I was talking to a friend not long ago about McDowell County, West Virginia, a part of the United States of America, not far up the road from me, that time forgot a long time ago. You think Detroit is a wasteland? you ain't been to McDowell County. It says to the uninitiated all they need to know when I tell them that prosperity in McDowell County, brought on by World War I and the need for massive amounts of labor-intensively mined coal, peaked and began to decline when the war ended. In 1917. Nearly a century ago.
So I was telling my friend (who grew up in Mt. Hope, WV) over dinner one night (I think we were in Atlanta but it might have been Philadelphia) about my travels through the land that God forgot and he asked me:
"Hey, have you stopped by the whore houses in Cinder Bottom?"
I responded, after a pause:
"The whore houses in Cinder Bottom, are they still there?"
Not being one to know of such vices, much less indulge in them, I replied:
"I have no idea."
But now I was intrigued (not that I would ever set foot in one of those dens of iniquity). I asked:
"Where's Cinder Bottom?"
"Just past Keystone. On 52. Between there and Kimball."
I replied, with a high degree of confidence:
"No. They must be gone. There's nothing on 52 anymore except some abandoned buildings (until you get to the metropolis of Kimball where there's a by-God Wal-Mart). That includes most of what was once the bustling town of Keystone. It's nearly all gone."
He then proceeded to reminisce:
"What a place. When I was young and attending seminary over in Welch [I am not making this up] we would drive over to Cinder Bottom on the weekend and get our horns tooted for seven bucks."
My mind reeled. My thoughts turned to toothless, ill-kempt, smelly crones lolling on porch steps waiting for young seminarians who were looking for communicable diseases to drive over from Welch for .. spiritual guidance
His story rang true, at least in part - a priest he ain't.
As you might imagine, and as any red-blooded American might do, next time I was driving west on U.S. 52 past Algoma, past Northfork, past Keystone, I'm craning my neck looking for ... red lights flashing or something.
But all I saw was rugged mountain wilderness. Interspersed with the occasional abandoned structure.
I must say, a certain amount of disappointment settled in.
And I had to put my seven bucks back in my wallet.
- - -
From Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History:
Ah, the good old days.
* Click on the image to enlarge it.
** Just kidding about the seven bucks. Honey.