The Lessons of Screening ‘Moundsville’ at the Town’s 2,250-Year-Old West Virginia Burial Mound

In a country where it’s hard to find human things that are really old, the 2,250-year-old Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, WV, on the Ohio River, stands out as a rare window into the deep past. 

That’s why I was thrilled when Andrea Keller, the mound’s coordinator, invited us to screen our PBS film Moundsville last Saturday inside the adjacent museum’s auditorium, where she organizes a hefty schedule of fascinating screenings and events.  

The museum, which is well worth a day trip, houses West Virginia’s archeological collection, an excellent gift shop, temporary displays, and a permanent exhibit about the mound itself. 

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I said yes, and committed to donate the state’s $200 screening fee to Appalachian Outreach, the charity featured in the film. (Slogan: “Where a Little Means a Lot.”) Founder Rose Hart is stepping down, and I was glad to meet new director Wendy Tronka. These are good people doing good work.

Andrea Keller introduces Moundsville (PBS)

We drew a crowd of a bit over 50, good attendance on a rainy Saturday afternoon for a movie that came out three years ago. Local TV news showed up.

Former mayor Gene Saunders attended, along with Andrea, Rose, and town historian Gary Rider. These are the people who are the backbone of the oral history we present in Moundsville. 

Gary Rider, Andrea Keller, Gene Saunders, John W. Miller, Rose Hart

I was particularly pleased that Rider agreed to introduce me and the film. 

As it’s evolved, our dream has become to help people like Gary, an author and former high school history teacher, tell the story of their towns without the noise and fury of national political narratives. Gary’s currently working on a history of the people who worked at the Marx toy plant, whose jobs were yanked out from under them when the plant closed in 1980. “Wives had to go get their husbands from work because they didn’t want to leave,” he told me. I will write more about Gary’s book when it comes out this spring.

After the screening, people asked questions and suggested pieces and parts of the Moundsville story that we missed and would be good for future coverage. Grand Vue Park. The Strand. I acknowledged that our film is incomplete. There are always more stories to tell.

This website is always open to anybody from Moundsville who’d like to share their story or vision for Moundsville. 

I was also happy to see Amanda Page, who recently directed a new documentary film about her hometown, Portsmouth, OH, called Peerless City. It follows a similar methodology: Interviews with residents, no voiceover, no outside experts. (One exception: Peerless City’s interviews with branding experts, because the film follows the Ohio river town’s history via the story of its city slogans, a clever framing structure.) Moundsville co-director Dave Bernabo worked with Page on Peerless City. Next week, I’ll publish a full review of their film. Two movies is a movement.

The mission of the Moundsville film, and the writing on this website, have been to tell the story of one very interesting town, and also to propose a new kind of story for Americans that has room for complexity and nuance, without the simplistic and incomplete political narratives that dominate national discourse. In Moundsville, as elsewhere, many things are true.

And, as the Grave Creek Mound reminds us, we’re all just passing through, sharing this fragile dirt with each other and with the humans who were there before us, doing something different in the exact same place, demanding humility and respect.

John W. Miller

2 comments

  1. Is it possible to speak about the Mound to our Woman’s Club of Wheeling members at a scheduled meeting. We welcome speakers who will share historical information for our members to enjoy and can pay or donate. Please contact me as President of the Woman’s Club of Wheeling. Thanks.

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