Betty Zane for the 10: Wheeling heroine makes sense for the money

By Lee Chottiner

Elizabeth “Betty” Zane never led an army to war.

She didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

And she never held an elected office, let alone President of the United States.

Betty Zane delivering gunpowder to the settlers inside Fort Henry (Library of Congress)

Betty Zane delivering gunpowder to the settlers inside Fort Henry (Library of Congress)

She was just an ordinary teenage girl who, on Sept. 11, 1782, did something very extraordinary. For that, her picture ought to be printed on our currency.

Last week, the Treasury Department announced that a woman would grace the face of the $10 bill when it is redesigned for 2020—the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Alexander Hamilton, a founding father and first secretary of the treasury, won’t be entirely displaced, though his image will be less prominently featured.

The question is, who will the woman be?

Already, the Internet is alive with candidates—Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt to name just a few. And that’s just what the current treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, wants.

You see, Lew, who will decide by the end of the year which woman gets the honor, wants Americans to weigh in with their own ideas and suggestions for the new design. The Treasury Department has even set up a hashtag #thenew10, and a webpage, thenew10.treasury.gov, to spread the word, and Lew will hold a series of town halls and public forums to solicit opinions.

Well, as long as he’s asking, I nominate Zane.

Some of you must be astonished my chutzpah. Where do I get the nerve to suggest that a 17-year-old girl should be pictured on one of the most widely circulated U.S. currency bills, beating out the women I mentioned above and many others who are just as deserving?

Well, before I go any further, let’s recall why Zane is remembered at all:

On Sept. 11, 1782, in what many historians consider the final battle of the American Revolution, British soldiers and their Indian allies surrounded Fort Henry on the site of present-day Wheeling. For the heavily outnumbered settlers inside, the situation was bleak. The gunpowder was almost gone and it wasn’t clear how much longer they could hold on.

There was one thin ray of hope: A stash of gunpowder had been left at a cabin some 60 yards from the fort. To retrieve it though, someone had to dash from the gate, brave enemy gunfire to reach the cabin, then run the same gauntlet on the way back, weighed down by the powder.

It seemed like a suicide mission, but Zane volunteered. According to legend, she said, “I am of no use here in the fort. I cannot fight, but I can bring the powder.”

So the men let her go, perhaps gambling that the British and Indians wouldn’t shoot at a girl. And indeed, they did not.

On her return run, though, the powder wrapped in her apron, the British and Indians realized what she was up to and did fire. A musket ball reportedly tore her dress, yet she reached the fort safely and the settlers held out, winning the final battle of the Revolution. 

Did it really happen that way? Frankly, we’ll never know for sure. There are variations to the story, and some facts remain in dispute, as is the case with many historical moments.

So is there cause enough for Zane to be pictured on the $10 bill? Damn straight! And here’s why:

First, where would Wheeling be had Zane not made her run? Playing the what-if game with history is always uncertain, but what if she hadn’t made it? Would the fort have fallen? Would Wheeling have become the important settlement it became, growing into a great American city? There’s no telling how her dash changed history.

But there’s an even more important reason: Zane was an average American who showed remarkable courage at a critical hour. For that reason, her picture on the 10 could represent thousands of Americans just like her: ordinary privates and seaman who stepped up in the heat of battle when a dose of courage was needed.

But I’m not just talking about time of war. What about police battling crime waves, doctors and nurses battling epidemics, work crews battling mountains, plains and rivers to build the tunnels, railroads and bridges that tie the country together? 

We’ll never know their names, but their contributions, taken together, are why this country is the envy of the free world.        

Zane’s image on the 10 would symbolize all those people, not just herself. That would be something new for our money—maybe for any country’s money.

Finally, there’s one more reason to promote Zane for the 10: A campaign for her is a campaign for Wheeling. This city has gone through rough times over the past 50 years, but a new energy is coursing through the old neighborhoods as young people (and some not so young) return home, or come for the first time, to build and rebuild. Good things are happening here, and we want the rest of the country to know about it.

To that end, Zane can make one more run for Wheeling, this time as a symbol of renewal, a reason to watch our “smoke.” She is a source of our city’s pride. Her story would draw attention to us at a time when we need it most, even if she doesn’t make the final cut for the money.

So I nominate Betty Zane for the 10. Will you?    

Alexander Hamilton will still be pictured on the redesigned $10 bill, though less prominently. 

Alexander Hamilton will still be pictured on the redesigned $10 bill, though less prominently. 

 

 

 


Pierpont in bronze: Statue of state’s father to be unveiled here Saturday

The bronze statue of Francis Pierpont lay in the back of the artist's pickup Friday until workers secured it to the pedestal outside West Virginia Independence Hall.

The bronze statue of Francis Pierpont lay in the back of the artist's pickup Friday until workers secured it to the pedestal outside West Virginia Independence Hall.

By Lee Chottiner

Francis Harrison Pierpont, the Father of West Virginia and the architect of statehood, arrived in Wheeling Friday in the bed of a white pickup truck.

But he won’t stay there. By Saturday, Pierpont will stand on a pedestal outside West Virginia Independence Hall, the place where he presided over the Wheeling Convention of 1862, which established the Restored Government of Virginia that led to the birth of West Virginia.

From that pedestal, he will remind future generations of West Virginians and the visitors to the city of the historic events that happened inside.

Pierpont is actually a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of the famed statesmen. It will be unveiled at noon at the corner of 15th and Market streets. The four-foot base for the statue has been in place for a week.

The unveiling falls on June 20, West Virginia Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the state’s creation. It’s also the day of the Wheeling Arts Fest.

The $135,000 statue was created with public funding and private donations, is the culmination of a two-year project, according to Jeremy Morris, director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area, who has been shepherding the effort.

“It’s been about two years since we commissioned it. We’re looking forward to having it in the ground. The base was set last week. I’m really looking forward to having this project set and be done.”

Workers remove the covering from the pedestal.

Workers remove the covering from the pedestal.

Gareth Curtiss, a sculptor from Montana, was the artist commissioned to cast the statue. He was selected from a field of 21 artists from across the nation, including four finalists who were each paid to create an 18-inch maquette (miniature sculpture). From those works, the final selection was made.   

Curtiss’ previous work includes many historic- and biblical-themed statues and monuments from all eras of American history. 

“He’s done pretty amazing work across the country,” Morris said of the winner.

While the legislature allocated $40,000 ($20,000 from each house) for the statue, the balance was raised through private donations raised over the past year.

Morris said many individuals were involved in raising the money, including Margaret Brennan, a local historian and retired Central Catholic High School teacher; Dr. Joseph Laker, professor of history at Wheeling Jesuit University; Rebecca Karelis, historian at Wheeling National Heritage Area; Travis Henline, director of West Virginia Independence Hall; and Robert Villamagna, assistant professor of art and director of the Nutting Gallery at West Liberty University.

A staunch opponent of secession, Pierpont, a lawyer and politician, became the governor of the Restored Government of Virginia following his unanimous election by the Wheeling Convention. Under his leadership, the Wheeling government called for a popular vote on the question of a new and separate state, which took the name, West Virginia.

The statue to be unveiled Saturday is not the only monument to Pierpont. In 1910, West Virginia donated a marble statue of its founder to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol at Washington.

To Morris’ knowledge, no statue of Pierpont has ever before been erected in West Virginia.

Wheeling frame by frame: Visiting photographer collects images of city

Straight, clean lines like the ones seen in this shot of the Schneider Photography Studio downtown, are a signature feature of Boris Feldblyum's work.

Straight, clean lines like the ones seen in this shot of the Schneider Photography Studio downtown, are a signature feature of Boris Feldblyum's work.

By Lee Chottiner

When Boris Feldblyum was a teenager in the Soviet Union, he began collecting old photos and postcards. He kept it up after he immigrated to America in 1979.

Those photos are what ignited his interest in photography in general and architectural photography in particular.

They also ignited his interest in Wheeling.

“When I came across pictures of old Wheeling, like from the early 20th century, I became very curious about this town,” said Feldbyum, who today is a Washington, D.C.-based photographer. “It was very interesting, architecturally speaking.”

Boris Feldblyum, pictured here (the one in black) in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, became curious about Wheeling after seeing old photos of it as a boy. Now a professional photographer in Washington, D.C., he visited Wheeling last October to make a photo collection of its buildings.

Boris Feldblyum, pictured here (the one in black) in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, became curious about Wheeling after seeing old photos of it as a boy. Now a professional photographer in Washington, D.C., he visited Wheeling last October to make a photo collection of its buildings.

Last October, he finally got to see Wheeling, and to shoot it. Returning home from Louisville, Ky., where his son is doing a psychology residency, he and his wife, Tamara, drove through Ohio, spending the night in St. Clairsville. They decided to stop in the Friendly City the next morning.

Now, Wheeling residents can see the shots he took of the city at Feldblyum’s website, bfcollection.net.

“Unfortunately, the weather was pretty bad that day,” Feldblyum recalled. “If you look at the pictures, there’s no sun [with a couple exceptions], and the sun is what makes the buildings shine.”

Nevertheless, the Wheeling page at his website is a comprehensive collection of images, not only of the cityscape as it looks today, but of its vistas and some interiors.

“I was not disappointed,” Feldblyum said. “There are many styles of architecture [there] because a century ago there were a lot of well-heeled people—industrialists and such. They had money and they built to their tastes.”

He and his wife parked on Main Street that day, in front of the Flatiron Building, then spent the next two hours walking around the city taking pictures. Later, he said, he spent at least 10 times the length of that shooting spree editing his images—lightening, straightening or otherwise touching up.

Since he didn’t use a tripod, many of the photos were slightly crooked. He corrected that flaw during the editing process. The result is a clean, geometric impression of the images that is very apparent when viewing them. The straight lines of the buildings would never intersect if they could be extended beyond the frames of the photos.

One building he shot, both inside and out, was the Capitol Theatre, which happened to be open the day he was in town.

“The way it works, I try a door. If it’s open, I walk in, and that’s what I did.” Feldblyum said “A gentleman was there and asked what I wanted. I told him who I was and could I look around. He said, ‘sure.’”

The foyer of the Capitol Theatre.

The foyer of the Capitol Theatre.

Occasionally, the sun peaked out, as it did when he shot the hole in downtown from Market Street. It’s a somewhat surreal shot with a lone tree breaking up the wide expanse of space created by the city’s demolition of buildings on that block.

Among the other buildings Feldblyum shot were Independence Hall, the old B&O Terminal (now West Virginia Northern Community College), the Ohio County Courthouse, the DHHR building, the First Capitol, the Professional Building, the Fort Henry Club, Temple Shalom, the Federal Building, and several houses, private businesses and streets and vistas, including some of Wheeling Island and the Suspension Bridge.

A mannequin appears to gaze out a second story window downtown.

A mannequin appears to gaze out a second story window downtown.

Feldblyum, 64, got his first camera when he was 11. Despite his love for photography, he trained to be a mechanical engineer in the Soviet Union. When he came to America, he worked in the automotive and aerospace industries, shooting pictures on the weekends. He became a full-time photographer in the 1990s when the company he worked for in suburban Maryland closed.

“I’ve always been interested in architecture, in cityscape, since I picked up my camera,” he said. “I was interested in, what they call in the business, the built environment. But when I have the chance I love to [photograph] people.”

He said he hopes to return to Wheeling—for business or pleasure, and in better weather—to reshoot the city. 

As interesting and comprehensive as his collection is, Feldblyum described the shots as “unremarkable.”

“They’re touristy pictures,” he said. “To me it’s a memory of a trip, nothing more.” I use them as a digital notebook. But I always look for potential for a memorable image.”

The hole in downtown Wheeling.

The hole in downtown Wheeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elliott: Preservation will be a priority if I’m mayor

By Lee Chottiner

Glenn Elliott has pledged to make historic preservation a high priority if he is elected Mayor of Wheeling next year.

“I think that goes without saying,” Elliott said Tuesday while speaking on historic preservation at the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch with Books program. “I think Wheeling would be crazy not to make that a high priority.”

Glenn Elliott will run for Mayor of Wheeling in 2016. (Photo by Rebecca Kiger)

Glenn Elliott will run for Mayor of Wheeling in 2016. (Photo by Rebecca Kiger)

He was responding to a question by Jeanne Finstein, president of Friends of Wheeling, who lamented how frustrating it has been to promote preservation of the city’s historic buildings.

Elliott, who announced his candidacy for mayor earlier this month, is a Wheeling attorney and owner of the historic Professional Building on Market Street.

He used his talk Tuesday — titled “Rebuilding Wheeling” — to highlight the vacancy rate across town. He said vacant buildings yield no revenue for the city, pose fire hazards, depress property values and deflate the morale of city residents who live among the empty structures.

But he cited studies that show regions supporting historic preservation in their cities get more “bang” for their development dollar than they do when opting for new development beyond the corporate limits.

Elliott, who lives on the second floor of the Professional Building, said he already has the first floor rented and has plans to restore the rest of the circa 19th century skyscraper.

He also noted other examples of older buildings in Wheeling getting new leases on life: Stone & Thomas, the Maxwell Centre and the Fort Henry Club. The more historic buildings bought, restored and occupied, he said, the easier it is to generate interest in historic preservation 

But Finstein called Elliott’s 2013 purchase of the Professional Building, which was built in the 1890s with 600 tons of Maine granite and supports what is believed to be the tallest existing turret in the world, a “tipping point” in Wheeling’s historic preservation.

Elliott announced his candidacy for mayor in the 2016 election on May 10 at the Wheeling Brewing Co. in Centre Market. He is running on a progressive slate with three city council candidates: Chad Thalman (First Ward), Jeremy Morris (Second Ward) and Wendy Scatterday (Fourth Ward).

Check back at Dateline: Wheeling for an exclusive interview with Elliott.

Panel parses reasons behind violent black-police incidents

By Lee Chottiner

In case anyone thought the spate of fatal confrontations between police and young black men nationwide isn’t relevant to Wheeling, W.Va., Robert Gaudio quickly set them straight.

Wheeling NAACP President Darryl Clausell (left) and Police Chief Sean Schwertfeger agreed  during an April 30 forum on justice for blacks and whites at Wheeling Jesuit University that they should meet. 

Wheeling NAACP President Darryl Clausell (left) and Police Chief Sean Schwertfeger agreed  during an April 30 forum on justice for blacks and whites at Wheeling Jesuit University that they should meet. 

Speaking at a public forum Thursday, April 30, at Wheeling Jesuit University, Gaudio, a local criminal defense attorney, made clear that the same issues driving wedges between black men and police in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, South Carolina and Baltimore, exist in the Friendly City as well.

“The disparity in two city blocks in Wheeling, W.Va.,” Gaudio said, “you can see in a heartbeat.”

He wasn’t alone in that view.

Gaudio was part of a 13-member panel for a program titled, “Paradox: The African American Male (Victim and Suspect).” Approximately 100 WJU students and members of the community turned out for the event, which was billed as “a discussion of justice in America viewed in black in white.”

The program, which was sponsored by the Wheeling branch of the NAACP, brought together student leaders, lawyers, police and activists to explore the underlying causes for police-black violence, which many panelists agreed was occurring long before a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Mo.

How to stem that violence, they said, will involve, among other things, a genuine effort by all involved to listen to each other. 

Many of the panelists spoke frankly, and with more than a little frustration, about the racially charged confrontations with police. They also lamented the social and financial disparities that continue to separate black and white in America.

“This country was pretty much built on racism,” said Jeffrey Lamison, president of the WJU Black Student Union, “and it’s time to cure it.”  

The moderator, David M. Fryson, vice president of the West Virginia University Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, called for “a continuing discussion across the state” on race issues.

“We have a continuing problem, and continuing problems need continuing solutions,” he said.

Much of the problem, the panelists said, stems from lack of trust.

Many young black men and women distrust the officers sworn to protect them, according to one panelist, Jeffrey Calcote, Jr., transitional coordinator of youth services in New Martinsville. He said none of the young people he works with have any desire to go into law enforcement as a career and some harbor media-fueled perceptions that officers are corrupt.

Distrust of the police is nothing new in the black community, according to Lamison.

“This is learned behavior,” he said. “This has been going on for decades, long before I was around.”

In his community, Lamison said, parents must often sit their children down and teach them how to interact with the police in order to stay safe. For instance, they tell them to always keep their hands on the steering wheel if pulled over by an officer; never reach down for their wallet lest the officer thinks they’re reaching for a gun.

That’s a familiar rite in the black community, Fryson interjected. “It’s called, ‘the conversation.’”

Wheeling Police Chief Sean Schwertfeger said he finds the lack of trust other panelists spoke of “very disturbing,” but he contended that most officers are unfairly tarred by the bad acts of a few.

He recalled a traffic accident he responded to involving a black man and white women. He handed the black driver his business card and let him go, telling him he was charging the woman.

“The response was overwhelming,” Schwertfeger said. “He automatically assumed I would charge him.”

Another panelist, Uneeke Ferguson, a WJU student from Baltimore, placed much of the responsibility for the violence in her hometown on the media. She noted that peaceful demonstrations in the days leading up to the riots generated little news coverage. She also said Freddie Gray, the young black man who died in police custody days earlier, was not by himself the cause of rioting.

“He was the tipping point,” Ferguson said.

It wasn’t all negative. In a positive moment of the program, Darryl Clausell, president of the Wheeling Branch of the NAACP, noted that he and Schwertfeger “need to talk, and haven’t done so yet.” Schwertfeger agreed.

And Fryson publicly thanked Schwertfeger for his service as an officer—a statement that drew applause from the crowd.

Gaudio lauded the willingness of so many people to discuss difficult race-related issues in an open forum, and the causes of them, but he candidly said it’s not enough.

“It’s all lip service,” he said. “You can move your mouth all you want, but you [also] have to act; you have to do something.”

Fryson agreed.

“Unless we get to the system problems, the systemic issues,” he said, “we will continue to have these problems.”