From the Mind of Jason
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Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Moving On...
Mood:  irritated
Now Playing: Getting my blog on...

For those of you who have been following my blog, I just want to say thanks!  I'm moving this blog to blogspot now, in hopes that it will not only be easier to manage, but also easier to download, access, and read. Tripod is not an easy blogosphere.  You can check out my new blog pages here:

http://wordsfromthemountains.blogspot.com/

 See you on the other side! 


Posted by storytellerwv at 10:56 PM EDT
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Monday, 26 January 2009
Cass (Part 2)
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: Cass Railroad - Part 2
Topic: Cass Scenic Railroad

I know it has been several days since my last entry, and I apologize.  The new house needed heat, as houses are want in the winter.  The last three days involved putting in a new chimney liner, installing a woodstove in the basement to supplement the gas furnace (which is costing an arm & leg), and simply cleaning up the mess.  The chimney was full of everything about birds, from nests to dead pigeons to the stuff that comes out the back end.  And Soot! Don't forget that.  When I get a chance to photograph it all I will put it up here for you all to see.  I do want to get to writing about the house renovations, since there are so many going on.  However, now I want to go on a bit more about Cass Scenic Railroad - in the thread of things to do when its warm.

This is the bridge that leads into Cass, which is currently being replaced.  I thank my stars that I was able to document this bridge, not because it is anything special, but because it is a survivor. 

Those of you who know me, know that the flood of 1985 is a central point in my being.  I was eight years old in that year, when it seemed like the world was coming to an end.  My entire county was ravaged by floodwaters that destroyed things I had known my entire life - schools, roads, homes, bridges - and I nearly lost my brother to the floodwaters.  Had it not been for my Aunt Tam's good eyes and quick reflexes, he would have been gone with the waves.  However he is, like the rest of us that remember that time, a survivor.  So is in fact this bridge.  There is a plaque on it that I can't find the photo of, but the bridge was built in the 1910s.  I remember pictures of it standing strong among the floodwaters of November 4-5, 1985, and it has stood there since.  I know old age and time gets the best of us, and tends to leave us cracked, ragged, and worn - but there is still a beauty, a simplicity in maturity, that makes it all seem worthwhile. 

Now the bridge will be replaced, and I wonder if that bridge will stand as long, or as rigid.  The floodwaters of 1985 brought the cliffs from the mountainsides and destroyed entire homesteads.  Could this new bridge survive that? Time will certainly tell.

And the trains, like time, will continue at Cass. 

It's a nice trip up to Whittaker Station on the railroad.  There is a small station at the top (bring your own food or lots of cash).  There's also a lot of old trains, railroad cars, and machinery to look at up at Whittaker.  If you are into industrial metalwork, its a dreamplace.  There's a quiet on the mountain, too, that we West Virginians know well - the quiet of solitude.

Here the train chugs up the mountain to Whittaker Station.  Below you can see the sign of the stop:

Here are some of the scenes to be found up at Whittaker Station:

Then of course, we took the train back down to the town of Cass.  I recommend that you take the walking tour, otherwise you might miss some really cool historic buildings.  Make a trip of it - get some ice cream at the general store, grab a map of town, a bottle of water and go!

These are the ruins of the old machine shops at Cass - a rather grand ruin.  Not safe to explore the interior, but the grounds around the outskirts are quiet interesting and full of photo opportunities.  Then there is this: 

This is a reproduction of the actual water tower at Cass, on its original site.

Then, there's more neat stuff like this to see:

The former company houses of Cass now make wonderful getaways.  You can stay here in town, just like you lived there!

Then there's the old boarding house (you can't stay here):

The other town buildings:

The barber:

The Post Office:

And the Community Center:

So if you are looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, why not check out Cass?  I do suggest bringing all your essentials - while food and edibles are on site, the closest real store is in Marlinton, which is a good ways away from Cass.  But hey, when in Rome! Or in this case, CASS!

 

 

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 9:11 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 26 January 2009 9:30 PM EST
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Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Cass Scenic Railroad
Mood:  special
Now Playing: Adventures at Cass
Topic: Cass Railroad

Today I'm continuing my train of thought on things to do when it is warm.  This is because it keeps the mind off the cold temperatures outdoors, and helps me remember that spring is only a month or two away.  Of course, it also might give one of you reason to visit one of my favorite tourist attractions in WV - Cass Scenic Railroad.

One reason I like Cass so much is because I can never remember a time when I didn't know about it.  I grew up in nearby Pendleton County, and I heard stories as a child about my great-grandfather who had worked at Cass while it was still a lumbering town.  He never lived there, but worked at Cass as a saw sharpener - yes, he sharpened the crosscut saw blades. 

Here is Cass, WV.  A shay - that's train engine- is pulling into the station, ready to take tourists on the ride to Whittaker Station, and maybe all the way to Bald Knob.  I've found that the Whittaker Station trip is enough for me.  The Bald Knob trip takes pretty much all day, and I don't relish being on a train that long.  Some people like it, though. 

Cass is more than a train station though.  It has a restaurant, a country store, and restored company houses that you can rent for a short vacation.  There is also a walking tour you can take of the town, and several nice shops.  There is also a model train exhibit and museums on train history and Cass itself.  The original depot and tours of the machine shop are also available.

The Depot:

The Restaurant:

The restaurant is called "The Last Run" named for the term referring to the last train ride.

History is everywhere at Cass, from the store windows to the restaurant - here are some of the exhibits in the railroad museum next door:

Those are merely a few of the items in the museum.  Of course, my all-time favorite part of Cass is no longer in existence.  The wildlife museum closed many years ago, in the late 1990s.  All the taxidermied animals are gone, and only my memories are left.  I loved to come there as a child, when my brother Matthew and I would marvel at the black bear, the vultures, the mountain lions, and all the other animals that had been mounted over the years.  There was every possible WV animal there, with the exception of an elk or buffalo.  I think there was an elk head on the wall.  There were even stuffed snakes, beavers, and all kinds of birds.  To me, it was the place to go at Cass.  Here are my brother and I when we were little sitting outside the entrance to the animal museum.  The sign, as you can partly see, was held by a giant stuffed black bear (well, it looked big to me then).

I'm the one with the towhead.  My brother is the one with the bedhead.  He never could keep his hair down - Dad called it his "mean hairs".

I've taken a few train rides at Cass, but I will never forget the animal museum.  It was my favorite part of the whole place.  I have to admit though, that Cass is one of those places that holds a special place for me.  Not only do I have a lot of personal family history there, but it is also a place that keeps drawing me back as if there is something it is trying to tell me.  I like to think of the town as a member of the family that I've got to visit every once in a while, just so I know it is still doing ok. 

And so far, Cass is chugging along just fine.  Come back tomorrow for Cass part 2!

 

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 9:04 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 21 January 2009 9:13 PM EST
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Tuesday, 20 January 2009
The Greenbrier Hotel - Presidential Retreat
Mood:  happy
Now Playing: The Greenbrier Hotel
Topic: The Greenbrier Hotel

Stars shining bright above you, night breezes seem to whisper "I Love You" - birds singing in the sycamore tree, dream a little dream of me...  "Mama" Cass Elliot

Recently, on December 4 & 5, I had the chance to present my work at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, WV.  Those of you in the know will realize that this is no small feat.  The Greenbrier is one of the sought after venues in storytelling, and I got my chance through a friend, Kelly, who is a part of the saintly troop of individuals known as librarians.  Librarians hold a special place in my heart, for it is one of them - Dr. Ruth Ann Musick - who rescued a lot of West Virginia's ghost stories from oblivion when she created her collections of Coffin Hollow, The Telltale Lilac Bush, and The Green Hills of Magic, among others.  Yet I digress...

John Mullins and I were invited to the Greenbrier to present at the West Virginia Library Association (WVLA) Conference.  So here I was, surrounded by librarians in one of the most prestigious and historical buildings in the world.  I was in heaven!  Not only did I get to perform and present ghost stories to a very interested audience, but I got to stay free in the Greenbrier!

This is a picture of the Greenbrier Hotel from the side.  My room was actually right over the front entrance, behind the pillars, and I got to see them decorating the big Christmas tree out in front of the hotel. 

OF COURSE, being the big history buffs that we are, John and I spent a good part of the time before and after our presentation exploring the hotel.  Let me tell you, that is no small feat.  There are literally miles of hallways, every room is a museum, and more history has happened here than you can shake a stick at!

Let me take you to the beginning -

This is my room, or at least the bed.  The bathroom was full of marble and a tub that I spent a good deal of the evening soaking in.  And the bed was nothing less than threadcount heaven.

We presented in the Tyler Room, one of many rooms named for former Presidents of the US.  Of course, you can also see, that even academics sometimes fail at labeling.  It's supposed to have read, "WV's Spectral Literature", but it's also special literature, so I laughed it off.  After all, I was at the Greenbrier. 

Here John and I are presenting.  This particular part is about the ghosts of Blennerhassett Island and the colonial period of WV.  A friend and fellow storyteller Danny McMillion took this picture for us.  Thanks Danny!

Here John is relating the history behind the Big Bend Tunnel and the Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster.  This part also involved the ghosts of WV's industrial period.

This gigantic breakfront china cabinet was on display outside the Tyler Room in the hallway.  It would dwarf anything I own.

Famed interior designer Dorothy Draper decorated the Greenbrier Hotel in the 1950s, and it definitely still shows.  This giant window is located just inside the front doors of the hotel, and serves as a breezeway into the place.

This is the main Christmas tree in the main hall of the hotel.  The blown glass teddy bears on it were the same size as actual ones.  I wonder how big the attic is that they store them in?

This is by far one of the prettiest rooms in the hotel - the Victorian Writing Room.  The gilt bullseye pier mirror over the fireplace is antique and has been at the hotel since it opened!


I know what you're thinking - but this furniture is actually quite comfortable.  I sat on every one of them to make sure, of course.

This is one of the many long halls that lead through the building.  You can see it leads through the writing room to the conservatory and beyond to the Ballroom, which was absolutely stunning!

The ceiling is white and pink plaster, with a giant chandelier.  Here its decorated for Christmas. 

The ballroom led on into the Princess Grace Room, which is named for the Princess of Monaco - or Grace Kelly, if you are into Hollywood's golden era.  She was great in "The Rear Window" with Jimmy Stewart. 

Even if you are not into movies, you have to admit she was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.  Princess Grace and her husband Prince Ranier stayed at the Greenbrier with their children in the 1970s, I believe.  I may have the date wrong, but this room was redecorated in her memory, and this portrait was created for it.

Of course I could not possibly show you every photo I took at the Greenbrier, because I took over 400.  But here are some more:

This is part of the hall leading from the ballroom to the Princess Grace Room.  Each of these busts is a President, I believe, or at least a political figure from the past. 

This giant bust of Athena lorded over the hall outside the Conservatory, which was worthy of anyone's murder mystery involving a lead pipe and Colonel Mustard.

There was a large bust of Ares, god of War, located in the hotel bar.

These murals of American History are similar to ones that decorate the White House. 

This is where they normally serve afternoon tea.  Neat.

Here is John taking a break from the hike through the hotel.  The lights in this hall killed me!  Ha!

This mirror is in the main dining room - and is well over 12 feet tall.  This hotel is nothing if not over the top.

And to think it all started with this little sulphur spring - now covered with this federal style springhouse.  All in all, the Greenbrier Hotel is a very nice place - if you can afford it.  It is interesting because it is a grand old dame of WV, well worthy of contemplation and study.  While I did not find any new ghosts or monster tales at the hotel, I can only imagine that they are well-kept secrets, much like the bunker was that would have saved our government during a nuclear war.  OR maybe the ghosts were too snooty to show themselves to a commoner such as myself - who knows?   If anyone knows the ghost stories of the Greenbrier Hotel, please let me know.  I would love to hear them. 

Also, let me say that all the grandeur and luxury of the Greenbrier is a good thing, but I'd rather spend time with my comfortable old home, where we can all cuddle up on the furniture and wonder what needs fixing next.  It may not be marble, wrapped in 1200 threadcount sheets, or doused in the glory of royal visits, but its my West Virginia home.  Let me also say that places like the Greenbrier also serve not only as a way for me to revel in what I have, but also to inspire me to become more than I am.  After all, the Greenbrier Hotel started with a smelly hot spring bubbling out of the ground centuries ago. Hey, whatever it takes...

 

 

 

 

 

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 9:45 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 20 January 2009 10:42 PM EST
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Sunday, 18 January 2009
Franklin the Cat
Mood:  happy
Now Playing: Franklin Cat
Topic: Franklin, my cat

Today I would like to make an introduction that is long overdue.  This is Franklin, my cat.  He's about 6 months old now, and he's been with me since about November.  He's a marble tabby with a little bit of persian in him (hence the extra fluffy tail), and he's a rescue from the vets office. 

Cute isn't he? He is getting bigger and ornerier the longer he lives here, and that's how it should be.  According to the vet, he now weighs 6.8 pounds!  He loves water, so giving him a bath is like playtime for him.  He likes windowsills - and the house has big, wide ones.  He talks - a lot!  Meow this, meow that... he loves to play in the big old attic, climb the staircase, and seems to know exactly when my bare toes are going to hit the bedroom floor in the morning - then bites them. 

Here are more photos of Franklin:

This is his cat tower that he often knocks over while being rambunctious.  Luckily its in the yet to be completed dining room, so if he scratches the ugly floor it won't bother anything important.

Franklin travels with me wherever I go, and sets up his home there.  Here he is playing in my parents' bathtub, just like he does at home.

Ever the fan of warm windowseats, here is Franklin on an improvised one composed of a chair cushion and electric fireplace.

This is my mother and Franklin on Christmas Eve.  He's settled right in to be spoiled as a member of the family.  The only slightly disturbing thing is when my mom refers to him as her grandson.  Hmmm....

Did I mention that he also plays in the sink? I've actually found him sleeping in it on occasion.

Of course he's doubly cute when he's sleeping.  Here he is on my parents' bed.

And here he is on my bed - thwarting my attempts to actually make it. 

And thwarting my attempts to pack my suitcase....

All in all though, he is a pretty sweet little cat.  If you don't believe me, just ask his grandma...

Here they are traveling to Rio Mall in Rio, WV.  Franklin has a cat crate, but he rides really well and likes to look out the windows so he doesn't sit in it much.  He plays in it a lot whether its in the car or the house, so it never gets much rest.  On most trips he is happy laying in the back window watching the cars pass. 

I'll post more pictures and info about Franklin, the house, and everything else in a new post.  Until next time!

 

 

 

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 7:55 PM EST
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Saturday, 17 January 2009
Cold Weather Calls for Warm Memories
Mood:  cool
Now Playing: Cold Weather & Warm Memories
Topic: Warm Pictures

Whenever it gets cold outside, like it is now, I tend to think about warm things and warm places.  Some of these are good food, like Mom's chili, baked macaroni & cheese, and cornmeal mush.  My mind is also drawn to warm places I've been.  Some of the memories are of WV in summer, and others are vacations I took.  I don't mind the winter in moderation, but when its below zero I really don't want to go do anything outside.  Cold weather is for polar bears and penguins, not people. 

So here are a few warm memories I have.  A couple of years ago, I visited Blennerhassett Island, in the middle of the Ohio River near Parkersburg.  It's very much worth the trip, if you've never done it.  It's also worth a second visit if you have.  Blennerhassett Island is named for Harman Blennerhassett and his wife, Margaret, who lived there in the early 1800s.  They built a mansion and raised children there, but their lives were destroyed by an unfortunate relationship with Aaron Burr, who financially ruined the family.  Today the island still has the mansion, although it is a rebuilt version of the original.  Allegedly, the ghost of Margaret still haunts the island, roaming the area around the house and grounds.  It is not surprising, however - when she was alive, Margaret wrote many poems about her home there, and called it "Eden".  Today you can tour the mansion and grounds, but I suggest spending the day there if you can.  It's a big, beautiful island full of history.  Below is a picture of me on the tour I took:

Here is another view of the trail on the island: 

Further away from home, I've found a little piece of heaven-on-earth.  It's called Key West, and is home to the southernmost point in the United States.  I've been there twice, and both times I've been amazed at the relaxed atmosphere and fun that abounds on every corner of this tiny island.  Below is one of the older homes on the island, built entirely out of cypress, which never needs painting to withstand the tropical air.

 Below is a picture of me with SpongeMan, the grandfather, I'm sure, of Spongebob.

There's also a large lighthouse on Key West, which is the highest point on the island at around 80 ft above sea level.  I did climb to the top of it, and it was really a great view!

I also went sailing around the island while in Key West.  Here is a ship we passed.  It looked a lot like the one I was on.

When it gets cold like it is, it is nice to think about the time I spent in Key West, known as the land of the sunset, the Conch Republic, and the southernmost point of the US.  I recommend it highly.

 

Of course, at this point in winter I would be happy to hang out at Decker's Creek here in Morgantown provided it were warm.  I've done that a lot in the past:

I can't wait until spring.  This cold weather is really miserable.  For instance, this photo I took on New Year's Eve at my parent's house in Pendleton County, WV:

 

For now I'm gonna hunker down, eat some hot cornmeal mush, and think warm thoughts.  My mind will take me to a warm place, like this:

This is me on the trip I took to Fairchild Botanical Garden near Homestead, FL.  That is one BIG tree.  And did you notice that green is my favorite color? Well it is. 

 

 

 

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 5:16 PM EST
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Friday, 5 December 2008
My New House!!
Mood:  happy
Now Playing: My New House in Morgantown
Topic: Country Home

Hello again!  I know it has been a while since I last wrote on here, but I have a VERY good reason.  After a long weekend with my crazy brother and sister-in-law, followed up by a Sunday with my parents, I found out that the house I had bid on was now mine!  After many years of throwing money away on rent, I am now a homeowner (or will be after I close on the 26th of Sept).  Since then its been a flurry of packing, work, going to class, and start all over in the morning of the next day. 

Some people have actually said I'm trying to kill myself by doing all this at once, but I think there's at least one more straw before this camel's back breaks.  Anyway, let me show you the house-

Yes, it has a front door, it's just open.  This type of house is known as an American Four-Square, but when I grew up I called them farmhouses.  It's got a big front porch, a deck around the side, and planting beds on the side and back.  The back yard is also bigger than the front, which means no doubt I will have a garden.  There is a full finished basement and finished attic room, too.  Of course, there are other little gems in this jewel box:

This is the front entry.  The house was built in 1925 and thankfully retains all the original woodwork.  I can't wait to move in! 

This is all solid oak, by the way -

The best part of the entry, though, is the pocket doors.  These slide back into the walls, out of sight.  I didn't know about them until AFTER we bought the house.  I'm wondering what other surprises are hiding in this house.  I know I'm going to have fun finding out! (The table was left behind by the previous owners)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another good bit of the house is the fireplace in the living room, or I guess you would call it "The Parlor".  It's all original, including the spongework green ceramic tiles - that's John in the mirror.  He took all these pictures for me on an evening I had class and couldn't go with him and the realtor.

Yes, I know... the border is hideous and has GOT to go.

 

This is the side deck - a little powerwashing and waterseal will do this wonders.  And if you see the woman's head in the lower left hand side under the deck, that's only Gina, the realtor.

At first I was concerned about buying a house in town - but this part of Morgantown is right on the edge of the historical district- most of the houses are older, and it is a nice place to just walk around the neighborhood.  Of course, almost every window in the house has a great view of the mountains.  The house is up on a hill above the neighborhood, so it's pretty sweet.

I may or may not be blogging for the next few weeks.  With moving and all, it may fall by the side for a bit.  But I assure you, when I get into the house I will post more about what we do and what we find.  There is an old cellar in the basement that is sealed shut!  What will I find in there? A treasure? A body? LOL... I'll keep you posted.

What lies beyond this sealed cellar door in the basement? I'll keep you posted.  Don't you just love a good mystery? I do.

UPDATE: Some of you have contacted me regarding this house - and let me tell you, it was not exactly the dream house - more of a hidden nightmare of a place.  This all came out from the house inspection - for example, here is a list:

-dissolving foundation (not just crumbling, dissolving!) apparently the mortar was dissolving the blocks. 

-homemade electrical wiring which the inspector said should have burned the house down by now.

-the front porch was a rotten frame clad in new wood to hide the mess


-the deck's posts were each only attached with one nail!  ONE!  I mean, nails are pretty inexpensive... so?


- there was water damage on the first floor wall from the bathroom that had leaked


- 3 kinds of mold growing in the basement - yellow, black, and crimson (I didn't know there was crimson mold, but there it was looking like a blood splatter on the wall!)


-and that cute little cellar door? it was hiding a giant pool of water!

And that's just the short list.  I won't go into the rotten window frames, roof that need replaced, and the gutters. 

So needless to say I backed out of that one pretty fast.  It sucked because I had already decorated the house in my mind and told everyone I was moving in. 

However, about a week or so later I found another house, in the same neighborhood, with a bigger, flat yard (hard to come by here in Morgantown), and it has almost all the same features as the other one.  I still have the same fireplace and staircase, but not the huge basement.  There is a basement, but it is only half the size of the other one.  I also don't have the pocket doors, but I figure when that other house falls down I will just go get them and put them in this one.  LOL.

 

The new house

It's a three bedroom, one bath like the other house, but the attic is unfinished.  It does however have a new roof, new drainage, and new windows.  The kitchen is a discombobulated mess, but like most old houses the kitchen needs help. 

The kitchen

The staircase

The hallway

The living room - I know, what is with the drop ceiling?

The fireplace

The dining room

The yard - almost an acre!

Needless to say, the new house is really nice, even though it is 88 years old. 

Andi, an avid reader of this blog and self-described master of run-on sentences, wrote me this email when she heard about the last house:

Dear Jason,

Well, first of all, I'm sorry to hear that things didn't go quite as planned concerning the purchase of your first home.  On the other hand, thank goodness for home inspectors!  I would be even sorrier to read your blog detailing all of the issues you mentioned AFTER you were the owner of that first house. And I'm quite certain this isn't the first time you've heard or thought the same thing!  I'd be even sorrier yet to reluctantly imagine you running, arms akimbo, from the electrical fire that started as you toasted the bread for your first breakfast in the new house, desperately planning your escape to the water hole in the disintegrating basement as the windows fall out of their rotting frames allowing the smoke to escape and thereby alerting your neighbors that there may be something amiss, and you notice in your peripheral vision that the deck posts are detaching from the deck, which means that the firemen will have to hack their way in through the failing roof, and the whole porch simultaneously commences its collapse from the inside out, releasing a nest of now-starving termites upon the rest of the house, and in the meantime you have to be treated for the head injury you receive as you run smack dab into the "Crimson Tide" (is wall mold poisonous?) on the hardest part of the not-yet-dissolved basement wall because in your hurry to flee the fire you have stepped on one of the ten deck nails (what are the chances of that?), and you're hopping on one foot wondering when was the last time you managed to go the doctor for a tetanus booster, and then you are distracted by Michael Phelps, who is swimming laps in your cellar "indoor pool."  That's what would really suck!  Because your camera is upstairs!  And the lovely wooden staircase has by now been devoured by the newly freed termites!  So, things always happen for a reason.  And I am so happy none of that will happen!

Andi

Thanks Andi!  I hope to be able to post the ongoing saga of the new house and share it with you all soon!

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 10:05 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 18 January 2009 8:01 PM EST
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Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Home
Mood:  lyrical
Now Playing: Home vs. the Homeplace
Topic: The Homeplace

Recent events have me thinking about homes.  It is a new thing for me, having my own house as opposed to an apartment.  And being an Appalachian, I'm thinking about it hard.  I've finally joined a long line of my ancestors who have created new homes in new places.  Granted, I didn't hop a ship and sail across the Atlantic, ride a wagon train across the mountains, or have to build my own house out of native materials.  I don't envy that, and can certainly appreciate the hardiness of the family I came from.  Although I've not had to live the tough lives of, say, my great-great-great grandparents who fought in the Civil War to protect the very bit of land they lived on, I did fight with credit ratings.  There is not comparison, but it was none the less stressful. 

There are things, though - good things - that I inherited from Mom & Dad, Granny, and all the others who have come before me.  For example, I can't wait to plant lilacs in my yard - saplings from Granny's lilac bush that have grown on our mountain since she planted them in the 1920s. 

These are Granny's purple lilacs - soon to be growing in my yard in Morgantown.  Granny is my great-grandmother Mary Burns, who lived next door to us until she passed away in 1988.  She was the last grandmother I had, and she and my great-grandma Tabitha "Bithey" died within two weeks of each other.  I was 13 then.  Still today, though, we remember them both fondly.  They were both good country women who raised large families. 

Granny was a Germany Valley farm girl.  When she was young, she had a white horse that she rode around the hills and farms, with her long blonde hair flying behind her.  This would have been the early 1910s.  Her father was a tenant farmer, traveling from farm to farm finding work.  She actually lived and grew up in a log cabin called Fiddler's Green, which still partly stands in the Harman Hills of Germany Valley.

My great-grandfather Don & Grandma Mary "Granny" in the 1950s.

 

It was my brother's remembrances of the 1985 flood that made me think of Granny. I remember shortly after the flood, the relief agencies came in and started handing out stuff to all the people like us who had been affected.  On one occassion, Granny and Mom had gone to Franklin to the churches (after the mudslides had been moved off the North Mountain roads).  One of the women asked Granny what condition her house was in, and Granny said something like, "Oh my it's full of mud.  I don't know if it will ever get cleaned out".  Well then the woman turned to my mother and asked her, "What's your house like?" and Granny piped up, "Oh, her house is as bad as mine, she lives right next door to me - there's mud all over in it."

As the woman was gathering up cleaning supplies for them to take home, Mom whispered, "Granny! You just lied to a woman in a CHURCH!"

To which Granny replied, "No I didn't!  Both our houses are full of mud - them kids have been tracking it in the house since the first day of the flood!"

Granny as I remember her.

Granny always had a way with words - and there are many reasons why I miss her.  She truly is a lady to remember!

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 11:08 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 5 November 2008 11:09 AM EST
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Friday, 24 October 2008
Ghosts of Seneca Caverns
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: Ghosts of Seneca Caverns
Topic: Seneca Caverns

For those of you who don't already know, my very first job was as a tour guide at Seneca Caverns in Riverton, WV.   This was back in the 1990s, when the economy wasn't shot.  Anyway, during my time at the caverns, which lasted several years (I worked there all through college as well) I learned many things.  I memorized the tour (which I can still recite to this day).  I learned how to recognize different types of minerals simply from their color, how to deal with the public, and more importantly - how to deal with spirits.

Now you may think I am making this all up - and you have a right to be skeptical.  But I am telling you that this is all based on real experiences my fellow guides and I had while working at the caverns.

Now Seneca Caverns was discovered by Europeans in the late 1600s, but before that it was home to the Seneca tribe.  The most famous story is that of Princess Snowbird and her love story, but that is another blog entry.  The Seneca, it was stated, lived in the giant cavern during the winter months, and in the warmer months they would move out into the surrounding Germany Valley to hunt. 

This is Candy Mountain, a flowstone formation at the front entrance to the Council Room.

During those long winters, the shaman of the tribe would use a deeper part of the cave, now called the Council Room, as a place to hold rituals and spiritual ceremonies.  To this day, the walls of the Council Room are smoked black by the fires that lit those thousands of council meetings.  After the Seneca left the region, the cave was abandoned.  Over the years local citizens used its 54 degree temperatured rooms as a natural refrigerator, and during the Civil War it held supplies used by both sides. It gained public prominence when  it was opened to the public in the late 1920s as a tourist attraction.

Knowing the history of the cave, it is not surprising that it would have some type of spiritual activity.  And during my time as a guide, I and others witnessed some pretty strange things.

The most strange thing that happened was when I was giving a tour of the caverns.  At one point in the tour, the tourists descend into the area known as the Devil's Kitchen and then come back out into the Council Room.  I was leading the group out of the kitchen when I saw two small spheres of light zip from one side of the Council Room to the other.  A young woman, who was right behind me, gasped and I knew she had seen it too.  As the rest of the group came up out of the kitchen, the light spheres zipped back across the Council Room to the other side.  We waited for a bit after that, but nothing else happened.  It was then that the tourists became VERY interested in the ghost stories I had about the cave.

This is "Niagara Falls Frozen Over" at the far end of the Council Room.  The green spots are actually algae that grows as a result of the lights.

Another story involves a rather strange phenomenon - it's what we tour guides referred to as "the ghost tour".  What happened on many occassions was that one or two of us would be in the cavern, and we would hear a tour approaching.  This sometimes happened when maintenance was required on the lighting or stairs, so it was pretty common to just stand aside and let the tour go by.  I remember one time another man and I were working on the drainage system by Mirror Lake, and we heard a tour coming up on us.  So we prepared to stand under the stairs and wait for the tour to pass by.  Well the voices got louder and louder, as if a tour was coming down the long tunnel known as "The State Penitentiary" because of all the columns.  Just when it sounded like the tour was going to appear, it stopped.

The other man looked at me and said, "Well I think we've done enough today." and we left by the back of the caverns.  Other times the ghost tour would come, and it always happened when there were only one or two people in the cavern.  Often we would go through at the end of the day to pick up trash and sweep the gravel off the stairs, and on many occasions strange things happened.

At one point, I was sweeping the stairs by the Council Room and the Devil's Kitchen when I heard footsteps behind me in the gravel.  I turned around, but no one was there.  Knowing what it was, I just started to hum to myself.  The longer I was there, the more I felt like I was being watched.  And the footsteps started again.  So I gave the steps a swipe and a promise and took off through the Council Room to the end of the caverns.

Another tour guide who also had this same experience came up with a brilliant plan to counteract this ghost.  She told me that it happened to her every time she swept the stairs at the end of the day.  So she got an idea to follow the final tour through the caverns.  She would stay one room behind each tour, but followed closely behind it.  In this way, she was able to avoid the "man at the top of the stairs" in the Council Room.

The Iceberg - the last large formation in the caverns.

Now some people have thought that it was just our minds playing tricks on us, and that the ghost tour was simply an echo of another tour in the cave, but it happened when there were no other people or tours in the caverns.  And there were multiple witnesses, so it was obviously not someone's imagination gone awry.  I've said it before and I'll say it now: Seneca Caverns has ghosts!


Posted by storytellerwv at 1:20 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 24 October 2008 2:15 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 27 August 2008
The Moundsville State Penitentiary
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: The stories of Moundsville State Penitentiary
Topic: Moundsville's Ghosts?

Probably the most celebrated haunting in all of West Virginia is the state penitentiary located in Moundsville, WV.  During this past July, a friend and I took a road trip north from Morgantown to this sleepy little town on the Ohio, and decided to look for ourselves. 

Upon arriving, we found that the GPS battery had died, so we ended up searching for the Adena Mound in town, which is directly across from the former penitentiary.  I'm not trying to put down the importance to WV heritage of the penitentiary, but I found the mound to be more spiritually profound than the Victorian prison.  There is something more comforting about sitting on a burial mound than trapsing through a haunted former prison, but that is my own personal choice.  I actually liked both locations for different reasons. 

It was a warm, sunny day and we found the former penitentiary quite easily.  It was well-marked and was the biggest building in town.

The prison is quite large, and quite famous for its ghosts.  Even from the outside, you could almost feel the stares from outside the prison windows. 

According to the stories, the most haunted area of the prison is the sugar shack, or the recreation room, of the prison.  Also there is the hole where the prisoners were in solitary confinement, and the old electric chair known as "Sparky".  Interestingly the one entity with a name is known as "Shadow Man".  Apparently this spook is a large man-shaped black blob that has appeared on film.  It walks the one corridor of the prison and has been witnessed by several visitors to the prison.  I would go on about the ghosts in Moundsville State Penitentiary, but the stories are readily available all over the internet (and show up regularly on tv).

Do you see anyone staring back at you? I didn't see anyone, but you could tell there was something in there.  It was a repressed anxiety of wanting out - of course, it was a prison.  What a horrible place to spend eternity!

This is a view of the former penitentiary from the top of the Grave Creek Mound that is located directly across the street from it.  It was an interesting juxtaposition - the repression of the prison keeping spirits earthbound, with the burial mound moving on into the next life.  I know I'm waxing a bit poetic, but that is how I felt about it. 

This is a photo of the Grave Creek Mound - it's very large, and was at one time a part of a large complex of burial mounds up and down the Ohio River.

This is me on top the Grave Creek Mound in front of the former State Penitentiary.  It was a nice spot to sit and think, as well as showed a great view of the area.  So if you are ever in Moundsville, or are just curious about WV's ghosts and spiritual spots, take a trip.  I found that Moundsville was pretty spiritual. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Posted by storytellerwv at 11:06 AM EDT
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