2018-02-07 / Columns

The Way We Were


Seen above is a portion of the front page of The Mountain Eagle for February 13, 1958. The page carried news about the Letcher Fiscal Court and Fleming-Neon High School. Seen above is a portion of the front page of The Mountain Eagle for February 13, 1958. The page carried news about the Letcher Fiscal Court and Fleming-Neon High School. Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

Thursday, February 9, 1928

A Blackey outlaw who escaped from the Letcher County Jail during the confusion caused when a lynch mob forcibly removed a black man from a cell and later murdered him in Virginia has been captured and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary. Clarence Spurgeon, who escaped in December when the lynch mob broke into the jail and took Leonard Wood, was captured last Thursday on the L&N passenger train headed to Blackey. He was taken to the Letcher County Jail, after which he was tried and sentenced on a grand larceny charge for breaking into the Blackey Post Office and a theft charge for breaking into commissary at the Flat Top mine. Spurgeon had tried to flag the train a short distance above Blackey. When the train didn’t stop he boarded it while it was still moving, leaving two suitcases by the side of the track. Officers searched the train when it stopped in Blackey, finding Spurgeon dressed in a suit of clothes he stole from the Flat Top commissary, leaving his old clothes on the floor there.

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A former Whitesburg resident died in Lexington last week when he drank an ounce of carbolic acid. Dewey Reynolds, a 28-year-old auto mechanic, died in an ambulance that was taking him to a hospital. Reynolds, a native of West Virginia, was said to have been “despondent” since he had just recently returned to Lexington from Florida, where he was working as a mechanic. He leaves behind his wife and mother.

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Prohibition officer Clark Day of Whitesburg has been busy working with Deputy U.S. Marshal Archie V. Sergent to round up violators of the federal prohibition law, sometimes bringing in as many as 12 suspects at a time to the Letcher County Jail.

Thursday, February 10, 1938

The new Johnson Funeral Home in Neon opened for business this week. Thoroughly modern in every respect, the two-story building is surrounded by a large lawn and has a hot water heating system of the latest type and a two-car garage to take care of the ambulances. One of two managers operating the funeral home is Ferdinand Moore, son of well-known Whitesburg attorney Harry L. Moore.

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The United Spanish War Veterans will hold their district meeting in Whitesburg on Sunday, March 6. Whitesburg Camp No. 48 will be host to all other posts in the district — London, Manchester, Middlesboro, Pineville, Somerset, Barbourville, Williamsburg, Harlan, Corbin and Stearns. H. Monroe Blair is commander of the local group; Dr. Boaz Adkins is the quartermaster.

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Country music band Doc Schneider’s Texans will appear live in concert on Tuesday, February 15 at the Kentucky Theatre on Main Street in Whitesburg.

Thursday, February 12, 1948

The remains of Army Private Dishmond Banks were returned to Letcher County on February 10 for reburial in the family cemetery at Dongola. Banks was killed in active duty in Normandy, France on July 26, 1944, more than three years after he joined the service. He is survived by his former wife, Mrs. Alice Day Banks Tolliver, six brothers and one sister.

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State Representative Robert B. Collins of Letcher County is one of three House members who say they are preparing a bill to legalize cockfighting and permit the state to levy a special tax on such exhibitions. Collins said illegal cockfighting matches are common in many parts of the state and the events should be legalized to give the state the benefit of additional revenue. Meanwhile, Collins tells The Mountain Eagle he has also introduced a bill in the state legislature to repeal weight tax and compulsory insurance on trucks operating within a 25-mile radius.

. Army headquarters is acting to keep American troops from getting involved in Korean political disturbances, which last week cost the lives of 22 Koreans. The deaths occurred during a wave of demonstrations and sabotage by leftists opposing the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea. The UN group is in Korea under instructions to hold elections throughout the peninsula looking toward unification and independence. The Soviet Ukraine refused to take a seat on the commission and the Russians who occupy the northern half of the country refused even to permit the commission.

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A new Baker Maytag Store has recently been opened in Whitesburg in the Tom John Building on Main Street. Mr. and Mrs. Dan Baker will operate the business, which handles Maytag and Frigidaire appliances. Mr. Baker will be at the Whitesburg store while Mrs. Baker will be in charge of the original Baker Maytag store at Whitaker.

Thursday, February 15, 1958

The 10-room Fleming-Neon High School was destroyed by fire Wednesday night, leaving 38 high school pupils without a place to go to school. The fire was discovered in the teachers’ lounge at the school at about 6 p.m. Firemen from Fleming and Neon, Jenkins and Whitesburg fought the flames for several hours but were unable to save any portion of the building. Arson has been ruled out as a cause of the fire. Letcher Schools Superintendent W.B. Hall said there is no money available to rebuild the school.

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Kentucky Attorney General has ruled that meetings of fiscal courts must be public and open for all to attend. The Ferguson ruling was given to Tom Gish, editor and publisher of The Mountain Eagle, during a conference in the Attorney General’s office this past week. The question arose after the Letcher Fiscal Court voted to conduct the affairs of Letcher County behind closed doors, excluding the public.

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Letcher County’s public library apparently is saved — at least for the time being. Members of the Letcher Fiscal Court voted recently to give the library an additional $250 on which to operate. The court in doing so reversed a previous decision to ignore the library’s financial woes. The action concerning the library was taken during a closed session which a representative of The Mountain Eagle was not allowed to attend. Miss Nadine Amburgey, a court stenographer, was at the meeting to represent The Eagle but magistrates voted five to two to bar her from entering, with Magistrates Add Polly and Willis Hawley casting the only two yes votes. The fiscal court voted earlier this year to close meetings to the public and the press.

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The Letcher Fiscal Court named a committee this week to check into purchases of supplies from The Mountain Eagle by former County Judge James M. Caudill before the change of administrations January 6. The move came after former Sheriff Robert B. Collins spoke to the court, recommending “that The Mountain Eagle be required to repossess and excess of supplies bought by Caudill and that The Mountain Eagle be required to refund money for those supplies.” The court’s action follows a Mountain Eagle editorial attacking the fiscal court’s decision to hold its meetings partly in private. Since the editorial appeared, the court has been buying the county government’s office and printing supplies from Superior Printing at Haymond for considerably higher prices than The Eagle charges.

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Whitesburg High School Yellowjackets will play the Kingdom Come High School Wildcats in the opening round of the 53rd District Tournament opening Wednesday. Jenkins will meet Fleming-Neon on Thursday. The Letcher Eagles drew a bye in the upper brackets of opening-round play while the Dunham Blue Devils drew a bye in the lower bracket.

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Stanley Branson, a 6-3 center, has given the Whitesburg Yellowjackets a shot in the arm since becoming eligible to play January 14, helping the team to a fourgame winning streak. Thursday, February 8, 1968 Letcher County is not included in the plans for new Appalachian highways to be started in Calendar 1968. Deputy State Highway Commissioner Calvin G. Grayson said some 60 miles of Appalachian Highway will be let for construction during 1968, and the state expects to improve 295 miles of highway.

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Opponents of the Kingdom Come dam have embarked on a campaign to write letters to a number of influential public figures and newspapers. The Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing on its plans for the proposed dam on Jan. 25 and announced it would accept written statements for 30 more days.

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An editorial in The Mountain Eagle on three major dams in Letcher County proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers asks if the Corps is in cahoots with the Appalachian Regional Commission to strip eastern Kentucky of its population. “Is the ultimate solution of President Johnson to the Appalachian area problems a plan to drive the people from the mountains into the slums and ghettoes of our major cities?” says the editorial.

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Army Private First Class Jerry W. Collins, 19, son of Mr. and Mrs. Bud Collins of Blackey, has been assigned as a medical records specialist in the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Medical Battalion in Korea.

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University of Kentucky archaeologists have completed a surveying project of ancient Indian sites in three areas of Kentucky, including Letcher County on the Upper Kentucky River. The overhangs or small rock shelters of cliffs in Letcher County yielded pottery, bone, shell, and flint tools. There are 18 different sites in Letcher County. The last prehistoric peoples to live in Letcher County were the Fort Ancients, whose occupation is calculated to have been from about 5000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.

Thursday, February 2, 1978

Whitesburg merchants report a steep slump in business as the United Mine Workers strike entered its 58th day and striking miners and pensioners, facing empty mailboxes, continue to curtail spending. “Our sales are down 50 percent from this time last year,” said Clarence Harlow, president of Harlow Motor Co. “Business is real bad.”

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A bill to establish a tax on coal that will pay the cost of the federal black lung benefits program was passed in the Senate after it was added onto a bill to suspend the duty on imported istle. Istle is a strong fiber used for cordage or basketwork. The black lung tax bill ended up on the istle bill because all tax bills must originate in the House, a rule that forced the Senate to put the coal tax bill into an obscure House tax bill before they could vote on it.

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“The Blackey Emergency Committee thanks South-East Coal Company and their driver, Herman Smith Jr., of Carbon Glow,” writes Blackey correspondent Gaynell Begley, “for the load of coal dumped here this week to be distributed to those unlucky families whose coal stock had run out.”

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A photograph on the front page of The Mountain Eagle shows nine Brownie Troop 214 members who had just become Girl Scouts. Pictured are Stephanie Wright, Valerie Cornett, Donna Brown, Stephanie Collins, Michelle Wright, Tammy Caudill, Elizabeth Watson, Sarah Hayes and Georgia Mullins.

Wednesday, February 10, 1988

State police arrested five men and confiscated about 75 cases of beer in five raids in Letcher County last week, Kentucky State Police Lt. Danny Webb said. “One place had a drive-through window, had all the beer signs in it like Bud Lite and everything,” Webb said. He said one place had a ledger apparently listing beer sold on credit. Webb said he had never seen illegal alcohol sold on credit.

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Fleming-Neon is still relying on backup water sources after its main water well went dry last month. Mayor James Seals said the city water supplies have begun to replenish after the rain last week, but the city must still use its reserve well.

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Actress Mary McDonnell will be at Appalshop in Whitesburg for a showing of the film Matewan in which she stars with James Earl Jones. Matewan, written and directed by John Sayles, tells the story of the “Matewan Massacre”, a 1920 battle between union miners and company gun thugs which led to one of the largest labor uprising in the history of the United States.

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The Fleming-Neon Lady Pirates ran their record to 19-0 with wins over Knott County Central, Breathitt County and Leslie County.

Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Will Collins says he will ask the Letcher County Grand Jury to look into why American Electric Power took so long to repair outages that began with an ice storm and snowstorm. “The snow that we had was not so bad that there should be people without power many days later,” Collins said. Three days after the snow and ice hit, 700 Kentucky AEP customers and 1,700 West Virginia customers still had no electricity.

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Controversy over address changes in the City of Jenkins could delay the date when Letcher County residents will finally have access to the Enhanced 9-1-1 emergency dispatching system. Letcher County Judge/Executive Carroll Smith said county government would delay forwarding any new addresses to the GTE phone company until after Jenkins officials can study the issue and make their own recommendations about changes in street names and house numbers. Smith cautioned that the delay could cost lives.

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Writing about the snowstorm which hit Letcher County on Tuesday of last week, Cowan correspondent Elsie Banks said she and her husband were driving back from Lexington but the snow stopped them on Cowan Hill. They called Allen Sexton, who brought a fourwheel drive truck and took them home. She writes, “Some people just parked their cars and walked home. Our lights were out when we got home and stayed out until Thursday.”

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The Jenkins Cavaliers defeated Whitesburg 75-52 while Fleming-Neon overcame Mountain Mission 73-47.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The City of Whitesburg temporarily suspended the Starlite CafĂ©’s license to sell alcohol, two days after three people were arrested and several others were cited on alcohol-related charges. Owner Anthony Cowden has been ordered to appear before the state Board of Alcohol Beverage Control in a hearing that will determine whether the board will suspend, revoke or let Cowden keep his state alcohol license.

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Letcher and Harlan are the only two counties in Kentucky still affected by drought conditions. Except for the corner of southeastern Kentucky where the two counties are located, Kentucky will enter the spring planting season with plenty of water on hand, says Tom Priddy who studies weather for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Through the summer and early fall of last year, Kentucky was baked by weeks of rain-free weather. In several towns and cities, the drought caused officials to declare restrictions and occasional bans on water uses to protect supplies.

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Jeff Stidham, 38, of Letcher County, deployed to Afghanistan on Feb. 3 with A-Company 201st Engineering Battalion of Ashland. This is Stidham’s third tour of duty. He served previously in the first Gulf War and in Bosnia. He will be deployed for 15 months.

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”Charles and Pearl Noble’s children surprised them with a 50th wedding anniversary party,” writes Cowan correspondent Elsie Banks. “A large group of family and friends enjoyed the occasion with much sharing of memories, love, happiness, and at times hilarity.”

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