Wednesday was a good day to be a West Virginian. The state marked 149 years of existence.
I decided to spend the day in the capital city, something I’d wanted to do for several years. The Culture Center was open with free admission to the state museum, the Capitol was marking 80 years since its dedication and the governor came by to cut the cake.
The Capitol was open for tours. Although I’ve been in the building several times, I thought I’d take the tour. A couple from Pennsylvania stopped for the tour on their way west along U.S. 60.
They were totally captivated by the building and the little nuggets of state history that our guide passed along. The tour gave me a chance to stop and really look at parts of the building and appreciate the grandness of it.
We paused in the rotunda and looked up at the massive cut-glass chandelier. I filled my camera viewfinder with the light framed by the marble columns and thought, “Wow!” before I snapped the shutter.
Bryan Ward, assistant director of archives and history, gave a short lecture about the Capitol right before the cake cutting. It opened on West Virginia Day in 1932, an ornate building during the Great Depression and a symbol of hope.
It really still is. The state has never been wealthy; outside business interests have seen to that. But the building embodies the best of what we want ourselves and our state to be.
Ward said architect Cass Gilbert was not happy that the Union soldier at the former Capitol was moved to the new grounds. Inspired by the ornate architecture of Rome, Gilbert had grander plans for the site.
But the homage to the common person makes the Capitol and grounds stand out in a different, West Virginia way, Ward said. The statues and memorials are to the regular folk — the humble mountain soldier, male and female veterans, coal miners, a young black man who founded a great university, etc. West Virginia is a state of humble folk and so are those who grace its grounds.
Who’d a thunk it would still be here? The upstart state birthed by emergency during a war started out with a few sheets of paper and a quill pen bequeathed to it by the federal government.
“We have come so far for this little state of 1.8 million people,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said before he cut one of two birthday cakes on hand to feed those gathered.
That journey is well told at the state museum. It’s an interactive immersion where visitors cross the covered bridge at Philippi during the first land battle of the Civil War and walk through a coal mine. It is worth the trip and cost of admission.
For those who didn’t make it to Charleston, a little bit of birthday cheer lingers today at Blenko Glass in Milton. Each year, the company commissions a state birthday piece available for sale only on that day. Birthday cake will be available, too.
During my short stint in Oklahoma, I returned to the Sooner State after a break from classes. The preacher shook my hand and said, “I guess you’re glad to be home.”
I said, “Being back in Oklahoma is fine, but West Virginia is always home.”
We’re little but loud and poor but proud. May God continue to bless West Virginia and her people. Happy birthday, old girl, and get ready for a big blowout next year for the 150th.
— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Nerissa Young 2012