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:
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.