Tuesday, August 21, 2012

West Virginia Hillbilly--What a Find

A recent visit to an Ohio flea market turned up a find that is like gold to this storyteller's heart: about 80 copies of the West Virginia Hillbilly, a newspaper published in West Virginia from 1957 until 2001. On my first trip, I bought 10 copies; returned to buy 20 more, then went back a third time to buy whatever was left.

I had never seen a copy before, although apparently the Hillbilly was around for a long time. The papers are filled with stories, jokes, political commentary and history.Jim Comstock, the founder and editor of the Hillbilly, is one of my personal heroes. Not because I agreed with his politics--our views, even back in the days he was publishing, were radically opposed. But his writing style was so engaging, individualistic and devil-may-care that reading these papers is like sitting down and talking to the man.

Comstock passed away in 1996, but his words live on for people like me who are addicted to the 50-volume West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia he published. The encyclopedia covers everything from biographies to jokes to folklore to full-length novels. Had Comstock not collected the information when he did, many great stories would have disappeared in the mists of time. This the encyclopedia is not 100% fact: I remember reading an article about a supposed monster sighting that concluded with Comstock's bald confession that he'd made up the whole story because it just seemed like there should have been such a story!

Back to these newspapers: in each one is "The Comstock Load," which contains his ramblings, observations, stories, political comments and anything else he felt like writing. It was in a way like a blog before blogs were even thought of. The stories of the hitchhikers he picked up (there were quite a few, apparently) are real windows into humanity.Comstock, for all his rough-and-tough talk, had a soft heart for those down on their luck. According to the WV e-Encyclopedia, he also was a main mover behind saving Pearl Buck's homeplace as well as the historic Cass Railroad, both popular visitor sites today. Jim Comstock was a man with a dry humor and a long vision.


So far I've read stories of old homes, of unlikely heroes, tragic events, ghost stories, and many, many funny stories. And I've still got a lot of reading to do. 

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

16 comments:

Jeanne said...

This reminds me of when Laura Ingalls Wilder's family received a bundle of the Youth's Companion and they saved them to read and enjoy slowly....what a great find!

Angela said...

That sounds like a sweet find Granny Sue! I have never heard of the paper before either. I do however, remember a paper called Grit. Mom used to buy it from a little old lady that went door to door when I was a kid.

momalizzie said...

I'm the same way with the old "Saturday Evening Posts". We've gotten a few in, and I can't stop myself from buying them. Some are in great shape, while others are not. We recently had a copy of "Look" magazine come in to the store, and I bought it. It's dated December 1952, has an article in it written by Zsa Zsa Gavor and Marilyn Monroe. That's the reason I bought it. Just for that article. But the advertisements make me laugh. Things sure were different in the 50's!

Granny Sue said...

Angela, Comstock was quite a character and was a popular speaker for events. I wish I'd had a chance to meet and talk with him.

Granny Sue said...

I remember that, Jeanne--I loved those books and must have read them a dozen times.

Granny Sue said...

Liz, I bet you get some cool stuff like that in your shop. I love the ads in the old magazines the best---they're so interesting and you can see how people did things better from ads sometimes than from reading about it.

Steve Ferendo said...

I remember that paper. I really used to enjoy it. I haven't seen one in years. Too bad they weren't digitized and made available on-line. Thanks for sharing them.
Steve

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Any publication that claims to be "a WEAKLY publication" must be worth a look.

Michelle said...

I would love to be able to find something like this. I hope you will share more about the articles in the paper.

Wayfarin' Stranger said...

We've seen this paper,but don't have a copy. Great find.

Nance said...

Sue, will you republish those papers? or share them here, word for word? lol Can't wait to hear more.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

It sounds like you would be a good one to take up where he left off?

Granny Sue said...

Steve, maybe someone will digitize them someday. The state archives or the WVU library, for example, might take on such a project. I'm sure they both have all the back issues.

Granny Sue said...

John, exactly! His humor shines through all the pages of the paper. His cynicism too, which can still be funny, esp in light of history. Reading back through the papers I find the same concerns voiced by many today--a power shortage coming, worry about the coal industry, too much government, etc.

Granny Sue said...

I had never thought about that, Jerry. In some ways, Dave Tabler does that with his Appalachian History blog. He covers many aspects of life and history in the Appalachian region, although not specific to West Virginia, as Comstock's publications were.

Country Whispers said...

What a great find!
I'm sure there will be lots of goodies to read throughout them.

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