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 author George A. Mosel’s appreciation of Steubenville, OH at the turn of the 20th century. “A town once meant as many things as there were people in it,” he observed. “A town was so many little things you have long forgotten— putting a pan of fudge out in the snow to cool; the itch of measles; the glow of pink candles on a birthday cake; the warm gooey taste of corn meal mush on a frosty morning; the sting of cold blisters, chapped hands, and arnica on a skinned knee. Such vagrant thoughts are like saving string, all the accumulated sounds, sights and smells you picked up along the way, piece by piece, bit by bit, some bright and smooth, some you wanted to save and some you’d just as soon forget, but all irrevocably tied together in an untidy growing ball and stored away in the back of your mind.”
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.
Blount County, AL bills itself the Covered Bridge Capital of Alabama, and to prove it has held a Covered Bridge Festival each October for over 25 years. The county boasts 3 remaining historic bridges: the Horton Mill Bridge, the Swann Covered Bridge (also called the Joy Covered Bridge or Swann-Joy Covered Bridge), and the Easley Bridge.
“One of my elections was contested,” explained Ruby Watts, a Judge Pro Tem in Knott County, KY in the mid-20th century. “They accused me of buying gingerbread and using other ways of influence on the voters.” Plenty of other mountain politicians bought gingerbread cakes from elderly women and distributed them to people in the hope of gaining a few extra votes. By doing this, candidates earned the goodwill of the gingerbread bakers and of the people who received a free piece of cake.
Northwest Georgia preacher Howard Finster (ca. 1915-2001) was an unlikely candidate for celebrity status on the post-modern art scene. Yet his eccentric outsider art paintings, sculptures, and constructions have been shown in prestigious museums and galleries around the world. He became something of a guru to thousands of academically trained young artists, ambitious collectors of outsider art, musicians, and others who made the pilgrimage to Pennville to meet him and to visit the two-acre Paradise Garden that he spent fifteen years building in his backyard.
We’ll wrap things up with a story of buried treasure. Just imagine how it must feel to be hoeing cotton with a long, hard day in prospect, and all at once begin to dig up clinking coins—and the deeper you dig the more coins roll out. It sounds like one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s stories; but such was the experience of Eva Watson and her sister, Edith Watson, and their cousin, Bertha Mae Torbett, who, together with their brothers, were hoeing cotton on the farm of Ransom Watson near Madisonville, TN in July of 1927.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by the McLain Family Band in a 1976 recording of Beaumont Rag.
So, call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.