Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Flood that convinced Huntington to built a Flood Wall

Posted by | March 5, 2015

After heavy rains in Huntington, WV during much of December 1936 and January 1937, the Ohio River jumped its banks with a vengeance, cresting on January 27 at 69 ft. (Cincinnati, OH, further upriver, was 80 ft under water). By the time the waters subsided five days later, over $17,000,000 in damages had been done, dwarfing the damage caused in the area’s most destructive previous flood (1913: $1,456,833 of damage). Five people were dead locally; up & down the Ohio River valley 400 total had been killed. 25,000 Huntington residents were affected, with some 11,000 requesting Red Cross services. City services were suspended for 2 weeks.
Those who were there just call it “The Flood.” There had been nothing like it before. It was a rolling catastrophe, as the river rose house by house, street by street, climbing stairs and pushing families into second and third floors of houses. Communities turned to lakes, people lined up to get fresh water in buckets and soup pots, rescue workers navigated streets in boats.

“The common complaint last night was not the closing of the liquor stores but the lack of drinking water. Curiously enough in downtown restaurants milk was easier to order than water and sweet milk was available where buttermilk was not.”
— Herald Dispatch (January 27, 1937)

A 1933 flood caused $108,481 in damages, and an official government engineer’s survey placed 1936 flood damage at $369,288. Finally, the devastating 1937 flood convinced the federal government that a flood wall was needed. Irene Drukker Broh, one of Huntington’s foremost suffragists and civic leaders, led a campaign to pass a $1 million bond to fund Huntington’s flood wall.

The flood protection system was completed in 1943 with money from the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program designed to relieve the hard times of the Great Depression. Huntington has not experienced as serious a flood since the wall was constructed.




Time for a Spring Tonic

Posted by | March 4, 2015

Doctors once prescribed a tonic.
Sulfur and molasses was the dose.
Didn’t help one bit.
My condition must be chronic.
Spring can really hang you up the most.

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” (1952)
lyrics by Fran Landesman; music by Tommy Wolf

Time to shed the sluggishness of winter!

Up till the middle of the 20th century, many Appalachian residents, like Americans elsewhere, downed an annual spring tonic of sulfur and molasses. It was believed the family needed a good “spring cleaning” after a sedentary winter eating dried vegetables and salted meat. Each member of the family would have their dose of this mixture to purify their blood, thin or “cut” the blood, and make them feel better after the long winter.

sulfured molassesThis particular blood tonic was fashioned from a pure yellow crystalline form of elemental sulfur known as sublimed sulfur, or “flowers of sulfur.” We now know sulfur is in the nucleus of cells and is fundamental to regeneration of strong healthy tissue. Mixes of sulfur with cream of tartar were also used and more exotic variations may include powdered pearl as well.

The name “molasses” is derived from a Portuguese word, “melaco”, and means “resembling honey.” The unsulphured tastes stronger but has more nutrients. Sulphur treated molasses is sweeter but has fewer nutrients.

Blackstrap molasses is the thick liquid separated from the solid granules of cane sugar during refining. It is not only a source of energy but contains iron and other minerals including a fair amount of calcium. It also has several B-Complex vitamins.

The use of spring tonics revolved around Victorian theories of high blood, low blood, thick blood, and thin blood.

High blood has very little to do with the modern concepts of high blood pressure and hypertension but instead is derived from the belief in humors and the practice of blood letting. It can be thought of as high blood volume which results in symptoms like headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness, feeling “flushed”, fainting, rapid pulse and nausea.

By contrast, low blood is a low volume of blood or blood that lacks vitality. Symptoms of low blood are fatigue, dizziness, pale complexion and listlessness.

Thick blood is thought to be due to the presence of toxins and waste in the blood which makes it more viscous; this is viewed to be a source of sickness if left untreated. Heat intolerance, obesity and sluggishness are symptoms of thick blood.

A person who is cold-natured, frail, and slow to heal is thought to have thin blood, which is watery and lacks vital properties.

These four blood states express seasonal variation just like the sap in trees. During the winter, blood becomes thicker and lower because of the cold weather and a more sedentary lifestyle. A poor diet of canned and dried food in the winter also contributed to this change in blood state.

Springtime blood tonics help the sluggish blood rise like sap in trees in preparation for the hard work to be done in the growing season. Sulfur and molasses is just one of the options; there are lots of regional variations on the spring tonic formula throughout Appalachia, depending on availability of particular roots and herbs and also on local traditions and preferences.


sources: ‘Spring Tonics and Appalachian Herbals,’ by Lee Barnes, Ph.D., Appalachian Voices, Friday, April 20th, 2007


spring+tonics sulfur+and+molasses blood+tonics appalachia appalachian+history history+of+appalachia


Feature film ‘Coal Dust’ gets underway

Posted by | March 3, 2015

Please welcome guest author/film director Laura Smith. Smith got her bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from Eastern Kentucky University and continued on to UCLA to study screenwriting. “I learned most of the technical aspects of film by working on my own short film projects and by working crew on a feature film,” she says. “In addition, I have written 4 full length screenplays.” She’s currently starting production on her first feature film, ‘Coal Dust.’


As I reflect upon growing up in the Appalachian foothills, I consider my family, neighbors and community. I realize I come from a long line of builders. I don’t mean those who build houses, churches and businesses, although they were surely there. I refer to those who make things and seek to improve things. Those people who create.

zara jones directing shot

My ancestors were some of the earliest settlers of Tennessee and Kentucky. They forged trails through what was then the wilderness, they settled the wild frontier, and they built towns, houses, the roads. They built the businesses people needed to survive. They saw a need, and they thought about what they could build or create to fill it.

My family was not the only one who pursued this creation. Entire communities would get together to raise barns, churches and houses when there was a need. Ladies got together in sewing circles and made quilt pieces and patterns out of worn and outgrown clothing. Hardly, anything was left to waste because they could make something new from it. Something helpful, something practical. They could fulfill a need for something.

While some traditions such as barn raising and sewing circles were dying out as I grew up, I always heard the stories and saw the outcome of what happened when people got together to create things. Churches and houses are still standing. Roads are still traveled, and many of those quilts are still around to keep me warm on a cold winter’s night. Not only did they build and create things. They made things that lasted.

As I have witnessed the decrease in coal production over the years, and I have watched businesses decline and disappear, I’ve found myself wondering what our communities would make and how they would proceed. What would they build?

In recent years, the communities seem to have spoken because I am seeing an increase in beautification, and a quest for tourism. It seems Appalachia is ready to open its doors for visitors and share what our families have built over all these years.

As I await the unfolding next chapter in Appalachia’s story, I paused to ponder where we’ve been, where we are going and what we must do to get there. I ask myself, “What can I create? What can I build?”

My narrative film Coal Dust depicts a modern lobbyist who is called home to see her family. She reflects on her town and family’s history with coal mines, as she helps her family. She sees her hometown’s own attempts to promote tourism and bring in new forms of revenue as the so-called “war on coal” rages in the nation’s capital.

While this is a work of fiction, it is set around modern topics affecting central Appalachia and the debate about coal and other natural resources in this country. This film is set in eastern Kentucky and shows the way of life as we’ve come to know it.

My lead character is loosely based on my experiences as someone who grew up in the region, went to college and left the area to pursue her career. She adapted to life outside the area and held on to her roots to be of benefit to her culture and her world.

It is my intention to break media stereotypes of the region by showing the earnest work of modern Appalachians, and inform the country of our efforts to survive and maintain our way of life in keeping with our inherent cultural values.

I grew up in southeastern Kentucky in the small town of Manchester. I studied psychology at Berea College and was subjected to many courses in Appalachian studies. While there, I began to make the correlation between life as I knew it and scholarly observations of the people of the region. I learned to view myself as both an individual and a member of the community.

When asked about my influences, I’m fond of saying “I’m a Spielberg/Capra kinda girl.” In truth, my greatest influences will always be the oral tradition of Appalachian storytelling. I grew up hearing yarns spun by the greatest storytellers of all time. My challenge to myself has been to mold those oral traditions into visual storytelling in a film medium. I believe this film will show the success of that.

To learn more about the film Coal Dust, please visit or like our Facebook page at


George W. Christians, American fascist

Posted by | March 2, 2015

It is the privileged role of the Art Smiths, the William Pelleys, and the George Christians to lay only the cornerstone of fascism. It is in their rudimentary organizations that the petty bourgeoisie receives its first elementary schooling in dictatorship. It is from the Smiths and the Pelleys that it learns to scrap its democratic scruples, to hate the Jew as the Mephistopheles responsible for depressions and to detest the Communist as the companion creation of the Devil.

It is in their lecture rooms that the small shopkeeper and the petty officers avidly absorb the bombastic emotional rantings of the would be American Hitlers who intoxicate their listeners with glorious hallucinations of the past and still more glorious visions of the future under the aegis of fascism. Religious animosity is of course, stressed more than anything else.
–Class Struggle, Vol 4, No 3 March 1934 (

Tennessean George W. Christians, chief officer of the fascist Crusader White Shirts, was an odd combination of comedian and sinister revolutionist. “Does our Commander in Chief have ideas,” he asked, “or is he just the world’s greatest humbug?” In another handbill, Christians wrote of the president: “Some neck—for a rope.” He was characterized by one-time Roosevelt braintruster Raymond Moley as a ‘harmless lunatic.’

George W. Christians (White Shirts)

George W. Christians (White Shirts). Photo courtesy Saturday Evening Post

“The Crusader White Shirts,” Christians stated, “known as the American Fascists, is a military auxiliary of the Crusaders for Economic Liberty [CFEL]…. It embraces the Fascist idea of personal leadership, unity, force, drama and nationalism.”

Christians once issued orders to seize control of the government: “The first- objective should be to take control of the local government in the following manner: March in military formation to and surround the government buildings. Then, by sheer numbers and a patriotic appeal, force the officials to accept and act under the direction of an economic adviser appointed by the President of the CFEL.”

One night when FDR was scheduled to arrive in Chattanooga, TN, Christians threatened to cut off the city’s electric power and warned grimly, “Lots of things can happen in the dark!” Followers took this as a veiled reference to consider lynching Roosevelt.

American Liberty League logoThis protege of the American Liberty League was from then on kept under surveillance by the Secret Service. On March 27, 1942, Christians and Rudolph Fahl, onetime physical-education instructor at a Denver high school, were arrested for disseminating material that could demoralize the army. Christians was accused of violating the Smith Act by “communicating to soldiers statements designed to impair their morale.”

In early April, five more seditionists were arrested. Meantime Christians, held in Chattanooga under $10,000 bond, said, “I consider myself a political prisoner rather than a criminal and should get better treatment.” The President took pride in the operation during his “Fireside Chat” late in April: “this great war effort . . . must not be impeded by a few bogus patriots who use the sacred freedom of the press to echo the sentiments of the propagandists in Tokyo and Berlin.” All of those from the March-April group were convicted by the end of the summer of 1942, except Fahl.


Time magazine, Monday, Apr. 13, 1942 “Milquetoast Gets Muscles”
Time magazine, sidebar, Monday, May. 11, 1942
Free speech in the good war by Richard W. Steele, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999
‘Star-Spangled Fascists,’ by Jeff Nilsson, Saturday Evening Post, March 10, 2012,

George+W.+Christians Crusader+White+Shirts American+fascists Chattanooga+TN appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history


Grandma Gatewood documentary premiers May 29

Posted by | February 27, 2015

bettePlease welcome guest author Bette Lou Higgins. Higgins is a founder and current Artistic Director of Eden Valley Enterprises, where she helps spread the “Ohio Gospel” through an assortment of living history programs. These programs, designed to make the history of Ohio meaningful and alive for adults and children of all ages, have been created for such Ohio organizations as the Steamship William G. Mather Museum, Western Reserve Historical Society, The Tuscarawas Historical Society and the Great Lakes Historical Society.


When I first wrote about Eden Valley’s Grandma Gatewood project for Appalachian History in 2013, we were at the half-way point of our trail to tell her life story. Essentially it was the equivalent of hiking from Georgia to the AT museum in Gardner’s, PA. Unlike hikers who reach that point, we didn’t know we were half-way there!

Anne McEvoy as Emma (filming session July, 2014)

Anne McEvoy as Emma (filming session July, 2014)


But now, in just a couple of months, we’ll be premiering our Grandma Gatewood Documentary, TRAIL MAGIC, on May 29, 2015 at TrueNorth Cultural Arts in Sheffield Village, Ohio. The premier festivities will begin on Thursday, May 28 at 7p.m. with a special presentation of our storytelling program, GRANDMA GATEWOOD: OHIO’S HISTORIC HIKER, sponsored by the National Storytelling Network and Parkhurst Brothers, Inc. The red carpet goes out Friday at 7 p.m. with a showing of the documentary (sponsored by the Ohio History Fund), a meet and greet and a wine & cheese fundraising reception. I hope you can join us!

In the last two years A LOT has happened!

1. Our one-act play about Emma, TRAIL MAGIC, premiered at TrueNorth and then a new production of the play was produced at Wandering Aesthetics in Akron in November, 2014. Like the TrueNorth production, it ran to sold-out houses and garnered much praise!
2. Ruth Brown of the Buckeye Trail Association saw the Akron production and lobbied for a smaller version to be presented at their TrailFest on May 15, 2015. Grandma Gatewood was one of the founders of the Buckeye Trail, so this will truly be a special presentation. On May 16, I’ll be talking to the group about how this project developed since 2009. I hope you can join us there!
3. Of course, we’ve had a number of presentations of our storytelling program, GRANDMA GATEWOOD: OHIO’S LEGENDARY HIKER over the last few years and several more are coming up.
4. We’ve continued our campaign to raise funds to create the documentary. As of this writing we have met about 50% of our goal.
5. Most importantly, we’ve continued to film the documentary with Anne McEvoy playing Emma and adding more interviews of family, friends, historians and others connected with the Trail.

The film crew from filming at Lyme Village, July, 2014: left - right:  Anne McEvoy (Emma), Peter Huston (Director/videographer), Tom Whaley, (camera man), Kaleb Grine (seated -- intern), Ray Parker (Lyme Village Site Director)

The film crew from filming at Lyme Village, July, 2014. Left – right: Anne McEvoy (Emma), Peter Huston (Director/videographer), Tom Whaley, (camera man), Kaleb Grine (seated — intern), Ray Parker (Lyme Village Site Director)


This May will mark the 60th anniversary of Emma’s record-setting hike. Our documentary will come out just in time to begin the celebration and hopefully introduce this feisty female to a larger audience! In the meantime – let’s all take a hike in Grandma Gatewood’s honor!

You can find complete information about Emma and our project on our website.

Both the storytelling program and the one-act play are available for presentation for other groups. The play is also available for other theatres to present. You may contact me for information about bringing this program to your group.



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