Skip to main content

Background Image for Header:


Written by Devon Lewars

In today’s standards, it is frowned upon to tear signatures from their page, however, this used to be a common practice amongst collectors. Signatures were often torn from pages of correspondence, deeds, or even wills. The West Virginia and Regional History Center (WVRHC) currently owns multiple archives and manuscripts (A&M) collections that include items of this nature. A collection of signatures was donated to the WVRHC and a few of those pieces are currently on display in the rare book room.

Similarly, in the past, it was common for individuals to loot sites of archeological significance. An artifact is most valuable when it is found in relation to the age of the soil it rests in. If an object is taken from its historical context, it loses value.

In the 1970s, five cultural shields of the Acoma Pueblo (Uh-Ko-Muh Pweh-Blo) village of New Mexico vanished from the home of one family. Although under the protection of one caretaker, the shields were collectively owned by every member of the tribe. The shields, when not used in ceremony, were kept in a cold, dark room. They were part of the tribe’s identity, never to leave the Acoma or be destroyed.

In 2016, after nearly 50 years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI brought photos of one shield to Acoma. The shield was pictured under fluorescent lights and to be sold at EVE, a Paris auction house. Elena Saavedra Buckley, an editor of the HighCountryNews perfectly describes the shield as “round and rawhide, it showed a face in its center, with black, low-scooped horns, like a water buffalos, and a red-lipped, jagged smile. The rich colors of the paint — emerald green, with red, blue and yellow radiating from the face’s edges — seemed to have survived the years unfaded, even as they flaked and mottled the surface. Two feathers with rusted tips, like an eagle’s, hung at each side, pierced through the leather and strung by their quills.”[i] It wasn’t until the evening of November 15, 2019, that the shield was seen by members of the tribe. Acoma leaders prayed alongside the shield past midnight that day, never leaving its side.

Acoma Governor, Kurt Riley – Central figure in the fight for the repatriation of the shield.

Between 2016 and 2019 the Acoma Pueblo fought desperately against the convoluted systems of Paris’s government and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Instances of looting and/or stealing artifacts from native reservations have been occurring for centuries. The repatriation of these artifacts is a slow and often grueling process for the tribes and those that see the loss of the items rarely get to see its return.

Although the donated signatures in our care have lost their context, they provide an opportunity for current generations to reflect on practices of the past. The WVRHC and other institutions that make research accessible do not condone the tearing or cutting of historical documents.

Courtesy of West Virginia & Regional History Center – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Courtesy of West Virginia & Regional History Center – Harriet Beecher Stowe

For further discussion of this collection, refer to Stewart Plein, Curator of Rare Books at the history center and frankly, a wonderful person to chat with. To learn more about current processing standards speak to Jane LaBarbara, Head of Archives and Manuscripts and a strong advocate for the protection and accessibility of archival collections.

[i] Buckley, Elena Saavedra. “Unraveling the Mystery of a Stolen Ceremonial Shield.” HighCountryNews, August 1, 2020.

Written by Dee Elliot

Today, we’ll be looking at the fascinating winter festival celebrated in Helvetia, West Virginia.  This celebration is known as Fasnacht, an annual Pennsylvania Dutch celebration that marks the ending of winter, as well as the coming of Ash Wednesday.  Much like Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, Fasnacht precedes the Lenten period for many Catholics and Protestants that celebrate it.  However, one tiny village in West Virginia with a population of only 84 people puts on an entire festival each year to mark the passage of the seasons.  Helvetia was settled in 1869 by a small group of Swiss and German immigrants, as evident by the multitude of Swiss flags seen around town.  Every year around February or March, whenever Fat Tuesday falls, the small, usually sleepy village comes alive with hundreds of people converging on the town to celebrate Fasnacht.  In 2024, Fasnacht took place on February 13, with the festival itself taking place the weekend before on February 10.  In 2023, there was estimated to have been almost 2000 people in the village taking part in the celebration!

Helvetia Fasnacht in 1977, David H. Sutton Collection at the WVRHC

Fasnacht itself is a fascinating, unique holiday that signals not only the ending of winter, but provides an opportunity for the otherwise small community to make an impactful mark on the vast, rugged culture of West Virginia.  Starting out with a parade through town, people construct and wear creative (and sometimes frightening) masks to ward away bad spirits.  Doing this is an effort to keep winter from lasting any longer.  After the parade, everyone gathers in city hall and takes part in a massive dance for three or so hours before an effigy of Old Man Winter, the personification of winter, is cut down from his perch and dragged outside where it’s thrown onto a bonfire.  With the burning of winter comes the warmth of spring…that is, if Old Man Winter doesn’t have any more life left in him. 

One of the many masks of Fasnacht!
Old Man Winter is burned!

Before about five years ago, Fasnacht was more of a local event that didn’t really get much attention from outside the immediate area, but has dramatically increased with the release of the video game Fallout 76 in 2018, made by Bethesda Studios.  Taking place in a post-apocalyptic West Virginia, the player can take part in a virtual Fasnacht parade, complete with wearing creative (and sometimes frightening) masks.  During the Fasnacht event, one must fight off massive radioactive toads in order to keep the festivities going, and the player is rewarded with one of the many bizarre masks related to the event.

Helvetia in Fallout 76 (2018)
Fasnacht masks in Fallout 76 (2018)

The event has gotten more and more popular recently, turning a relatively unknown local event in which people would primarily privately celebrate into a must-see festival!  This year was the biggest yet, actually.  So much so, in fact, that tickets to the event sold out!  Special shirts and beer steins were made for the festival, so people can have their own little piece of Helvetia.  There is also a general store in town that, when the festival is not in full swing, has a Fasnacht mask museum that people can visit while they are in the area, as well as a Swiss/German Restaurant The Hütte Restaurant to further celebrate the origins of the villagers of Helvetia.

The West Virginia and Regional History Center is proud to have several collections concerning not only Fasnacht, but life in Helvetia as a whole.  Particularly is a great resource for anyone looking for photos of both Fasnacht and Helvetia over the years.  The David H. Sutton photo collection is also a fantastic resource for those who want a glimpse at Fasnacht and those who used to live in the area.  Not to mention in the Oral History collection, there are several pieces detailing the celebration.  While the masks may have changed since the earliest festivals, interest in Fasnacht has only gone up!  Come and take a look at our holdings about Fasnacht and Helvetia today!

Written by Madisyn Magers, Graduate Assistant for the West Virginia Feminist Activist Collection 

       The Equal Right Amendment (ERA) is an amendment to the United States Constitution that would prohibit sex discrimination and bring equality of rights under the law to anyone, regardless of sex. The amendment was first proposed in 1923. Throughout the years following the amendments’ introduction, enough states have ratified the amendment (passage by two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and approval by three-fourths of the states), but they did not meet the specified deadline, so the amendment is still not a part of the U.S. Constitution.  Many states ratified the amendment during the 1970s, including West Virginia which ratified the amendment in 1972, but some states ratified the amendment as late as 2020. 

       Lillian Waugh was professor of Women’s Studies at West Virginia University, a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and one of the founders of the Morgantown chapter of the organization. The National Organization for Women is a non-profit organization that is centered on women’s rights. Waugh was active in NOW and advocated for the ERA. Her collection includes materials that demonstrate her activism including many papers that show her participation and leadership in Morgantown NOW. The collection also includes an interesting selection of the pins and badges she collected.  

two pins, the one on the left is a circular NOW pin and the left is a gold ERA pin

Highlighted are two pins from her collection, a green NOW circle pin, and a gold ERA pin. While the official dates for the pins are unknown, it is believed they date from the 1970s when there were several marches and rallies in support of the amendment. To obtain more information about the Lillian Waugh Papers or any other collection in the West Virginia Feminist Activist Collection, contact the WVRHC. 

Read More Blog Entries