‘Moundsville’ to Make PBS Debut on West Virginia Public Broadcasting Monday, May 25 in 9pm Prime-Time Slot

We’re thrilled to make our public television debut with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, after Moundsville’s acquisition by NETA. This story belongs to the people of Moundsville, Marshall County, and West Virginia. We’re getting the coveted 9pm prime-time slot, right after Antiques Roadshow. I hope people enjoy the story and that it sparks lot of good conversations.

John W. Miller

PRESS RELEASE

MAY 20, 2020

‘Moundsville’ to Make PBS Debut on West Virginia Public Broadcasting  

–       Moundsville to air on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Monday, May 25, at 9 p.m.

–       First screening on a PBS affiliate since acquisition by National Educational Telecommunications Association

–       For more information or to receive a digital copy of the film, contact John W. Miller on 412-298-0391 or jmjournalist@gmail.com – Info&reviews: Moundsville.org

–       Moundsville is the biography of a classic American town, Moundsville, WV

–       Moundsville  has been endorsed and recommended as “Refreshing Change” from Hillbilly Elegy, by West Virginia Council of Teachers of English Co-Director Jessica Salfia

PITTSBURGH, PA — Moundsville, the biography of a classic American town acclaimed as an antidote to “Hillbilly Elegy,” will air on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Monday, May 25, at 9 p.m.

WVPB is the first station to air Moundsville since it was acquired by the National Educational Telecommunications Association at the end of 2019.

Eddie Isom is WVPB’s director of programming. “We love to work with independent producers who tell stories about the history and culture of the Mountain State,” Isom said. “We are pleased to present Moundsville because gives us an interesting look at a historical area and manages to avoid typical West Virginia stereotypes.”

John W. Miller co-directed the film with David Bernabo. “We’re thrilled to show Moundsville to West Virginians,” Miller said. “We hope the movie inspires pride in the region, shows that Americans can still come together for shared narratives and sparks healthy conversations about the future that are free of poisonous national politics.”

After premiering in Moundsville in December, 2018, the film this year has been distributed online, on Vimeo, and screened publicly in New York City, Pittsburgh, and various locations in West Virginia. In 2019, it was acquired by The National Educational Telecommunications Association.

In The Atlantic, James Fallows called it “fresh and valuable.” In endorsing the film, West Virginia Council of Teachers of English co-director Jessica Salfia called it “refreshing change from the extraction narratives that delivered us Hillbilly Elegy.”

Moundsville

Moundsville is the biography of a classic American town in the age of President Trump. Told through the voices of residents, it sidesteps clichés — like opioids, coal, and Trump — and traces the town’s story from the Native American burial mound it’s named after, through the rise and fall of industry — including giants like Fostoria glass and the Marx toy plant (Rock’em Sock’em robots!) — to the age of Walmart and shale gas, and a new generation that’s figuring it all out. By reckoning with deeper truths about the heartland and its economy, without nationalist nostalgia or liberal condescension, Moundsville plants seeds for better conversations about America’s future. We’re screening, and hosting discussions, at theaters, museums, libraries, unions and cultural centers.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The mission of West Virginia Public Broadcasting is to educate, inform and inspire our people by telling West Virginia’s story. WVPB is an indispensable resource for education, news and public affairs, emergency services and economic development.

John W. Miller (co-director)

John W. Miller is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experiences in print, radio, TV and film. As a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Miller reported from 45 countries and covered global mining and global trade, elections, trade negotiations, the World Cup and Tour de France. Miller also has reported and written for Time, America, Heated, NPR, Buzzfeed, the Baltimore Sun, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and serves as chief economic analyst of Trade Data Monitor. Moundsville is his first film.

David Bernabo (co-director)

David Bernabo is a filmmaker, musician, dancer, visual artist, and writer, performing with the bands Host Skull, Watererer, and How Things Are Made; devising dances with his variable dance company, MODULES; and often collaborating with Maree ReMalia | merrygogo. He curates and produces work for the Ongoing Box imprint and co-curates the Lightlab Performance Series with slowdanger. Bernabo’s films have screened at the On Art Film Festival, JFilm Festival, Re:NEW Festival, Afronaut(a) Film Club, the Foodable Film Festival, and on WQED’s Filmmakers Corner.

The National Educational Telecommunications Association

The NETA Program Service distributes quality documentaries and specials to 338 public television stations across the country. With member stations and independent producers as our partners, we celebrate diverse voices and unique perspectives representing every state in the country and share those stories with a national audience.

For more information or receive a digital copy of the film, contact John W. Miller on 412-298-0391 or jmjournalist@gmail.com – Info&reviews: Moundsville.org

No Actors? Try Cats

Google “cat videos” and you’ll get 4.8 billion views.

We love these mini-movies because cats swing, Charlie Chaplin apex predators on acid, between manic zane and don’t-give-a-shit zen.

And, as John Oliver at Last Week Tonight and Jason Gay at the Wall Street Journal, among others, have pointed out, the coronavirus lockdown is a peak moment in the history of feline and friend. Cat club is in session.

Now, behold, a great American idea to fight virus with viral: A nationwide cat video contest and film to support local movie theaters, run by Pittsburgh’s Row House Cinema.

Click here to submit your best 30-second video of your cat going crazy by May 15. Entry is free and there’s a limit of three per household. Cash prizes, to be determined, in categories of “Cutest, Funniest, Bravest, and Most Loving”, and best overall. Check website for full specs, which include horizontal frame, no music, and mp4, mov, m4v formats.

Starting June 19, you can buy a ticket online to watch the resulting 70-minute film, and you’ll get to choose which local theater to support with approximately 50% of your ticket price. (The rest is for Row House and the filmmakers.) So far, over 30 theaters in 23 states have signed on, including The Neon, Dayton OH, Tampa Theatre, Tampa FL, Sidewalk Film Center, Birmingham AL, and Paradise Theater, Toronto ON.

The lives of indie films, like our “Moundsville”, run through places like Row House, a cozy 84-seat den twinned with a craft beer bar, and we screened there a couple times last year.

The idea for the cat video contest, said Brian Mendelssohn — owner of Row House, two cats (Isabella and Oliver, who star in the film’s trailer), one dog (Copper) — is to “celebrate cats” while raising money for independent movie theaters, “who are deeply at risk due to closures.”

Like other theaters, Row House has been surviving by renting current films to viewers on their website, and it’s been selling beer in its store, and now, channeling the greatest online film craze of them all, with actors bound to be more exciting than those boring humans on Zoom.

John W. Miller

Beautiful Mourning: What the Rust Belt Can Teach the World About Loss — ‘Pittsburgh’ Cartoonist Santoro Sees Off-Beat in Colors — “There will not be a resolution”

As we grieve the loss of restaurants and ballgames, I recommend a book: Frank Santoro’s graphic memoir, Pittsburgh. An initial print run of 4,000 has sold out, but you can still buy the book at CopaceticComics.

Santoro is a 47-year-old author and cartoonist who grew up in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh called Swissvale, boomeranged to California and back, and is now home in Western Pennsylvania. He started the project, which I discovered at a reading at my beloved neighborhood bookstore, the inestimable White Whale, as a 16-page newspaper comic for the Pittsburgh Biennial at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2011.

That grew into an illustrated book-length tale of Santoro’s Rust Belt boyhood, exile and return, that the New York Times called a “a lush, innovative and important monument to loss”.

The hardback is a loving journey through a classic 1970s and 1980s childhood – Santoro’s dad was a Vietnam vet – colored by the memories of an even older America of unionized factories stabilizing neighborhoods, enclaves of European immigrants, middle-class prosperity, and small towns before interstate highways and shopping malls.

It’s very much a memoir, and you travel with Santoro now, looking back, and as a young man, in love with his dog named Pretzel and hockey, sorting out his family story, and wandering around a neighborhood anchored by his grandfather’s convenience store, land of newspapers and pop, and the Legion, Dago Club, and Triangle Bar+Grill.

That world lives in Santoro’s sketches of row houses, bridges and rivers. Pittsburgh is a work of art, a thing of beauty worth keeping around to gaze at.

“Pittsburgh is fairly gray, of course,” Santoro told the Pittsburgh Tribune, “but when the sun shines you see other colors. There’s a scene with my mom where there’s lot of reds, because it’s a very emotional scene. I try to view the landscape with the same emotion. I try to have an evocative color that plays in harmony with the emotional scenes that are playing out on the page.”

I called Santoro, who’s finishing up some contracted work and brainstorming new projects on a typewriter, to get his thoughts about the grief we’re all experiencing, and asked him whether he relates that loss to the one described in the book.

The two are not completely analogous, he said, but he understood the question. “A criticism of the book is there’s no apparent resolution,” he said. “I don’t wrap it up in a bow. And this world we’re in, well, there will not be a resolution.” Things will be different, and we have to adapt, he said.

I love that sensitivity to reality, I told him. As we hope to convey in Moundsville, the past matters, and grieving loss is important, but reality and truth matter, too, and it’s more important than ever to face what’s actually happening instead of escaping into fantasy and nostalgia. And, as Pittsburgh shows, as we muddle through, it helps to have artists who can help us face truth and reality with off-beat beauty.

The book has that jazzy feel, and cites lyrics and tunes, from Frank Sinatra to Motown. Santoro has a mild form of Synesthesia, a condition where you associate colors and music. “Most comics have a chord structure that has to resolve at the end of every page” because they ran serially in newspapers and magazines, he explained. “My comics have modes,” he added, launching into a sophisticated disquisition on literary and musical theory.

What he was saying, I suggested (and he agreed), might boil down to a line his grandmother sings in the book, from the classic Jimmie Rodgers song, “Frankie and Johnny”:

This story has no moral, This story has no end

John W. Miller

Dad Handed Profession to Son, But Not Union Card — ‘We Do the Same Job’ — On May 1, Amid Walkouts, Americans Wonder: Can Unions Stage a Comeback?

For 30 years, Fred Wilkerson, Sr., 79, was a proud union glassworker for Fostoria Glass in Moundsville. He started as an apprentice out of high school in 1958 and never stopped, except for a stint in the Air Force, 1959-1963. He belonged to the American Flint Glass Workers Union, paying his dues and collectively bargaining good middle-class wages and benefits for himself and his family. When Fostoria shuttered in 1985, part of the wave of closures that rocked the region (a story we tell in our film, available for $2.99 here), Wilkerson was one of the last workers laid off.

Stuck at home, the glassmaker had a major life decision to make. He could move to a different region for another factory job, he could change careers, or he could keep pursuing his vocation in his hometown. He chose the latter, the only thing he knew how to do. “I just wanted to make glass,” he said.

With his son, Fred, Jr., he installed a furnace in backyard and poured hot melted silica into paperweights, ashtrays, decorative pieces — whatever the market demanded. The smaller operation flourished. Last year, Wilkerson Glass produced around 50,000 pieces, Fred, Jr. said. It’s shipped around the world, including to Germany and Austria, and has made pieces for big-ticket clients around the country, including the White House. Fred’s daughter Dalis works at the Oglebay Institute’s Glass Museum in Wheeling.

Even though they do the same work, the Wilkersons, father, son and granddaughter, are part of a generational shift: Sr. belonged to a union. Jr. and his daughter don’t.

Only 10.3% of American workers belonged to a union in 2019, down from 20.1% in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the private sector, only 6.2% belonged to union, compared to 33.6% in the public.

In towns like Moundsville, that shift has had a profound impact. The big private employers these days, like the Wal-Mart and other retailers, have successfully blocked unionization, generally keeping wages below $20 an hour, an obstacle of the shared prosperity and feeling of security Moundsville enjoyed in the decades after World War Two. Unions were flawed, prone to occasional corruption, and costly for management and owernship, yes, but they were a blunt instrument protecting workers’ wages and benefits.

As the coronavirus pandemic forces a reevaluation of the role of government in American life, it has highlighted the value, and leverage, of grocery cashiers, deliverers and other essential service employees. Workers for at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEx and Target are starting to coordinate more labor actions, including walkouts on May 1, and pushing for a general strike to obtain better working conditions.

Can unions stage a comeback in America?

The biggest obstacle to the current labor movement is that it’s much easier to replace service workers than skilled technicians like the Wilkersons. Engineers and electricians still often moonlight outside their factory gigs, the same way the Wilkersons did, especially when there’s a strike on, a United Steelworkers official told me. “When you’re the one who knows how to do the work, you can be a capitalist and cash in on it.” Workers on their own can’t organize their own supply chains and import cheap toys from China.

At the glass workshop, business is good during the pandemic, Fred. Jr. told me when I called to check. “We got a big order from the state” right before the pandemic, he said, joking that ”I work seven days a week anyway, so I’m always self-quarantining.” Fred Jr. does not know how to use Zoom. The technology is not a tool useful for glassmaking.

Unlike his father, Fred. Jr. does his work without the support of a union, although, as he points out, “we do the same job.” That means he doesn’t have the same guarantee of income stability, but he gets to keep the profits for himself and doesn’t have to cope with angry or vindictive bosses. Union membership is not something Fred Jr.’s ever had, so it’s not something he misses: “I’m so fortunate to be able to do the work that I do.”

John W. Miller

‘Moundsville’ Recommended as ‘Refreshing Change’ from ‘Hillbilly Elegy’, by West Virginia Council of Teachers of English Co-Director — ‘Put on Watch List’

Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, WV.

We picked up a cool endorsement this week, from the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English, an “organization dedicated to serving the students and teachers of WV through language arts and literacy.” The WVCTE’s co-director, Jessica Salfia, wrote a blog post recommending the film (available for $2.99 here) to the state’s teachers. She calls it a “refreshing change from the extraction narratives that delivered us Hillbilly Elegy and this recent, awful essay about a woman escaping New York with her puppy to “somewhere in Appalachia.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the mound recently, as the country faces the reality of profound, possibly permanent, social change. The 69-foot-high structure is over 2,000 years old, a reminder that every civilization and culture face the passage of time and cycles of seasons. In Salfia’s writing, the classically American story of the town “blossoms” out of the mound.

She praises the storytelling format: “My favorite part of this documentary is that the narrative is controlled completely by the town’s residents.”

In conclusion, she writes:

This documentary and its resources would be an excellent addition to any West Virginia History or Appalachian studies curriculum, but also, this doc would be a great study on perspective and narrative in an ELA course–focusing on what story gets told and how you tell it when you let the people of a place tell their own story.

As Salfia notes, we’re happy to cooperate with any West Virginia-based English teacher who’d like to show the film, online for now, or in person after the pandemic lockdown ends. You can reach me by email at jmjournalist@gmail.com

John W. Miller

Small-Town USA During Covid-19: Rose Hart, Wearing Mask, Delivers Aid in Ford Pick-Up Truck — In Resilient West Virginia, ‘Neighbor Helping Neighbor’ — ‘You Don’t Give Up’

Rose Hart, founder, Appalachian Outreach

Rose Hart is worried about catching Covid-19.

But when a flood hit Ohio County in the northern part of the state a couple weeks ago, the retired West Virginia United States Post Service mail carrier got in her Ford pick-up truck and drove to help her neighbors. Wearing a mask, she joined the Red Cross and Community Lutheran Partners to deliver mops, brooms, buckets and cleaning supplies to people whose homes and yards had been ravaged by the overflowing Middle Wheeling Creek and other Ohio River tributaries.

“Emergencies trump self-concern,” Hart texted me. “No help was available for these families. We wore our masks and kept our distance. So sad the older people had no help with restoring their yards. Truly this was neighbor helping neighbor where possible.”

Hart and Moundsville have been hustling since the 1980s when factories started closing like they had caught a viral disease. Along with millions of people in hundreds of other American towns rocked by globalization and a changing economy, residents faced the soul-crushing shock of losing good jobs they had counted on since birth.

What the world is going through economically, with tens of millions of people losing blue and white-collar jobs because of the economic shutdown, people in Rust Belt factory towns have suffered for 40 years. Fear. Anxiety. Boredom. Depression. The Hustle. None of these things are new to Moundsville.

In 2001, Hart, who lives off her USPS pension, started Appalachian Outreach, a charity devoted to helping people in West Virginia during floods and other emergencies. I love her story, which we included in our movie, because it’s one of people who are struggling helping people who are struggling.

“The way the economy is now, I think you have to be more creative and think outside the box,” Hart says in the movie, predicting the call of a planet coping with changes wrought by what my friend, writer Neil King, calls The Great Pause. “You have to look for your opportunities,” Hart continues in the film “You have to build networks, and try to connect with other people so you all find a good solution. If you’re out there on your own, and you don’t want to put out the energy and effort, you’re gonna suffer.”

In Moundsville, which once boasted world-class factories making toys, glass and chemicals, almost 10,000 good jobs were lost after 1980, shrinking the town’s population in half, to 7,500 from 15,000. A lot of people left. Those who decided to stay, in the only home they had know, had to adapt, to be entrepreneurial and learn to live with less. Fred Wilkerson, for example, started a home glassmaking business after getting laid off from the glass factory.

And now another shock; the coronavirus and the lockdown. They are not sparing towns like Moundsville. The area has reported a few dozens cases.

Appalachian Outreach canceled its spring $12,000 fundraiser, and is losing $9,000 a month, said Hart. (You can contact Rose and/or donate to Appalachian Outreach here.)

Just like everywhere else, businesses are dying. Restaurants have laid off staff and are surviving on takeout orders.

“The schools are delivering meals once a week,” Hart texted me. “I hope all the kids are getting them. With addictions in the area, some kids have to be parents and they don’t drive to meet the food bus.” She added: “The lack of connectivity is a large problem here and around the state. Even though teachers make a packet of homework for the kids, some may not be getting it.”

But if there’s anything Moundsville has learned these last 40 years, if there is any graced reward for enduring so much social and economic pain, it’s resiliency. “You have to believe that things will turn out for the better,” town historian Gary Rider told me when I called him last week. “You keep looking for jobs. You do odd jobs.  You don’t give up.”

John W. Miller

“These Are Slow, Weird Days” — In Covid-19 Crisis, Restaurants in Moundsville, WV Cope With Layoffs, Takeout, Bandanas Instead of Masks — Chinese Buffet Closed — Shortage of To-Go Containers

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Alex Martinez, Acapulco Mexican Restaurant

When we were shooting Moundsville, our favorite places to eat were the New Great Chinese Buffet and Acapulco Mexican Restaurant, both on Lafayette Ave, and Bob’s Diner, where we shot some scenes, on 3rd street. (The other options were fast food joints like Burger King and McDonald’s.) Dave loved the Reuben at Bob’s, and I devoured the roast pork fried rice at New Great Chinese, and the taco salad at Acapulco.

I called these three smaller, privately-held restaurants, two of them owned by immigrants, to find out how they’re coping with the coronavirus pandemic. A couple weeks ago, West Virginia ordered all restaurants to close to customers. With an elderly and disease-heavy population, the state faces a risk of widespread coronavirus fatalities.

The Chinese buffet is closed, an answering machine message explained, “until further notice, thank you for your understanding and stay safe.” It is not a great time to operate a germ-spreading buffet, and there have been reports across the U.S. of harassment of Asian Americans. I left a message and haven’t heard back.

At Bob’s Diner, opened (by a man named Bob) in 1947, owner Gary Workman has retained a couple cooks, a driver, and somebody to answer the phone.  The restaurant is making around 50 meals a day, far below the usual. Workman said he can handle “a couple more months of this, but after that, I don’t know.”

The biggest challenge, he said, has been finding enough to-go containers, after lockdown forced all restaurants to transition to takeout.

Acapulco, which Isaias Martinez, an immigrant from the Tamaulipas region in Mexico opened in 2000, has had to lay off “16 or 17” people, said Alex Martinez, his son, who appears in our film. A small, skeleton crew of cooks, cashiers and deliverers is still taking, making and sending out orders of fish tacos, grilled chicken salads and other favorites.

“These are slow, weird days,” Alex told me. In the film, Martinez, now 26, is a voice of reason, reflecting on how working-class Americans of different backgrounds share much more with each other than with the wealthy of their own groups.

“When you’re young in America, they teach you that whatever happens in the rest of the world, like famine, pandemics and wars, it doesn’t happen here,” he said this week. “Well, now it’s happened here, and nobody’s ready.”

The restaurant is pulling in 30 to 50 takeout customers a day, down from a couple hundred a day in normal times. “If it keeps going like this, we’ll be fine,” he said. “We are employing fewer people, and those we let go had to file for unemployment.” They can keep buying supplies and making food people need to eat.

Working the register, Martinez has been wearing a bandana he folds four times. He wasn’t able to find any protective masks in town. “There still are a lot of people who are uninformed and who aren’t that careful about spreading germs when they come in to make an order,” he said. “When you do any kind of service job, you’re on the front lines.”

When we first met a few years ago, Martinez had been thinking about college and medical school. Now, he’s decided the debt wouldn’t be worth it, and wants to pursue a short training course in computer programming instead. “We’re definitely going to be in an economic depression after this,” he said. “I don’t think college is worth it, unless the government steps in and make it affordable.”

Martinez is worried about racism against his Chinese restaurant neighbors down the road. “There needs to be huge systemic change in this country,” he said. “Who knows? It could happen. This country is so unpredictable.”

John W. Miller

How Moundsville, WV Made A Poet — Interview with Paterson Prize Finalist Carrie Conners — Even in Hard Times, “Joy and Humor and Life Keep Happening”

CConners_ID

Carrie Conners was born in Moundsville, WV in 1979, and is now a professional poet who teaches at La Guardia Community College-City University of New York.

This week, her collection Luscious Struggle (which you can buy here or here or here) was selected as a finalist for the prestigious 2020 Paterson Poetry Prize.

Growing up on Jefferson Ave, a stone’s throw from the prehistoric native American burial bound and the state prison, was an ideal formation for a poet.

In second grade, Conners said, her class was assigned to write a poem about the mound. Most of the kids rhymed words with the subject, going round and round on their way to the top.

“I wrote a two-page dark thing about Indians who were buried there,” she said.  Around that time, she started reading Stephen King: “I got interested in the macabre because of the mound and because of the penitentiary.”

In addition, Conners’ mom worked with West Virginia state poet laureate Marc Harshman, a star of our documentary, and he remains a mentor.

Even living in New York, Conners is a proud West Virginian. “I get annoyed at the way people in West Virginia are portrayed as lazy” or not smart, she said. “People are hard-working, even if it means helping others when jobs aren’t available.” Like other writers with ties to the region, she “hate-read” JD Vance’s stereotype-laden Hillbilly Elegy. “I grew up with some of the cleverest people I know.”

Not surprisingly, even though Conners left Moundsville for college in Pittsburgh when she was 18, a bunch of her poems sound notes from her hometown. “Growing up in Moundsville was a gift,” she said. “I could never not write about it.”

The region has a rich language and storytelling tradition, said Conners. “And my dad was a steelworker, so I heard a lot of colorful language growing up.”

For example, here is Sex Ed:

After my mom declared You’re just showing off when I asked at 12 years old if my bras had shrunk in the dryer I started going lingerie shopping with my former babysitter. On break from college, she’d pick me up in The Banana, her decomposing Volkswagen Rabbit—one day the turn signal wand snapped off in her hand at a Stop sign by the old Fostoria factory—and she’d drive us to the Stone & Thomas in Wheeling with my mom’s credit card in my pocket. As our thighs fused to the black vinyl seats in the summer heat, she’d tell me about college parties with stolen nitrous tanks this guy’s dad’s a dentist, a history professor she dated his stomach is flat, not washboard, just smooth, so sexy, raking a hand through her blond hair, more Malibu than Moundsville, WV and I’d pretend to understand. We’d stop at a dive bar to get vodka cranberries in Styrofoam to-go cups with bendy straws, bartenders never questioning my age, half a foot taller than my chauffeur, before greeting the hairsprayed sales ladies with their frayed tape measurers. She’d dare me to try on red satin or black lace and we’d laugh in the fitting room, mock the sale ladies’ judgmental stares at her cutoffs with the hole in the ass revealing a peek of her Jockey’s, and she’d push me to pick at least one that wasn’t beige cotton. After, we’d visit her boyfriend, a mortician her parents didn’t like, sometimes at the funeral home while he was preparing a body for viewing, Metallica blaring from the radio, more often at his apartment where they’d pop open beers, kiss, try not to openly resent the girl preventing them from doing more, while I read the liner notes of his record collection, always made more nervous by the charge between them than the corpses, by the way he’d pick her up and spin her around so fast for too long, because I had never loved anything so hard in my short life that I needed to grab it, try to make it fly.

“It’s easy to write depressing things about Moundsville,” said Conners. “But joy and humor and life keep happening. You’re always going to teenage girls laughing about silly things, people falling in love, like normal life.”

She worries about Moundsville and its elderly population coping with the coronavirus, and about the lingering impacts of deindustrialisation. “There’ve been so many jobs and factories lost,” she said. “People’s dignity takes a hit. Even as a kid, you would sense how important having a job is to people.”

These days, living near Elmhurst hospital in New York, Connors and her husband hear sirens and helicopters. She’s been advising students to write as much as possible, even if not for imminent publication. “Writer write stuff down, writers document,” she said. “As I tell students, your perspective matters.”

In Moundsville, for a young Conners, that meant paying attention to the humans around her, even those inside the prison walls:

Resolution: New Year’s Day, Moundsville, WV 1986

Sauerkraut and black-eyed peas cooking in the kitchen
on New Year’s Day, hopes for a spell of good luck.
Nana said each pea you eat adds a dollar to your name in a year’s time.
Dad called them dirt beans, said he’d rather eat his wallet
Good for nothing anyway, but forced down a bowlful this year.
Laid off six months, little girl wearing hand-me-downs
There’s your trickle-down economics.
Mom looks out the window, sees the state pen across the street,
bites the inside of her cheek, stares hard enough to raze it to the ground.
Kids called it Castle Grayskull, gothic turrets like the He-Man lair.
Behind those walls another holiday dinner is underway.
Prisoners, more tense than usual, file into the cafeteria,
for once not thinking about what’s ground up in their food.
A guard still sweating out last night’s whiskey
doesn’t hear the footsteps of the two prisoners charging from behind.
The shiv pinching into the skin of his neck sobers him
quicker than an ice bath. They strip his gun, cuff him
to an old food service worker shaking with fear and age.
The new man in charge bellows like a circus master
at a guard locked out of the caf, demands good, hot food,
decent medicine, a pizza, and some women,
to tell Governor Moore that they are men, not dogs.
Long a cons’ prison, most of the cell locks picked,
men walked the halls freely, making up for the 5X7 cells
a judge deemed cruel and unusual punishment.
Once where you wanted to end up, now too crowded,
100 men over capacity, new sadistic warden
serving three cold meals a day, closed down the Sugar Shack,
the rec room where men played cards, threw dice,
painted nightmare cartoon characters on the walls.
On day two of the riot, reclaimed, it’s the site
where one of the leaders forces a guard-turned-hostage,
to watch him cut the heart out of a suspected informant
It’s amazing how this little thing will keep a fellow alive.

Sirens cry through the town louder than midnight’s din
of whistles and kids drumming on pots with metal spoons.
Mom steers her children to the basement after a statey knocks
on the door, tells Dad about the riot across the street, to stay home,
just like the mill did too many weeks ago.
Resolved to keep things calm, Dad plays Candyland with the kids,
Mom calls the relatives to lie that everything’s fine
while on the television a prisoner spokesman says
We don’t know why we have to sleep in 10-below-degree weather in winter,
We don’t know why we have to sleep in 110-degree weather in the summer.
We don’t know why we can’t wear our hair long or grow a mustache or beard.
They say, ‘Act like men and we’ll treat you like men’; but it’s all talk.
All we want is to be treated like human beings, like the people that we are.

John W. Miller

 

EXCLUSIVE: Moundsville WVU Hoops Hero Chase Harler on Covid-19, Coach Huggins And Proposing to Fiancée He’d Dated Since 8th Grade — “Coach Huggins always talks about how tough West Virginia people are. It may take toughness to stay inside.”

chase

Q: First, most importantly, you earned some fame by proposing to your fiancée Lindsey Baker a few weeks ago, before the last WVU basketball game of the year, against Baylor. How long had you been planning that? And is it true you’ve been dating since 8th grade?

I had the idea my freshman year of college. It is true! We started dating on Dec 20, 2011.

Q: What are you doing to cope with the pandemic crisis?

My fiancée and I live together in Morgantown. We have a dog and two cats. They are keeping us pretty entertained, as well as binge watching TV shows. Below Deck: Mediterranean is what we are watching right now.

Q: How many colleges did you look at? Why did you choose WVU?

I was being recruited by Winthrop, James Madison, Marshall, and Elon. I grew up a huge WVU fan. I take so much pride being from Moundsville and West Virginia and I wanted to represent both the best way I could think of. So once they started recruiting me, I wanted to hold out as long as possible for them to offer me a scholarship so I could commit. Luckily, they offered be the summer going into my junior year of high school. I committed on the spot to [Legendary WVU] Coach [Bob] Huggins when he did it.

 Q: What are some of the qualities that people in West Virginia have that will help them get through the pandemic crisis?

Coach Huggins always talks about how tough West Virginia people are. I have seen it first hand from my parents, other family members, and friends. I know everyone is a bit shook about the virus – but having a tough enough mindset will help everyone get through it. It may take toughness to stay inside when you really do not want to.

Q: You played four years at WVU, and went to two Sweet Sixteens, but it all started in Moundsville. How did you start playing basketball? Who taught you?

I started playing organized basketball in 4th grade. I was fortunate enough to play on the 5th & 6th grade team at St. Francis Xavier School (the school is not there anymore, but the building is) as a 4th grader. My dad was by far the biggest influence in my life for the game of basketball. Also, my mom has never missed a sporting event of mine in middle school and high school. Her support had a huge impact on me as well.

 Q: What’s your favorite memory of youth basketball?

One of my favorite youth basketball memories was in 8th grade. For my 7th and 8th grade years, I attended Our Lady of Peace. In 8th grade, we won the championship. My dad was the assistant coach, so it was a great moment to share with him.

Q: How long has your family been in Moundsville?

My mom and dad are both from Moundsville, and have lived there most of their lives. I have never lived anywhere else – same house growing up and all. 

Q: What kind of jobs did people in your family do?

My dad is in an issuance agent in Glen Dale. My mom is a dentist in St. Clairsville, OH. My dad’s dad worked in the Chemical Plant, Allied Chemical, in Moundsville. My mother’s dad worked at Blaw Knox, in Wheeling.

 Q: You’ve seen our documentary “Moundsville”? What’s something you learned from it?

Since my elementary / middle was right by the mound, we would take yearly visits there for class. It is hard for me to remember all the facts I learned back then. It was very refreshing to hear about all the history about the mound.

 Q: What are some of your favorite places in Moundsville?

One of my favorite places in Moundsville as a kid was East End basketball courts, Maxwell Acres, and the baseball fields. This is where I spent a majority of my time growing up.

 Q: What’s the significance of the mound to you? How about the prison?

There are both very popular landmarks, and most people know about both throughout the state. It is pretty cool to think people travel from all over to visit the mound and prison.

 Q: What are your dreams for the future, personal, professional and basketball?

My next step is to play professional basketball overseas. I plan to play basketball as long as I can. When the ball stops bouncing – I plan to begin my basketball coaching career, most likely at the collegiate level.

John W. Miller

Special Offer for Residents of Moundsville/Glen Dale: Get Free Copy of ‘Moundsville’ (On PBS Soon) To Watch At Home

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This is a hard time for everybody. If you’re stuck at home, you need books to read, and movies to watch. To help out the people of the Moundsville/Glen Dale area, we’re offering a free copy of ‘Moundsville’, which will be on PBS starting in April.

To obtain your free copy, send me an email at jmjournalist@gmail.com and tell me a bit about your connection to the town and what you love (or don’t like) about it, and what gives you hope or what’s helping you get through these hard times. I’ll print the best reflections in a blog post.

John W. Miller

PS: Credit to Jodi Sandvik for this idea. She posted a nice note about how Moundsville will be okay. “We may be poor but we take care of each other in so many ways,” she wrote.