We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. You can start listening right away by clicking the podcast icon over on the left side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here.
We open today’s show with the story of a 1930s wonder drug that was never tested before being marketed. Dr. S.E. Massengill said of his company’s Elixir of Sulfanilimide: “My chemists and I deeply regret the fatal results, but there was no error in the manufacture of the product. We have been supplying a legitimate professional demand and not once could have foreseen the unlooked-for results. I do not feel that there was any responsibility on our part.” The firm’s head chemist apparently did not share this feeling; Harold Watkins committed suicide after learning of the 100 deaths his concoction had caused.
We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a Calendar of Events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.
North Carolinian forest ranger William Nothstein “had a movie projector and a trunk about that high, and old silent movies and a screen and film and mending kit, and all that sort of thing, and I went around and showed motion pictures, fire prevention movies, and also game protection pictures; wild life protection.” In this oral history excerpt he tells us about an elderly widow who offered to sell him a homemade suit while he was in the line of duty.
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. October 22, 2009 is the 75th 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.
In our next piece we’ll hear the description of court case in Fentress County, TN, in which a man by the name of Stout was arrested for bewitching the beautiful daughter of a Mr. Taylor, who lived on the Obeds River. The courthouse guards weren’t taking any chances; before entering the courtroom they took the precaution of remove the lead bullets from their guns and replacing them with silver bullets, just in case the defendant tried anything out of the ordinary.
The decision of a county to change its county seat doesn’t seem like front page news. But let’s peek in on a late nineteenth century power struggle set in Randolph County WV. Timber rich, today much of it is in the Monongahela National Forest. And that wealth of natural resources set the stage for the Courthouse War of the 1890s between the towns of Beverly and Elkins.
We’ll wrap things up with a look at the origin of the phrase ‘jack o lantern’. It has to do with an old Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack who succeeded several times in tricking the Devil. But of course you can’t go around tricking the Devil without, well, hell to pay later on!
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Archive we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by A.A. Gray & Seven Foot Dilly in a 1930 recording of “Streak of Lean, Streak of Fat.”
So, call your old blue-tick hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.