Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Dear, pretty Fairmont"

On Friday, I drove down to Fairmont, WV, about 20 miles south of Morgantown, to attend the Mountain State Storytelling Institute.

Fairmont is a really lovely little town:  clearly quite prosperous at the turn of the last century, it's full of beautiful old Victorian buildings and the high school I serve as the university's liaison to, Fairmont Senior.  It's also the birthplace of Father's Day and Mary Lou Retton, and is home to Muriale's, easily our favorite Italian restaurant in the whole area.

That's saying something, because a huge influx of Italian immigrants came to the area in the late 19th century to work in the coal mines, and their food legacy is tremendous.  On my way back to Morgantown yesterday, I stopped in at the Country Club Bakery, allegedly the original maker of the area's famous pepperoni roll, and bought a few for dinner.  Truly, if I had to name a single local foodway that's unique to north-central West Virginia, the pepperoni roll is clearly it.

So Fairmont was on my mind when we wandered into a local antique mall today, where we found the following postcard:

--had to buy that one for a dollar.

But more intriguing was this one, addressed to someone in Fairmont, but sent from Moscow in November 1916.

Since the description of this scene on the reverse is in Russian, I can't tell you what we're looking at here.  But more interesting was the back:

The message reads:

Dear Scully:

Well we are now down in the Douetz Coal Basin.  Today we went down a shaft about 1100 feet deep and then down an inside slope about 400 feet and saw them work two and three foot seams of coal, long wall method.  I am real well and I hope that you are all real well.  Hope that everything is going along in fine shape for you.  This place is a long way from dear, pretty Fairmont and the comforts of home.

With best wishes to all,
F. K. D.

Poor, homesick F.  K. D.  I can't imagine how strange a coal mine in Russia must have seemed to him in 1916, or how long it must've taken to get there from West Virginia.

What's surprising about this is the realization that even a hundred years ago, coal companies were sending folks out of the country--way out of the country, in this case--to observe other mining operations and techniques.

And it reminded me that in Fairmont, it all comes back to coal.  The first Father's Day celebration?  It was in honor of the 362 men killed in the nearby Monongah Mine Disaster in December 1907.  The pepperoni roll?  Made to be easily carried into and eaten in the mines, much like Cornish pasties.

I hope F.  K. D. made it home to "dear, pretty Fairmont."  It's one of those places that reminds me that much of West Virginia's culture is invisible from its surface; like coal itself, it has to be mined.


Christy said...

Beautiful post. I had to laugh uncomfortably, though, over the signature of that postcard. Yes, FKD seems a very apt imprimatur for someone relegated to the coal-mining industry. I can't imagine it was an easy, pleasant, or healthy way to make a living. What an amazing thing, though, that this particular miner got to see what must have seemed the other side of the world. Wonderful postcard; a good find! (and why is it that people were such better writers back then?)

Rosemary said...

LOL! Christy, I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even think about the significance of those initials. But yes, being 100 feet underground in 1916 Russia would make me feel pretty well FKD, too.

(Though I suppose it might have been better than being *above* ground in 1917 Russia. I hope he was back in "Dear, pretty Fairmont" by then.)

Pam said...

How were the pepperoni rolls? That's what I'd like to know.

Rosemary said...

Pam, they're pretty good--for sure, the ones from the CC Bakery are better than some I've had. I still think they need cheese, or tomato sauce for dipping; they're a little dry on their own. I've heard about serving variations for them, but have yet to *witness* any.

Beth Doyle said...

I asked our Librarian for Slavic and Eastern European Studies to translate the Russian for you, his name is Dr. Ernest Zitser. Here's his response:

The card reads:

Russian Types - Izvozhchik [i.e. cabby]
Types russe - [can't make out the French]

Publisher "Richard" (i.e. in phonetic transliteration from French), Saint-Petersburg, No. 2058

International Postal Union, Russia -- Union postale universelle, Russie
Open letter (i.e. postcard) -- cate postale

Rosemary said...

Wow! Thank you so much, Beth--and Dr. Zitser! I could read the French for "Russian types," but had no idea what "type" this was. A cabby, eh? Hmmm...guess they were just as dodgy in 1916 Russia as they are in the 21st-century US!

literaqueen said...

Where do you find these great postcards? Can I come along the next time you go postcard hunting?