Catherine V. Moore — Print & Radio

Archive for the ‘Fayette County’ Category

Best American Essays

In Announcements, Appalachia, Black History, Fayette County, Nonfiction, Print, West Virginia History, Women's History on April 18, 2017 at 9:53 am

The Book of the Dead“—my essay on the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster and the poet Muriel Rukeyser from the Fall 2016 issue of Oxford American—will be included in the The Best American Essays 2017. One of my favorite writers, Leslie Jamison, edited this year’s collection. From the publisher’s listing:

The best-selling essayist Leslie Jamison picks the best essays from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites, bringing her incredible ability to “stitch together the intellectual and the emotional with the finesse of a crackerjack surgeon” (NPR) to the task.

Crackerjack! Preorder your copy

Read “The Book of the Dead”

In Appalachia, Black History, Fayette County, Multimedia, Photography, Print, West Virginia History, Women's History on December 15, 2016 at 5:44 pm
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Above the Hawk’s Nest Dam on the New River. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

My longform nonfiction piece about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster, “The Book of the Dead: In Fayette County, WV, Expanding the Document of Disaster,” is now available online at The Oxford American‘s website. It was originally published in the magazine’s fall issue and recently won a Commendation from the Stack Awards.

My online archive of Hawk’s Nest Tunnel workers, hawksnestnames.org, is a companion project that houses primary source documents and victims’ names.

Finally, check out this “Photographer’s Day Book” feature from The Oxford American, in which Lisa Elmaleh tracks her pursuit of Hawk’s Nest images for the magazine. I’m so thankful to Lisa for making these photos.

“Book of the Dead” Commended by Stack Awards

In Appalachia, Black History, Fayette County, Print, West Virginia History, Women's History on October 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm

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The Stack Awards recognize the best work in independent magazines from all over the world. I recently learned that I was short-listed for a Stack Award in Nonfiction for my longform essay, “The Book of the Dead,” published in the Fall 2016 issue of Oxford American. 

The piece explores the history of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster and how it was documented in poetry by the writer Muriel Rukeyser. It also offers new revelations about the workers who lost their lives in the process of building the tunnel, three quarters of whom were black migratory laborers.

West Virginia-based photographer Lisa Elmaleh was commissioned to provide art for the story. Though the piece is not yet available online, a new website I built archives some of this history: The Book of the Dead: An Archive of Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Workers. 

UPDATE: “The Book of the Dead” was one of two “Commended” finalists. Congrats to The Outpost, which took home the win! Listen to Stack founder Steven Watson talk about the winning and commended pieces in the video below…

Two New Projects

In Announcements, Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Cedar Grove, coal, Economic Transition, Fayette County, Mary Lee Settle, Multimedia, Paint Creek, Photography, Uncategorized, West Virginia History, Women's History on February 9, 2016 at 2:04 pm

The studio is really humming these days as I prepare to launch TWO new projects this spring…

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.00.59 PMThe Paint Creek Audio History Project is a geo-located series of radio stories featuring the voices of people who live on beautiful Paint Creek, WV. These ten stories became the basis of an audio driving tour delivered via mobile app, as well as a new website for the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association. Look for info soon on a fun launch event we are planning for this spring!

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And, finally, (FINALLY!), I released my hour long radio documentary, Cedar Grove. Drawing from the writing of Mary Lee Settle and a chorus of voices from her hometown of Cedar Grove, WV, I search for a viable future for my home during a time of deep transition. The project includes a beautiful website by Drew Tanner of Odd Boat Studio, featuring a photography collaboration with Roger May. Gibbs Kinderman is the executive producer, the editor is Ben Shapiro. Cedar Grove was co-produced by Allegheny Mountain Radio and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and me. Air dates coming soon!

These projects would not have been possible without the financial support of The West Virginia Humanities Council, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, the Fayette County Commission, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The Road That Howard Built

In Appalachia, Audio, Current Projects, Fayette County, Paint Creek on October 10, 2014 at 11:32 am

Excited to present the first rough cut of the first piece of The Paint Creek Audio History Tour–a collection of tales about a storied place called Paint Creek, WV, from the voices of people who live along its banks. The history tour will be available via a GPS-activated mobile app and a website, coming in summer of 2015. The project is supported by the WV Humanities Council and the National Coal Heritage Area Authority.

In this segment, Pax native Howard Hughes–one of the founders and leaders of the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association–tells of the bane of his youthful existence. Howard’s great-great grandfather, a surveyor, founded Pax. Howard’s grandfather was an accomplished stone mason who built many beautiful structures still standing today. His father was a hard-working coal miner who helped fuel American industry during WWII. And Howard, well, Howard built something too.

Produced by Catherine Moore & Jessie Wright-Mendoza. Edited by Catherine Moore.

“River Road of Sand” Radio Documentary

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on October 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Here are links to a 3-part series I just wrapped up for West Virginia Public Radio about the history of batteaux in the New River Gorge area, about 20 minutes of listening in all. Transcripts are available at wvpubcast.org. So far I’ve received some really generous, positive feedback on the pieces, but would love to hear some critiques as well!

Part 1: A Survey of the New

Today we hear a story about the man who put the Marshall in Marshall University. Chief Justice John Marshall, that is. Two hundred years ago this September, he, along with a group of elite commissioners and a crew of hard-working boatmen, set off on a river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny Mountains. Their month-long journey took them from Lynchburg, VA, all the way to Kanawha Falls in present day Fayette County, WV. This year, a crew from Virginia retraced that route on a boat they built themselves, called a batteau. Their long, flat-bottomed wooden boat, The Mary Marshall, is similar to those poled by boatmen up and down the waterways of western Virginia during Marshall’s era, and all the way into the 1920s. Before the interstate,  before the railroad, there was the batteau. Producer Catherine Moore has this first installment in a three-part series, called “The River Road of Sand,” about the history of batteaux in West Virginia.

Part 2: Hard Work

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Chief Justice John Marshall’s river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny mountains. The boat that took he and his crew through the wilds of western Virginia was called a batteau—a flat-bottomed wooden boat like a long, skinny barge that could carry lots of cargo. We know that the men who labored to pole Marshall’s batteau up river were black, as were most batteaumen. Yesterday, we heard about a group of Virginians who built a batteau of their own to retrace Marshall’s 1812 journey. In this installment of a 3-part series, “The River Road of Sand,” producer Catherine Moore talks to one Hinton native with a deep and personal interest in the history of batteaux, and in the process learns more about the labor realities that made these boats run.

Part 3: Yee Haw

Sometimes all it takes is an anniversary to remind us of a long-forgotten piece of our history. Sometimes it takes an anniversary, and a crazy idea. In September of 1812, a 57-year-old Chief Justice John Marshall headed into the wilderness of western Virginia to survey a canal over the mountains to the Ohio River. This year, a group of young Virginians under Captain Andrew Shaw retraced Marshall’s journey in a long flatbottomed wooden boat, called a batteau, that they built themselves. In part 3 of our series on the history of batteaux in West Virginia, The River Road of Sand, producer Catherine Moore learns more about what happened after Marshall’s survey but before the New River Gorge became a center for whitewater recreation. Special thanks to Squirrel, a raft guide among raft guides, who saved this piece by having double-AA batteries lowered into the New River in a bucket.

Many thanks to Beth Vorhees, Robin Crawford, Jon Averill, Andrew Shaw, Jay Young, Dave Arnold, Norman Jordan, and the National Parks Service.

Batteaumen on The New

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm

A batteau on the New

Thanks to some historians and hobbyists over in the Regular Virginia, we now have a pretty good picture of how the batteau system worked on rivers in and around the Richmond-Lynchburg area. But over here in the BEST VIRGINIA, we’re still learning more about the economies and cultures surrounding this tradition. (The National Parks Service has a nice summary here.)

I’m currently mad at work on a series of short pieces for WV Public Radio detailing some of this history, with the news peg being a recent project retracing the route of John Marshall’s survey expedition to find a viable waterway over the Alleghenies in 1812, as well as the 200th anniversary of that event this fall. It’s set to air in September.

Recently, I caught up with Robin Crawford, a Hinton native who traces his family genealogy to black batteaumen–both enslaved people and free–who plied the waters of the New in the mid- and late-19th century. In fact, he’s the first known descendent of batteaumen in the U.S.

Here’s a snippet from our interview, in which he talks about discovering his ancestors in census records:

R.C.: The first person I notice on there is James Jonston. James Johnston married my great grandfather’s sister, who was Amanda. Then it listed three other people, John Henry Pack, Amanda’s son. Allen Pack, my great grandfather’s brother. And Homer Smithers married Laura Pack.

Well I didn’t know what a batteuman, or a batteau was at the time. One came for the WV Water Festival and that particular year the water was too high for the boat to be on the river so it was in the park downtown all day. I knew it was going to be there and I went and hung out with the guy all day. I wanted to learn everything I could about it. At the end of the day he said, ‘What is your interest?’ I told him I had discovered that I had relatives that did that work on this river. He was amazed that he had actually met someone who knew these people.

I knew Amanda’s daughter, she was one of my teachers. She told me, ‘Son, your people worked The Rivahhhhh.’ That’s how she put it. I had no clue. She was an elderly woman when I started the segregated schools she was still one of the teachers there.

The batteaumen, I believe, were actually the boat captains. There were many other men who worked the boat with them.

Allen Pack actually settled near where I was born and my mother knew lots of stories about him. He was the only Pack slave that was ever whipped. And it was because he was sort of drafted by the Confederacy during the Civil War. He refused to maneuver one of the bateaux the way the Confederates wanted him to, so…

He also read a poem written by a white woman about the way the river looked before the Bluestone Dam, which mentions some of his ancestors. Here’s part of it:

Ah yes it’s covered over now with water cold and deep
But our memories are strong and warm
As o’er the years they keep

The old log house with the fireplace
And the river road of sand
Where we walked along 50 years ago just above Blue Stone Dam

The old log church called Blue Stone View
At the top of John Pence Hill
Folks for miles around in wagons came
Seems I can see them still

There was Blind Joe and Old Tom Pack
Aunt Sussy and Ground Hog Sam
They worshipped every Sunday there
Just above Blue Stone Dam

C.M.: What’s that like?

R.C.: Well, it just gave me chills. This is a white lady writing about her childhood and old Tom still came here and came to church.

C.M.: Can you see them still?

R.C.: No, no. But I can just imagine. I can just imagine the scene.

Fayette County Schools

In Appalachia, Current Projects, Education, Fayette County, Print on July 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Walker School, Fayette County

I’m surrounded by several box feet of newspaper clippings chronicling the past 30 years of the Fayette County School system, leafing through the yellowing history of a troubled agency, playing catch up and attempting to make some kind of sense of its struggles. In 2010, the state took over Fayette’s schools, citing curriculum and facilities problems, but the system has been in crisis for much longer. Here’s an overview of a new series I’ll be working on this summer and fall for the Beckley Register-Herald:

A recent study ranked West Virginia’s schools at 47th in the nation. Zillow.com ranks Fayette County at 53rd of 55 county systems in West Virginia, based on student proficiency and attendance/graduation rates. This bottom-of-the-barrel status calls for an in-depth look at what went wrong, and what’s needed to see positive change moving forward. The series assumes that improvement is needed. It will build a narrative charting the system’s past, present, and future. It will also explore the alternatives parents are choosing over the public system, and some of the major issues currently in play, including finances, school closures, and economic development. It will cultivate parents, teachers, administrators, board members, state department of education officials, experts, and the students themselves as sources. The series will deploy data analysis, as well as strong story-telling and personal interviews, to give readers all the tools they need for an informed and actionable opinion.

Talking with my education sources sometimes feels like entering a strange, upside-down world with a language and culture all its own. Wish me luck, and hope to see you on the other side…