Zack Harold

writer/editor

W.Va. Knights, Ladies Honored: Rumors Surround Golden Horseshoe Artifact

This story originally appeared in the May 7, 2010 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

This morning, State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine will dub more than 200 West Virginia eighth-graders “knights and ladies of the Golden Horseshoe” for their knowledge of state history.

But there’s one question none of these adolescent history aces, or anybody else for that matter, can answer: Where did the silver sword, used for decades to knight students, come from?

There’s only one thing officials know for certain about this antique weapon.

“The sword is really old, I can tell you that,” said Regina Scotchie, the state Department of Education’s social studies coordinator.

“All the history that we have on where the sword came from is hearsay,” she said.

Scotchie said she heard a men’s club donated the piece years ago and that the current sword is the second in the Golden Horseshoe’s history, but has no proof that would substantiate either rumor.

The sword’s ornate scabbard features several images of the Crusades and an engraving that reads, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” There’s also a large, fanciful engraving that says “Howard S. Chenoweth” in an Old English font.

The pommel on the end of the sword is shaped like a knight’s helmet. The weapon’s cross-guard, which separates the blade from the grip, displays a sword and crown emblem.

The sword’s ivory grip features an “HC” engraving on one side – presumably for “Howard Chenoweth” – and a cross passing through a triangle on the other side.

The blade is stamped with a logo, “The M.C. Lilley & Company, Columbus, Ohio.” It also features several more Crusader scenes and an engraving that reads “memento mori” -“remember that you must die” in Latin – with a skull and crossbones.

Ron Ruble, owner of an online antique weapon shop (www.ruble-enterprises.com), said those markings indicate the sword once belonged to a Mason.

He said a sword was a standard-issued weapon until after the Civil War. Even a company’s musicians carried swords.

But following the war, Ruble said government officials realized a soldier’s sword was a “worthless piece of crap,” seldom used and extremely outdated in an age of long-range weapons like cannons and guns.

So the military stopped ordering as many swords for soldiers and started using the pieces for ceremonial purposes only. Ruble said the drop in sales put sword companies in difficult financial straits, forcing them to adapt their business strategies.

Because most men alive at the time were either Civil War, Mexican-American War or Indian War veterans, members of fraternal organizations like the Masons, the Grand Army of the Republic and the Independent Order of Oddfellows started wearing ornamental swords to the groups’ ceremonies.

“Since they were so used to carrying swords in the military, it was a natural thing,” Ruble said.

Sword manufacturers realized this business opportunity and started making personalized weapons for members. Ruble said this tradition lasted up until the 1920s and 1930s, when a new group of members came along that weren’t so “sword-oriented.”

“They made literally thousands of different ones,” he said. “They’re all over the place if you really start looking around.”

Ruble said West Virginia’s Golden Horseshoe sword is a replica of an 1840 model militia blade and Howard Chenoweth was probably the weapon’s original owner.

He said the manufacturer’s logo indicates the blade was manufactured between 1882 and 1925, making it 85- to 128-years-old.

Scotchie said the weapon’s age might negate the rumor of an earlier Golden Horseshoe sword, but questions remain.

Who, for instance, is Howard S. Chenoweth?

Joe Geiger, director of the state archives, provided the Daily Mail with a death certificate for a Howard Scott Chenoweth, an Elkins native who died in Huntington in December 1943 from a diabetic coma.

A 1944 obituary from the Elkins Inter-Mountain newspaper reveals that Chenoweth, 60 when he died, was a member and former master of Elkins’ Masonic lodge. According to Ruble’s timeline, it’s likely this Chenoweth would have owned a ceremonial sword.

It’s still unclear, however, how the sword made it to the state superintendent’s office.

Social Security death records indicate that Chenoweth’s wife, Helen, and children, Robert Neil and Mary Virginia, are all deceased, and further research didn’t turn up any additional heirs.

Chenoweth has no apparent connections to the state Department of Education, and members of Elkins Lodge 108 say they don’t know anything about the sword or Chenoweth.

The case of the Golden Horseshoe sword may have grown cold, but no matter its origins, it’s still part of a memory thousands of “knights” and “ladies” share, and it’s an artifact of the West Virginia history it represents.

As another group of amateur historians prepared today to have their shoulders tapped by its silver blade, Scotchie said she would like them to remember one thing: Don’t get nervous.

“I always say ‘Guys, we could not cut soft butter with this sword,'” she said.

“He hasn’t cut an ear off yet.”

Coffee keeps friendships warm

This column originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on January 2, 2015.

I remember the day I became a coffee drinker.

I stayed home from school with a blazing sore throat. That afternoon, as I laid on my grandmother’s couch in misery, I got an idea.

I went to the kitchen, grabbed one of her green plastic mugs and poured myself a steaming cup of black coffee.

My sore throat was instantly soothed but the relief didn’t last long. I drank another cup and another and another.

Momaw cut me off after I downed a whole pot and started to make another one.

My dad was never much of a coffee fan — his beverage of choice is Pepsi in a can, not a bottle thank you very much — but my mom always seems to have a cup nearby.

I always liked the way it smelled (who doesn’t?) but never understood the appeal of the bitter brew… until that day I stayed home from school. The bitterness didn’t offend my taste buds any more. Now, it held a strange attraction.

My relationship with coffee has changed over the years.

At first, I drank it when I craved it. Then, in college, I drank it to keep me awake through early-morning classes.

I didn’t develop a full-blown dependency on the stuff I began working at the Daily Mail.

The old movies portray journalists as whiskey drinkers and cigarette smokers. That stuff isn’t allowed in the newsroom anymore, but reporters have more than made up for it with their caffeine habits.

But coffee is more than just a morning pick-me-up. It has become one of my central excuses for getting together with people.

As much as I enjoy social media, there is nothing like a face-to-face conversation with a friend. But asking someone to lunch feels like a commitment.

Asking someone for coffee, however, feels like a fun errand. It’s something you can slip out of the office to complete without feeling guilty.

And drinking coffee, unlike eating, leaves lots of time for conversation. No need to worry about talking with your mouth full. If there’s a lull in the conversation, just take a swig and continue on.

In 2012, comedian Jerry Seinfeld started a web video series called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

The title says it all. In each episode, Seinfeld picks up his guest in a special car — his most recent two-part episode with Jimmy Fallon featured both a 1956 Chevrolet Corvette and a 1994 Land Rover Defender 90 — and takes them to get coffee.

Seinfeld did not begin drinking coffee until middle age but, once he did, discovered something that avowed caffeine addicts already knew.

“Meeting someone for coffee suddenly seemed like a wonderful, compact, accessible and portable social interaction,” he told National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” in 2013. “You don’t even really need a place. But you feel like you’re doing something. That is what coffee is.”

I suspect I will come to rely on these “portable social interactions” more frequently in the coming months.

Today marks my last day at the Charleston Daily Mail. And while I am very excited for my next job, I will really miss all the friends I have made at this newspaper.

When I first arrived in the newsroom back in 2009, it didn’t take me long to realize this newspaper’s staff are more than just co-workers. The Daily Mail is a family.

I have celebrated my co-workers’ marriages and new births, mourned with them, laughed, argued and marveled with them as we watched history unfold before our eyes.

I count every one of the people here as a dear friend and I know they feel the same way about me.

So, now that we will work in separate offices, we will need an excuse to get together. And if I know one thing about newspaper reporters, they won’t pass up a cup of coffee.

The next one’s on me.

Carnival of Soles

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, May 7, 2012. 

Jina Jordan has held several jobs in her life.

She owned a cleaning business and then worked as a pizza dough maker at Gino’s Pizza in Sissonville. She drives cars for the St. Albans Auction and repairs purses and leather jackets at the Fife Street Shoe Shop in downtown Charleston.

But over a decade ago, Jordan, 53, held her coolest gig of all. For one day, she was KISS bassist Gene Simmons’ cobbler.

The storied rock band played Charleston on May 2, 2000, on the first leg of their “Farewell Tour.”

KISS didn’t actually retire after that tour – they’ve embarked on seven more since then – but the Charleston date was one of the last times the band’s original lineup took the stage together.

Chris Dickerson, the Daily Mail’s city editor at the time, was eagerly anticipating that concert.

“I’m a huge KISS fan and over the years I became friends with KISS’s tour manager,” Dickerson said.

Tommy Thayer, who now plays lead guitar for the group, was KISS’s manager during the 2000 tour.

“I don’t remember all the details, but they had just got into town and there was something wrong with Gene’s boot. Tommy called me and asked me, ‘Where’s a good place I could take them?'” Dickerson said.

“I suggested the Fife Street Shoe Shop.”

That was the last Dickerson heard of Simmons’ boot problems. But it was the beginning of a very interesting day for Jordan.

On the afternoon of May 2, one of Simmons’ assistants brought the boots into the shop.

“It was a rush order,” Jordan remembers.

She had worked at the Fife Street Shoe Shop for about a year, spending much of her time repairing leather jackets and purses, mending rips, replacing zippers and fixing busted buckles. She learned to sew from her mother, Nadine.

“She sewed my sister’s wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses,” Jordan said. “I’ve got her old sewing machine, one of those real heavy-duty ones that you can sew blue jeans with.”

Jordan didn’t do a lot of work on shoes, though. Most of the broken heels and worn-out soles went to Andy Arthur, the shop’s manager.

But Jordan knew her client well. She graduated high school in 1977, two years after KISS got its first top 40 hit with “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

“I used to jam out to them when I was younger. I used to have them on an 8-track. We had a Cutlass, we called it a ‘Gutless.’ We used to jam to that,” she said.

The wildly costumed group became as famous for their onstage antics – Simmons’ fire breathing and blood spitting, Ace Frehley’s fireworks-spewing guitar, Peter Criss’ levitating drum set – as for hard-rocking hits like “Detroit Rock City” and “Calling Dr. Love.”

Well, Gene Simmons had aged a lot since Jordan was riding around in the Gutless.

He still was breathing fire and letting his foot-long tongue unfurl, but his ankles were swollen when he arrived in Charleston.

He needed wider zippers installed on the sides of his platform boots.

Though Jordan had done similar jobs before, replacing the zippers on Simmons’ boots presented some unique problems.

First, they were heavy. Even with all of Simmons’ metal adornments removed, the oversized footwear still weighed 35 pounds.

“I don’t know how he wore them onstage,” she said.

The boots also were wet when they arrived on Jordan’s workbench.

“That leather was real soft and the boots were still sweaty from the night before. It was hard to get them cut out,” she said.

Jordan was working on deadline, too: KISS was performing at the Civic Center that night and Simmons needed his boots fixed, pronto.

She started by slicing the threads that held the zippers to the boots’ leather. She had to be careful not to cut the soft, supple, soggy leather.

With the zippers removed, Jordan glued new ones in place. The glue normally sets up fast, but Jordan said the wet leather slowed the process. She used a fan to dry them, but that didn’t work very well.

Finally, after about an hour, the glue set up and Jordan stitched the zippers back into the leather.

“I guess he made it. He performed that night,” she said.

Jordan didn’t get to see her handiwork on stage, though.

Arthur told her he had received free tickets for helping the band, but that was just a little good-natured teasing among co-workers.

Jordan left the shoe shop about eight months after her chance encounter with the famous footwear. She got her old job back about two months ago but spent the intervening years as business-cleaner, dough-maker and car-driver.

She never forgot her most famous job, though.

“I still have the zippers.”

She put them in a plastic bag and placed it in a Pintor cigar box with newspaper clippings from the concert. For a long time, the zippers still smelled like Simmons’ sweat.

“I said, ‘I’m going to keep these ’cause someday something might happen with them.'”

If nothing else, the zippers help her prove that she’s not lying about her most famous client.

Appalachian Distillery makes moonshine, legally

 

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, August 27, 2014.

RIPLEY — Dwayne Freeman makes his moonshine almost the same way as the old-timers. He uses big sacks of corn and a kettle connected to shiny copper lines.

There are a few minor differences, however. First, Freeman doesn’t make his whiskey in the moonlight. In fact, he usually works the day shift.

He also did not hide his moonshine distillery very well. It’s pretty easy to find, right off Interstate 77 between the Jackson County Livestock Market and the I-77 Raceway Park.

And even though his grandfather once went to jail for moonshining, Freeman doesn’t worry when the police drive by. He doesn’t have to.

His company Appalachian Distillery is part of a new generation of Appalachian moonshiners, making high-octane whiskey on the right side of the law.

Freeman first got the idea to open a moonshine distillery about five years ago, after the West Virginia Legislature legalized the small-scale manufacture of whiskey in the state.

At the time Freeman was working as a purchasing agent at a coal mine.

He started crunching the numbers and realized, much to his surprise, that he could make money in the whiskey business.

“I said, ‘There’s got to be something wrong.’”

He took the idea to James Hager, a contractor friend who also worked for the mines.

Hager looked at Freeman’s business plan and agreed it might work. He also agreed to come aboard as Freeman’s business partner.

“I said ‘I’ll make it, you sell it,’” Freeman said. “He took the plunge.”

Freeman decided to move forward with his plans after being laid off from the mines.

He signed a lease on a former grocery store in Ravenswood, but quickly realized the building would require lots of work before the distillery could begin operating.

Then a nearby church convinced city leaders to yank the distillery’s permit over a zoning error.

Freeman didn’t mind. Losing his license freed him from the lease, allowing him to move his distillery into a brand-new building on Cedar Lakes Drive near Ripley.

The building was custom designed for the distillery with tall ceilings and drains in the concrete floor. It also proved to be good for business.

The distillery hasn’t done much advertising, but Freeman said the word-of-mouth buzz has been enough to drive flocks of visitors to the distillery.

Freeman said when he started out, he worried he would not be able to produce legal moonshine that tasted as good as the illegal whiskey he had tasted.

Then he ran the still for the first time.

“It was better,” Freeman said. “Everybody says it’s some of the best they’ve tasted.”

Cooking moonshine in larger batches, it turns out, brings out more flavor in the finished product.

The process starts with corn. And lots of it.

Each run of the moonshine still requires between 1,300 and 1,500 pounds of cracked corn, which Appalachian Distillery buys from a man in Sissonville, who grinds the grain himself.

The corn goes into a large vat of water, where it cooks for four hours until it takes on an oatmeal-like consistency.

This “mash” also contains barley, which converts the starch in the corn into sugar.

The corn mash is now pumped into one of the distillery’s five fermenting tanks.

Workers pitch yeast on top of the corn. Over the next five to seven days, the bacteria in the yeast will turn the sugars in the mash into alcohol.

That alcohol will then be extracted from the mash using the moonshine still.

Appalachian Distillery’s still looks just like the illegal backwoods pot stills you see in the movies, except much larger.

The fermented mash is pumped into a big stainless steel pot, where it is heated. The heat releases alcohol vapor. The vapor then floats up through the copper “onion head” and into a copper line.

The copper is more than just tradition. Fermenting yeast creates sulfur, which would ruin the taste of the final product.

Copper binds with the sulfur, causing it to collect on the inside of the lines like big pepper flakes. Meanwhile, the vapor continues through the still and re-condenses into liquid alcohol.

Freeman’s moonshine still does an especially good job of removing sulfur from the alcohol, thanks to its special “reflux column” filled with copper plates.

The alcohol makes several passes through the chamber, condensing and evaporating over and over. The copper plates remove more sulfur with each pass.

This is where Appalachian Distillery departs from moonshining tradition. The old timers didn’t have reflux columns. They just made seven or eight batches of whiskey and ran it all back through the still.

The resulting whiskey wasn’t nearly as clean as Appalachian Distillery’s moonshine, however.

“The taste is extraordinarily cleaner,” master distiller Darrell Lee said.

Each run of the still produces about 80 gallons of 175- to 180-proof alcohol.

The liquid is transferred to a “spirit safe” where some of the alcohol is allowed to evaporate, causing the proof to drop.

Workers then pour the moonshine into big blue food-safe barrels, where they mix it with water and further reduce the proof.

Appalachian Distillery’s flagship product is 90-proof “original moonshine.”

They also offer four flavored versions, a 70-proof cinnamon drink called “Spitfire” and three 40-proof flavors: apple pie, “orange stuff” and pawpaw.

These flavors are added in a large mixer, where workers mix the alcohol with pre-mixed flavors.

Lee said pawpaw moonshine, flavored like West Virginia’s indigenous “hillbilly banana,” has been the most popular item so far.

“Just because it’s something unique,” he said.

Each flavor is available in two sizes, a 750-milliliter bottle and a 375-milliliter bottle, and can be purchased at Rite Aid and CVS stores around the state.

Freeman and Hager are working to get Appalachian Distillery moonshine into every liquor store in the state and eventually hope to branch out to stores in Kentucky and Ohio, too.

Freeman also is planning additional flavors — including blackberry, strawberry, strawberry lemonade and limited-run holiday flavors like peppermint — and he eventually hopes to produce barrel-aged moonshine.

Whatever happened to Randolph Scott?

This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on Friday, May 30, 2014.

Donald Moore knows everything there is to know about film projectors.

He’s sold bunches of them over his half-century running Moore Theater Supply Company on Lee Street. When a repair call came in, he could usually diagnose the problem over the phone.

Moore, 69, knows which lenses and bulbs to use, based on the screen size and the distance to the screen. He set up theaters all over West Virginia and its surrounding states, including a 1,200-seat movie house in the federal penitentiary in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Unfortunately, there’s just not much demand for his services anymore.

Nobody needs a film projector anymore because there’s no more film. The major movie studios stopped releasing movies on 35 millimeter film last year.

The West Side business is still hanging on, but mostly as Moore’s “man cave.” The space is filled with memorabilia, from old film canisters and projector lenses to movie posters and leftover theater seats.

“It’s just a thing of the past,” Moore said. “It’s a total different business. It’s nothing like it was.”

Here’s how it was:

At one point, Moore’s father owned 15 theaters throughout southern West Virginia, mostly in coal camps.

Every member of the family was expected to help out. On any given Friday night, Moore and his three brothers were at one of the theaters, selling tickets or concessions.

The movie business followed them home, too.

“We popped popcorn year-round in the basement, bagged it up and took it to the theaters,” Moore said. “It was hotter than hell.”

They also made up the preview reels in the basement, taking big rolls of movie trailers and cutting them apart with razor blades. They would pick the trailers they wanted to show and splice them back together with tape.

Each theater would run six movies a week plus cartoons, trailers and newsreels. They got their films from a distributor in Cincinnati. They only received one copy of each film, however, so theaters had to take turns.

“You just bicycled them from one theater to the other.”

It might be weeks before the new John Wayne reached the movie house in your hometown.

On the upside, going to the movies was pretty cheap back then. Moore said in the 1960s, regular price admission at his dad’s theaters was 75 cents for adults and 35 cents for children. On bargain nights—usually Wednesdays and Thursdays, when they played older movies—it dropped to 35 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.

Children could also get in for 15 cents on Saturday mornings, when the theaters would show cartoon reels. They could get a small popcorn and soft drink for 10 cents more.

The theater business started declining by the end of the 1950s, so Moore’s father diversified his business plan. He went to work for Charleston Theater Supply and, a few years later, opened his own theater supply business.

Moore started working with his father in 1962, after graduating from Stonewall Jackson High School. He took over the business when his dad died in 1966, and in 1969 bought out Charleston Theater Supply.

For years he sold everything from projectors, theater seats, movie poster frames and marquee letters. Moore still does the occasional stage curtain installation, although those are few and far between.

“Those jobs only come every 20 years. You put it in, you put it in right and they last forever,” he said.

He now uses the space as a workshop for his other business, the South Charleston Antique Mall, which he and his wife opened in 2005. The tools Moore once used to fix projectors now are used on items he plans to sell at the antique store.

He still likes movies—his favorites are “Shane: and “The High and the Mighty”—but he hasn’t been to a theater in years.

“They don’t match my expectations,” he said.

Moore said it’s difficult to enjoy himself, since he’s trained his eyes to notice every little detail about the projection.

Some things just aren’t like they used to be.

Sushi and exotic fish shop makes for odd but apt combo

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

It could be an uncomfortable experience, enjoying sushi in the middle of an aquarium shop.

There are all those very-alive fish, just bubbling along while you enjoy a dish of very-recently-alive fish.

But Yuichi Fujita, 59, has made it work.

He is the owner of Fuji’s Sushi and Teriyaki along Jefferson Road in South Charleston. The tiny restaurant shares the building with Fujita’s other business, Fuji’s Reef Shop.

On one side of the small space, there are lights, tanks and chemicals for maintaining saltwater fish tanks, along with several tanks filled with exotic fish.

On the other, there’s a kitchen and a small seating area, including a four-seat counter where diners can eat in the blue light of a large burbling saltwater tank filled with colorful fish and swaying underwater plants.

“Japanese food, one thing that’s good, they put food and nature together,” Fujita said.

He keeps a folder of pictures ripped from Japanese-language museums, depicting restaurants with elaborate gardens or those built into picturesque landscapes. Fujita admires those restaurants and has captured some of that vibe with his shop.

When he opened the business in 2005, it was only supposed to be an aquarium store.

Fujita spent years working in kitchens before opening his own sushi restaurant, Fujita Express, in downtown Charleston. He grew tired of the restaurant business, however, and wanted to switch gears.

Some years before, he saw a saltwater tank in a pet shop and immediately fell in love.

He began researching the hobby, and although the Internet was a much smaller place in the early 2000s, Fujita was soon a self-made expert.

“I’m the kind of person, when you get in, that’s it.”

He installed a saltwater tank in his home, and then another and another.

His wife, Dawn, began to grow impatient with the fishtanks that were taking over their home—there were eventually so many aquariums they had to bring in contractors to upgrade the wiring—so Fujita decided to spin off his hobby into a business.

Things went swimmingly for a few years but business dropped off dramatically after the economy crashed in 2008, as people began cutting back on luxuries.

So Fujita decided to get back into the restaurant business. He built a kitchen in his shop and started doing to-go orders.

He soon had a sizable group of regular customers.

“Then people said, ‘why don’t you open a few seats?’”

Fujita added a few tables and a counter last year but kept the seating capacity low.

The restaurant is a small operation—Fujita and his wife, Dawn, who comes in around 5 p.m. after she leaves her day job, are the store’s only employees—but Fujita keeps it that way on purpose.

“I don’t want to deal with employees. I do everything. Lot of work, but less headaches.”

It gives him a close relationship with his customers.

“Pretty much every customer, I remember.”

He knows which flavors they like and those they do not. There’s a lawyer who doesn’t want anything green on his plate. There’s another customer that can’t stand green onions or anything with a similarly strong taste.

Some regulars trust Fujita so implicitly they don’t even order.

“Some customers, they’ll just say ’make me something,'” he said.

Fujita doesn’t think he’s that impressive, however. It’s part of his job to have a good relationship with his clientele. He used to work with a bartender who could remember the usual drinks for a few hundred regular customers.

“If you do it a long time, that’s your skill,” he said. “I have a good long-term memory.”

Running a small shop also gives Fujita the freedom to take time off. The store is closed this week while he goes fly fishing in Pocahontas County.

Fujita says he didn’t have any hobbies when he first arrived in West Virginia about 20 years ago but wanted something to occupy his time outside the restaurant.

“I didn’t want to be like my father. Work, work, work,” he said. “You want to enjoy your life.”

He saw a travel brochure with photos of fly fishermen and was intrigued. It wasn’t long before his obsessive nature took hold. He drove to Pocahontas County every week to practice casting in the trout-filled Cranberry River. He learned to tie his own flies.

“It’s a beautiful way to catch fish.”

He enjoys stepping into his waders and standing in the middle of a river, witnessing nature from a vantage point few people take time to enjoy.

You could say it’s another way to appreciate the balance between food and nature, except . . .

“I’m 100 percent catch and release,” Fujita said.

 

Swiftwater Cafe adds catering, general store

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

Last Friday morning, the folks at Swiftwater Cafe were already hard at work on lunch.

The long metal prep table in the restaurant’s new catering kitchen was filled with fruit, sandwich and cookie trays as employees rushed to fill orders.

The space—located on the first floor of the Daniel Boone Building on Capitol Street—was formerly a beauty salon, but when the salon’s owner retired earlier this year, Swiftwater owner Teddy Queen purchased the space and had it completely renovated.

The walls are painted bright green to match the restaurant’s color scheme, and a big window decal announces “Swiftwater Catering is open for business.”

Queen, 39, started doing small breakfast and lunch catering orders as soon as Swiftwater opened in 2003, although the workspace wasn’t ideal.

He and his employees were trying to prepare large numbers of sandwiches and wraps in the same small kitchen where they fixed lunch orders.

“It was very crowded,” he said.

After a few years he expanded the operation into a small closet-like space in the back of the beauty salon next door. That allowed a little more room for catering, but the space was not equipped for large orders.

Then earlier this year, the hair salon went out of business and Queen had the chance to buy the space.

He hadn’t planned to expand just yet. Last year, he opened the Swiftwater General Store on Capitol Street and purchased a new van for the business. But he decided to take the leap anyway.

“I said ‘Well, we’re stretched a little thin but let’s go for it.’ I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and the demand was there,” he said.

He opened the catering kitchen in early April.

The storefront gives Swiftwater a larger presence on Washington St., which Queen hopes will catch peoples’ attention and bring in more business. His catering operation is mostly limited to downtown Charleston right now but he wants to expand into Kanawha City and South Charleston, too.

The expanded catering business also has allowed Swiftwater to hire more employees.

While the cafe once had just three employees, plus Queen, the restaurant now has 12 people on staff, including two at the Swiftwater General Store on Capitol St.

Queen originally wanted to build a country store in Fayetteville, and even bought a piece of property and had architects draw up some blueprints. But there were problems with the land’s septic permits and Queen couldn’t seem to get any help from county officials. Then his wife, Lisa, got a new job she really enjoyed, and the couple was hesitant about moving their children.

“I said, ‘Too many factors are building up.’”

He decided to put his plans on hold for a while. Then, last year, a storefront opened across from Davis Park on Capitol Street and Queen jumped at the opportunity.

The Swiftwater General Store opened in September 2013.

“It’s been an immediate success,” he said. “I get thanked 15 times a day for putting it there.”

The store’s interior evokes an old-timey general store, which was partly inspired by Queen’s family history. His great-grandparents ran a coal company store in Fayette County, and one of his grandfathers ran a grocery store in Matewan.

In addition to snack cakes, potato chips and other convenience store fare, the wood shelves along the left wall of the store are stocked with essentials: canned food, toilet paper, paper towels, toiletries, a big jar of pickled eggs. Just about anything customers might need in a pinch.

The opposite wall is lined with coolers. The grab-and-go cooler is stocked with sandwiches, wraps, salads and other quick, healthy lunch offerings. There are pop coolers and a few beer coolers stocked with craft brews. Customers are welcome to build their own six packs.

The store has a steady stream of regulars, who pop in to pick up a cup of fresh coffee or a cinnamon roll from the bakery case. Queen said the store is perfectly positioned to attract business from surrounding office buildings as well as Davis Park.

“It’s going to be the best decision I’ve made long-term,” he said.

Play helps director heal

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Thursday, March 20, 2014.

Carrie Kirk was acting angry.

In a pivotal scene in the Kanawha Players’ production of “Extremities,” Kirk’s character Terry is in the middle of a heated argument with her roommates when she reveals she was raped as a teenager.

Kirk recited the lines with venom in her voice, just as she’d done dozens of times in previous rehearsals.

But this time, the words caught director Sheila Kerr’s ear. And Kerr realized something was wrong.

“I said, no, no, no. She’s not angry. She’s broken and vulnerable. This is the first time she’s laid it out there for the whole world to see.”

Kerr knew, because she also felt broken and vulnerable. Because earlier that day she had made a very similar confession.

She had appeared on a local radio show to promote her memoir “Distorted Thoughts,” a largely unedited compilation of blog and journal entries chronicling a lifelong struggle with various kinds of abuse.

During the interview, she mentioned that she had been raped as a girl.

Kerr, a first-time director as unfiltered as a pack of Lucky Strikes, didn’t realize she made the confession until she listened back to the interview.

It was the first time she had talked about the assault publicly. And sitting in the Kanawha Players’ theater that night, she knew exactly how Terry would feel.

So Kirk changed her delivery. She faced the empty theater, tugged her sweater a little closer and spoke the words with new fragility. When the scene ended, everyone in the theater was crying.

“Even the non-smokers were like, ‘I need a cigarette,’” Kerr said.

“It was a really intense moment but hands-down one of the most beautiful.”

The play, written by William Mastrosimone, is notoriously difficult for both actors and audience members.

Kanawha Players president Ginger Workman says the play is an exploration not just of violence against women, but also of justice and punishment. And it takes a long, hard look at all of those things.

“It’s not a play you want to get into if you have any past with some of these issues. It can be difficult,” she said.

The Players’ production of “Extremities” opens this Friday at 8 p.m.

The play opens with the main character Marjorie alone in her home, making tea and killing bugs with bug spray.

A man—later discovered to be a stalker that has been spying on Marjorie and her roommates for some time—walks through the front door, attacks the woman and attempts to rape her.

Marjorie is able to overpower her attacker with the help of the bug spray. When her roommates return, they find the would-be rapist tied to a chair inside the fireplace. The women then must decide what they should do to the man.

They could call the police, but since he didn’t succeed in raping Marjorie, won’t they just let him go? Wouldn’t he just come back?

The women also discuss killing the attacker, but there are obvious complications with that plan, too.

“There’s been times I’ve been in rehearsal and wanted to throw up. You feel like you’re watching a crime happen,” Kerr said.

It’s especially difficult for Kerr, a survivor of both domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“I feel like it has me written all over it, she said. There’s parts of this play, there are things that I’ve pushed down deep.”

But in a way, Kerr said that history has helped with “Extremities.”

She’s worked with the Kanawha Players since 2010 but has always stayed behind the scenes, building sets and doing makeup. She tried out for a role in “Extremities,” but didn’t get one.

But then the play’s director dropped out. Then his replacement left, too.

Workman, impressed with Kerr’s strong vision for the play, asked her to take the helm even though she had never directed a play before.

Kerr was initially concerned but has enjoyed being able to bring someone else’s story to life onstage, while giving it her own spin.

“I won’t lie: I’m getting something out of it,” she said.

Stay Cozy

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Blink, and you might miss Kin Ship Goods’ new headquarters on Lee Street.

The company recently relocated from Louisville, Ky., to a tiny two-story building sandwiched between the former Stone & Thomas department store and the AT&T building.

It’s a little reminiscent of the house from the Stuart Little movies. But it’s the perfect home for a company whose unofficial motto is “Stay cozy.”

Kin Ship Goods produces a line of light-hearted home goods and apparel that have been featured in Country Living Magazine and websites like Apartment Therapy, Design Sponge and ModCloth.

Their most popular item is a T-shirt featuring a silhouette of a cat’s head, overlaid with the slogan “Ask me about my cat.”

“That’s what pays the rent, co-owner Hillary Harrison said.

The company’s other products are similarly ebullient. The second-most popular design depicts a kitten reading a book. Another design features a mountain sunrise, and another sports the faux-profane catchphrase “What the Cuss?”

There’s a baby romper that boasts “Too young for coffee but still going strong.”

Co-founders Dan Davis, 30, and Harrison, 33, started Kin Ship Goods in 2009, while they were both working at an art gallery. Davis was a longtime screen printer and Harrison worked as the gallery’s purchasing agent.

“We said ’Let’s just make our own stuff,'” Davis said.

The operation started small, with Davis printing shirts in a spare bedroom. But then Kin Ship Goods was featured on the front page of Etsy, an online marketplace for crafters and artists.

Orders came flooding in, and the business eventually became steady enough for Davis and Harrison to quit their other jobs and devote their full attention to Kin Ship.

The couple began talking about moving to West Virginia three years ago.

“The timing felt right,” Harrison said.

She was raised in Sissonville but moved away as soon as she graduated from high school.

“I knew the whole time I grew up here I was going to leave when I turned 18,” she said.

But the mountains kept calling her home.

Davis, who was born in Germany but raised in Louisville, visited Charleston with Harrison and found he liked the area, too.

“I like that it’s big, but it doesn’t feel big,” he said.

They began looking for a commercial space around the area to house Kin Ship’s new headquarters, but it wasn’t easy.

The couple found some places they could afford, but were not big enough to accommodate their growing screenprinting operation. They found places that could accommodate their business, but those spaces were far too expensive.

Then, while visiting the Mountain State last Thanksgiving, they noticed a “For Rent” sign on the little building on Lee St.

“I’d never noticed it before, and I grew up here,” Harrison said. “It just looked kind of abandoned.”

It was abandoned.

Davis and Harrison don’t know much about the history of their new building, but they have been told it formerly housed a dress shop and a cafe. At some point, Stone & Thomas might have used the space to store its Christmas decorations.

“We haven’t been able to find any solid information,” Harrison said.

Davis heard a tailor tried to set up shop in the space several years ago but it didn’t work out. The space has been vacant ever since.

The space was perfect for what Harrison and Davis wanted to do, however. They moved into their new headquarters in January.

It was hardly a smooth transition. First, a chemical spill that left hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without potable water. Then, a water line burst and flooded the downstairs of Kin Ship’s new home, ruining lots of merchandise and destroying several of Davis’s printing screens.

They weren’t able to begin filling orders again until early April, but are now in full operation.

Davis set up his large screen printing presses in the back of the shop. He plans to build an even bigger press in the near future, that will allow him to screen print textiles.

Harrison works from a desk in the middle of the room, where she stuffs hand-printed boxes with t-shirts, sweat shirts, pillow cases, tote bags and coffee cups from a nearby shelf.

The couple plans to open a small store at the front of the building on June 26, in time for the city’s annual FestivALL celebration.

The shop will offer Kin Ship Goods merchandise along with other locally-made products and other unique items. Davis and Harrison also plan to host art exhibits in the space.

Renaissance man saved Daily Mail from bankruptcy in 1914

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Friday, April 4, 2014 to mark teh newspaper’s 100th birthday.

One hundred years ago this Sunday, a former Alaskan governor purchased a small bankrupt newspaper in Charleston, W.Va.

The publication, known at the time as The News-Mail, had spent decades in and out of financial difficulties.

But Gov. Walter E. Clark was a man of unique experience, having spent years as a Washington correspondent for some of the country’s biggest newspapers.

He also had spent time as a gold prospector, so he knew buried treasure when he saw it.

Clark changed the paper’s name and spent the rest of his life helping it thrive and grow into the newspaper you read today.

This Sunday marks the Charleston Daily Mail‘s 100th birthday, and this is the story of the man who started it all.

Walter Eli Clark was born Jan. 7, 1869, in Ashford, Conn., the son of a farmer. He attended the local public schools before heading to the Connecticut State Normal School, where he graduated in 1887.

He spent the next year working as a schoolteacher in Waterville, Conn., before, at age 19, becoming principal of the Manchester, Conn., grade schools.

Clark quickly left the education world behind, however, returning to school at Williston Seminary and then Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1895.

After graduation, Clark got into the newspaper business.

He became a reporter at the Hartford Post in Hartford, Conn. but left that position for a job in the nation’s capital, working as a telegraph editor at the Washington Times.

He then became Washington correspondent for the New York Commercial Advertiser and, in 1897, the New York Sun.

In 1900, he took a yearlong leave of absence from the newspaper to travel to Alaska and prospect for gold. He didn’t find his fortune, but contributed articles to several papers during his time in the Final Frontier.

He returned to Washington in 1901 and, over the next few years, worked for the Sun, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Toronto Globe.

Governor Clark

In 1909, Clark again left the newspaper business for Alaska…but this time at the request of President William Howard Taft.

Clark never sought political office but had developed a reputation as a man “unusually well-informed on Alaskan affairs,” according to a front page New York Times story on May 19, 1909.

Taft and Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger asked Clark to become the first territorial governor of Alaska.

Local newspapers criticized Clark as a “carpetbagger” but Taft believed putting an outsider in charge would help resolve political squabbles that were hampering efforts to establish a territorial government in the district.

Indeed, it was Clark who oversaw the establishment of Alaska’s first legislature. But after four years he grew tired of the job and in early 1913 submitted a letter of resignation to President Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson asked Clark to stay in Alaska until the legislature completed its session. Clark relented and stayed until May 21.

Although some might have expected Clark would return to Washington once back in the continental United States, he chose instead to relocate to Charleston.

And although he never again held (or even sought) political office, friends and colleagues would affectionately call him “Governor” for the rest of his life.

The Charleston Daily Mail

Upon arriving in West Virginia, Clark received several offers from state Republicans to run for office. But he wasn’t interested.

His only ambition, he said, was to “publish a good newspaper.”

It was a crowded business.

Publications popped up and disappeared all the time in Charleston, almost as quickly as their daily editions. One writer called the Kanawha Valley “the graveyard of newspapers.”

In the late 1800s, there were nine newspapers being published in the area. One of those was The Evening Mail, founded in 1893 by F.R. Swann.

That paper lasted only until 1894, when it was sold to John B. Floyd and John W. Jarrett.

Floyd and Jarrett changed The Evening Mail into a morning publication—renaming it The Charleston Mail—because they figured morning trains offered faster service through the state. That would improve the newspaper’s coverage and allow for a wider distribution.

The plan didn’t work, however.

Financial troubles forced The Charleston Mail out of business after only a few years. The newspaper was purchased by another company and consolidated with other publications to form the Star-Tribune.

It would not reemerge until 1899, this time with Charleston Gazette owner Moses Donally at the helm.

He changed the name back to The Charleston Mail but allowed it to remain a morning newspaper, since the Gazette was an evening paper at the time.

Donally sold the Gazette in 1900, however, and in 1901 switched the Charleston Mail to an evening paper so the two could compete head-to-head.

He also brought in five prominent Republicans to serve as editors while he handled the business side of the operation.

It was a disastrous decision.

The politicos found it difficult to agree on anything. The newspaper would pick a candidate to endorse, then switch sides and back another candidate in the very next day’s edition.

Readers found it difficult to trust a publication that couldn’t even agree with its own editorials.

Donally eventually fired the editors, but financial difficulties forced him to sell the newspaper in 1910.

It was merged with another local paper, The News, to become The News-Mail. This newspaper, too, was doomed and wound up on the auction block in April 1914.

And that’s where Gov. Clark found it.

He purchased the News-Mail, returned its name to The Charleston Mail and installed himself as editor and publisher. He would hold the position for more than 30 years.

Things started small—Clark and managing editor Grady Damron were the paper’s entire editorial staff for a time—but the business began to grow almost immediately.

Clark added a Sunday edition on April 4, 1920, and changed the name of the newspaper to the Charleston Daily Mail. The publication soon outgrew its headquarters at 1002 Virginia St. East. It moved into a brand new building across the street in April 1927, where it remains today.

A newspaper for the whole people

Clark came to the Charleston Daily Mail with a wealth of experience, having worked in Washington as a political journalist for several different newspapers.

His experience as a territorial governor also gave him a unique insight into politics on both the state and national level.

But in spite of his background—or maybe because of it—Clark came to the Daily Mail with somewhat of an aversion to politics.

He styled himself an “independent Republican.

One of the first editorials he wrote for The Charleston Mail declared the publication would be “a Republican newspaper—mighty positively so—but not a factional opponent.

“It will be a political or personal organ of no individual, not even the owner,” he wrote.

Instead, Clark assured readers his newspaper “will serve no interests except the interests of the whole people.”

Clark’s commitment to fairness also extended to his staff.

Columnist Adrian Gwin recalled a time when, as a young reporter, Clark summoned him to his office.

“To my knock on his door he said come,’ and then sit down sir,’ offering a chair beside him. He handed me a three-paragraph story clipped from a previous edition, asking if I wrote it,” Gwin remembered in a 1996 column.

It was short article about an unruly drunk who had been arrested. The story listed the man’s address, which Gwin had copied from an official report at the police station.

The drunk had lied to police, however, and gave them someone else’s address.

“Mr. Gwin… The family at the address has notified us that they will sue the newspaper and the writer of the article for a million dollars.

“I just want you to know, Mr. Gwin, that the newspaper will stand behind you 100 percent, regardless of what happens.

No lawsuit was ever filed, but Gwin said the experience was a perfect example of Clark’s character.

“He was courteous, crafty, industrious, gentlemanly, hard shelled, soft-hearted, aspiring, considerate and willing to give more than he demanded, he wrote.

Former lifestyles editor Julie Kemp began working in the Daily Mail newsroom about a year before Clark’s death.

Although he was 80 at the time, Kemp remembers Clark was very hands-on with his staff.

“He was just quite a presence in the newsroom,” Kemp said. “He didn’t sit in his little office. He roamed around.”

One day he hand-delivered a copy of one of Kemp’s stories, clipped from the newspaper.

“He had written on it ’good yarn.’”

Even as he became head honcho of a successful newspaper, Clark’s love of writing never waned.

He regularly wrote for the newspaper, mostly in his front-page editorial “At This Hour.” But he still occasionally turned in news stories, too.

“Just to keep in touch with the news,” he would say.

A lasting legacy

Clark remained an active presence in the newsroom even as his health began to fail. He had suffered recurring heart attacks but, by early 1950, appeared to be in comparatively good health.

But about 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4, he suffered another heart attack.

He was admitted to the hospital, where he died at 1:27 p.m.

Clark requested no elaborate obituary, commanding the staff to only write “a few words at the top of the editorial column, and that is all.”

Editorial writer Jack Maurice respectfully disobeyed his final wishes, however.

Maurice remembered his boss and friend as a man of keen wit, “a student’s understanding of history,” and a “deep and abiding concern for what he felt right and proper.”

“If one word can suffice to characterize him it is integrity’ – both personal in his life and publicly in his conduct of a newspaper, Maurice wrote in the Sunday newspaper.

Clark’s funeral was held the following Monday at the Kanawha Presbyterian Church, right next door to the Daily Mail building.

Maurice and nine other Daily Mail employees served as pallbearers.

Clark’s widow took over operation of the paper when he died, appointing her brother Fred Staunton as publisher.

Her son Lyell eventually took ownership of the newspaper and continued operating the publication until 1987, when the family sold The Daily Mail to Thomson Newspapers.

Without, or with, offence to friends or foes

When Clark began the difficult task of revamping the Charleston Daily Mail, he sought a motto to convey his guiding ideals for the newspaper.

He found what he was looking for in the eighth canto of Lord Byron’s epic poem “Don Juan.”

“Without, or with, offence to friends or foes,” the poet wrote. “I sketch your world exactly as it goes.

The slogan began appearing in each edition of the newspaper, but Clark also had the line emblazoned on a plaque to hang in the newsroom.

The Daily Mail has seen many changes over the last century, but that plaque still hangs in the newsroom, right behind the copy desk.

It serves as a daily reminder of our forebears, as well as the principles we still espouse.

Thanks, governor.