Some interesting facts about West Virginia you may not know – Part 1

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West Virginia native Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier.
West Virginia native Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier.

There is no state like West Virginia. For those of who live or have lived there, we know the state is rich in scenery and history. A older coworker of mine originally from St. Albans handed me a printout of facts about the Mountain State originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail in 2002. It is a lengthy list — well over 100 items total — and I thought I would share some of the more interesting ones a little at a time.

Enjoy. Learn. Comment. Share.

Here are a few to start:

-West Virginia is the only state created from another state.

– Chuck Yeager, born in Myra, WV, was the first person to break the sound barrier. He did that in 1947. One year later, on Dec. 7, he flew an F-80 Shooting Star under the Patrick Street Bridge and did a barrel roll over the South Side Bridge. He was the first person to do that.

– In 1862, the first free school for African-Americans in the South opened in Parkersburg.

– The West Virginia Geological Survey shows there is no native gold or silver in the state.

– Actor Soupy Sales grew up in Huntington and received a journalism degree from Marshall. By 1961, the “Soupy Sales Show” was the No. 1 show in Los Angeles.

– Berkeley Springs has more massage therapists than lawyers.

– Outdoor advertising originated in Wheeling around 1908 when the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Co. painted bridges and barns with the words, “Treat Yourself to the Best, Chew Mail Pouch.”

– The largest and oldest white oak tree on record in the country was declared dead an cut down in 1938 in Mingo Co. It’s estimated age was 582 years.

– The first electric railroad in the world built as a commercial enterprise was constructed between Huntington and Guyandotte.

– Sam Snead, born in Hot Springs, Va., became a pro at The Greenbriar. After winning several local tournaments, Snead became one of golf’s greatest players, winning 81 PGA Tour events including winning the Green Jacket at the Masters three different times. He won the PGA Championship 3 times and the British Open once.


Springfield Town Hall

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Country Roads take me home

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Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls in West Virginia

I spent the first 20 years of my life living in West Virginia. I loved my childhood in the state full of beautiful locales. I traveled throughout the state growing up and saw many of the parks, lakes, rivers, national forests and lakes.

Circumstances and health concerns led me to move to South Carolina just before I turned 21. I moved to the Greenville area in the Upstate. Near there were many areas that reminded me of home. Jones Gap, Chimney Rock and Caesar’s Head to name a few.

I met the woman who would shortly become my wife soon after moving to the area. We lived in the Greenville area for five years and enjoyed the aforementioned areas from time to time.

In 2005, we moved to Concord, NC just outside of Charlotte. The area is well removed from places that make me feel like I’m home in West Virginia. You need to travel two hours west to find the Appalachian Mountains from where we live. To the east, about an hours drive, is Mount Uwharrie. It’s okay, but not like home.

We have lived in Concord for eight years now. It’s where we live, but it has never felt like “home”.

My wife and I traveled to WV July 4th weekend. The reason for our trip would keep us busy Friday through Sunday, leaving us little time to enjoy the area and visit friends and family.

As we entered Virginia and began the climb to higher elevation, I realized that it has been years since I traveled to West Virginia to enjoy the area I loved growing up.

If circumstances ever permit, we have considered moving back. During our weekend visit, it just felt right.

My parents recently moved into a new home in the Summersville Lake area. It sits out in a field, at the end of a gravel road, removed from the main road.

They have a large front porch looking out over the field and surrounding forest. They see a lot of lush greenery from the rocking chairs. Very different from where I’ve lived in recent years.

As my dad and I sat out there one morning, the only sounds we heard were occasional bird chirps and rustle of leaves. The temperature in the air was pleasant and it wasn’t humid — a far cry from the sticky southern summers. It was a very nice morning.

At one point, my dad pointed towards the tree line to the right of the field and whispered, “Look, there’s a deer. Do you see it?”

I did and smiled. Country Roads had indeed taken me home.

The Edisto Watersports and Tackle Shark Tournament did not disappoint

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The winner.

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a fascination with things that could kill me. Not in a nihilistic way, mind you. Things like dinosaurs, hurricanes, astronomy (How does this fit? Try stepping into a vacuum or a black hole for a few minutes), earthquakes and, yes, sharks have always caught my attention.

My wife and I planned our weeklong trip to Edisto Island this past winter for the first week of June.  Edisto Island is our favorite vacation spot because of the laid-back attitude of the islanders, which inspired the phrase, “I’m on Edislow time,” it’s beaches, lack of commercialism, food and relative ease of travel.

A few days before we were to leave, my wife asked me if I’d heard about the Shark Tournament. When I told her I hadn’t, she pointed me to the Thirsty Fish Facebook page. One of the posts on the page advertised their annual tournament for June 8, which was the last full day we would be on the island. After doing some more research, I found out that in 2011, someone caught a 470 lb. hammerhead for the win.

I only hoped I would see something close to that. I was not to be disappointed.

Once we were on the island for a few days, I went by the Edisto Watersports and Tackle shop, below the Thirsty Fish, on Dockside Rd. and asked for details. The girl told me to that weigh-in would be from 3-5 that Saturday and to get there early. The dock would fill up early.

Saturday arrived, the day after Tropical Storm Andrea blew past the island, leaving the hottest and most beautiful day of the week. We enjoyed a few hours on the beach, went back to our place, had some lunch and walked the short distance to the dock behind the Thirsty Fish to catch the weigh-ins. We arrived a little after three, and at this point there were about a dozen people gathered to watch. Several of those people turned out to be the ones running the tournament, whether they were the ones assisting with the weigh-ins or keeping track of the contestants.

It was blistering hot and were glad we were still dressed for the beach. I spoke with one of the owners of the establishment (I did not get her name), and she told me there were 27 boats that entered. Most of them were going 10-12 miles offshore to try to reel in a big one. One had already weighed in. A 230 lb. tiger shark from Fontaine Charters next door. She told me they were waiting for half an hour to weigh-in.

People lined the dock at Edisto Watersports and Tackle.
People lined the dock at Edisto Watersports and Tackle.

This was the fourth year in a row they’ve held the tournament, and it keeps getting bigger, she said. A few years ago, the winner was a 470 lb. hammerhead and was still the tournament record.

She said she had two sons on two separate boats in the competition, Cal and Trey. She was having a hard time deciding who to pull for. I told her to pull for Cal since his name was the shortened version of mine. She agreed.

So we waited.

And waited.

The time passed slowly from 3 to 4 o’clock. One other boat came in during that time. They had a 125 lb. shark. Later, another one came in holding a small little guy. A 25 pounder.

Then we waited some more. During this time, boats started to come near the dock and idled in the sound a little ways away from the dock. We couldn’t tell if they were participants or onlookers. I had the feeling a few of them were in the tournament, but they were waiting to see what else came in before they shimmied up to the dock to show off their catch.

People began to crowd around the dock. Because we arrived early, we had a great view of the weigh-ins from the upper level. At least we thought we did. When they would string sharks up for weighing, all of the kids — and some adults — crowded the lower level, obscuring most people’s view. (That would be one suggestion I would have for them next year: don’t allow people on the lower level. It disappointed many of the spectators.)

I figured there were several hundred people on the dock at around 5pm when the cut off was for weigh-ins.

As we watched the boats cruise down the sound from the direction of the Atlantic Ocean, we saw several varieties. I don’t know much about boats, so I’ll just say there were big boats, little boats, and even bigger boats.

We knew that far more of this shark lurked below the surface.

Just after 5, a medium-sized boat with dual outboards idled toward the dock. It looked like we might have our last contestant. As it cruised past, we saw a shark strapped between the outboards, or, I should say, we saw a shark hanging between the dual outboards. All that was visible was about five feet of the tail section. The rest of the shark disappeared into the water.

It seemed like there was more, much more, of the shark in the water than was out of it.

A ripple of awe and amazement echoed out over the water from the gathered crowd. This was it. This was the climax of what we’ve all been waiting for. This was going to be huge.

And it was.

When the boat pulled alongside the dock, it took several minutes for the men to get a good enough of handle to get a line around the tail so it could be weighed. When the sturdy looking man with glasses on the crank began to reel the shark up and it separated, the entire boat rocked. The crowd gasped.

The shark was okay. The man began to turn the crank, pulling the shark higher. He had a difficult time and stopped at one point to rest. It seemed like the entire crank assembly strained as the shark climbed higher into the air.

“548 pounds!” the man looking at the scale announced. The crowd clapped and cheered in amazement.

The waiting paid off. The end result far outweighed enduring the hot weather and wait. No one left disappointed.

I hope to be there for next year’s tournament. Maybe one of the captains will let me tag along.

Two mystery guests, one mystery ingredient

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Photo Courtesy of Michelle Weber

   “Of all nights, he had to come tonight,” Robert Paulsen said to the head chef at Trio Italian Market and Grill, Marc Gottfried, as they stood in the darkened kitchen.

   The doors at Trio had closed a half hour previously. The last customers of the night left satisfied, their bellies full of a fresh-made Italian dinners and a fair share of vino. Business hours on the door read 12-10:30 for this particular Tuesday. The wait staff had already tidied up, dishes were cleaned, tables cleared. The kitchen staff prepped the food that would marinate overnight, and everyone left out the back door. They were relieved to be released. They didn’t want to stick around to see what would happen next.

  Everyone except Paulsen, Gottfried and the two men who entered the restaurant at precisely 10:29.

   They were greeted by the hostess who recognized them immediately. She knew that with less than a minute to go before closing, if they were anyone else, she would turn them away, but not these men.

   “Good evening, sirs,” she greeted as they shook the rain from their umbrellas and tucked them away. “Two tonight?”

   “Yes, two,” the man on the left said tersely.

   The hostess went to grab two menus from behind her. Her hands shook as she reached. She hoped they wouldn’t see her nervousness. These two men, particularly the one on the right, could spell trouble for Trio.

  “That won’t be necessary,” the right man said. “Just show us to a booth near the back.”

   “Will you need tableware?”

   “Yes, that will be fine.”

   She grabbed two sets of tableware from a basket and turned to scan the well-appointed restaurant. It had a Mediterranean flare that made patrons feel as though they were having dinner in an Italian countryside.  At this time of the evening, the lights had been dimmed for the few diners who remained wishing for a more intimate meal. She spotted an empty booth near the back, and led the men to that table.

   When they reached the table, she laid the tableware on the table, the men sat down heavily and said “Thank you” to the hostess as she walked away to the kitchen.

   She burst through the kitchen doors. The staff was in the process of cleaning up for the night. They looked up in surprise at the now disheveled looking hostess.

  Chef Gottfried saw her and asked, “What’s the matter?”

   She opened her mouth, but it took her a moment to find her voice. “They’re here.”

  He knitted his eyebrows. “Who?”

   “Them,” she said, shaking her head in exasperation.

   She saw the lights go on in Gottfried’s eyes. “Them? Now?” She nodded. “What do they want?”

   “I don’t know,” she said apologetically. “They just said to show them to a table. No menus.”

  “No menus?” he asked, perplexed.

  “Just silverware.”

  “Okay,” he said, looking over at Paulsen in the corner, who took in the entire conversation. “Let’s go out and greet our guests.”

   Paulsen took a kitchen towel and wiped off his hands. Not sure what to expect as he followed Gottfried into the dining area. He was hired as the sous chef at Trio two months ago after graduating from Johnson and Wales in Charlotte, NC. He had a lot of potential, and Gottfried was an incredible chef to learn from.

   As they entered the dining room, the last of the patrons headed for the exit at the front. The hostess showed them out and locked the door behind them. She rushed through the dining room, past their two guests without a word.

   “Goodnight,” she whispered to Chef Gottfried, then hesitated before adding, “Good luck.”

“Thank you,” the chef said, his eyes locked on the two men sitting alone in the booth.

The hostess went through the doors to the kitchen. A moment later, Paulsen heard the back door shut. They were alone with the two guests.

Gottfried swallowed and approached the booth. “Good evening, gentlemen. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

He already knew the answer.

“We’re here for a tasting,” said the man on the left.

“Of course,” Chef Gottfried said. He noticed there were no menus on the table. “What would you like this evening? Did the hostess tell you our specials?”

“No, she didn’t, and we didn’t ask,” left man said.

Paulsen stood by silently, waiting to be introduced. The man on the left was much younger than the man on the right. They had similar profiles and looked like they could have been father and son. They wore expensive looking suits. Paulsen noticed neither wore a wedding band.

“Ok,” Gottfried replied, “what would you like? I know you’re well acquainted with the menu.”

“No, nothing on the menu,” the older man sitting on the right said. “I want to go off the menu tonight. Make me something entirely new. Something you’ve never made before.”

Paulsen watched as the look on Gottfried’s face went from concern to something akin to fear. He gulped, “You mean, you want made with …”

“Yes,” the older man cut him off. “With that.”

“Absolutely. Yes, sir,” Gottfried bowed and walked back to the kitchen, grabbing Paulsen as he went. Leaving the two men to sit alone in the dimly lit restaurant.

“Who are they?” Paulsen asked in a hushed tone as the kitchen door closed behind them. Gottfried stopped and looked at Paulsen, deciding on how to answer. A breath later, he revealed their identities. Paulsen gasped, considered for a moment, now knowing the seriousness of the situation, “What do you want for me to do?”

The Chef looked at the ceiling for a moment, thinking. “Fire up the Viking Range, saute about ten shrimp and prepare one of our oversized meatballs.”

“Yes, sir. No problem. What are you going to do?”

“I’m need to go get something out of the fridge in my office. Be right back.”

“Yes, sir,” Paulsen said as Gottfried ducked into his corner office.

Paulsen set to work preparing the two dishes as Chef Gottfried asked. He returned a few minutes later carrying a plastic container with a strip of blue duct tape stuck to it with the number “9122” written across it. Paulsen couldn’t tell what it contained. It looked like pickled ginger, but when Gottfried set it on the counter and opened the lid, it smelled like anything but ginger.

“Good work,” Gottfried said of the two separate dishes Paulsen had almost finished preparing. He was adding the final few shrimp to one plate as the Chef garnished both dishes with the mystery ingredient.

“Stay here,” the Chef said as he picked up both plates to take to the mystery guests. “Thanks for helping me with this, but I alone have to serve them. I hope you’ll understand.”

Paulsen feared the answer, but finally asked, “What is in that container you brought out?”

Gottfried smiled sardonically, “It’s …”

Fish out of water (at the beach)

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I've never seen someone have more fun flying a kite.
I’ve never seen someone have more fun flying a kite.

When most of the people I know say they are going on vacation, they usually say they are going to the beach. “The beach” can be in a variety of places: anywhere along the Atlantic seaboard (most likely Myrtle Beach) or even at a lake. Read the rest of this entry »

(Re)Learning how to ride a bike in Edisto

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  Image  Edisto Island in South Carolina is situated in between Charleston and Savannah. It takes a nearly twenty-mile drive off of Rt. 17 on Hwy. 173, a two-lane road that winds over marshlands and the Intracoastal Waterway. The nearest stoplight is about half an hour away in Hollywood (the polar opposite of the more famous one 4,000 miles away), and you’d have to travel for nearly an hour to eat a Big Mac. Read the rest of this entry »