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 1997 interview of Kentucky banjo player Dora Mae Wagers (1927-1998). For forty years she played banjo on the stage of the Renfro Valley Barndance, and was often billed as one of the Coon Creek Girls. Wagers credits an unusual muse for her creative outpourings. After a warm nod to all that her musical grandmother bestowed upon her, she mentions a haunted banjo. “One time that thing communicated with me and I could just close my eyes and just see as far as I could see; like a stacked-rock fence, you know. It belonged to a black man, and that was his only possession that he had.”
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.
You may not be familiar with the Bloch Brothers of Wheeling, WV, but it’s a fairly sure bet that at some point in your life you’ve encountered a roadside barn painted with the large sign “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco – Treat Yourself to the Best.” Aaron and Samuel Bloch’s barn-painting advertising, begun in the 1890s, helped to make their “West Virginia coleslaw” one of America’s most recognized brands of the twentieth century. Let’s listen in as Maurice Zimmerman (1906-1993), of Washington Courthouse, OH, explains what it took to be a Mail Pouch sign painter.
In the fall of 1941, the Auburn High School freshman class of 1941-42 undertook an extraordinary community project. They decided their town of Riner, VA could benefit from a community center. They drew up blueprints, solicited donations of materials, and raised funds by selling bonds. The log walls were raised and a stonemason, Mr. Gray from Blacksburg, was hired to build the chimney using local fieldstone. The center was nearly complete by August of 1942, but then, funds ran out. The students could hardly have anticipated a new Federally funded program which gave the intended community center fresh funds and a very different identity.
We’ll wrap things up with a 1941 Ft. Payne Journal article, an appreciation of the life of Charles & Laura Driskill of that Alabama town. Mr. Driskill served in the Fort Payne City Council for 16 years, but both he and his wife were retired at the time of this piece. “Mrs. Driskill looks after the flowers which she loves,” the journalist tells us. “Mr. Driskill takes no interest in the flowers, except to enjoy their beauty. But he looks after the vegetable garden. He said that no plow has been in his garden for ten years. He digs the soil with a fork.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from the Carter Family in a 1928 recording of “Anchored in Love Divine.”
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.