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Holden 22 Miners Memorial Officially Dedicated

Posted by | September 19, 2016

On March 8, 1960, the Holden Mine at Island Creek No. 22 in Holden, WV caught fire in the coal seam, and created a carbon monoxide gas which killed eighteen men by asphyxiation. Two miners escaped. It wasn’t the first mine disaster to occur in the southern West Virginia coal fields, and it hasn’t been the last.

But it traumatized the local community enough that the affected families held memorial reunions regularly from 1961 to 2012, and have spent the last several years seeking to create a fitting permanent monument to the tragedy. Why the focus on this one disaster?



Perhaps H.A. Jarvis, who was a mine inspector at the U.S. Bureau of Mines Field Office in Logan at the time, sums it up best: “The history of coal mining in Logan County records no greater loss of life previously in a single occurrence. Having participated in many rescue operations following mine accidents, gas and coal dust explosions, and fires, [I can say that] this was the most difficult, frustrating and lengthy.”

Seventy-two children were left fatherless and sixteen wives were made widows by this mine disaster.

On September 10, 2016, 210 members of the Holden 22 coal camp community gathered to dedicate the completion of that fitting permanent monument, located directly across from the WV Army National Guard Logan-Mingo Readiness Center atop Holden 22, in a solemn ceremony honoring the lives of those lost miners.

And not only honoring those 18 men, but also recognizing the selfless dedication of the many miners and rescue workers who sought to come to their aid. H.A. Jarvis, who posted his diary of the event online in 2007, speaks eloquently to that aspect as well: “[This online post is] an effort to keep alive remembrances of twenty men initially trapped underground by fire.

“Of those who labored so hard and long in rescue efforts, often in a contaminated atmosphere, which resulted in hospitalization for some. Of coal miners who left employment elsewhere and devoted full time to the effort. Of others who, after a shift of regular employment, donated another shift of work. Of coal miners who, although untrained in the use of protective respiratory devices, would don such equipment with minimal instruction.

“These asked nothing more than the opportunity to help their fellowman in distress. These meet my criterion for heroes, and are remembered as such. Failing to preserve these poignant memories would seem to compound the tragedy.”



The Holden 22 dedication ceremony rose to the occasion. Senator Art Kirkendoll presided over an hour and half long presentation, which included dignified speeches by Logan County Commission president Danny Godby, Mingo County Commission president John Mark Hubbard, and Holden 22 Miners Memorial Fund, Inc. president Isom Ooten.

Mike Sazy, a Logan, WV native and son of a coal miner, composed and read a heartfelt poetic ode to the hard work and dedication of Holden 22’s mining community. He was accompanied on autoharp by singer/songwriter Roger Bryant, 2014 winner of the Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor. Bryant went on to sing the Merle Travis tune ‘Dark as a Dungeon,’ the widely beloved song that has become the miner’s anthem.

A color guard from the WV National Guard presented, and at ceremony’s end, retrieved, the colors. The board of directors of the Holden 22 Miners Memorial Fund, Inc. — Isom Ooten, Patricia Bodo Sazy, and, standing in for Connie Maynard Preece, who couldn’t attend, her granddaughter Grace Browning and husband John Preece — released 18 symbolic red, white and blue balloons into the hemisphere toward ceremony’s end. And Reverend Lonnie Gore, Jr., who grew up in Holden 22 camp, closed with a fitting prayer, thanking God that the community is able to finally find closure to this tragedy by creating an enduring monument to keep the memory of these miners alive for generations to come.

Perhaps the most stirring aspect of the Holden 22 Dedication ceremony was the oral history remembrances of the family members and rescuers themselves. Mary Ann Hall Curry, R.N., is one of the few first responders to the disaster still living. She remained 11 days on site round the clock. The mine company, Island Creek, had set up 3 railroad cabooses directly adjacent to the mineshaft entry to serve food and provide bedding to rescuers.

First Responder Mary Ann Hall Curry, RN, recalls "the snow stopped when they got the last body out, as if it had been turned off." Historical photo courtesy Bob Shanklin.

First Responder Mary Ann Hall Curry, RN, recalls “the snow stopped when they got the last body out, as if it had been turned off.” Historical photo courtesy Bob Shanklin.


When the miners’ bodies were located in the mine, they were wrapped in blankets and plastic bags, and carried to the base of a 485-foot elevator shaft. They were lined up neatly to await their return to the surface. A heavy wet snow fell, covering the ground. Curry distinctly recalls: “The snow stopped just like that when they got the last body out, as if it had been turned off.”

Fifty six years have passed, and though the emotional impact of the event is as strong as ever, some of the details on the stories shared have blurred with time. One of the audience members, for example, described how miner Josh Chafin, before he died, wrote a note to his wife saying “Bring our children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord,” and that he had passed this note through an opening in the coal seam to rescuers, even though the seam wasn’t large enough for him to get through.

H.A. Jarvis, in his diary, describes what actually happened, since he was there: “The scene that greeted us at the end of the 2,400-foot journey was one void of all sound and motion. Like a photograph, thirteen coal miners sat and lounged frozen in their last act of life.

“The first, in the act of enclosing the opening with cloth, knelt in front of his unfinished task with hammer and nail in hand. Another sat before his lunch pail with the lid in one hand and a sandwich, with one bite missing, in the other.

“Their foreman, Josh Chafin, sat with arms folded across his knees. Between his feet sat a flame-safety lamp with a note attached to the handle. With hope that it contained information about the others, I removed and read the note.


“Addressed to his wife, it revealed only his love for her and asked that their children ‘be raised in the Lord.”

“This, the only communication ever found, was duly delivered to Mrs. Chafin.”

[A copy of that note is in each of the Mine Health, Safety Administration offices in West Virginia. The full note read: “Mable, I love you more than you will ever know and raise them to serve the Lord.” It was signed Jr., the name he went by.]

“The scene left no doubt,” continues Jarvis in the diary, “that these lives were snuffed out instantaneously and without pain or suffering.

“Also, there was no doubting the cause, a lethal concentration of colorless, odorless, and tasteless carbon monoxide.”

Ironically, after days of fruitless searches for the men, rescue teams found them within 24 hours of when Island Creek President Raymond E. Salvati predicted they would be located. He kept an optimistic face to the public to the last. From the March 14, 1960 Charleston Daily Mail news report:

“Someone asked the inevitable question. Are the men alive?

‘I don’t think there is any question about it,’ said Island Creek President Raymond E. Salvati. ‘Those men are still alive and we are going to get them out.’

So where do they go from here?

T. N. Camiela, Island Creek vice president in charge of operations, said the ‘fresh-air base’ — the area where oxygen masks aren’t needed — would be pushed to within 650 feet of the area where it’s presumed the miners have barricaded themselves with airtight materials.

They’re now 960 feet away. How long will that take?

‘We’ll know something within 24 hours,’ Salvati said.


And indeed they did.


Charleston Daily Mail, March 14, 1960:

Diary of H.A. Jarvis, one of several mine inspectors at U.S. Bureau of Mines Field Office in Logan, WV:


He brought the deer back to North Georgia

Posted by | September 16, 2016

Deer hunting season got underway in Georgia this past Monday, September 9. It’s all too easy to forget that in the early part of the 20th century, there simply were no deer to be had in the northern part of the state. Arthur Woody never forgot that, and today’s hunters in Appalachian Georgia owe him a debt of thanks.

Arthur “Kingfish” Woody (1884-1946), served the U.S. Forestry Service from 1911 to 1945, starting out as a surveyor. In 1918 the Federal Government combined various local land holdings into the Cherokee National Forest, part of which extended into North Georgia. A short time later additional land the government purchased was consolidated with portions of the Cherokee into the Georgia National Forest (later renamed the Chattahoochee National Forest) and Woody became the Blue Ridge District’s first Forest Ranger. The district was the first wildlife management area in the South.

Ranger Arthur WoodyIn the midst of the depression the CCC began to improve the area around Suches, GA thanks to efforts by “the barefoot ranger,” and he was responsible for the original proposal for a Visitor’s Center at Brasstown Bald.

At the time of Woody’s birth, deer habitat was under tremendous pressure: much of the Georgia mountains had been stripped bare by lumber companies that found it cheaper to simply leave land they’d cleared rather than replant. Woody had gone with his father John on a hunting trip in 1895 when he was a boy, and claimed his dad killed the last deer anywhere in the North Georgia.

“I vowed I would remedy that situation when I was grown,” Woody later told Charlie Elliot, former commissioner of the State Game Commission. In 1927 he started restocking deer in the North Georgia mountains with much of his own money, while managing to raise some money from the U.S. Forest Service. He purchased whitetail deer from a passing show and rounded up more in the mountains of western North Carolina, releasing them in an area near the park headquarters of Rock Creek.

He named many of them. One old buck was named Old Nemo. He had names for others. Finally, the deer did multiply and the state re-opened hunting season in 1941. Among the landmarks in the Chattahoochee National Forest honoring Woody is a trail through the Sosebee Cove, a 175-acre tract of prize hardwood Woody purchased for the Forest Service that is now part of the Brasstown Ranger District.


Arthur+Woody Ranger+Woody Chattahoochee+National+Forest appalachia +appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia


Gertrude a la September Morn

Posted by | September 14, 2016

baby in the bath tubThat’s the exact caption of this photo, and while the caption dwells in specifics, the photo itself captures a universal moment that most any parent can respond to.

Gertrude is the daughter of Darley Hiden & Mary Ramsey, of Asheville, NC. We don’t know the date of the picture, or who shot it, though it’s most certainly from the late 1920s. Hiden & Mary [nee Sumner] married in 1926.

The grown Gertrude served on the Board of Trustees for Asheville-Biltmore College starting in 1958. She was recognized for her work as the Society Editor at Asheville’s Citizen Times by Editor & Publisher International Year Book (1963) and by The Working Press of the Nation (1969).

Her father had paved the way for her career rather smoothly, having spent 23 years as the general manager of the Citizen-Times Company, corporate parent of the Citizen Times. He’d worked at the Citizen as an associate editor for a year starting in 1920, then moved over to editorship of the Asheville Times the following year (where he served till 1926). Ramsey also served on the State Board of Education (1945-1953) and on the State Board for Higher Education (1955-1960). He died in 1966 at age 75.

D. Hiden Ramsey did well enough as a newspaperman that he was able to endow the University of North Carolina, Asheville with a new library facility: the D.H. Ramsey Library. His correspondence, speeches, and writings, including more than 200 manuscript speeches on a wide variety of subjects and occasions, plus 30 essays and articles on public issues and events, have become the D. Hiden Ramsey Collection. And it’s over in a personal corner of that inventory that this charming photo resides.



The day they hung Murderous Mary the elephant

Posted by | September 13, 2016

On September 13, 1916 a five-ton circus elephant was executed, hung from a 100-ton Clinchfield railroad crane car, in the little town of Erwin, Tennessee. ‘Murderous Mary’ had killed a man, and for that she had to die. Shooting her in the four soft spots on her head would be both difficult and dangerous. She wouldn’t eat poison. And the town didn’t have enough power to electrocute her.

The bizarre story of the hanging of Mary the elephant begins in St. Paul, Virginia, where Sparks World Famous Shows stopped for a one-day stand. By 1916, Sparks World Famous Shows had blossomed into a successful, 15-car circus with clowns, acrobats, horses, lions and elephants.

Murderous Mary the elephantThe star of their show was Mary, a giant Asian elephant. She was advertised on Sparks posters as “The Largest Living Land Animal on Earth,” weighing “over 5 tons” and standing “3 inches taller than Jumbo,” the star elephant of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. At 30 years old, she could “play 25 tunes on the musical horns without missing a note.” As the pitcher on the circus baseball-game routine, her .400 batting average “astonished millions in New York.”

But it was her size that awed many people from rural communities who had never seen an animal this large or exotic. Mary was valued anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000, and was the primary reason many people came to the show.

On Monday, September 11, 1916, Sparks World Famous Shows played St. Paul, Va., a tiny mining town in the Clinch River Valley. Walter “Red” Eldridge, a local hotel janitor, approached head elephant trainer Paul Jacoby for a job as an under keeper of the elephants and was hired, despite his lack of experience. Eldridge’s job responsibilities included watering the elephants and preparing them for the parades and shows.

The following day, in Kingsport, TN, the elephants (according to the most popular version of the story) were being led to a watering ditch between shows. Eldridge used a bull hook – a stick with a hook on its end – to guide Mary, but had been warned in his training to nudge her gently and not to provoke her.

Suddenly, Mary “collided its trunk vice-like [sic] about [Eldridge’s] body, lifted him 10 feet in the air, then dashed him with fury to the ground… and with the full force of her biestly [sic] fury is said to have sunk her giant tusks entirely through his body. The animal then trampled the dying form of Eldridge as if seeking a murderous triumph, then with a sudden… swing of her massive foot hurled his body into the crowd.” —The Johnson City Staff, September 13, 1916

Circus owner Charlie Sparks knew the animal had to be put down, and decided that the only “humane” way to execute Mary would be to hang her. Clinchfield Railroad had huge, 100-ton derricks that they used to unload lumber off their freight cars. If these derricks could handle those heavy items, they could surely handle a five-ton elephant.

More than 2,500 people gathered to watch Mary swing near the turn-table and powerhouse on the drizzly afternoon of September 13. Her handlers left her hanging for a half-hour, witnesses say, and then they dumped her in the grave they’d dug with a steam shovel 400 feet up the tracks.



related post: “They’d get up and swing around on the trapeze”

Murderous+Mary Sparks+World+Famous+Shows Erwin+TN appalachia +appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia


Squirrel hunting season gets under way

Posted by | September 12, 2016

Squirrel hunting was and is a passion, necessity (that may be more of a was), and a sport in the hills of Virginia and Kentucky. You see it reflected in the place names: Dickenson County, VA has Squirrel Camp, Squirrel Camp Tunnel, and Squirrel Camp Branch; there’s a Squirrel Hollow in Russell County, VA; over in Kentucky Harlan County also has a Squirrel Hollow; Breathitt County, KY has Squirrel Fork; and there’s a Squirrel Run Hollow in Elliott County.

The story goes that Squirrel Camp in Dickenson County was named by Dick Colley and Joshua Counts, who once came to that area to camp and hunt. They had no luck killing any large game, such as bear or deer, so they had to hunt squirrels for food. They didn’t like hunting such small game, so they named the local river branch Squirrel Camp as a joke.

group of squirrel hunters Millard VA 1912Group at squirrel camp in Millard, VA 1912; photo by Gaines Whitley.

Right across the VA/KY border from Dickenson County lies Pike County, KY.

“My grandfather, ‘Pop’ Ross Anderson,” writes John Lee Anderson, “was an expert squirrel hunter and a great storyteller. When I was in high school, we were eagerly awaiting the beginning of hunting season. The evening before the season opening, I was visiting Pop to get any advice and hopefully some of his hunting secrets.

“Just a few years prior, Pop went squirrel hunting in the mountains behind Elkhorn City. He decided to go over into Eel Flats to an area that he was familiar with and knew that was sure to be loaded with squirrels. He had no more picked out a good spot among some large hickory trees that it began raining. The rain was so hard Pop knew he had to find shelter.

“There was a huge old oak tree that had a hollow crack in it. The tree was large enough that Pop could squeeze into the hollow of the tree. When the rain stopped, Pop decided to squeeze out of the crack in the tree to resume hunting. However, due to the rain, sweating and high humidity, he, with the wet clothing, had swollen and was unable to squeeze out of the tree.

“He tried to remain calm, but knowing the probability that no one would be able to find him or assist him, he became more anguished. He said his whole life flashed before his eyes. He remembered all of the wonderful times he had had with his great family. He remembered how thankful he was to have such a wonderful wife. He remembered all of the friends he had. He remembered all of his accomplishments and the rewards of his early days as a teacher.

“Then, he said, he remembered that he had voted Republican one time and he felt so small he slid right out of that tree.”

Squirrel hunting resultsKentucky hunters currently can bag 10 squirrels a day; in Virginia the limit is 6.

Today hunters can pursue gray and red squirrels throughout Virginia, but if they want the much rarer fox squirrels, state law only permits that species to be hunted in the counties west of the Blue Ridge. Kentucky squirrel hunters traditionally get started the third Saturday in August, but Virginia sportsmen have to wait till Sept 6.


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