The Naming of a West Virginia County Seat

One of the most rewarding facets of being a history nerd is when a seemingly mundane or unimportant decision can change the path of history.

During my preliminary research for this article, I thought it would be cool to look more into the name of our county seat, and what I found made me chuckle a bit.

As many people know, the original name of Wayne was Trout’s Hill, and that legacy is embodied by the best coffee in the county across the street from the courthouse at Trout’s Hill Coffee. What I wanted to know, though, was why it was changed.

The Virginia General Assembly created Wayne County in the 1840s, named for famed Revolutionary War General Mad Anthony Wayne. A local farmer, Abraham Trout, donated land from his massive farm on a little knoll to build the courthouse, out of appreciation for this act the town was named Trout’s Hill.

This is where the name of our county seat takes an interesting turn. During the 19th century, Virginia had a very unoriginal way of naming their county seats, they simply called the county seat “blank” Courthouse. Civil War nerds will recognize this by the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, which was simply a town where Appomattox County had their courthouse.

Before the Civil War, this practice extended into Western Virginia and many people in the discussion would simply call Trout’s Hill “Wayne Courthouse.” While the official name didn’t change as of yet, people would refer to the town as either Wayne or Wayne Courthouse.

A year before the Civil War, another name was put forth seemingly out of nowhere when the town applied for incorporation, “Fairview.” This name doesn’t seem to have been widely used throughout as people continued to stick with the tried and true, Wayne Courthouse.

The official death knell of Trout’s Hill, Fairview and Wayne Courthouse came in 1890 when the Norfolk and Western Railroad began servicing the coal mines of Wayne County. On all the train itineraries and paperwork, the name was always shortened to say only “Wayne.” The name stuck, and by the turn of the century, the town officially changed its name.

Such an interesting way in which our county seat changed throughout the early years of its existence, it left this writer looking to answer the Shakespearean question, “What’s in a name?”

A special thank you to Whitney Chandler for providing the source material for this and many other articles, ” A Pictorial History of Wayne County” and the great resource, “The Town of Trout’s Hill, Fairview and Wayne” by Howard Osburn.

A Depression Era Murder Mystery in Huntington, WV

Juliette Enslow

Murder on Millionaires Row: a Forgotten Huntington Mystery ( my source is huntingtonquarterly.com)

Enslow Mansion

On October 17, 1936, along Huntington’s elite Millionaires Row, a wealthy widow was brutally murdered in her bedroom suite in her mansion. Juliette B. Enslow, the widow of Frank Enslow and daughter of Huntington’s first mayor, Peter Cline Buffington, was found stabbed and beaten in the early morning hours.
Juliette was an icon of Huntington society, raised by her father Peter Buffington who had the distinction of being the first mayor; she was the granddaughter of William Buffington, who was Cabell County’s first surveyor. Her great grandfather Thomas Buffington was one of the early settlers of this region, so her roots grew deep in this area. Her first husband was Charles Baldwin, and their child was Charles Baldwin Jr. who grew up to be a lawyer and was residing with Juliette at the time of her death.
After the death of her first husband, Juliette married Frank Enslow, a lawyer who was known as one of the most influential men in WV. He was busy in Huntington business and civic affairs and served as the President of the Huntington National Bank. He also owned extensive properties in Huntington and was heavily involved in the development of oil and gas throughout WV.
In 1890 he built one of the areas most elegant homes, boasting 27 rooms, marble fireplaces, and Tiffany chandeliers. Located at 1307 Third Avenue, it was the scene of many lavish parties and the hub of Huntington society. Frank and Juliette lived there together with their daughter, Dorothy, Franks son Frank Enslow JR and Juliette’s son Charles.
Juliette was last seen alive at 10:30 pm October 16. 1936. That night her son Charles had three visitors over and played bridge in the parlor. Also present in the home was the housekeeper and companion of Juliette, Lizzie Bricker as well as a staff of servants. Around 830am, the chauffeur found Juliette’s wallet lying in the driveway, he brought it inside to the housekeeper, and she became alarmed and ran to Juliette’s suite. There she found Mrs. Enslow on the floor beaten and bloody with a towel wrapped around her neck. They found five stab marks in her head, believed to have been made by an icepick as well as defensive wounds on her hands. She was badly beaten.
A search of her suite showed two diamond rings missing, as well as a diamond-encrusted watch. The watch was later found in a dresser drawer. Curiously, even though it had rained all night, the wallet found outside was dry, leading to speculation that it had been planted. There were no fingerprints found in the room and no signs of forced entry, leading the police to believe that it was an inside job.
Juliette’s funeral was held in her beautiful mansion, and she was then laid to rest in Spring Hill Cemetery. Charles Baldwin was arrested and was arraigned on October 27, 1936; he was later formally indicted a grand jury on February 18, 1937. He went to trial and was found not guilty on March 25, 1937.
On February 27, 1940, one of Juliette’s diamond rings was found in a catch basin behind the Enslow mansion. It was described as a large diamond solitaire set in platinum with a black onyx mounting. Huntingtonians were skeptical that such a large ring could sit there for almost four years and survive the 1937 flood. However, the case was not reopened.
So, who killed Juliette Buffington Enslow? Was it her son? At the time of her murder, he was not practicing law and was living with his mother. Was he short on funds and couldn’t wait for the inheritance I’m sure he was going to have to share with Frank Jr and Dorothy? Was Lizzie an accomplice, was she more than just the housekeeper to Charles? Did one of Charles guests murder her? Unfortunately, these questions will never be answered. Also unfortunate is the fate of the Enslow mansion. It ended up being sold and was used as Steele Funeral Home for many years before it tragically burned to the ground in a fire. I believe that someone knew the truth, someone with access to the stolen rings, maybe they wanted absolution for their crimes? We will never know.

Break the Stigma During Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month in North America, and in honor of that, I would like to do my part to “break the stigma” of mental health and mental health discussions. Mentalhealthamerica.net leads the way with the “Break the Stigma” Campaign, and it is a crucial way to bring these issues to light. The idea is simple in design but difficult in execution, get people talking about and sharing their experiences with mental health. The problem is that most people are afraid or ashamed to share; they feel that mental health issues make you weak, or in the case of the male, less-manly. The misconceptions about a wide range of mental health issues are staggering; you aren’t weird or crazy if you have a disorder, like any medical condition, there are treatments out there for you. To help End the Stigma, here is my story.
I went through an extremely rough patch of time in my teenage years, my home life was great, and I was always a happy kid, but my moods and emotions changed drastically. In my early twenties, I was diagnosed with two medical conditions. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the most common mental health issue for adults in the United States is the first. I had crippling anxiety attacks and would struggle to adequately explain to my parents what I was so worried about. This is common, and almost 4% of Americans have this diagnosis with a much higher number experiencing at least one anxiety attack in their life. Feeling completely overburdened or unable to cope with life’s issues is nothing new for adults, but there are ways to help. I personally have found meditation to be a lifesaver for my anxiety issues.
The second diagnosis was one that scared me more because of the massive amount of stereotypes in popular culture, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Because of media portrayals, when people find out I am one of the 1.3% of Americans with OCD, they think I wash my hands two hundred times a day, count constantly, or any other number of issues. What I try to explain to them is that it is tied directly into my Anxiety, I can’t let something go, I want to, but my obsessions don’t let me put something behind me and let me be at peace. For me, it manifests itself in little ticks. It may make me weird to continually bounce my knees when I am nervous or fiddle with my hair, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I put my mind to. I actually see it as a blessing at times, when I was coaching I would obsess over a gameplan until I felt comfortable and that led to much success for my girls, I also use it in the classroom, I refuse to do “just enough” I obsess over my teaching methods and the learning styles of my kids. OCD has never stopped me from being a Dad, teacher or anything else I have a mind to do. I do keep it in check though with medication because any mental health issue needs to be treated just like a physical sickness. Hopefully, by sharing my story with the readers, it can inspire you to begin having open conversations about mental health, and finally “End the Stigma.”

The Mysterious Fire in a small West Virginia Town that remains unsolved to this day

A WV Christmas Mystery

On Christmas Eve 1945 George and Jennie Sodder were sleeping in their bed after celebrating with 9 of their ten children. They assumed that all their children were tucked safely in their beds and that their house was safe and secure for the night. Unfortunately, they were wrong, and that night was just the beginning of a haunting unsolved WV mystery.

George Sodder was an Italian immigrant with a successful trucking company and was mostly well respected in his community. He immigrated to America where he met his wife Jennie, also an Italian immigrant and they moved to Fayetteville WV where there was a community of Italian immigrants and began to raise a family. George had arrived at Ellis Island with his brother, who immediately returned to Italy and George would never discuss why he chose to come to America. George was well known to have strong political beliefs and was often heard speaking out against the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

At 1230 am that fateful night, Jennie was awakened by the phone ringing. It was a woman asking for a name Jennie had never heard before, and in the background, she heard loud laughter and the clinking of glasses. After she hung up the phone, she found Marion asleep on the couch, and she assumed all the other children were sleeping in their beds. At 1 am she was back in bed and was startled by the sound of an object hitting the roof and rolling, and at 130am she discovered a fire in Georges office. She immediately roused George, and they began gathering the children. They couldn’t get up the stairwell to where Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, and Betty were sleeping; it was already engulfed in flames. George, Jennie, Marion, Sylvia, John, George Jr escaped. The oldest brother Frankie was away in the military. The phone was not working so Marion ran to the neighbors and called the fire department, remember this was at approx. 145 am, the fire trucks didn’t arrive till 8 am, the fire chief said he was waiting for someone who could drive the truck. George ran looking for the ladder that he kept leaning against the house; it was nowhere to be found. He ran to his trucks to drive them up to the house to stand on, neither of those would start, and they were both in good working order earlier in the day. He tried to scale the house but was unable, and he sustained some minor injuries. The distraught family had no choice but to stand and watch the house burn, believing that 5 of their ten children were burning up as well.

When the fire chief, F.J Morris, arrived at 8 am, the house was smoldering. After a cursory exam of the smoldering wreck, he stated that it was the fault of faulty wiring. The Sodders testified that the lights were still on when the exited the house. No bones were ever found, and there was no smell of burning flesh. The fire chief stated that they had been cremated, but experts the Sodders consulted said that the fire didn’t burn long or hot enough to completely burn the bones to ash, a lot of the furniture and appliances in the home were still recognizable.

Several things came to light right after the fire. George Sodder remembered a man who had come to the door to try and sell him some life insurance. When George refused, he became angry and told George that he would be sorry when his house went up in flames and his children were destroyed because of his “dirty remarks” about Mussolini. At the coroner’s inquest, a few days after the fire death certificates were issued for the five children. Later when the Sodders hired a private detective, he discovered that the insurance salesman who had threatened George was on the coroner’s jury.

Later on, the day of the fire George found his ladder hidden in an embankment 75 feet away from the house. A lineman from the phone company said that the phone lines had been cut at the pole, the only way that could have happened was for someone to climb the pole and do it. A local bus driver stated that he saw someone throwing balls of fire at the Sodder house that night, it blows my mind that he didn’t call the police. Other residents who were outside watching the fire claimed to have seen the Sodder children being driven off in a car. Later that week a woman in Charleston claims to have waited on a group of children with several Italian looking men, she states that the men glowered at the children and that they were reticent. Rumors started going around town about the Sicilian Mafia and how this was retribution for things George had done before he left Italy and for speaking out against Mussolini.

The remaining children told their parents that someone in a car was watching them for a few weeks before the fire. The Sodders hired a PI and offered a reward for the children’s return. They swore that they would not stop looking. Fire Chief Morris went to a local pastor and tearfully confessed that he had indeed found one of the children’s hearts all those years ago in the fire. He states that he put it in a lock box and buried it. He says that he was trying to keep from causing the Sodders more grief. When the box was dug up, it was found to have a piece of FRESH liver in it that had never been exposed to fire. I have no idea what excuse he gave for that.

In 1967 Jennie received a photo in the mail that looked very much like one of her children, it said on the back “Louis Sodder age 23. I love brother Frankie”. The immediately hired another PI who went to the area where the letter was postmarked to look for the children. The PI never returned and was NEVER SEEN AGAIN.

What happened to the Sodder children will likely now always remain a mystery. Their parents are dead, and their siblings are elderly now. I believe that there were probably plenty of people who knew what happened but would not speak out for fear of reprisal from the kidnappers. I find it hard to believe that five children died in a fire and not a trace was found. A small piece of human vertebrae was found at the site several months later, but the pathologist said that it had not been exposed to fire. A lot of people took this secret to their graves.

http://www.historicmysteries.com

Children for Sale!

Kids for Sale!

Children for Sale: desperation in the face of poverty or a cold-hearted mother?

In Indiana in 1938 things were hard. The nation was in the grips of the Great Depression; people were out of work and hopeless. You here many old timers tell stories of how they grew up poor but that they knew they were loved. That they didn’t have much but that they managed to get by. One couple. Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux were among the poor. They had four healthy children and another on the way. Mr. Chalifoux was a jobless coal truck driver, and his bride was a homemaker. They came up with an ingenious way to raise money; they posted a sign outside their house advertising that their four small children, Lana 6, Rae 5, Milton 4, and Sue Ellen 2, were for sale to the highest bidder. It took them two years, but they sold them all including the baby in her womb. A photographer traveling through the area caught a picture of the four little ones next to their For-Sale sign, their mother turning away and hiding her face.

At first, the couple’s family became indignant and tried to say that the picture was a publicity stunt, but unfortunately, it turned out to be true. I don’t have any information about what happened to Lana, but Rae and Milton were adopted by John and Ruth Zoeteman who took the children home, changed their names to Beverly and Kenneth and promptly chained them up in the barn. They were forced to work in the fields and beaten. Mr. Zoeteman referred to them as slaves, and he indeed treated them as such. David who was adopted by a strict but loving couple, (he was the unborn baby) recalls when he was old enough that he rode his bike out to the farm and unchained them. So apparently people in the community knew how they were being treated. When she was 17 Rae was raped and became pregnant; I don’t know by who, and sent to an unwed mothers’ home and forced to give the baby up for adoption. Milton, who had spent the most significant part of his life being starved and beaten reacted with violent rages and was eventually sent to a mental hospital where he stayed for many years.

I don’t know what happened to their birth father, but their mother remarried and had four more daughters. When the children she sold came to see her, she showed a total lack of love or remorse. David, who was adopted into a right home, feels empathy for her, the others who had to fight to survive do not feel the same way. (lynncinnamon.com). Myself, I think she could have worked out other options. I can’t imagine ever selling my children off like they were livestock.

I have seen reports (wordpress.com) that the 2.00 Mrs. Chalifoux received for selling Rae she used to play Bingo. So, it’s not like she was selling them so she could eat; she wanted to go out and play bingo.

Sue Ellen and Rae got to reunite briefly but only once because Sue Ellen died of cancer shortly afterward. They saw their brother Milton as well. Little is known about what happened to Lana, but it is believed that she had a good home. She has also passed away due to cancer.

When my kids were growing up, I would tell them jokingly that I was going to sell them to the gypsies. Luckily for them, I’m not much of a bingo player.