A few personal photos exist, including one of the well-coiffed informer dressed up in her snappy regalia, but no other mementos remain. To capture the spirit of the times, the historical society has filled the rooms of her merchant father’s house with period furniture, approximations of her spy gear, such as a doll with a stash hole in its head, and examples of her self-confidence, including a letter to a relative that reads: “I am decidedly the most beautiful of all your cousins.”
On the ground floor, a year-long special exhibit focuses on statehood, with a brief overview of the period when West Virginia was western Virginia and a wild frontier. “The Civil War was the linchpin,” Funkhouser said about the state’s creation.
The counties were all reborn in the same delivery room: the third-floor courthouse chamber in Independence Hall in Wheeling. And they all share the same papa: Francis Harrison Pierpont, the governor of the breakaway Virginia and the so-called Father of West Virginia.
Independence Hall, a former customs house that experienced its own rebirth as a public museum in 1981, invites visitors to enter the lofty space of Corinthian columns and polished wooden benches. Here, you can envision what was: impassioned delegates on a mission to split from Virginia. They first gathered here in June 1861 for the Second Wheeling Convention, creating the Restored Government of Virginia, the Union’s touche to Richmond’s Confederate government. In August, they returned to decree the founding of a new state. Months later, they were back again for the Constitutional Convention, hammering out such sticky points as borders, slavery and the new state’s moniker.
If certain legislators had been more persuasive, I could be wishing Kanawha, Western Virginia or New Virginia a happy 150th.
Moonshine and marbles
I swear that I will never, ever make moonshine in my studio apartment. But I will drink it.
At the Isaiah Morgan Distillery in Summersville, employee Mark Pritt didn’t pussyfoot around the issue. Homemade moonshine is illegal, he said, because “it is against the law to drink untaxed whiskey or distilled alcohol.” (A set amount of DIY wine and beer, however, is allowed.) If caught, he explained, I would suffer serious repercussions, including a $250,000 fine and at least five years in the federal penitentiary. I could also lose my house, car and guns and ammo. To hammer home the point, he handed me a photocopied sheet spelling out the risks. In short, friends don’t let friends distill moonshine, and enemies can rat you out for a $2,500 reward.