Don’t allow history to rust


Don’t allow history to rust

By Kevin Kelly - Contributing columnist



An observation by Fred and Mary Deel of Vinton early last week was an eye-opener to something surprising and sad, and not just limited to the area in which they and this author reside. Traveling east on Ohio 160 toward Gallipolis, the Deels noticed that the historical marker for the Lambert Lands at the intersection of 160 and Thompson Road, just up from the Field of Hope campus, was missing.

Curious, and despite the gathering dusk, Fred pulled over to that side of the road and inspected the site, only to find the memorial to the Morgan Township tract owned by the descendants of one-time slaves lying in pieces in the grass. We have no information at present on what caused the damage, although it appears that a vehicle left the highway and may have struck the sign, causing it to topple to the ground and shatter.

A shame really, but our concern is with the inevitable question, what’s going to be done about it? Will it be left to be covered in weeds, or will an effort be mounted to repair and restore the marker to its proper place? Will indifference and a “not my problem” attitude prevail, or will individuals who care enough about regional history step forward to bring the memorial back to its former glory?

One can hope the latter belief is pursued, especially since the Lambert Lands legacy remains unique to local history. A band of slaves freed by their owner in Bedford County, Va., came to the northern part of Gallia County late in 1843, where they purchased just over 265 acres and established the site as their home. In the years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the settlement became an important stop along the Underground Railroad for slaves who escaped their bondage to seek better lives in the northern U.S. and Canada. Descendants of the original founders lived on the land until 1972, historical organizations inform us.

Maintaining such a link with local and national history is vital to an appreciation of ourselves and our origins. That may not have meant as much to people speeding by the site where the marker was located on 160, but it served as a needed reminder of those facts when people took time to look at it during their travels. It’s why an historic structure in our region remains as a tourist site and museum.

The Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins House off W.Va. 2 at Green Bottom, between Glenwood and Lesage, was the residence of planter and attorney Jenkins, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1857 until 1861, when he joined Southern forces in the Civil War. Rising to the rank or brigadier general, Jenkins was 33 when he died of wounds suffered at the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain in Pulaski County, Va., in 1864.

The property on which the house stands is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the museum is operated by West Virginia’s Department of Culture and History. The facility is presently closed while the Corps conducts preservation work to maintain the structure’s original look when built in 1835.

On the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, the Jenkins House is a sturdy show of commitment to keeping alive its place in history. As this is being written, responsible sources may be fully aware of what’s happened to the Lambert Lands marker and may now be addressing its replacement, which we recognize will take time and especially money.

It may only be a sign, but the significance of what it celebrates is as important now as when it waqs unveiled on Sept. 14, 2002.

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As a major fan of movies, particularly of an older vintage, the question has occasionally arisen if I was ever personally involved in the making of a film.

Once, in a student-produced short by Don Vavrus, a good friend at Ohio University who cast me as one of the extras in “Mayhem” (1980), a tongue-in-cheek short about a locally-popular band known as Rick Ronco and the K-Tels. I was — what else? — a journalist at a press conference in which nonsensical questions to the band were met by equally incoherent answers, especially since the soundtrack intentionally did not match up with what was on the screen. Don was not one little bit influenced here by a similar sequence in The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), but that was okay because it was fully in spirit with what he intended for “Mayhem.”

But as far as a major league, Tinsel Town kind of feature, the honor in my family fell to my uncle and godfather Gene Slattery, who was one of a number of sailors at a nearby Naval station recruited as extras for a Gary Cooper adventure flick entitled “Distant Drums.”

Released by Warner Bros. on Dec. 22, 1951, “Distant Drums” dealt with American forces led by Cooper who raid a Seminole stronghold in Florida’s Everglades circa 1840. Cooper and his crew are subsequently left without transport or provisions to make an exit, and are forced to walk their way back to the coast, encountering danger from the Seminoles and nature itself. Director Raoul Walsh, known for rugged action films, reworked the main thrust of his grueling 1945 wartime picture “Objective, Burma!” that starred Errol Flynn as inspiration for “Distant Drums.”

As to his participation in the Cooper movie, my uncle advised us not to try and find him anywhere in the action, which included further swamp skirmishes between the Army and Seminoles. “I was a soldier in one scene and an Indian in another,” he recalled. “And covered in mud the whole time!”

As they say, that’s Hollywood.

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Don’t allow history to rust

By Kevin Kelly

Contributing columnist

Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.

Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.