Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hatfields & McCoys become tourist draw

Chase Purdy reports for the New York Times today from Sarah Ann, West Virginia, home of the Hatfield Family Cemetery.  His story is about the tourism boom linked to the long-standing Hatfield-McCoy feud in this part of Appalachia, a resurgence in interest that most attribute to the History Channel's 2012 mini series, Hatfields & McCoys.  Here's an excerpt from Purdy's story:  
Local tourism departments, along with members of the Hatfield and McCoy families, are working to transform feud folklore into a dependable source of jobs and revenue for Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, a region grappling with the decline of coal. In the past year, communities along the Tug Fork, the stream that is the state boundary in the area, have witnessed a surge in out-of-town foot traffic, tourists by the thousands drawn to the region in search of history.
The Hatfield Family Cemetery is one focus of the tourists' interest, but the cemetery has fallen into disrepair, even though it is on the National Register of Historic Places.  A descendent of the Hatfield clan, Reo Hatfield, approached West Virginia officials with a plan to clean up the cemetery, but a determination has yet to be made regarding whose land the cemetery is on.  

The Dils Cemetery, where patriarch Randolph McCoy is buried, is across the state line, in Pikeville, Kentucky.  That cemetery is much better kept and touted as a must-see spot.  Indeed, beginning about a year go, Pike County, Kentucky's tourism office has spent $40,000 of state funds on billboards and a national advertising campaign to draw people to the land of the Hatfields & McCoys.  Some of that money was spent on signs to direct tourists to landmarks like the Dils Cemetery.  The executive director of the Pike County tourism office noted the need for jobs in the region, where coal--once the economic king--is now on the decline:
The mines are shutting down every day.  We have to put our people back to work.  
Of particular interest to me is the intrigue that this legendary feud still conjures up, the attraction it represents.  I would like to know from whence most of the visitors come.  Purdy's story suggests that some of them are relatively local, as from Ashland, Kentucky, but surely some come from farther away, too.  I note that Pike County's tourism office spent some of its ad dollars in Oprah's Magazine, O, which suggests a certain demographic.  

Just as our nation has a love-hate relationship with rural America, we also have one with the Scots-Irish associated with Appalachia and phenomena like the Hatfield-McCoy dynamic.  I'm glad to see this economically depressed region capitalizing on some of that.  

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