West Virginia Dark Tourism by Tony Urban
The author of Hell on Earth, Road of the Damned, A Bad Place, and Travelogue of Horror, Tony Urban is a writer from Pennsylvania who says of himself, “I’m something of a Halloween addict.” Of his research for this book, Urban states, “During my weeks in West Virginia, I was overwhelmed by the unchanged nature of its landscape, the kindness of the population, and the abundance of monsters and macabre mythology.” Frankly, I do have problems with this book, although I realize it could be a whole lot worse. I do object to the title because I don’t like this use of the word “dark.” Urban explains in his Preface that he is featuring 61 sites in West Virginia that he considers “kooky” and “offbeat.” Most are places he considers “creepy” or associated with the supernatural or murder and death. Many are cemeteries, some with no particular connection to the supernatural. In fact, Urban casts such a wide net that – among his 61 sites – he includes #48 the Rocket Boys of Coalwood, high school kids who won the National Science Fair in 1960 for their display of the rockets they created. I fear that Urban sees this site as strange because he cannot imagine people in West Virginia being smart. Another site that does not meet his own stated criteria in my mind is #17 Jolo, the site of a snake-handling church. I see those whose faith allows them to handle snakes as superior to me, not inferior. I also have a problem with #13, The Whipple Company Store, because to me it only seems strange to those not familiar with company towns, and Urban fails to mention that it was a location where women whose husbands had died in the mines were offered the choice of either eviction or prostitution. #22, “Darkey” Knob, not in quotation marks in the book, does mention that the place name is “politically incorrect,” apparently not offensive to him. Furthermore, he seems not to notice that he refers to the woman whose story he tells as a slave “girl.” #30 focuses in on John Brown, and #36 is a Hari Krishna community. I’ll end with a positive. Urban does characterize West Virginia as “extremely diverse.”
Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2016. 144 pages with full-color photos. Hardback with pictorial cover.