Places In My Heart:

COVID-19 and Rural America | Appalachia

COVID-19 hit rural America and Appalachia hard. Use this resource page to understand the complex reasons behind the cycle of poverty and how you can help. Examine common stereotypes. Explore the natural beauty. Includes book and movie suggestions as starting points to learn more.

 

 

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"Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong..." From Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver

Chris' Note: Rural America and Appalachia are outside my usual COVID-19, grief and pet loss content, but I created this resource page because I care about rural people.

On this page:

 

Places In My Heart

 

Rural America holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in rural central Ohio. Each summer I visited my aunt living in the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio. My family helped her deliver food and clothing to neighbors in need. Yes, I saw poverty, but I also witnessed abundant strength, resilience, faith in action and good humor. The natural beauty of its hills, valleys, streams and forests lives forever in my childhood memories.

Everyone has a story to tell. Discover yours.

During the endless coronavirus news coverage of the past two years, I observed that rural Americans were often stereotyped. For example, I read an online opinion piece about the effects of COVID-19 in rural areas. The author concluded that you can tell whether or not people are vaccinated by their preference for Whole Foods or Cracker Barrel. Humor, satire--or insult? You decide.

 

My goal is to be accurate and respectful.

I encourage you to find things in life that touch your heart and act upon them with meaning and purpose. Thank you for visiting. Be well.

One Size Does Not Fit All

What comes to mind when you think of the word rural? Farms and big animals? Mountains with crystal clear spring water? Wheat gently waving on the plain? Or does rural conjure images of ramshackle cabins and uneducated country folk?

Rural is a vague word because it means different things to different people. Attempts to describe it are difficult in a nation of contrasting geography and changing demographics.

The origin of rural is Old French from late Latin ruralis meaning "of the countryside." Words similar to "countryside" include agrarian, agricultural, backwoods, bucolic, country, farmland, pastoral, idyllic, rustic and sylvan.

The federal government classifies areas and populations for statistical, programming, and funding purposes. Each agency may have its own method of deciding what is rural.

In its simplest form, the definition of rural includes all people, housing, and territory that are not within an urban area. (city or town)

 

One-fourth of Appalachian counties are classified as rural—counties that are neither part of nor adjacent to a metropolitan area.

 

Of the 25.7 million people who live in Appalachia, almost 2.5 million, or nearly 10% of residents, live in rural counties.

Rural America and Appalachia are large geographical areas with distinct histories and varied cultural influences. There is no "one size fits all" description for a diverse population of people. Generalizations and stereotypes do not apply.

 

It is not within the scope of this page to cover the subject in detail, but I hope the sampling of information here will inspire you to learn more.

How do you pronounce Appalachia?

 

Is it Appa-LATCH-uh or Appa-LAY-shuh?

 

People born and raised in the region say Appa-LATCH-uh. If you are from the area, you are Appa-LATCH-chun.

 

The word Appalachia comes from the Native American Apalachee Tribe. Its exact meaning depends on your reference: "Other side of the river" or "people on the other side" are common interpretations.

Where is Appalachia?

Appalachia is a 206,000-square-mile region* that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi.

 

It includes 423 counties across 13 states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. View regional map.

 

West Virginia is the only state completely within the Appalachian Region.*

*A region is an area of land that has common features and can be defined by natural or artificial features. Language, government, or religion can define a region, as can forests, wildlife, or climate. Regions, large or small, are the basic units of geography. (National Geographic Resource Library)

COVID-19 and Rural America

UC Cincinnati: Third COVID-19 wave hit rural America especially hard

KHN: Rural Americans in Pharmacy Deserts Hurting for Covid Vaccine

The Brink: COVID-19 Death Toll Could Be 20 Percent Higher than Official Tally

Rural America's hidden death toll

As US Nears 1 Million COVID Deaths, One Hard-Hit (Rural) County Grapples With Unthinkable Loss

PRB: Appalachians Vulnerable to Hardship During the Pandemic

HSUS: Helping people and pets across the country during the COVID-19 crisis

Bellarmine Magazine: Nearly 60 years after the war on poverty, why is Appalachia still struggling?

From The Daily Yonder

 

No One Is Coming to Help by Edwin Leap, MD

A Rural Hospital Responds to Covid-19: ‘I Have Never Seen Anything Like It’

 

As Covid-19 Wanes, Some Changes to Rural Hospitals Remain

 

In Working-Class Country, Shifting Views on Covid-19 and Its Vaccines

Rural Residents Report Feeling Confused, Pressured Over Vaccination

Rural Healthcare Leaders Weigh Potential Impact of Covid-19 Long-Haulers

The Future of Rural Libraries Could Be Healthcare

Mental Health

APA: COVID-19 fallout hits farmers

Supporting the front line workers who help sustain America

Farm Bureau: Farm State of Mind Resource Directory: Stronger Together

How to Help

The Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund

Foundation for Appalachian Ohio: Cause Connector: Find a project close to your heart.

Christian Appalachian Project: Transform lives. Answer prayers. Americans living in poverty need you.

Mission of Hope: Delivering Hope to the Families of Rural Appalachia

Homer Hickam, Sr. Scholarship Fund: Marshall University (West Virginia)

Provides scholarships to children of coal miners and coal rescue team members.

Stereotypes

 

A stereotype is a generalization, often exaggerated or oversimplified, that is used to describe or distinguish a thing or group. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary) 

Overlooked Appalachia: The face of Appalachia: the history of mountain stereotypes

Appalachian Online: Through Ella’s Eyes: The hillbilly stereotype is outdated and lazy

100 Days in Appalachia: More than a Stereotype: A Young West Virginian Wants a Different Conversation

Blue Ridge Public Radio: Exploring Southern Appalachia: ‘Deliverance’ And Beyond

Exploring Southern Appalachia: ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ Stereotypes And Academia

Bitter Southerner: Hillbillies Need No Elegy by Meredith McCarroll

Discover Your Story:

Ancestry | Genealogy

Ancestry.com: Every family has a story.

Tech Boomers: Best 7 Sites Like Ancestry to Research Your Family History

Renew Your Spirit with the Healing Power of Nature

Arc of Appalachia: Hiking and Visiting

Appalachian Trail Conservancy: Explore the longest hiking-only footpath in the world

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace: Protect and enjoy our natural world

Outdoor ethics, stewardship, conservation

Ohio

Hocking Hills State Parks

Lake Hope State Park

Wayne National Forest

Ohio River Scenic Byway: Marietta: Ohio's First Adventure

Kentucky

Kentucky State Parks: Kentucky Recognizes the Five Best

Natural Bridge State Resort Park

West Virginia

Top 10 Picture-Perfect West Virginia State Parks

 

New River Gorge National Park and Reserve

Cincinnati

The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition

Books and Movies

 

Books

Macmillan Publishers: The Ballad Novels of Sharyn McCrumb

Novels from a talented Appalachian storyteller infused with a touch of mountain magic.

Sharyn McCrumb website

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr. Dell Publishing, 1999.

Inspiring true story of how a West Virginia coal miner's son became a NASA engineer.

Homer Hickam website
 

Movies

1. Songcatcher (Lions Gate, 2001, 1 hr 48 min) Janet McTeer, Aidan Quinn, Emmy Rossum, Pat Carroll, Jane Adams

In the Appalachian mountains of 1907, a musicologist arrives to record the Scottish and Irish folk songs that the locals have preserved for generations.

 

The central story can get lost in melodramatic subplots, but for me, the rich history of beautiful Appalachian music and stunning mountain scenery make Songcatcher worth watching.

2. Dark Waters (Focus Features, 2019, 2 hr 7 min) Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber

This legal thriller centers around a Cincinnati corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott, as he uncovers the dark secret that lies beneath the surface of a small West Virginia town.

 

The story recounts Bilott's case against DuPont after they contaminated Parkersburg, West Virginia with unregulated chemicals.

 

Launching a heroic one-man crusade to take on the powerful chemical manufacturing corporation, he risks everything to expose the truth. With bonus features that take you deeper into the story of DuPont, Teflon and forever chemicals

The movie is well-acted and disturbing. It is filmed in dark, murky colors which makes it even more unsettling to watch. Dark Waters portrays determination and strength of the human spirit, but it is not a "feel good" movie. Consistently gets four and five star reviews.

Parents please use caution: Some of the contamination footage and the destruction of livestock may be too graphic for young children. 

Dark Waters is based on The New York Times feature "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare"  by Nathaniel Rich. (2016)

Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer's Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont by Robert Bilott is the author's own account of the story behind the movie. (Atria Books, 2019)

3. October Sky (Universal Pictures, 1999, 1 hr 47 min) Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Natalie Canerday

In Coalwood, West Virginia, 1957, coal mining is king and no one can escape life underground. But when teenager Homer Hickam, Jr. (Jake Gyllenhaal) sees the Soviet satellite Sputnik streak overhead, he aims for the stars.

 

October Sky is a true story based on the book Rocket Boys. This family-friendly  movie is filled with humor, strong performances and classic rock 'n' roll, while the hardships of coal mining life are depicted with grace and honesty.

Fun Fact: October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys.

4. Hoosiers (Orion Pictures, 1986, 1 hr 54 min) Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper, Maris Valainis

This rural small-town drama tells the story of the Hickory Huskers, an underdog basketball team from a tiny Indiana high school that makes it all the way to the state championship tournament.

 

Inspired by a true story, the sensitive direction, screenplay and quality acting helped make this one of the best films of 1986. Like Rocky, Rudy, and Breaking Away, this movie is about beating the odds and rising above one's own limitations. 

Hoosiers also portrays hope and despair in the rural Midwest of the 1950s.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Silver Bridge Collapse

 

The Silver Bridge spanned the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio.

( pronounced Gal' - a - po - lees' )

On December 15,1967, the bridge collapsed and 64 people went into the frigid water.

 

Forty-six people died, nine others were seriously injured. The tragedy lead to the creation of the National Bridge Inspection Standards.

 

The Silver Bridge collapse also became a centerpiece of West Virginia legend and lore.

The Tragedy

The Herald-Dispatch: (Huntington, W VA) 46 Lives Lost in Point Pleasant Tragedy

Timeline.com:The deadliest bridge disaster in US history was caused by a tiny crack just three millimeters deep

Silver Lining: The Catastrophe that Lead to the Creation of the National Bridge Inspection Standards (video)

The Daily Sentinel: 54 years later… Victims of Silver Bridge tragedy remembered

Silver Bridge Collapse Memorial

Safety Compass: The Silver Bridge Collapse: Don’t Blame the Mothman!

From the author Don Karol: "Despite efforts to continually enhance the quality of bridge inspections, unforeseen disasters continue to occur, highlighting the need to thoroughly inspect and replace bridges before they collapse. Supernatural forces do not bring down bridges; neglect does."

Musical Tribute

Steve Chapman grew up in Point Pleasant and was 17 when the bridge collapsed. He wrote The Silver Bridge, a beautiful song that tells the story of the bridge's collapse and honors the victims and their families.

 

He and his wife Annie perform it, with pictures of the bridge before and after the tragedy.

 

I set the video timer to begin with the song, but if you go back to the beginning, Mr. Chapman gives poignant background details of the tragic event.

History, Mystery and Lore:

The Mothman

The Mothman Prophesies (Sony Pictures, 2002, 119 min) Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing

Based on the 1975 book of the same name by parapsychologist and author John Keel.

From Amazon's Product Description: Distraught by the sudden, tragic death of his wife (Debra Messing), John Klein (Richard Gere), a journalist for The Washington Post, finds himself mysteriously drawn to a small West Virginia town when his car inexplicably strands him.

 

Rescued by the sympathetic but skeptical local police sergeant (Laura Linney), he soon learns that many of the town's residents have been beset by bizarre events, including sightings of an eerie "moth-like" entity, similar to the one seen by his late wife.

 

Investigating further and having his own terrifying encounters with the creature, he becomes obsessed with the idea that this supernatural being can predict impending calamities and is trying to warn the town of one.

 

Is this a psychic delusion brought on by his grief or can he convince the police sergeant that there's a tragedy that must be averted? (end product description)

 

The bridge collapses on Christmas Eve. The credits at the end of the movie inform viewers that the Mothman was never seen again in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

The film claims to be based on actual events that occurred between November 1966 and December 1967 in Point Pleasant, as described by Keel.

 

It was released to mixed reviews but The Mothman Prophesies has been dubbed "the most underrated paranormal movie no one watches."

 

An unsettling encounter on a road in rural West Virginia was the beginning of a rural legend and a personal tragedy for the man involved.

Tourism

The Worst Air Tragedy in NCAA Sports History

 

We Are Marshall (Warner Brothers Pictures, 2006, 131 min) Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox
When a plane crash claims the lives of the 1970 Marshall University "Thundering Herd" football team and coaches, Coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) takes the job no one wants: rebuilding the team to keep the football program alive.

 

We Are Marshall is based on the true story of devastating loss, heart, healing and football in Huntington, West Virginia.

The crash killed everyone aboard: Seventy-five members of the Marshall football team, coaches, university staff, community members and flight crew. The deaths left 70 minor children, 18 of those lost both parents.

 

The Marshall University tragedy remains the worst sports-related air disaster in NCAA history.

It’s always with you...

For an eloquent description of the lasting effects of grief, go to It’s always with you…by Julia Keller. (PDF. Requires Adobe Reader.)

The article was first published in September 1999 by The Chicago Tribune, and then reprinted by Marshall University, thirty years after the plane crash. Note: The newspaper article has many distracting advertisements. The PDF does not.

A native of Huntington, West Virginia, Julia Keller had just turned 13 at the time of the tragedy, Nov. 14, 1970. She writes: But all I can really remember is looking around the church at those stricken people and their friends and wondering what they would do next. I meant that literally: What would they do when they went home after the funeral, and the day after that, and the day after that? How would they go on?

 

Almost 30 years after the plane disintegrated in a bleak West Virginia field, I found that I was still wondering. How did those with loved ones on the plane—the children, parents, siblings and friends of victims—ever resume their lives?

“Sometimes, it seems like 30 years ago,” said Keith Morehouse, who was nine when his father died in the crash, “and sometimes it seems like it happened yesterday.” Then and now, I wanted to know how people lived with such a loss, with the sudden, permanent demolition of the way they thought their world would be. Where does grief go?

The rest of It’s always with you…attempts to answer this question with honesty and compassion. The author concludes: "I asked about the progress of grief, but I learned about the purpose of memory."

 

Related Reading

Marshall University: Special Collections: Plane Crash Memorial

Huntington WV Herald Dispatch: Archives of in-depth coverage and anniversary editions