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Beauty from the Fires of Hell
US 60 Part 3
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-11-23 10:38 (KST)   
You can't really get a good view of the New River from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center operated by the National Park Service, especially late in the afternoon when the New River Gorge Bridge is back-lit by the setting sun.

New River Gorge Bridge, near Fayetteville, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane


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ach year there is one day, Bridge Day, the third Saturday in October, when the bridge is closed to traffic and you can walk out and get a great view looking down 875 feet (267 meters) to the water below.

You won't be alone though, as about 200,000 people will be there, including the jumpers. Jumpers? Yes, BASE jumpers. That's B(uilding), A(ntenna), S(pan as in bridge), E(arth as in cliffs) jumpers. They come from all over the world to West Virginia's largest one-day festival, at Fayetteville, which commemorates the October 1977 completion of the New River Gorge Bridge. Bridge Day has been celebrated every year since 1980.

This was a big surprise for us as we'd only come to Fayetteville to camp at Wal-Mart and came on the New River Gorge by chance. Unfortunately, we were too early to witness Bridge Day as we had to move on but we stopped at the Convention and Visitors Bureau to pickup this year's Bridge Day brochure and talk with Herman Hudnall and the executive director, Calentha Quesenberry.

Herman and Calentha said the town was named after Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington셲 French advisor during the Revolutionary War, in 1873 and was fought over during the Civil War several times. Herman showed us a well outside the Bureau that had been used by both Union and Confederate soldiers.

We learned that Fayetteville sits above the lowest sulfur, highest grade coal on earth, once mined extensively during the great coal boom of the early 1900s, and is now a support center for outdoor tourism. Businesses have been doing well as the New River Gorge and Fayetteville are destinations for people downsizing their vacations.

Roaming around the historic business district, it only took one look at the door of Water Stone Outdoors to know what they were about.

Door to Water Stone Outdoor, Fayetteville, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

Maura Kistler, Water Stone Outdoor
©2009 D. McLane
As we checked the place out, one of the owners, Maura Kistler showed up and we talked with her about what life was like in a small town like Fayetteville (population around 2,500) and how her business was doing.

Maura said Fayetteville was a good place to raise a family once you got past the lack of education and the hold-over remnants of racism. As for business, she said she and her husband had been there 16 years and, "This is the best year we've ever had. People come from all over to Fayetteville as it's Affordable Plan B."

When I asked Maura about the photos of the BASE jumpers and the whitewater runners in the brochure she said to have a look at Studio B Gallery and Gifts up the street.

There were some good looking photos by Bruce Burgin on display at Studio B, but more interesting was the person on duty, Michael Turner, who owns New River Photo and only comes in to Studio B once a week. Michael said business was kind of slow so we had a long and interesting talk about the kind of photography he and others in the area do.

CHARLESTON WAS THE NEXT BIG TOWN WE SKIPPED as we pushed west on US?60 which hugs the Kanawha River once you get past the city. We stopped at the St. Albans Roadside City Park which is just west of one of the oldest archeological sites in the United States where Native Americans camped over 6,000 years ago. An elderly couple who'd stayed for a few nights in one of the four campsites were RVing back to Michigan and gave us some tips on the road ahead.

On our side of the highway was a Blue Star Memorial Highway sign which looked interesting. Researching what it was later on, I found there are various memorial highways in the United States that pay tribute to the U.S. armed forces. The program started in 1945 after World War II when the blue star was used on service flags to denote a service member fighting in the war.

Blue Star Memorial Highway marker, St. Albans Roadside City Park, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

A little further on we saw a somewhat similar star over somebody's front door, only it was much bigger and red. We stopped and asked the people what it meant, they said they didn't know, they just liked it.

Front door of house, Huntington, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

AFTER A FEW MILES, US?60 LEFT THE KANAWAHA RIVER and we headed toward the next Wal-Mart in Huntington. There wasn't a lot to see, just the tree-shrouded road, until suddenly we came on the Mud River Baptist Church in Barboursville with a display that looked similar to the three crosses we'd seen near Lexington but the two outer crosses had been replaced by American flags. I shot photo of the setup using a combination of flash and ambient and moved on.

Mud River Baptist Church, Barboursville, W.Va.
©2009 OhmyNews

We spent the night in Huntington and something prompted me to render the photo of the cross and two flags, print out a postcard-size version in Wal-Mart, and take it back to the church and either give it to them if somebody was there or leave it in the post box.

When we got to the church there was a car parked in the lot so we knocked at a side door. Roy Pinkerton came to the door and we gave him the photo saying we thought the church might like to have it. Roy invited us in and we had a short tour of the church which was built in 1807.

Originally the building had two doors, one for the men and one for the women. Men traditionally sat on the left side and women on the right. Genders were served communion from different cups as well. Slaves were seated in a balcony until the end of the civil Civil War.

While we were talking with Roy, two women showed up, Marilyn Radcliff and Judy Shirley, and we began talking about the local economy. They said that locally things were holding together but the glass factory over in Milton, a small almost-nothing town we'd passed through, "Almost went under but now sells its wares all over the world."

The subject changed when Sueko said that we'd seen three crosses near churches but had never seen one cross with two flags like there was at this church. Judy said, "The Pledge of Allegiance says America is "One nation under God," so the cross is Jesus and the two flags are America.

Sueko asked a few more questions and Judy stood up and went to the board and gave a long dissertation.

Judy Shirley, Mud River Baptist Church
©2009 D. McLane

The schematic on the board shows Man and Sin on the left, God in the center, and Jesus, Roy, Marilyn and Judy on the right. Here are the key sentences from the rest of the dissertation: "The only way you can get to Heaven is through Jesus. His blood covers all our sins. He's coming back and if I were to be in a car I will be lifted up to Heaven and the car will run amok. The US used to be a Christian country but isn't one any longer. We should make the right choices but if I fail I'm forgiven as I believe the only way to Heaven is through Jesus. You have to mean it from your heart. It's harder for adults to believe than children who believe what their parents say." All three people, Judy, Marilyn and Roy, said they'd become believers when they were somewhere between 10 and 15 years old.

Before we left they gave us two books, "The King James Version of the Bible" and "The Church at Blue Sulphur, Mud River Baptist, 1807".

WITH THAT, WE THANKED THEM AND HEADED BACK EAST TO MILTON to see if we could find the glass factory. Milton definitely looked like it had seen better days, especially the bank.

The Bank of Milton, Milton, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

We didn't see anything that looked like a glass factory but when we went to turn around we noticed a sign pointing south to Mud River Road saying something about Blenco Glass. We found the factory, a sprawl of rusty metal buildings alongside a railroad siding with a road leading around the corner to the showroom. And what a show!

Blenko Glass Company showroom, Milton, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

We learned that the Blenko Glass Company was founded in 1893 by William J. Blenko who was born in 1853 in London's East End and started working in London glass houses when he was 13 years old. He came to America with the intention of starting the first glasshouse that could supply mouth blown glass for stained glass windows. The company has remained a family business with Walter J. Blenko, Jr. serving as President since September 2008.

As for the idea the company "almost went under," this was laid to rest by Katie Trippe who said it wasn't so, they're doing just fine. While the products are all made at Blenco, a variety of designers come and work out the details of ideas which are then reproduced by the permanent staff of skilled craftsmen.

After having a look at all the different types of glassware that's produced at Blenco, you're free to go to an observation deck and watch it happen, which is a fascinating ballet of wait, quick, slow.

One craftsman waits as the glass heats in the furnace, then quickly and smoothly brings it over to an assistant craftsman who clamps the mold over the molten glass, the first craftsman blows the glass into the mold, and takes it back to the furnace, waits for it to heat, then quickly and smoothly transfers the glass to where he and the assistant make further changes. The process repeats again and again. The only sound is that of the furnace.

Beauty from the fires of hell.

Blowing glass at Blenko Glass
©2009 D. McLane

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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