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Don Surber: Capitol should honor West Virginia history

By Don Surber, Editorial writer/columnist

Retired Daily Mail Business Editor George Hohmann in a column on Saturday said the state Capitol should display more artwork.

He cited the people who want to update the art inside Minnesota’s Capitol, which displays that state’s history, which seems to boil down to six paintings of the Civil War.

“A lot of us would like to see the story of some contributions since then,” state Representative Diane Loeffler told the Associated Press.

Make some then.

Minnesota gained statehood in 1858 and peaked in the Civil War. The last thing of interest there was the birth in 1961 of the Poppin’ Fresh, also known as the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Minnesota calls itself the Gopher State. A gopher is someone who gets coffee for important people.

Here in the Mountain State, we make history. Our doughboy was Frank Buckles, who was the last American survivor of World War I.

West Virginia shares with Kentucky the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. I think they had a pillow fight in St. Paul once.

Our Capitol could use a mural of Devil Anse squaring off with Ole Ran’l along the Big Sandy.

Or better yet, Chuck Yeager buzzing the South Side Bridge.

Or Homer Hickam igniting a rocket in Coalwood in 1960.

Or Woody Williams using his flame-thrower at Iwo Jima.

We have a statue of Bob Byrd. I was no fan, but you don’t have to like a man to appreciate his accomplishments and how far he came in life.

Plenty are the possibilities for murals of the not-so-great moments of other politicians:

Gov. Williams C. Marland driving a cab in Chicago.

Gov. Wally Barron heading for prison.

Gov. Arch Moore laying down in a car bribing Sheriff Johnie Owens.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton might have gotten a parking ticket once. They strike me as a boring lot.

We could have a Wall of Shame because West Virginians can handle the truth. We realize we are not the best voters in the world.

On the other hand, West Virginians did seal the Democratic Party nomination for Jack Kennedy in 1960. A painting of JFK eating lunch at Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House in Huntington would be nice.

We have had some light moments that are worthy of preserving in oil on canvas.

I suggest we hang a painting of the 6-foot-7 Gov. Jay Rockefeller greeting the 4-foot-9 Mary Lou Retton after her Olympic triumph in 1984. What she lacked in height she made up in smile.

West Virginians have made many other positive contributions to our nation.

Consider the courage of Captain Andrew Summers Rowan of Gap Mills. Not many people know of him today, but in 1899, he was an American hero.

That was when an essayist told of Rowan making his way through the wilds of the hills of Cuba to take a message to Cuban rebel Calixto García, which helped the United States win the Spanish-American War.

Cuba won liberation and the United States became a world power, thanks in no small part to a West Virginian.

Many are the other arenas where humble West Virginians achieve great things.

Jerry West is the best example. West led WVU to the NCAA finals and the 1960 Olympics team to gold. The Minneapolis Lakers drafted him but luckily for West, the Lakers promptly left Minnesota for Los Angeles.

As a rookie, West’s accent was so thick, they called him Zeke from Cabin Creek. By the end of the decade, they called him The Logo because that’s him on the league logo. His perseverance still inspires.

West did better in retirement. With West as the team’s general manager, the Lakers won eight NBA championships.

Surely there is ample space for him at the Capitol.

If not, add a room.

I am sure I left out even better state history; all those Knights and Ladies of the Golden Horseshoe Society can make their nominations.

For a state that is only 0.6 percent of the nation’s population, West Virginia has made plenty of contributions.

Fancy artwork is nice, but when they come to the Capitol, West Virginians need a reminder of who they are and where they came from.

Minnesota?

Stick with the Civil War.


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