2017-08-23 / Columns

The Way We Were


Helping keep houses warm … for more than 100 years Mountain Eagle contributing editor Phil Primack was organizing his files of negatives recently when he came across this photograph he snapped inside an old cabin at Bull Creek near Blackey a few years ago. The cabin had been around since at least December 11, 1913 — the date seen on the front page of an old copy of The Mountain Eagle that was being used as insulation. Helping keep houses warm … for more than 100 years Mountain Eagle contributing editor Phil Primack was organizing his files of negatives recently when he came across this photograph he snapped inside an old cabin at Bull Creek near Blackey a few years ago. The cabin had been around since at least December 11, 1913 — the date seen on the front page of an old copy of The Mountain Eagle that was being used as insulation. Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

Thursday, August 25, 1927

Letcher County Deputy Sheriff Jesse Fulton, 39, was shot and killed Tuesday night while trying to make an arrest at Haymond. Being sought in connection with the shooting death is J. Kilpatrick, employee of Kelly & Shields road construction contractors. Little is known about Kilpatrick, other than he began working on the road at Haymond about three months ago and is from North Carolina, where he reportedly is wanted in connection with other crimes.

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L&N Train Number One was delayed getting to Lexington for almost two hours Tuesday after a wreck at Mayking resulted in a coal car leaving the track.

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Whitesburg High School is inviting all students from Letcher County who have finished eighth grade to attend the school in its new building, which opens September 12. Superintendent R. Dean Squires says tuition and all other school expenses will be paid for by the county government.

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Pendleton Coal Company, incorporated by Emory L. Frazier, F.F. Pendleton, J.C. Newsom, George Cook, and John M. Pendleton, has taken over the J.D. Pendleton Coal Company mine on Cowan branch and will operate it as a wagon mine for the time being, but plans to enlarge the works soon.

Thursday, August 26, 1937

Safecrackers entered the Coca-Cola Bottling Company plant in Whitesburg Saturday night, but apparently were frightened away before they gained entry into the plant’s safe. After gaining entry through a back window, the thieves had “soaped” the safe and poured nitroglycerine into the cracks before they were scared away. Dewey Polly, owner of the bottling plant, escaped injury when he opened the safe Sunday morning; he apparently was saved from injury because the nitroglycerine had run out of the soaped cracks and onto the floor. The Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office found clues at the scene that might help indentify the thieves, including a piece of a page torn from the Ashland daily newspaper.

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Suspects Everett Niece, Ellis Polly, and Cecil Sumpter were released from jail this week on bonds of $2,000 each in connection with the automobile bumper beating and robbery of Joe Yontz in the Mayking area.

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Vernon Catron was buried in the Fleming cemetery August 22. Catron died in Stafford, Arizona on Sunday, August 14, just one day after he arrived there on a train in hope of beating tuberculosis.

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The Carbon Glow mine is being cleaned up in preparation for work to resume.

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Coal mines in Blackey are working only two days a week right now, sometimes three.

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All remaining assets of the Blackey State Bank, including the building that formerly housed it and other nearby lots, will be sold at auction on September 26. All of the property formerly belonging to George M. Hogg will also be included in the sale.

Thursday, August 28, 1947

Nine employees of the Western Construction Company were injured Saturday night at the C&O Railroad tunnel under construction above Jenkins when a section of pipe was blown loose from a concrete pumping machine.

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The first two ships returning America’s war dead are scheduled to reach the U.S. in October, and the War Department says not to expect the arrival of others this year. About 3,500 bodies will be brought home aboard the first vessel, due in San Francisco on October 10. Another ship carrying the bodies of some 6,300 dead soldiers, most of them from the Henry Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium, is scheduled to arrive in New York City on October 25.

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Schools in Fleming and Whitesburg are scheduled to open September 1.

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A photograph on the front page of The Mountain Eagle shows two Consolidation Coal Company employees using the Myers-Whaley coal loading machine, which operates on the regular mine track and discharges coal directly into the mine cars. Pictured are loader operator Wade Parsons and his helper, Hobart Tompkins. All of the coal coming from the barrier pillars in Mine 206 is loaded with the Myers- Whaley machine.

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Workmen unexpectedly tapped a natural gas well in Leslie County while drilling for coal on Wiley Keen’s farm eight miles south of Hyden. The workers had drilled some 300 feet from the surface when they suddenly cut into the pocket of gas. Herbert Dixon, Mr. Keen’s son-in-law, said gas shot 50 feet into the air and was still spouting last night. He said the well would be capped today.

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Mina Miller Edison, 82, widow of Thomas A. Edison, died this week in New York City. She was the inventor’s second wife and the mother of Charles A. Edison, former governor of New Jersey.

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“Whitesburg and Letcher County are very fortunate in having such a beautiful picnic ground and lake for swimming, boating and fishing,” correspondent Virginia Combs writes about the new Pine Mountain Resort. “Mr. Dewey Polly has spent a large sum of money to provide this park, and unless it is appreciated and supported it will not be there always. Many have said, ‘If such a playground were in that distance of other towns it would be crowded to capacity at all times.’ Not only should this resort be enjoyed, but every effort should be made to help the caretakers keep the place lovely and clean.”

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Martin’s Department Store at Vicco is the area’s dealer for the new Torridaire “Magazine Circulator” coal heater. Selling for $109.50, the unit holds 100 pounds of coal and also serves as a grill and cook stove.

Thursday, August 29, 1957

The City of Jenkins will be the host to at least 10,000 persons who will be attending the 12th Labor Day Celebration of District 30 of the United Mine Workers of America. The ballpark will be the scene of activity for the celebrating miners and their families from the District 30 counties of Letcher, Perry, Floyd, Johnson, Pike and Knott.

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Former Fleming-Neon High School Drum Major Ernest L. Hunter Jr. was seriously injured in an automobile accident Saturday night and is being treated at the Fleming hospital for a broken leg and other injuries. As a result of the accident, Mr. Hunter has been forced to decline a scholarship offer that would have allowed him to perform as drum major for the University of Kentucky Marching Band.

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Mr. and Mrs. Troy Stallard of Whitesburg, operators of Standard Laboratories, have purchased the Swansboro Laboratories at Grundy, Virginia. Standard Laboratories samples coal and coke in our region.

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Property assessments are up nearly $2 million in Letcher County over the past year. Letcher County Tax Commissioner Ottis Amburgey said the increases are mostly in valuations of automobiles, with most of the new income going to state government in Frankfort.

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Slightly more than 1,700 students are enrolled in the Jenkins Independent School District this year, reports Superintendent C.V. Snapp. According to Snapp, Jenkins High School now boasts 450 students with the addition of the freshman class from McRoberts.

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Letcher Circuit Judge Courtney Wells, whose circuit also includes Perry County, says he “had not the slightest inkling” the high sheriff of Perry County was going to “strike” defense attorney John Y. Brown Jr. during a hearing in Judge Wells’s chambers in the Perry County Courthouse. “I would not have had it happen or permitted it to happen,” Judge Wells says in paid political advertisement appearing in The Mountain Eagle. The incident between Brown and the sheriff occurred during a hearing held to determine whether Judge Wells should step aside from hearing the murder case of Ed Day and Melvin Day of Leslie County, who are charged in the shooting death of Jack Fields, described by Judge Wells as “one of the best deputy sheriffs Perry County has ever had.” Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Emmitt G. Fields is prosecuting the case. The hearing grew heated after attorney Brown, of Fayette County, produced an affidavit describing why the Days believe Judge Wells should step aside. The allegations contained in the document angered the judge, who called the statements “grossly untrue.” Attorney Brown also grew angry and said that anyone who says the allegations aren’t true is “a liar.” Writes Judge Wells: “At this point, Mr. Brown became enraged and said to me that I would not make that statement if I were down in his county of Fayette, and further said I would not say that to him if I did not have a pistol toting sheriff with a .45 on him standing there by him to guard me. When he made that statement he pointed his finger in the sheriff ’s face, and when Mr. Brown did that the sheriff struck him with his fist in the side of the head, knocking him to the floor.” Judge Wells points out that the case was transferred for trial to Clark County, where both defendants were acquitted. Three weeks after the acquittals, Ed Day was arrested while resisting arrest and trying to kill the high sheriff of Leslie County in Hyden. Two weeks after Ed Day’s death, the deputy sheriff who killed him was murdered in ambush.

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The Sapphire mine of Elkhorn-Jellico Coal Company has been running coal only four days a week because the L&N Railroad has been unable to furnish empty coal gons.

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Teachers Vinson Caudill and Lula Robinson are back on the job at the Thornton School, which opened for the 1957-58 school year on August 28.

Thursday, August 24, 1967

The Appalachian Volunteers today asked the Office of Economic Opportunity for a “full public hearing” on OEO’s decision to withdraw federal funds from the AV program in Kentucky as of September 1. Governor Edward T. Breathitt said he had requested the cutoff because numerous community action agency workers had complained that AVs had refused to cooperate with them in the War on Poverty. More than half the community action directors in the state signed a telegram to OEO Director Sargent Shriver, protesting the manner in which OEO support was withdrawn.

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“From what we see and hear here in eastern Kentucky,” says a Mountain Eagle editorial on the withdrawal of funds to the Appalachian Volunteers, “it is clear that the Appalachian Volunteers fell victim to a power play by Kentucky state poverty director Al Whitehouse, a Breathitt appointee who for the past year has waged an all-out war for direct personal control of the AV operations — or else their removal from the state.”

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Irene Dixon and Alicene Fields, of Blackey, members of the Hound Dog Hookers, demonstrated the art of making hooked rugs at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. The Letcher County women have turned their rug-hooking skills into a profitable enterprise; they began five years ago.

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The City of Whitesburg Urban Renewal Commission gave up this week on a long series of attempts to persuade the Letcher County Board of Education to build a new grade school on the old showground property in the Whitesburg urban renewal area. Don Brown, the commission’s executive director, said the commission will request a zoning change permitting the showgrounds to be used for light industry.

Thursday, August 18, 1977

A caravan of cars, trucks and vans carrying an estimated 200 West Virginia coal miners assembled Sunday night at Dorton, in Pike County, on the first leg of a journey they hope will close, and keep closed, union mines throughout the mountains and in midwestern coalfields of western Kentucky and Illinois. United Mine Workers miners began striking shortly after the UMW Health and Retirement Funds announced a reduction in medical benefits. Strikers in District 17 began massing earlier this week in preparation, they said, for a cross-country caravan of roving pickets aiming at closing down union mines still in operation in western Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

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The Polichettis were among the first Italian immigrant families to move into Letcher County, following abundant jobs and good wages promised by the area’s first coal boom. Elena Polichetti Codispoti is now among the last surviving members of those families. Only one other Italian lived in Letcher County when the Polichettis arrived. Elena’s father, a skilled stonemason was never out of work and, she says, the family never encountered the kind of community hostility met by immigrants in larger cities. With the railroad came more immigrant families, among them 17-year-old August Codispoti from Calabria in southern Italy. The couple were married in the 1920s.

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Rain-swollen creeks flooded communities in parts of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, leaving more than 2,000 people homeless in West Virginia this week. In eastern Kentucky, between 100 and 150 homes were damaged. Three to four inches of rain fell during the weekend in parts of Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service.

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An undetermined amount of drugs and medicine was stolen from the Isom Pharmacy during a burglary Saturday. Sheriff Ruben Watts said, “A lot of medicines were stolen but very few controlled substances. It was greenhorn job.”

Wednesday, August 19, 1987

State and federal authorities this week were continuing their search for Anthony and Carolyn Shepherd Smith and Steve and Rebecca Pennington Adams. The four are accused of murdering Carolyn Smith’s father, mother and brother and kidnapping her two-year-old daughter, who had been legally adopted by her parents. Federal arrest warrants have been obtained charging the four with illegal flight to avoid prosecution.

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Heritage Chair and Sofa in Whitesburg has not produced any furniture or trained workers to produce furniture, and owner Jim Hargan has apparently decided to sell out. Leo Trimpe, vice president of Heritage, said he has signed a contract to buy the company. Heritage located in Whitesburg after the state Economic Development Exposition in Louisville last December.

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Letcher Judge/Executive Ruben Watts says he favors a plan being studied by legislators to put county jails under state control. Watts says the county is spending $35,000 to put its jail in compliance with state regulations, but he doubts it will succeed.

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BethEnergy Mines Inc. has agreed to sign the United Mine Workers’ next national contract in exchange for a no-strike pledge, the company and the union say.

Wednesday, August 20, 1997

The City of Whitesburg has submitted an application to take part in Gov. Paul Patton’s Kentucky Appalachian Community Development Initiative Program. The application proposes further development of water and sewer services to the areas of Whitco, Cowan, Solomon, Hammonds Branch, Mayking, Craft’s Colly and Sandlick.

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A five-foot by five-foot uprooted tree stump rolled from Premier Elkhorn’s No. 30 surface mine at Jenkins down a hill and into the bedroom of Alonzo and Letha Kay Miller last week. The Millers were sleeping when the rootball smashed through the wall and landed beside their bed. Glass from a window was blown into the room. No injuries were sustained, but Letha Kay Miller was hospitalized for a short time.

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John High has left the Lady Jackets basketball team to become head coach of the girls’ team at Breathitt County High School in Jackson. After recording nearly 450 wins at WHS between 1978 and 1996, High was fired from his coaching and teaching jobs by local school officials last fall after he was accused of illegally recruiting players by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. He was reinstated to both jobs last March.

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U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota will visit Letcher and Perry counties next week. He wants to meet and talk with local residents about problems that affect eastern Kentucky. He also plans to get to know many of the relatives he acquired when he married into the Ison family of Kingdom Come. His wife, Sheila, and her father, Delmer Ison, are accompanying the senator on his trip to Kentucky.

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August 22, 2007

Las Penas Mexican Restaurant this week paid the City of Whitesburg $5,050 — the amount due for a six-percent tax on gross revenue that was approved by the Whitesburg City Council shortly after the limited sale of alcohol was approved in April. The payment represents the taxes collected during the 37 days the restaurant was allowed to sell alcohol between June 19 and July 31.

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A Mountain Eagle editorial asks the question “Did they all die in vain?” referring to “63 coal miners (18 of them from Kentucky) and one federal mine inspector who have been killed in U.S. mines since January 1, 2006 — plus six who remain unaccounted for.” The editorial says “reviews show that most of these deaths could have been prevented by a combination of systematic risk assessment, conscientious mine management, diligent regulatory enforcement, and adoption of technologies that are taken for granted elsewhere.” The editorial ends, “So here’s our fantasy A few key CEOs suddenly see the light. They get together with MSHA, NIOSH and a bunch of experts — perhaps under the auspices of West Virginia’s National Technology Transfer Center, or some other honest broker — to fast-track mine safety and health technologies. They pledge to protect every underground miner in America with technology exceeding the requirements of the legislation enacted in 2006 and without waiting for regulatory deadlines to hit them upside the head. OK, it’s just a dream. But what about those 70 lost miners? Do we do something unprecedented, something that gives their deaths meaning — or will they all have died in vain?”

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Whitesburg Postmaster Tim Reynolds said the new post office located next to Sears in the Mayking Mall may be ready in two weeks to serve customers from Mayking and Thornton. Customers from Millstone have been using the facility since February 6.

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Amanda Smith of McRoberts, celebrated her 100th birthday August 6. She was visited by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren, and a number of neighbors and friends.

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