Our way of life in West Virginia is quickly becoming history. A history that will someday be retold at The West Virginia State Museum at The Culture Center in Charleston. Many of us compare way back when to here and now with a fondness for the former. It’s easy to step back in time in West Virginia. We don’t quicken our stride to keep pace with other states. That’s why I love it here. At The West Virginia State Museum, you leisurely stroll a footpath through time and literally follow footsteps of generations past.
It’s quite likely today will be remembered as one of the best times of your life, when you look back at it from far away. Like old photographs, you won’t realize how beautiful the moment is—or you are in it—until you see it again years in the future. That’s how touring the museum made me feel about West Virginia. She’s always been a natural beauty, a little rough around the edges, with an irresistible and playful allure that brings many suitors back to her. As I learned at the museum, she’s also very complex.
People didn’t settle here because it offered them a simpler way of life. It took an untiring grit to tame something so wild and make it someplace wonderful to call home. The pioneers who whittled their way through the formidable forests here were as tough as the iron nails used to build the railroads that carried our natural resources out of state. You can thank the dinosaurs for that gift. They weren’t as tough as the setters who survived here so their fossils help fuel our economy today.
Every good story has conflict and resolution. West Virginia is no different. Our state’s past certainly isn’t perfect, by any means, and there’s no makeup covering my Mountain Mama’s blemishes at The West Virginia State Museum. Slavery, slaughter, and sleazy coal kings are given equal time beside the brawn, bravery, and brilliance of the good people who built this state. With that said, anyone easily offended should not pay the museum a visit—although admission is free.
The West Virginia State Museum is a place where General Stonewall Jackson, a flag that flew during the Gettysburg address and some rather unsettling items that bring the brutality of slavery home combine to tell a compelling story of our state. It’s a museum, and this is our history. It’s not all whitewater, Fiestaware, canning and quilts, but you’ll find those things there too. You’ll leave feeling proud of what’s come to pass and maybe a little unnerved by a formidable foe to our future.
I wish I could say our story has a happy ending but a sinister central character in our modern history makes an ominous appearance in the middle of the museum, foreshadowing what’s in store for our state. The opioid epidemic currently ravaging West Virginia coincidently comes to mind in a display of pills sponsored by Mylan pharmaceuticals. The company’s founder is from Morgantown and Mountaineer Field is named in his honor. Sadly, it’s difficult not to see the ironic connection.
Anyway, I hope that’s not where our story ends. It most certainly won’t, if we muster the might of our Mountain State heritage. What I learned from the past is that our future is determined by what we decide to focus on now. The wisdom of my favorite West Virginian comes to mind. My grandmother would say, “Make good choices, or honest mistakes.” I say, live in the moment—make it matter—because, in the end, we’re all just history in the making. How do you want to be remembered?
– Jim Shock, Communications Manager for Mountaineer Food Bank. Hashtag #94. October 2017.