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New Documentary Film: “Earl Hamner Storyteller”

Posted by | October 13, 2014

Please welcome guest authors Michael McGreevey, Ray Castro & Tim McAbee. McGreevey—actor, director, producer, writer, and life-long friend of Earl Hamner and his family–has joined Castro and McAbee to produce a documentary about Hamner. Earl Hamner Storyteller explores the life and works of one of America’s best writers. For over seventy years Earl’s writing has entertained and inspired people all over the world. Their mutual respect and admiration for Mr. Hamner’s writing is what brought the three producers together for the project.


Producers Michael McGreevey, Ray Castro, Earl Hamner and Tim McAbee at the Waltons Mountain Museum in Schuyler, VA.

Producers Michael McGreevey, Ray Castro, Earl Hamner and Tim McAbee at the Waltons Mountain Museum in Schuyler, VA.


This documentary film celebrates Earl Hamner the man, the storyteller, and how he has enriched our lives through his writing. A diverse group of actors, directors, producers, family and friends have all come together to share their memories of Earl Hamner, Jr. and of working on various shows and movies he has written. Television shows including The Twilight Zone, Falcon Crest, Appalachian Autumn, Nanny and the Professor and The Waltons are highlighted. Movies such as Spencer’s Mountain, Palm Springs Weekend, Heidi and Charlotte’s Web are also included.

Earl Hamner’s family was the model for The Waltons television show. The character of John-Boy was based on Earl, the oldest of eight children. It is Earl’s voice that we hear as the narrator at the beginning and at the end of each episode. “There were eight of us,” Earl recalls. “Tall, lean, fine-boned, red-headed youngsters growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Depression. My father called us ‘his thoroughbreds,’ and put us on a pedestal. CBS called us The Waltons, and put us on television.”

In the film, Earl travels back to his childhood home in Schuyler, VA to visit with his siblings. He takes us to one of his fishing holes, to the Baptist Church he attended as a youngster, and to several other special places. Actors including Richard Thomas, Susan Sullivan, Judy Norton, Carole Cook, Michael Learned, James Best, Mary McDonough, Bill Mumy, Eric Scott, Lorenzo Lamas, Ronnie Claire Edwards, Veronica Cartwright and many others who worked with Earl, share their comments and great stories about him.

Earl back home in his Schuyler, VA bedroom writing in his journal.

Earl back home in his Schuyler, VA bedroom writing in his journal.

Doris and Earl Sr. strongly encouraged all the children in their growing family to excel, and Earl Jr. became interested in writing at an early age.

He was writing his numbers at the age of two and reading at four. His poem “My Dog” was published on the children’s page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch when he was six. Earl claims he knew from that day he’d become a writer.

Schuyler was a company town, the home of The Alberene Stone Corporation, which quarried and milled soapstone. “Our town was located in that part of the Blue Ridge known as The Ragged Mountains,” says Earl. “We were six miles from Route 29, the main artery connecting the great cities of the north to the south. We reached 29 along a country road, the most beautiful stretch of rural road known to man, the Rockfish River Road.

“We lived in company-built houses and bought our goods from the company store. Schuyler had been a prosperous little village, but, when the Great Depression came, the mill closed. My father found work in Waynesboro and could only be home with his family on holidays and weekends. We missed him, and, on Fridays, even before the sun went down, my mother could be seen at the window looking down the road.”

Poster highlights Earl Hamner's boyhood home in Schuyler, VA, where he first put pencil to paper and began the journey that forever enriched our lives with his inspirational writing.

Poster highlights Earl Hamner’s boyhood home in Schuyler, VA, where he first put pencil to paper and began the journey that forever enriched our lives with his inspirational writing.

Earl Hamner’s boyhood home in Schuyler, VA, is where he put pencil to paper and began the journey that forever enriched our lives with his inspirational writing.

Michael McGreevey, one of the producers of the film, recalls one of his favorite experiences during the filming. “On our recent visit together to his hometown of Schuyler, VA, Earl Hamner taught me the fine art of ‘porch-sitting.’ The key is to relax, take your time, savor the moment. The silences are just as important as the conversation. Sitting with me on the porch of his family’s home, Earl reminisced about the many evenings he spent there with his parents and siblings.”

His talent for storytelling was certainly developed and nurtured on that porch as he would listen to his father, grandmother, uncles, and family friends entertain one another with tales about their life experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Years later, Earl would write “porch-sitting” scenes into the storylines of The Waltons, such as the very memorable episodes “The Achievement” and “Grandma Comes Home.”

“I was raised on folk songs and folk stories,” says Earl, “and I suppose it was inevitable that this kind of material worked its way into my writing.”

“Virginia Dreams, they always take me back
Virginia Dreams, there’s no other place like that
No matter where life takes me or how far away it seems
I keep going back to my Virginia Dreams”

– Jimmy Fortune/ Justin Peters, songwriters

In the documentary, another legendary Nelson County native, Country/Gospel artist Jimmy Fortune (formerly of The Statler Brothers), pays tribute by performing and dedicating the song “Virginia Dreams” to Earl.

“When I was growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression,” Earl observes, “we always had friends and neighbors stopping by. My mother or father would meet them at the door and say: ‘Come on in and sit till bedtime!’”

Earl, Paul, Audrey and Nancy Hamner welcomed our crew into their childhood home and shared their memories of growing up in this house. Later, our filming wrapped appropriately with the Hamner siblings saying “GOODNIGHT” to each other as they did so many years before. Viewers of The Waltons are very familiar with this iconic closing to each episode, which was a nightly ritual at the Hamner home.

From left to right, Paul Hamner, Earl Hamner and son Scott Hamner, Audrey Hamner and Nancy Jamerson.

From left to right, Paul Hamner, Earl Hamner and son Scott Hamner, Audrey Hamner and Nancy Jamerson.

“The Conflict” episode of The Waltons originally aired September 12, 1974. Written by Jeb Rosebrook and directed by Ralph Senensky, this episode is still one of the most popular of the series. It tells the story of how Aunt Martha Corinne Walton’s home is in danger of being torn down because of the right-of-way for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The entire Walton family comes to her aid and tries to stop the construction.

In reality, many families in the area were forcefully evicted from their mountain homes in the Blue Ridge to pave the way for the Skyline Drive. In the early years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term as president, the Blue Ridge Parkway was designed to run from the southern end of Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, into North Carolina and, in Virginia, was a part of the Shenandoah National Forest. Work was done by the Works Progress Administration, the Emergency Relief Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In the documentary, Jeb Rosebrook recalls writing this episode and also shares comments about his long friendship with Earl: “In the summer of 1952, while working for the Buildings and Grounds Department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, a coworker told me the story of his family having been forcefully evicted from their mountain home in the Blue Ridge to pave the way for the Skyline Drive.

“Twenty years later when I remembered this story, a mountain matriarch named Martha Corinne came to mind (I named her after two of my aunts). She was magnificently portrayed by Beulah Bondi, and the honesty of the story was made possible in part by research provided by Earl Hamner’s mother. All in all this was a special writing experience, one that went so beautifully from the page to film.”

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas

In EARL HAMNER STORYTELLER, Richard Thomas’ genuine love for Earl, as well as his Walton siblings, was evident as he talked with the crew, mentioning favorite episodes and guest stars. Thomas discussed his decision to leave the show after five years, when his original contract expired and his theater roots were calling him to broaden his horizons.

It is a decision he does not regret, although he did miss his Walton family and was delighted to reprise his role as John-Boy in the reunion movies. He still keeps framed mementos from his last episode. Richard also discussed how Earl’s writing touched his life beyond portraying him as John-Boy.

“I have to say that no one—I’ve been doing this now for 55, 56 years and there’s not another single person, anywhere, with us or no longer with us—that has contributed more to my life as an artist, as an actor, who’s given me greater opportunities. To provide an actor with a role like John-Boy is a greater gift than you can possibly know. It’s a gift that I still appreciate till this day and I always will. I can never thank you enough.”

In the closing narration of “The Achievement” episode, Earl says, “I did leave Walton’s Mountain to live and work in New York City. I wrote more novels and raised a family of my own. Today, we live in California, but no matter where I am, the call of a night bird, the rumble of a train crossing a trestle, the scent of crab apple, the lowing of a sleepy cow can call me home again. In memory I stand before that small white house, and I can still hear those sweet voices.”

It has been a year-long labor of love and we’re happy to report that the EARL HAMNER STORYTELLER documentary has been filmed. Many of you have asked when and where the documentary will be available. The film has entered post production and we will have more information about its availability in the near future. Some of you have asked how you can be involved in the project and offered your support. You can get involved; have a look at our IndieGoGo page.  We greatly appreciate your help.


A People Of The Land

Posted by | October 10, 2014

GrayFamilyPlease welcome guest author Marcus B. Gray. Gray is a wildlife biologist by training. He now serves as the Executive Director of the New River-Highlands Resource Conservation & Development Council in Southwest Virginia. His 4th Great Grandfather, James Gray, settled on productive farms in Russell County, Virginia after marrying Elizabeth Doran in old Augusta County, Virginia in 1787.  


Over the years, many authors have written about how the rugged landscape of Appalachia has shaped the local people—their physical features, music, language, customs and more. It is well documented, even if controversial. The impact Appalachian people have had on America as a whole from the time of European settlement is also a popular topic.

If you doubt the musical tradition remains strong today, look no farther than the recent success of Dolly Parton’s albums at Cracker Barrel stores or Anna Kendrick’s “Cups,” a 2013 hit cover of the Carter Family song, “When I’m Gone” (1931).

The link between Appalachian people and the land they call home is equally as strong and has been for centuries. Few other areas of the United States have a local population with as intimate an ecological knowledge and sense of place. However, just like the abandoned boomtowns, overgrown homesteads and diluting accents, the environment of the mountains is under threat of degradation and thus being lost to time.

There are numerous groups and entities working to preserve the culture of the region, boost tourism, improve economic conditions and conserve natural resources. Opportunities exist for partnerships, especially those unexplored for reasons such as politics or seemingly disparate mission statements. The culture fostered by the land cannot continue without the land. Skills passed down through the generations that helped folks forge a living in remote hollers are baseless if not rooted in a region with an intact rural character. Organizations must collaborate to enhance the positive influence natural resources have on communities.

The New River-Highlands Resource Conservation & Development Council (RC&D) is an organization that works toward a vision of a prosperous, modern, rural community living in harmony with the environment. Think of that vision like living off the grid on a homestead, but with high-speed internet. There’s no reason you can’t preserve traditional skills AND have indoor plumbing. Incorporating new technologies while preserving traditions is how our ancestors operated.

There just isn’t a need to “sell the homeplace and move to town” to make a living. A wholesale migration to an urban lifestyle is what created the rampant Nature Deficit Disorder we see across the country. Providing training to new farmers is the first step in maintaining open space while offering quality agricultural products to consumers. Southwest Virginia, like other parts of Appalachia, is poised to shift into a new economy. There are ways to promote economic growth and diversification while conserving the natural resources of working landscapes. As coal and tobacco-related jobs decline in the portion of Southwest Virginia that we serve, we must begin to think about different employment options in the future.

Some ideas beyond tourism include sound forest management, sustainable agriculture and local artisan products. New farm income in the form of market generation, area-adapted crops and production improvements are underway. It’s time to give back to the land that has given us so much.

As a true equal opportunity provider the RC&D has projects that cater to people interested in livestock, water quality, forest fire prevention, locally grown food, trails and alternative energy! Below are a few of our on-going projects:


Stream Bank Stabilization

stream bank stabilization

The New River Stream Bank Restoration project will address stream bank and channel erosion in the New River and Holston River Watershed. This is accomplished with a series of demonstrations that will focus on stream bank stabilization and channel stabilization as a means to reduce sediment pollutants in streams. The project will focus on new best management practices, such as stream barbs or deflectors, stream bank toe protection, J hooks, and vegetative controls such as cedar tree revetments, bio logs, sloping, shaping and establishment of vegetation. Conventional practices will be used where the other alternatives may not work.

Partners: Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Conservation & Recreation, MapTech

Action: Implement stream bank stabilization projects on 10 sites.


School Walking Trail

School walking trail

The Council is assisting the Carroll County School System with the development of the final grant application for a walking trail at the Hillsville Elementary School. Funded by a $97,000 grant from Department of Conservation & Recreation Trails Grant, this project will establish approximately 3 miles of trails with about ¾ mile being handicap accessible.

Partners: Department of Conservation & Recreation, Carroll County Schools

Action: Assist Carroll County School System with the final grant submission.


Total Maximum Daily Load Initiative

Holston River map

The Upper Middle Fork Holston River TMDL Plan Implementation project addresses bacteria pollution from direct livestock access and runoff from pasture land; bacteria from straight pipes, failing septic systems and pet waste. Water quality is impacted by bacteria from agricultural, human and pet waste and requires a reduction of all direct livestock access and straight pipes to meet the water quality standards.

This project targets the upper reaches of the watershed Virginia Stream O03R-01 above the Atkins sampling station for agriculture practices and address human and pet waste in Virginia Stream O03R-01 and Virginia Stream O03R-02 the entire watershed above the Town of Marion. Monitoring will be conducted to track the effectiveness of the best management practices on pollutants reduction, by monitoring pre- and post installation of best management practices. The selected watersheds will be targeted with an outreach and education program including one on one contact with landowners to recruit participants. The project partners include Evergreen Soil & Water Conservation District, Big Walker Soil & Water Conservation District, Virginia Health Department, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Mt. Rodgers Regional Planning District and the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project.

Partners: Evergreen Soil & Water Conservation District, Department of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Action: Implement project with Evergreen Soil & Water Conservation District.


Farmers Market Assistance

farmers market

The Council works with the Wytheville Farmers Market Advisory Committee to secure funding to operate the Wytheville Farmers Market and serve as the fiscal agent for the Wytheville Farmers Market.

Partners: Wytheville Farmers Market Committee, City of Wytheville, Wythe County, Wythe-Bland Community Foundation


Greenway Development

greenway trail

The RC&D Council will assist the Rocky Gap Greenway Committee with the development of Virginia Department of Forestry Urban Community Forestry Grant proposal to assist with the development of the greenway to include tree identification signage and other urban forestry practices.

Partners:  Virginia Department of Forestry; Rocky Gap Greenway Committee; Bland County; Wythe/Bland Foundation; Virginia Cooperation Extension Service; Big Walker Soil and Water Conservation District; Landowners

The RC&D is always looking to collaborate with like-minded organizations and individuals. To find out how you can contribute, visit our website or connect with the Council on Facebook and Twitter.


A Day in the Life of an Archivist

Posted by | October 9, 2014

Edna FugatePlease welcome guest author Edna Fugate. Fugate is the Archivist and Reference Librarian at the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, KY. She holds a Master in Library Science from the University of Kentucky and is a Certified Archivist. Her Special Collections and Archives at the University of Pikeville can be found on Facebook, and she is currently developing a digital library for the University of Pikeville.


One of the first things I learned when I became a librarian is that librarianship is a dirty job. Maybe not a Mike Rowe type of dirty job, but a dirty job nonetheless. The amount of dirt and dust that can find its way into a book is quite amazing, and contrary to popular belief, we do more than just read those things. After working in a library for a couple of years, I had no idea that I could successfully find a department where I could manage to go home even dirtier. It was one of the best things that I have ever stumbled into.


Archives are typically seen as the dominion of historians or librarians who love books more than people. I began as neither a historian nor a people-shunner. Though I have always enjoyed history, my background is in psychology and religion, and I chose librarianship as a profession that would let me help people learn at a very personal level. I settled into reference work at an academic library, and greatly enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much that I kept it as part of my duties, even as my job has changed.

I noticed as I moved about the library that we had a door labeled Archives, which opened to a room where no one went. This room was in Special Collections, which was another unused room. Unsure as to why this material was never used, and extremely curious as to what was behind the closed door, I went to our library director. She explained that our archives were no longer used because we had no one to take care of it. I thought that was a shame, and said so.

“Do you want to do something with it?”

With that, I started my career as an archivist.

Picture for a moment those dusty, silent archives you see on television. Imagine the rows upon rows of identical boxes that house the mysteries of antiquity. Now, remove all of that but the dusty part from your mind.

Archives are not always neat and not everything fits in a box. To compound issues, my archives had not been used in over 10 years – except as storage for tables. Plastic covered the items on shelves, portraits leaned in a corner, and photographs lay spread over the tops of boxes. Very little was cataloged in any way, and no one knew what types of items were being housed in archives.

For about 20 seconds I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Then I realized – I was getting a treasure. It wouldn’t be a treasure for everybody, but as a graduate of the school, I knew that I would find things in that room that others had forgotten. I was being given the opportunity to rediscover history and to shape this archive in whatever way I wished.

Now all I needed was to figure out what on Earth I was doing.

collection materials on shelves

My training was in libraries, which one may think is exactly the same thing. One would be wrong. When a librarian keeps and records material, he/she does so with the idea of getting the material out to the patron. While an archivist wishes to do the same thing, there is a different view of preservation that arises. Library books are abused, but then repaired in a way that will keep them going out to patrons.

In archives, the desire is to keep them as close to the original as possible, while still working to make the material accessible. Compounding this is the format of material in archives. Portraits, manuscripts, miner’s helmets, photographs, notepads, scrapbooks, shoe lasts, and countless other items can be found in my archives. These items are usually unique, often fragile, and always need something special to make sure they are properly preserved.

Learning more about archives was particularly important because of my position. I am what is often referred to as a Lone Arranger. I am the only one working in our special collections and archives, which began as only two rooms. It has almost doubled in size over the last year, but it is still considered a small archive. Small collections, cared for by single archivists, can be found all over the country, and we are often very possessive of the material in our care. The lack of others with archival training in my institution has made it necessary for me to educate myself on proper techniques in preservation and archival access.

There is no such thing as a typical day in a small archives. My archives has a two-fold purpose: 1) collect and preserve our institutional history, and 2) preserve history and culture related to Central Appalachia. One day may be spent searching for material for my institution’s Public Relations department, and the next may be digging up genealogical records for a sweet little lady from Michigan. Students researching their dissertations come looking for material. I have had individuals writing books, and others producing television shows. Occasionally, archeologists will wander in looking for background information on the area.

When I am not conducting reference visits with patrons, I am usually working on cataloging the collections, cleaning items, and digitizing material. When researchers once again began making their way back to our archives, it was difficult to properly search the material. I would spend the day before their arrival opening countless boxes just to see if anything might be tucked away that they could use.

And here's the collection after a bit of organization has been applied to those back room shelves!

And here’s the collection after a bit of organization has been applied to those back room shelves!

Since those early days, I have started working through a box at a time, recording folder-level descriptions of items and barcoding the boxes. Now, when someone asks for material on a specific subject, I can search a database of cataloged items and find the box instantly. I am not finished with this project, and I still have to search some boxes for requests, but the random searching is reducing every day.

During the cataloging process, I will often come upon material that needs cleaning. Many larger archives have departments dedicated to repair, with water tables, sealed mold removal chambers, and cabinets filled with special paper and starch pastes. I have only myself and whatever cleaning supplies fell within my budget for the year. I have to determine what I am capable of cleaning, and mark things that need more work for future repair.

There are times that items have such severe mold damage that the time to attempt the cleaning process cannot be justified. When that happens, I take pictures of all of the material so that I can still retain the information, if not the original item, and then dispose of the damaged material. While it is always hard to have to remove items from a collection, the potential threat of mold spores spreading makes it a necessity in some situations.

Damaged book that was beyond repairing, and had to be destroyed.

Damaged book that was beyond repairing, and had to be destroyed.

For my archives, I have found that access to images is one of the most valuable things I can offer many of my patrons. Photos are processed in a variety of ways, but they all share common susceptibilities to light, temperature, and humidity. This means that original images need to be stored in a cool, dry, dark area. The ability to digitize images allows me to share their visual history repeatedly without exposing them to a damaging environment.

What digitization project is complete without internet access? I fill some image requests through email, though I also spend part of my day constructing a digital library so that the images we have available can be freely searched. I try to spend a little time each day determining what to make available, preparing the material for upload, collecting background information, or working on coding for the site so that I can steadily provide more information to our online patrons.

Though it is made more obvious with the large-scale sharing of the internet, it is important for an archivist to have a strong understanding of copyright laws. There are many shades to copyright, and it is important that an archivist knows what they can control and what may need the approval of others before its use.

In addition to the daily activities to keep the archives running smoothly, I often take care of other matters related to institutional history. I work with multiple classes at the university, providing local history lessons for the students. I have also visited an area grade school to provide a similar lesson. I select photos for use in some of the alumni affairs activities, and I write historical articles for the alumni newsletters. I have also helped other community groups in their own preservation activities.

The author speaks to a group of students at University of Pikeville.

The author speaks to a group of students at University of Pikeville.

Being an archivist is an involved profession. The needs of the collections and the needs of the researchers must be constantly evaluated. Archivists are charged with preserving history, and in doing so, we keep a little piece of what we hold alive. Though each archivist has a different focus, we all want you to understand yourself and where you come from more completely through the history we preserve. October is Archives Month – a time to remember not only archives, but to also think about that history and what it means to you. If you value its preservation, support your local archives. Donations are always appreciated, but so are letters of thanks. For many archives, letters of support can help show that an archives is needed, and therefore keep it from being closed. Help us keep your history alive.


Tips from an Amateur Museum Exhibit Developer

Posted by | October 8, 2014

jeanne mozierPlease welcome guest author Jeanne Mozier. Mozier serves as president of the board of WV’s Museum of the Berkeley Springs. She is the author of several books including “Way Out in West Virginia, a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State” and “Historic Images of Berkeley Springs.” Named a West Virginia History Hero, she is currently working on a book about the local Berkeley Castle. Contact Jeanne at or visit her website.

BERKELEY SPRINGS, WV —- When a group of local history enthusiasts established the Museum of the Berkeley Springs in 1984, we made a fateful decision. Armed with expert advice from nearby Shepherd University, we committed to use our museum as a way to tell both the geologic story of the famed warm springs and how the waters impacted the economic, social and political history of the town that formed around them. The focus allowed us to avoid the “dump Grandpa’s sickle” syndrome.

We were lucky. We had a great story to tell and much of it was literally outside our door where thousands still come each year to “take the waters” for their health and well being. We also had limitations, especially our prime space in Berkeley Springs State Park, on the second floor of the Roman Bath House, oldest public building in town (circa 1815.) It was a great location but small space – approximately 2,500 square feet and no room to expand.

Display on James Rumsey, true inventor of the steamboat who lived and worked in 18th century Berkeley Springs. All photos by the author.

Display on James Rumsey, true inventor of the steamboat who lived and worked in 18th century Berkeley Springs. All photos by the author.

Finally, as with most small local museums, financial resources are limited. All the exhibits outlined here were developed as a volunteer exercise with professional fabrication funded by grants from the West Virginia Humanities Foundation, local hotel-motel tax revenue and the West Virginia Conservation Agency. The cost per exhibit averaged $2,500.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve developed four major permanent exhibits for the museum; two interested me greatly, two I had to finish when the original developer dropped out. The most recent debuted September 7, 2014, 27 years to the day from the opening of the museum’s doors. I had no previous exhibit development experience, not even of the grammar school science fair variety.

These are some of the insights I acquired. There are lots more.

• If you know how to do research, you can develop an exhibit. I knew nothing about James Rumsey, true inventor of the steamboat who lived and worked in 18th century Berkeley Springs. My research journey took me from ignorance to extensive knowledge in about a year. It worked well as the guiding principle of the exhibit since most of our visitors would also be learning of this hapless genius for the first time.

There were no artifacts, but we did have locations that could be photographed, historic documents that were excerpted, intriguing images of his many patents and a purported portrait by Benjamin West that we were able to duplicate. A handcrafted map of locations in the county connected with Rumsey is the dominant visual. My favorite part of the exhibit displays excerpted quotes from Rumsey hinting at who he was as a man.

What I learned most was how much of the information I collected would never make it to the exhibit panel. I created an exhibit manual that captured all the material but could not find funding to get it printed.

A decade later, the internet appeared and I “invented” the Virtual Museum website as a place to make available all that work. The information is keyed to every piece of the physical exhibit giving magnitude and resonance to both.

• The town of Bath (known to the world by its postal name of Berkeley Springs) was established in 1776 around the springs. Its original owners were the colonial elite including George Washington, his family and friends who had been frequenting the place for a couple decades as “squatters.”

'Bathing at Bath' exhibit features a former steam cabinet used in the Berkeley Springs State Park bathhouse.

‘Bathing at Bath’ exhibit features a former steam cabinet used in the Berkeley Springs State Park bathhouse.

For the second exhibit, Formation of the Town, I needed help translating all the research into an exciting three-dimensional form. Nearly twenty years after my first exhibit, both expectations and fabrication technology had really advanced.

I sought out the friend of friend who had retired as an exhibit developer for the Smithsonian and got tips about dimensionality and highlighting. We used mini-historic portraits of founders and had half a panel turned into a then-and-now exploration of the town.

With six panels to work with, we turned two of them into a visually exciting and provocative part of the whole story – a long history of fires around the springs. That topic provided dramatic photos, charred artifacts and appreciation for the contribution a timeline can make to any story. The research from this exhibit is also part of the Virtual Museum.

• The third exhibit almost did itself. Bathing at Bath focused on the bathhouses and pulled together pieces that had existed in the museum for years. Betty Lou Harmison, another museum founder, and I had just completed an Arcadia Publishing book of Historic Images of Berkeley Springs. An entire chapter was devoted to ‘Taking the Waters,’ so we had abundant photos from which to choose.

I had developed brochures and outdoor interpretive signs on the bathhouses currently in Berkeley Springs State Park for other projects. This was an exhibit heavy on images with distinctive artifacts like the former steam cabinet used in the bathhouse and a collection of historic bathing suits. The challenge was showing both the duration and evolution of the bathing experience.

Once again I turned to a timeline, this one devoted to the progression of bathing structures in the park. I also used an exhibit designer who worked with the fabricator, a process I’d learned while developing the outdoor interpretive signs. The impact of the story was heightened by real life. Every day, outside the museum’s window, scores of people engage in a reenactment of our exhibit.

On May 16, 2012 an 800-pound quartz crystal mined in the same ridge from which the springs emerge arrived at the museum, a gift of U.S. Silica’s Berkeley Springs plant.

On May 16, 2012 an 800-pound quartz crystal mined in the same ridge from which the springs emerge arrived at the museum, a gift of U.S. Silica’s Berkeley Springs plant.

• A month ago we completed a new segment of one of the original exhibits, Geology of the Springs. This is an intricate and complicated topic and one that literally and figuratively provides the basis for all other topics in the museum – and in Berkeley Springs. Again, the task was setting context for other bits and pieces, especially a fortuitous new acquisition.

On May 16, 2012 an 800-pound quartz crystal mined in the same ridge from which the springs emerge, arrived at the museum, a gift of U.S. Silica’s Berkeley Springs plant. It was obviously the jewel of our collection and one referred to by visiting children as the 800-pound diamond. For nearly two years, development of the exhibit languished while the deadline for spending grant funds drew closer. With no knowledge of geology but the experience of three previous exhibits as credentials, I accepted the task and got to work.

Once more, I used a timeline – this one stretching 4.6 billion years. It displayed the area’s fascinating geologic evolution, one shared through much of Appalachia. Then, assuming most viewers of our fossil collection—which is a major artifact in this exhibit—were as ignorant as I was, I developed the text as simple questions, answers and nametags for the fossils. Another re-used asset was the designer and fabrication company. To date, the giant crystal and new segment of the geology exhibit have proved popular draws.

We invite visitors to the Museum of the Berkeley Springs, open March through December. While visiting historic Berkeley Springs, we urge you to directly experience our long history as the country’s first spa and take a bath in our several spas, drink the water, or dangle your toes in the largest open array of springs water in the Blue Ridge.

If you cannot come in person, visit the Virtual Museum, open 24/7 and added to all the time. Memberships and donations are always welcome.


The Great Pandemic of 1918, part 1

Posted by | October 7, 2014

Across America in the fall of 1918 the Spanish influenza-and the fear of it-was everywhere. The flu’s name came from the early affliction and large mortalities in Spain where it allegedly killed 8 million in May that year. No one knows exactly how many people died during the 1918-1919 global influenza pandemic, but estimates place 675,000 Americans among the dead: more than died during World War I!

Many physicians succumbed to the flu themselves. Shortages of essential personnel of all types often compounded the crisis even further. A lack of sanitation workers in cities allowed sewage to accumulate in the streets, raising concerns about other diseases. Emergency hospitals could not be opened to accommodate the growing numbers of patients because they could not be staffed.

Most patients were isolated in their homes and treated there, if they could get medical attention at all. Gauze masks started sprouting on faces everywhere, though wearing masks does little to prevent the spread of influenza. Those sickened were often left to fend for themselves—neighbors refused to come to the aid of neighbors for fear that they too would be struck.

public wearing gauze masks during 1918 Spanish Flu pandemicALABAMA: It first appeared in late September 1918 in Florence, in the northwest corner of the state. Just three weeks later, over 25,000 cases of influenza in the state had been reported to the U.S. Public Health Service. Following a common practice in many communities, Alabama doctors often wrapped the wheels of their horse drawn carts with cotton so people would not become alarmed when they heard the cart leaving during the night. During the last two weeks of October, more than 37,000 cases of the flu erupted in Alabama. People around the state died by the hundreds.

GEORGIA: It probably arrived during the first week of October 1918, and then spread like a wildfire throughout the state. In just three weeks, from October 19th to November 9th, there were more than 20,000 cases and more than 500 deaths. State officials filed their first report on October 19. On that date, they claimed that the state had 6,304 cases with 68 deaths. The real number of cases and deaths was probably much higher. The next week saw an increase in the number of cases: 9,637 cases and 308 deaths were reported. The following week, the week ending November 2nd, saw a tapering off of the epidemic with only 4,287 cases and 138 deaths being reported.

SOUTH CAROLINA: By early October, the disease had spread into the upper reaches of the state. Eucapine, Vick’s VapoRub, and other patent medicines became popular and were touted as cures. South Carolina’s governor even permitted the use of then-illegal alcohol because doctors were advocating its use as a remedy and nothing else seemed to be working. Alcohol didn’t work either. Home remedies were widespread. Onion plasters, the eating of raw onions, and even drinking hot lemonade to induce perspiration were recommended. None of these treatments were effective.

TENNESSEE: On October 15th, there were 27 deaths in Knoxville. Dr. E.L. Bishop, of Tennessee’s State Board of Health, offered his advice by condemning “promiscuous kissing …especially that of the nonessential variety.” He said, “[a] kiss of infection…may truly be the kiss of death.” On October 27th, “conditions were better in mining camps generally and…reports from rural communities in a few counties indicated that the disease is not yet prevalent at these points.” In the last two weeks of October, when the pandemic was at its peak, nearly 11,000 Tennesseans were struck. More than 650 fell. Writing in a medical journal, one Tennessee physician summed up the situation in saying “The man who dug his neighbor’s grave today might head the funeral procession next week. No telling who would be next.”

NORTH CAROLINA: Dr. W.S. Rankin of North Carolina’s State Board of Health refused to approve the use of rum in emergency hospitals due to lack of evidence that it was effective against influenza. Instead the Board called for treatments of “sunshine and open air.” Calomel, a purgative (and insecticide), was also prescribed. By the time the pandemic passed, at least 13,000 North Carolinians had perished. The state’s many mill towns suffered tremendous losses from the pandemic. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and poverty all served to exacerbate the number of cases and deaths in these regions.

to be continued…


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