POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — The day after Christmas didn’t feel “normal” in Point Pleasant, W.Va., and it had nothing to do with the unseasonable temperatures.
Many in the community awoke to the news that a staple of downtown, Carolin Harris, had unexpectedly passed away Monday, after becoming ill on Christmas Day.
Though Harris knew many in the tri-county, those who didn’t know her personally, undoubtedly knew her in a roundabout way. Harris, who ran Harris’ Steakhouse on Main Street for 48 years, also helped start the popular Mothman Festival and was a driving force behind the Christmas light display at Krodel Park, among her tireless work with the Main Street Point Pleasant organization. In Point Pleasant, Harris was also known for her support of downtown businesses, local merchants, local people in need and whatever else Point Pleasant needed that she could provide.
“I was shocked like probably everyone else,” Jeff Wamsley said on Monday upon learning of Harris’ passing. Both he and Harris helped start the Mothman Festival which brings thousands of people into not only Point Pleasant each year, but surrounding counties.
“I, like most people, remember Carolin from growing up in Point Pleasant and seeing her downtown at the diner,” Wamsley said. “She was devoted to anything that helped Point Pleasant, including the Mothman Festival. Downtown Point Pleasant won’t be the same without Carolin Harris. She was truly a fine person.”
Judy Hensley, owner of Victoria’s Prom and Bridal shop, was a fellow Main Street merchant along with Harris, and the two worked together often on efforts to improve the downtown shopping experience.
“I can’t even imagine Main Street without Carolin, as she was the heart of everything going on, on Main Street,” Hensley said. “She had a true love for the town as well as the people. My true opinion of her, was that she treated everyone with generosity, no matter what a person’s walk in life was, she would treat everyone the same. She always worried about anyone who might not have food or shelter, laying awake at night worrying about the homeless on a cold night. She had a love for all. She wanted the best for Main Street and wanted to see it prosper, so she worked tirelessly to make a difference. All who knew her were blessed to have her for a friend. She was my friend.”
Lyn Robinson, was Main Street Point Pleasant’s Volunteer of the Year, and often worked side-by-side with Harris at the diner and at downtown events. Robinson affectionately called Harris “mom,” a role Harris embraced.
“If you were hungry, she fed you,” Robinson said. “It didn’t matter if you could pay or not. She made sure everyone would have food on the days she was off. Customers became family before they finished their first cup of coffee. She drove all over Point Pleasant Thanksgiving night to find a homeless man to give him dinner. She knew if you wanted your bun toasted or not, knew who wanted onions on their beans, knew who had a favorite coffee cup. She ran a million trips up and down Main Street to make sure everyone and everything was taken care of. She ran circles around all of us. So loving, so accepting, very protective.”
The Point Pleasant Register sat down with Harris back in September to talk about the idea for the Mothman Festival, a phenomena that has grown to attract people from across the country and around the world.
As reported back in September, Harris’ life intersected with the Mothman legend in many ways. Her sister was an eyewitness who reportedly saw the Mothman 50 years ago in the TNT area, and her then three-year old son James Timothy Meadows, was on the Silver Bridge with his father, James F. Meadows, when it collapsed in 1967. Both perished. Though the Mothman statue may be an inanimate representation of the history of the area, Harris was a living, breathing piece of it.
As for the origins of the festival, Harris explained back in September: “We needed business downtown. It was a way to bring people in and it helps everyone. Its been good for the area. When we started it, we were down to nearly nothing (on Main Street).”
This year was the 15th anniversary of the festival which broke attendance records, with an estimated 10,000 people arriving on the Saturday of the festival. Each year, of those thousands, many would come back to see Harris.
“I love them to death,” Harris had said when talking about the tourists. “They’re so glad to be here. It’s like a family reunion. They come in (to the restaurant) and holler, ‘we’re home!’”
She admitted then, there’s an opinion held by some, that those who attend the festival are, well, strange – or as she put it “they think the people who come (to the festival) are crazy.” True to her accepting nature, Harris disagreed with that assessment.
“They like to investigate what they don’t know,” she simply said when summarizing how she viewed those visitors who are fascinated with the Mothman legend.
When asked if she believed the Mothman exists, Harris had said: “Yes, I do, very much. There’s been too many people, too many encounters that are the same. They always tell you the same story.”
On whether or not Mothman gets a bad wrap, Harris had relayed a story she once heard from a person of faith, putting her own spin on it when supposing, we are often startled by things we don’t understand. Does this make them bad? Not necessarily, she had said.
With her unique personality of honoring the past while working to maintain the present, Harris’ loss will no doubt be felt for years to come. On Monday, a sign had been placed on the diner’s door that said it would reopen on Tuesday, serving as a reminder of the unexpected and the uncertain for all those who relied on Harris.
As for Mothman and whether people believed in the legend or not, Harris had told the Register: “He (the Mothman) is part of our history.”
Now, so is Harris, but she had already earned her spot there years ago.
Harris’ obituary appears inside this edition. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested contributions be made to the funeral home to assist with final expenses. Crow-Hussell Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.