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A house in black and white, surrounded by 3 trees without leaves. A short stone pathway leads to a bay window.
Mrs. M.M. Lambert’s Tourist Home in Ellenboro, Ritchie County.

A 1932 West Virginia travel brochure proclaimed that “Half the people of the nation are within 500 miles of its [West Virginia’s] boundaries”; further, our major paved highways, such as routes 19 and 50, provided the perfect means for tourists and other travelers to come to our state. The West Virginia University Extension Service under the direction of Gertrude Humphrey recognized this opportunity to promote and sell West Virginia farm produce by establishing the Mountain State Tourist Homes cooperative, an offshoot of the Farm Women’s Bureau.  During the early part of the 20th century, it opened its first tourist homes in the Eastern panhandle. The day to day running of the program fell to Katharine Stump, Home Demonstration Agent, who helped the women get established, and to later make improvements.  She coordinated the program from application to evaluation.

After purchasing 5 shares in the cooperative at $1.00 each, the farm family got a Tourist Home sign which indicated to travelers that the home was regularly inspected and met the high standards outlined on a score card from her local Home Extension Agent. The tourist home program enabled women who maintained the homes to market farm products by preparing meals for tourists, hunters, and fishermen who would rent rooms.  “The tourist home owner not only has an opportunity to market her surplus food products through the serving of meals to tourists, but incidentally she is giving favorable advertising to West Virginia by providing desirable accommodations for out-of-state tourists.” “Favorable advertising” was needed based on Mrs. Edward [Bessie L.] Semple McClish’s answer to the question, Other interesting facts and stories, in her tourist home report to Katharine Stump in 1932.  Mrs. McLish who ran a tourist home in Aurora answered, “Many inquiries if we have any schools at all in this section.  There are many who seem to think West Virginia a wild and wooly country.”

A blue and white sign advertising a tourist home.
Tourist Home sign alerting travelers to a clean bed, sanitary conditions, and good food.

Katharine Stump reported a growth in the number of tourist homes in 1932 to twenty-seven with the addition of homes in more areas of the state rather than mostly in eastern West Virginia.  The women hosted visitors in the counties of Ohio, Marshall, Wood, Ritchie, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, Preston, Tucker, Mineral, Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, Mason, Jackson, Kanawha, Nicholas, Braxton, Randolph, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Mercer.  That year they welcomed 6,000 overnight guests at a rate of $1.50 per night for two.  They served 2,000 breakfasts for 25 cents each, 1000 lunches at 50 cents each, and 4,000 dinners at 50 cents each.  A simple breakfast consisted of toast, jam, and coffee, or of fruit, prepared cereal, and coffee.  A heavier breakfast at the higher cost of 75 cents consisted of fruit, cereal (either cooked or ready-to-eat), eggs, toast or muffins, hot cakes or biscuits, and cookies or doughnuts. The Home Extension Agents recommended a sample menu for that 50-cent dinner as: tomato juice with saltines or toast strings, chicken croquettes, buttered peas, scalloped potatoes, lettuce with radishes, strawberries and cream, and hot rolls. 

a brochure listing tourist homes and their locations, pre-1932.
A promotional brochure listed tourist homes and gave their locations, probably pre-1932.

To earn the privilege of displaying the tourist sign, the women underwent a Home Demonstration Agent’s evaluation using a scorecard which consisted of eight categories: general appearance of house and surroundings, the hostess, sanitation and bathroom facilities, bedrooms, dining rooms, the kitchen, health of members of the household, and rates and privileges.  Tourist homeowners were advised that first impressions of a well maintained and landscaped house may include “…a comfortable porch, shade trees, gay flower boxes, and a well-kept lawn do much toward inviting the traveler to stop,” but the interior also had to pass muster.  In a 1938 evaluation the Home Extension Agent noted that the hostess created a bedroom for an antique lover with a sugar barrel, a settee, a rocker, a high chest, and a huge canopy bed, but the agent considered the room too crowded, perhaps inconveniencing the tourist.  The evaluator decided it was best not to mention it to the owner since it appeared to be a sore point for the owner. She must have been extra proud of those antiques. 

A woman in a slip dress sits at a wooden desk, holding a pencil and working on her accounts.
Mrs. A.A. [Martha C.] Rogers of Pleasant Dale, Hampshire County at work on her accounts.

The Home Agent also scrutinized the hostess for first impressions.  The score card included two items under this category: she must be neat and clean in appearance, and she must be gracious and cordial.  Another document describing expectations for the hostess states “If she is neat in her attire, even though clothed in a percale housedress, of becoming line and color, we feel that her rooms will reflect the same careful thought and attention.” In the photo above, we see a neat and clean Mrs. Rogers taking care of the business end of her tourist home enterprise which followed on her having opened her home as a boarding house to fishermen and hunters before Route 50 was surfaced.  Continuing this work, she boarded the workmen who paved Route 50 in 1924.  By 1929 the family had decided that it was fun and profitable to take in tourists, so in 1930 Mrs. Rogers made improvements to her home to meet the Mountain State Tourist Homes requirements and opened for business. 

A large house with a fenced front porch, and wide steps leading to the front door.
Tourist home of Mrs. Mary K. Ward, Jane Lew, Lewis County on U.S. Route 19.

Just like travelers today, those of the 1930s also sought a comfortable place to rest for the night.  Suggestions to tourist home operators regarding the bedrooms included “First of all they must be orderly, neat, and clean. A room with good heat in winter an equally good ventilation in summer means much to a weary traveler.” The hostess was expected to remove any personal items from the bureau and have minimal pictures on the wall within the restraints of printed wallpaper.  Other amenities included providing a place for luggage and a place for hanging towels to avoid damage to furniture.  The flu epidemic, 1918-1919, had ended just over 10 years prior to the time these homes were established, therefore, sanitation was of utmost importance.  The homes were required to provide safe running water, an indoor privy with hot and cold water, screens on the windows, no contagion or infectious diseases among family members, and “good health…required of all persons preparing or serving food.” 

A dinner table set with china and silverware, with a tablecloth and wooden chairs.
The table is beautifully set in Mrs. J.L. Culley’s tourist home dining room in Cameron.

The dining room pictured above reflects the strict criteria set forth by Mountain State Tourist Homes and is the same as what a traveler would expect at one of today’s bed and breakfasts.  It is light, cheerful, free from flies and [hopefully] the odors of cooking foods.  The table linens are fresh and clean, and the silver is well polished and clean.  The woman of the house has gotten out her best china, shined her silverware, buffed her crystal glassware, and placed a vase of greenery at the center of the table.  It is now ready for some hearty food made from the family’s own products.

Four people sit at a picnic table outside eating breakfast. A couple sits on a bench by a tree looking at some papers.
Breakfast outside at Mrs. R.N. [Lucy B.] Guthrie’s tourist home in Romney while two travelers plan the next leg of their adventure.

The information for this blog post came from the West Virginia and Regional History archive collection, AM5220, West Virginia University Extension Service records. These records document not only women’s work in providing clean places for tourists in the early days of paved roads, but also the WVU Extension Service work with West Virginia women in contributing to the World War II home front effort. This work included the organization of women farmers, instructions for home food conservation and preservation, coordination of local leadership programs to respond to war directives, and the management of mattress making to use excess cotton.

I remember the Tourist Home signs from my girlhood, and I wonder if any of these lovely homes of respite for travelers still exist.  They serve as examples of the work of many capable women who provided income for their rural families during difficult times as well as a service to trekkers making use of newly paved roads and new automobiles.  The women were guided and encouraged by Gertrude Humphreys, Home Extension Agent extraordinaire. 

Gertrude Humphreys, an older white woman smiling with short hair and a blouse and jacket.
Gertrude Humphreys at her retirement in 1965.

She coordinated, directed, evaluated, and educated the West Virginia women who invited tourists into their homes, farmed and preserved food for the World War II war effort, provided leadership for their communities during the War, and taught both men and women how to make mattresses.

“Which shall it be-volunteer or conscription? Would you rather offer your services to the Stars and Stripes in a time of dire need or will you wait until you have to go?”

These questions were published in The Parkersburg News on May 31st, 1917, just days before America’s first draft registration. Shortly after the United States entered the Great War under President Woodrow Wilson,  the Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed. The act temporarily allowed the government to strengthen the national army by conscription, or drafting. On June 5th, 1917 the first round of registrations took place and precincts and counties across the country registered thousands of young men between the ages of 21-31 who were ready to offer their services “to the Stars and Stripes.”

One of those young men was John Carl Mehl, born on May 2nd, 1896 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. At the time of his registration on May 5th, 1917 he was living with his parents Emma Provance and David Mehl, in Hanna, West Virginia. John’s registration card indicated that at twenty-one years of age he was of short, slender build with gray eyes and light brown hair and was employed by his father as a farmer.

Though his card indicated his status as single, he would be wed less than a year later. John married Audrey Belle Roberts in March of 1918. The newlyweds had just a few months together before the reality of the Great War loomed again. On August 6th, 1918, aboard the USS Madawaska, Private John Mehl and his comrades, many of whom also called West Virginia home, left for Europe. His young wife Audrey was listed on the passenger list as his emergency contact.

Mehl, who served in Company M of the 38th Infantry, Third Division, was deployed from August of 1918 to August of 1919. The Third Division participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest American Expeditionary Forces operation during the Great War, and also the deadliest in our nation’s history. It began on September 26th 1918, and raged until the November Armistice on November 11th, 1918, which marked the end of fighting on the Western Front.

A map of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from John Mehl’s personal collection.
A map of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from John Mehl’s personal collection.

Following armistice between Germany and the Allies, forces continued to occupy parts of Europe. Private John Mehl was among those soldiers who remained abroad in the months following the horrific fighting that marked the beginning of the end of the war. Though little is known about his actions in battle, his time preserving peace and journey through Germany is chronicled in a collection of photos and unsent postcards. John, armed with a camera, captured images and collected postcards, labeling each with details about his travels. A number, like those below, include notable landmarks and castles that the men passed on foot. Flipping through these postcards and images gives us a glimpse into the life of a man we’ll never get to meet, but allows us to share he and his comrades once experienced in a land far away, and a time long ago.

A postcard with an old image of Boppard.
“We went thru this town” – Boppard
Modern view of Boppard  - Source: Encyclopædia Britannica
Modern view of Boppard  – Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Boppard#/media/1/73761/36918.
A postcared with an image of St. Goarshausen, Burg Katz und St. Goar
“We went past this castle” – St. Goarshausen, Burg Katz und St. Goar
Similar view of Goarshausen today - Source: "Burg Maus" by Frank Kehren is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Similar view of Goarshausen today – Source: “Burg Maus” by Frank Kehren is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
A postcard with an old image of Burg Rheinstein.
“I think we passed this one” – Burg Rheinstein
Burg Rheinstein today - Source: "Burg Rheinstein" by Larry Myhre
Burg Rheinstein today – Source: “Burg Rheinstein” by Larry Myhre is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
A postcard with an old image of Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels
“We passed this one” – Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels
A modern view of Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels
A modern view of Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels – Source: “File:Maeuseturm Burg Ehrenfels Bingen Rhein.jpg” by Arcalino is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

Though John never mailed these postcards, some were addressed to Audrey, or scribbled with notes to her, surely to be shared amidst his homecoming. His efforts to capture and carry these moments and scenes with him speaks volumes to the importance of this experience and the impact it had on his life. They preserve what must have been an extraordinary moment of peace and relief after years of a horrible world war, a moment like the world had never experienced before, and certainly a moment worth capturing.

John and his memories left the port in Brest, France on August 11th 1919, sailing home aboard the USS Louisville.

Just as they had reported on draft registrations and news throughout the Great War, the Parkersburg News also covered reports of homecomings and victory. Parties, dinners and parades celebrated a hero’s return to communities across the country.

Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company parade Float in World War I Victory Parade, Hinton, West Virginia
Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company parade Float in World War I Victory Parade, Hinton, West Virginia

Not long after his own homecoming, John began his post-war life. He and Audrey brought five daughters into the world; Audrey (whose name was later changed to Geraldine), Doris, Delmetta Norma and Joan. John took up work as a laborer and eventually a cable splicer for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company where he worked for over forty years. After his retirement in 1961, John lived for fourteen more years before passing away at the age of 79. Audrey lived for twenty-three more years before passing at the age of 96.

The story of John and his journeys through life, in love and in war are captured and preserved in newspaper articles, records, pictures and postcards that have been saved and shared. His efforts to capture and collect moments of peace and place, allow us to connect with his story over one hundred years later.

Scene from Night of the Living Dead

Long before zombies lumbered through 11 seasons of the popular television series “The Walking Dead,” there was an infamous night when corpses first crawled from their graves to haunt the living. The annual West Virginia University Isaac Asimov Sci-Fi Symposium will celebrate the classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead” on October 28 at the Mountainlair’s Gluck Theater.

Make your way to the student union while it is still light outside. The event, co-sponsored by the President’s Office and WVU Libraries, begins at 4 p.m. with a panel discussion with “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer and actor John Russo, BS ‘61, who will talk about the impact of his iconic movie in taking the horror film genre to a new level.

Russo will be joined by actor, director, producer and Clarksburg native Gary Lee Vincent. Vincent is most known for directing the 2020 motion picture remake of Russo’s “Midnight” and for many other feature film and television roles.

Also on the panel will be Solon Tsangaras, a musician, writer and actor who has starred in several films and theatre productions, such as“My Uncle John is a Zombie!” “Midnight” and “Strange Friends.” Born in Queens, NY, Tsangaras currently lives in West Virginia.

The 4 p.m. panel discussion will be followed by a free screening of “Night of the Living Dead” at 6:30 p.m. Popcorn, cookies and soft drinks will be available.

Organizers encourage attendees to feel free to help celebrate the occasion by coming dressed in a cosplay costume. To help audience members look the part, faculty and students from the College of Creative Arts will conduct a zombie make-up tutorial in the Vandalia Lounge from 2-4 p.m.

WVU established the Asimov Symposium in recognition of the outstanding collection of works by Asimov in the Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional History Center. Jay Cole, Senior Advisor to WVU President E. Gordon Gee, collaborated with the WVRHC in organizing the first Asimov program in 2010.

“We are showing ‘Night of the Living Dead​’ because the film has had a tremendous impact on filmmaking and popular culture over the last 50 years,” Cole said. “We also want to celebrate the screenwriting and filmmaking career of John Russo, who attended WVU in the 1960s and placed his personal papers at the WVU Libraries this year.”

The evening’s schedule includes time for attendees to browse exhibits that will feature items from Russo’s archival collection at the WVRHC and a display of rare, first editions of Asimov’s works, including “I, Robot,”from the Center’s Rare Book Collection. WVRHC Director John Cuthbert worked with Russo over the past year to acquire boxes of documents, photographs and artifacts that chronicle his prolific career.

“John Russo began the Zombie phenomenon,” Cuthbert said. “He’s among a number of WVU alumni who have had stellar careers in the sci-fi and horror genres.”

WVU alumni Jay Chattaway composed the scores for two “Maniac Cop” movies in addition to hundreds of Star Trek episodes; Chris Sarandon starred in “Fright Night,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Princess Bride”; and David Selby starred in “Dark Shadows,” which remains a cult classic. Also among their ranks is Charleston native Ann Magnuson, who has a recurring role on “Star Trek: Picard.”

Learn more at wvrhc.lib.wvu.edu/news-events/asimov.

Caption: Among John Russo’s collection is this photograph taken on the set of “Night of the Living Dead.” It captures Ben, played by Duane Jones, fending off Zombies while seeking shelter in a boarded-up house.

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