Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Coal Camp History Comes to Life at the Whipple Company Store
I soon found out why! Despite multiple investigation requests a month, in order to preserve the integrity of the location as a historic landmark (and not simply a haunted fun house) no more than four teams are allowed in per year. Fortunately, HPIR's strong commitment to and reverence of historic preservation landed us the opportunity to be one of the few lucky enough to investigate the location in an official capacity.
There is no possible way that I could do the history of this location justice within the confines of a simple blog post, but I would like to briefly go over some of the major points of interest. The company store was built between 1890 and 1893 by the P.M. Snyder Construction Co. for Justus Collins. Collins, who ran several mines, built four identical stores, but the store at Whipple is the only one standing today.
During its tenure as a coal company store, the building was the life blood of the community. All shopping was done at the store, through the use of company scrip, and most of the socializing occurred there as well. Like most other company stores, this one contained a doctor's office, a post office, and even an upstairs ballroom for the prominent company owners and their families. What should have been a location of much happiness and community unity, unfortunately also had a prominent dark side.. In addition to the many miners who lost their lives in the mines, including the 16 taken in the 1907 explosion, there are plenty of deaths associated directly with the company store property itself, some by illness and some by more violent means.
The Whipple mine closed in the mid-1950s and a year later, the building was bought and ran as a trading post by a lady named Madge. During Madge's time at the building is when the ghost stories began to circulate. In fact, Madge was so spooked by sounds of children in the upstairs ballroom, that the entire floor was shut off until after her death in 1988. By 1992, a man from Charleston took ownership of the building, turning it into a restaurant and community theater. Unfortunately, restoration efforts would prove to be too much for him, and he sought a buyer for the aging former company store.
Luckily, a wonderful couple took ownership of the building, turning it into a hands-on museum experience. Joy and Chuck have worked tirelessly in order to preserve the wonderful history of this location. They ensure that the stories of those associated with the company store are not lost to history. There IS happiness associated with this building...but there is also a darker side of history that cannot be forgotten. This darker side of the museum's history is discussed in detail during the haunted history tours, but not for pure entertainment value. Rather, these tales are shared as a way to remember those who have passed and to help us learn and understand our own history, lest we be doomed to repeat it.
There is much more about the history of this location that we've chosen not to disclose online, so we STRONGLY encourage interested parties to visit the museum and take a tour. Links to more information will be provided below.
As for HPIR's investigation of this location, I don't believe there was a single person with us that night that did not walk way without SOME type of experience. Shadows seen in the same areas as other groups had reported them were seen before our equipment was even set up! Odd K-II hits and other personal experiences were experienced in the vault area by several different members, strange shadows were reported in an upstairs corner by those manning the command station, but the most fascinating area was a back hallway where many deaths were said to have occurred.
We are still going over evidence, but preliminary analysis has already found an extremely interesting photo taken outside that seems to match reported activity, and the most hilarious (yet offensive) EVP I have ever heard. Please check with the HPIR investigation page for those items to be posted!
Unfortunately, the scrip I brought for a trigger object was not touched...but it WAS from the Scarbro store, so maybe that's why, lol....but all in all the whole day was a success. Before the investigation, we got there early to explore the ghost town of Thurmond, and have a nice picnic by the river. Oddly enough, the very next day we heard on the news that a body was found in the river right near where we were. We also visited the Catholic Cemetery, where many of the Italian miners in the area were buried, but the gate was locked. Later on, I was able to confirm that my grandfather, who worked for the Greenbrier Dairy, had this particular company store on his route. Unfortunately, he's passed, and unable to share any stories HE may have had about this wonderfully historic location.
Once again, I'd like to take the opportunity to strongly encourage anyone in the area to visit the company store museum, and take a tour. You can also keep tabs on updates and events by "LIKING" the Whipple Company Store Face Book page, and as always, if you'd like more information on the history, please feel free to email me!
*Update August 2013: On a recent trip to Hawks Nest and the Mystery Hole, I picked up a wonderful book compiled and edited by Wess Harris, entitled Dead Ringers: Why Miners March. The first chapter, written by Michael Kline, features interviews with Joy and Chuck and talks about some of the harder to hear history of the Whipple Company Store and the coal mining industry. I HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of how coal camp life REALLY was. It's a must-read for anyone who is investigating this location!*
Whipple Company Store Home Page
Whipple Company Store Face Book
HPIR's Investigation Page
Photo above courtesy of the Whipple Face Book page