Floyd Collins represented the adventurous spirit of 1920s Americana. He was a man who dreamed of fame and fortune, and sought to find them within the subterranean tunnels of America’s heartland. Unfortunately, he became a cautionary tale for those who dared to risk everything in the hopes of attaining these earthly goals.
As with our previous films, The Death of Floyd Collins combines archival footage, rare photographs, recreations and interviews with people who are close to the story. One of our interviews is with Floyd’s niece, Mildred Collins, who as a baby was present at Sand Cave during the attempted rescue. “I remember the song that came out on the radio after the tragedy,” says Mildred Collins. “It was called The Death of Floyd Collins, and we had a record of it that we‘d play on our record player. One day my daddy (Andy Lee Collins, who was one of Floyd‘s brothers) came home and caught us listening to it, and he took it off the record player and broke it. He didn‘t like us listening to that song because it brought back bad memories
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.
Hunter came to my attention during the summer of 2007 as I prepared for my first semester of classes by visiting historical societies located around the university in an effort to find a local author to feature in my African American literature course that fall. After several visits to the Pendleton Historic Foundation, I asked a staff member, whom I later learned was Jo McConnell, if she could recommend a book. “Have you heard of A Nickel and a Prayer?” she asked as I left their office on my final visit to the site. I had not but promised her that I would find the book.
There was one fragile copy of the book in Clemson’s Special Collections, which librarians used to make copies for my students. I purchased a signed copy of the book on Amazon.com for $50. As my students and I finished discussing the book, I asked them to respond to the final chapter, “Fireside Musings.” They looked puzzled. I gave them hints to jog their memories. They looked even more puzzled. So I opened my book and pointed to the chapter title. “We don’t have that chapter, Dr. Thomas,” one of my students replied.
That discovery led to the establishment of The Jane Edna Hunter Project. Two teams of undergraduate researchers in Clemson University’s Creative Inquiry Program assisted with the research for the scholarly edition, including conducting archival work in the Western Reserve Historical Society Library and the PWA in Cleveland, where Hunter’s papers are housed, and helping to write a book proposal that led to a contract in the Regenerations series sponsored by the West Virginia University Press. The Regenerations series features significant out of print and neglected texts by African American writers.
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 he was going to become a writer from that day.
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.”
“Here is a production shot I took during the “Character of the People” episode of the Watauga “Visions of…” series,” says Ballard. “It’s of Brian Fannon, and the back story is that while the photo is pretty neat, it was a misfire…or what you might literally call a “flash in the pan.” The trigger ignited the pan but the fire did not reach the barrel and thus the rifle actually did not go off. Our goal at Germain Media is to keep telling the stories for the long haul…for the long term…we have no interest or desire to be a flash in the pan!”