A writer is a painter of words

By Dwight Williamson

July 16, 2014

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that every person is a “story.” Just as rock ‘n roll artist Rod Stewart sang “every picture tells a story”, I like to think every story paints a picture. Sometimes the painted picture is not too clear or pretty, but it can sometimes be beautiful, other times interesting, sometimes comical, historical, educational or even emotional. As a story teller, I do not consider myself an artist. I, quite simply, am a “painter” of words.

Thinking back, I’ve interviewed some interesting people, the distinguished and the virtually unknown. I spent almost three hours with our great Senator Robert C. Byrd sometime during the early 1980s; his stories of “fiddling” on the old campaign trail were interesting as was his life story. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1952, one year prior to my birth. In his final campaign for office when everyone knew it was his last, I made it a point to see him one evening during a speech he made at Logan Middle School. I knew he was literally saying good-bye, Senator Jay Rockefeller by his side. Byrd moved on to see his beloved wife, Emma, in 2010. His service should and does make West Virginians proud.

There’s a side to this story I’ve never told before, and I think it harmless to do so now. Byrd seemed pleased to sit down with me for the interview. However, before doing so he told one of his two aides which were with him that late afternoon to go down to his mobile van that was parked in front of The Logan Banner. I forget the aide’s name, but the Senator asked him to retrieve his brief case. When handed the brief case, Senator Byrd laid it on a chair and told me: “I’ve got to have my prescription.” He opened the brief case and there on display was what appeared like hundreds of prescription bottles.

As anyone could tell during his great oratories in Senate debates for which he was famous, Byrd’s hands shook continuously, but he never faltered in delivering his usual historical messages. Readers may recall that he was one of the few lawmakers who opposed the war in Iraq. His wisdom was not adhered to, of course, and just look where that invasion has gotten us — nowhere, but in debt.

I did one of the very first interviews Don Nehlen granted shortly after he was named head football coach at WVU. We conducted the interview on the parking lot of the Logan Country Club at Chapmanville. Nehlen was very gracious and I remember, correctly so, predicting he would be highly successful at the school. There was a great deal of Mountaineer followers back then who were opposed to his hiring. As time went on, I can tell you that the “fullback up the middle” play was just too predictable.

I once interviewed Bernard and Natalina Codispoti at their Holden residence one summer evening. The Codispoti’s, the parents of numerous children, including my magistrate cohort, Leonard, were interesting as they told of coming to Logan County to find work in the coal mines. Their broken English was a battle to understand and I left there with dried garlic bulbs that the two wished me to have and plant, which I did and it produced for many years. Interestingly, I later even did an interview with Leonard Codispoti in his office. Nowadays, I practically need a stick of dynamite to even get him to open his office door. In case you don’t know, Leonard is the youngest person ever elected Magistrate in this great state. Here’s a funny story about my friend.

Years before the regional jail was built at Holden, inmates were held on the fourth floor jail of the Logan County Courthouse. There was a time when people practically wanted to break into the jail, not out of it, especially during the winter months. The food was very good and the jail at least provided warmth and shelter. It was said at the time that Cora Lawson, a jail cook, made the best pinto beans and cornbread to be found in Logan County.

There was a group of what was commonly known as older “winos” who really didn’t commit any real crimes. They simply were extreme alcoholics, most of whom had little, if any family support. When they got their checks around the 1st of each month, they would soon after usually land in the county jail to, more or less, “sleep it off” as police regularly had to get them off the streets and out of the public eye.

It became a revolving door system whereas the same guys kept coming and going from the jail for basically public intoxication charges that I believe were then jailable offenses. Believe it or not, a public intoxication charge today is not a jailable offense. That’s why you almost always see an “obstructing” charge tacked on to a PI charge; simply to get the person off the street.

Anyway, one evening a deputy arrested one of these so called “winos” and brought him before Magistrate Codispoti. Enraged at having to once again deal with the drunkard who just wanted to “sleep it off” at the jail, Leonard more or less said he wasn’t placing him in jail this day and to find somewhere else to sleep it off. Upon the man’s release upon Stratton Street, he immediately proceeded across the said street and broke out the picture window of what was then Watson’s Department Store, now Peebles. Need I tell you, the poor guy got sentenced to a year in the jail for the charge of destruction of property?

Here’s one other old jail story I wish to relay before ending my ramblings. While still with The Banner, I one day got a telephone call from a deputy, Larry Spriggs, who worked at the jail. Spriggs, who I got to know and like when years later I went to work in the Logan Sheriff’s Department, wanted to let me know that the telephone company at that time was going to raise the pay phone rate to .25 cents from what had been a dime. The rates were not changing at any other phones in the area and Spriggs thought this was unfair to his inmates who had little money anyway. I agreed and went to the scene of the crime.

I wanted to take a picture of one of the inmates using the telephone. Spriggs retrieved one of the local “winos” and I proceeded to take the photograph which later appeared in the newspaper along with a short story. Consequently, the phone company never raised the jail’s pay phone rate and the inmate became the crowded jail’s hero.

Several years later the inmate was found dead in one of the jail cells. It turns out he was in fact a true life hero. It was learned the man had saved three fellow soldiers’ lives during a battle in World War II. The man always wore what was known as a “pea coat” anywhere he went. The day he died, the jail hero had absolutely no identification of any kind upon his body. Inside his coat, however, was found a newspaper clipping. It was a picture of the World War II hero using the jail’s pay phone.

You see, every picture does tell a story; and every story paints a picture.


Logan County has three of the oldest operating businesses in the state of West Virginia…….can you guess what they are?……..first, there’s the Logan Water Plant located on the East end of town, then there is Choppers, the barber shop located on Dingess and Main Streets and there is Yeager’s Service Center owned and operated by Claude Yeager at Switzer…….I’ve already taken photos of Claude at what is the state’s oldest operating fulltime gasoline station and I may have to kidnap him in order to get him away from his busy schedule so I can tell what I know will be an interesting story………there’s a fascinating historical story also to be told about the barber shop which opened in 1928 as a part of Consolidated Bus Lines which featured a restaurant and apartments all today owned by Stan Morgan, who at one time operated his Radio Shack franchise at the building………I recently mentioned the 1977 Logan Wildcats football team coached by Jim Kennedy…….my Court Marshal buddy Jimmy Hooker, who was on that squad, reminded me that the team only had 18 or 19 players, but still defeated Huntington, Charleston and Williamson that season…………Kennedy left after one season………let’s just say he didn’t like the political climate……anybody know what ever happened to the native Kentuckian?…….two outstanding players I remember from that team were quarterback Kevin Bates, also a baseball player at LHS, who later starred at the University of Oklahoma in baseball……..Eugene Bowen was a monster tackler who became a star player for Concord College…….I need to give a shout out to the staff at WVOW radio……..whomever decided to change the afternoon’s music schedule needs congratulated; that’s good stuff…….speaking of radio, I wonder how many people realize WVOW was started in May of 1958 as a democratic answer to the then highly republican station, WLOG…….the Logan Banner and WLOG were both openly republican oriented at the time; WLOG no longer exists…….it was recently mentioned that the 1962 Logan Woman’s Club was honored nationally for helping to raise over $200, 000 that helped create Chief Logan State Park and to bring the garmet factory to the Phico area by the Logan County Development Corporation which created many jobs for many years………the same year, WVOW AM radio, with the late Bill Becker who was station manager at the time, raised $85,000 through a 232 hour radio marathon broadcast for the same cause……….you think it might have helped that Bill’s wife, Martha Jane, was a member of the Woman’s Club?………nearly 200 women formed that club which went on to do many other beneficial things for Logan County. FINAL NOTE: After weeks of stories about the condition of the Hatfield Cemetery and the road to it at Sarah Ann, plus a great deal of interest by many, including Hatfield descendants and the Logan County Commission, it seems there was a story in The Banner several years back in which it was announced the West Virginia Department of Highways had approved a $275,000 project “which will improve public access to the Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann, and to the impressive marble statue of Anderson (Devil Anse) Hatfield which overlooks the clan leader’s mountainside grave.” No, I do not know the rest of the story, at least, not yet………..

— Dwight Williamson is a former reporter for The Logan Banner and currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.