Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Podcast Appalachia: “Appalachian Abolitionism”

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available! It’s a little known fact that Appalachians, both in the North and the South, played a major role in the early movement to abolish slavery. In this episode I look at this history and examine the role Appalachians played in expanding human liberty. You can listen here or view a transcript here.

Estes Kefauver Was a Blithering Idiot

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Interesting article at CNN on a nearly forgotten chapter of twentieth century history: the Great Comic Book Scare:

World War II was over, but as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, a new evil lurked in the land. Ten-Cent Plague

It attracted a youthful audience — boys, mostly — who fell victim to its colorful images, dripping in red, and gave money to its purveyors.

Authorities took notice. The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with “c” and whose first syllable rhymed with “bomb.”

Comic books.

At the time comic books were very popular among youth, perhaps because they were quite good at pushing the envelope. Comics of the time frequently featured gory violence, attractive (if unrealistically drawn) women, and controversial social commentary. A few years before Elvis shocked the world on the Ed Sullivan show, do-gooders and politicians believed comic books were corrupting the youth. A well-meaning but goofy psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham even wrote a book (sensationally entitled Seduction of the Innocent in which he argued that comics were responsible for juvenile delinquency.

Across America comic book burnings were held. Entire cities banned the sale of comic books. Tennessee’s very own Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver, fresh off his hearings on organized crime, took the logical next step in his anti-crime crusade and launched a Senate inquiry on comic books and their effects on children. He brought in Wertham himself, as well as Bill Gaines, boss of the popular and controversial EC comics line, proving that the wasting of taxpayer money by the federal government is hardly a new problem.

All in all, it was a very strange time. If any of this sounds interesting, you should definitely read The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu. I read it over the weekend and loved it. A true story of mass hysteria, it is both amusing and frightening.

UPDATE: No, I don’t really think Kefauver was an idiot. The title of this post is a bit of hyperbole. Kefauver did some good things while in the Senate, but on this issue I do think he was out to lunch.

Bell Witch Cave Recognized

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

The legendary Bell Witch Cave has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. You can read an article I wrote on the Bell Witch here.

Via Michael Silence

Podcast Appalachia: “King Coal”

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available! In this episode I look at coal. No rock has been more influential or more controversial in Appalachian society than coal; while helping fuel unprecedented economic growth in America and employment for generations of mountain people, it is also very dangerous to mine and has done much damage to the environment. In this episode I present a history of coal mining, as well as discuss the advantages and disadvantages associated with it. You may listen here or view a transcript here.

Podcast Appalachia: “Appalachian Music”

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available! In this episode I discuss the musical heritage of Appalachia, who influenced this heritage, and how numerous genres of music (including rock, country, blues, and others) owe a dept to Appalachian musicians. You may listen here or view a transcript here.

Sgt York Country

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Last month I visited Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park in Pall Mall, TN. I took many photos (as usual), the best of which I now share with you, in addition to a brief bio of a true Appalachian hero.

Sgt Alvin C. York was the most famous American World War I soldier. He famously killed 28 German soldiers and captured 132 others in the Argonne Forest in France. A recipient of the Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre, he was the subject of a classic 1941 movie Sergeant York in which he was portrayed by Gary Cooper.

Ironically, York very nearly refused to serve in the war. Early in his life, he had been a bit of a hellion, enjoying hard drinking and hard living. This lifestyle was not without its dangers. One night his friend was killed in a bar fight, an event that so shook young Alvin York that he gave up drinking and joined his mother’s church, becoming a devout Christian.

York’s new church believed strongly in pacifism. York shared this belief that killing was a sin, which made it very difficult for him to join the war effort when he received a notice to register for the draft. York simply wrote “don’t want to fight” on his registration card. He struggled mightily over what to do next, spending much time in prayer before finally deciding he must enter service.

In spite of his decision, York remained a committed pacifist upon entry into the Army, which led to numerous theological discussions and debates among his fellow soldiers. These discussions would eventually convince him that war could be justified in some cases.
On October 8, 1918, York performed an amazing and heroic feat that would make him a legend. Seventeen men, including York, infiltrated German lines to take out machine guns. Unfortunately, the Americans were hit with machine gun fire, killing six Americans and wounding three others, including York’s superior, leaving York in charge of the seven remaining soldiers.

As his men remained under cover, York advanced toward the machine guns. German Lieutenant Paul J├╝rgen Vollmer fired repeatedly at York even as he dodged machine gun fire but failed to injure him. When Vollmer ran out of bullets, he surrendered to York. York and his men were able to capture 132 German prisoners. These deeds earned him the Medal of Honor and Croix de Guerre, among others.

Upon his return home, York remained humble and did not wish to be viewed as a hero. He decline numerous opportunities to sell his story, opting instead to marry his sweetheart and return to his home in Pall Mall. It was not until 1941 that he would authorize a film.

York’s experiences in Europe led him to conclude that education was needed in his community, and he went to work establishing schools. He started a Bible school in Pall Mall, as well as Alvin C. York Institute in 1926. The Institute would struggle during the early years, and York sometimes paid teacher’s salaries from his own pocket. The school was taken over by the state in 1937 and remains Jamestown’s primary high school.

Sgt York was a powerful symbol of the region from which he came: a simple, kind hearted man capable to great heroism and who believed strongly in the power of education. We are all well served to remember his example.


Historic marker in Jamestown, TN
Wolf River Post Office and store. The store is still owned by the York family.
Alvin York’s house.

Wolf River.


Alvin C. York’s grist mill.
Wolf River.


Grist mill from the down river.


Another shot of the Wolf River.


York’s former Bible school.


Alvin C. York Institute, Jamestown, TN.


Wolf Creek United Methodist Church, established 1840 (York is buried here).


York’s grave.


York and wife’s graves.

Cross posted at Hillbilly Savants

Ancient Spruce

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Scientists in Sweden have discovered a pretty old tree:

Researchers had discovered a spruce with genetic material dating back 9,550 years in the Fulu mountain in Dalarna, according to Leif Kullmann, a professor of Physical Geography at the university in northwestern Sweden.

That would mean it had taken root in roughly the year 7,542 BC.

So in other words, this tree’s life began a few thousand years before construction began on the Egyptian pyramids. Incredible stuff.

Podcast Appalachia: “The Scots-Irish”

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available! In this episode, I look at the Scots-Irish and their contributions to Appalachia and America. Are you or any of your relatives from the Appalachian region? Then you are probably of Scots-Irish descent. You can listen to this episode here or view a transcript here.

Never Forget

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Dachau for political prisoners. Over the next 12 years, the prison would become the “model” Nazi concentration camp and house over 200,000 prisoners, of which it is believed that 25,613 died.

I visited this camp back in the summer of 2006 and it was one the most moving experiences of my life. You can view my photos here.

Podcast Appalachia: “Daniel Boone”

Monday, March 24th, 2008

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is available for download! In this episode I provide a biography of frontiersman Daniel Boone, an early explorer of Appalachia and one of the most famous people in American history. You can find Podcast Appalachia on iTunes, or you can listen to this episode directly here. A transcript is also available here.