Feature film ‘Coal Dust’ gets underway

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 3, 2015

Please welcome guest author/film director Laura Smith. Smith got her bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from Eastern Kentucky University and continued on to UCLA to study screenwriting. “I learned most of the technical aspects of film by working on my own short film projects and by working crew on a feature film,” she says. “In addition, I have written 4 full length screenplays.” She’s currently starting production on her first feature film, ‘Coal Dust.’


As I reflect upon growing up in the Appalachian foothills, I consider my family, neighbors and community. I realize I come from a long line of builders. I don’t mean those who build houses, churches and businesses, although they were surely there. I refer to those who make things and seek to improve things. Those people who create.

zara jones directing shot

My ancestors were some of the earliest settlers of Tennessee and Kentucky. They forged trails through what was then the wilderness, they settled the wild frontier, and they built towns, houses, the roads. They built the businesses people needed to survive. They saw a need, and they thought about what they could build or create to fill it.

My family was not the only one who pursued this creation. Entire communities would get together to raise barns, churches and houses when there was a need. Ladies got together in sewing circles and made quilt pieces and patterns out of worn and outgrown clothing. Hardly, anything was left to waste because they could make something new from it. Something helpful, something practical. They could fulfill a need for something.

While some traditions such as barn raising and sewing circles were dying out as I grew up, I always heard the stories and saw the outcome of what happened when people got together to create things. Churches and houses are still standing. Roads are still traveled, and many of those quilts are still around to keep me warm on a cold winter’s night. Not only did they build and create things. They made things that lasted.

As I have witnessed the decrease in coal production over the years, and I have watched businesses decline and disappear, I’ve found myself wondering what our communities would make and how they would proceed. What would they build?

In recent years, the communities seem to have spoken because I am seeing an increase in beautification, and a quest for tourism. It seems Appalachia is ready to open its doors for visitors and share what our families have built over all these years.

As I await the unfolding next chapter in Appalachia’s story, I paused to ponder where we’ve been, where we are going and what we must do to get there. I ask myself, “What can I create? What can I build?”

My narrative film Coal Dust depicts a modern lobbyist who is called home to see her family. She reflects on her town and family’s history with coal mines, as she helps her family. She sees her hometown’s own attempts to promote tourism and bring in new forms of revenue as the so-called “war on coal” rages in the nation’s capital.

While this is a work of fiction, it is set around modern topics affecting central Appalachia and the debate about coal and other natural resources in this country. This film is set in eastern Kentucky and shows the way of life as we’ve come to know it.

My lead character is loosely based on my experiences as someone who grew up in the region, went to college and left the area to pursue her career. She adapted to life outside the area and held on to her roots to be of benefit to her culture and her world.

It is my intention to break media stereotypes of the region by showing the earnest work of modern Appalachians, and inform the country of our efforts to survive and maintain our way of life in keeping with our inherent cultural values.

I grew up in southeastern Kentucky in the small town of Manchester. I studied psychology at Berea College and was subjected to many courses in Appalachian studies. While there, I began to make the correlation between life as I knew it and scholarly observations of the people of the region. I learned to view myself as both an individual and a member of the community.

When asked about my influences, I’m fond of saying “I’m a Spielberg/Capra kinda girl.” In truth, my greatest influences will always be the oral tradition of Appalachian storytelling. I grew up hearing yarns spun by the greatest storytellers of all time. My challenge to myself has been to mold those oral traditions into visual storytelling in a film medium. I believe this film will show the success of that.

To learn more about the film Coal Dust, please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/coal-dust-fa or like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CoalDustFilm.

One Response

  • Peggy Smith says:

    Laura I am so glad to see and hear that all these things you heard as you were growing up have really stuck with you. I can hear some of them now . Discussing the quilts that were made and whose dress piece it has in it or shirt.
    How the people would all get together when there was a need. . I am so proud of you.

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George W. Christians, American fascist

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 2, 2015

It is the privileged role of the Art Smiths, the William Pelleys, and the George Christians to lay only the cornerstone of fascism. It is in their rudimentary organizations that the petty bourgeoisie receives its first elementary schooling in dictatorship. It is from the Smiths and the Pelleys that it learns to scrap its democratic scruples, to hate the Jew as the Mephistopheles responsible for depressions and to detest the Communist as the companion creation of the Devil.

It is in their lecture rooms that the small shopkeeper and the petty officers avidly absorb the bombastic emotional rantings of the would be American Hitlers who intoxicate their listeners with glorious hallucinations of the past and still more glorious visions of the future under the aegis of fascism. Religious animosity is of course, stressed more than anything else.
–Class Struggle, Vol 4, No 3 March 1934 (http://www.weisbord.org/FourThree.htm)

Tennessean George W. Christians, chief officer of the fascist Crusader White Shirts, was an odd combination of comedian and sinister revolutionist. “Does our Commander in Chief have ideas,” he asked, “or is he just the world’s greatest humbug?” In another handbill, Christians wrote of the president: “Some neck—for a rope.” He was characterized by one-time Roosevelt braintruster Raymond Moley as a ‘harmless lunatic.’

George W. Christians (White Shirts)

George W. Christians (White Shirts). Photo courtesy Saturday Evening Post

“The Crusader White Shirts,” Christians stated, “known as the American Fascists, is a military auxiliary of the Crusaders for Economic Liberty [CFEL]…. It embraces the Fascist idea of personal leadership, unity, force, drama and nationalism.”

Christians once issued orders to seize control of the government: “The first- objective should be to take control of the local government in the following manner: March in military formation to and surround the government buildings. Then, by sheer numbers and a patriotic appeal, force the officials to accept and act under the direction of an economic adviser appointed by the President of the CFEL.”

One night when FDR was scheduled to arrive in Chattanooga, TN, Christians threatened to cut off the city’s electric power and warned grimly, “Lots of things can happen in the dark!” Followers took this as a veiled reference to consider lynching Roosevelt.

American Liberty League logoThis protege of the American Liberty League was from then on kept under surveillance by the Secret Service. On March 27, 1942, Christians and Rudolph Fahl, onetime physical-education instructor at a Denver high school, were arrested for disseminating material that could demoralize the army. Christians was accused of violating the Smith Act by “communicating to soldiers statements designed to impair their morale.”

In early April, five more seditionists were arrested. Meantime Christians, held in Chattanooga under $10,000 bond, said, “I consider myself a political prisoner rather than a criminal and should get better treatment.” The President took pride in the operation during his “Fireside Chat” late in April: “this great war effort . . . must not be impeded by a few bogus patriots who use the sacred freedom of the press to echo the sentiments of the propagandists in Tokyo and Berlin.” All of those from the March-April group were convicted by the end of the summer of 1942, except Fahl.


sources: www.csulb.edu/~crsmith/whitepapers/patriots.htm
Time magazine, Monday, Apr. 13, 1942 “Milquetoast Gets Muscles”
Time magazine, sidebar, Monday, May. 11, 1942
Free speech in the good war by Richard W. Steele, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999
‘Star-Spangled Fascists,’ by Jeff Nilsson, Saturday Evening Post, March 10, 2012,

George+W.+Christians Crusader+White+Shirts American+fascists Chattanooga+TN appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

4 Responses

  • Levi says:

    As a life-long resident of the Chattanooga area, this is the first I;ve heard of this character. Where else could one find more info on this person?

  • Dave Tabler says:

    Start with these:


    Time magazine, Monday, Apr. 13, 1942 “Milquetoast Gets Muscles”

    Time magazine, sidebar, Monday, May. 11, 1942

    Free speech in the good war by Richard W. Steele, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999

  • Janet says:

    He was my grandfather, and we thought he was a few cards short of a full deck, too.

  • Connie says:

    He was my uncle and yes he was a different kind of fellow, but I had never heard of him in this light. We knew he went to jail. I was told that the government thought he was a spy, but that this was not true. I was also told that he invented asphalt grouting that stopped leaks in the Watts Bar Dam and that he was very smart. “far out” would be a good term.

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Grandma Gatewood documentary premiers May 29

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 27, 2015

bettePlease welcome guest author Bette Lou Higgins. Higgins is a founder and current Artistic Director of Eden Valley Enterprises, where she helps spread the “Ohio Gospel” through an assortment of living history programs. These programs, designed to make the history of Ohio meaningful and alive for adults and children of all ages, have been created for such Ohio organizations as the Steamship William G. Mather Museum, Western Reserve Historical Society, The Tuscarawas Historical Society and the Great Lakes Historical Society.


When I first wrote about Eden Valley’s Grandma Gatewood project for Appalachian History in 2013, we were at the half-way point of our trail to tell her life story. Essentially it was the equivalent of hiking from Georgia to the AT museum in Gardner’s, PA. Unlike hikers who reach that point, we didn’t know we were half-way there!

Anne McEvoy as Emma (filming session July, 2014)

Anne McEvoy as Emma (filming session July, 2014)


But now, in just a couple of months, we’ll be premiering our Grandma Gatewood Documentary, TRAIL MAGIC, on May 29, 2015 at TrueNorth Cultural Arts in Sheffield Village, Ohio. The premier festivities will begin on Thursday, May 28 at 7p.m. with a special presentation of our storytelling program, GRANDMA GATEWOOD: OHIO’S HISTORIC HIKER, sponsored by the National Storytelling Network and Parkhurst Brothers, Inc. The red carpet goes out Friday at 7 p.m. with a showing of the documentary (sponsored by the Ohio History Fund), a meet and greet and a wine & cheese fundraising reception. I hope you can join us!

In the last two years A LOT has happened!

1. Our one-act play about Emma, TRAIL MAGIC, premiered at TrueNorth and then a new production of the play was produced at Wandering Aesthetics in Akron in November, 2014. Like the TrueNorth production, it ran to sold-out houses and garnered much praise!
2. Ruth Brown of the Buckeye Trail Association saw the Akron production and lobbied for a smaller version to be presented at their TrailFest on May 15, 2015. Grandma Gatewood was one of the founders of the Buckeye Trail, so this will truly be a special presentation. On May 16, I’ll be talking to the group about how this project developed since 2009. I hope you can join us there!
3. Of course, we’ve had a number of presentations of our storytelling program, GRANDMA GATEWOOD: OHIO’S LEGENDARY HIKER over the last few years and several more are coming up.
4. We’ve continued our campaign to raise funds to create the documentary. As of this writing we have met about 50% of our goal.
5. Most importantly, we’ve continued to film the documentary with Anne McEvoy playing Emma and adding more interviews of family, friends, historians and others connected with the Trail.

The film crew from filming at Lyme Village, July, 2014: left - right:  Anne McEvoy (Emma), Peter Huston (Director/videographer), Tom Whaley, (camera man), Kaleb Grine (seated -- intern), Ray Parker (Lyme Village Site Director)

The film crew from filming at Lyme Village, July, 2014. Left – right: Anne McEvoy (Emma), Peter Huston (Director/videographer), Tom Whaley, (camera man), Kaleb Grine (seated — intern), Ray Parker (Lyme Village Site Director)


This May will mark the 60th anniversary of Emma’s record-setting hike. Our documentary will come out just in time to begin the celebration and hopefully introduce this feisty female to a larger audience! In the meantime – let’s all take a hike in Grandma Gatewood’s honor!

You can find complete information about Emma and our project on our website.

Both the storytelling program and the one-act play are available for presentation for other groups. The play is also available for other theatres to present. You may contact me for information about bringing this program to your group.



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Mrs. Weatherly served as Librarian, Janitor and Handyman

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 26, 2015

A Fort Payne, AL city library had been established during the 1889-1891 boom and located on a second floor in the Opera House block. But during the mid-1890s depression years there was no money available for library service. Although various women volunteered their services as librarian during these years, no new books were purchased. Old books were lost or destroyed and interest waned.

Finally, through the efforts of a very remarkable Fort Payne woman, a library was again established in 1930. Mrs. Mary C. Weatherly, wife of C. I. Weatherly, president of the First National Bank, scoured the county for books and, with 400 volumes donated by interested citizens, started the Fort Payne Library on October 1 that year. This date marked the beginning of 40 years of library service to the citizens of DeKalb County by Mrs. Weatherly, a period during which she neither received nor desired any compensation.

Mary C. Weatherly (1890-1976)

Mary C. Weatherly (1890-1976). Courtesy Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame

The city council having agreed to pay the $5.00 per month rent for the upstairs room of the Masonic Building, F. E. Ladd donated coal for the open grate which heated the room. The initial supplies were purchased from a $100 loan made by Mrs. Georgia McFarlane, who was reimbursed in money from small charges collected for the rental of books. Every day of the week Mrs. Weatherly ascended the stairs to the library carrying her infant son in her arms, and proceeded to build and tend the fire and to serve as librarian, janitor and handyman.

By 1940 the little room was not large enough to hold the 4,000 volumes Mrs. Weatherly had accumulated through donations and careful buying. Fortunately the WPA was at this time providing funds for small libraries, and $11,000 thus obtained was matched by the state and county. But as federal and state money could be used for county libraries only, the name was changed to DeKalb County Library, whence it came to be moved to the basement of the new City Hall.


sources: http://www.awhf.org/weatherly.htm

Ft.+Payne+AL libraries appalachia appalachian+history appalachia+history Mary+C.+Weatherly

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The origins of Old Harp singing, part 2 of 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 25, 2015

Liner notes for 1951 Folkways record ‘Old Harp Singing,’ featuring the Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee, by Sidney Robertson Cowell—

continued from yesterday…

The anthem section frequently includes fuguing tunes (sometimes spelled, and often pronounced, “fudging tunes”). Almost all of these books were printed in one or another of the various systems of shaped-notes, and they were distributed by traveling singing school masters who were often also the editors and arrangers.

The idea of giving each note a shape, a square, a diamond, a triangle and so on, to indicate its position in relation to the tonic, was an American invention long credited to Andrew Law, but which now appears to have been used earlier by Messrs. Smith and Little, in a volume that was printed in Philadelphia in 1798.  The notes are place on the five-line staff as we ‘round noters’ are accustomed to see them, the various shapes hollow or filled, with flags on the stems, to indicate metric values in the usual way.

George Pullen Jackson, one of the foremost musicologists of American folk songs, leads singers at the Liberty Church in Lawrence County, TN, December 7, 1941.

George Pullen Jackson, one of the foremost musicologists of American folk songs, leads singers at the Liberty Church in Lawrence County, TN, December 7, 1941.

The variety of shapes simply takes the place of a key signature, directing attention to a few simple interval patterns that are often repeated, instead of worrying singers with the 24 keys and their signatures, which have no bearing on the way the melody outlines sound anyway.  As a device for facilitating reading music at sight, the ‘new patent notes’ were an immediate and immense success.  Incredible as it may seem, hundreds of thousands of copies of shaped-note collections of religious songs were put into circulation between 1800 and the end of the Civil War.  And some of them are still being printed.

The harmonic settings in the shaped-note collections have a rather rough and ready air on paper, full of what were at one time considered to be mistakes in harmony: parallel and direct fifths and octaves, incomplete chords (omitting the third degree) and so on.  This very unconventionality, however, stemmed from a fine feeling for the sound of massed voices that has given us a vigorous and original choral tradition.

The actual singing has an astonishing intense resonance, unsuspected by the eye, because the custom is for both men and women to sing all the parts, producing so broad and full an octave doubling that the frequently omitted thirds of certain chords are never missed.  You simply choose the part you like best and sing it ‘up’ if you’re a woman, ‘down’ if you’re a man.

The melody, under this system of free enterprise, may win out in numbers and so be reasonably audible, or it may not; the treble, and sometimes even the bass may attract more singers than the other parts.  As individual singers like to sing one part today and another next week, there is nothing fixed about the ‘orchestration.’

The fuguing tunes were real compositions in the more usual sense, although traditional fragments sometimes crept into them too.  The name of William Billings seems inextricably attached to the fuguing tune, but other American ‘primitive’ composers were writing such pieces at about the same time.  The enthusiasm evoked by the contrapuntal music of Bach and above all Handel, whose oratorios were given by local singing societies in most of the larger American towns by the end of the 18th century, was probably responsible for the idea.

The fuguing tune retains from the classic fugue form only the successive entrance of independent voices, and their triumphant combination at the end.  The form is incredibly condensed: all four voices are ordinarily set going with four measures, and the whole piece may be no more than 24 measures in all.

'The Sacred Harp' frontispiece, 1844 edition.

‘The Sacred Harp’ frontispiece, 1844 edition.

Today none of this music in its older religious form seems to be current in New England, so far as we know.  It turns up occasionally in New York and New Jersey.  Farther south, however, and in the middle and far west, thousands of shape-note books are still in use today.

The pamphlet collections of hymns used by many revivalist sects (Holiness, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and so on) are still printed in shaped notes.

The songs are partly old camp meeting songs, partly of a newer vintage, and the pace of the singing has been speeded up considerably.  There is often a syncopated piano accompaniment with ‘breaks’ between phrases of the song, and the music as a whole sounds like a cross between barbershop harmony and ragtime of about 1910.

It is written in ‘quartette’ form (as distinct from the older shaped-note music with the melody in the tenor). The tune has moved into the upper part and the women sing it alone.

Full text of liner notes can be found here.

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