Tag Archives: Hatfields and McCoys

They’re really into commemorating the Hatfield-Mccoy feud

A new geocaching trail devoted to the feud opened last month, and a fundraising effort for a Randolph McCoy monument in Pike County, KY has been getting donations from as far away as Hawaii.  I wish every aspect of Appalachian history could generate this kind of widespread interest.

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I showed up late to the feud

I didn’t watch The History Channel‘s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries when it premiered a few months ago, mostly because the notion of a fictionalized account of the Hatfield-McCoy feud from The History Channel filled me with the same foreboding I had when I found out that the Rock was going to star in a remake of Walking Tall.  But when an encore presentation aired last week, I ended up watching the whole thing, and it’s actually not half bad.

In terms of pure entertainment, Part Two is by far the best segment, and the scene in which the Hatfields execute three of Randolph McCoy’s sons packs quite a wallop.  (IRL this incident took place on August 9. 1882.)  To me, the standout performances are Kevin Costner’s “Devil” Anse Hatfield, Tom Berenger’s Jim Vance (Tom Berenger’s good in everything), Powers Boothe’s Wall Hatfield (ditto), Jena Malone’s Nancy McCoy, Lindsay Pulsipher’s Roseanna McCoy, and Noel Fisher’s Ellison Mounts.

Modern scholarship indicates that the changes taking place in postwar Appalachia led to the resentments that erupted in the feud.  The problem wasn’t so much the existence a traditional and primitive society untouched by modernization, but rather the reverse.  My biggest fear—and the main reason I steered clear of the miniseries when it premiered—was that we’d get six hours of the same old superficial, simplistic, and stereotypical depictions of nineteenth-century mountaineers as backward, violent, lawless, clannish, and ignorant.  Indeed, the feud itself helped generate and perpetuate these very notions.  For the most part, though, I was pretty pleasantly surprised.  The third part actually touches on the media’s role in popularizing the stereotype of a violent mountain culture in a scene featuring Bill Paxton’s Randolph McCoy.  While the embittered patriarch holds a sort of press conference at a relative’s home, a New York reporter and a photographer urge him to hold a bystander’s firearm while posing for the camera.

A few minor criticisms: I know it’s cheaper to film in Romania, but Eastern European mountains aren’t quite the same as Eastern Kentucky ones, so the scenic shots undermined the illusion a little.  Seeing men’s ponytails in a late nineteenth-century setting was also a little odd.  Finally, Appalachian accents continue to be hit-or-miss when it comes to Hollywood; some actors just can’t swing it.

Despite all the snark I’ve directed against The History Channel in the past, I’ll give them props for Hatfields & McCoys.  Ultimately, what impressed me the most about the miniseries was its success in depicting the feud as a wrenching ordeal in which flesh-and-blood human beings got caught up in extraordinary, terrible circumstances.  There’s something to be said for that.  Over the years, cartoons, TV shows, and other media have used the feud scenario as a comic, almost buffoonish affair, but whatever else it was, the Hatfield-McCoy conflict was a tragedy involving real people, and the filmmakers didn’t lose sight of that.  One could certainly do worse.

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Pigeon Forge brings us historical interpretation at its finest

We all know that Pigeon Forge, TN is the hap-hap-happiest place around when it comes to learning about the past, don’t we? Well, it’s about to get even better, because I’ve got gobs of news here that’ll make every history enthusiast within two hundred miles of the Smokies start wetting their pants with excitement.

First up, check out what’s happening for the holidays over at a site this blog has featured before—the Titanic Museum Attraction: “Starting Saturday, November 13, it will snow – yes, REAL snow – at the Titanic every Friday and Saturday evening at 7:00pm through January 1, 2011.  The snow is part of the museum’s ‘Christmas in a Winter Wonderland,’ which is dedicated to honoring and celebrating the lives of the 2,208 passengers and crew of the Titanic.”

And we’re not talking cheap, second-rate snow here, either.  This snow equipment cost $150,000.  That’s not even counting the “additional $100,000 [that] will be spent on Christmas trees, lights and decorations that will decorate the interior and exterior of the Titanic Museum Attraction.”

This may be the best quarter million ever spent in the history of museum budgeting.  I’ll tell you what I’m doing for the holidays, ladies and gents. I’m driving to Pigeon Forge, where I can enjoy a frothing mug of egg nog while I watch artificially generated snow gently blanket a fake ship festooned with garlands and Christmas lights.

Perhaps I’ll make a second trip on January 22, when they’ll be hosting—I kid you not—the First Pigeon Forge Professional Ice Carving Competition.  I can’t think of a more appropriate way to commemorate the deaths of 1,517 people than by carting in a bunch of chainsaw-wielding artisans to fashion decorative shapes out of the very same substance that killed them.  Can you?

You’ll want to come back to Pigeon Forge in the spring so you can be first in line to buy tickets for the upcoming “Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud and Stunt Show.”  Now, maybe you’re thinking that a dinner theater/stunt show isn’t the best way to teach history.  Well, think again.  The visionaries behind this enterprise are making cultural edification a top priority:

The new production is scheduled to open in early Spring of next year, and will be loosely based on the true story of the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud.  The audience will be divided into the Hatfield and McCoy families by special seating areas.  The show will extend throughout the theater as the audience participates in the good natured rivalry.  Dangerous and comical stunts will be performed throughout the show to add a special excitement.  Singers, dancers, actors, musicians and specially trained stunt people will round out the cast.  As with all Fee/Hedrick shows, this new show will have a family friendly atmosphere with a focus on fun.

“Our area is rich with Appalachian heritage,” said theater co-owner David Fee.  “Mountain clans were a way of life here, and this show will showcase all that’s great about them!”

And just what is it that’s so great about mountain clans?  Well, being a native Appalachian myself, I can personally attest that “dangerous and comical stunts” are right at the top of the list.  Indeed, when my family gets together for any special occasion, we make a special point to engage in as many dangerous and comical stunts as possible.  Last Thanksgiving, for example, after we had all eaten our fill and hanged a member of the opposing clan with which we were feuding at the time, everyone adjourned to the backyard to watch as I climbed to the roof of my uncle’s house and (wearing nothing but a pair of leopard-skin underpants and a gigantic foam Yosemite Sam hat) shoved a fistful of lit bottle rockets into each nostril, took a running start, and leaped off to land in a kiddie pool filled entirely with creamed corn, which was positioned two stories below on the ground.

But I digress.  The news item continues:

The building, will undergo a multi-million dollar renovation and transform in appearance into two neighboring hillbilly style mountain homes complete with a decorative moonshine still and barnyard animal areas.  The theater lobby will also feature the largest moonshine still in the world – soon to be verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.  “The Moonshine Still will be an interactive learning center that highlights the history of the mountain people, but interjected with lots of humor”, says Hedrick. “Our customers will have a better understanding of everyday life back in the hills, while making them laugh at the same time!”

They will no doubt have a better understanding of everyday life back in the hills.  It’s no secret that negative Appalachian stereotypes and historical misperceptions are a ubiquitous problem, and the best way to inculcate an appreciation for the rich, subtle past of the mountain region is to have a feuding-themed theatrical production and then decorate the lobby with the biggest frocking moonshine still you can find.  In fact, it’s probably just a matter of time before the Cherokee Heritage Center commissions the world’s largest cigar store Indian statue, which they can put near their new Firewater Refreshment Stand and Me Take Heap Big Paleface Scalps Gift Shop.

My history buff nerve endings are just buzzing with anticipation.

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