Book Review: ‘Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore’

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 11, 2014

Lynette Ford. Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore. Parkhurst Brothers: Marion, MI. 2014. Print.

Joshua Erni-SalmansPlease welcome guest reviewer Joshua Salmans. Salmans has lived in the Upstate of South Carolina for 17 years. He’s a quirky, librarian type who feels comfortable in the foothills of Appalachia, but has found adventure traveling and being a cultural exchange agent in this little blueberry of a planet. Currently, he has returned to Greenville to teach Adult Basic Education courses and contribute to Appalachianhistory.net and The Dictionary of Literary Biography.

 

If you’re like me, you are probably tired of the recent inundation of political attack ads on TV featuring politicians who did or didn’t vote for this or that. November during an election year often betrays the chasms of polarizing political thought that we usually keep tucked away —at least at the dinner table. My mom used to say that if you wanted to have a happy family, it doesn’t behoove you to talk about religion, politics or love. Sometimes, my mom’s insight makes me wonder whose idea it was to have elections so near to the holidays.

beyond the briar patch

Lyn Ford, a nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller, has a remedy to transcend such rifts between us. Through African-influenced stories and folktales from Appalachia, she reminds us of our common humanity: for “when [we] share one another’s stories, [we] can’t stay enemies.” (1) Ford recently published her second book of tales, Beyond the Briar Patch, in which she intimately retells her own interpretations of what she refers to as ‘home-fried’ tales from her childhood.

Home-fried tales are organic, from the grit of our familial habitation: “from childhood summers shared with storytelling with my father…and my maternal grandfather, Pop-Pop[s]…and bedtime-story readings with my mother….” They are stewed in the pot of hardscrabble living—its humor, its wit, its cleverness, its lessons, its trickeries and its sophistications. Home-fried tales are from the thorny briar patch, the dense and tangled thicket of life many are born into. These tales are informed from all aspects of culture: life, history, racial tensions, romance, music, food, laughter, death and so much more. Most importantly, they are universal tales with full-bodied flavors that all of us are familiar with no matter where we call home.

This spirit of universality, however, does not detract from Ford’s sly ability to blend broad readability with sprinkles of Appalachian vernacular like wampus, clabbered, slumgullion, slew, seransifyin’, and piddlin’—words that will revive nostalgic memories of papaw and nana’s porch stories, yet appeal to the curiosity of those new to Appalachian/Affrilachian culture. Her clever and delicate balance between these two aspects allows her stories to betray the earthy sophistication and intelligence of their origins. Not to worry, she includes a glossary for those of us who might not be familiar with some of her terms’ use and application.

Each tale in Beyond the Briar Patch has truths in it, but be aware that “some [are] true, some almost true, [and] some purely fiction (about which my Pop-pops said, ‘If it ain’t true, it should be’).” Ford encourages her readers to decide for themselves which of her tales are true, partly true, or just plain made up. Like her Pop-Pops insists, there is more to these tales than the mere historical account. Made-up stories originate from common truths that are learned just from livin’ on this blueberry planet—our briar patch.

With a conviction that storytelling should be a shared family experience, Ford selects stories for children and adults. She wastes no time in sweeping us off into an adventure in the first section of critter tales, replete with heroic trickery. Before you know it, we’re in the briar patch with the rabbit from whom the bear could learn a thing or two. But lest the rabbit’s head should get too large, the turtles have their own lesson to teach the rabbit, if only the rabbit would slow down a little to notice details. The lazy monkey thinks he can keep taking advantage of papa turtle, but community turns out to a greater force to be reckoned with.

That inclination towards fantasy doesn’t mean that Ford retreats from some of the harsh realities of our socio-cultural history. In this volume, she includes several candid narratives of slave John as well as some others from the 1800s.(2) For these characters, their situations are grim and authentic; however, their cleverness, humor and wit are noteworthy examples of the tenacity of the human spirit. Though her selections possess serious and poignant elements, they also demonstrate how clever wit or cathartic humor can elicit, even between the oppressed and the oppressor, lucid moments of shared humanity.

For those who enjoy spooks and haints, Ford’s last section features a clever blacksmith who might have a few tricks up his sleeve when dealing with the Devil, a war veteran whose mother sends him on a journey to regain his fear, and a young man looking for work who finds more than he bargained for when he agrees to work a haunted field for a farmer. While not the most frightening of stories, these three selections are humorous reminders of the universality of humanity’s sojourn on this planet.

Sharing is Ford’s most valuable ingredient in her recipe for healing humanity’s ills with one another. Her home-fried stories warmly resonate with the human spirit on a multi-cultural and universal level. Our political institutions may still continue to exude the darker side of human interactions during election cycles, but Ford’s stories gently guide us back to our more primal connections with each other. Truly, when we share our stories—along with grandma’s scrumptious corn fritters—fearful animosity fades away and we realize we’re cookin’ in the same kitchen.

 

1 I recently came across a video that featured Ford telling a story at the St. Louis Festival in 2011. I wanted to pass this along to my readers as I found it the night of the elections—I loved how the video countered all the negative feelings being spewed out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-M6KRj4ceo

2 Be sure to check out Ford’s Q&A section in the back of the book, especially if you’re in a small book club. She talks about her decision to put children and adult stories in the same volume, select stories that have overt socio-cultural narratives, and many more insights into the development of the book.

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Saving the Himler House

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 10, 2014

Please welcome guest author Cathy Cassady Corbin. Corbin is the editor and agent for Martin Himler’s autobiography which will be published in 2015. Corbin also is a member of the Martin County, KY Historical and Genealogical Society and of the Society’s Himler Project Committee.

 

Martin Himler is known internationally for his 1919 founding of the Himler Coal Company, a coal company owned by Hungarian miners and structured on a unique co-operative business model that allowed the miners to be stockholders of the company and own their homes in the town of Himlerville (now Beauty), KY. The Hungarian immigrant coal mining entrepreneur arrived in America via the SS Carpathia on May 7, 1907, with 9¢ in his pocket and two goals in his mind. Mr. Himler was only eighteen years old when he stepped onto American soil, but he already knew that he wanted to fulfill his goals of making a living in America’s free enterprise system and serving America to the best of his capabilities.

Martin Himler in a miner’s cap explaining the $1,000 insurance policies being distributed among the workmen. Eugen Lang, the secretary, may be seen in this photo behind and on the left hand of Mr. Himler, policies in hand. Nearly every other man is a coal-miner-stockholder. From 1921 Coal Age article.<sup>2</sup>

Martin Himler in a miner’s cap explaining the $1,000 insurance policies being distributed among the workmen. Eugene Lang, the secretary, may be seen in this photo behind and on the left hand of Mr. Himler, policies in hand. Nearly every other man is a coal-miner stockholder. From 1921 Coal Age article.1

 

Mr. Himler’s first job in America was working as a coal miner in Thacker Mines, Thacker, WV. He also worked in the Iselin, PA coal mines. Mr. Himler later worked as a peddler to coal mining towns, and his entrepreneurial spirit further led him to begin his journalism career with the publication of Magyar Banyaszlap, Hungarian Miners’ Journal, a weekly newspaper published, as Mr. Himler said, “for miners by miners”.

Many Hungarian immigrants worked in American coal mines, and Mr. Himler saw a need for these miners to receive news from both America and Hungary, along with information about job openings and American citizenship. Mr. Himler penned the first issue of Magyar Banyaszlap while he was waiting for his peddling customers at a Holden,WV mine. Magyar Banyaszlap was self-supporting within five months and soon had a following of 60,000 miners. Some of the issues of Magyar Banyaszlap were published in both Hungarian and English, and the success of Magyar Banyaszlap inspired Mr. Himler’s life-long career in journalism.

The residents of Himlerville were primarily Hungarian immigrants who came to America to live and work. By 1922, there were 100 miners’ homes in Himlerville, and 1,000 Himlerville residents. Mr. Himler’s home and the home of Eugene Lang, Treasurer and Secretary of Himler Coal Company, were located in the town of Himlerville, and the town also is reported to have contained a company store, a theatre/opera house, a school, the Himler State Bank, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, a powerhouse, a round house for locomotive maintenance, a building for community gatherings, the Himler Coal Company and Magyar Banyaszlap Office, and a community park in the middle of town. The Himlerville community had its own culture, its own way of life and prosperity, and according to the July 28, 1976, edition of The Martin Countian , “… the people who were a part of Himlerville surely have a lot to be proud of. Himlerville will go down in Martin County history as a strong force in helping shape the county’s future.”

Rear view of Martin Himler house as it appears today.

Rear view of Martin Himler house as it appears today.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Himlerville was the beautiful home of Martin Himler, which sat atop a hill overlooking the town. With its imposing columns and homely veranda, the two-story building was magnificent in every way. Similar in construction to a barn, the unique style of the house comes from two forms of architecture: Dutch Colonial and Craftsman. The roof has a gambrel roof, but no flaring eaves (another Dutch Colonial distinction). Instead, the eaves resemble a Bungalow or Craftsman style of architecture. This type of architecture can be categorized by overhanging eaves, double-hung windows, and a front porch beneath the extension of the main roof. Located on Mansion Hill, Himler’s estate captured attentions and commanded a strong presence over the town and its inhabitants. 2

The beautiful and welcoming home of Martin Himler was a center of social activity in Himlerville. Miners gathered at the home in the evenings, guests from throughout America were hosted at the home, and community dinners and activities often were centered in Mr. Himler’s home. One of the Himlerville residents, a young Hungarian woman named Mary Domosley Koblass, shared her memories of Mr. Himler’s home in the July 28, 1976, edition of The Martin Countian.

Mary began her description of a banquet held at the Himler home to honor a Martin County physician, Dr. Stepp, by saying that guests arriving at Mr. Himler’s home had to climb over one hundred concrete steps to reach the home. Mary explained that the steps had a double purpose of both stimulating guests’ appetites AND loosening the accumulated mud on guests’ shoes. The dinner guests arriving to honor Dr. Stepp were greeted on the front porch by Mr. Himler and his nephew, Mr. Andrew Fisher.

The guests included coal buyers and journalists; even the famous New York Hungarian journalist and screen writer Illona Fulop was a guest. Guests cleaned their shoes, then were led to either the large combination sun parlor and library where a fireplace was heaped with Himlerville coal on cool evenings, or to the more luxurious parlor known as the Blue Room. Mary said that the conversation at the dinner table was focused on only pleasant and humorous topics; shop talk was purposely avoided.

This is a picture of the first wedding in Himlerville; the wedding took place in 1925. Mary Koblass said,

This is a picture of the first wedding in Himlerville; the wedding took place in 1925. Mary Koblass said, “The affair was more formal than any that had been witnessed in Martin Co. up to that time.” Mr. Himler is standing on the right. This is the only Himlerville wedding ceremony in which Mr. Himler is pictured.

 

When the delicious feast in honor of Dr. Stepp had ended, Dr. Stepp was driven to his home at Kermit, WV, via a Model T Ford. Mary further explained that the overnight guests were shown to their upstairs bedrooms, each room with a private lavatory, and Mr. Fisher bid everyone a pleasant good night and God’s blessing. Mary’s words to summarize her memories of life at Mr. Himler’s home are: “Such was the social life in the Himler residence. I am sure that any guest that was fortunate enough to be invited there treasured the occasion for a lifetime!”

Many Martin Countians remember the story which says that Mr. Himler took the money from Himlerville and escaped with the money into the darkness of a June, 1928, night, never to be seen or heard from again. However, the story is only a story. The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society wishes to dispel this myth. Facts are that Himlerville went into receivership with a Cincinnati Bank in 1925 as a result of three factors: the unexpected expense of the Himler Coal Company Railroad Bridge, the one- inch seam of slate that was found in the Himlerville coal and that soon became a nine- foot seam of slate, and the decreased demand for coal following World War I. Himlerville Coal Company filed for bankruptcy because the company could not produce and sell enough coal to keep the company financially stable. All of the Himlerville Coal Company stockholders lost money, but Mr. Himler lost the most because he owned more shares of the company than other stockholders.

The Hungarians had hopes of opening another mine at Himlerville, but Nature intervened. Himlerville almost was washed away by the raging waters of Buck Creek on June 28,1928, and Mr. Himler said that he considered the flood to be a sign from God that the prosperous Himler Coal Company days were finished. The flood’s devastation sent most of the Hungarians to work in mines in WV.

Martin Himler shown wearing his US military uniform, with front of the house. Montage by Brandon Young.

Martin Himler shown wearing his US military uniform, with front of the house. Montage by Brandon Young.

The judge at the Himlerville bankruptcy hearing declared that the bankruptcy was the “cleanest” bankruptcy that he had seen, and the $1, 250,000.00 of Himler Coal Company assets were sold for $50,000.00. When Mr. Himler left Himlerville, he went to the Mayo Clinic to seek treatment for a lesion in his mouth that was thought to be malignant. Mr. Himler had $4.00 when he arrived at Mayo Clinic from Himlerville, and he had to contact friends and relatives to ask for financial support.

Martin Himler’s work in America was far from finished when the prosperous and happy Himlerville community came to an end. Mr. Himler continued his journalism career, and he fulfilled his goal to serve America when he became Colonel Martin Himler, Office of Strategic Services (now CIA), United States of America. Mr. Himler served America and the world when he became the interrogator of Nazi war criminals in Europe and decided the fate of the criminals whom Mr. Himler referred to as “the cringing beasts before me”.

The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society initiated the Himler Project in June, 2014, with the mission of restoring and preserving an Appalachian historic site important not only to Appalachian history, but to American and world history as well. The Society needs the creative ideas, the volunteer help, and the financial help of Appalachian History readers to ensure the success of the Himler Project!

The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society believes that a restoration of Mr. Himler’s home is imperative to preserve the Hungarian immigrant culture of Himlerville and Appalachia, and the Society’s vision for the restored home is to maintain the home as a center for Hungarian immigrant culture and coal mining history. The restoration of Mr. Himler’s home and the preservation of the remaining Himlerville structures and the Himlerville Cemetery may lead to the designation of Mr. Himler’s home as a national landmark. The Society doesn’t want to miss the historic and economic opportunity to have a national landmark in eastern Kentucky.

The Society is grateful to Dave Tabler for sharing information about the Himler Project with all of you, and more Himler Project information will be coming when a restoration contractor has been selected and a restoration fundraising goal has been set. If you have ideas for the Himler Project or would like to volunteer to help with the Project, please contact Tom and Cathy Corbin at tomcorbin@hotmail.com.

The Himler Project needs the support of all of us living in Appalachia and of everyone who loves Appalachian history. Please visit the Save The Himler House Facebook Page, the @himlerhouse Twitter Page, and  The Himler Project website. The Himler Project is looking forward to hearing from Appalachian History readers!

Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society members displaying posters that were made by middle school students in Martin County. L - R: Dwayne Sweeney,  Evelynn Cassady, President of the Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society, and Dena James.

Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society members displaying posters that were made by middle school students in Martin County. L – R: Dwayne Sweeney, Evelynn Cassady, President of the Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society, and Dena James.

 

1 Hungarians Successfully Conduct Co-operative Mine in Kentucky, by J.R. Haworth, Coal Age, Vol. 20, No. 11, September 15, 1921, p. 413.

2 Martin County Historical and Genealogical Society. A Pictorial History of Martin County, Kentucky. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.

4 Responses

  • shannon mollette-johnson says:

    I would just like to say how wonderful I think what you guys are doing is. I no longer live in martin county but I was born and raised there. I never knew the Himler house story.As a child I was always told the false story and that the old house was haunted by workers who lost all their money.So I am grateful for not only the truth but the knowledge of a proud time in martin county which will be kept alive because of you. Thank you for doing this.

  • Cathy Cassady Corbin says:

    Shannon, Thank you for your encouraging message! The Himler history is so important to Martin County and to America, and the Martin County Historical and Genealogical Society is trying to keep the Himler history ALIVE!

  • Lisa Bodo Saunders says:

    My Father, Victor Bill Bodo, a full Hungarian was sure that I knew of Mr. Himler and Beauty / Himlerville, KY before he died May of 2014. My Grandfather, John Bodo was a coal miner in the Holden 22 mine in West Virginia. Patricia Bodo Sazy is my Aunt and contributes ideas to the Himler House Project. What a wonderful way to capture a very special, but long gone moment in time. It most certainly is important to America and all with a Hungarian heritage.

  • Cathy Cassady Corbin says:

    Hi, Lisa, Your Aunt Pat has not only given the Himler Project some terrific ideas, but she also has shared important Hungarian heritage information with us. Thank you, Lisa!

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Mortimer & Edgemont, NC – a Backroads Tour via ‘The Mountain Laurel’

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 7, 2014

Bob HeafnerPlease welcome guest author Bob Heafner. Heafner is the publisher of The Mountain Laurel, which has been collecting and printing the lore, history, culture, and happenings of the Blue Ridge Mountain community since Bob and Charlotte Heafner and Susan Thigpen set up shop with an electronic typewriter in a rented farmhouse in March 1983. Heafner recently reviewed the route of one his 1984 Backroads Tours, in Mortimer & Edgemont, NC [article reprinted below]. “This tour, like all our tours,” he tells us, “is what we saw and who we talked to at that time. No doubt the area has changed, but we hope the reader can journey with us along the route and back in time to see what we saw back then. Unlike historians, we simply relied on the oral histories of old folks who had lived through the events they described.” Last year Heafner lent his collection of The Mountain Laurel to the Library of Virginia so it could be preserved on microfilm. Issues for March 1983 through Winter 1995 are available on Film 2025A. The Mountain Laurel maintains a website for the journal with many transcribed articles available and they are still accepting submissions of readers’ stories. Please visit the site for more of these wonderful stories.

 

As a teenager, in the early 1960’s, I spent a week deer hunting in Pisgah National Forest. My base camp was the tiny mountain community of Edgemont, North Carolina, which is located about 25 miles north of Morganton, North Carolina. Edgemont consisted primarily of Mr. Coffey’s Store. It was an old timey general store with everything from hoop cheese to kerosene lanterns. I remember the place had the smell of a fresh oiled gun. In those days, it seemed to me as if it were straight out of the pages of “Field and Stream” magazine.

An early issue of 'The Mountain Laurel' from August 1983.

An early issue of ‘The Mountain Laurel’ from August 1983.

The store was situated in a narrow mountain valley and was separated from a 20 foot wide trout stream by only the narrow gravel road. High ridges rose on both sides of the valley. It was a truly picturesque place.

One morning I had come out of the woods about 11:00 and headed to Mr. Coffey’s in my car for lunch. I passed an old fellow walking and offered him a ride. He accepted my invitation, climbed in the car and immediately began pointing out the sites of long disappeared homes and businesses. At one spot he announced, “This here’s Mortimer.” The few old deserted and dilapidated buildings that I had passed without thought were once Mortimer, North Carolina.

There was no trace of a railroad then but my new found friend informed me, “That building over there was the depot and that one over there was the hotel.” Tall weeds and underbrush almost completely hid the buildings then, but not from the old man’s memories. He told how there used to be a cotton mill and sure enough, as he pointed, I saw concrete walls standing in the woods. The outline of the buildings could easily be seen and all the walls were intact but there were no windows, roof, door and even the area within the walls was now covered with a growth of large trees.

My first reaction was, “What happened?” The old man informed me that in 1940, a tremendous flood had rocketed through the narrow valleys, sweeping away homes and businesses, including the cotton mill. Families had little notice to head for high ground and lives were lost. As the old man talked to me that cold November morning, I could see the towns of Mortimer and Edgemont, North Carolina as they were in his memories. I could smell the sweat of the two mules that pulled the wagon “by this very spot” the morning a feuding neighbor took a drunken shot at him and thankfully missed. My drive to Coffey’s Store that morning took longer than usual but it was well worth the extra time.

On later drives by the places he had pointed out, I could imagine the log cabin that “stood right over there” and the hustle and bustle that must have accompanied the mill in its heyday. No longer were the areas just pretty, but now they were fascinating places where imagination was ignited like dynamite. In the space of a thirty minute drive, I had “seen” over half a century. Sadly, I cannot remember the old man’s name, but thankfully, I will never forget his stories.

Photograph of Mortimer, North Carolina taken in 1929. It shows Wilson' s Creek, the railroad, and mill company housing. The big white houses on far right were boarding houses. The railroad depot is in curve of railroad. See mile 20.7.

Photograph of Mortimer, North Carolina taken in 1929. It shows Wilson’ s Creek, the railroad, and mill company housing. The big white houses on far right were boarding houses. The railroad depot is in curve of railroad. See mile 20.7.

This month our BACKROADS tour will go to Edgemont and Mortimer, North Carolina. We’ll visit Mr. Coffey’s Store and witness some of natures most rugged and spectacular mountain beauty. There are white water rivers rushing through gorges filled with boulders the size of houses and high mountain vistas all to be seen and enjoyed along our route. Take a picnic basket and a camera. It’s the kind of place you’ll want to linger and show your friends later.

Our entire tour will cover a total distance of 59.4 miles and you should allow at least four unhurried hours to complete this scenic drive.
BACKROADS tours always make a complete loop back to the point where we started. The underlined numbers at the beginning of each paragraph indicate the total number of miles we’ve traveled from our point of beginning. The numbers in parenthesis ( ) indicate the distance from the last point of interest that we passed.

00.0 (0.0) If you are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway, exit at milepost 291.9 onto US 321 and 221 and proceed into Blowing Rock. The Blowing Rock Town Hall at 1036 Main St, will be on our right and we will start our mileage reading here as we head south on Main Street from this point. Main Street is also US 321 Business.

00.2 (0.2) The beautiful rock church on our right is the Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church.

00.3 (0.1) Turn right onto State Road 1537 (Globe Road). This is the second road to the right past the church.

00.4 (0.1) Pavement ends here.

04.4 (4.0) There is an old mountain cemetery on our left.

05.8 (1.4) Here we bear to the left on state road 1367 continuing towards Globe, North Carolina.

05.9 (0.1) Here we cross a bridge spanning a beautiful stream.

06.6 (0.7) A beautiful old farm house is on our right.

07.4 (0.8) John’s River is on our left. This area is dotted with Christmas tree farms and they are beautiful, standing cone shaped and straight, row after row and field after field.

08.1 (0.7) Silver Wings Campground is on our left.

08.4 (0.3) At this stop sign, we are directly across from the Globe Baptist Church. We will turn left onto state road 1362.

Archie Coffey's General Store in Edgemont, North Carolina. See mile 17.6.

Archie Coffey’s General Store in Edgemont, North Carolina.
See mile 17.6.

08.7 (0.3) Here we cross another bridge over the river.

09.3 (0.6) At this point, we turn right onto state road 90.

09.5 (0.2) Here we cross a one lane steel bridge over beautiful John’s River.

12.0 (2.5) We continue straight ahead on state road 90.

15.5 (3.5) Mortimer Station Offices of Pisgah National Forest is on our right.

15.6 (0.1) A beautiful picnic area is on our right and the river is on our left.

16.4 (0.8) As we cross this bridge, the view of John’s River is spectacularly beautiful.

17.5 (1.1) Up the narrow shaded lane to our right is the picturesque Edgemont Baptist Church.

17.6 (0.1) This is Edgemont, North Carolina and Mr. Coffey’s General Store is on our left.

We will stop here for a while before heading back the way we came. More than likely Archie Coffey will be sitting on the bench in front of his store when you arrive and a neighborly smile and a “How do you do,” undoubtedly will greet you as you walk up the steps to the store. Mr. Coffey has operated this store for 48 years. 38 1/2 of which, he was postmaster of Edgemont. The old Post Office window is still in the rear of the store, although it is no longer a post office. The store is filled to the brim with antiques which are not for sale, but Mr. Coffey obviously enjoys explaining the uses and history of the various items. On three separate occasions, the floorboards of this store have been under flood water – in 1895, 1916 and again in 1940.

Mr. Coffey recalls August 13, 1940 as, “A day I’ll never forget.” It had rained all night and morning brought no relief. Wilson creek in front of the store was getting dangerously high, so Archie and Mrs. Coffey opened the front and back doors of the store, hoping the raging waters would pass through rather than carry the building away, and started climbing Jonas Ridge, which rises almost vertically behind the store, on their way to higher ground. As they climbed, rain was coming in torrents and although they were close enough to touch, they could barely hear each other speak over the roar of crashing boulders being washed downstream in the normally small mountain stream nearly a half a mile away. Boulders the size of house were washed away never to be seen again.

On top of the ridge they met up with 15 of their neighbors and there the small band, all relieved to find each other alive, huddled together and prayed for the safety of their neighbors who lived across the creek and for their homes and belongings which surely would not last out the day.

From their vantage point on Jonas Ridge, they could see entire houses being washed downstream. As Mr. Coffey described the events of August 13, 1940, it was easy to understand why that was a day he’ll never forget.

When you enter Coffey’s General Store and shake the hand of Archie Coffey, do so with the knowledge that here is a man that typifies mountain people everywhere; a person who has faced hardships and danger without losing faith; a person who has endured the changes of time and natural disasters only to become stronger in character and in faith. Archie Coffey is a mountain man and nothing, not economic hard times or natural disasters can separate him from his mountain home and way of life.

When you are ready to leave Coffey’s General Store, we will head back the way we came, toward the Mortimer Station of Pisgah National Forest.

[Update 2014 – Unfortunately Mr. Coffey has passed away, I wish you could have met him. He was a genuinely nice old mountain gentleman.]

19.9 (2.3) Turn right onto state road 1328 (Brown Mountain Beach Road).

20.3 (0.4) To your right is evidence of where the railroad once crossed Wilson Creek.

20.6 (0.3) Here we cross a low water bridge across Wilson Creek.

20.7 (0.1) In the woods on our left are the walls of the old United Milling Company Mill. For the next tenth of a mile, evidence of the last remnants of Mortimer, North Carolina can be seen.

Mortimer was primarily a lumber camp town with over 600 residents in 1929. The “crash of ‘29” brought an end to its heyday and by 1930 the entire town was closed down. By 1933, only three people were left. Along about then, Mr. O.P. Lutz of Lenoir, North Carolina, bought the entire town and a thousand acres of the surrounding mountains. He reopened the old mill with a plan to manufacture nylon hosiery, which were the new and coming rage at the time. Six machines were ordered from Germany and each one came packed in boxes containing over 30,000 pieces. Machinists from Germany came with the machines to assemble them and begin production of samples. The plant was only in operation for 6 or 7 days when the flood of 1940 completely destroyed Mr. Lutz dream and Mortimer’s hopes of revival as a manufacturing center.

Today the heirs of O.P. Lutz still own the property, but the signs of Mortimer, like the house size boulders, are washed away in the stream of time.

21.9 (1.2) Here we cross a one lane bridge.

24.0 (2.1) At this point we bear to the left over a one lane bridge. The upcoming views are magnificent.

27.7 (3.7) Entrance to Brown Mountain Beach Store and Campground is on our right. Pavement begins here.

28.5 (0.8) Turn left onto state road 1335 at this stop sign.

31.7 (3.2) At this stop sign, we are in Collettesville, North Carolina and here we turn right onto state road 90.

39.5 (7.8) At this stop sign, state road 1352 turns left but we will turn right and continue on state road 90.

40.4 (0.9) Enter Lenoir, North Carolina city limits.

40.8 (0.4) Turn left onto 321-A North and cross a bridge.

41.1 (0.3) Turn left at this stop light onto 321 North towards Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

57.4 (16.3) Entering the town limits of Blowing Rock.

58.3 (0.9) Turn left onto 321 Business Route (Main Street of Blowing Rock).

59.4 (1.1) We are back at our point of beginning at 1036 Main St, Blowing Rock, NC and the Blowing Rock Town Hall is on our left.

I hope you enjoyed this tour as much as we did. For me, it was a ride down memory lane, for the rest of the family it was a day of, “Isn’t that beautiful,” and “Look over there,” and for each of us it was a day of fun. Billy got to ride on Tweetsie Railroad while we were in the area. (To tell you the truth, he wasn’t the only one who enjoyed that. It was my first train ride too!) Have fun!

 

© Bob Heafner / The Mountain Laurel 1983 – 2014

One Response

  • Parks Lanier says:

    Great piece. I have been to Mortimer. I even used to contribute to The Mountain Laurel “back in the day,” as my students would say.

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Book Review: “Buttermilk and Bible Burgers”

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 6, 2014

lisa king dolloffPlease welcome guest writer Lisa King Dolloff. Dolloff, a journalist at Communities Digital News, was born and educated in Southwest Virginia (Emory & Henry). She traveled with her job all over America in her twenties and early thirties, then came back to the mountains to raise her daughter. “I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town,” she says. “I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.”

 

In Buttermilk and Bible Burgers, Fred Sauceman’s latest book about the art of Appalachian cooking, he has once again demonstrated his ability to capture the essence of the people. Not only does the reader get some great recipes, but the unique way of life in one of the poorest regions in the country comes to life in a way that makes us forget about the poverty and yearn to meet the rich assortment of people he features.

For those unfamiliar with Appalachian ways, it is one thing to get a wave from a front porch when driving by but quite another to be invited into the kitchen. The misleading stereotypes that still plague the region have made the people cautious about opening up too much for fear of being misinterpreted.

Sauceman not only gets into the kitchens of Appalachia, he has gathered a collection of stories that provide an accurate portrayal of the reverence of a good meal in the region by taking the time to get to know the people who wield the iron skillet with such skill.

Buttermilk and Bible Burgers cover

Perhaps the most telling statement of the entire book is “Appalachia is sustainable without saying it.” Long before it was fashionable to plant a garden, and “buy local” appeared on bumper stickers, each spring the gardens were laid out in wistful anticipation of that first fresh garden tomato.

The gardening and gathering were not complete until a colorful array of jars, jugs and hanging pork filled pantries and smokehouses. With the preparations complete, the families had the satisfaction of knowing that come what may, they would not go hungry.

The book is divided into three sections; “The People,” “The Products,” and “The Places.” Sauceman seamlessly takes the reader on a joyful romp through Appalachian kitchens, farms and restaurants while introducing us to a diversity of characters we would love to get to know better. He portrays the region so accurately one can almost hear the snap of freshly harvested beans being prepared for the cooking pot and the lively banter that often accompanies the task.

Writing a book review is usually a simple task; either you like the book or you do not. But as a native Appalachian I will confess the book had my undivided attention from the first chapter about memories of frog gigging in the summer time.

Frog legs were a tasty staple and another source of protein long before “The Cooking Channel” introduced the rest of the country to the southern Appalachian tradition. It is yet another demonstration of the resourcefulness of the people and their ability to always find a way to get by.

It is hard to be non-biased when each story reminds me of people and places I know and love. My Great Aunt Lessie is long gone now but I can still hear echoing in my mind her solution to unexpected dinner guests. “Just add some flour and water to the pot and stir it up a while.” I don’t know how many times she pulled this on me, but I do know she cooked some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Thank you Mr. Sauceman for reminding me of her culinary wizardry.

If you want to know what the people and the food of Appalachia are really like, ignore the endless parade of Appalachian based “reality shows” and pick up Buttermilk and Bible Burgers instead. Long after the current fad fades away, Sauceman’s collection of books will stand as a lasting testament to the hardworking people of the region and the love they put into preparing a good meal.

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In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 5, 2014

A new feature documentary from Alpha Vision Films

James OvertonPlease welcome guest author James Overton. “I find the ‘team’ quality of filmmaking deeply rewarding,” says the producer and director of Alpha Vision Films, Waynesboro, VA. “One can’t make films alone. So it’s necessary to assemble a group of interested associates, all with their own distinct talents, knowledge and experience. Then the ‘team’ combines their efforts towards a common creative goal, the envisioning, execution and completion of a film. Naturally, as producer and director at Alpha Vision Films, much of this responsibility rests squarely on my shoulders. But in the end, it’s a team effort all the way.” Overton’s recently completed documentary In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion explores a little known and fascinating chapter in Virginia history.

 

On any given day, an intrepid hiker might stray off the path more traveled and find themselves on a certain mountain ridge deep in the George Washington National Forest near the small town of Lyndhurst, Augusta County, Virginia. That wanderer would possibly be struck by the quiet serene beauty of a lonely wood. But also, one might feel a sense of deep, isolated, melancholy remote separation.

Out of the corner of the eye, cracked and sunken concrete foundations suddenly seem to appear. But there are mature trees growing inside these old man-made formations. Then, a maze of complicated stone-lined pathways can occasionally be seen, as if in an attempt to affirm their continued existence under years and years of leaves, fallen limbs and bracken. A moss covered stairway leading to nowhere. Buried in the wilderness, what on earth could all this be?

This is exactly the impression made on me as I first arrived at the location of a forgotten structure deep in the forest. A location with great, but largely unknown and certainly unresolved for many, significance in Virginia history. This is Camp Lyndhurst. The home of nearly 300 German prisoners during the final years of World War II. But, that is only the last chapter of this incredible place, so lost and forgotten by many today.

Camp Lyndhurst was constructed deep in the throes of The Great Depression to house men who were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. A program in FDR’s “New Deal” to employ thousands of jobless young men across America in construction and conservation projects, saving them from possible homelessness and starvation. The “CCC,” as it was familiarly called, constructed the Sherando Lake complex, did major construction on all areas of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, and was involved with numerous other projects along the parkway’s route. They planted billions of trees in a reforestation project to inspire the sprit of conservation, all under the strict supervision of the U.S. Army.

These CCC Boys, although not prisoners, were under military restrictions and regulations. Consequently, they were the first men at Camp Lyndhurst to experience directly the overwhelming loneliness of this remote place. In fact, in one year alone—1940—37 were given dishonorable discharges for desertion. The isolated sequestration in this place created an uncannily depressing atmosphere.

Main Street, Camp Lyndhurst during the Civilian Public Service era.

Main Street, Camp Lyndhurst during the Civilian Public Service era.

Soon, very soon, their boredom was relieved by a sudden and dramatic contingency: the looming global conflict of the Second World War. The camp originally opened on May 15, 1933 and was operational as a CCC camp for the next 8 years. That era of Camp Lyndhurst came to an end on July 18, 1941. The camp was closed and vacant until May 1942. In short order, most CCC Boys enlisted or were drafted into the military, along with millions of other young Americans. But not all.

At the same time, thousands of young men, mostly affiliated with pacifist-based religious orders such as The Mennonite and Brethren Churches, requested and were officially designated conscientious objector status. Accordingly, many months after Camp Lyndhurst had been evacuated and shuttered by The Civilian Conservation Corps, frantic activity at the camp resumed.

Conscientious objectors were assigned to The Civilian Public Service, or CPS, and the camp took on its second incarnation as CPS Camp 29. Several hundred conscientious objectors continued the work on the parkway begun earlier by The CCC, along with essential work in agriculture on farms and orchards in The Shenandoah Valley. Eventually, work on The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Augusta County sector was completed, and CPS assignees were transferred to a separate CPS camp near Bedford, VA to continue work in the area of The Peaks of Otter.

And so, once again, the camp was closed and temporarily abandoned. Few could have imagined the next role the camp was to play. In 1944, many of the over three hundred thousand German prisoners of war would find the old CCC/CPS camps their home for the duration of the war and beyond. Manpower in the nation’s factories, fields and farms had been drastically depleted during the war effort. These German soldiers provided much needed labor on the home front, directed by the Department of Agriculture following strict observation of The Geneva Convention. Camp Lyndhurst was now a POW camp, and enemy soldiers were in our land, The Shenandoah Valley.

German POW.

German POW.

Many were given work assignments and were directly supervised by their local farmer and agricultural employers. Some of these farm families were of the Mennonite and Brethren church communities for generations, and many prisoners’ lives were transformed by these hosts‘ pacifist beliefs.

When the war ended, POWs, without fanfare and with little notice, were swiftly repatriated back to their homelands where they encountered complete destruction, death and starvation. However, the qualities of freedom, liberty and democracy they had experienced while working alongside the civilian population of America had made an indelible impression. Many determined to return, one day, to the land of the free.

This new feature documentary, from my local independent film group Alpha Vision Films, explores a little known and fascinating chapter in Virginia history. “In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga” features President of The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, and author of The Longest Patrol, Gregory L. Owen. Mr. Owen’s book is about the life of one of the POWs interned at Camp Lyndhurst, Karl Baumann.

Karl Baumann was captured in France and eventually imprisoned at the camp. Following the war, he made his way back to the Shenandoah Valley to raise his family and live out his life. His story is prominently featured in the film. Karl Baumann passed away in 2009, so we have no direct quote from him. However, it’s recorded that he felt the attitude of the Mennonite and Brethren church families that employed him as a POW made a tremendous impact in his life. Although he was “the enemy” he was still given basic humanitarian treatment and respect.

Our documentary also includes President of The Waynesboro Heritage Foundation, Shirley Bridgeforth. Shirley was essential to the conception of film. The Foundation’s museum in downtown Waynesboro retains some fascinating relics from the camp. This is covered in her film interview. My study of these relics led me to the idea of making the film. At that point, Shirley introduced me to Gregory L. Owen. Greg had already done several years of research into the camp history, which was incredibly helpful in creating the narrative of the film. Shirley also did considerable research.

Karl Baumann, U-Boat Gunner, Age 19

Karl Baumann, U-Boat
Gunner, Age 19

The production began in January of 2014 and was completed by June this year. The location of the camp is a very compelling, but extremely dangerous place. One thing I hadn’t considered in sharing this story is that I’m now being swamped with requests for details on the location. Consequently, I’ve posted the following statement on all of our relevant social media: “Friends, thank you for your interest in the film. I have received numerous inquiries asking about the location of the camp. EXTREME caution should be used if attempting to visit the site. It’s a dangerous spot for many reasons:

1.) Sinkholes abound (we almost lost one of our associates up there filming one afternoon) Most of what I call “sinkholes” are the result of the foundations cracking up and settling, holes where fence/telephone/power line posts have been removed and eroded away, wells and cisterns, etc. All of these hazards are completely covered in years’ worth of leaves, limbs, bracken, etc. and consequently, totally invisible.

2.) It’s VERY remote. Please do NOT venture up there without advising the US Forest Service that you’ll be on the site.

3.) It’s a rattlesnake den! Additionally, we were given the stern warning from the US Forest Service to not remove any item large or small from the campsite. Please respect this completely reasonable directive. With a little research, the camp can be located. However, my one main concern in sharing this story is that someone will go up there and be injured… Consequently, I’m not generally publicizing the location. But it is indeed an amazing place…We learned all of this at the location the hard way!

One interesting production incident: over the weeks of location shooting, we had the son of former POW, the late Karl Baumann, request to join us at the site. Michael Baumann, who is an educator in Kenova WV, had not been back to the camp location since his first visit, age 6, when he was accompanied by his father. Michael Baumann is now 52. I had not, at that time, had the opportunity to secure rights, releases, and permissions to include him in the film. This visit had come up suddenly and unexpectedly.

Author Gregory L. Owen inspects grounds of Camp Lyndhurst with Shirley Bridgeforth.

Author Gregory L. Owen inspects grounds of Camp Lyndhurst with Shirley Bridgeforth.

So I firmly instructed my director of photography, Mark Miller, not to film him or have him on camera on this particular day’s shooting. While we were split up with different crews over several different spots at the site, Michael found himself alone with Mark at a very significant landmark, which we had discovered and excavated at the camp, the “stone pedestal” bulletin board. Effectively, the center of the camp.

At this point, Michael insisted that the camera start rolling. He had something to say, and over Mark’s objection, his sequence was filmed. It was very fortunate, for Michael did not return to the campsite at any other time during the filming. Michael’s statement in the film is, without doubt, one of the emotional highlights of the entire production. In the end we received the full co-operation of the Baumann family.

We were able to track down some fascinating people here in Virginia, some of whom had been at the camp in one of its many facets. Mr. David Flora of Bridgewater VA is a good case in point. Mr. Flora, 92 years old in 2014, was the son of a Brethren Church minister and lifelong member of the Brethren Church community. He requested, and was officially granted, conscientious objector status by Selective Service during World War II.

In 1943, at age 21, he reported to CPS Camp 23, Camp Lyndhurst, to begin his compulsory service. He describes the concept of conscientious objection in the film thus: ‘It means not killing. Seeking the good in a person rather than the evil. You wouldn’t go out and shoot a person who was your friend, so you don’t go shoot a person who’s not your friend!’ Mr. Flora’s sequence in the film is another emotionally powerful moment.

Barracks interior. CPS era. 1943. 21 year old David Flora is seated far right.

Barracks interior. CPS era. 1943. 21 year old David Flora is seated far right.

Needless to say, these first hand witnesses are fewer and fewer with the passing years. Their recollections proved to be most interesting.

The film raises many important issues, still completely valid today. The question of conscience versus duty… The idea of how humans relate to each other and how one or two inciting incidents in a person’s life can send them off on a path of which they could never have dreamed… Our film will appeal to those interested in both the history of Virginia and/or of World War II. Also, since local Brethren and Mennonites played important roles as both conscientious objectors and as consumers of POW labor, the story of Camp Lyndhurst would be of interest to those immersed in church history.

You can view “In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion” free of charge by visiting the Alpha Vision Films website: www.alphavisionfilms.net or www.alphavisionfilms.com. (All of our 19 previous productions, many also with local interest, can be seen at the site free of charge as well.) You won’t want to miss this incredible story that retraces, and at long last reveals, a compelling true-life drama in The Shenandoah Valley. We hope you will find this story as exciting and profound as we did in bringing it to you.

Alpha Vision Films’ production team also includes Associate producer Theresa Reynolds Curry and Mark Miller, Director of photography. Who is funding Alpha Vision Films? In short, I am. My ‘real job’ has been professional singer and entertainer in Virginia for the last 38 years. But I have also been a lifelong film fan, studied the process, and long intended to one day undertake film-making myself. This is not now, and has never been, a ‘commercial’ venture for me. I’ve spent a small fortune in all this (and I’m not wealthy by any means) and haven’t yet made a dime. Purely done for the intrinsic joy of being a part of such a creative form of expression and working within a new medium that I love.

Just as I do, everyone donates their time and talent while I pick up all expenses. Very gratifying undertaking, and our work has dramatically improved and met with enthusiastic acceptance over the last 5 years. We’re incredibly grateful.

One final thought on this particular subject—I know from personal experience, having spent my entire adult life in the entertainment industry, that this approach—concentrating solely on the artistic merits and quality of one’s work, NOT the money—is EXACTLY how amazing and unexpected opportunities often find a person. So… this is how I’m betting!

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