Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dining in style in the FFV

Posted by | September 18, 2015

It was the Chesapeake & Ohio’s first luxury passenger train – the Fast Flying Virginian, or F.F.V. It debuted on May 11, 1889, shortly after the Ohio River Bridge between Covington, KY and Cincinnati opened, and it ran daily between New York, Washington, and Cincinnati. Any Virginia aristocrat of the era would’ve instantly recognized C&O’s not-so-veiled reference to the “First Families of Virginia.”

The F.F.V. was electrically lit and was the first C&O train to provide dining service. The C&O laid over two diner cars every night at Hinton, WV. The railroad company served meals on a schedule both on this train and later on its other luxury trains The George Washington and The Sportsman.

The F.F.V.’s two diner cars were only on the trains during meal times, which for westbound trains would have been just after the 7:30 AM departure from Hinton. No doubt there were plenty of grumbling stomachs among passengers who’d been on the train for 24 hours since boarding at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station!

Laying the diners over at Hinton permitted the C&O to service eight trains (4 east and 4 west) with seven diners, and permitted the diner crews to sleep at night off the railroad.

The two diners were stored on a short siding near the station and next to an icehouse; they were iced via its top loading bunkers. The diners were switched in one car ahead of the train’s rear.

Breakfast menu from the C&O Railway FFV line, 1900This F.F.V. breakfast menu from May 1900 offers up meals for a dollar that include such choices as: Baked Apples and Cream, Broiled Sea Fish, Sirloin Steak, Spring Lamb Chops, Shirred Eggs, and Saratoga Chips (we know this 1853 kitchen innovation from Saratoga Springs, NY as potato chips).

Wilbur Wright may very well have eaten from this menu in September 1900, when he traveled on the F.F.V. transporting most of the components of the first Wright Flyer out of Cincinnati en route to Kitty Hawk, NC.

Wright would’ve also known the train that carried him to Old Point Comfort, VA, as “the Vestibule Limited.” His train consisted of a “…combined car, day coach, dining car, Pullman sleepers and observation car, assuring all the creature comforts, and affording unobstructed views of the magnificent scenery along the route.”

The May 1900 menu mentions that “Our table water is from the celebrated Healing Springs of Virginia.”

“The Healing Springs of Bath County, VA are a short distance north of the Chesapeake & Ohio R.R.,” according to Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Summer Resorts, “and are unrivaled by any others yet discovered in Europe or America. The waters of this spring are stated to be almost identical in their chemical analysis with the famous Schlangenbad and Ems waters of Germany.

diner car from L&N Railroad's PanAmerican Train circa 1920sIllustration caption reads: “Delightful meals are served in these attractive L&N ‘PanAmerican’ diners.” Circa early 1920s. The PanAmerican was comparable to the F.F.V.

“Their temperature is uniformly 84 degrees Fahr., and the water is regarded as highly beneficial in cases of scrofula, chronic thrush, obstinate cases of cutaneous disease, neuralgia, rheumatism, ulcers of the lower limbs of long standing, and dyspepsia, in some ‘hopeless cases’ of which it is said to have worked cures.”

By 1948 travelers on a “coach budget” could order more humble fare in the F.F.V. diner car. They’d find Stewed Prunes with Cream (30¢), Breakfast Figs in Syrup (35¢), a Jelly Omelet (65¢), or two Poached Eggs on Toast (50¢). The Griddle Cakes with Syrup were 45¢ (a dime more with honey); as were French Toast with Marmalade. Milk Toast (25¢), RyCrisp (10¢), and Doughnuts (10¢) were also on the menu. Coffee and tea came by the pot (20¢), and milk by the bottle.

Eastbound F.F.V. service was discontinued in 1962, and on May 12, 1968 the F.F.V. made its final run.


Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Summer Resorts, 18th edition, D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1893


Himler, Himlerville, and a Historian’s Quest

Posted by | September 17, 2015

doug cantrellPlease welcome guest author Doug Cantrell. Doug teaches American and Kentucky History for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System at the Elizabethtown Campus. He has written and spoken widely on the topic of the New Immigration into the Appalachian coal fields, and on Himlerville, the cooperative mining town that in the 1920s existed at Beauty, KY. Professor Cantrell studied Appalachian History and culture at Berea College and at the University of Kentucky. He currently lives in Elizabethtown with his wife Lisa and well-raised cat, Sabrina, and is working with the Himler Project in an effort to restore the Himler mansion at Beauty and make it into a center for Hungarian and Appalachian culture in Eastern Kentucky. Readers can contact Doug by email at


As a teenager during the 1970s in the hills of Southwestern Virginia, I never dreamed that reading an article in a local newspaper would launch a 30 plus year quest to learn more about Martin Himler and Himlerville, a cooperative coal mining community established in Martin County, Kentucky in 1919. On a lazy weekday sometime around 1974, with nothing better to do, I perused the Richlands (VA) News-Press and noticed an article about an Italian community that once existed in the Jewel Ridge, Virginia Coal Camp.

Having been born and raised at Whitewood, VA, which was only a few miles from Jewel Ridge, and having a grandfather who worked in the coal mines at both Jewell Ridge and Jewell Valley, I read the article because I, like most Appalachian youth of my generation, mistakenly believed that all Appalachians were descendants of 17th and 18th century migrants from Northern and Western European Countries (England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany). Appalachia, or so I believed, never received immigration from Italy and other Southern and Eastern European nations.

Himlerville, KY in the 1920s. Photo courtesy Martin County Historical Society.

Himlerville, KY in the 1920s. Photo courtesy Martin County Historical Society.


Yet, here was an article in a local newspaper documenting the presence of Italian immigrants in Buchanan County. At the time I read the article, I filed it away in my memory and thought nothing about it. Several years passed, during which I graduated from Richlands High School, attended Berea College (the first member of my extended family to attend college) and took degrees in History and Political Science, studying Appalachian culture and history under the tutelage of Professors Richard Drake and Loyal Jones.

After leaving Berea I decided to attend graduate school at the University of Kentucky, where Harry Caudill was teaching at the time. Professor Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands was one of my favorite books and I desperately wanted to study with him.

During my first semester at U.K. I took an American Reading Seminar with immigration expert Humbert Nelli. One day in class, Dr. Nelli, rather than having students discuss reading assignments, began questioning the six or seven students enrolled about what topic they were going to write their dissertation on.

As a new student, I had no idea what I was going to write on and in fact, had not given a topic much thought. Not wanting to let my classmates think I was a slacker and did not know how graduate school worked, when my turn came to tell what I was going to write on I suddenly remembered the article about the Italian colony in Jewel Ridge that my local paper had carried and that I had read nine or ten years ago, and wanting to impress Professor Nelli, I blurted out, “immigrants in Appalachia.”

Martin Himler. Photo courtesy Martin County Historical Society.

Martin Himler. Photo courtesy Martin County Historical Society.

Since Professor Nelli was U.K.’s expert on immigration and was a child of Italian immigrants himself, he began to gush about my topic, took me under his wing and insisted that he direct my dissertation. Because I wanted to study with Harry Caudill, I agreed to let Caudill and Nelli co-chair my graduate committee. For the next several years, I spent much time searching various libraries for any documents they might contain on immigrants in the southern Appalachian coal fields. From that day, I made an academic career researching about, speaking about, and writing about various immigrant groups that came to southern Appalachia to build railroads and mine coal.

In the course of conducting research on immigrants to the Appalachian coal fields, I ran across two or three sentences in Ron Eller’s Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers about Himlerville and Martin Himler. Himlerville was unique because it was the America’s (and probably the world’s) only cooperative coal mining company. All the Hungarian immigrants who worked at Himlerville owned stock in the Himler Coal Company, and unlike in other Appalachian coal camps where the company owned worker houses, these immigrants owned the houses in which they lived.

Not only did they earn wages for mining coal, but they received dividend payments according to the number of shares of stock they held in the Himler Coal Company. The evils that existed in other company towns, such as making miners shop at the company store, firing and evicting them for listening to union organizers, and debt peonage, did not exist in Himlerville. Martin Himler treated his worker/stockholders with respect, and there was always a waiting list of immigrants who wanted to move to Himlerville to work.

I discovered that prior to opening the Himler Coal Company, Martin Himler had been a journalist in New York, where he founded a newspaper for Hungarian immigrants called The Hungarian Miners Journal. I figured that this newspaper, which I learned was published at Himlerville during the time the Himler Coal Company was in operation, contained much information about the coal community that so fascinated me.

I searched high and low for the better part of two years looking for copies of The Hungarian Miners Journal but was never able to find any library that housed the publication. Practically every day, I ventured to the M. I. King Library on U.K.’s campus and searched through various reference works that catalogued different library holdings, hoping to find a listing for Himler’s paper.

The Hungarian Miners Journal (Magyar Bányászlap).

The Hungarian Miners Journal (Magyar Bányászlap). Courtesy Nyugat Antikvárium, Budapest, Hungary

Eventually, I discovered the newspaper’s Hungarian name (Magyar Bányászlap) and decided to try looking under that name. Lo and behold, the first library catalogue that I looked in under Magyar Bányászlap indicated that the publication was housed in a library in Chicago. I immediately went to the interlibrary loan department at King Library and ordered newspapers for all the years that Himlerville was in operation.

Eagerly, I awaited the arrival of the newspapers. On the day interlibrary loan called to inform me that the publication had arrived, I immediately rushed to carry the newspapers to my office on the 17th floor of U.K. Patterson Office Tower. Since the bound issues of the newspaper were so large and since I had about ten years’ worth of them, I had to make several trips between the library and Patterson Office Tower, carrying a few volumes at a time.

After dumping the last load on the floor of my small office, I eagerly picked up a volume to begin reading about Himler and Himlerville. To my surprise and utter dismay, practically all the articles were written in the Hungarian language (sources that had mentioned the newspaper indicated that it was written in both English and Hungarian, which turned out to be mostly incorrect). Of course, a poor mountain boy like myself could not read Hungarian. I then contacted the foreign language department at U.K., hoping that they taught Hungarian and that I could find a graduate student who might be interested in translating the newspapers into English for me. Unfortunately, U.K. did not teach Hungarian, but did inform me that the department secretary was Hungarian and might be willing to help with the translation.

Taking one of the bound volumes with me, I approached the secretary. She read a couple of headlines from the newspaper and then informed me that she would translate the newspaper at the rate of 20 dollars per page. As a graduate student subsisting on slightly less than a $500 monthly stipend for teaching undergraduate classes at U.K., I could not afford to get much translation done.

I then approached the Graduate Dean, who agreed to give me a small grant to get about 10 pages of the journal translated into English. Reluctantly, I accepted the fact that I would not be able to make much use of Magyar Bányászlap and had to return them to their permanent home in Chicago within a few weeks. To say that I was heartbroken is an understatement. To this day, I am certain that there is a trove of information about Himlerville lying unread in Magyar Bányászlap.

Himler Coal Company Stock Certificate. Photo courtesy the author.

Himler Coal Company Stock Certificate. Photo courtesy the author.

Despite the inability to read Hungarian and the lack of funds to translate Magyar Bányászlap into English, by 1992 I had gathered enough material to write an article for a refereed historical journal (The Filson Club History Quarterly) published in Louisville. This article, which was entitled “Himlerville: Hungarian Cooperative Mining in Kentucky” garnered me gigs as a featured speaker on the topic for the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. For a year or so, I traveled throughout Kentucky, talking about Himlerville, Martin Himler, and new immigrants in Appalachian coal counties.

As a result of the article’s publication, readers from around the nation began to contact me with more information about Himler and Himlerville. As a result of reader vigilance, I discovered that I had included several factual errors in the article. For example, one reader sent me copies of scrip used by the Himler Coal Company to show that a statement I made in the article that the Himler Coal Company did not issue scrip was false.

Other readers sent me additional information on Himlerville. A reader from Los Angeles, CA mailed a copy of Himler’s death certificate, and a Michigan reader sent me a copy of a newspaper article Himler had written. Another California lady called my home one Friday evening wanting to know if I would have breakfast with her to talk about Himlerville as she was in Kentucky on vacation and wanted to visit the remains of the town. Of course, I met her, took her to my office and shared my file on Himlerville with her. The publication of the Himlerville article also opened opportunities for me to write entries on Himlerville and other immigrant groups for the Kentucky Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.

The next step in my journey to learn more about Himler and Himlerville was involvement with Cathy Corbin and publication of Himler’s autobiography and efforts to restore the Himler mansion, which had fallen into disrepair since I first saw it in the mid-1980s. Out of the blue, Cathy phoned one evening informing me that she was editing Himler’s autobiography and wanted to speak with me since I had written and spoken about Himlerville.

Himler Coal Company scrip. Photo courtesy the author.

Himler Coal Company scrip. Photo courtesy the author.

Cathy and I would spend several hours on the phone, telling each other what we knew about Himler and Himlerville. As a result of these conversations we both decided that we desperately wanted to preserve the Himler House and, through Cathy I began working with the Himler Project group to raise funds to restore the mansion to its former glory. As part of this project, Cathy provided me with a copy of the Himler autobiography.

While the autobiography did not provide much new information about Himlerville, it filled in many gaps in my knowledge about Himler. I discovered that he, like most immigrants of the day, worked at many jobs, including as a coal loader in a mine, as a laborer in a steel mill, as a general laborer building a tunnel in New York, as a push cart salesman, as a pack peddler where he visited numerous immigrant communities in Appalachian coal camps, including the area in Southwest Virginia that I grew up in, selling merchandize from a pack that he carried on his back, as a cobbler and operator of a shoe store, and at various other occupations.

I also learned that Mr. Himler enlisted in the American military during World War II and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the modern CIA) where he interrogated Nazi war criminals, sending many of them to face trial and execution in Hungary.

One Saturday evening in the summer of 2014, while watching a PBS show on the local Kentucky Educational Television station called “Kentucky Life,” I had a brainstorm. What a wonderful segment for “Kentucky Life,” I thought, the story of Himler and Himlerville would make.

The next day, I looked up the “Kentucky Life” website and sent a general email to the show’s producers, asking if they would be interested in doing a segment on Himler and Himlerville. Several weeks passed and I had largely forgotten having contacted “Kentucky Life” before I received a call from the show’s producers wanting more information about Himlerville.

Happily, I provided the producers with the name and contact information for Cathy. In October of 2014, Cathy, Mandy Young, and I were filmed for the television show, which aired on KET stations in February 2015. Hopefully, the show raised awareness about Himlerville and will bring the Martin County Historical Society closer to the goal of raising sufficient funds to restore the Himler mansion and making it a center for the study of Hungarian and Appalachian culture in Eastern Kentucky.

My journey to find out more about Himlerville, Martin Himler, and other immigrant groups in the southern Appalachian coal fields continues and probably will not stop as long as I am alive. Himler and the cooperative coal mining community he established in the hills of Eastern Kentucky continue to fascinate me, as that community seems like an ideal solution to problems that often exist between capital and labor in a capitalistic society.


Al Capone comes to Appalachia

Posted by | September 16, 2015

Did Chicago mobster Al Capone ever set foot in Johnson City, TN? During the 1920s the town was nicknamed Little Chicago. A reference acknowledging crime ties to the north? Or nothing more than an expression of local pride in the railroads, three of which ran through town? Big Chicago was known as a railroad center long before Capone came along.

Al Capone FBI arrest recordAl Capone’s FBI record and fingerprint samples.

Speaking of railroads, Capone bought a house in West Palm Beach, FL not long before the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, and Johnson City would have been a convenient layover town en route between Chicago and West Palm Beach in the days before regular air flight.

It is very likely that Chicago gangsters from the Capone mob came to Johnson City, Newport, Knoxville, Chattanooga and other Southern cities to make deals. One piece of circumstantial evidence that clearly puts Johnson City on this list: the town was one of the hardest hit places in the nation by a neural disorder called the “jake leg,” which killed many and left others with a distinctive hitch in their stride.

The cost of whiskey was extremely high locally, running about $1.50 and up for a flask, while Jamaican ginger, medicinal alcohol and bay rum – all containing lethal denaturants that caused the jake – sold for well under $1.

Why was the cost of whiskey so high in an area of the country where moonshining flourished ever since the first whiskey taxes were levied in 1793? Supply and demand as ever determines price, and it appears that the price of whiskey was being driven up by outside buyers.

Capone was in the alcohol business, and East Tennessee was one of the centers where moonshine was made. While it is likely that he did business with local suppliers, the question remains whether the mob head would have purchased his product lines personally, or would have sent henchmen to do it. Either way, Capone covered his tracks well, leaving no known written records tying him directly to Johnson City. Recall that he was arrested not for his vast bootlegging operations or his speakeasy establishments, but for tax evasion.

Johnson City’s Montrose Court Apartment complex (constructed in 1922; destroyed by fire in 1928) was reputed to be the headquarters for Capone and his friends. Photo: Burr Harrison Photographs/Archives of Appalachia/East Tennessee State University

Johnson City’s Montrose Court Apartment complex (constructed in 1922; destroyed by fire in 1928) was reputed to be the headquarters for Capone and his friends. Photo: Burr Harrison Photographs/Archives of Appalachia/East Tennessee State University


The following contemporary newspaper account, while making no mention of Capone by name, describes Johnson City’s reputation as a “wide-open city” with operating characteristics—thugs, high priced lawyers, judges on the take, hamstrung police—similar to Big Chicago. It specifically cites the liquor ring, rum runners and bootleggers as central to the problem:

“Will it require an atrocious murder? a series of holdups? a veritable reign of terror to jar the smug, self-satisfied citizens of Johnson City, Tennessee into a realization of what is going on within the city?

“TODAY JOHNSON CITY is overrun with criminals; would be criminals; thieves, thugs, gunmen, dope-peddlers, and other undesirables who working hand-in-hand with the liquor ring have so spread their evil influence that its effect has reached even into the juvenile element and more than a score of little boys are striving to emulate the lawbreakers who are apparently being ?glorified? in Johnson City and Washington County.

“Our very courts are apparently inoculated with the general tone of apathy; else they would hand out sentences sufficiently severe to make a would-be evildoer hesitate before perpetrating a crime. But the sentences are so light and it is apparently so very easy to escape the penalties of the law that the criminals scorn any fear of punishment.

“The police apprehend a criminal. Perhaps someone’s life is saved. And then a skilled attorney, operating through the mazes and technicalities of the law and employing other aids, extricates his client from the toils of the law and he goes forth to commit another crime. Why is it that it is so hard to secure a jury in Washington County that is not unfriendly or apathetic toward law enforcement? And with each trial the maze of handicaps with which the police department is burdened, is increased.

“The dry organizations demand enforcement of the laws, but if the officers encounter resistance they dare not use force or they will be confronted with the penitentiary.
If a felony is committed the public expects the officers to apprehend the offenders. But if shots are exchanged the officers are in danger of arrest for defending their own lives, or for carrying out their duty. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

“Even the Council and Commission seem to feel that the police department can get along with anything second hand or discarded. They are expected to run down rum runners yet the police patrol (car) cannot be operated and the other car is a dilapidated wreck. They are expected to quell riots, yet there is not a riot gun in Johnson City, and some of the officers do not even have revolvers.”

Johnson City Staff-News,
October 20, 1926
Editorial by Editor Carroll E. King



Way down yonder in the paw paw patch

Posted by | September 15, 2015

Call it the American Custard Apple or the West Virginia Banana, but it’s neither apple nor banana. It’s the Paw-paw (Asimina trilob), the largest native fruit of North America, and it grows throughout Appalachia. There are about seven other members of the genus Asimina, all growing in the southeastern U.S. Mature pawpaw trees produce fruits 2″ wide by 10″ long, which turn from green, to yellow, and then black as they ripen in the fall.

Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come on, boys [or girls, or kids], let’s go find her,
Come on, boys, let’s go find her,
Come on, boys, let’s go find her,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

—The Paw Paw Patch
Traditional folk song

Paw-paw fruits are rich in minerals such as magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, potassium, and phosphorus. The fruit also contains abundant concentrations of Vitamin C, proteins, and their derivative amino acids. The Peterson Field Guide mentions that the seeds, along with being an emetic, have narcotic properties.

Paw Paw treeThe paw-paw pulp may be eaten raw, made into ice cream, baked, or used as a pie filling. Some Appalachian cooks make a custard out of “Poppaws.” Seed them, mash them, add milk, a little sugar, an egg and some allspice. Pour the batter into custard cups and set those in a bread pan with some water in the bottom of the pan. Bake at a medium heat. Stick a broom straw or toothpick in, and when it comes up clean it’s done. Paw-paw also makes an excellent dry, white wine. It can be made from fresh or canned fruit.

The paw-paw is sensitive to ultraviolet light, thus, paw paw seedlings may not grow back after forests have been clear cut, and there are very few virgin forests left in the United States. Paw-paws can be found growing there abundantly, but once the forests are harvested, the paw paw will not usually re-establish.



Cab Calloway plays Cumberland

Posted by | September 14, 2015

Cab Calloway

Some of America’s most famous entertainers of the 1930s era, because they were African-Americans, were barred from staying in Cumberland, Maryland’s mainstream hotels. Such notable musicians as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and others often stayed at the Davis Tourist Home while on tour. These stays were often a week at a time when their bands came into town to play the Cadillac Lounge, Crystal Park, and other venues.

The Davis Tourist Home was located at 329 Frederick Street. The 14-room house contained a kitchen and dining room on the first floor, and was operated by John (1898-1959) and Towanda Davis (1902-2001), and then by Mrs. Davis upon John’s passing.

newspaper ad for Cab Calloway, Cumberland MDThe Davis Tourist Home also had a contract with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to provide overnight housing for the black railroad porters and dining-car employees who had to layover while working the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington. Each employee brought an official written authorization from the B&O to the Davises which allowed their stay at the Home.

sources: Western Maryland Regional Library
Cumberland Daily News, September 26, 1935

Cab+Calloway Cumberland+MD appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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