Thursday marked the 156th year that this wonderful place we call home became the state of West Virginia - the only state born during the great Civil War; it being created mostly by the wishes of northerners from what is now our mountain state, but was then, of course, Virginia.
Interestingly, Logan County supplied more men for the Confederate army than any other county in what became a lost cause.
Although, we will never know for certain, June 20 very well could also be the anniversary date of the brutal slaying of Logan's Mamie Thurman in 1932, her body being found on Trace Mountain at Holden the following day.
At some point, I will begin a series of stories that will cover nearly a thousand pages of the trial and Supreme Court appeal of Clarence Stephenson, the black man who was convicted of the gruesome murder of a "lady" who had provided a list of at least 16 Logan area businessmen who she had illicit affairs with, as well as information about the "Amen Club," which was located on the second floor of the Holland building that was built in 1910, but still stands stoically above what once was a part of G.C. Murphy's department store, then referred to as the Dime Store. Like all of the elderly structures still standing in Logan, it has witnessed many villains walk by on the Stratton Street sidewalks.
Prohibition still existed in Logan County when the most famous murder ever in Logan County occurred. Newspaper accounts from the time period remind us of a ravenous time in our history when illegal liquor, prostitution and gambling of all sorts were credited with ghastly deaths that accompanied the consistent loss of limbs and life from coal mining accidents.
In my mind, I can envision the smoke-filled "speakeasy's" that had existed since the very beginning of the Prohibition Era in Logan County from 1920 until 1933.
The Amen Club or Key Club, as it was sometimes referenced, was simply a place for the more noted and elite citizens of the county, especially the City of Logan, to safely congregate and do basically whatever they liked. After all, they were the people who ran Logan County: businessmen, attorneys and politicos of all walks of life who controlled everything from the police departments to the Mayor of Logan.
Even Judge C.C. Chambers, noted for his many moral efforts in newspaper accounts, was not immune to at least some demoralization in his role of simply being a defense attorney in defending guilty parties. His golf course affairs with a Big Creek woman has never even been mentioned until now, as the robe of secrecy is slowly revealed.
However, as shocking as it may come to readers, what if those "smoke-filled" rooms of yesteryear were not the result of just tobacco. You must utilize your imagination by engulfing the following report from the 1930's time period.
Although such early film stars as Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn, who many Loganites had watched at the relatively new Midelburg Theatre in Logan after it opened in 1917, were screen stars who got into legal trouble because of their marijuana use, perhaps it was the news that came during the 1930's when 31-year-old rising cinema star Robert Mitchum was arrested for violating narcotics laws that raised the interests of local movie frequenters.
Police in Hollywood said they watched Mitchum and a young lady through a rear bedroom window for over two hours smoking the vile weed, and that 13 marijuana "cigarettes" were in possession of Mitchum contained in a normal cigarette package when he was arrested. The police declared "we have many other important and prominent screen people under surveillances, not only actors and actresses, but others high up in the industry."
Mitchum, who was averaging around $200,000 per movie in the early '30s, would go on to a career of 110 films and many television appearances. The American Film Institute has ranked him as No. 23 on its list of American screen legends of all time.
So what does Mitchum's career have to do with Logan County, you ask? Well, perhaps absolutely nothing. However, consider the following Logan Banner account from the same time period in which Mamie Thurman was still walking the streets of a bustling and unbridled community full of sin. The newspaper headline reads, "Marijuana Weed Is Growing Wild Here in Logan."
"There is a weed in Logan County - not a native plant by any stretch of imagination - that grows wild on the hills and in the hollows of some of the mining communities adjacent to Logan and in more farther parts of the county which has the potentialities of a drug as deadly as opium."
"This bit of vegetation is known in the botanic world as marijuana and first jumped into prominence as a drug in the Southwest.
In the Southwest it is known as "loco" weed, given that name some say, when it was first noted that cattle eating the shrub would go completely berserk for some time afterward."
"The old Spanish Conquistadors found the natives smoking this peculiar plant when first they landed in Central America. Thus, it derived its name, marijuana, meaning "loco" in more civilized phrases. But the advent of "loco" weed in Logan County is not strange."
"Early in the "boom" days of coal here, as the old coalmen will remember, labor was at a premium. All types and classes of people were imported to the country to dig the coal from the hills. With the influx of foreign labor came, of course, the Mexican and the Spanish peoples. And with them came the marijuana weed."
"At first, it is said, the marijuana was cultivated in backyards, in cornfields, anywhere it might take foot and grow. When the plant, which grows the height of two feet or more, ripened the leaves were stripped and treated as is tobacco. Then it was rolled into "reefers" - the popular slang term for it - and smoked. Or it would be broken into small shreds and smoked in a pipe."
"Some, whose veracity there is no reason to doubt, maintain that it is being cultivated domestically here, but that is not an established fact. Now, the marijuana grows free in the hills of Logan County."
"Officially, the marijuana came into prominence here in a raid some years ago on a Chinese laundry that was fostering the habit among high school students. The operator was "sent up" for time and the dive was closed in Logan."
UPDATE: June, 2019 - there are now 33 states that allow medical cannabis for medicinal purposes and there exists nine states that allow recreational use of what some simply nowadays call "pot." It is estimated that by 2020 there will be 15 states that allow recreational use of marijuana.
In addition, polls show that 60% of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana for recreational use, while 94% favor medicinal legalization. I personally have no position on the matter since it does not interest me one way or another.
However, as a former employee of the Logan County sheriff's department in the mid-1980's, I can tell you that the National Guard was brought into Logan County at the sheriff's request to locate, cut and destroy millions of dollars' worth of illegally gown marijuana in the many hills and hollers of Logan County.
Although his efforts were somewhat valiant to many people, Tom "Rose" Tomblin eventually lost in his re-election bid in 1988 as sheriff due, I believe, partly to the raids made by the National Guard on pot fields belonging to people who, like the moonshiners of times now gone, were reaping the benefits of their labor.
It is interesting to reflect upon the Prohibition times in Logan and then compare the time frame to today when alcohol is legal and taxed.
As I prepare to make the bumpy travel down County Route 5 out of my Mud Fork community to the dwindling town of Logan, I can't help but ponder what the place was like in it's heyday, when the wages of sin for Mamie Thurman and others just may have been more than most people realize.
On second thought, it could be just my imagination running away with me.
Dwight Williamson serves as a Logan County Magistrate. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.