stricken by tuberculosis. They also fought for clean water and safe sewage disposal.

Anna’s passion was likely the result of seeing only four of her TWELVE children live to adulthood. It was one of the four–Daughter Anna–who campaigned for the creation of Mother’s Day. A bill introduced in 1908 failed to pass (holy politics!!) but supporters got 45 states to establish the holiday and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national holiday.

The first Mother’s Day observance took place at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, WV, on May 10, 1908 (who needs passage of that durn bill!). Today, the church is known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine. Swing by next time you’re in WV!

Appalachian Thursday – Kumbrabow

leaf yellowWhen Dad told stories about hunting in Kumbrabow State Forest I assumed the name was Native American.

Not so.

The story I’m currently writing (due out in late 2020) is set in Randolph County not far from where I grew up in WV. As I’ve researched the area I inevitably found some information about the state forest there.

Turns out it was established in 1934–the year of my story. The land was purchased in December of that year and the name was in honor of Governor Brady KUMp, businessman Spates BRAdy, and attorney Hubert BOWers all of whom were key in the area becoming a state forest.

Here are a few interesting facts about the forest:

  • It covers nearly 9,500 acres.
  • It’s the highest forest in WV at more than 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • Logging and wildfires ravaged the forest in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but thanks to a conducive climate there’s been rapid regrowth.
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the parks facilities including rustic cabins and picnic shelters.
  • The forest today is rich in black cherry stands.

My hero, Creed, lives in a cabin on Rich Mountain in Kumbrabow State Forest. Of course, he started living there before it’s naming. One more intriguing detail I’ll get to work into my next story!

I just may need to book a writing weekend in a rustic cabin . . .

Stepping Into Another Time

frying chicken - CopyThis past Saturday I had a chance to travel to the 1700s French & Indian War at Ft. Dobbs near Statesville, NC. Friends of mine are reenactors who planned to attend the War for Empire weekend with their Dragonfly Traders tent. Lorraine offered to outfit me.

Well, YES.

I’ve been to living history events before, but always as a visitor. This time I got to don period attire and walk around in the 18th century. It was SUCH fun!

I think the main difference is that I got more of a look behind the scenes into the life of a reenactor and while I realize it’s not for everyone, I definitely get the appeal! These folks aren’t just putting on a show for a weekend, they actually live as if it were the 1700s for several days. Well, mostly.

Many of them sleep on cots or pallets in their tents. They eat food cooked over open fires (see frying chicken in a spider above). There were woodworkers, seamstresses, a stone cutter, women doing laundry, a shoe maker, and soldiers conducting drills and demonstrating artillery. The camp was abuzz with activity! And there I was, walking among them like I belonged.

Which is just how I felt. I hadn’t anticipated the sense of community among the reenactors (although I should have!). These are people who are passionate about history and want to get it right.

As someone who reads and writes historical fiction, it was like stepping into a book. It was a heady experience and one I hope I’ll get to try again.

So, I know the #1 question is, what did I wear? Here’s an overview of my mostly accurate period attire. (No stays is the main departure–I stuck with my modern undergarments! The stays would go on OVER the shift.)

  1. Don a shift. The idea here is two-fold. The garment next to the skin protects your clothing from sweat (and would have been washed more often) plus it’s soft and comfortable (like REALLY comfortable!).
  2. Add pockets. Women’s clothing didn’t have pockets so these flat pouches with slits were tied on under skirts which also had access slits. The trick is to not stick your hand in there and miss the pocket!
  3. Add a skirt and a short gown. The skirt tied front to back AND back to front so it fits really well. The short gown is the jacket or shirt that is pinned closed. No buttons or snaps, although you might have had hooks and eyes.
  4. Top it off with an apron to keep your clothes a smidge cleaner.
  5. Fichus were worn over the shoulders and neck area for modesty and to protect skin from the sun. Pale was in. Hair was tucked into a cap with a ribbon to keep it in place and the flat, straw hat was pinned over it all. Works almost as well as sunglasses and you don’t have to fuss with your hair!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Mountain Monsters

flatwoodsNorth America has Bigfoot. Nepal has the Abominable Snowman. Ireland their Banshees. Everywhere you go, there are monster stories.

Well, West Virginia is not one to be left out. My home state has several mythical monsters of its own. Our uniquely Appalachian monsters include . . .

The Mothman – This is the legend that inspired a 2002 movie starring Richard Gere which may be why it’s our best known monster. The mothman is a ten-foot tall figure with massive wings and red glowing eyes. He allegedly appears before tragedies like the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse at Point Pleasant, WV, that resulted in 47 deaths. Some folks say it’s just a blue heron.

The Flatwoods Monster – This is the one closest to where I grew up. When I drive to the farm I pass through Flatwoods where a colorful cutout of the monster stands near the road. This was a one-time siting in 1952 when a group of kids saw a UFO crash and went to investigate. They say they saw a green figure that appeared to be floating and emitting a sulfurous smell. When others went to the same spot in the light of day, there were “skid marks” that might have been the tracks of vehicles investigating the kids’ claims.

The Grafton Monster – This one lurks near where my mom lives. It may be kin to bigfoot–a tall, ape-like figure with a smooth skin like a seal. It’s rumored to whistle as it stalks it’s prey. Hmmmm. Sounds like something teenage boys out to scare their girlfriends might come up with.

The Philippi Mummies – This pair of do-it-yourself mummies are less elusive monsters. The Barbour County Historical Museum keeps the mummies in glass-topped coffins in the bathroom. The weird twist is that a farmer acquired the bodies from the WV Hospital for the Insane in 1888 and tried out his own embalming solution on them. It worked and the pair toured with P.T. Barnum before being returned home. I hear you can still see them for just $1.

Groundhog Day (and an even lesser known holiday)

Freddie

Thank you Katrina for the shot of Freddie!

You probably know that last Saturday was Groundhog Day. Not exactly one of the big ten holidays, but still, there was a bit of hoorah around Punxsutawney Phil who did NOT see his shadow which means an early spring! Of course, French Creek Freddie, a resident of the West Virginia Wildlife Center located not far from our family farm DID see his shadow. So I guess that means six more weeks of winter back at the family farm. Sigh!

Saturday was also Candlemas, a Christian holiday celebrating the day Jesus was presented at the Temple after Mary’s 40-day time of purification. Simeon held Jesus in his arms and called him, “The Light of the World.” Hence, Candlemas. It was tradition to take candles to the church to be blessed for use throughout the year.

Of course, we can’t take a Christian holiday and not fiddle with it. So some pagan traditions slipped in, including a superstition that if the sun came out on Candlemas, thought of as winter’s halfway mark, it meant another six weeks of winter. Conversely, an overcast day predicted an early spring.

An Old English saying goes like this:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So how did the groundhog get tied into that? Well, there’s this entry from Berks County Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris’ diary dated 2/4/1841:
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks of nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

Freddie has been checking for his shadow since 1978 (presumably several Freddies). And he’s not the only one. Here’s a list of other groundhogs around the nation:

  • Punxsutawney Phil: Pennsylvania
  • Buckeye Chuck: Ohio’s official groundhog
  • Staten Island Chuck: The Staten Island zoo
  • Smith Lake Jake: Birmingham, AL
  • General Beauregard Lee: Stone Mountain, Ga.
  • Octorara Orphie: Lancaster, Pa.’s
  • Dunkirk Dave: Dunkirk, NY
  • Woodstock Willie: Woodstock, IL
  • Malverne Mel: Malverne, NY
  • Jimmy The Groundhog: Sun Praire, WI
  • Stormy Marmot: Aurura, CO

I don’t know about all these predications, but I do know that our weather is supposed to be in the 60s the next few days and I’m glad of it!

Appalachian Thursday – A Tough Funeral to Preach

mamieIn researching my current novel I stumbled across a story about a 1932 murder in West Virginia (ah, rabbit trails, writers love ’em!).

A 31-year-old woman named Mamie Thurman was found dead on Trace Mountain in Logan County that June. A deaf-mute boy found her while picking blackberries (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!). Her ghost allegedly haunts the road there.

A local banker and politician, Harry Robertson, was questioned along with his black handyman Clarence. Turned out Harry had been having an affair with Mamie (both of them were married to other people). Clarence had been key in helping to facilitate meetings.

There was ample evidence found in the Robertson home and car pointing to a murder and transfer of a body. There was also plenty of talk that Harry wasn’t the only prominent person having an affair with Mamie. Ultimately, Clarence was tried for the murder and found guilty with a recommendation of leniency. He died in prison about ten years later.

There’s a lot more to the story, but the bit that really caught my attention was the account of Mamie’s funeral. It was attended by 550 women and 30 men. Rev. B.C. Gamble delivered the “sermon” during the service. He read scripture from the book of John about the woman caught in the act of adultery.

John 8:3-7 – The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Once he finished the reading he said, “This is the text. Develop your own sermon on that basis.” Then someone read the obituary and they closed the service.

I may have to take up writing murder mysteries . . .

Appalachian Thursday – John Henry’s Big Bend Tunnel

dave

The Big Bend Tunnel is that way just the other side of Hinton . . .

I love researching my stories. Especially when I turn up something fun that I just flat out didn’t know. Like that John Henry, the mythical “steel driving man” of folk ballads, took on a steam drill in southern West Virginia.

My next novel, When Silence Sings, is set primarily in Thurmond, WV, which was a booming rail town in 1930. My editors suggested that my characters were having to travel too far by train to get to other towns and wondered if I could tighten up the geography. Ah, the challenges of writing about REAL places!

Well, I needed a train tunnel. And quickly discovered that the Big Bend Tunnel is conveniently located for my story. Yay! So I read up on the tunnel to make sure it fit the timeline. Absolutely! It’s over a mile long and was completed in 1872. It shortens rail trips by about seven miles by boring straight under Big Bend Mountain.

AND . . . it’s where John Henry beat a steam drill during construction! When blasting rock to build a tunnel men drive steel bits into the rock then insert explosives in the holes. John Henry was the striker who swung the hammer to hit the bit. His shaker would have turned the bit between strikes (now that’s a brave man!).

The story is that the contractor for the tunnel planned to bring in a faster steam drill to replace men. Well, John Henry couldn’t let that pass so he took on the machine and according to the song won but exerted himself to the point that it killed him. Today, there’s a statue of John Henry at the Big Bend Tunnel. I still haven’t figured out how to work a John Henry mention into the story so I thought I’d share the details with you.

There are lots of versions of the lyrics but Pete Seeger’s may be the best known.

John Henry was about three days old
Sittin’ on his papa’s knee
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel;
Said, ‘Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer’s gonna be the death of me.’

The captain said to John Henry
‘Gonna bring that steam drill ’round
Gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
Gonna whop that steel on down. Down, Down
Whop that steel on down.’

John Henry told his captain
‘A man ain’t nothin’ but a man
But before I let your steam drill beat me Down
I’d die with a hammer in my hand. Lord, Lord
I’d die with a hammer in my hand.’

John Henry said to his shaker
‘Shaker, why don’t you sing?
I’m throwin’ thirty pounds from my hips on Down
Just listen to that cold steel ring. Lord, Lord
Listen to that cold steel ring.’

The man that invented the stream drill
Thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry made fifteen feet;
The steam drill only made nine. Lord, Lord
The steam drill only made nine

John Henry hammered in the mountain
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, he broke his poor Heart
He laid down his hammer and he died. Lord, Lord
He laid down his hammer and he died.