Whitesburg KY
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The Way We Were

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

Region was in national news 73 years ago

Region was in national news 73 years ago

Southeastern Kentucky was in nearly every newspaper in the United States 73 years ago this month when more than 2,000 “unbelievers” gathered on Black Mountain in Harlan County, near the Virginia line on October 12, 1947, to watch about 50 members of the Holiness Faith Healers in a public demonstration of their faith. The group handled rattlesnakes, copperheads, smeared their lips with what they called poison, and subjected themselves to a blast from a blow torch.

The gathering was in celebration of the healing of Fay Nolan, 12-year-old girl who recovered without medical care from the effects of a rattlesnake bite less than two months earlier.

Highway patrolmen from both Kentucky and Virginia stood by but were powerless to stop the illegal demonstration, which was held about 18 miles North of Harlan. The service was held a few feet within Kentucky’s border but more than 100 feet from the nearest state highway, which prevented the Kentucky Highway Patrol from taking action.

Fay Nolan also took part in the latest event, though her right hand is still swollen and her arm is rigid and all but useless as result of the earlier rattlesnake bite and the refusal of her mother, Mrs. Flora Nolan, to allow doctors to treat it.

Bruce Temple, editor of the Harlan Enterprise, described the scene as follows:

“Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and flaming torches engulfed the arena. A cultist held a coiling, slinking mass of five or six reptiles above his head. Another placed a five-foot rattler on the ground and knelt to rub his head on the seething coil.

“Little Fay Nolan took a menacing rattler, chanted ‘God be praised’ and allowed the snake to coil like a necklace around her neck and cried until tears rolled down her cheeks. Another small, red-faced, red-headed, and red-eyed girl not more than 10, waved a matted mass of rattler around her face.

“As far as could be ascertained, none of the cultists was bitten by the snakes. The snake handlers had come from five states for the demonstration, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.”

The widespread publicity the demonstration received brought in a number of national reporters to write about the religious practice of snake handling, which at the time had resulted in 17 deaths over the past 20 years. The Rev. Odie V. Shoupe of Cumberland, who took part in the October 12 demonstration, explained to several reporters that the practice was based on a literal interpretation of the gospel according to St. Mark, 16:18: “They shall take up serpents; and if they think any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”

Writing about the Black Mountain gathering in a story that appeared in many of the country’s largest daily newspapers, reporter Jim Galloway, of International News Service, wrote:

“At the height of their frenzy, the “believers” are ready to handle the snakes, which by this time, from the noise and music, are lashing about in their cages in a terrifying frenzy. Then the almost unbelievable happens — unbelievable unless you’ve seen it.

“Snakes which have been in an apparent paroxysm of rage while in their boxes go limp and harmless when picked up. This writer saw Fay Nolan handle the same rattler that bit her several weeks before. She obviously was terrified but she reached into the box and brought out the hissing, lashing snake. It did not bite her.

… “Those bitten, members contend, are attacked because they lack faith. It is faith which makes the serpent ‘submit to your will’ and which ‘locks’ their jaws.”


Whitesburg is alive with educators this week as teachers and administrators from the Upper Kentucky River School Division are meeting here for two days. s

The news bridge at Blackey is almost ready and none too soon. Winter is coming and the old one has served its purpose. s

The movie “Sunnyside Up,” starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Ferrell, is the most popular talking picture that has come to the Kentucky Theatre in Whitesburg. “Regular mobs of people” attended each of the showings on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. s

Of the 185 students now enrolled at the Millstone School, 98 percent of them attend regularly. s

Dr. T.M. Perry of McRoberts was visiting in Jenkins last week. s

Neon Grade School is reporting its largest enrollment ever — 294 pupils.


The war overseas is this week about as dangerous to North America as it can be. We are even now liable to be involved in it, even before the election. The Germans are bombing London with all the energy they can muster and they are doing it from away above the fogs and clouds. Our trouble is yet with Japan, though it is so little without the Axis powers. There is an old treaty between the U.S. and Japan that expires in a few days now and when that treaty ends we may get into the war. s

The Letcher Circuit Court convened on Monday with Judge R. Monroe Fields presiding. A light docket is scheduled this term with only 41 misdemeanors and 35 felonies on schedule. Only two murder trials come up at this term, they being that of Oscar Marcum and Ben Sergent, who were granted a new trial by the Court of Appeals. s

Mr. Mott Wood, well-known Whitesburg man, is in the Seco Hospital suffering, it is thought, from ill effects caused by his teeth. s

The Yellowjackets of Whitesburg High School went down in defeat before their old traditional rivals, Hazard High Bulldogs, by a score of to 14 to 7 at Lewis Field in Whitesburg last Friday.


Two offices on the second floor of the Whitesburg bank building were burglarized yesterday in a daylight break-in, which occurred around noon. The offices of Roland Price and the Letcher Insurance Agency, owned and operated by Paul Vermillion and Herman Hale, were robbed of an undisclosed sum of money. The burglars evidently gained admittance by prying open the locked doors of the two offices with a screwdriver or similar instrument. s

First-, second- and third-place honors were won by Consolidation Coal Co. during the division of the First Aid Competition in the annual State-Wide First Aid and Mine Rescue Contests at Harlan Saturday. s

A Haymond woman received minor burns when an oil stove exploded in the living room of her home Friday. Mrs. Estill Mullins was treated at the Fleming clinic following the explosion in her home. Amount of damage to the living room was estimated at between $500 and $600. s

Isaac’s Kentucky Theatre will present Walt Disney’s “Treasure Island” on Saturday and Sunday.


Some Whitesburg residents spent the weekend in Lexington and heard Sen. John Kennedy speak to around 10,000 people. Attending the political rally were Carlie Webb, Doria Smith and son Jeff, Mrs. Lina Webb and daughter Patricia, Mrs. Sonny Webb and a friend of Patricia’s, Vickey Dye. s

U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper will speak in Whitesburg next week in behalf of his candidacy for re-election. Cooper will appear at the courthouse in Whitesburg at 2 p.m., October 20. s

Another Letcher County Grand Jury has recommended the scrapping of the county jail and the erection of a new one. The October Grand Jury, which completed its work Wednesday, repeated some other recommendations of earlier grand juries concerning county buildings. These included work on the restrooms at the courthouse and emergency repairs at the jail. s

Airman Second Class Lloyd R. Mullins, son of Mr. and Mrs. Claude Mullins of Jenkins, who is a member of the USAF Aerospace Force, graduated recently from the Aircraft Control and Warning Radar Repair at Keesler Air Force Base. Airman Mullins has been assigned to Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.


About 20 Whitesburg High School students were suspended by Principal Jack Burkich when they refused to attend classes as a protest to what they feel are unsafe school buses. The students involved normally ride across Pine Mountain from the Cumberland Valley section of Letcher County. They are carried on two contract buses of the V.T.C. Bus Co. of Harlan. The buses are more than 20 years old, and the students and their parents have reported a number of incidents which led up to this week’s refusal to use those buses on the steep and winding Pine Mountain route. s

Explaining that they were acting out of belief in the flag and in the Bible, a group of strip-mining opponents, led by Alice Lloyd College professor William H. Cohen of Pippa Passes, managed to stop auguring operations at the Big Branch strip mine about five miles southwest of Hindman. The group of about 30, mostly Knott County residents and members of the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and People, noted that there has been a ruling in Knott County for three months banning strip-mining but that stripping nonetheless continues. s

Funeral services for Sergeant Bobby G. Fields, 25, a former Letcher County schoolteacher who was killed in Vietnam, were held October 2. He was the son of Johnny and Oma Hampton Fields of Blackey. He was killed in Vietnam on September 22. s

Grace Wells Collins, one of eastern Kentucky’s best-known public servants, has retired after 40 years as a public health nurse. Mrs. Collins is the wife of Dr. R. Dow Collins, who retired a few years ago after a lifetime career as public health officer of Letcher County. Mrs. Collins’s career brought her in contact with just about every resident of Letcher County at one time or another.


When the L&N and C&O railroads join at their lines at Deane, the price of eastern Kentucky coal should go down at least $4 a ton. State Energy Secretary William B. Sturgill made the prediction at a gathering at Deane which included Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., Seaboard Coast Line chairman Prime Osborne and Chessie Rail System chairman Hays Watkins. What might be the nation’s largest rail system was formed when the Interstate Commerce Commission approved the merger between the Chessie and Seaboard railroads — parent companies of the C&O and L&N. s TV Service Inc. of Hindman has received a $2,690,000 federal loan to improve television service in Knott and Letcher counties. The loan will be used principally to rebuild 234 route miles of TV cable in the two counties. s

Letcher County reported 1,012 unemployed workers out of a workforce of 7,198, giving the county a 14.1 percent unemployment rate — the seventh highest in the state. Letcher County’s unemployment rate was nearly twice the national rate of 7.5 percent. s

“Resurrection” will be shown at Isaac’s Alene Theatre in Whitesburg, along with “Willie Nelson Celebration” starring Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.


The question of whether South East Coal Co. will carry through with a threatened October 12 shutdown was still “up in the air” early this week. In August, about two weeks after its workforce voted to join the United Mine Workers union, South East warned more than 800 hourly and salaried workers that a full or partial layoff could take effect this Friday if there was no improvement in the company’s “serious economic” trouble. s

Larry D. and Marcy Everidge, of Isom, are setting up a $1,000 annual college scholarship in memory of their son, a Whitesburg High School student killed in an automobile accident earlier this year. The Kevin Lane Everidge Memorial Scholarship will be presented each year to a Whitesburg High School senior band student who wants to attend college. Kevin Everidge died in June in a singlecar accident in Knott County. s

Kenneth D. Blair has been promoted to the rank of airman in the U.S. Air Force. He is an apprentice inventory management specialist in the Philippines, with the 3rd Supply Squadron. He is the son of Darlene J. Sizemore of Putney and a grandson of Grace T. Hall of Cumberland. s

Fleming-Neon High School has been selected as “School of the Day” for October 18 in KET’s Star Channel’s distance learning course “Probability & Statistics.”


Six of fourteen schools in the Letcher County and Jenkins Independent school systems qualified for cash rewards this year under the state’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. But while schools in both systems improved over last year, those schools still lag behind the rest of the state in actual scores. Of the fourteen districts in the ten Region 8 counties. The Letcher County School District ranked tenth. The Jenkins Independent School District ranked eighth in the region. s

Wildlife biologists will be on Pine Mountain this week to help determine whether the state should allow a gas pipeline to cross the Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will send a team of biologists and other scientists to Letcher County to determine whether to grant a right-of-way through the management area to Columbia Natural Resources Inc. s

State officials have approved a tax credit of $1,125,000 for Mountaineer Furniture Manufacturing to locate at Isom, if the company creates 75 jobs at an average wage of $8.25 per hour. s

The Fleming-Neon Pirates held on to edge county rival Whitesburg 13-6 Friday in front of an overflow crowd of nearly 2,000 fans. Tradition runs deep in this annual match-up that goes back to the early 1930s.


Jeffrey Allen, 46, was convicted this week of murdering a two-year-old boy in 2003 and will be back in Letcher Circuit Court next week to face formal sentencing. Letcher Circuit Judge is expected to follow the jury’s recommendation and sentence Allen to life in prison. The jury deliberated evidence for five hours before agreeing that Allen murdered Dakota Yonts by punching the child so hard in the stomach it caused him to bleed to death. Allen was given a retrial because the first jury was improperly allowed to hear recordings of telephone calls made to E-911 operators after Dakota’s death was reported. s

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held at Jenkins City Park for the first phase of a water line improvement project which will result in the replacement of 15,000 feet of pipe and the installation of 190 touch read meters. s

The Carcassonne Square Dance will be held October 9. Music will be by Randy Wilson, Gabe Wilson, John Haywood and Logan Dollarhide, and Erin Cokonougher Stidham will be the caller.

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