Continuity and change in 1936


By Dwight Williamson - Contributing Columnist



It was 1936 in Logan County and there was much going on at the local level just as the entire nation was rebounding from what would later be termed “The Great Depression.” The Logan Banner headlines early that year were filled with gruesome murders and dastardly deeds of all kinds, as thousands of Logan Countians—a mixture of various nationalities from across the world—were encased in the hills and hollows in the lands of the Guyandotte; many of them toiling, and too many of them dying, in the coal mines of the mountainous area.

With the Prohibition era over, numerous so called beer joints had sprung up in just about every part of Logan County. And with liquor then being available at state run liquor stores, there still remained many people who preferred to illegally make their own. Beer joints were constantly being raided for selling liquor, and moonshiners were still being corralled by federal and state forces. Despite all of the negative aspects of the time period, the county somehow continued to grow while the world was slowly moving forward toward a World War that would compel America to rely upon the coal miners to thwart the villainous efforts of Adolph Hitler.

Plans for a new post office in Logan were in the making and the opening of a brand new G.C. Murphy’s store on Stratton Street had been announced. The location, which would become more commonly called the “Dime Store,” was the most popular location in the county as it helped to liberate residents from the tyranny of coal-company owned stores by providing low-priced quality merchandise. Murphy’s stores, which were scattered through the Appalachian coal fields in small towns, also preceded “fast food” chains with their lunch counters that provided quick and inexpensive food. Many older local residents, undoubtedly, still have fond memories of the Logan Dime Store in downtown Logan.

For history’s sake, it should be noted that the G.C. Murphy Company originally leased the 75 foot frontage (that featured three store fronts) from B.L and Katie Holland, whose last name still is displayed on the outside of the second floor of the Holland building, constructed in 1910; this same building was described as the home of the “Amen” or “Key” Club during the 1932 Mamie Thurman murder trial. The second floor portion of the structure (where the club reportedly operated) was not leased to Murphy’s. However, 60 feet of the back portions of the second and third floors were leased.

Other important developments included the opening of the new Logan Theatre in Logan, the Princess Aracoma Memorial being placed at the courthouse; $3,500,000 improvements to the Appalachian Power Plant; the openings of two new Island Creek Company stores at both Holden and Whitman; the opening of Mecca Drive-In at Stollings, and unfortunately, the worst coal mine disaster ever in the county at the time, which occurred at MacBeth on Rum Creek.

While this was happening, there was other news taking the headlines—such as, a 14-year-old girl poisoning her entire family because she was not allowed to date; a 28-year-old man murdering his 14-year-old wife three days after their wedding, and another man, 29, beating and robbing a 75-year-old gentleman near Rum Creek before running him over with his automobile. Although all of this and much more were going on, it was politics as usual that captivated Logan County citizens. The 1936 election, like so many other local elections before and after, was a brutal affair that wound up in court actions where every illegal activity imaginable was brought forth. This story, as well as stories about the above mentioned murders, shall be told in future editions of this newspaper. However, for now, allow me to set the tone of the times by telling the story of one man who was a candidate for sheriff in 1936.

The man’s name was Russell Stollings. A resident of Harts Creek, Stollings, a Democrat, took advantage of the term “New Deal,” which was the description of then President Franklin Roosevelt’s nationwide recovery plan for the Depression. Stollings’ platform was called “A Big and Better Deal.” Here’s the candidate’s announcement in his own words:

“To the citizens, and all other voters of Logan County, I, Russell Stollings, being a member of one of the oldest families in Logan County, rise and extend my honest hand in a good and warm handshake.

Yes, I am a candidate for SHERIFF on the Democratic ticket in our good county, and all it takes to make me sheriff is an (X) beside my name in the ballot. I am telling this so some well-paid and crooked poll clerk won’t steal the vote you cast for me.

Where I live out on Harts Creek, it can easily be seen the need of a man like myself in the sheriff’s office. At the present time, all you hear about is the New deal, and the new song “wheels go round and round, hi ho.” I stand for a BIG AND BETTER DEAL. Years ago out our way we could pull big deals often, and many times involving 40 or 50 gallons at a good price. Now, we feel lucky if we can sell a gallon a week.

If elected to the office of HIGH SHERIFF, I promise that my first official act will be to padlock the Logan liquor store and several other places that sell the vile stuff in the pretty colored bottles. Then there will be a demand for our good old Harts Creek moonshine. (That’s what you call High Finance.)

As to my education and ability, I am not a college graduate, however, my Uncle George sent me to take a post graduate school out in Ohio for two years. I graduated as a master distiller and majored in fermentation.

I also promise to all my friends and co-partners that when the government snoopers come into the county looking for stills, I will either head them to a dry hole or to some Republican’s still. As my campaign manager, I have my brother, Harvey Stollings, who is now Constable of Chapmanville District. Harve is feared by all crooks and barked at by all the dogs.

Now, all that wish to contribute to my campaign, known as a BIG AND BETTER DEAL, get in touch with my brother, Harve. We need cash and lots of moonshine to win this or any other poll.”

Several weeks later, Stollings announced that he had visited Logan and that several “big shot” politicians had induced him to withdraw from the race. Stollings, who was likely paid to withdraw, declared that he was back in the race and even said who he planned to hire as his Chief Deputy.

“I know that many will be after me for jobs, which are always dished out by the sheriff,” Stollings said. “I plan on hiring as my Chief Deputy a clean upright well-known man, and unless someone offers me more money for the job, I expect to appoint Leo Mooney, the “rattlesnake man.” Leo won’t have to even carry a gun.”

The candidate also announced that if elected to the office of sheriff, “I plan on organizing what will be known as the “Drunkard’s Lodge.” This fraternal order will be open to mine employees only. The dues in the lodge will be $2.00 a half, which will be deducted by the company where the members are employed,” he further explained. “As Treasurer and President, all dues will be paid directly to me. Each member of the lodge will wear a brass check hung around his neck. On this check will be his number, name and where he works. Should this member get drunk and land in jail, say, on a Saturday night, Sunday morning I will go to the jail, and all members of my Drunkard’s Lodge, if sober, will be taken home by deputies. As you know, in some mines in this field the coal is so low that after a man works all week in one he has to get drunk to stand up straight.

“I am quite sure this will meet the approval of the mine officials and employees of the field. However, I expect many complaints from the Justice of the Peace officials,” Stollings concluded.

The Harts Creek candidate must have been bought off again because when the final results were tallied in the 1936 Primary Election, his name was not on the ballot. However, two opposing candidates—Everett Workman and Simon Dingess—were, and when all of the dust had cleared following court proceedings that involved numerous people’s testimonies, the winner was counted out, and a man who had just returned from prison was blamed for it all.

The man’s name (you might ask) was none other than the notorious and yet beloved former Sheriff— Don Chafin. The story of that wild election will be told soon.

BITS and PIECES

With the Inaugural Ball slated for tomorrow night, I have to admit that I was quiet surprised to find that rooms at the famous Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs were still available, as of Thursday afternoon…..more surprisingly, executive suites were priced between $86 and $94…..after making a few phone calls, I discovered that the price is not much different than our local motels and inn’s…..speaking of things to do with the governor, Earl Ray Wednesday laid out his plans for a balanced budget in his farewell address to the state, which doesn’t mean a great deal since Jim Justice still has to present his own budget for approval…..after the last legislative nightmare that cost taxpayers a fortune, I do not foresee any miracles this year, although I hope so…..the way I see it, in order to really make up for all the lost taxes needed to keep a balanced budget and maintain needed programs, is to raise the taxes on absentee landowners and corporations—who for over a century have raped West Virginia—or legalize the growing of marijuana; by the way, neither one of them two things will happen anytime soon…..meanwhile, the state’s drug epidemic continues to wage…..I happen to know of several recent overdoses of heroin that occurred here in Logan County…..recent studies show that it will now cost $233,000 to raise a newborn child to adulthood; just another reason to limit how many children women on Welfare should be able to birth since taxpayers have to pay the tab…..I hope Donald Trump remembers his promise to American voters to not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid…..he should be held to his promises and veto anything that Congress and the Senate may dish out…..just wondering, how many readers out there are old enough to remember the once popular soda beverage, Kickapoo Joy Juice?…..how about Double Cola or Bubble up?…..DID YOU KNOW that there are over 3,000 disabled veterans under the age of 31 in West Virginia alone?…..my wife and I recently watched the movie “Hidden Figures,” and I highly recommend it those persons who enjoy true history……the movie, which features Kevin Costner (the star of the mini-series “Hatfield and McCoys”) involves a Black female West Virginian who, along with two other Black American ladies, played a pivotal role in the first launching of U.S. astronauts into space…..it is anything but boring, and very revealing…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun, than you can with a kind word alone.”—Al Capone…..FINAL NOTE: Someday, historians will look back on the year 2016 and speak of the many happenings—from major disasters, to the Cubs winning the World Series, or even the results of the Presidential election. However, for me, (at least for now) the death of David Bowie in January and the subsequent demise of Mearl Haggard, Prince and Leonard Cohen—all in the month of April—was probably more of a disaster than even the results of our elections. Nothing like proven superstars…………

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By Dwight Williamson

Contributing Columnist

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