Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 28th, 2020
By Hannah McCoy, Graduate Assistant, WVRHC
My name is Hannah McCoy, and I am a second-year student in West Virginia University’s Public Administration program. I am a West Virginia Wesleyan Alumna, with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and History. Because of my interest and knowledge of these topics, I really enjoy my position as a “Graduate Assistant at West Virginia & Regional History Center’s Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, WVU Libraries.” I put this in quotations because this is possibly the longest job title to explain to family members and friends. However, I really value working in this position, and am happy to talk about it when there is genuine interest. My job primarily is to process Senator Rockefeller IV’s files. There have been thousands of boxes sent to the West Virginia University depository, and it is my job to arrange and describe the files. I skim them for any sensitive information, or duplicates, and relocate them to safe, chemical-free folders for proper storage. I usually stumble upon some interesting finds. I also scanned photographs from Congressman Nick Rahall’s collection, and had the pleasure of preparing an online exhibit with my co-workers. In all these roles, I really value my time here, as I get to see things that I would not have gotten to see if I did not have this position.
The highlight of the Fall semester was co-curating a digital exhibit, “Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia,” with my co-workers. My biggest responsibility for the exhibit was the “Campaign Buttons” section. I learned about the history of the campaign button and the political and personal histories of Governor Okey Patteson, Senator Jennings Randolph, Governor Cecil Underwood, Senator Robert C. Byrd, Governor Arch Moore, Senator Jay Rockefeller IV, and Congressmen Robert and Alan Mollohan. While I was familiar with these political figures, taking a deeper dive gave me a bigger understanding of their contributions to West Virginia.
I also valued learning how to use Omeka, an online tool that I had not heard of until starting this position. I enjoy learning new tasks and tools, and so the time seemed to fly when work on this exhibit shifted from research to designing and creating the exhibit in Omeka. This part of the process also led to more interaction with my co-workers. Because of COVID-19, my co-workers and I have not been working at the depository together, but have been working staggering off-site and on-site shifts. The online exhibit gave us a chance to collaborate and decide on the best way to organize the exhibit. This boosted workplace morale and comradery.
The best part of this project was the satisfaction of getting to the finish line with a polished, published product. I was happy with how the exhibit turned out, and this was the best group project I have been a part of. Everyone worked hard and brought a lot to the table.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 21st, 2020
By Meredith Dreistadt, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC
I am a second-year graduate student in the Public History program here at WVU, and this is a reflection on my first semester working in the WVRHC’s Modern Congressional and Political Papers Collection. For my first year as a student at WVU, I was working part time in a local museum’s small archive which really made my transition to a large, long-established collecting institution an interesting one!
One of the major differences is in how each institution catalogs artifacts both in terms of different software (PastPerfect vs. ArchivesSpace) and in terms of process. At Arthurdale, my main objective was to create as much detailed metadata as possible for each object to make finding that particular item easier for ourselves and future researchers. At the WVRHC, we use an archival processing theory called “More Product, Less Process” which works to more quickly reduce the backlog of thousands and thousands of objects that still need processing. Both methods make sense for each collecting institution because of the size of the collection to process and the way the objects are used by researchers and staff.
Aside from the technical aspects of my assistantship at the Depository, I found learning about mid- to late-twentieth century political papers refreshingly different from what primary source documents I have worked with for both work and my own research. In my studies, I have primarily focused on early-twentieth century, New Deal era social and governmental shifts as well as the Enlightenment in France and its repercussions. Finding letters in Governor Arch Moore’s Papers that were written about seat-belt laws, citizens protesting the construction of a football field, and leaders concerned about reducing the national deficit in the 1980s has been a very interesting change.
Perhaps one of the more interesting recent finds in the Moore Papers has been the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Legislation of 1986 (in Folder 3 of Box II.F. – 52). This folder contains correspondence between Governor Moore and various heads of West Virginia state agencies to understand how this new law, which was aimed at cutting down the national deficit by massively decreasing spending, would affect each agency. For agencies that focused on natural resource conservation, it appears that they were affected rather similarly, losing funding that would halt some initiatives of conservation. In other cases, the budget of an agency like the Board of Regents remained fairly untouched. This folder provides an interesting insight into how a national policy like reducing the deficit, which was a focus of the Reagan Administration, affected particular regions, work, and projects in West Virginia.
This has been a very interesting semester of work getting to know the archives and the documents and photos I’ve had the chance to work with during the time of COVID-19. It has been a successful semester and I am looking forward to the next one!
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 14th, 2020
By Crystal Coon, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC
I am a first-year graduate student at WVU in the Public History program, with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies, and starting in August of 2020, I became a Graduate Assistant for the West Virginia and Regional History Center Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection. So, basically, I get to look over and work with some really cool documents dealing with West Virginia politics and government! Specifically, I get to work with the Governor Arch Moore correspondence collection; it contains all the letters written to Arch A. Moore, Jr. while he was governor of West Virginia.
While working as one of the Graduate Assistants for this department, I had the amazing opportunity to help curate a digital exhibit called “Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia.” Working together with the other graduate assistants, we created an online exhibit that told the story of historical campaigning throughout West Virginia’s history. I did research to create the Campaign Poster portion of the exhibit. I really enjoyed looking into the history of campaign posters and the different kinds of campaign slogans. Looking at the different WV campaign posters, like that of Matthew Mansfield Neely, really got me excited about the interesting history of something that is now viewed as so common. Figuring out how to set up the virtual exhibit with the other assistants was a really fun process. This project was incredibly interesting, and I really enjoyed being able to create the poster for the Welcome Page of the exhibit.
One of the biggest parts of my job was creating scope and contents notes for the Arch Moore Gubernatorial Correspondence series. These notes will allow specific topics and people to be searchable for researchers online. The most interesting aspect of looking through constituent correspondence is seeing what people thought was important. There were plenty of letters requesting help with Worker’s Compensation and Social Security, but there were also letters congratulating Governor Moore on his election. There were requests for the governor to write to someone special for a milestone birthday, anniversary, or graduation. The people of West Virginia clearly felt close to Governor Arch Moore. It was so interesting to be able to see the issues that every day people felt passionate about: what they felt was worth writing to the governor of the state about.
While working through Arch Moore’s gubernatorial correspondence, I also came across some really interesting, fun, or even heartbreaking things. Some of the most interesting letters to the governor were from major businesses interested in moving some of their manufacturing into the state of West Virginia. The presidents and CEOs of places like Coca-Cola and Pillsbury wrote to Arch Moore. One of my favorite things to see in the many folders of constituent correspondence is the letters from kids. Often written for school projects, many children and teenagers wrote to Governor Moore to express interest in learning more about the state of West Virginia. In September of 1986, Governor Moore received a letter from a young girl, thanking him for sending her information, books, and pins on the state of West Virginia. At thirteen years old, she also included drawings of the state flower, state animal, state bird, and state tree. My favorite part of this letter is that she addressed the letter “To my friend Arch A. Moore Jr. Governor.” I love the closeness that these kids felt to the governor who so willingly sent them information about the state. The most heartbreaking thing that I have found in the correspondence files is Governor Moore’s letters of sympathy to the families that fell victim to mining accident fatalities. These letters are always touching, and they remind me that these accidents had more victims than just the miners. These families suffered the loss of a husband and often a father; it is moving to see Governor Moore reach out to these families during their time of grief.
Another aspect of the assistantship involved the Nick Rahall photo collection. I scanned several boxes of photographs from Representative Nick Rahall’s time in Congress. Starting with images from the 1980s, I scanned photographs of various aspects of the Congressman’s career so that they can be made available online. I really enjoyed getting to see how his career progressed from the 1980s through the early 2000s by the images that I was able to scan. It is easy to see through the hundreds of photographs that I looked through that Representative Rahall was very involved with the people of West Virginia, as he attended a lot of community events and had many schools visit his office in Washington D.C. Seeing the career of Congressman Rahall through these photographs was one of the most interesting ways of exploring someone’s life of public service that I have had the opportunity to look through.
Through this semester of working with the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, I have found a new interest in modern political history. As someone who is studying 19th Century American history, I have never really explored the mid to late 20th Century and all the incredible stories it has to offer. Political history has never really been something that I gravitated towards, as I studied social and cultural histories. However, working with this collection has really encouraged me to broaden my horizons, look beyond my comfort zone, and pick up an interest in something that I hadn’t really considered before.
Working remotely and continuing to adapt to changes brought on by a global pandemic has definitely brought its share of challenges. But being surrounded by history and the stories of people who persevered gives my work a renewed sense of necessity and relevance. Surrounded by campaign materials and historical politics during a very tense election, I was able to reflect on periods of political uncertainty in West Virginia’s own past. I am excited to continue to work at the WVRHC and further my interest in West Virginia’s rich political history. Now, more than ever, history is important to understand the present.
“The Food Justice Lab is thrilled to support WVU Libraries with an art exhibit that will elevate the rich histories of Appalachian food heritage, explore the inequities presently coded into our food system and help us to imagine a more just and resilient food future for our region,” WVU Food Policy Research Director Joshua Lohnes said.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 30th, 2020
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian
I think we can all agree that the pandemic has brought a number of changes to our daily routines. We’ve had to rethink everything in our lives, from the most basic and necessary, like simply going to the grocery store, to how we handle work related tasks, like instruction. In order to protect our students and faculty, WVU moved much of its fall semester instruction online. That included instruction for rare books too.
Back in the spring, when life during the pandemic began to be referred to as the “new normal,” it seemed clear that the fall semester wouldn’t be returning to the pre-Covid normal we had all hoped for. Taking this into consideration, the big question uppermost on my mind was how to handle rare book instruction? It was going to take some planning!
At that time, I wasn’t even sure that professors would want to add rare book instruction to their courses so I was delighted when I received several requests from faculty to develop sessions for their students virtually. The only problem? I’d never taught online before! A lot of time was put into researching best practices and approaches, attempting to learn how to use Zoom, something that was totally new to me, the mechanics of delivering rare book instruction virtually, and basically, how I would manage to accomplish this and provide meaningful instruction that students would find interesting and educational.
Before the pandemic, scheduling and developing classroom content was determined in a few, easy steps. Following a faculty member’s request, we’d meet, via email or in person, to discuss content, consider texts, and look over the syllabus. Often, I met faculty in the rare book room, especially those who were using rare books in their class for the first time. During our meeting we would view the space to see if it was suitable for their needs, select books that would be appropriate, and make final decisions about content. Then we’d be all set to go! While some of the same procedures could be followed for virtual instruction via email or in a Zoom meeting, simply pulling the books off the shelf and creating a display for students to examine, as well as holding in person classes, like the one shown above, was no longer an option.
The bottom line – to make rare books available virtually it was going to take a village and a lot of time! Moving instruction online would require scanning fragile primary resources in order for students to be able to see them virtually. I had received several requests for students to view a 15th century monastic choir book, for both synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Synchronous instruction is defined as a live class, in person or virtual, with both students and faculty/instructors in attendance at the same time. Asynchronous instruction can be defined as instructional materials prepared in advance for students to view at their convenience. The task before us was to make the choir book suitable to both forms of instruction, so that’s what I decided to tackle first.
Here’s how we did it:
First, I reached out to colleagues in the West Virginia and Regional History Center, Jessica Eichlin, our reference supervisor who has a real talent when it comes to scanning and using a camera, and Lemley Mullett, our photographs manager, who has experience creating some of the videos you see used in our exhibitions. The three of us met to talk about our approach, and then we devised a plan.
The book in question is a missal, or gradual; which is a collection of music for the service of mass covering the Catholic church year. Although the volume is not dated, there are plenty of clues, such as the binding itself and the sewing structure that holds it together, two elements that vary over time that led us to approximate the date to around 1450. The gradual is very large. It takes two people, myself and someone else, to move it. It is a medieval manuscript, made before Gutenberg invented the printing press, and therefore, it was entirely handmade at the Dominican monastery in Seville, Spain where it was used.
Unlike books you see today, the manuscript was made without the aid of all the modern technological advances in machinery and manufacturing that are used to produce books today. For this book, the boards were cut from an oak tree. Plants were grown, harvested, dried, and then their fibers were braided and used to bind the book. The pages, called leaves at this time, are made from vellum., also known as parchment, which is made from calf skin. The text, hand written by scribes, is Latin, not Spanish, as one might assume since it was made at a Spanish monastery. The musical notes are square, which is indicative of chant. As can be imagined, we wanted to take great care with this book.
A two-page spread of the vellum pages showing the Latin text and musical notations for Chant, a droning, monotone type of choral singing.
We decided filming the book would be the best approach. We would position the book on appropriate supports and film each page as it was being turned.
The choir book is positioned carefully on a pillow designed to support rare books. It sits on the table in the rare book room. You can see the tripod for the camera positioned on top of the table above it. Our camera pro, Jessica Eichlin, is on the right.
As you can see, arranging the camera to film the gradual took a bit of maneuvering! Jessica is standing on top of the table in her socks, positioning the camera to film the book.
Lemley Mullett positions the light boxes to get the best angle, Jessica handles the camera. One leg of the tripod required a higher position to get the camera at the appropriate height. I can assure you that no rare books were used or harmed in this process!
Lemley gets in position. In the first phase of the film, Lemley will turn each page of the book. Note, she is not wearing gloves. Freshly washed, clean hands are the best approach when turning fragile pages. Gloves only get in the way and make turning pages more difficult.
The filming begins! Lemley starts turning the pages while Jessica handles the filming process.
Phase one is now complete! Click here to view the first phase of the video with Lemley turning the medieval pages. There is no audio at this point. The video is called Turning Leaves: A Look at a 15th Century Choir Book: https://youtu.be/U-u8WCg__aM
In a live class, I can embed this link in a PowerPoint, or click on the link itself, and share my screen virtually in a Zoom class session so that all the students can see it as I’m showing it to them. While the video is in play, I can then push the pause button and take a few moments to discuss specific details. Then I can push play and we’re on to the next page.
Now it’s time for phase two! The final classroom instruction that will be layered over the video has two parts. First, my task is to use this video as the basis for my instruction. The plan is to record this version as a Zoom session that will be available for asynchronous course instruction. I will pause at points during the video to discuss details as they arise. Second, I’ll use a PowerPoint presentation to zoom in on specific details and discuss them for student viewing.
There were a few stops and starts along the way. If I misspoke, or accidentally hit the wrong button, and I assure you I did, I had to start over. Narrating the video with educational instruction took a few times for me to get it right in order to develop a level of comfort during recording as well as making certain I had covered all the points I wanted to say. In the end, after a few false starts, I was pleased with the result, even though I turned a slide or two too soon towards the end!
You may view the final video with my instruction here: https://youtu.be/Y9-c6ceNgjw. This video is called Gradual: A Look at a 15th Century Choir Book.
In closing, during a time when accessibility is limited due to the pandemic, it’s important to continue our mission to make our primary resources available to our students. Now you have the opportunity to see behind the scenes as we create instruction in a way that makes our collections available in these challenging times. If you share these videos with your group, please let me know! I’d love to hear how you used them!
The Downtown Campus Library will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday as crews complete work on a steam line that supports the building’s HVAC system. The library will reopen Thursday at 7:30 a.m. For a complete list of WVU Libraries hours visit the Libraries’ website, wvu.libcal.com/hours.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 23rd, 2020
Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.
Today, Point Pleasant, West Virginia is known as the home of “Mothman,” an urban legend and iconic symbol for the small town at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. An annual Mothman Festival is held every year, celebrating the small town and a creature which has faded into myth and legend rather than lingering danger. The Mothman legend originates from several sightings in 1966 and culminates with the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. While the bridge collapse was clearly not the result of a mythical monster’s intentions, the legend persists.
The Silver Bridge was constructed in 1928 using high tension eye bar chains and rocker towers, which was unique for the period. Nearly 40 years after its construction the bridge collapsed, during rush hour traffic, due to a crack in one of the eye bar chains and years of poor maintenance. Additionally, as automobiles and trucks developed between 1928 and 1967, they both became heavier and more numerous. When the Silver Bridge was built it was designed to accommodate the weight of 1920s automobiles not the much heavier sedans, tractor trailers, and buses of the 1960s. With rush hour traffic crowding the bridge with heavier vehicles, the bridge failed and 64 people were plunged into the 44 degree Ohio River water; 46 did not survive.
In 1969 the Silver Memorial Bridge was constructed one mile down river from the original location. The new bridge is a steel cantilever bridge and allows traffic along U.S. Route 35 to cross between West Virginia and Ohio. To date, the Silver Bridge collapse is one of the worst in United States history and the new bridge as well as a memorial at the site of the original stand in remembrance of those who were lost.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 17th, 2020
Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC
I first tasted buckwheat as a child when my dad took me to a buckwheat cake breakfast in Bridgeport. I didn’t really like the buckwheat cakes because there were little pieces of the hull in the cake and I didn’t like finding something hard in an otherwise soft pancake. I haven’t had buckwheat cakes since. Recently I stopped at West Virginia’s throwback roadside attraction and store, Cool Springs Park, in Preston County. On a whim, I purchased a bag of buckwheat flour milled in nearby Eglon, West Virginia. It was time to give buckwheat another chance.
Preston County is home to the annual Buckwheat Festival held in Kingwood since 1938. Buckwheat was once an important crop for farmers in the county because it’s hardy and can be planted late. Deceptively like a cereal grain, it’s actually a fruit in the same family as rhubarb. In recent years, only small amounts are still grown in the area, so the buckwheat groats are trucked in and milled locally at Eglon and the Hazelton Mill.
First, I wanted to try to the classic buckwheat cakes again. To my delight, the buckwheat flour I purchased was milled very finely. No hard pieces of hull to be found! Conveniently, there was a recipe right on the bag. I followed the directions for “Raised Buckwheat Cakes,” but I halved the recipe since there are only two of us in my household.
Raised Buckwheat Cakes (full recipe)
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup water
1 tsp salt (scant)
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp dry yeast
1 Tbsp oil (optional)
¼ cup buttermilk
Mix and allow to set at room temperature 8 hours or overnight. When ready to make, mix together 1 tsp sugar, ¼ tsp baking powder, and ¼ cup warm water and add to batter stirring well. Bake on a lightly greased, hot griddle. This will make 6 to 8 cakes.
I mixed the ingredients and let it sit overnight. In the morning, I added a small amount of water, sugar, and soda to the mix. I then fried them in a ceramic non-stick pan. They were much better than I remembered, perhaps a little salty for my taste, so I will reduce that next time. My significant other enjoyed his with West Virginia maple syrup and butter. He liked them just fine. I can imagine this batter making very nice savory crepes.
Using leftover batter, you can make a sourdough type starter. According to the package, just store any leftover batter in the refrigerator. When you want to make buckwheat cakes again, add the same basic ingredients and follow the steps of the recipe. The longer it is used the stronger the sourdough flavor will develop.
After conquering the buckwheat cakes, I looked for other recipes that use buckwheat flour. A basic Google search returns quite a few recipes, more than I expected. I decided to try Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies created at the Bien Cuit bakery in New York City. Apparently, buckwheat can be pretty sophisticated too!
Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies
(makes 15 cookies)
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp cocoa
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ cup chocolate chips (mini chips work best)
½ tsp espresso or strong coffee
Powdered sugar for dusting
Sea salt for sprinkling (I used JQ Dickinson flaked salt.)
Mix flour, cocoa, and baking powder and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Gradually add dry ingredients and beat on medium low. Add the espresso and chips and mix until blended. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and shape into a log about 10 inches long. Chill for at least an hour. After chilling, cut into 15 pieces. Sprinkle with sugar and salt. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool on the pan briefly and then move to a wire rack.
I mixed the ingredients per the recipe, chilled the dough for a couple of hours while I cooked dinner, added the salt and sugar, then sliced and baked the cookies. Again, I halved the recipe since we are a small household. These came out pretty nice. Good flavor. Very crispy on the bottom though. The bake time was 12-15 minutes. I let them stay in for the whole 15 but I think they would have been just a little better if I would have taken them out at 12 minutes.
I’m glad that I gave buckwheat a second chance! I’m looking forward to using the rest of the bag and trying other recipes. There are some really wonderful ones shared on this Good Press blog post written by a local Preston Countian. If you can’t make it to Cool Springs or other local retailers, buckwheat can sometimes be found at the grocery store in the Bob’s Red Mill or Hodgson’s Mill brands.
After being passed by Congress in 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment needed to be ratified by at least 36 states to become law. Success in the mountain state required conquering multiple hurdles, including assorted anti-suffrage protests. Despite such challenges, on March 10, 1920, West Virginia became the 34th state to approve the amendment.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 2nd, 2020
Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita
I am always somewhere in the process of reading an eBook, an audiobook, and a book-book, old-fashioned print on paper. Recently I have been migrating toward West Virginia authors and West Virginia history probably because of the in depth look at West Virginia history working in the West Virginia and Regional History Center has afforded me. The books I am featuring in this blog post are all non-fiction, except Ludie’s Life, which is a novel in poetry, and the Kentucky novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. All include themes of particular interest to Appalachia: the importance of place, family loyalty, and struggle.
Note: Each title links to the WVU Libraries catalog entry. Those held in the West Virginia and Regional History Center book collection cannot be removed from the Center, but those in the Appalachian Collection or the general book collection may be borrowed by WVU faculty, staff, or students. Most West Virginia academic and public libraries should have these titles, or they can be requested through the libraries’ interlibrary loan services.
In 1972 on a quiet Saturday morning a Pittston Coal Company slurry impoundment broke and flooded Buffalo Creek hollow with 132 million gallons of water creating a 25-foot wall of water and debris. It washed away either all or partially 17 communities along the creek in Logan and Wayne Counties. The disaster resulted in the total annihilation or destruction of homes leaving thousands homeless; the death of 125 men, women, and children; and left behind devastation and guilt-ridden and confused survivors. This book details why this was not “an act of God” as declared by Pittston Coal and the legal battle by over 600 tenacious survivors and family members. The group hired the book’s author’s law firm to represent them in a class action suit. In the 1970s, terms such as post-traumatic stress did not exist, but in a unique move for the time, Stern sued for compensation for “psychic-damage” in addition to property damage and bodily injury. Stern also had to delve into the morass of corporate ownership and its legal implications. This book provides a fascinating account of how the legal case was won.
West Virginians are amazing people full of surprises. Doris Payne is one of these amazing people. She was born in the small segregated southern West Virginia town of Slab Fork during the Depression. She became one of the most notorious jewelry thieves ever. Payne was a woman, and she was Black, but refused to conform to the stereotypes of what a Black woman could accomplish. She used her intellect, good looks, and flair for style to rescue her mother from her abusive father and to rescue herself. How did she accomplish this notoriety? What drove her to steal jewelry around the world? Was she justified? What happened to her as she aged? All the answers are in this fascinating memoir, an autobiography which reads like a novel.
Dopesick is an eye-opener for those of us who thought where we live made us immune to the opioid epidemic. How could opioid addiction, once considered isolated to urban areas, come to small town America and what role did West Virginia play in the epidemic? Macy gives us a very personal and detailed view by tracing the story of some addicts and their families from the beginning of drug abuse. She not only explains how addiction occurs but also the chain from pharmaceutical companies to user, current therapeutic practices, and the justice system’s involvement. The subtitle indicates that Macy points a finger directly at drug companies. This book is not about the oxycotin use in southern West Virginia but about the link between Martinsburg, West Virginia, sitting next to the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan areas, as a wide distribution point for illegal drugs.
I am a fan of Cynthia Rylant and I particularly like When I Was Young in the Mountains, a picture book. Rylant is a true West Virginia treasure for the way she captures our traditions and attachment to home with joy and reverence. In Ludie’s Life, a life told in free verse, Rylant again works her magic by giving us Ludie through birth, marriage, childrearing, old age, and death. The book also traces the changes to her coal field community as Ludie observes from her company house. While promoted as a young adult book, I think the themes such as childbearing, illness and death, aging, and loneliness are too raw for youth. For example, Ludie describes her husband’s brother as “a man just teetering on the line between good and bad. No one knew for sure if he was crazy or just plain mean. This much was true: Ludie feared him.” The book is full of truths such as this passage about change “…it seemed to Ludie that little by little life was packing her up for the long journey home. The chickens and chicken pens gone. The hogs gone from the hog lot. No beagle tied to the doghouse. No doghouse.” Maybe you don’t care for poetry, but I promise you that you will fall into Ludies’ Life, see it to its end, and then keep it close by for rereading.
My friend loaned me Running on Red Dog Road. I put it in my “to read” pile and left it there since I thought it was probably another vanity press title. I had seen red dog roads, created by reusing coal mining slate, when I visited McDowell County in the 1970s, so after the book sat in that pile for years, I finally read it. As I began to read, I discovered that the little memoir of life in 1940’s Beckley was a very pleasant surprise. Ms. Berkheimer captured the life of a young girl in southern West Virginia with such detail that I was transported back to my own childhood. I could almost taste the foods my mother made, including thick crust blackberry cobblers, stewed tomatoes, leather britches, and peas with pearl onions. I remembered stories of hobos coming to Mom’s door for food. I remembered long church services and tent meetings on hot summer nights. I remembered playing freely and falling into the stories people liked to tell. The one about her aunt’s experience with a lonely-hearts club was laugh out loud funny. Berkheimer recounts these stories with not only humor for the lightness of life but with compassion for the hardness of life.
Richardson deals with two fascinating topics in her recent popular novel. The “book woman,” Cussy Carter, is based on the New Deal circuit-riding librarians of Kentucky, part of the Pack Horse Library Project. Cussy is also one of the genetically altered blue-skinned people of Kentucky. Two themes emerge then: the power of reading and education for escapism as well as practical information; and the bigotry and isolation faced by someone who looks different. As Cussy travels her route on her mule over rough terrain, she meets and befriends a cast of characters, mostly poor and struggling. They are the women, men, and children of the isolated Kentucky mountains. Poverty, class, and hunger are other prevalent themes in this Depression era engaging novel.
Elections and campaigns have changed over the centuries, and the 2020 campaign season has looked like none before. As Americans decide on the future, this exhibit explores some of West Virginia’s political past, the contributions of West Virginia politicians, as well as the history of campaign materials.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 26th, 2020
Blog post by Katie Lehosit, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.
October 2020 marks the 26th anniversary of a section of highway being opened near Elkins, West Virginia. This highway, which spanned 16 miles and 4 lanes, was the highly debated Corridor H. Opening day, which was on October 29th, 1994, drew such guests as Governor Gaston Caperton and Senator Robert C. Byrd. The day also brought anti-Corridor H groups to Elkins, which included the Corridor H Alternative Alliance and North for Corridor H Alliance.
The Corridor H project was part of Appalachian Regional Development Act’s (ARDA) Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS). This plan, originally formed by President John F. Kennedy, was signed into action by President Lydon B. Johnson in 1965. The ARDA’s main goal was to connect Appalachia with the rest of the United States by economic, educational, and physical means. To physically connect the region with the U.S., the ADHS planned for corridors to be built in 13 states. Six of these corridors were planned for West Virginia. While many of these corridor projects went by relatively smoothly in the state, Corridor H was a different story, estimating to cost $10 million per mile.
Originally set aside due to financial reasons in the 1970s and 80s, Senator Jay Rockefeller began to push for construction to begin on Corridor H in the 90s. Environmental, historical, and activist groups were quick to band together. Groups like North for Corridor H Alliance (NCHA) fought against the original proposed route, which would have cut through wetlands, Corrick’s Ford Battlefield, Canaan Valley, and other natural wonders of the Mountain State. While Rockefeller argued the construction would create jobs, make travel to Washington D.C. faster, and bring tourism to West Virginia, NCHA argued the opposite. While the groups against Corridor H did agree the highway would create faster travel time to the nation’s capital, they also argued the highway would do more harm than good.
Aside from destroying popular tourist areas in the state, like Canaan Valley, NCHA and other groups also brought up other forms of harm the highway would bring. These included harm to West Virginia’s wetlands, endangered species like the Northern Flying Squirrel, streams, forests like the Monongahela forest, small town economies, and historical sites like Corrick’s Ford. While a northern route was chosen in 1993, the decision was not a happy one for anti-Corridor H groups. The proposed northern route still cut through wetland and other important areas, which lead NCHA and similar groups to file a federal suit against the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration in 1996.
Through various legal battles, the construction of Corridor H has been slowed. In fact, as of December 2019, 16.8 miles of the route do not have a final design. While the future of Corridor H is still in question, we can look back at October 29, 1994 and see how activism has changed the course of West Virginia history. Regardless of if you are pro-Corridor H, anti-Corridor H, or somewhere in between, it is impressive to see how grassroots activists changed the planning of the now 55 year old project.
Ellis researches how racial and class-based oppression interact continue to abridge and deny the right to vote to communities on the margins of American democracy. His work has analyzed voter identification laws for their socioeconomic effects, situated felon disenfranchisement laws as enforcing a political underclass, analyzed the theoretical scope of the Citizens United decision, and described the ideological drivers of vote suppression.
Temperatures are falling, leaves are turning, and Halloween is fast approaching in Appalachia. No tricks here – WVU Libraries has put together a libguide with information and fun facts for the season. The guide covers Halloween history, local spooky activities, how to stay safe trick or treating during the COVID-19 pandemic, information costumes and cultural appropriation, profiles of our local monsters, resources for Day of the Dead, and has some great horror recommendations. Check it out here as you prepare for Halloween.
Asimov (1920-1992), widely considered one of the greatest science fiction writers of the twentieth-century, earned the title of “The Great Explainer” because he made complicated subjects easy to understand.
Marking the centennial of Asimov’s birth and promoting science fiction as an academic resource, the Asimov Symposium will feature conversations and presentations from the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the University of California at Riverside, the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, WVU’s Rare Book Collection and Eberly College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of English science fiction faculty.
The Libraries closed to the public on March 19 as part of the campus shut down due to COVID-19. It remained shuttered to the public until August 20 when it reopened to the campus community only through swipe access. This was 143 days of being closed.
During the closure most of our staff retreated to working from home as did the rest of campus with a skeleton crew on sight to retrieve and deliver print materials to our faculty, staff and students as needed. During that time, we continued to maintain access to our digital materials and purchase new academic content, completed teaching our already online credit courses, continued to answer reference questions through email, chat and phone. As mentioned, we also scanned articles from print materials as needed to email to our campus community and even mailed print books as needed. Interlibrary loan continued for everything digital, but stopped for print materials due to so many library buildings being closed. The WVRHC was also closed, but provided reference assistance as possible.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 19th, 2020
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian
October 16, 2020, was the 161st anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Over 160 years after the event, John Brown, and the people and events surrounding him, remain a powerful topic for depiction such as the new program currently airing on Showtime, “The Good Lord Bird” starring Ethan Hawke as John Brown.
The last couple of years have seen several books published on figures that were involved in the raid including the story of an escaped enslaved person, The Untold Story of Shields Green by Louis A. Decaro, Jr., Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army by Eugene L. Meyer, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom by H.W. Brands, and of course, the book that inspired the Showtime series, James McBride’s novel, The Good Lord Bird.
While Brown remains the subject of much interpretation, little has been said about the multiple moves of the Harpers Ferry building Brown and his men occupied on that fateful raid, the Arsenal Engine House, later to called John Brown’s Fort.
At the time, the engine house served as the government arsenal where guns and ammunition were stored. Brown’s plan was to capture the armory and the engine house, using the ammunition inside to supply a hoped for uprising of enslaved people he believed would join him to fight for freedom following his initial strike. This did not happen. Brown and his small band of men were left to fend for themselves. The following day, U.S. Marines arrived to storm the engine house, led by Col. Robert E. Lee and his aide, J.E.B. Stuart. Brown and his surviving men were captured, tried and executed.
This drawing was made on the scene by David Hunter Strother, a journalist, artist and illustrator, from Martinsburg. Strother, pictured below, who used the pen name, Porte Crayon, often wrote articles and provided illustrations that frequently appeared in the pages of Harper’s Monthly magazine.
During the Civil War, the engine house was the only part of the armory to survive. This stereograph card shows the tents of Union troops stationed in front.
By 1885, still in its original location in downtown Harpers Ferry, the engine house was used as a tourist attraction. The words “John Brown’s Fort”, seen here, were painted over the arches where windows were formerly.
In 1891, the engine house was purchased by a group, headed by Iowan, A. J. Holmes, a former confederate soldier and congressman, with plans to make it an exhibition at the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition, to be held in Chicago in 1893. The fair was planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America.
This was to be the first move for John Brown’s fort. Since Chicago is a long way from Harpers Ferry, the engine house was dismantled and shipped via railroad. Once it arrived in Chicago, it was reconstructed inside one of the fair buildings. Unfortunately, it drew little attention. Reports state that only 11 people came to view John Brown’s Fort in 10 days.
Unhappy with the turnout, the second move for the building occurred when the fort was dismantled once again and moved to an empty lot where it was abandoned.
The following year, a Washington D.C. journalist, Kate Field, publisher of Kate Field’s Washington, a weekly magazine, began a fund-raising effort to save John Brown’s Fort and move it back to Harpers Ferry.
Although, no photographs could be found documenting John Brown’s Fort as an exhibition at the Columbian World’s Fair, or dismantled and abandoned on the vacant lot, the newspaper, the Wheeling Intelligencer, reported on June 21, 1893, an article entitled “OUR STATE BUILDING,” referring to the West Virginia building constructed on fair grounds. Each state was responsible for building a site to exhibit their state’s products and industries. The article touted the 30th anniversary of the state and reported memorabilia on display, “There are a number of interesting relics to be found in the building, among which are the chair and safe used by Lee in writing his terms of surrender to Grant, and several John Brown relics.” Fair goers visiting the West Virginia building could have picked up this John Brown Souvenir ticket, pictured below.
Things began to look up for John Brown’s Fort when a local farmer, Alexander Murphy, encouraged by Kate Fields fundraising efforts, donated five acres of his property for the site. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad stepped in and agreed to ship the building at no charge. In move number three, a mere two years after it was shipped to Chicago, John Brown’s Fort was successfully returned to Harpers Ferry, and reconstructed on the Murphy Farm.
Although it remained on the Murphy Farm for a number of years, the building had no purpose. Positioned out of town, it failed to serve as a tourist destination. Things took a turn for the worse when it was used as just another farm building to store fertilizer.
1909 was to be an important year for yet another rescue and rehabilitation of John Brown’s Fort. That year was the fiftieth anniversary of John Brown’s raid. In move number four, the building was once again removed, reconstructed and renovated, this time on the campus of Storer College, also located in Harpers Ferry. Storer College, with its roots in the Civil War, had a strong connection to the fort. Founded by Freewill Baptists immediately following the Civil War, and dedicated to the education of African Americans, Storer College was housed in Harpers Ferry buildings that served military purposes during the war.
John Brown’s Fort was to remain on the campus of Storer College, serving as museum housing John Brown and Harpers Ferry memorabilia. Though Storer College closed its doors as an educational institution following the passage of the landmark case, Brown vs Board of Education, in 1954, John Brown’s Fort remained on its campus. But not for long.
In its fifth and final move, John Brown’s Fort was once again purchased and relocated, this time by the National Park Service, who became the owners of the Storer College campus in 1960.
While positioning the fort on the original site would have been ideal, it was impossible due to a railroad embankment constructed on that site 1894, when John Brown’s Fort was sitting lonely and abandoned in a field outside Chicago. The Park Service re-sited it as close to the original site as possible, a mere 150 feet away from its first home.
And that is where John Brown’s Fort remains today, restored and open to visitors as an important historical site in one of the most important moments in West Virginia history.
All of the books mentioned in this post and many of the photographs are available at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, open by appointment to West Virginia University affiliates only during the pandemic.
All images from the West Virginia and Regional History Center photographic collection, West Virginia History OnView, with the exception of the Fort during transfer and the final image of the Fort today.
The annual event is a creation of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) who issues a call to residents throughout Appalachia. This year’s participants hail from West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
“Many people have an image of an Appalachian woman, and they look down on her. The mission of WOAP is to showcase the way in which female artists respond to the Appalachian region as a source of inspiration, bringing together women from diverse backgrounds, ages and experiences to embrace the stereotype – to show the whole woman; beyond the superficial factors that people use to judge her,” said Kari Gunter-Seymour, WOAP founder and executive director.