Please welcome guest writer Roxy Todd, Americorps Volunteer with the Traveling 219 Project. Together, she and another Americorps volunteer, Emily Newtown, have recorded over forty life and community histories from people who live near US 219 in West Virginia and Maryland. They’re also reviving the work done by the WPA West Virginia Writers’ Project and the writing those Depression era writers did for the publication, ‘West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State,’ which is now out of print. The Traveling 219 site highlights some of the work from the WPA writers, who wrote a brief guide to US 219, as well as the work from Todd’s current project, with audio stories, historic photographs, and illustrations to bring these stories to a wider audience. The website has recordings of over 25 stories that visitors can listen to on their computers, and soon will be able to download to their MP3 players. Traveling 219 is being presented to the public through radio, newspapers, and online with help from the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“I’m sitting in the dining room at the home of a 90 year old woman named Hazel Shrader. She is telling me about how when she was a baby, US Route 219 was just a mud road. To pave the highway, they got rock from a rock quarry that was near her house, and when they would blast, big slabs of rocks would come hurtling towards her family’s home. So they moved Hazel to a nearby house, for her own safety. A manager from the quarry came to tell them one day they didn’t have to leave, they weren’t in any danger. ‘And about that time a rock hit the porch just above his head. So he went back and never said no more. And for a long time there was a little dent on the porch where a rock had hit.’
“The road was still being paved some during the Great Depression. Hazel describes those years to me with such honesty and emotion that I check three times to make sure the recorder is still on, that not a word is lost. ‘Well we were all poor, but we didn’t know we were. That was the thing. Everyone else’s just like you, they didn’t have things either. Many of the men committed suicide because they couldn’t face their families, because they had nothing. Sometimes they had strokes or their health disappeared, because they just worried over it so much. In Huntington, they had to put guards at the garbage cans. Because they were hungry.’
“When I go back to transcribe her interview, I swear I share some part of what she’s been telling me. Sure, I’ve heard about the Great Depression and read about it too. But until someone tells you what they saw personally and what happened to the families they knew, the story is never as real. And I’m a part of it too, now. Something about that gets to me — is important about this thing that I’m doing. Something about the shared story that grips me, changes me. And then it becomes my job to share that story, to give it to others, so it becomes a part of all of us too.”
On Saturday, June 23rd at 7:30, come check out a free show at Morgantown, WV’s Monongalia Arts Center, “Bloody Butcher Corn, Wild Cats and Square Dancing,” a multi-media performance based on some of the stories that Roxy Todd and Becky Hill (a VISTA volunteer with the Augusta Heritage Center and the Mountain Dance Trail) have gathered throughout West Virginia. From a mill that still grinds an heirloom corn known as Bloody Butcher, to the square dances of Helvetia, to the sightings of panthers near the Cranberry Wilderness, Roxy and Becky will bring the best of their travels to the MAC.