Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the Storytelling Trail, and on the Trail of a Story

I am still catching up on things I want to post! I hope all my US friends had an awesome 4th of July, and all of you in Canada enjoyed your Canada Day celebrations. Brits, is there a celebration in your country at this time of year? I can't remember my mother celebrating anything in July.

Last week I was off storytelling again on Tuesday, up into West Virginia's Northern Panhandle. Our stops were Wheeling and Paden City this time, with an overnight stay in Sistersville at the Wells Inn. If you've been reading here for a while, you know I love the Wells, and now I have a project in development connected to the hotel. More about that later.

My youngest son's former girl friend, who remains a good friend of his, is now living in Wheeling so we got in touch to see if she was free for a visit while we were in town. She was and we did! We met at the renowned Coleman's Fish Market in the historic Centre Market area of Wheeling. According to the City of Wheeling's website,  

"The Iron Market House opened for business on September 27, 1853 to serve as the central agricultural market business district for the City of Wheeling, WV.  The Greek Revival structure was designed by Thomas Pope as an open air market. The structural cast iron Doric columns were produced by the Wheeling foundry of Hamilton and Rodgers. The Iron Market House is the oldest iron market house in the United States.  Given the growth the Centre Market area experienced through the mid to late 1800’s an additional market area was developed. The Lower Market House was completed in 1891 and designed by Wheeling architect Edward B. Franzheim." City of Wheeling .

The area is crowded with antique shops, a book store and other interesting shops. I didn't take nearly as many photos as I wanted to because we were a little limited on time and my camera batteries were dying. Which means a return trip, right? We stopped in this shop to look around:

Clocks! Lots and lots of clocks! And I learned that there is a clock repair guy upstairs--so I may be taking my two old watches to him sometime soon to see if he can fix them. Clock repair is becoming a dying art, it seems.

Next stop (after passing this intriguing doorway):
Boy, I wanted to just nose around in there. But we were headed here:

Anastasia was way ahead of me, going in the door as I stopped to snap this shot. Coleman's is famous for their fish sandwich. It's simplicity itself--two slices of white bread with two big hunks of deep-fried fish in between. Sound appetizing? healthy? Well, maybe not so much, but delicious? Absolutely. The fish is fresh and full of flavor that just bursts in your mouth, surrounded by the crunchy breading and soft white bread. No sauce, no butter, no nothing. Amazing. I had one once before when a friend introduced me to Coleman's and I've wanted to go back ever since. Be warned, though, if you decide to go: they don't take credit or debit cards. They have an ATM that gives you coupons, not cash, which you can use in the Market--odd, but I guess it works for them.

Across the street from the fish market was this interesting shopfront:
but it was closed (insert sad face). However (insert happy face) across the street we found the Paradox Book store:

Books were even outside in the store's entryway--you could take one for free when they were closed, just bring a trade when you could. How neat is that?

I found a five-year diary in this shop from the years 1936-1938, kept by a teenage boy who lived in Wellsburg, just up the river from Wheeling. His entries were sporadic but revealing--many noted floods coming and going, the preparations made for them and the cleanup afterwards. Floods seemed to be part of life, as routine as the weather. He also discussed trips he took to Pittsburgh to see the Ice Follies, to Cleveland to see the Great Lakes Exposition, to shows in Wheeling and other places. They evidently traveled a lot more than I would have thought; the Depression was still in force, after all, and I would have thought people were limited as far as traveling and going to shows, etc. Apparently this family was well-to-do enough that they were able to do such things, and even bought a new Buick in 1938. The young man also wrote four brief posts about his father in 1936: his father had an earache, seemed to improve, got seriously ill and died five days later of spinal meningitis. The brief entries in this diary are heart-touching and real. Through it all, life continued, and it seems the family managed to prosper despite its tragedies.

My storytelling event that evening was in Wheeling's City Park, a beautiful, well-maintained facility east of the city's center. There was an excellent turnout of mostly very young children and parents and even though the day was very hot, we were cool enough in the shelter. The librarians at Wheeling's Main Library planned well and the even went without a hitch--the children were roasting marshmallows over the fire as we packed to leave.

As we left Wheeling, the skies opened up. Tremendous displays of lightning lit the skies and the rain poured as we snaked our way down Route 2 to the Wells Inn. I had hoped to be able to do some night-time rambles around the town, getting a sense of its history and atmosphere but the weather canceled that idea. So we stayed in our room and watched the light show outside from the vintage comfort of the old inn:

Our room featured a beautiful iron bedstead, and blue paint around the window and doorframes, so we could feel safe from evil spirits (insert glance over shoulder).

(The room really didn't look as spooky as this photo makes it--that's the light from the television.)

I stood gazing out at the rain and thinking about this little town that once had a population to rival the biggest cities in the state. What stories did the town's history hold? Next day, I began my research to find out just that.

Because, you see, that is my new project. I am working on developing a ghost stories tour of Sistersville after the owner of the Wells Inn suggested it. I think it's a very good idea. In an oil boom town such as Sistersville was, certainly there are plenty of stories to be found. I went to the library the next day and began looking through old microfilm newspapers, seeking stories of strange, unexplained events. I have now logged 8 hours of reading and have only completed one year's worth of newspapers. Even so, I have found stories--funny, strange, sad, happy and everything in between. It's the tip of the iceberg.

Before we left the next day we found the oldest cemetery in the town, the resting place of the founder, Charles Wells, and his family. I will post photos tomorrow of the cemetery; it's well worth a visit should you happen to be in the area.

So now I have caught you up with our doings up until last Tuesday! Maybe one day I will get caught up--do you think it's possible?


Nance said...

interesting. I'm away from home. I need to reread this entry. I plan on being on the first ghost tour. Can't wait!

Granny Sue said...

Now that would be wonderful, Nance! I'll keep you posted. Have a safe trip.

Angela said...

Cool Granny Sue! Hope you find lots of interesting things in your ghost hunt!

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