Like every other state, West Virginia has had its share of disturbing things happen here. And when it comes to history, it’s important to remember the bad stuff too. Here are some small towns in West Virginia where disturbing things have happened:
1. Franklin: Indian massacre
In the days of the early Virginia settlers, about eight miles outside of Franklin in Pendleton County was the scene of a massacre by the Native Americans in the area. It happened in the year 1758 at Fort Seybert. Though I couldn’t find a death count, the incident was called "one of the most atrocious and bloody Indian crimes ever committed in what today is West Virginia.” The Indians first killed the older people with tomahawks, and then took the others captive. At one point, one account said that an Indian took a baby from its mother’s arms, cut its head off and dashed the head against a tree until the brains came out.
2. Gauley Bridge: the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster
The Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster of 1931 killed as many as 1,000 workers — no one knows for sure how many. Workers were constructing the tunnel, located near Gauley Bridge, when they found the mineral silica. The workers were asked to mine it, but they weren’t given breathing equipment. As a result, many developed silicosis, a debilitating lung disease. Some died as quickly as within the year. According to the historical marker, there were 109 admitted deaths, but a congressional hearing said there were 476. Other sources say the range was from 700 to 1,000. Many of the construction workers were African Americans from the South who left or went home after they got sick, so it’s difficult to determine an accurate number.
3. Bartley: deadly mine blast
Bartley, W.Va. in McDowell County was the site of one of the deadliest coal mining disasters in American history. The incident happened on Jan. 10, 1940 when Pond Creek #1 mine, owned by the Pocahontas Coal Corporation, exploded and killed 91 miners.
4. Elkins: one of many lynchings
West Virginia, like many other states, was the unfortunate site of many racially motivated lynchings. Elkins, W.Va. is one of many towns in the state where lynchings have occurred. On July 22, 1901, a mob took a black man named Will Brooks from a deputy sheriff, dragged him to a city park and hanged him. A large crowd of people gathered to watch the lynching. They left the body there until the next day. Brooks had been arrested for shooting the chief of police.
5. Farmington: deadly mine blast
Farmington in Marion County was also the site of a historical mine disaster. The explosion at the Consol No. 9 mine was big enough to be felt 12 miles away in Fairmont. The explosion trapped 99 miners, 78 of whom were ultimately killed.
6. Star City: Two teenagers kill girl they no longer wanted to be friends with
Star City was where, in July 2012, two of 16-year-old Skylar Neese’s friends convinced her to sneak out one night and ride around with them and they instead killed the girl. The girls, Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy, drove her to Pennsylvania and, when she had turned her back, began stabbing Skylar until she died.They were unable to bury her so they hid her body with tree branches. Skylar’s father said that the girls were among his daughter’s best friends. One of them even helped pass out missing person flyers when Skylar disappeared. The girls told police they killed their friend because they didn’t like her, according to media reports. Eddy was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. Sheaf was sentenced to 30 years for second degree murder.
7. Wallback: Two troopers killed
Wallback in Clay County was the scene of a tragic shooting that claimed the lives of two West Virginia State Troopers. The troopers, Cp. Marshall Lee Bailey and Trooper Eric Workman, had pulled over a reckless/intoxicated driver in August 2012. The troopers determined the vehicle had been stolen and put the driver, Luke Baber, in their vehicle with his hands handcuffed in front of him. The man then pulled a gun he had hidden and shot the two officers to death. Baber was ultimately shot and killed by police.
8. Moundsville: botched execution
As the site of the former West Virginia Penitentiary, Moundsville was probably the scene of a lot more disturbing things than anyone will ever know about. It was the scene of a prison riot that left three inmates dead and sent the governor of the state to the prison to converse with the inmates. But it was also the scene of a lot of executions. One of them was particularly disturbing — On June 19, 1931, Frank Hyer was executed for murdering his wife. He was to be hanged. However when the trap door beneath him was opened and his full weight was on the noose, he was decapitated in front of the people who had gathered to watch the execution. After that, hangings were attended by invitation only.
9. Weston: cruel treatment of patients
Weston, home to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, was the site of disturbing ways of treating mental health patients. Sometimes patients who could not be controlled were actually locked in cages. Many patients were given lobotomies, a process during which a doctor used an ice pick to damage a person's brain. A series of reports by the Charleston Gazette in 1949 found poor sanitation and insufficient furniture, lighting, and heating in much of the hospital. The hospital was ultimately shut down.
10. Harpers Ferry: baby thrown in river
A ranger at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park found a baby in a trash bag in the river at the park on March 20, 2004. The little boy, who authorities would call Baby Christian, was wrapped in a pink sheet and then a white sheet and placed into two trash bags which were shut and tossed in the water with three 5-pound dumbbells. The baby was found with his umbilical cord still attached. Police still do not know who killed the baby.
11. Quiet Dell
Harry F. Powers, AKA The West Virginia Bluebeard, was convicted of killing 5 people in 1931 at a home in Quiet Dell. He met two of his victims, women, using a lonely hearts ad and ultimately killed their children too. He used a hammer and also strangled some of them.
Did you know about these disturbing events in small towns? What else would you add to this list?
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