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Collecting Easter Postcards

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 29th, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Happy Easter postcard featuring two bunnies

Postcards, a popular form of communication particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century, were sent to friends and family for all occasions.  Mail delivery was reliable, running twice a day in most communities, and cheap, since postage stamps were only a penny.  With the availability of twice daily delivery, postcards were nearly as quick as a telephone call, another late 19th century invention, and almost as fast as an email sent to your inbox today. 

I’ve collected postcards for many years.  I’ve purchased postcards from places I’ve lived, places I’ve visited, cards celebrating birthdays, and congratulatory cards filled with best wishes for their intended recipient, but my favorite collecting category is holiday postcards.     

It’s easy to find them.  I’ve collected hundreds of Christmas postcards over the years.  I’m also fond of cards depicting New Year’s Day, though they’re harder to find.  It’s very difficult to find Valentine’s, Memorial Day, George Washington’s birthday, or Thanksgiving postcards.  My collection includes only a couple of each of these cards. 

Easter postcards are my favorite collecting category. Besides the traditional bunnies, eggs, and chicks there are many unusual cards that we might not think of today as being associated with Easter.  My collection also includes many religious Easter cards, but today, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite cards featuring all the cute things you’d expect to find in your Easter basket. 

If you collect cards for a while, you’ll find that they can be organized by theme.  Eggs are the central focus of these cards.  These four postcards depict eggs as vehicles, such as the bunny train and the bunny drawn chick chariot.  Others are used for housing, such as the egg with a balcony and the one made from flowers with a little gnome peeking out the window.

Easter postcard showing an egg house with rabbits emerging from the front door and from the balcony
Easter postcard showing rabbits pulling an egg in which rides a chick
Easter postcard showing a train in which the cars are eggs and the passengers are bunnies
Easter postcard showing a person welcoming rabbits into his home, which is an egg

The postcards below have chickens or chicks for their central theme.  Eggs are still an important focus for the chick cards.  Notice these cards are all vertical in design, while the previous ones were all horizontal.  The second card is interesting because it shows a chick and egg surrounded by natural greenery seen in spring.  The yellow catkins dangling on each side are flowers from trees.  These look like the catkins of the birch tree.  The center egg is printed cloth with padding behind it.  Even after 111 years, this card is dated 1910, it still creates a charming effect.

The hen house is one of my favorites.  There’s the mother hen looking out her window, watching her chicks playing in the yard below.  And what in the world are those chicks doing pecking at that book?

Easter postcard showing a rooster and hens
Easter postcard showing chick and egg surrounded by natural greenery
Easter postcard showing chicks reading a book under an umbrella
Easter postcard showing hen in an egg house, watching her chicks play in the yard

Messages on the back of the postcards are another reason to collect them.  Letters home from World War I soldiers, cards posted to friends and family, love notes to a significant other, are all common.  Then there’s a message like this one, written on the back of the card above, showing a flock of chickens by a gate.  It’s a humorous note from a father to his daughter:

“You left the gate open and all the chickens got out. You will have no Easter eggs.”

Dad

Writing on a 1910 postcard

Other animals that may not come to mind as associated with the holiday made appearances on Easter cards too.  The geese, sheep, and kittens pictured here make for nontraditional Easter cards.  The goose was printed later than the others in this collection.  It was printed in 1931 in the Art Deco style, showing that Easter postcards remained popular. 

Two of the cards combine both secular and religious aspects of the holiday.  The sheep grazing in green pastures is reminiscent of the 23rd psalm, but the opposite panel shows all the traditional secular symbols of chicks, eggs and bunnies. The combination of bunnies with a cross over a spray of Easter lilies also brings together these two categories.   These are unusual, as least in my collection, as cards are either specifically religious or secular in theme.

Easter postcard showing geese and flowers
Easter postcard showing chick, bunny, and sheep in a field
Easter postcard showing chick emerging from egg surrounded by kittens
Easter postcard with a cross and bunnies

If the delivery of Easter baskets were left up to these two lazy bunnies, pictured below, no one would wake up to treats or have fun at an Easter Egg hunt.  This is an undated European card according to the information on the back. There’s lots of interesting details that draw your attention in this card.  Like the catkin card above, the center egg is cloth and it has been padded underneath so that it will stand out from the card.  The surrounding shamrocks and pussy willow buds are edged in glitter with a dash or two of glitter on the pink clover.

Easter postcard showing rabbits next to an egg, surrounded by greenery
Typed portion of postcard showing the word Postcard in multiple languages

But never fear, the real Easter bunny, pictured below, is here and he’s going to make sure all the little children receive their Easter baskets.  This card, bordered with ribbons, eggs, chicks and flowers, copyrighted in 1905, borrows from the cookies and milk usually left out for Santa. Here, the Easter bunny asks children to make a nest for him in the kitchen so that he can fill it with eggs – chocolate ones of course!  He’s pictured here with a nest and eggs in his paws to prove it!

Dear Little Friend,

I will call at your house on Easter morning with a big lot of Eggs.  Make a nest for me in the kitchen and I will fill it.

Your friend,

Bunny

Postcard: "Dear Little Friend,
I will call at your house on Easter morning with a big lot of Eggs.  Make a nest for me in the kitchen and I will fill it.
Your friend,
Bunny"

If you’d like to see more vintage postcards there are several available in the archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  If you’d like to see more of my personal postcard collection, request A&M 3989, to see an antique postcard album filled with cards spanning various holidays.

Happy Easter!

I’ll have the molded cucumbers and meat stock rutabaga, please

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 22nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the third post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

It’s a tall order, de-mystifying the history of a group that was, and still is, slighted by a clear lack of representation. Delving into the Ebersole Collection of cookbooks, I unlocked a treasure chest of personal records on the issue of race. Now, I want to shine the limelight upon the recipes themselves. Let their components and technique do the speaking for women like Mary Ellen Pleasant and their prowess in the culinary arts. Despite the trope that Black women had “natural cooking talent”, Mary’s recipes show an impressive level of education and technical skill in the culinary arts.

First, compare the meals Mary provided her Black wait staff and elite guests at the ex-governor of California’s dinner parties. She catered for Mr. Latham, the ex-governor and US Senator, with an international buffet that boasted boiled pigs feet and veal knuckle. She meticulously set tables with gold dinnerware. Apparently, the punch bowl had five types of wine mixed in — not your typical frat party.

Sketch showing people in fancy dress at Milton Latham's house
A drawing of one of the dinner parties that Mary would cater for Governor Latham.

Here’s a bit of her recipe for molded cucumbers, which Mary served to guests at New Year’s Supper:

“Slice cucumbers and put into salted water… Put into the water 1 blade of mace, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns and ½ bay leaf… Put 6 tablespoonsful of gelatin in 1 cupful of water to dissolve…  Add 1 cup of tarragon vinegar and several drops of green coloring… When the gelatine has set, drain the cucumbers, arrange in a layer in mold, pour the rest of the gelatine into the mold and let jell until firm…”

Whoo! I’d botch up at slicing the cucumbers. Every item sounds like something you’d learn at a prestigious school of culinary arts in Paris. Yet Mary, enslaved since birth, had no such education. She learned these techniques as a young girl and expanded her repertoire independently. She was fortunate to have her creations documented in this cookbook, as most Black women of her time didn’t receive recognition for their tremendous and diverse culinary skills.

This is evidence that Black women trained and practiced cooking in a formal way, even if it didn’t result in a formal certificate. There was, and remains, a stereotype that Black women are born with an intrinsic, homely knowledge of cooking, and that they exclusively whip up Southern comfort foods like fried chicken and gravy.

Jumping back to the food she’d serve to her Black staff members, here is a recipe for “Cheap John Rutabaga:”

Recipe for "Cheap John Rutabaga"

This is no walk in the park, either. The ingredients for Mr. Latham’s guests at their lavish New Year’s Supper party were expensive and imported, but the technique required to make the perfect rutabaga is formidable. When I first read the new section of recipes for Mary’s staff, I was troubled by the “lesser” quality of food. The recipes tell a different tale, one of resourcefulness and creativity. The staff section includes sour-sweet bites that require a double boiler to get just right and an ingredient I’ve never heard of: caraway seeds. The ingredients used for Mr. Latham and Mary’s staff may differ, but the thoughtfulness and technical merit are consistent across every page.

What the Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute has to add about Mary Ellen Pleasant can be found here.

The Stories Archives Tell

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 15th, 2021

Blog post by Katie Lehosit, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Census records, obituaries, and old newspapers aren’t just for genealogy. In fact, with a little bit of hard work, archival research can reveal stories stranger than fiction. Such is the case with the following story, first introduced to me by Dr. Jennifer Thornton of the WVU History Department. It’s a story of immigration, a missing single mother, and ultimately, the injustice of late 19th century Wheeling.

We begin our story in Wheeling, West Virginia, in November 1879. Readers of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer could find, buried among news stories and society updates, an advertisement for “Chinese Laundry” at 1325 Market Street. The laundromat was run by Yee Wah, Jeui Lee, Yang Fou, and Wah Sing, who lived in a boarding house at 1136 Market Street. The four men immigrated from China, and found themselves in a booming industrial era Wheeling.

Colored Sanborn map showing buildings along Market Street
1890 Sanborn map of Wheeling at 14th St. and Market St. The arrow shows where the laundromat was located. Courtesy of WVRHC.

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer reported on the four men and their laundromat for decades. Usually, hate crimes were committed against the men and their shop. For example, in 1878, a drunk and disorderly citizen named Paul Heiler declared “war against China” and entered the laundromat and began attacking Yee Wah. While Heiler was arrested and put in jail, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer still painted Yee Wah as the villain, stating he had “vengeance in his heart” after the incident.

While articles like this were printed over the years, on March 24th, 1900, the accusations against the four men became even more serious. A woman from Bellaire, Ohio reported her daughter had gone missing. The daughter, 21 year old Rose Seamon, was a single mother who the press painted in a negative light, stating she was in a relationship with the men of the Chinese laundromat. Rose’s mother, for one reason or another, told the press she believed her daughter was being held captive at the laundromat. While others stated Rose either was there by her own will, or not even at the laundromat, law enforcement still arrested all four men, along with other Asian men in the city.

A postcard of Market St. in 1910. Courtesy of WVRHC.

Only one man was found guilty on trial, Ho Chy. Yet, all of the other men involved pleaded guilty without a trial. Ho Chy was fined $20, and Rose’s mother decided this was a sufficient penalty. Yet, this unfortunately is not the end of this story. A few weeks after the trial, a Chinese man named Sing Tong, committed suicide at a laundromat between 16th and 17th streets. It was speculated he was deeply affected by the trial and accusations against himself and the other Chinese men in Wheeling.

While this story doesn’t have a happy ending, it does show the racism showed against Asian individuals in Wheeling at the turn of the 20th century. Painted as villainous from the start, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer aided in the accusations against these Chinese men.

So, take some time to make a full story out of bits and pieces of research you’ve done. Regardless of the ending, remembering the injustices done against people only helps prevent them in the future. Plus, you’ll open the door for research on the story you put together!

*Note: I want to thank Dr. Jennifer Thornton for sharing her research with me, as well as the graduate students in Dr. Thornton’s Local History Methodology class.

Mammy Pleasant: An Agent of the Underground Railroad, Riverboat Chef, and West Virginia Abolitionist

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 8th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the second post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooks, featuring the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

W.E.B. Du Bois compared Mary Ellen Pleasant to Harriet Tubman. He said, “Here was a colored woman who became one of the shrewdest business minds of the State.”

From “plantation lamb” to “smoked picnic tongue,” Mary Ellen Pleasant cooked it all and saw it all on her careful rise to culinary stardom in Victorian America. She was born into slavery on a Georgia plantation. Her training in the culinary arts began early in childhood, and once she was freed, she combined cooking and business skills to climb the ranks in gold-rush San Francisco and on a river boat owned by wealthy financiers. She used her connections with powerful figures to find jobs for colored people and led an effort to desegregate San Francisco’s streetcars, which established a legal precedent in the California Supreme Court for future civil rights suits (Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute). I’m left thinking, Where was this series of events in my American History class?

Taking her story closer to home, Mary Ellen was a leading figure in John Brown’s uprising at Harper’s Ferry. She financed his mission by donating $30,000, nearly $1 million in current money. When John Brown was hung in 1859 for treason, officials found a note in his pocket from an unknown, assumed-to-be-male source. It expressed complete support for the raid. That note was written by Mary Ellen Pleasant, self-made millionaire and West Virginia hero.

Portrait of Mary Ellen Pleasant, seated

Mary Ellen’s arduous journey is written between the lines of kitchen guidance, local recipes, and lists of common ingredients like nutmeg and bread crumbs. You get a sense of life’s everyday essence in the words of a chef to a novice reader. It’s conversational, light, yet studded with evidence of Mary Ellen’s home and career at the time. This timeline of food showcases her major steps, characteristic recipes, and social position throughout her life.

She’s a feminist leader whose name belongs beside modern icons like Simone de Beauvoir, Coretta Scott King, or Malala Yousafzai. I read about her campaign for justice in the pages surrounding quaint recipes for stews and cakes. No other book I’ve read detailed the process of stewing turtle meat with sherry wine or whipping cream with a rotary beater.

Like many women of color in the United States, Mary Ellen was artistically and academically restricted. She was blocked from etching her success, struggle, and feelings in popular documents. We must widen the reading lens of history, piecing together hidden accounts from secondary sources like cookbooks. Stories like Mary’s, a brilliant entrepreneur, self-made millionaire, and important abolitionist, cannot remain shrouded by discrimination.

When you step back and absorb Mary’s well-rounded recipes, you can almost taste her march toward self-empowerment and social change. As we move through this blog, let’s celebrate the women who built modern food systems and simultaneously campaigned for freedom.

“I’d rather be a corpse than a coward.” -Mary Ellen Pleasant

Resources:

Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Timeline of Major Events: https://timelines.gitkraken.com/timeline/8afdcc6908984b1887c2dce8884f2b1d?range=1830-01-01_1879-08-08
(Dates are approximate, as they were not listed explicitly in the cookbook. Scroll over blue boxes to read more.)

Image of Mary Ellen Pleasant:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Ellen_Pleasant

Source of quotes and more information about Mary Ellen Pleasant from the New York Times:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/obituaries/mary-ellen-pleasant-overlooked.html

The Martinsburg Herald

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 1st, 2021

Blog post by Rachael Barbara Nicholas, WV National Digital Newspaper Project grant assistant, WVRHC

The Republicans of Berkeley County once bemoaned how difficult it was to edit a political paper when “the Republican backbone” in Berkeley “was weakened by Democratic domination.” This perceived difficulty did not prevent editors A. S. Goulden and John T. Reily from establishing the Martinsburg Herald in 1881. A thoroughly Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald retained its original management until 1885, when Reily purchased Goulden’s interest in the paper and associated himself with George F. Evans, a manufacturer of cigars and wholesale dealer in tobacco. In addition to being a Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald was “A Weekly Family Journal—Devoted to Home Interests, Local News, &c.” It followed a fairly consistent format: the first page contained literature, the second political reports, the third local news, and the fourth advertisements.

Portrait of John T. Reily
John T. Reily, a Catholic historian, published frequently throughout his life. During his tenure as editor, he published Conewago, A Collection of Local Catholic History, Gathered from the Fields of Catholic Missionary Labors within Our Reach (1885).

The Republican element of the Martinsburg Herald was secondary under Reily and Evans, but it was not absent. Reily and Evans championed protection and denounced free trade during the presidential election of 1888. It was their belief, and that of the Republican Party, that restricting imports from other countries would promote American producers, businesses, and workers. They utilized the rhetoric of labor to equate protectionism with agricultural and working-class interests. “Protection always won when the issue was openly against Free Trade,” the editors said of the 1888 Republican victory. “Labor of all kinds fears free trade, and well it may. Labor was aroused, and Labor is the Lion of America.” The lion Reily and Evans envisioned represented unity, something they wanted for the Republican Party.

A healthy repugnance of party factionalism followed the Martinsburg Herald into the Progressive Era, even as it became increasingly political. It no longer bore the title “Family Journal” after A. B. Smith and J. H. Mowbry replaced Reily as editor on July 22, 1893. As a Republican newspaper, the Martinsburg Herald published extensively on free silver—a monetary policy that favored unlimited coinage of silver into money on demand—and territorial expansion. Both Smith and Mowbry and the editors who succeeded them (U.S.G. Pitzer in 1899, George F. Evans in 1900, Wilbur Thomas in 1904, and W.E. Hoffheins & Co intermittently) criticized free silver and its populist Democrat defender, William Jennings Bryan. They predicted an economic collapse under Bryan’s silver standard and urged farmers, the potential beneficiaries of free silver, to “not pursue a phantom and bring down on his own head worse ills than he now suffers.” They also chastised Bryan’s opposition to the imperialist war being fought in the Philippines. Invoking the memory of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Smith informed his readers “[that] Mr. Jefferson was nothing if not an expansionist… and if alive today both would be found supporting the foreign policy of William McKinley.” The editors of the Martinsburg Herald equated progress as a nation with rampant imperialism.

Political cartoon referencing William Jennings Bryan and a cross of gold.
In defense of free silver, Bryan famously proclaimed in 1896 that he would not allow mankind to be crucified “upon a cross of gold.”

The reformist spirit of the Progressive Era did not penetrate the pages of the Martinsburg Herald. A few reports addressing prohibition and women’s suffrage graced its columns, but they never received lengthy coverage. The editors had other concerns, particularly in 1912, when ex-president Theodore Roosevelt ran against incumbent William H. Taft, creating a schism in the Republican Party. They accused the newly formed Progressive Party of putting “local candidates into the field against the Republican candidates in every State and congressional district” in “a war of extermination” against Republicans. There was no subtlety in their assertion that the “motto of the new party seems to be ‘Kill the Republican party; elect Roosevelt at the same time if possible, but in any event kill the Republican party.” Republicans and Progressives alike felt the sting of defeat when Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 and 1916.

A political cartoon showing the GOP elephant sick because of Teddy Roosevelt
A political cartoon from February 5, 1916, depicting a “third party” sickness. The markings on the GOP elephant are caricatures of Roosevelt’s face.

The Republican Party survived its splintering and the victory of Wilson; the Martinsburg Herald did not. The final issue appeared on December 27, 1919, under the World Publishing Company. The editorial body gave no indication that this issue would be the Herald’s last. It published a variety of articles, as it always had, including a speech from its former political rival, William Jennings Bryan. It was strangely ironic—maybe even appropriate—that Bryan had the final say in a paper that had spent twenty years opposing and denigrating his policies.

Editor’s note: The Martinsburg Herald is one of the newspapers that will be digitized during the current WV NDNP grant cycle, so it will eventually be available on https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

An Undergraduate’s Take on Race, Justice, and Social Change Through Cookbooks

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 22nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This series of blog posts will feature the following books: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code

Collage of cookbook covers
Emphasis on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and themes of social justice

Note: The cookbooks in this series feature revolutionary and talented women of their times. Reading their stories in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, I chose to refer to the authors by their first names. Their casual tones conveyed a desire to connect with the reader, and being one of those readers, I wanted to uphold that connection while maintaining the highest respect for the work they created.

I found a place on campus I never knew existed. The West Virginia & Regional History Center houses doorways into the past, into the day-to-day struggles, relationships, and moments of sweet relief. I’m sifting through the realities of women, Black Americans, and other marginalized groups to elucidate forces that affected their lives. These forces, far from obsolete, persist into today’s social landscape, whether it is in private conversations at the Mountainlair or national media coverage.

Donated by the late Lucinda Ebersole, an acclaimed writer and cookbook collector, hundreds of cookbooks await analysis on the sixth floor of the Downtown Library. I started with Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, which captures the travels and fierce entrepreneurship of Mary Ellen Pleasant.

Double doors with sign above that reads "Rare Book Room"
The Rare Book Room at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

I realized that recipes cast a new light on history with an intimate truthfulness. Standard high-school history books don’t reveal the ins and outs of stewing a turtle, running a renowned kitchen on a senator’s riverboat, or feeding enslaved people at secret boarding houses of the Underground Railroad. The language around recipes, be it an author’s note or long introduction, tells a story about a time period. How are specific groups of people described? Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook uses “Negro,” while later books opt for “African American” or “Black.” Who knew a timeline of societal awakenings and changes in norms is etched between the dinner and dessert section of a cookbook?

As I flipped the page of a hundred-year-old cookbook, a plume of dust shot into the air. I caught a whiff of an unfamiliar scent that reminded me of my grandmother’s stack of outdated newspapers, musty yet potent. I felt like a foreigner in an unexplored country, getting to know the smells and rituals of a group whose history was scrubbed and sanitized by dominant groups.

For example, the “mammy” stereotype — a jolly, rotund Black woman who cares for everyone and whips up a southern feast — seemed awful but extinct in today’s world. However, it was only three months ago that the international brand Quaker Oats removed a notorious mammy stereotype from their most famous product line, Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix.

Check out this TikTok on “How to Make a Non Racist Breakfast.” The creator spells out how a pancake icon propagated racism: https://twitter.com/singkirbysing/status/1273053553876074496

The content of these frayed cookbooks is so pertinent to the current moment. Their lessons on racial identity and inclusion matter in policy decisions, university trainings, and dorm-room discussions among friends.

My goal in these blogs is to share stories from sources as raw, as delicious, and as unfiltered as personal recipes. I don’t mind if opinions are unsettled or comfortability is shaken. I’ll also let you in on experiences that I’ll likely never witness, like skinning an opossum or preparing fruit punch for a hundred people at a church social.

At some points, I found myself agitated over a cookbook. I texted friends and annoyed my family about what I read, mostly injustices against the authors and their communities. Civil rights, intercultural blending, mental health, women’s suffrage, gender issues, slavery, single parenthood, poverty, environmentalism, and more fills the pages of the Ebersole Collection. This blog would be lucky to dust off just one of those topics!

I invite you to accompany me into the daily lives of skilled chefs who objected in the most cunning, illusive way. Their judgements and hopes are woven into the blank spaces between recipes for roast duck and spice cake.

I’m excited to show you what I uncovered after hours in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, carefully leafing through these antique cookbooks on a special book pillow.

I’m a senior pursuing a double major in Biology and International Studies and intern at the WVU Center for Resilient Communities. Welcome to my excursion into the Ebersole Collection!

Display of cookbooks featuring Black women
An exhibit of cookbooks written by Black women, an underrepresented group in culinary publications. This case and others can be viewed at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

*I will capitalize the term “Black” in agreement with the New York Times’ 2020 decision to respect a shared cultural identity. Read more about their decision here.

Members of the WVU community can make an appointment to browse and read books from the Ebersole Collection by visiting: https://wvulib.wufoo.com/forms/modzhm01sagr2x/

A warm thank you to our dedicated Rare Book Librarian, Stewart Plein, and our Reference Supervisor, Jessica Eichlin, for empowering me during this process. Without their work, organizing the hundreds of books and spreading the word about their content would not happen.

More about the Ebersole Collection: https://news.lib.wvu.edu/2018/12/05/the-importance-of-a-good-cookbook/

Written by Christina White
Biology and International Studies
cdw0030@mix.wvu.edu

*photos taken by Christina White

Friendship in the Archives

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 15th, 2021

Blog post by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Valentine’s Day yesterday got me thinking about love and friendship, and how that is reflected in the things we save. The WVRHC has preserved the evidence of probably thousands of friendships in the form of funny greeting cards, charming letters, scrapbooks, reminiscences, published works, and photographs. I wanted to share some of those photographs with all of you, to highlight the many forms of friendship which carry us through good times and bad.

Siblings

Two children in a cutout of a larg Valentine's Day card
Jeanette and Gladys Green, early 1900s, remind us that sometimes our very first friends are our siblings.

Childhood friends

Little girls pushing dolls in prams.
Sometimes the friendships of childhood last a lifetime. Here, Virginia Rumsey and her friends are taking a walk, 1907.

Coworkers

Group of men posed on and around a car
Work is much more pleasant when you have friends to share it with. Here we have Sammy Walsh posing with his work friends in the Civilian Conservation Corps, ca. 1930s (if you can ID any of the folks in this picture, please let us know!)

Beloved pets

Woman with spaniel
For some of us, our pets have been helping us get through the isolation of this pandemic. This photo is actually titled “Nell Keller and Friend, Avis,” ca. 1920.

The goofy ones

Thrre men with a mule in a hat
Joe Drumheller and his associates pose with a mule, ca. 1915. Were they work friends? School pals? I’m not sure, but it’s great to have friends with whom you can be yourself.

Friends from school, clubs, social organizations, etc.

Posed group portrait of the Black Unity Organization
Sometimes strong bonds can be formed with others who share our interests and our challenges. Here’s to the friends we find in academic clubs, social organizations, and activist groups. This is the Black Unity Organization, WVU, 1969.

Romantic partners and old friends

An elderly man and woman in rocking chairs, in front of an old photo and a cake, with a "60" decoration
Since it’s the day after Valentine’s Day, I can’t ignore the friendships between romantic partners, and I also want to celebrate friendships that last through the years. Here we have (hopefully) both: an unidentified man and woman are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in Martinsburg, West Virginia, undated. (If you know this couple, please get in touch so we can add their names to the photo record!)

Military comrades and friends who we’ve lost

Memorial wall with flower wreaths along the bottom
I found this image in my search, and it seemed a fitting place to end, celebrating the bonds forged while serving in the armed forces, as well as friends who have passed away. This is the Memorial Wall for the 8th Air Force at Madingley American Cemetery in Madingley, England, undated.

These and many more photos can be found in our database of historic photographs, West Virginia History OnView.

Our New National Park: The New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 1st, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

The New River, among the oldest in the nation, has now been named the newest national park in the United States.  This designation comes as part of the recent stimulus package signed by President Trump.  With over 70,000 acres stretching along the New River, the new national park offers a variety of fine water activities, such as whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.  If dry land is more your speed, outdoor activities include hiking, rock climbing, hunting, bird watching, camping, as well as one of West Virginia’s most popular sports, mountain biking.

Of course, one of the most compelling features of the New River gorge is its stunning bridge.  Take a look at some of the photographs and postcards in the West Virginia and Regional History Center showing the gorge and the bridge over time.

The gorge is not far from other natural resources within the state.  The photograph below shows a view of the New River Gorge from Hawks Nest, dated 1939.  This photograph comes from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company Advertising Department, A&M 1710. 

New River Gorge with bridge

The area is rich in cultural history as well.  Before the bridge, timber was an important resource.  This photograph, below, shows loggers and two small boys posing on a small Peerless Engine and its cargo of logs in the New River Gorge, Fayette County, date unknown.  Note that the track rails are made of logs.  A National Park Service Photo.  Published by Katy Miller. (postcard collection)

People standing on a train carrying logs

Under Construction

Jump forward nearly one hundred years to the technological marvel that was the building of the New River Gorge bridge.  Now known nationally and globally as the site for Bridge Day, when traffic is at a halt and people are allowed to traverse the bridge, and even jump off of it!  According to the Bridge Day website, every third Saturday in October, thousands of people gather on the bridge to base jump.  I think this falls under the heading: If you build it, they will come!

Two ends of New River Gorge bridge, with the middle missing, still under construction

 Above: This jaw dropping image shows the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayette County, W. Va.  ca. 1976.  Photo of the steel bridge construction by the United States Steel Corporation. The bridge’s arch was the world’s longest main arch at 1,700 feet.

New River Gorge bridge under construction

Above: ca. 1976.  A group of unidentified construction workers are scattered across the site.

New River Gorge Bridge under construction

This beautiful shot shows the New River Gorge Bridge under construction, ca. 1976.  Fayette County

New River Gorge from Hawk's Nest Rock State Park, drawing

This postcard from 1941 shows the New River Canyon from Hawk’s Nest Rock State Park, near Ansted.  The caption on the back of postcard reads: “Once called Marshall’s Pillar for Chief Justice John Marshall who came here in 1812. Engineers declare the New River Canyon, 585 feet deep, surpasses the famed Royal Gorge. Tunnel for river makes vast water power here. On U.S. Route 60.”  Published by Genuine Curteich. (From postcard collection).

So, what are you waiting for?  There are plenty of winter activities to enjoy at our newest national park and the gorge looks beautiful under a blanket of snow.  Need something for the whole family to do together?  See it firsthand this weekend!

Resources:

History of Lakin State Hospital

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 25th, 2021

Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Mental illness and its treatment have a long history in the United States as well as West Virginia. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries several hospitals were built in West Virginia to service the developing communities in a growing state. Today, West Virginia is home to some famous old hospitals which attract visitors every year in search of either a catered scare or a dive into the macabre past tied to these places. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a popular and well visited location in Weston. 

Hospital building
Women’s Ward Building, Lakin State Hospital, 1930

There was another institution however, which functioned for just over fifty years and today has nearly vanished. The Lakin State Hospital was built in 1926 in Point Pleasant and served as the African American mental hospital for the state during the era of segregation. The hospital was part of a series of community services and institutions proposed by African American delegates in West Virginia’s Legislature. West Virginia’s political make up looked different in the 1920s. The Republican Party ran on a platform of progress and moral reform spearheading the successful implementation of prohibition in 1916 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. These Afrian American delegates, T. G. Nutter, Harry Capehart, and T. J. Coleman saw accessible and state funded mental health services for African American West Virginians as essential and in tow with the Republican Party’s platform. 

Hospital building
State Hospital for Colored Insane, 1924

The campus was built gradually. The original staff at the hospital shared quarters with the patients until employee dormitories were constructed. The buildings exhibited an emerging modern “budget Deco” style. They were composed almost entirely of brick with symmetrical double-hung windows and ornamental columns along the facades. The main building for the hospital’s campus also featured a two story portico supported by rectangular columns. These design features evoked the streamlined themes of the emerging Art Deco architectural style which exploded throughout the United States during the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. 

Lakin State Hospital was West Virginia’s state hospital for African-American mental health patients, then called the “colored insane,” and was also completely staffed by African Americans. These demographics were very atypical for mental hospitals which normally employed at least one white physician. In addition to the all African American staff, specialists would often visit the hospital. One of these specialists was the infamous Dr. Walter Freeman, an enthusiastic proponent of lobotomization. Freeman performed over 150 lobotomies at Lakin between 1940 and 1960. The hospital shared its campus with the West Virginia Industrial School for Colored Boys and eventually the site became the Lakin Correctional Facility, a women’s prison. Few images still exist from the hospital, and only the administration building remains standing. 

Three hospital buildings surrounded by fields and trees
Lakin State Hospital Campus, 1930

Three Powerful West Virginia Black Women: Their Work Revealed In Ancella Bickley’s Collection

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 19th, 2021

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

Dr. Ancella Bickley’s extensive collection of her research materials and writings in the West Virginia and Regional History Center reflects her research on a wide range of topics pertaining to the Black experience in America and particularly the West Virginia Black experience.  Bickley, an educator, historian, and writer, was especially interested in revealing the unique contributions of Black women.  While the transcripts of her oral history interviews with Black teachers who experienced the integration of schools reveals the major contributions of many Black West Virginia women, I have chosen three other noteworthy women to introduce here. 

Headshot of Dr. Ancella Bickley
Dr. Ancella Bickley, ca. 1999

The amount of information about each of these women varies widely.  Dr. Bickley collected enough information to write an entire book about the first woman, Memphis Tennessee Garrison.  She found a little less about the second woman, Bessie Woodson Yancey who was recognized by scholars for her writing. As for the third woman, Mollie Gabe, she largely remains hidden in history except for the research and recognition by Ancella Bickley.

Memphis Tennessee Garrison
1890-1988

Candid headshot of Memphis Tennessee Garrison with corsage
Photograph from the Huntington Dispatch, February 17, 2008

Dr. Bickley’s book, written with Lynda Ann Ewen, Memphis Tennessee Garrison, the Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman narrates the life of a woman of accomplishment during the heyday of mining in West Virginia and the Jim Crow era of the 1920s through the 1940s.  Memphis Tennessee Garrison was a community activist, coal company mediator, and educator.  One of her most impactful activities was to spearhead the NAACP Christmas Seals, a fundraising program, as just part of her long commitment to that organization.  She used her voice to support the Republican Party and its candidates too by working with the Party’s women’s organization.  She developed cultural and recreational opportunities in the mining communities by bringing entertainment to the miners and their families; and was also a liaison with the coal companies and miners to calm labor and racial disputes. As an educator she created techniques for teaching special needs children before the term “special education” was coined. 

Memphis Tennessee Garrison was one generation removed from slavery and was a powerful activist for the Blacks of West Virginia and the nation. As the book about her life notes, she “deserves her place in the lists of important women, important black Americans, and important Appalachians.”

Further Reading:

Buchanan, Harriette C. Appalachian Journal, vol. 29, no. 3, 2002, pp. 369–371. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40934867. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.

Wikipedia contributors. “Memphis Tennessee Garrison.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Dec. 2020. Web. 6 Jan. 2021.

Bessie Woodson Yancey
1882-1958

Portrait of Bessie Woodson Yancey

I am a Negro,
Dusky
As my native jungles,
Subtle
As the creatures that move therein,
Rollicking
Like the noon-day sun.
Suffered all,
Yet I bring goodwill,
Turning loss to gain,
Wrestling joy from pain,
Changing tears into laughter!

Bessie Woodson Yancey penned the poem above, and many more, for her book Echoes from the Hills which was published by her brother, Carter G. Woodson, the famed Black historian and activist.  Katharine Rodier wrote of Yancey’s book “her poetry signifies a self-determining moment in the history of African American writing.”  In the poem, Yancey demonstrates her deep pride in her race.  In addition to her race figuring in her poetry, Yancey was also influenced by her Appalachian identity.  Here she demonstrates her deep pride in her state.

If you live in West Virginia,
Come with me and pause a while.
See her wealth and power rising,
See her plains and valleys smile!

Aside from her poetry Yancey wrote more than one hundred pieces, mostly editorials, for Huntington’s Herald-Advertiser, 1946-1956. Her writing demonstrated “evidence of a lively mind engaged in the vital political issues of the day” (Katherine Smith) from the local, national, and international levels.  She was particularly vocal regarding West Virginia’s place on the national scene.  Her voice also supported the civil rights movement, and she received a death threat from Huntington’s Ku Klux Klan, yet she continued to express her opinion on race up to ten years later.  Katherine Smith also said of her “Yancey’s editorial work unsettles assumptions about women’s experiences as African-American Appalachians.”

Bessie Woodson Yancey rose above the strictures placed on Black women in mid-century America to speak her truth regarding world affairs and to offer the world beauty through her poems.

Further reading:

Rodier, Katharine. “Cross-writing, music, and racial identity: Bessie Woodson Yancey’s Echoes from the Hills.” MELUS, vol. 27, no. 2, 2002, p. 49+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A92589725/LitRC?u=morg77564&sid=LitRC&xid=c5862914. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.

Smith, Katharine Capshaw. “Bessie Woodson Yancey, African-American Poet and Social Critic.” Appalachian Heritage, vol. 36 no. 3, 2008, p. 73-77. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/aph.0.0060.

Mollie Gabe (Mary Elizabeth Johnson)
ca. 1853-1957

Mollie Gabe, seated
From Bickley’s Appalachian Heritage article

Mary Elizabeth Johnson was born into slavery in Falls Mills in Braxton County.  Mollie Gabe’s mother Jane Rhea was enslaved by Dr. John Rhea who brought Jane and other slaves from Virginia.  According to varying accounts Dr. Rhea sold Mollie as a child to a family in Clay County where she worked until the Civil War ended.  Although Mollie did not know that the war had ended and she was a free person, her mother did know and sent her brother, Mollie’s uncle, to fetch Mollie back to Falls Mill where she remained the rest of her life. Johnson acquired the nickname Mollie Gabe when she married Alexander “Gabe” Johnson in 1871.

In Falls Mill she developed a reputation for being an energetic hard worker, and a midwife and healer using traditional Appalachian remedies.  In Ancella Bickley’s profile of Mollie Gabe, she counts Gabe among the “ordinary people who faced day-to-day challenges in the best way they knew how, serving their families and their communities with honor and earning the high regard of many who knew them.”  She traveled from farm to farm washing clothes or helping with butchering.  Her husband Gabe (Alexander) was also an itinerant laborer.  He and his brothers had been slaves of the Braxton County family of William Haymond with whom Mollie and Gabe continued a cordial relationship. They both provided labor for the community and since Gabe owned a team of horses, he delivered groceries, plowed fields, hauled items and worked with his brothers as extra hands as needed. 

I doubt that Mollie could read, but she is believed to have traveled to Black colleges and Black high schools to tell her story of being enslaved. It is also said that she walked about a mile at 86 years old to the polls to cast her vote for the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. 

According to the 1910 census, Mary and Alexander Johnson had been married 42 years and had 10 children and she said in an interview that she raised many more.  Her gravestone in Falls Mills shows that she lived to be 99 years old, but other accounts show her age at death to be 104.

Further Reading:

Bickley, Ancilla. “Mollie Gabe.” Appalachian Heritage, vol. 19 no. 4, 1991, p. 34-37. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/aph.1991.0063

Interview with Mollie Gabe.  Braxton Democrat, February 2,1939 and reprinted October 29, 1982. http://sites.rootsweb.com/~wvbraxto/mollie.html  Accessed January 5, 2021

A Woman’s Book: How to Know the Ferns, A Guide to the Names, Haunts, and Habits of Our Common Ferns, by Frances Theodora Parsons

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 4th, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

In 1899, Clara W. Greglee or perhaps Griglee, received this book, How to Know the Ferns, as a Christmas gift from her mother.  Although there is little that we know about Clara, including the correct spelling of her surname, we do know that she was a passionate amateur botanist.  We know, because her book is stuffed with the ferns she picked, pressed between the pages, and identified in her book.

Pencil handwriting, "Clara W. Greglee, from mother, Christmas 1899"
Cover of book, How to Know the Ferns
Interior of book, showing text and sketches of ferns, and a pressed fern

Above, we can see that Clara pressed a fern between the pages describing the Narrow Leaved Spleenwort.  However, from her pressing, one can see that this particular example is not the Narrow Leaved Spleenwort, but another type of fern altogether.  Perhaps, on this day, Clara picked and pressed as she walked, planning to identify the ferns she gathered at a later time. 

Book page describing Christmas Fern

Clara also made notes in the margins of the guide book, such as the note in the photo above.  According to this brief notation, we know that Clara identified one of the most common ferns, the Christmas fern, while in Denmark, Maine, in June 1900.  This common fern grows all over the eastern seaboard, from New Brunswick all the way to Florida.

Page of handwritten notes

Ferns weren’t the only thing Clara hoped to identify.  Pages of notes can also be found inside her book, slipped inside the front cover.  On September 20th, 1901, Clara was identifying plants near Kennebunk, Maine.  The first entry, perhaps a mushroom, reads “reddish brown – old – coarse sponge like gils.”

Clara was given this book in the first year of publication, 1899, and by observing the traces she left behind, we know that she was still using it to identify plants in 1901.  But Clara wasn’t the only woman to be involved with this book.  Three other women made this book possible: the author, Frances Theodora Parsons, the illustrator, Marion Satterlee, and the book cover designer, Margaret Armstrong.  All three women were botanists.  

Portrait of Frances Theodora Parsons in hat

The author, Frances Theodora Parsons, also wrote under her married name, Mrs. William Starr Dana. Following her husband’s death in 1890 during a flu epidemic, Mrs. Dana sought solace in nature.  She took long walks with her friend Marion Satterlee, an artist.  Together, Marion and Frances began identifying wildflowers.  These long nature walks led to her first book, How to Know the Wildflowers in 1893.  She would go on to publish two more nature guides, According to Season, 1894, and Plants and Their Children, 1896. 

It was not until after Frances married James Russell Parsons, a politician and diplomat, that she wrote this book, How to Know the Ferns, which she considered a sequel to her first book, How to Know the Wildflowers.

Her friend, and companion for the many long woodland walks together, Marion Satterlee, pictured below, would illustrate all of Mrs. Parsons’ books.  She too, was a botanist and her black and white line illustrations beautifully and accurately depict the ferns they encountered. 

Portrait of a Marion Satterlee

A second artist, Alice Josephine Smith, also drew some of the fern illustrations.  Unfortunately, no information could be found about her work or life.

The fourth woman to be involved with the making of this book was Margaret Armstrong, another artist/botanist who would go on to author and illustrate her own guide to western wildflowers, a guide that did not exist until she tackled it. 

Armstrong, pictured below, was a well-known book cover designer.  She created the designs that would be stamped in colored inks and real gold to make attractive book covers that would draw customers and increase sales.  She chose to frame the titles surrounded by ferns, and she placed ferns across the cover stamped in green, as if they were growing naturally in the wild.  She often signed her designs with a monogram, her initials MA, which can be found near the title at the upper right of the book. 

Cover of How to Know Ferns, showing green fern pattern and artist's initials
Portrait of Margaret Armstrong in flowered hat

Taken all together, this is a book by women for women.  Botany and plant identification were popular pursuits in the late 19th and early 20th century.  It was a hobby women could enjoy, as seen here in this photo, pictured below, from the book.  Seeing this photograph, we can picture Clara carrying her book with her into the woods, stopping to pick a fern and press it between the pages. We can see Frances and Marion, two friends who found companionship and the inspiration to create a book that would be enjoyed by others, and we can see Margaret Armstrong, another artist who could use her skills to make the book attractive enough to appeal to a mother as a Christmas gift for her daughter. 

The rare book room in the West Virginia and Regional History Center has books by Mrs. Parsons, books illustrated by Marion Satterlee, nature guides, and many books with covers designed by Margaret Armstrong.

Woman looking at a bush

Resources:

Working in the Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, and Publishing an Online Exhibit

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 28th, 2020

By Hannah McCoy, Graduate Assistant, WVRHC

Woman with glasses

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.

Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia homepage, with political buttons

Graduate Assistantship with Modern Congressional & Political Papers

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 21st, 2020

By Meredith Dreistadt, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC

Woman standing in front of framed blueprints

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!

Reflections on Working with the Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 14th, 2020

By Crystal Coon, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC

Woman standing in front of brick building
Crystal in front of Woodburn Hall

 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.

"Vote for Neely" poster

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.

Drawings of a black bear, rhododendron, cardinal, and sugar maple

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.

Moving Rare Book Instruction Online: Filming a 15th Century Medieval Choir Book

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.

Table full of books on display
Rare Book instruction before the pandemic.  Above, the table in the rare book room is set up in advance for a class.  Below, class is in session.  In this photo we are examining a volume from the Dayton Shakespeare collection.
Instructor showing a large book to students

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.

Pages of a book with musical notation and Latin text

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.

Open book resting on a pillow beneath a tripod

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.

Woman operating camera on tripod to photograph a book

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.

Woman operating camera on tripod to photograph a book as another woman looks on

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!

Woman operating camera on tripod to photograph a book as another woman turns pages

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.

Woman turning the pages of a large book

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!

Got questions?  I’m available! 

Silver Bridge Collapse

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

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. 

Silver Bridge as seen from the shore

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. 

Give Buckwheat a Chance

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.

Cars in front of Cool Springs Park store
Photograph of the Entrance of Cool Springs Park, Preston County, West Virginia.

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.

Bag of buckwheat flour with cakes recipe printed on it
Photograph of the Entrance of Cool Springs Park, Preston County, West Virginia.

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.

Bowl of batter
Photograph of the mixed batter before sitting out overnight.
Buckwheat cake in a pan
Photograph of a buckwheat cake on the griddle.

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.

Buckwheat cakes in maple syrup
Photograph of two buckwheat cakes smothered in maple syrup produced in Barbour County, West Virginia.

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.

Log of cookie dough on plastic wrap
Photograph of the mixed dough, shaped into a log, and chilled.
Balls of dough on cookie sheet, dusted with powdered sugar
Photograph of cookies cut from the dough log and prepared for baking.

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.  

Plate of cookies
Photograph of the finished cookies, yum.  These cookies pair perfectly with a glass of milk. I have a few friends that are gluten free – I will be making these again to give as gifts.

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.

Resources:

West Virginia Encylopedia Buckwheat Festival Entry

Goldenseal article excerpt

5 Recent West Virginia Reads…and One Kentucky

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.   


The Buffalo Creek DisasterHow the Survivors of One of the Worst Disasters in Coal-Mining History Brought Suit Against the Coal Company—And Won by Gerald M. Stern. 1977. 

Man sitting in front of a house that has been swept off its foundation by a flood
Flood victim at Man, Logan County, February 29, 1972 

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. 


Diamond Doris: The Ture Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief by Doris Payne and Zelda Lockhart. 2019 

The Life and Crimes of Doris
Doris Payne mug shot. Source: Variety Magazine

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: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy. 2018 

Dopesick

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.   


Ludie’s Life by Cynthia Rylant. 2006 

Text, letter

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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.   


Running on Red Dog Road: and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by Drema Hall Berkheimer 

Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by [Drema Hall Berkheimer]

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.   


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. 2019 

A group of people holding a sign

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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.   

Corridor H

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.

Group of people posing with "Stop Corridor H" signs
Governor Caperton posing with a family while Corridor H protesters line the background in October 1994.

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.

Group holding anti-Corridor H protest signs
Corridor H Alternative groups protesting the continuation of the highway in October, 1994.

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.

A family protesting Corridor H
A family protesting Corridor H in October 1994.

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.

To There and Back Again: The Many Moves of John Brown’s Fort

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

Portrait of John Brown

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.

Sketch of the Harpers Ferry engine house, with soldiers in line in front of it

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.

Portrait of David Hunter Strother

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.   

Stereograph card showing tents in front of the Harpers Ferry engine house

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. 

Harpers Ferry Engine House with the words "John Brown's Fort" painted on

First Move:

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. 

Second Move:

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.   

John Brown Souvenir ticket, with portrait of John Brown

Third Move:

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. 

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
John Brown’s Fort on Murphy’s Farm, Bolivar Heights, W. Va.
Photograph approximately 1900

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.

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
Used to store fertilizer, 1909. 

Move Four:

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. 

Harpers Ferry engine house surrounded by trees
On the campus of Storer College
Group of African-American students in front of a tree
Storer College student group.  John Brown’s Fort is in the background.  Approximately 1940s. 
Harpers Ferry engine house in front of another building
John Brown’s Fort as it was positioned on the campus of Storer College in relation to Anthony Hall, the main building.

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.

Move Five:

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. 

Harpers Ferry engine house being transported on the bed of a truck
John Brown’s Fort being transported back to Lower Town in 1968.
Harpers Ferry NHP Historic Photo Collection, Catalog #NHF-3155

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.   

Harpers Ferry engine house
John Brown’s fort today.

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.

Resources: