Major Bowes

• June 8, 1924 — Former United States congressman Samuel B. Avis and R. G. Altizer were killed by lightning at the Edgewood County Club in Charleston. According to reports of the time, the players sought shelter in a dilapidated building, the current ripped its way through the decayed roof and destroyed two men of consequence leaving H. G. Scott, director of the United Fuel Gas company, and the Columbia Gas company, the only survivor and witness to the incident. The three men had taken shelter and were talking and taking turns chipping balls into a small hole in the building. Altizer and Avis inside while Scott remained mostly out of the building, took shelter under what was left of the roof. The two men were leaning on their irons when, according to Scott, “suddenly there was a crash, that rocked him. Instantly he was conscious of a smell of something burning, an odor not unlike brimstone. He fell and stumbled out of the and when he recovered his composure, a matter of a few seconds, he was fifteen feet from the house. He hurried back and found his two friends lying still, one just outside the building and the other just under shelter. Captain Avis came to Charleston early in life, after having completed his education at the Staunton Military Academy and Washington and Lee university, where he received his LL.B. Shortly after his graduation from the University he came to Charleston, where he entered the practice of law. He was later appointed to the United States District attorney’s office where he was connected for four years, leaving it to serve in the Spanish-American war. Mr. Altizer, vice president and general counsel for the United Fuel Gas company and ws considered one of the most able lawyers in the state.

• June 9,1933 — A record heat wave hit the state as the mercury reached 101 in Wheeling. Four deaths were attributed to the heat wave including Stanly Rasemun when he was overcome in a junk yard. Several others were suffering with heat stroke, or as it was called then “heat prostration” throughout the state and not even the night brought relief as temperatures still hovered in the high 70s. Clouds and wind did bring some respite, but mostly just contributed to the high humidity. As temperatures climbed past the mark of 103 in Clarksburg, death took the life of David Howell and caused two men, one a coal miner, the other a sheet tin mill worker to be “prostrated” Hundreds died over the country due to the extreme weather.

• June 9, 1938 — An estimated audience of 20,020,000 listened in as Columbia Broadcasting’s Major Bowes broadcasted a “Salute to Charleston” that night. The 114 affiliates of the Columbia Broadcast Network out of New York and the Canadian Broadcasting Network, including local affiliate WCHS, broadcast the show that included local talent Miss Mary and Mrs. Lillian Murphy and a Mr. William Minotti of Charleston vying for votes to determine the winners of the national talent show. Mr. Bowes featured Charleston’s natural resources, industrial eminence and cultural opportunities available in the State Capitol The Chamber of Commerce aided Mr. Bowes in collecting the data, and proclaimed the day “Major Bowes Day” with an honorary citizenship to the city. The gifts he received (aside from the perishables) were on display at the Bowes Museum in New York. Over 60 telephone operators were on hand to take the votes and worked closely with tabulators to assure that the New York offices had all the votes from the region in hand to announce the winner of the radio talent contest.

• June 10, 1924 — Lewis Collins, a prominent businessman in Litwar, McDowell County, was murdered. When Mr. Collins was late in coming to his breakfast this morning, his son-in-law, Mr. Conley, who lived about 300 yards from the store, went to wake him. When he entered the sleeping quarters back of the store he discovered Mr. Collins dead. He had been struck behind the ear with some dull instrument. As soon as he discovered the crime Mr. Conley hurried to Iaeger and notified Chief Cline, and the two returned to the store. It was later that Mr. Conley was arrested for the murder, the inheritance of his deceased wife, Mr. Collins’ daughter, the cause of the murder. An examination at the time disclosed the fact that he had been shot twice above the left ear with a 38-caliber pistol, one Mr. Conley owned. Mr. Conley’s mixed stories seemed to point the finger at him. During the trial, Conley’s wife maintained that her husband stayed with her the entire night, and although there was substantial circumstantial evidence, Mr. Conley was found not guilty after the jury deliberated only minutes.

• June 11, 1873 — A Wetzel County lynch mob shot and killed John Jennings, suspected leader of a gang of criminals, at his home at New Martinsville. According to reports at the time, about 2 o’clock a number of persons, all disguised, went to the house of John Jennings, one of the notorious characters of the area; took him from his bed and, in the presence of his family, shot him full of holes, killing him almost instantly. When the mob initially came to his house, they were looking for his sons Frank and Jack, when Mr. Jennings replied that he didn’t know where his sons were, the mob informed him that according to his neighbors, that he was equally guilty and was one of the ring-leaders and that “they intended putting an end effectually to the whole band.” The residents of the area had been enraged at the depredations of the Jennings boys and an article in the Labor Vindicator denouncing the villains caused Mr. Jennings to come into town to demand to speak to the author of the article growing, “very boisterous and acted generally very badly.” This, coupled with the growing suspicions of the residents, led to the mob-style justice. In an opinion piece of the time, “We have no doubt that the citizens who participated in this murder, (because it is a murder, no matter what reasons may be adduced to justify it,) thought themselves actuated by good motives and fully excused by their own views of the public necessity. But this disposition to right by violence the wrongs under which a community has suffered is to be scarcely less deprecated than the wrongs themselves. It breaks down all reverence for law and order and itself begets the very crimes which it strives to eradicate.”

• June 12, 1968 — Renowned African American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. graduated as valedictorian of his Piedmont High School. Henry Louis Gates Jr. emerged from Mineral County, to become one of the leading black scholars in the nation. He was born in Piedmont in 1950, the son of Henry Louis Gates Sr. and Pauline Augusta Coleman Gates. He was one of the first African-American students to attend the newly desegregated public schools of Piedmont following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Gates took an interest in local civil rights issues and with three other blacks, known as the “Fearsome Foursome,” pressured the Blue Jay restaurant and nightclub to integrate. After graduating with high marks from Piedmont High School, Gates attended Potomac State College in Keyser. He left Potomac to study at Yale University and later earned a doctorate from England’s Cambridge University. Gates served in the campaign of Jay Rockefeller in his unsuccessful bid against incumbent Governor Arch Moore in 1972. After the campaign, he worked for Time magainze in London before returning to Yale to teach black studies and English. In the late 1980s, Gates taught at Cornell University. With the publication of his 1989 book, The Signifying Monkey: Toward a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, Gates was recognized widely as one of the leading scholars of African- American studies. In 1991, Gates was named chair of Harvard University’s African-American Studies Department. In 1994, Gates’ award-winning book Colored People was published, chronicling his youth and the black community in Mineral County. Gates is one of the most respected black literary scholars and has co-edited a series of critical perspectives on authors such as Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston. He is also co-editor of The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature.