Although I discovered Moundsville on a reporting trip for the Wall Street Journal in 2013, and wrote a fun front-page story about a paranormal hot-dog stand, it wasn’t until 2018 that I tried to write something deeper about the town, and realized how rich a place it was.
By that time, I had left the Journal and was hunting a meaningful, once-in-a-lifetime project. I’ve long been an admirer of America, a Jesuit-run magazine with a circulation of around 50,000. The magazine offers, I think, a unique marriage of truth and faith, of reporting facts, and insisting on respect for each human person. I found editor Tim Reidy on Twitter and offered to pitch some stories. The first one the magazine took was about Moundsville. Since 2013, I had returned to the town a half-dozen times on fact-finding trips. By that time, I knew what I was looking for. I started the story this way:
No matter what time of day it is, Phil Remke, the ebullient vice mayor of this West Virginia river town of 8,700, salutes every constituent the same way: “Top of the morning to ya.”
It is still early enough in Trump’s America for supporters like Mr. Remke to hope that the president can carry more of the fantasies he spun into triumph, and late enough to get a sense of what is actually happening.
The America story, which ran at over 2,500 words on the cover of the magazine, was the first time I realized that the town stood for multiple social, geographic, cultural and economic strands of America’s past, present and future.
Around that time, Dave Bernabo and I got funding from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to make the documentary. The movie is different, in large part because so much of it is about the 2,200-year-old burial mound in the middle of town, but the article laid some important intellectual and conceptual foundations, and helped convince the arts council that we had a story to tell.
Anyway, now America is going to host a screening of “Moundsville” at 6pm on Jan. 14 at their headquarters in New York, in midtown Manhattan, right across the street from the Wall Street Journal.
The idea is to show the movie to interested journalists, academics, church leaders and policy people, and then have a conversation about it. I’m thrilled, and excited to see what comes out of all this. — John