You won’t let her rest in peace, fussing about her all the time

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 24, 2016

Ellen Fridley was a central figure in the economic and cultural flowering of Big Ridge, VA during the 1910s and 1920s. An entrepreneur, she ran the Big Ridge Supply Company, lodged in a small building near her home, where mountain residents could buy gum, tobacco, groceries, clothes, kerosene, and other items. She often accepted butter, chickens, eggs, and home produce in barter, which her husband later peddled in White Sulphur Springs.

Her economic ties with a larger world of commerce were complemented by a literate and intellectual curiosity. She read newspapers, ordered books through the mail, and apprised herself of events of the day. Like her sister-in-law Lelia Belle, Ellen had “modernist” leanings; she believed that scientific and cultural innovations elsewhere could benefit her family and her community, and should be embraced.

Hezekiah Fridley, Ellen’s husband, was in the same respects almost the opposite of his wife. Illiterate, with a resentful suspicion of book learning, Hezekiah was also deeply superstitious. When their last child, Ruth, was born with a severe but surgically correctable cleft palate, the stage was set for a protracted battle between these headstrong individuals and their different points of view.

Ellen resolved that her daughter would not go through life with her speech and physical appearance impaired by a condition she knew could be improved. Hezekiah, skeptical that any human being could or should correct what God and nature had ordained, steadfastly refused to permit an operation. Aunt Ellen prevailed. I don’t know how, but I suspect that her independent sources of income had something to do with her ability to carry on with her own plans.

When Ruth was one year old, she and her mother boarded the train together in White Sulphur, bound on the C&O line for Huntington, West Virginia. Through her contacts with physicians, Ellen had located a surgeon trained to carry out the operation on Ruth’s cleft palate. Uncle Hez railed against her decision and predicted dire outcomes from the surgery. Ellen ignored him, although his wrathful predictions increased her own anxiety about the operation and its consequences for Ruth’s health.

It was an all-day trip, and Ellen entertained her restless daughter with stories, games, and the extraordinary sights of the New River gorge through which they traveled. They spent their last night together away from home, boarding with strangers in Huntington.

Ruth died on the operating table the next day. The doctors speculated later that her tiny body housed a weak heart that could not withstand the operation. Ellen Fridley returned to Big Ridge alone, riding all day on the train with her daughter in a coffin in the baggage car.

Enraged with a grief that was compounded by self-righteousness, for months Uncle Hez upbraided Aunt Ellen for her foolish and fatal decision. Ellen first tried argument, then silence and avoidance, but he kept on. Submerged by her own grief and guilt, and well aware of his stubbornness, Ellen knew she must find a way to stop his tirades.

Uncle Hez’s greatest weakness was his superstitious nature. One night, many months after Ruth’s death, when he had fallen asleep, Aunt Ellen quietly brought a small lantern and set it on the floor next to their bed. After settling herself back under the covers, she reached over and turned up the wick. Shadows flickered through the rafters as she dangled her hand around the chimney. Presently Uncle Hez awoke.

“Ellen! Ellen, wake up!” She feigned sleep. “Ellen, wake up, there’s a haint [ghost]!”

“Hez, what are you shaking me for?,” she asked drowsily. “I don’t see no haint.”

“Ellen, it’s there! Yonder in the corner!”

Ellen moved her long fingers and the ghost danced. “Hez, get on back to sleep. You’re seeing things.” Ellen slowly turned down the lantern, and the house darkened. Hez grumbled and tossed, then fell into a fitful sleep.

The next day, unnerved by the ghost and irritable from his restless sleep, Uncle Hez continued to rail against Aunt Ellen for sending Ruth to her grave. That night, Ellen once again set the lantern next to their bed. When the light began to flicker in the same corner, Hez woke up.

“Ellen! Ellen!”

“Oh, Hez,” she said sleepily. “Let me rest.”

“Open your eyes, Ellen! It’s over yonder!”

Ellen peered around the room, then turned to Hez. “I don’t see no haint, Hez. I reckon that means it’s come for you.” She soon turned down the lantern, but her words had reinforced what Uncle Hez already feared. He lay in watchful terror most of the night.

By the third night, Uncle Hez was so frightened of the nocturnal visitations that he could scarcely fall asleep. It was the wee hours of morning before his snoring finally persuaded Aunt Ellen that he slept. She turned up the wick.

“It’s the haint! Wake up, Ellen, it’s back!”

Ellen feigned sleep. He poked her with his elbow and shouted in her ear: “Wake up!”

“Oh, Hez, can’t nobody sleep with you having all these haints.”

“It’s there! Over yonder in the corner! Same place for three nights!”

Aunt Ellen finally delivered her punch line: “Well, Hez, if it is a haint, it must be Ruth’s. You won’t let her rest in peace, fussing about her all the time.”

Uncle Hez was silent. Aunt Ellen made the ghost dance just a few more times for effect, then she lowered the wick.

Ever after that night, Uncle Hez was afraid to speak of Ruth at all. The ghostly visits ceased, and the lantern stayed on the shelf. As for Ruth, Uncle Hez and Aunt Ellen separately offered up their silent prayers for her peaceful slumber beneath the sheltering trees of Big Ridge.

From “Beyond the Mountains”: The Paradox of Women’s Place in Appalachian History,” by Barbara Ellen Smith, NWSA Journal Volume 11, Number 3 (Autumn 1999)

3 Responses

  • Austin Sgro says:

    Hello ,I was wonder how to get a hold of this book?Hezekiah and Ellen is my great great grandparents.My dad is always interesting in finding his past so am I.We only have family tree’s for Fridley and partial of Smith’s can you give me more info on Barbara Smith I know she would of been one of Ellen’s siblings daughter.Thank you very much you can contacted me at my email which is my name at Gmail or relpy on here as i will be checking back

  • kevin keith says:

    are you steven sgros son?

  • austin sgro says:

    Yes i am his son…

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Bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd drops in a hail of 93 bullets

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 21, 2016

When asked by Federal agent Melvin Purvis about the Kansas City Massacre, he snapped, “I won’t tell you anything, you son-of-a-bitch.” Depending on whose version is more accurate, these may well have been Charles Arthur Pretty Boy Floyd’s last words. Tomorrow (October 22) is the 82nd anniversary of the shoot-out death of the career bank robber who just three months earlier had been designated “Public Enemy No. 1″ by J. Edgar Hoover.

Believed to be returning to his home in the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma after years in hiding, Floyd and his partner, Adam Richetti, had attracted the attention of local police near Wellsville, OH. A guns-blazing chase ensued, resulting in Richetti’s capture and Floyd’s escape. Agent Purvis organized a three-day manhunt, which culminated on the Ellen Conkle farm when eight lawmen ended Floyd’s life of violence.

Much of the interest in Floyd was due to a bloody rescue attempt in Kansas City in June 1933, which had resulted in the machine gun deaths of five persons, four of them police officers. Floyd, usually not shy about his exploits, denied any involvement, but without success.

Floyd went into hiding after the so-called Union Station Massacre. However, by October of the following year, he and Richetti, and two sisters whose inconvenient husbands had been eliminated by Floyd, decided to leave their hideout in Buffalo, New York, and return to Oklahoma.

The East Liverpool Historical Society website gives a dramatic blow-by-blow account of the gang’s desperate final attempts to outrun the law in Ohio:

“In mid-afternoon on Monday, October 22, he emerged from the woods near an area known as Sprucevale, eight miles southeast of his last sighting, where he approached the farmhouse of Mrs. Ellen Conkle, a widow. A disheveled Floyd explained to her that he had gotten lost while hunting and had spent the previous night wandering through the woods. He was hungry, and Mrs. Conkle prepared a meal of spareribs, potatoes, rice pudding, and pumpkin pie, which Pretty Boy consumed rapidly and termed ‘fit for a king’. He offered Mrs. Conkle a dollar for her trouble and asked to see any recent newspapers.

Ellen ConkleEllen Conkle, with the dishes used by Floyd in what turned out to be his last meal.

“Unknown to Floyd, he had been observed walking in the area by a farmer who telephoned township Constable Clyde Birch who, in turn, relayed the report to the East Liverpool City Police. Acting on the tip, one of several already received, East Liverpool Police Chief High J. McDermott rounded up Patrolmen Chester C. Smith, Glenn Montgomery, and Herman Roth and set out. Purvis and four agents followed in a second vehicle.

“Meanwhile, having concluded his review of the papers, which detailed the capture of Richetti and the ongoing manhunt, Floyd asked for Mrs. Conkle’s assistance in getting to Youngstown. She suggested that Floyd wait until her brother, Stewart Dyke, finished his work in the fields. Floyd sat in the front seat of Dyke’s Model A until his return.

“When Pretty Boy explained that he wanted transportation to Youngstown or the nearest bus line, Dyke promised to take him part of the way, and they started to pull out of the farmyard. At that crucial moment, two cars came speeding down the Sprucevale Road toward the Conkle farm. Floyd, sensing danger, ordered Dyke to pull the car behind an adjacent corncrib, and saw a pair of blue-trousered legs get out of the car. As the police and federal agents approached the corncrib, Floyd made a break for the woods, holding a Colt automatic in his right hand.

“Nine officers, variously armed with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, blazed away as Floyd zigzagged across the field. Ninety-three shots were directed at the outlaw; for once, he did not shoot back. Hit, Floyd fell to his knees, then got up and continued his race for life. A second bullet knocked him down to stay.

“Not surprisingly, the accounts of the participants differ widely. Purvis later claimed that Floyd was hit by an agent armed with a Tommy gun. Patrolman Chester Smith asserted that it was his shots with a .32-20 Winchester that had dropped Floyd and, further, that the federal agents were armed only with pistols and ‘couldn’t have hit anything at that distance with their handguns.’

Pretty Boy FloydFloyd’s body at the Sturgis Funeral Home morgue – note bullet wound in left torso.

“Floyd was alive when the lawmen came up to where he lay. The Colt was removed from his right hand, which had been paralyzed by a wound. A backup gun was found in the waistband of his trousers.

“When Purvis asked the criminal if he was Pretty Boy Floyd, he received the curt response, ‘I’m Floyd’. He then asked the police, ‘Where’s Etti?’ — presumably a reference to his captured associate. The three Liverpool patrolmen carried him to the shelter of a large apple tree where Public Enemy No. 1 died.”


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He removed his eyeglasses and lit the pipe by focusing light through the glasses

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 20, 2016

When he was only five or six years old, James Brennan delivered a pail of water to a farm worker on the grounds of what today is Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The worker took a drink, pulled out a pipe, removed his eyeglasses and lit the pipe by focusing light through the glasses.

Brennan remembers being profoundly impressed by that feat.

Long before the ORNL took up residence on Chestnut Ridge, the land was home to James Brennan. Brennan’s family lived on the property before the government seized it in 1942. His father’s old barn stood where the main office complex at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source is now.

“Dad had a rolling store, a wagon he pulled with a team of gray mules,” he says. “There were no stores around. He sold the basic goods—sugar, coffee and salt.”

mule team at Chestnut Ridge TN

The Brennan family’s rolling store was drawn by a team of mules, similar to this scene in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s historical collection.

Brennan’s father bought the Chestnut Ridge farm in 1915 (Brennan has the original land grant for 100 acres near Chestnut Ridge that the state of Tennessee issued to Thomas Hagler on July 12, 1831. )

The elder Brennan was able to pay off the farm loan in just 10 years. “Dad liked the Chestnut Ridge tract mainly because as a farmer he knew the value of water,” says James, “and the land was unusually endowed with three springs.”

“It was productive farm land. We had three tenant families and a sawmill that provided work for a lot of people.”

The Brennans raised cattle and crops, marketing their produce in nearby towns.

Brennan visited ORNL in August 2007 at the age of 89, and could still recognize many sites, although the changes over 60 years were sometimes drastic.

His directions to the visitor’s center mentioned the Conference Center pond. He remembered that pond as a small stream where he used to come for a drink after services at New Bethel Baptist Church.

James Brennan was born in Bear Creek Valley in 1918. One of Brennan’s favorite memories of life there is when his father got his 1922 Model T Ford truck stuck on a muddy road. James’ father gave his mother, who had never driven a car, a crash course in driving while he pulled it out of the mud with a team of mules.

She successfully drove to a field near their house but didn’t know how to stop.

 Brennan remembers standing on the porch with his brother watching his father run around trying to instruct his mother on how to stop the car while keeping a team of mules under control. James doesn’t remember the conclusion exactly, but somehow his father got the truck stopped.

In December 1941 the Brennans moved to a 64-acre farm near Scarbrough to get electricity but still owned the property on Chestnut Ridge. James enlisted in the Army almost immediately after Pearl Harbor.

He says his parents planned to keep the Chestnut Ridge place in the family for the rest of their lives, but by fall 1942 events beyond their control dictated otherwise. The Manhattan Project uprooted the family a second time, and they finished moving out of Chestnut Ridge near Christmas that year.

James had already left for the war effort.

“I don’t know how my father was able to get rid of what he had in such a short time,” he says of the move.

During World War II, Brennan worked in telephone communications, laying and maintaining telephone wires. He served in the Pacific Theater early in the war—including Guadalcanal and Bougainville—and later in Europe, including the latter part of the Battle of the Bulge and a memorable trip to Paris.

“The French government gave us $17. I still don’t understand the reason why exactly, but we accepted the $17 anyway. That’s what we went to Paris on,” Brennan says.

He remembers the beautiful buildings he saw, but his strongest memory is of the Parisian subway system. He and his Army buddies got on the subway not altogether realizing that the stops would be announced in French, that none of them understood French and that they could not see where they were going.

When he returned from the war, Brennan worked at the water treatment plant at
Y-12 for a few years. He later did contract work at several sites on the Oak Ridge reservation, including the High Flux Isotope Reactor.

When that long-ago farm laborer from Brennan’s childhood focused photons to light his pipe, perhaps he foreshadowed how Oak Ridge National Laboratory would focus protons onto a target to produce neutrons. The ORNL’s processes are much more complicated, but the wonder both produce is the same.

“Long before SNS, memories of farm life pleasant for Chestnut Ridge resident,” by Charlie Smith, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Reporter, Number 93, October 2007
online at

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Did the early polio vaccine cause cancer??

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 19, 2016

In October 1960, Dr. Bernice Eddy gave a talk to the Cancer Society in New York without warning her employer, the National Institutes of Health, in advance. She startled the attendees by announcing that she had examined cells from monkey’s kidneys in which the polio virus to be used in polio vaccines was grown, and had found they were infected with cancer causing viruses. Dr. Bernice Eddy

She had decided on her own initiative to test extracts by innoculating newborn hamsters, since these animals developed tumors with a type of virus she and Dr. Sarah Stewart had previously discovered in mice and named polyoma virus.  This virus was one of the early known cancer-causing viruses, and was later named the SE (Stewart-Eddy) Polyoma Virus in their honor.

The inoculated hamsters developed tumors similar to those induced with polyoma virus. Her inference was clear: There were cancer-causing monkey viruses in the polio vaccine. She warned an epidemic of cancer in America was in the making. When the word got back to her NIH bosses, they exploded in anger.


When the cussing stopped, her superiors crushed Bernice Eddy professionally. Any mention of cancer-causing monkey viruses in the polio vaccine was not welcomed by NIH. They took away her lab, destroyed her animals, put her under a gag order, prevented her from attending professional meetings, and delayed publication of her scientific paper. In the words of Edward Shorter, author of The Health Century, ‘Her treatment became a scandal within the scientific community.’

Later, it became the subject of a congressional inquiry. In the words of Dr. Lawrence Kilham, a fellow NIH researcher who wrote a letter of protest to the Surgeon General’s office, ‘the presence of a cancer virus in the polio virus vaccine is the matter demanding full investigation.’ Dr. Eddy’s discovery was in fact subsequently validated by Drs. Maurice Hilliman and Benjamin Sweet of Merck. After additional studies, the vaccine was found to not cause tumors in humans, but Dr. Eddy was still restricted by the government from publishing anything about her work.

The work of Dr. Eddy and others led to safe polio vaccines through thorough testing, and provided a major impetus for further research on cancer viruses. The United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare awarded her a Superior Service Medal in 1967.

Bernice Eddy Wooley, Ph.D
born Glendale, WV

Dr.+Bernice+Eddy SE+Polyoma+virus appalachia appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

One Response

  • Thank you says:

    for posting this. People need to know what our government is doing to the population in the name of ‘science’.

    It isn’t any better than what Mengele did to the jews in WW2.

    Will people wake up to the eugenics program that is being sponsored by the likes of Bill Gates, Bilderberg group and other members of the New world order before it is too late?

    Check out Jesse Ventura’s take on this as well. Do this BEFORE you decide to consider me another nut job with zero credibility.

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Haints and Hags on Halloween

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 18, 2016

Halloween’s around the corner. Here’s a little haint tale for the occasion from Putnam County, Tennessee.

About one mile and a half east of Cookeville the Buck Mountain Road is crossed by the old Sparta-Livingston Road. Turning to the left here and going about a quarter of a mile in the direction of Livingston one reaches the scene of the noted ante-bellum mystery. The large and dismal swamp that once covered several acres on either side of the road is now only a memory, due to the propensity of modern man to clear, drain and cultivate the soil. But the name, “Booger Swamp,” still clings to the spot after nearly three-quarters of a century.

One dark night in the early fifties a well-known minister of the gospel, whose name is not essential to our story, was passing this lonely spot on horseback, when suddenly an apparition appeared before him—or, at least, he said it did. After a great deal of discussion and several futile efforts to induce the spook- seeing brother to retract his story, he was finally arraigned in a formal church court and tried, convicted and expelled from the ministry. According to his story, the apparition was a pure white body floating about a yard above the ground and “about the size and length of a weaver’s beam,” to use his exact language. It made some effort to communicate with him, but his horse became unruly and dashed away.

A History of Putnam County, Tennessee by Walter S. McClain, Cooksville, Tenn., Quimby Dyer & Company [c1925]

black cat in a pumpkinA “haint” is an unsettled or angry dead spirit; the term, like “hag,” is of Germanic-British origins. A haint can range from a ghost to an undefinable something that scares the bejeevers out of you. In the same way a haint tale covers everything from a ghost story to a yarn about an odd event. A haint tale doesn’t even have to be scary; some are quite funny. But there are two common ingredients shared by every haint tale. One is that it must involve frightening a character, the listener, or both. The other is that it must include the supernatural, or supernatural overtones. Sometimes it can be a normal event perceived as supernatural, but the paranormal must get mixed in there somehow or other.

source: A History of Putnam County, Tennessee by Walter S. McClain, Cooksville, Tenn., Quimby Dyer & Company

One Response

  • Lisa says:

    my granny was form Harlan County Ky & she always spoke of haints & such!! Wouls care the crap outta us kids!! We’d stay w/her while the others would work the fields or strip tobacco at was always the best times we had…. shed get us all around the old fireplace & tell her”stories”!!! Love haint stories!!!

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