Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Once it was a proud and bustling place. Now there's little left of its coal-boom days. That was before the Farmington disaster, before the Monongah disaster, before coal lost its place of glory in the energy world, before people got smart and formed unions to protect themselves.

In those days the streets were full of people. Saturdays were busy days as the miners and their wives came to town to spend their money.

We pass through this little town every time we visit our son Aaron and his family in Marion County, West Virginia.

There are still a few signs of the town's past: an aging building with an unusual door and curving brick was probably once a bank. Some houses still standing have the bravado of an old lady who once knew what it was to wear silk and now wears her faded cotton dress with her head held high.

Something about old coal towns speaks to me. A dark voice, virile and raucous, full of the tales of what once was, of the men and the women who made the place and fought for it and died too. The houses huddled close together as if seeking comfort from danger and cold, the boarded up stores that surely once were filled with goods and customers. These towns are like closed, worn diaries.

Find the secret lock and open it, and the stories of the people will spill into the light. Some of them too terrible, perhaps, to be viewed in full sunlight in all their gory truth; others sparkling with a beauty that blinds.

Davit McAteer told the story of Monongah in his recent book, and the 100th anniversary of the terrible mine explosions was observed on December 7, 2007. Worthington, just a few miles down the road, still holds its stories for the person who finds the key.


City Mouse said...

Ooh, such atmosphere - the memories there seem so deep and thick, even just through the photos. I am always conflicted about places like this. We visited an honest to goodness ghost town a few years back in the mountains before the state tore it down. I feel like these places are almost vibrating with memories sometimes.

Granny Sue said...

You're right. If a person can allow their mind to stop thinking and just feel, there is a lot to be absorbed--it can seem like the people are really still there, we just can't see them. Which is an odd feeling.

Matthew Burns said...

I feel the way you decribe in this post every time I go through Davis, WV. The only difference is Davis was a Timber town and Worthington was a coal town. Davis used to be a bustling regional hub, now...not so much. My grandaddy Don used to work out there in it's heyday (as well as in Cass, WV). I remember him talking about the times there. He always said, "The fastest way to get to Hell is to go through Davis!".


Granny Sue said...

I read a history of Tucker County, Matthew, and it described the logging era very thoroughly. Hard living, hard fighting and plenty of wild times there. Seems like there was another little town in between Thomas and Davis that was the source of a lot of the trouble, but I can't recall what it was called.

Kathy said...

So many little towns have dried up over the years. I remember growing up when we would go to Kansas City we would pass through many little towns. Then cars would go farther on a tank of gas, more traffic on roads meant bigger roads and the roads would by-pass a town. Now those towns are more or less just ghost towns.

Granny Sue said...

That's true, Kathy. I see them often when I'm traveling for storytelling. I love small towns and it's sad to see them dying. I get excited when I see one making a comback! And some of them are finding a new life. The ones that have creative people driving change live on.

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