Sunday, August 23, 2009

Storied Visits: The Hand of Glory

This entry is taking a step away from the renovation on the house to tell you about one of my passions. That is, ghost stories. Ghost stories, which I have collected from my home state, WV - reflect so much about our culture and history that I insist they must be protected from dying out. In essence, they must be saved from being lost to time and neglect.

Also, one of my favorite times in history, the Victorian era, had a wonderful storytelling tradition. Some of this has passed on to us today, but there are few who recognize or who can say they have been part of a "storytelling visit". In the Victorian era, named for England's Queen Victoria (1819-1901, pictured below), was a time of great invention and exploration. Not only did it give the world some fabulous furniture and decoration, but also embodies a magical and mystical quality that few eras achieved (in my opinion).

During this time, some of my favorite things occured: West Virginia became a state in 1863. Alice in Wonderland (my favorite book - below) was written in 1865, among others.
But I want to focus on one particular - the visits that friends and acquaintances would make to each other's homes (sometimes grandiose two week or more visits). During these, they would have contests during which they would come up with stories - either originals or personalized versions of common tales. At the end of the visit, they would then vote and give a prize to the person who told the best story. This is similar to our modern storytelling festivals, but not as impersonal. These groups were often ten or less people, as compared to today's hundreds.

One of the most famous stories to come out of these "story visits" is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. She was married to Percy Shelley (of Ode on a Grecian Urn fame) and was spending time with him and some other literary friends, one of whom was none other than Lord Byron. They decided among themselves to write ghost stories for one another, and make a contest of it.

Mary (above), of course, felt completely out of her league, but one night she had a dream about a man who was creating a monster out of cadavers - and it scared her so much that she just knew it would terrify others. So she wrote the story, won the contest, and gave the world one of the greatest monster stories ever told.

More of these "story visits" are recorded in ghost story collections, such as The Ghost Book of Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax and The Ingoldsby Legends (1889). The Ghost Book is still in print - and The Ingoldsby Legends is now available online in pdf format.
The Jackdaw of Rheims and The Hand of Glory are two of the best-known of the Ingoldsby Legends. This collection of humourous and macabre stories in prose and verse was published in three series between 1840 and 1847 with splendid illustrations by Cruikshank and other artists.
The best of them are very superior light verse, marked by verbal cleverness, wit, elaborate rhymes and bi-lingual puns. They were very popular in the 19th Century and remained so until relatively recently, but are now out of print. Almost all the popular writers of the time were influenced by it and many refer to it explicitly or quote from it. Even Walt Disney used The Lay of St. Dunstan. However, it is now dificult to obtain in print and deserves to be better known. I bought mine at a used book sale years ago, and it is a rather neat original text with the first owner's name written on the front cover in fountain pen dated Jan. 27, 1891.

Those of you familiar with the Harry Potter series of books will recognize the mention of the Hand of Glory - which is a magical item featured in one of the books. This is where it originally came from - well, at least where it was first written down. And more observant readers of the series might note one of the illustrators of the original text - Cruikshank - as the namesake of Hermione's cat in the same series.

Here is the Hand of Glory, taken from the text, which you can find in full version here. It was originally told, my book says, by the nurse in residence at Tappington Hall when the "story visit" was taking place. Below is only the first few stanzas:


On the lone bleak moor,
At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand
The Murderers stand
By one, by two, by three!
And the Moon that night
With a grey, cold light
Each baleful object tips;
One half of her form
Is seen through the storm,
The other half 's hid in Eclipse!
And the cold Wind howls,
And the Thunder growls,
And the Lightning is broad and bright;
And altogether
It 's very bad weather,
And an unpleasant sort of a night!
'Now mount who list,
And close by the wrist
Sever me quickly the Dead Man's fist!
Now climb who dare
Where he swings in air,
And pluck me five locks of the Dead Man's hair!'

To read the full text (it's lengthy, but reads quickly and is worth it!)
So if you're looking for a way to lighten up your autumn, why not schedule a "story visit" - maybe not for a week or two, but a few days or hours? I think it's an idea well worth revisiting....

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Franklin Bedroom

I know that some of you think that I've been the victim of some sort of crime, but I've only spent the last few months renovating the house - which has taken up a lot of my time and energy. In addition, I took a summer class and worked full time. You can imagine that there was a lot more than blogging that fell by the wayside.

However, life has calmed to a stillness this last week, so I will update you on the second bedroom renovation. Here is the room before I started - white walls, the light fixture of depression, ugly white drop ceiling from a 1980s office, and a floor that was old fifty years ago. I'm serious when I say that it was missing chunks of wood in places. Whoever thought that soft pine would make a good floor??

Here is the room after demolition began - the light fixture, drop ceiling, and closet (which wasn't even deep enough for an entire hanger) disappeared. I did leave the chimney and refinished the door.

The previous owners had outfitted the closet with shelves - that was all it was big enough for. And those shelves were made of MDF (multi-density fiberboard) which had warped and broken over the years. NOT that they were put up correctly in the first place -

The walls of this house of course lacked any sort of insulation, so the holes you see were drilled in order to blow in insulation in the walls. That in itself was a hellish mess. But now it is done.
Did I mention that the walls are plaster and lathe, covered in drywall? Just finding a tool to cut through all that took an entire weekend.

Here is the other corner, with more holes. Once it was started, the cutting process went pretty well.

Here is the frame-out for the new closet. Notice how it sticks out from the chimney and actually has space in it for hanging things. What a novel concept.

Below you can see the thick plaster that was on the chimney. At first I was tempted to chisel it all off, but an initial test proved that the process would be long, messy, and difficult. Not to mention dangerous - I had a picture in my head of the entire chimney cracking and coming down around me. So I left the plaster on it, and drywalled around it.

And surprise, surprise, the ductwork was nonexistent to this room. This has occured in almost every room of the house. Whoever put in the ducts simply put a hole in the wall with a small duct line, just enough to cover what you could see, and then nothing - the hot or cold air was blowing up the walls of the house going nowhere! So, new ductwork had to be run from the basement to the second floor room.

As you can see, however, the work was all worth it. This is the new hardwood floor - white oak, grown, milled, and sold in WV -and sitting on top of it is the antique cherry wood library table that I bought off of Craigslist for $60.

The color is not nearly as blue as this - it is "Forget Me Not" from Olympic. Note the new crown molding. The corners are my favorite part of the room - that and there is no more drop ceiling or light of depression!
And if you look in the middle of the bed, you can see the room's namesake. He moved in as soon as the renovation was completed, and has staked his claim. It's fitting, since this was the first room he went to when we brought him home, so we let him stay.
Here is another corner of the room. The dresser is an antique oak piece. Above it hangs a picture of Chessie, the railroad cat.

Here you can see the closet, finished, with its white molding and new doors. Franklin is also peeking out of the bottom left corner of the picture.

Here is the new corner where the door is. Note the covered chimney, crown molding, and refinished door. I was able to find a skeleton key to fit it (after shaving the key a bit). And note also, throughout the entire photo essay, that Franklin did not move off the bed.

This is a better view of the chimney corner. Note the crown molding - my favorite part, and the light blue on the ceiling.

I hope you've enjoyed this entry into my latest renovation. I truly hope that my next entry will not take as long to blog, but you never know what life will toss at you. I've learned to roll with it. It's frustrating at times, when I can't do all that I want to do, but I suppose that's how it is.
Until next time, keep imagining and creating your world to suit you!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Wine Cellars in Dunbar, WV

Last summer, I spent a weekend with my brother Matthew and sister-in-law Shirley in Charleston, WV. While there, we went on the search for many of the local places I had heard contained ghosts or unexplained phenomena.
One of the places we sought out was the Wine Cellars Park in Dunbar, WV. I had heard a faint whisper of a ghost story from that area, so we went to check it out. First of all, this is not an easy park to find. Maybe with a GPS it would have been easier, but we were following Yahoo! Maps directions. After a while, we found the park, situated up a holler across from the city of Dunbar- you literally had to drive under the interstate to get there. We found the sign:
But it took us a while to realize that the actual Wine Cellars are on the opposite side of the road from the sign. We walked way up into the park looking for them, but it wasn't until we turned around that we noticed the giant stone wine cellars.

It didn't look too spooky at first. Mind you, I'm always skeptical about places being haunted - but the closer you get to the Wine Cellars, the more you realize how much the atmosphere changes.
The wine cellars were built, as far as I could gather from the few resources I could find, prior to the US Civil War. I'm not sure about the history of them - so please if you know anything at all fill me in. From what I understand they were used as jails or camps during the war, then abandoned years later after the wine production stopped.

Whatever the history, the mood of the cellars is nearly like that of a cemetery at midnight - and we were there at about 2pm in the middle of a hot summer day. My brother was the first to pick up on the "vibe" from the far left cellar, which is where it got interesting.
A running thing we do is to stand in doorways or entrances of places we've heard are haunted, then ask the ghost to stand between us. I'm on the left, Matthew is on the right. If you look closely at this picture, the white fog between us had to come from somewhere. It was clear as a bell in the cellar.
More and more misty photos showed up on the digital camera the longer we were there. In the far left cellar, especially, was a lot of activity. At one point I was in the doorway, and I noticed a tiny orb of light floating in the air, rotating in place just beyond my right index finger. As I reached out for it, my brother and Shirley let out a gasp - apparently they had thought I was reaching for a black shadowy figure in the mist. But what they saw as a black figure, I saw as a floating orb of light. We've still yet to figure that one out.

Whatever the case may be, we left the Wine Cellar Park and its environs with the feeling that there is definitely something dwelling within. I have my own ideas of what it might be- and I'm happy to say that I have experienced another bit of West Virginia's Spectral Heritage. For more information on the program, visit

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Ghosts of Seneca Caverns

As I said in the previous post, my very first job was as a tour guide at Seneca Caverns in Riverton, WV. This was back in the 1990s, when the economy wasn't shot.

Anyway, during my time at the caverns, which lasted several years (I worked there all through college as well) I learned many things. I memorized the tour (which I can still recite to this day). I learned how to recognize different types of minerals simply from their color, how to deal with the public, and more importantly - how to deal with spirits.

Now you may think I am making this all up - and you have a right to be skeptical. But I am telling you that this is all based on real experiences my fellow guides and I had while working at the caverns. Now Seneca Caverns was discovered by Europeans in the late 1600s, but before that it was home to the Seneca tribe. The most famous story is that of Princess Snowbird and her love story (see previous blog entry). The Seneca, it was stated, lived in the giant cavern during the winter months, and in the warmer months they would move out into the surrounding Germany Valley to hunt.

This is Candy Mountain, a flowstone formation at the front entrance to the Council Room.

During those long winters, the shaman of the tribe would use a deeper part of the cave, now called the Council Room, as a place to hold rituals and spiritual ceremonies. To this day, the walls of the Council Room are smoked black by the fires that lit those thousands of council meetings. After the Seneca left the region, the cave was abandoned. Over the years local citizens used its 54 degree temperatured rooms as a natural refrigerator, and during the Civil War it held supplies used by both sides. It gained public prominence when it was opened to the public in the late 1920s as a tourist attraction.

Knowing the history of the cave, it is not surprising that it would have some type of spiritual activity. And during my time as a guide, I and others witnessed some pretty strange things.The most strange thing that happened was when I was giving a tour of the caverns. At one point in the tour, the tourists descend into the area known as the Devil's Kitchen and then come back out into the Council Room. I was leading the group out of the kitchen when I saw two small spheres of light zip from one side of the Council Room to the other. A young woman, who was right behind me, gasped and I knew she had seen it too. As the rest of the group came up out of the kitchen, the light spheres zipped back across the Council Room to the other side. We waited for a bit after that, but nothing else happened. It was then that the tourists became VERY interested in the ghost stories I had about the cave.

This is "Niagara Falls Frozen Over" at the far end of the Council Room The green spots are actually algae that grows as a result of the lights.

Another story involves a rather strange phenomenon - it's what we tour guides referred to as "the ghost tour". What happened on many occassions was that one or two of us would be in the cavern, and we would hear a tour approaching. This sometimes happened when maintenance was required on the lighting or stairs, so it was pretty common to just stand aside and let the tour go by. I remember one time another man and I were working on the drainage system by Mirror Lake, and we heard a tour coming up on us. So we prepared to stand under the stairs and wait for the tour to pass by. Well the voices got louder and louder, as if a tour was coming down the long tunnel known as "The State Penitentiary" because of all the columns that look like bars. Just when it sounded like the tour was going to appear, it stopped.

The other man looked at me and said, "Well I think we've done enough today." and we left by the back of the caverns. Other times the ghost tour would come, and it always happened when there were only one or two people in the cavern. Often we would go through at the end of the day to pick up trash and sweep the gravel off the stairs, and on many occasions strange things happened.

At one point, I was sweeping the stairs by the Council Room and the Devil's Kitchen when I heard footsteps behind me in the gravel. I turned around, but no one was there. Knowing what it was, I just started to hum to myself. The longer I was there, the more I felt like I was being watched. And the footsteps started again. So I gave the steps a swipe and a promise and took off through the Council Room to the end of the caverns.

Another tour guide who also had this same experience came up with a brilliant plan to counteract this ghost. She told me that it happened to her every time she swept the stairs at the end of the day. So she got an idea to follow the final tour through the caverns. She would stay one room behind each tour, but followed closely behind it. In this way, she was able to avoid the "man at the top of the stairs" in the Council Room.

The Iceberg - the last large formation in the caverns.

Now some people have thought that it was just our minds playing tricks on us, and that the ghost tour was simply an echo of another tour in the cave, but it happened when there were no other people or tours in the caverns. And there were multiple witnesses, so it was obviously not someone's imagination gone awry. I've said it before and I'll say it now: Seneca Caverns has ghosts!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Legend of Princess Snowbird

As some of you may know, my very first job ever was as a tour guide at Seneca Caverns in Riverton, WV. Since those days, the caverns have gone through some changes, and no one I knew then even works there anymore. It wasn't the best job in the entire world, but I think it had something to do with my interest in becoming a storyteller.

Every day, I had at least five different audiences (my record was 8), who were interested in different things. They were from all walks of life, all regions of the world, and many different religions - which often made for some creative thinking about how to best describe the age of the cave, and what it was that I was supposed to call the "Devil's Kitchen" - the lowest point in the cave. But I digress - the Seneca Caverns were the winter home of the Seneca natives, who lived in the area of West Virginia where I grew up. Some people have studied them and claim they were not Seneca, but Delaware, but I'll call them the Seneca for the sake of the story.

The average temperature of WV hovers around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and that is about what the cave stayed at. You can imagine that during the long, cold winter of -9 or so below, 55 would feel pretty darn good if you built a fire. Which they did, in the "Council Room" of Chief Bald Eagle.
However, the best story from the Seneca natives comes from Seneca Rocks, WV. If you don't know, Seneca Rocks is 900 feet of vertical stone in Seneca Rocks. It was a landmark used by humans since antiquity, and there are artifacts there to prove it. During WWII, it was used as a training ground by US troops going to Europe. Today, there is a visitor's center and you can visit mostly anytime during the tourist season. The rocks are open year-round, and there is a walking trail to the top.

However, Princess Snowbird needed no trail. It was told that she was one of the first natives to actually climb the face of the rocks with her bare hands - and that accomplishment, along with her legendary beauty, made her a most desirable bride. But Princess Snowbird was not an easy catch, as the story tells:

The Betrothal of Snow Bird, Princess of the Seneca Indians

The only daughter of chief Bald Eagle and his wife, White Rock, was a daughter - Princess Snow Bird. As a young girl, she played at the base of these towering rocks, often gazing at their topmost peaks and longing to be able to climb to the tallest of them. As a young woman, she became the most beautiful of all the maidens of the Senecas. Her rank and beauty brought many men from her tribe and neighboring tribes courting her for a bride.

The rivalry caused her to face the serious problem of choosing a mate. When the day arrived to choose a husband, seven young warriors, all suitors for the hand of the Seneca princess, assembled in an open space and arranged themselves in a semi-circle facing the mighty rocks. The faint-hearted had dropped from the contest, not daring to face the ordeal to which they were sure they would be subjected.

Silence reigned on all sides. This rush of expectancy was on all until the beautiful Princess Snow Bird clad in the royal garb of her tribe, moved swiftly and gracefully into the circle and faced her prospective partners. She lifted her hand and silence fell upon the assembled.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I have watched yonder rocks push their rugged summits into the heavens and many times I have longed to be able to climb to their topmost crags. There have I spent the happiest, the most enjoyable days of my life. Of all the Seneca Indians, I am the only one who has accomplished the feat. One day, about a moon past, I decided upon a contest, a trial of bravery and endurance. You will soon engage in this contest, and to the successful one of you, I will give my hand, my heart, and my life."

Princess Snow Bird set out on the journey, followed by the seven braves. Upward they climbed, the sure-footed maiden always leading.

As the climb became more and more difficult, three of the seven turned back, dispirited and disappointed. Another followed to the fifth pinnacle and then wearied of the struggle and gave up. A fifth man crumpled in a heap near the same pinnacle and was rescued from death by the fourth, who led him back to safety. The two that remained followed closely in the footsteps of the maiden.

Finally, with renewed determination, they set out on the last and most dangerous stretch of the journey, the princess - as always - in the lead. At last she reached the summit and turned to look for her most persistent suitor. He was only a few feet below her. In this moment of waiting, his foot slipped on the ledge of rock.

The maiden hesitated for a fraction of a second. Was he not the bravest and strongest of the Senecas? Where would she ever find his equal? So with the alertness and strength of her young arms, she caught the falling brave and drew him to safety and to herself. Long they sat together talking of their future, and then as darkness approached, the two lovers descended by the trail at the rear of the gigantic rocks.

Later, they stood before Chief Bald Eagle and White Rock. The great chief conferred upon his newfound son-in-law the authority to become his successor as chief of the tribe. He, along with Princess Snowbird, were set to live a long and prosperous life together as leaders of their tribe.

I cannot remember - although I once knew - the name of Princess Snowbird's husband. It was part of the "spiel" on the tour of the caverns. Perhaps I will remember it sometime and post it here.

The future of the Senecas was not to be, however. Shortly after the betrothal of Princess Snowbird, European settlers began moving into the area. Skirmishes with the Europeans left the tribe decimated and scattered - Princess Snowbird and others moved further west to join up with other tribes that had joined the Iroquois confederacy. Her father, Chief Bald Eagle, was killed in battle. I do not know what became of Snowbird's mother or husband, and I leave that to your thoughts.

It is interesting to me, that this story still remains in my mind. As one of the first stories I ever heard, it set me on a lifetime of gathering stories and learning about places. I know the story is a bit hokey, and has no doubt been twisted over the centuries into what it is today - but it's still a great story. It is amazing to me as well, that the main character - a woman - is made to be so powerful. This is one part that makes me believe that it is a true tale - in part because it reflects the power with which Native Americans imbued the women. Europeans, as a patriarchal society, did not necessarily view women in this light.

So the next time you are in Pendleton County, and you see Seneca Rocks, remember the story of Princess Snowbird. She was one powerful lady!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Red-Headed Man

This post involves a story that was passed on to me by Kurt McCoy, whom some of you may know wrote that great book "White Things: West Virginia's White Monsters" which is available on eBay for a paltry $10. I suggest you pick up a copy. It is a very good read!

This story is one that comes close to home for me, quite literally. Kurt is another WV ghost/monster story collector, and came across this story while working on his current book about WV's water monsters (apparently there are more than the Ogua).

The Red-Headed Man is a story set in the colonial days of WV, way back when it was still known as western Virginia. This story takes place at Fort Cobun, which was located near Dorsey's Knob in Morgantown - which I can see from my backyard. That is why I say it is close to home for me.

Fort Cobun was built in 1770, near Dorsey's Knob (above), and I'm sure that it's foundations lie somewhere beneath the old Morgantown Mall or the Giant Eagle. So much for saving history. Sometime, I'm not sure when, as I have not researched this story thoroughly, the fort was attacked and overrun by a Native American raiding party.

During this raid, many settlers were killed or kidnapped. One of those was to become known as "The Red-Headed Man". I've not found his name, if in fact it was ever known, but he was a soldier. He was kidnapped by the natives and carried to an area near the base of Dorsey's Knob. There, the natives tied him to an "X"-like cross they had staked into the ground. While tied up, the natives also scalped him - and did not stop at the top of his head. Instead, they scalped him down to his neck, and he subsequently bled to death from the wounds.

Since that time, there have been sightings of the "Red-headed Man" near Dorsey's Knob in Morgantown, which is now a local park area. Many people have told stories about being parked up at Dorsey's Knob, which has a reputation for a makeout spot, and encountering the specter. He is clothed in his colonial uniform, and his head is blood-red, with his veiny flesh still unhealed even in death. It is said that the "Red-headed Man" grabs unsuspecting people by the scalp and face, attempting to replace his lost skin with theirs.

There is protection against the "Red-headed Man" however - many visitors, even to this day, carry a small, handmade cross (basically two sticks tied with twine) on their windshields. Apparently, the "Red-headed Man" still fears the apparatus to which he was tied and tortured on - even in a miniature version.

I think of this story every time I look out across the yard, and I wonder if the "Red-headed Man" is still out there, or if somehow he has finally gone to rest.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Way of the Willow

This post was inspired by my recent thoughts about trees. There's a saying in my family which I doubt that anyone outside the family knows about.

Every now and then, you'll hear someone in the family say, "It's went the way of the willow" or in vernacular, "It's went the way of the willer". Now most of you have some clue to what that means, but not where it comes from. I'm sure you've caught on to the meaning, that whatever it was is not around anymore - it's gone the way of the willer.

Well, here's the story: When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my family was living in Monkeytown, right up that holler road that's pictured on the sidebar here. Our house was on the same side of the crick as Granny's, where she lived with her youngest son - our great-uncle Dagwood. Between our two houses stood a giant old weeping willow tree, that was planted next to the old spring. The spring had by this time gone out of use, but the water from it still seeped up out of the ground all the time and the willow tree of course loved it. It was a huge old tree - not as big as the white oak in my picture, but it was at least forty feet tall, with weeping branches that dragged the ground in the summer. It was one of the most beautiful trees I'd ever seen - and weeping willows are one of my favorite trees.

Well, anyway, one summer I remember reading in my bedroom during an evening rainstorm. For a while we were on the porches talking and watching it rain, but the thunder and lightning kicked in and we ran inside. I remember Granny had been sitting on her porch too - the yard between our houses was only about a hundred feet or so, with the willow in the middle over the old spring.

Well as I was reading, there was a huge crash, the power went out, and everyone was yelling and running - the old willow had fallen.

A gust of wind had caught it's upper branches, and the soggy ground had given way. It fell straight down between the houses, missing them both. Of course it clipped the power lines in half, and it took a while before power came back to the holler.

It didn't matter really, because we were all mourning the loss of the willow. It was like losing a family member - someone who had always been there, standing guard over us all.

A surprise was beneath the willow, however. When it fell, the tree revealed a giant stone - so large that Granny said it was the base of the mountain and could never be moved. That proved true a few years later when we flattened out part of the yard with a bulldozer - and two dozers, one on each side of the rock, couldn't get it to budge. So my mother named the rock "Old Abe" after Abe Lincoln - since it was so steady and hardheaded.

So the willow is gone now, but Abe is still there, holding up the mountain. Years later, my family replanted a weeping willow in the same place as the other one. It was done not only to replace the missing tree, but to deal with some rather unruly "neighbors". That's another story altogether. Here is the replacement tree, and Old Abe. There's a rail fence there now, too.

Now you'll know, if you hear one of my family say "It's gone the way of the willer", the story behind it. Of course, like all sayings there are now other versions. "It's gone the way of the wizard" - as in the Wizard of Oz, and "the way of the weasel", which is my brother's favorite. His hobbies include studying ferrets and weasels - the mustelid family.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Naming the Tree

Here's something maybe some of you can help me with. There is a giant old white oak tree in the backyard - it's on the corner of several property lines with myself and three neighbors, so it's really unknown who's tree it is. I've taken Franklin for walks around this giant - it's over fifty feet tall (much taller before it's top broke out).

Ravens love to nest in its branches, and I'm sure it is over 300 - maybe 350 years old. One of the neighbors said she had always liked this tree, and it had been there since she was a child. That was over fifty years ago, she said. Once it even self-combusted, and the inside ignited. The fire department came and put out the tree, but no one would allow them to cut it down. Everyone likes this old tree, and since it is so far from anyone's home, there is no danger of it falling on anything.

In the top of the tree there is a huge hole, like a single eye, and I like to think of this tree as having a real soul - a real personality. I do believe in tree and plant spirits - it's part of my culture. This tree is one of the oldest spirits I've come across - and it's hard to believe I discovered it in the midst of Morgantown.

The thing I am requesting your help with is naming this tree. I think it is a shame that the tree doesn't have a name - of course, I've thought of the usual:

"Albus, The White Oak" and "Cyclops"

But I'm hoping that one of you can help me come up with something maybe a bit more creative and original.

I guess "Ravenscroft" isn't too far off either. Any ideas?

Down the Staircase

Hello everyone - its me, tardy again with another post. I honestly have a very good reason this time. Actually, two very good ones. On last Sunday night, I had a fall down my staircase (never wear socks on hardwood floors). I was able to catch myself about the 6th step, but I bounced quite hard until then. I have bruises still (one quite large purple one you know where). I also knocked my right elbow pretty hard and scraped the backs of both my calves, so I was in pretty bad shape afterwards. All of that is feeling better except for my rear.

If that weren't enough, I also caught the worst end of the winter cold you can imagine - it was so bad that I was laid up all week, unable to go to work or do anything around the house. I even thought maybe it was swine flu, but my doctor told me it was only a severe cold. On top of that, my allergies are killing me - ai yi yi!

It's been raining here off and on for the last couple of days, so maybe the best way for me to spend it was in bed or laid out on the couch. Franklin has been, I must say, quite the nursemaid. He's always there to warm up a cold lap or nap along beside me. I've never woken up this last week and him not be there next to me.

Now if I could train him to cook and clean...

I will be up and running again soon. I hope to put up a really good post I've been writing in my head for over a week now. It's about this place:

Monday, April 20, 2009

My name is Franklin

Hello, my name is Benjamin Franklin Cat. Everyone calls me Franklin. I'm named after a signer of the US Constitution. Welcome to my home!

This is my home. One of my favorite spots is here, in the bay window of the living room. I like to watch the birds fly by, and the cars that pass the house. There are other cats in the neighborhood, too, but not all of them have nice houses like this to live in. I think that is sad. Every home should have a cat, and vice versa.

I am quite flexible,and sometimes wake up in the oddest positions. I really like this red chair - it is rare that anyone else gets to sit in it, because I spend a lot of my time here as well.
This is my baby photo. I was only 12 weeks old here. Jason and John brought me home from the veterinarian in Point Marion, where I was a rescued kitten. I really like this bedspread too - it's vintage chenille and feels really soft!
Grandma Burns doesn't have the same taste in bedding, but the sheets on her bed are a good place for a cool catnap on a hot, late-summer's evening. That and the flowers really bring out the green in my eyes.
Of course I have to say that grandma is very good to me. I like to lay in her lap and eat kitty treats. I go to visit her sometimes - and visit with my other relatives.

Of course I do my share of activities as well. I'm a very active kitty-

But my favorite activity is napping - pretty much anywhere I can find a spot.

I travel well - compact model!

Jason and John take me lots of places with them. I like to travel in cars - and often I'm not in my cat carrier. I know, I know. Bad Cat. I like to be out so I can see what's passing by. I guess it's the WV in me.

Here I am resting atop the haul we bought at Rio Mall in Rio, WV. That's Grandpop in front, driving. It was a really nice trip.
I think when I grow up I want to be a model. John has already noticed my propensity to "work" the camera. Hear that Whiskas???

I can do action shots too - here I'm punting a Fisher Price Apple!

So if you need more love, action, and purring in your life- or a good subject for a photoshoot- try a cat like me! There are many cats and other animals at your local rescue agencies that need homes. So if you have room in your home and your heart, consider adopting a critter. They'll love you for it!

Bye till next time!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WV Storytelling Institute

I'll say it again and again... I absolutely LOVE anything with storytelling - and this year's WV Storytelling Institute at Fairmont State University did not disappoint! The weather was a bit rainy the first day, but on Saturday the sun came out and so did the stories!

This year I was lucky enough to take along not only my fellow storyteller John Mullins, but also my good friend Arlie Chipps. John came on Friday and Arlie on Saturday. I was able to see some of my great storytelling friends, some of whom I had not seen for years. Here are some of the great photos!
This is myself and Judy Byers, founder of the Folklife Institute at Fairmont State University. You may have already read some of Judy's works, or heard her wonderful storytelling, which she learned from a long family tradition. You may also know of a woman named Dr. Ruth Ann Musick, who collected WV ghost stories from around the state, from citizens who had kept them through oral tradition for hundreds of years. Judy grew up knowing Dr. Musick, as her family was one of the many whose stories were collected. You can still read those ghost tales in Musick's still published books, such as Coffin Hollow, The Telltale Lilac Bush, and my personal favorite The Green Hills of Magic. As you may already know, Dr. Musick was my inspiration for my current WV Spectral Heritage Project, which is an ongoing research project I'm doing to collect all the WV ghost and monster stories that I can.

Here's where our adventure began on Friday. That's John leaning against the wall, and he's chatting with fellow Fayette countian (is that a word?) and storyteller Karen Vuranch. Karen does a lot of storytelling not only in WV, but around the world. Her talent has taken her from WV to China, and she even performed at the White House! For that momentous occasion, she has earned the nickname in
the guild as "The First Lady of WV Storytelling".
Others in the photo are JoAnn Dadisman and June Riffle, who are sitting down. June is the one reading the booklet. And in the far back, you can see that the Braxton County Monster has made an appearance!

Arlie always knows a good photo opportunity! Here he is posing with none other than the Braxton County Monster! If you don't know the story behind this fellow (or miss), then google it. The story is quite a mystery even today! Arlie Chipps is a fellow artist from Morgantown, and had a ball hanging out with "those fabulous people" - meaning the storytellers.

Here I am with JoAnn Dadisman, the lady who is single-handedly responsible for getting me back to the mountain state-of-mind I have now. After that unfortunate stint in a VA private college, I was a little down on WV. But thanks to her class at WVU, I found my way back. She's a mean storyteller too, and performs with June Riffle as The Mountain Echoes. Oh, and there's a certain monster looming in the background.

Here JoAnn and Karen are intensely discussing something. It may be guild matters, or a story they are researching, or how they really wish I would put down the camera. (If I had, I may know what they were talking about). Of course, everyone wants to speak with the "First Lady", and I'm not above taking the chance for a photo op. This was actually the first time I had seen Karen in two years, so it was a happy reunion.

I love Karen's style and her storytelling! Her History Alive! performances include characters like Mother Jones, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a female pirate I can't remember the name of. She also does Coal Camp Memories, in which she plays one woman with three different ages, and Pot Luck - which is a performance with two other storytellers. It is all about food, and it made me hungry!

Now some of you have probably never been to see a storyteller - and I suggest it highly. No movie, no tv show is going to compare. Pot Luck (above) is a rollercoaster of emotions- I laughed, I cried, and all over again. Pot Luck, like I said, is all about how food affects us. One of the songs in the stories (there are many), is titled, "Funeral Food" and is about how food is comforting. Another song is about Chocolate! My favorite part! It's about how chocolate is comforting for a person suffering heartache. I left the show craving macaroni and cheese, coffe, and chocolate muffins - so maybe if you are on a diet you should avoid seeing it. For everyone else, dive in! This performance is also available now on CD (maybe DVD too) - and it's something everyone can enjoy.

After some great performances, there's more chatter and comaraderie in the halls of the conference center. Here Judy Byers (smiling), Gail Herman (blonde hair), Connie Regan Blake (salmon blouse), and Katie Ross hang out between sessions.

Another amazing storyteller is Ilene Evans, from Thomas, WV. Her performances include not only storytelling, but singing, dancing, and History Alive! performances. She recreates characters like Harriet Tubman and Memphis Tennessee Garrison. Here she and Otto Ross discuss over some wonderful antique furniture that would look really nice in my house.

Did you actually think the next generation of storytellers was missing? Absolutely not! Here is some of Fairmont State University's Raconteurs (I hope I spelled that right) - which is essentially their student storytelling guild. They had set up tables advertising their guild and selling small items as fundraisers for their group. Here are a couple photos:

All the items you see here were handmade by the students to be sold as a fundraiser. They were all VERY impressive and somewhat innovative. I especially like the corner bookmarks they crafted from basic office envelopes, and of course the doll, which looked like something out of Fraggle Rock, or maybe more like a young Phyllis Diller:

Of course, what kind of friend and fellow blogger would I be if I did not mention the fantastic, wonderful, enlightening, and engaging session on blogging that was given by the incomparable Susanna "Granny Sue" Holstein?

Here you can see Arlie is hanging on her every word. It was really a great session, and I learned alot. If you've not seen GSue's blog, I suggest it highly. I've not gotten to the point of updating mine as often as she does hers, and I'm wondering what the secret is. Hmmmm... maybe I could turn off the tv?

Well, the crowd came and went, and the sun set on another wonderful storytelling institute at Fairmont State University. If you get the chance, come to next year's institute. I'm not sure of the dates yet, but it is usually around the first of April. If you can't come to the institute, then attend a local storyteller in your area. Storytellers can change your life! I know.
And if you want to challenge for yourself, then go find a story of your own. Investigate a lead, learn about a historical character you've only heard about or seen the Hollywood version of. Research your family tree. Talk to a grandparent and learn about their childhood. What did they do when they were bored? What did they like to eat? What was their favorite thing to do after school?
You never know what you will learn. And WRITE IT DOWN. So many things are lost to time because no one ever writes things down. For example, on my way back from the institute, I saw this sign:

It's about David Morgan, an early settler of WV who saved his family from a Native American attack because he had a "strange dream" about it happening. Precognition? ESP? whatever the case, it's weird enough for me to want to investigate it. Who knows how big or weird this story truly is. Whatever the case, I can't wait to start researching!

Until next post, I urge you all to seek out a story on your own! It is quite exciting!