FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK: History Hiding in Plain Sight

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Liz Beavers

Sometimes we take for granted things that we pass by practically every day. Because they have been there for years, they kind of fade into the scenery and we don’t think much about them.

And because some of us (including me!) have been around awhile, we also take for granted that everyone knows all about these objects - no matter how unique they are.

Such is the case with the “history pole” which reaches up toward the sky in front of Keyser Middle School. It’s been there since the 1980s. I remember running the stories when it was created and erected in its home on the then-Keyser Primary-Middle campus.

When a (younger) friend called me awhile back looking for information on the pole, I could tell her about the Highland Arts Unlimited Artist-in-Residence program that brought the artist to the area. I could even explain to her that each item carved into the pole has some historical significance to the area.

But I could not for the life of me remember the artist’s name.

It occurred to me at that time that no matter how long something has been around, in plain sight, not everyone might be aware of why it’s there, or how it came about.

So I reached out to Charlie and Becky Whitehill, who from what I understand have been the “keepers of the history” for Highland Arts. Becky, in turn, provided me with a copy of a handwritten history of the organization put together by the late Edith Ludwick.

It was interesting reading, as Edith was not shy about adding “editorial comments” to her account. Perhaps at a later day I’ll share some more with you, but for now, I will concentrate on the history pole.

The artist was Buddy Renfro, a sculptor from Harper’s Ferry. He stayed in Keyser, living in the home of Edith and Carl Ludwick from 1985-86. He was given space for a studio in the Technical Center but visited many of the art classes in the county, working with the students.

As part of the Artist-in-Residence program, the artist was to have created something for the public or something that could be left behind for the public to enjoy.

Thespian Lisa Higgins, for example, helped found Apple Alley Players. Set designer A.E. Peterson designed and built the Larenim Park Amphitheater. Opera singer Ellyne Yeager established a Children’s Choir Festival, and puppeteer Fred Michaels helped students create their own puppets, for example.

For his local legacy, Renfro chose the history pole, which was to include carvings representative of various events, locations and individuals significant to Mineral County.

HAU member Bill Baisor found a tall cherry tree for the pole, and Mineral Fabrication designed and donated the stainless steel cup in which the pole was seated.

Members of the Keyser Volunteer Fire Department put the pole into place.

So what do the carvings on the history pole mean?

According to Edith’s account:

“Beginning at the bottom … vegetation with a carving of a Delaware Indian chief. His name was Lappawinze. He was known to travel West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Above the ferns and Indian is a carving representing the McCartys. The carving is of a forge and foundry. There are carvings of an anvil and blacksmith tools around the forge. Around the pole and a little higher there are carvings of an arm and hand holding an ax. There are logging tools. This carving represents the forest and logging industries.

“Above this is a carving of the original Potomac State building with steps in the front. This building burned down. Above this is a carving of Nancy Hanks, mother of Abraham Lincoln. Next up is a bugle representing the McIlwee Band. This band was known for performing at a presidential inauguration.

“Around the pole and above the Indian is an 1850 model B&O steam engine. Above the engine, coming out of the smoke, is a bust of William Keyser for whom the town was named. Above this is an apple and there are apple and peach trees representing Mineral County’s orchards.

“Above the fork is carving of Westvaco power center with rolls of paper in the front. Above this on the fork is what looks like a rolling pin sticking up, this is the Polaris missile representing Allegany Ballistics Laboratory.”

Renfro was Highland Arts’ last artist-in-residence, as the state matching funds were dwindling and the local organization could not afford to foot the entire bill.

Prior to his stint in Keyser he had produced documentary films and was the founder of the Hard Travelers, a folk music group that had performed with such artists as Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers and Emmy Lou Harris.

He passed away in 1998 at his home in Shepherdstown.

So the next time you drive by Keyser Middle School, check out the history pole. It’s not only a neat addition to the school campus, but also a testimony to the many good works of Highland Arts and the rich history of Mineral County.

Liz Beavers is a veteran writer and managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune. To reach out to her with a story idea, email lbeavers@newstribune.info.