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Third Place

Adam Booth


Third-place finisher Adam Booth of Huntington.
Photograph by Michael Keller.

Adam Booth

I’ve come here today to tell you the story of Cabell County — the founding of it — and the great treasure that it brought to our great state. [A story] that many people don’t know, as passed down through my family for years.

Travel with me, if you will, back to the days of Europe several hundred years ago, to when Antonio Stradavari was living — the greatest violin maker in the world. Well, that tradition of violin making was passed down throughout his family up until the days of his great-grandson, Huntingio Stradavari. As many great-grandchildren are, he was quite a bohemian in his thinking. Up until that day, the violins were made with flat bellies, but he wanted a curved belly.

So, he was making curved-bellied violins, and the family said, “This is terrible. You cannot do this with our family tradition. You’re out of the family.” He thought it was a terrible disgrace, but he was determined to make these curved- bellied violins, so he thinks, “America! I can go there and make my violins just as I want.” So, he got on the next boat across the ocean and took with him his good friend, a great woodworker by the name of Giuseppe Cabelli.

They headed across the ocean. It takes quite awhile to go across, so they met everyone else on the boat. As good fortune would have it, they ran into three great men on that boat. The first one being a Frenchman by the name of Pierre Giverny, who was the Duc de Guyan — a region of France — or, as we would say, the Duke of Guyan. He was a wealthy banker. That area was known for banking.

The other two men that he met were both Englishmen. The first one being Douglas the Barber. He was a haircutter by trade. Stradavari thought this was wonderful because he could cut horsetails for violin bows and catgut for strings.

The other Englishman that he met had the name of Milton the Harper. He was trained as a harper and knew the ancient ways of tuning strings. It was wonderful fortune. They had all the men needed for a new violin company.

The boat lands in America. All the immediate areas had already been inhabited, so they traveled further in. They came to the mountains, and that was not a desirable place for Huntingio because the high altitude gave him nosebleeds — he was from the lower area of Italy. So, they kept going, and several weeks later, they came across the wonderful Ohio Valley.

It had no high mountains. There were no raging rivers. There was the nice steady Ohio River right there, which was great to turn the wheels that would grind the rosin for the violins. There were no coal mines, which was wonderful because the dust that came from the coal would make the strings hard to play. So it was very, very desirable. The best thing was, floating down the Ohio River at that time, were hundreds upon hundreds of logs. As many people don’t know, at that time up in New Martinsville, up on the Ohio River, there was a great fig orchard. All the families would pick the figs at harvest time and put them in their buckets. [They would then] take off the branches and put them as saplings in the ground, and the trunks they would just throw into the Ohio River. They didn’t need them, and they would travel down the river to this part of the Ohio River Valley where Stradavari and his group of men were.

They thought it was wonderful because there was all this wood to be used for violins. It was soft, it could be warped easily into the curved-belly violin that he liked. It was wonderfully desirable. So, they each set up their shop.

There was Douglas the Barber that set his shop, and his town became known as Barboursville. There was Milton the Harper who set up his tuning areas, and that came to be known as Milton. Huntingio Stradavari set up his violin body-making area — his shops — and that came to be known as Huntingio Town, or Huntington, as we like to call it. The Duc de Guyan set up his banking in what came to be known as Guyandotte.

So, everyone up and down the hills now had wonderful violins. Everyone was playing the violin. Along came the surveyor to draw up the county lines. He said, “Well, gentlemen, what would you like to call this area?” They said, “Well, we’ve got individual town names, but we don’t know what to name what you’re going to call our county.” So he said, “Well, I understand you’re a great violin builder. Why don’t you have a violin playing contest, and the winner will have the county named after him.” They said that was a wonderful idea.

So, the next day, out of the mountains came all the violin players. They came and they played and played, and they had a competition and were judged. It was down to the final two: Huntingio Stradavari and Giuseppe Cabelli. So the judges said, “To make this a little interesting, why don’t we look toward the best violin players around here — the crickets. If you can play your violins like the crickets, then you’ll be the best violin player.” So the men said, “That’s fair.”

Cabelli straightens up and goes, “Tweddle deedle dee, chirp chirp chirp.” Stradavari, who was an old man by then, picked up his violin and says, “Tweedle deedle deedle dee, chirp, tweedle dee.” Cabelli answers with, “Tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee, chirp, tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee.” Stradavari takes it on and says, “I’ll take you, tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee.” And they start playing their violins, and there is great music everywhere, and they’re playing and stomping their feet, “Tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee, tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee, chirp, tweedle dee,” and all the birds start singing, and they start playing like the bird calls. Everyone is having a wonderful time. All the people are clapping and having a good time. Stradavari is over here, “Tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee,” and his string breaks. He’s left with three. He’s okay — he’s a good violin player — he can keep going, “Tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee.” Cabelli’s over here, playing just fine, doesn’t lose his cool. Stradavari, “Deedle deedle deedle deedle dee,” and another string breaks. He’s down to two, but the men — it’s all about the music at this point — they don’t care about the naming of the county. They just keep playing, “Tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee.” Stradavari’s third string breaks — it’s a tough competition — but they keep going. Cabelli, just playing as if nothing is happening. Stradavari,“Tweedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee,” and his fourth string breaks. By default, he’s out of the competition. He takes his bow and throws it, and he says, “Aw, fiddle!”

The surveyor turns to Cabelli and says, “Well, you’ve won. We’ll name this Cabelli County,” which later came to be shortened as Cabell County — home of the violin makers that brought violins to all of the hills of West Virginia and the style of playing known as fiddling.