Road Trip

When It Comes to Fathers, This W.Va. Town Knows Best

Sunday, June 8, 2008

WHERE: Fairmont, W.Va.

WHY: Pepperoni rolls, riding the rails and feting fathers.

HOW FAR: About 15 miles from start to finish.

Fathers, next Sunday is your day, and you have the folks of Fairmont, W.Va., to thank. The town about three hours west of Washington is the birthplace of Father's Day, which officially turns 100 this summer.

The happy celebration reportedly started as a way for one small town to stave off its sadness. In December 1907, a mine disaster in nearby Monongah took the lives of 361 men, including at least 250 fathers who left behind 1,000 children. Moved by the event, Fairmont resident Grace Golden Clayton suggested a memorial service to honor the men. She also might have been inspired by a neighboring town and its mothers: Two months earlier, Anna Jarvis initiated the first Mother's Day commemoration in Grafton, W.Va.

On July 5, 1908, Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South (now Central United Methodist Church) honored the fathers who had died, marking the country's first celebration of paternity. However, the locals weren't looking to take their special day outside city limits. "Mrs. Clayton apparently thought it was not ladylike for someone to go out and toot their own horn," explains Thomas Koon, president of the Marion County Historical Society in Fairmont.

Luckily for Pops, in 1910, the father-feting idea resurfaced in Spokane, Wash., when a more vocal woman named Sonora Smart Dodd paid homage to her single father of six. Dodd became the holiday's strongest advocate, and six years later, the progeny of President Woodrow Wilson honored their executive dad at the White House. Calvin Coolidge showed support for a Father's Day in 1924, and Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed it a holiday in 1966. But it wasn't until 1972, during the Nixon administration, that Father's Day became an official and permanent fixture in the U.S. holiday canon.

-- Johnna Rizzo

© 2008 The Washington Post Company