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 right side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here:
We open today’s show with a selection from the memoirs of one R.D. Murphy Sr., who lived in Buchanan County, VA from 1867-1956. He was a farmer by profession, but was fascinated with the idea of Perpetual Motion, which was popular in the early 20th century. “I have always said that it could be made and would be made some time,” he concludes. “I have it so near completed at present that I know it can be finished and will be finished in the near future. If I don’t get it done myself, I hope that some of my posterity will finish it. I know science says that it can’t be done, but I say that it can be done, and will be done.”
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.
It’s mid-June, and that means communities throughout Appalachia will be recognizing Decoration Day. This important tradition, symbolic of the vital place of family in Appalachian life, is usually held on a Sunday. Families gather at rural churches and cemeteries to honor the memory of deceased family members. A few days earlier, neighbors and kin gather to mow the cemetery grass, clean the graves, and prepare flowers. Homes are opened to accommodate family members returning from far and wide, communal meals are prepared, and folks gather to make a little music.
O.H. Booton spent 42 years as a newspaperman in Mingo County, WV. In this next piece he recounts the details of one of the biggest crime stories in county history: the Glen Alum payroll robbery of August 1914. The robbers headed into the hills after the robbery, followed in hot pursuit by a posse of local lawmen. As the sheriff and his crew closed in on the cornered thieves, a strange thing happened. “The order was given to charge the bandits’ stronghold,” Booton explains, “but [the posse] thought it was a warning that ‘they are coming out.’ Instantly there was panic and a wild stampede.”
Being a telegraph operator was a good way to make a living for a lot of people in the second half of the 19th century and on into the first few decades of the 20th century. One career hazard, though, was that operators who used the key for long periods of time developed a debilitating problem, which they called “glass arm.” Today the same type of problem has a kinder name — “Repetitive Motion Disorder,” or RMD.
“The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code,” a shorthand phrasebook for telegraphers, was published in 1891. It helped telegraphers avoid RMD by spending less time sitting at the key, but it also helped them send faster, which meant they earned more money, since telegraphers were generally paid by the word. Some of the phrases, as you’ll hear in a moment, were quite amusing; whether intentionally or not, who knows?
We’ll wrap things up with a short appreciation for ‘the shack out back.’ Tennesseans called it the “la-la.” Elsewhere known as the john, the shanty, the shack, the throne, the shed, the relief office—it was the humble outhouse. The little buildings “out back” were as important as any building built before indoor plumbing.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Archive , we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Uncle Dave Macon in a 1927 recording of “Uncle Dave’s Beloved Solo.”
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.