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 the story behind the founding of the Western Maryland Hospital. “In 1888, a group of Cumberland women, realizing their duty to fellow citizens, hit upon the plan of establishing an old folks’ home, in that way to be of service to the older men and women who did not have the comforts of a private home,” says the ‘History of Allegheny County Maryland,’ by James Thomas. “Several wards were admitted to the home, and the institution was doing excellent work, but it was noted before long that Cumberland was without a hospital.”
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.
South Carolinian James Levoid Bryant liked to play the part of the hobo, traveling around the United States on trains during the Depression, sometimes getting into mischief. He was young, he was popular, he was adventurous. The train yards had detectives who regularly kicked the stowaways off the trains, so riding in that style meant continually looking over one’s shoulder. Nor was that the only railway danger just waiting for a careless young man.
Long ago, goes the Cherokee myth known as ‘The Removed Townhouses,’ the people on Valley River and Hiwassee heard voices of invisible spirits in the air calling and warning them of wars and misfortunes which the future held in store, and inviting them to come and live with the Nûñnë’hï, the Immortals, in their homes under the mountains and under the waters. “If you would live with us,” said the spirits, “gather everyone in your townhouses and fast there for seven days, and no one must raise a shout or a warwhoop in all that time. Do this and we shall come and you will see us and we shall take you to live with us.” If only the people had listened.
Feedsack fashion officially got its start in 1924. Oh, thrifty farm wives nationwide had known for years that this common cotton bag— fondly nicknamed chicken linen, ‘pretties,’ or hen house linen—was a great source of utilitarian fabric for dish cloths, diapers, nightgowns, curtains, pillowcases and more. But in the 2nd quarter of the 20th century manufacturers came up with a fresh way to turn this fact to their additional advantage. Plain sacks were a commodity, but by offering sacks in various prints and solid colors manufacturers could differentiate themselves from the competition.
Author Wilma Dykeman (1920-2006) pioneered and popularized the concepts of Appalachian Studies and Appalachian Literature. Her focus on the role of the mountain woman in her family and the community is perhaps reflected best in her novels “The Tall Woman” (1962), “The Far Family” (1966), and “Return the Innocent Earth” (1973). In this next segment, we’ll listen to an excerpt from “The Tall Woman.” The main character, Lydia McQueen, wants to build a school for the children in her valley, but one of the men in town, Ham Nelson, opposes the idea.
We’ll wrap things up with a look at New Straitsville, OH, considered by many Ohioans the Bootleg Capital of the state during the Depression. Its population of enterprising ex-coalminers concealed dozens of illegal moonshine stills in the area’s hollows and abandoned mineshafts, selling it to a nation desperate for a stiff drink. Moonshiner Jim Thompson shares a tale with us of how he was turned in to the Feds by someone he thought was a trustworthy business partner. “Old Henry Spencer sure was somethin’,” he concludes,”–told on his own brother and brother-in-law and lost a barrel of his own mash just to save his skin.”
And, thanks to the good folks at Juneberry78s.com, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Gwen Foster in a 1927 recording of “Black Pine Waltz.”
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.