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Town Is at Home With Martha Stewart

Residents and, especially, the media anticipate the mogul's arrival at a West Virginia prison today.

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2004; Page B01

ALDERSON, W.Va. -- Each year at Christmastime, residents of this tiny mountain town run a yarn drive, gathering extra bits and pieces and donating them to the inmates of the Alderson Federal Prison Camp. In return, prisoners knit colorful hats and mittens for local needy children.

With the country's most famous homemaker on the inside this year, townspeople will be closely inspecting for quality and style, to see if they can sense a little Martha in the mittens.

Vivian Pranulis looks out a shop with a sign on Stewart's spring release. Owner Patti Grafton said, "We most likely won't even see Martha." (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

_____On the Web_____
Martha Stewart Statement
Bureau of Prisons Press Release
Transcript: Law professor Sandra D. Jordan and communications strategist Scott Sobel on the Martha Stewart Case.
_____Martha Stewart Coverage_____
Stewart Enters Prison (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Stewart Attorney Asks For Prosecution's Papers (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Stewart Trial's Ink Expert Cleared (The Washington Post, Oct 6, 2004)
Complete Trial Background

Most here agree that an unlabeled Martha Stewart creation is the closest they're likely to come to the celebrity -- the latest of many -- sentenced to spend the next five months living down the road. Stewart, who was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction and lying to federal investigators about a stock sale, is scheduled to report to the sprawling minimum-security campus by Friday afternoon.

"We most likely won't even see Martha," said Patti Grafton, who owns the Wolf Creek Gallery, a crafts store on Railroad Avenue, the town's main street.

The media mogul won't be here long enough to train for the prison's volunteer fire crew, which can be spotted around town backing up volunteers whenever a serious blaze breaks out. Residents speculate that she's apt to avoid joining any of the work crews that leave camp, such as the prisoners who help build Habitat for Humanity homes or clean up litter along the Greenbrier River, which bisects the town. So if the river floods during her stay, invading homes as it did in 1985 and 1996, they don't expect her to be among the inmates helping to muck out the mud.

They might never see Stewart, but they've sure seen the people who have come to see her. The satellite trucks showed up soon after the Bureau of Prisons assigned Stewart to do her time here, rather than in the Danbury, Conn., facility she requested closer to home. It was for their benefit that Grafton hung a sign from a birdbath in her shop window: See you in the spring, Martha, in the garden -- a reference to Stewart's decision to start her sentence now, rather than waiting out her appeals, so she would be free by planting season.

The town of 1,100 is ringed by steep wooded foothills and accessible only by twisting mountain roads. Its population is almost matched by that of the nearby prison, which has been an important part of the town's economy -- along with the posh Greenbrier resort about 30 miles away -- and identity since it opened as the nation's first federal prison for women in 1927. It has hosted famous inmates before, including jazz singer Billie Holiday after a conviction on drug charges and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford.

Even so, the town hasn't gotten this much attention since John F. Kennedy campaigned for president in front of a swooning crowd at the old Alderson High School, 62-year-old Mary Godby said. And residents seem determined to make the most of their time in the national spotlight.

For John Massie, 54, it means a little cash. Massie's property is so close to the prison camp that he waves to inmates as they mow the grass and weed along his property line. He has been letting all the television trucks and cars line up in his front yard to await Stewart's arrival -- for a price. "I'm a businessman," said Massie, a sign maker. "This is good for business."

Likewise, Betty Alderson -- whose husband, John, is the great-great-great-great-grandson of the town's founder -- is hoping to steer some of the media throng into the 117-year-old Alderson Store. The upscale women's clothing store has been in the same storefront since 1932 and still boasts original art deco walnut shelving that Martha Stewart would just love, Alderson said.

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