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New Books Available

By John Lilly

Magic in the Mountains: Kelsey Murphy, Robert Bomkamp, and the West Virginia Cameo Glass Revolution, by Donna Meredith, is a new book about the innovative glasswork being produced at Studios of Heaven in East Lynn, Wayne County. [See “Visions of Heaven: Cameo Glass Artist Kelsey Murphy,” by Donna Meredith; Fall 2012.]

Using sophisticated technology and highly refined design skills, Kelsey Murphy and Bob Bomkamp are reviving the ancient art of carved - or cameo - glass. In this 235-page paperbound edition, author Donna Meredith gives detailed information on the history of cameo glass, the development of glass carving in West Virginia, and the personal stories behind the success of Murphy and Bomkamp’s studio. Appendices include a glass glossary, a Kelsey Murphy and Robert Bomkamp timeline, and a list of cameo glass retail outlets. Black-and-white photographs serve as illustrations.

Magic in the Mountains is published by Wild Women Writers and is available for $15, plus shipping, from

Fiddler and music store owner Joe Dobbs has recently published his autobiography titled, A Country Fiddler. The Louisiana native has made his home in West Virginia since the late 1960’s and is widely known as the longtime host of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Music from the Mountains radio program and as the owner of Fret ‘n’ Fiddle music store in St. Albans. [See “Music Man Joe Dobbs,” by Susan Leffler; Winter 1991.]

In his book, Dobbs offers a personal account of his travels as a young man, his experiences as a musician and an entrepreneur, and his far-flung adventures as a retiree – a fiddle never far from his side. His writing style is casual and conversational, and his story is interesting and varied. The 287-page paperbound book sells for $14.95, plus shipping, and is available from Fret ‘n’ Fiddle, 809 Pennsylvania Avenue, St. Albans, WV 25177; phone (304)722-5212.

Several books of local history have recently come to our attention, including three new titles from the prolific Arcadia Publishing company. A new Arcadia series, called Legendary Locals, shines a light on prominent and memorable personalities from specific regions or communities.

Legendary Locals of McDowell County, by William R. “Bill” Archer, goes beyond the history of unique individuals and groups to examine the broader issues of racial integration, coal mining, and outmigration in McDowell County. Local luminaries featured here include coal baron Jenkin Jones, civil rights activist Memphis Tennessee Garrison, Judge Elbert Gary, author Homer Hickam, country music star Mel Street, and many others.

Legendary Locals of Huntington, by James E. Casto, is a more traditional catalog of significant persons, divided into topical chapters, such as The Early Years, Politics and Public Service, Business and Civic Leaders, etc. Among the approximate 150 memorable people included here are city founder Collis P. Huntington, Governor Cecil H. Underwood, black history pioneer Carter G. Woodson, entertainer Soupy Sales, jurist John Marshall, and the Sisters of St. Mary’s Medical Center.  

From its Images of America series, Arcadia has also published Logan County, by F. Keith Davis. Those familiar with this series from Arcadia will recognize the format of vintage black-and-white photographs, paragraph-length captions, and short introductory essays. Photos are arranged in thematic chapters, such as Community and People, Landmarks and Industry, Disasters and Challenges, etc.

All three Arcadia titles are 125-page paperbound editions, with extensive illustrations. They sell for $21.99 each, plus shipping, and are available at; phone 1-888-313-2665.

Forgotten Towns: Pocahontas & Randolph Counties, WV, by Steven Bodkins, seeks to preserve the history of small towns along the Coal & Iron Railroad from Cheat Junction to Durbin, a branch line of the Western Maryland Railroad. Included are such remote locales as Beulah, Oxley, Wildell, Gertrude, May, Burner, Braucher, Olive, Linan, the Sinks of Gandy, Evenwood, Osceola, Wheeler, and Spruce Knob. This large-format, 228-page volume is published by the author and includes 412 black-and-white photographs, extensive and esoteric details concerning each community, and various recollections, lists, and statistics. Forgotten Towns sells for $35 and is available from; e-mail

Tales of Old Orlando: A Forgotten Railroad Town, by David Parmer, is a remarkable and fascinating account of life in a small community straddling the Braxton/Lewis county line. Author David Parmer, a retired lawyer now living in Hinton, is a gifted writer with a keen eye for a good yarn. In his words, “This book is a collection of diverse stories about Orlando, its life and times, but could easily be a story about any rural West Virginia town, or, for that matter, any small town in the United States. There are serious stories, humorous stories, stories of murder and mayhem, and stories about plain, old country folk.”

Reading Tales of Old Orlando is like visiting a family reunion, with all of the quirky relatives, odd characters, sad stories, and belly laughs. This large-format, paperbound edition is 396 pages in length, with a detailed index. While there are ample illustrations, the emphasis is on the unique narrative that surrounds this now-defunct West Virginia town. Tales of Old Orlando sells for $45, plus $5 shipping, and is available from the author at P.O. Box 39, Hinton, WV 25951; phone (304)466-4466.

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in Pocahontas County is a mecca for fans of logging and steam railroading. A new series of books from Greenhill Station Productions, called the Cass Monographs – A Continuing Series, examines both aspects of the Cass operation in great detail. To date, there are four volumes:

The first book, 100 Years against the Mountain: Shay No. 5 at Cass, WV, serves as a “biography” of this illustrious steam engine, named State Locomotive by the West Virginia Legislature in 2005. Shay No. 5 celebrated its centennial in 2005, and this book chronicles its long and productive years of service at Cass.

The second book is titled, 100 Years and Still Counting: The Town of Cass, WV. As the title suggests, this installment tells the story of Cass, from its founding as a lumber town in 1898 to its rebirth as part of the state park system in 1976. A highlight of this book is an 11”x17” foldout panoramic photograph of the town taken in 1917.

Western Maryland Railway Shay No. 6: The Last Shay from Lima traces a historic steam engine through its years hauling coal and freight, before being retired to a museum in Baltimore for 28 years. From there, in 1980, it was brought to Cass where it was restored and has been returned to operation hauling passengers.

Sawdust on Leatherbark: The Mills at Cass, WV, focuses on the industry that put Cass on the map. Home to a massive lumber and pulp milling operation from 1902 until 1960, Cass also milled lath, flooring, planking, and molding. In addition, there was an extract plant for the manufacturing of tannins and dyes.

All four of these books are large-format, paperbound editions with generous black-and-white photographs and other illustrations. They range from 72 to 104 pages; sale prices run from $19.95 (100 Years against the Mountain) to $24.95 (all others), plus $5 shipping per book. For more information, write to Greenhill Station Productions, 1376 Green Hill Avenue, West Chester, PA 19380; phone (610)431-7773.

Several recent books about coal and related topics are also available:

No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster, by Bonnie E. Stewart, tells the chilling tale of a deadly explosion on November 20, 1968, that killed 78 miners in Marion County. Author Bonnie E. Stewart, an investigative reporter from Oregon, wrote this book during six years she spent at West Virginia University as an instructor at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Her research reveals blatant safety violations and careless practices by the miners as well as the company. This 289-page hardbound book includes maps, lists of victims, tables of mine fatality statistics, a chronology of federal coal mine legislation and a select list of underground coal mine disasters, end notes, and a detailed index. It sells for $22.99, plus shipping, and is available from West Virginia University Press at; phone 1-800-621-2736.

Sago Mine Disaster: Appalachian Coalfield Stories, by B.L. Dotson-Lewis, is a collection of stories and interviews about various disasters, catastrophes, and controversies, generally related to coal. The first 158 pages of this 301-page large-format paperbound edition are devoted to the 2006 tragedy at the Sago mine in Upshur County in which 12 miners lost their lives underground. The remainder of the book is a loosely knit group of articles and essays about a wide range of topics, including black lung, the Hawks Nest Disaster, mountaintop removal coal mining, fiddler Ralph Roberts, and others. Sago Mine Disaster sells for $16.95, plus shipping, from West Virginia Book Company, available at; phone 1-888-982-7472.

The Fight for Coal Mine Health and Safety, by Ken Hechler, is a thorough and imposing text concerning the federal government’s struggle for improved mine safety and effective regulation of the coal industry. Written by longtime congressman and former West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler, this 400-page, paperbound tome includes some highly technical language and documentation. For the serious student of this topic, it is hard to imagine a more complete source of information. The Fight for Coal Mine Health and Safety sells for $19.95, plus $6 shipping, from; phone (406)549-8488.

Mother Jones: Raising Cain and Consciousness, by Simon Cordery, is a recent biography of radical labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. An iconic figure in West Virginia’s labor history, Jones’ life story takes readers from her birth in Ireland to her immigration to Canada with brief stops in Michigan; Illinois; and Memphis, Tennessee, where she lost her husband and four children to typhoid. Through her 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, she traveled ceaselessly and spoke passionately about labor and social issues, spending, by her reckoning, 23 years in West Virginia. Mother Jones is a 224-page paperback edition and sells for $22.95, plus shipping, from; phone 1-800-249-7737.