Two-Lane Livin'



Yesterday’s Workshop: Seeking the Spirits

03 March, 2013, 20:17


Yesterday’s workshop in Sistersville was just what I hoped it would be: 12 storytellers and 2 workshop leaders telling, exploring, discussing, working on and listening to ghost stories. I was one of the workshop leaders; with my friend Jason Burns we plumbed the depths of a good ghost story: what makes it compelling, where to find material, resources for research, framing the story, finding the universal meaning of the story, and finally telling the story.

Despite the advice of many websites on telling ghost stories, we did not hold flashlights under our chins. We did not make the listeners jump. We did not suggest something was going to get them, was creeping up behind them or any such things. To me, those are campfire stories and the techniques used when the goal is to scare people. I consider ghost stories those tales of inexplicable events that leave people wondering what could have happened, why did it happen, and if there really is such a thing as ghosts or spirits, if you prefer that term (I do).

How many of you reading this post have had such experiences in your life, or have heard of such things happening to someone you know and trust? I would bet that probably one in five are raising their hand, particularly if you live in the mountains or in a rural area. Many people keep such experiences to themselves lest their friends and family think they’re crazy or weird. But the truth is, many people have had something happen to them, or seen something, that they cannot explain. I wish I had a count of the number of people who have told me stories about seeing or feeling a relative who has passed, or a beloved pet, or who have been in buildings where the sense of being watched or even touched was overwhelming.

Are these stories true or just overactive sensitivities? I do not attempt to answer that question; that is for each person to decide for themselves. What I do is research the background, particularly of historic stories or legends recorded somewhere in a book or other source, and occasionally one I have collected as an oral history. I provide the context for the tale and tell what I have learned, and then it is up to my listeners to decide on what is “true.” And that, to me, is what makes these stories so intriguing-they leave us thinking, wondering, and occasionally, watchful.

Part of our day was to be a field trip, but that did not turn out as I had hoped. The weather was cold and snowy with a chilling wind and overcast sky.

Still, we ventured up the mountain to the Greenwood cemetery, a historic cemetery that holds the remains of many of Sistersville’s most illustrious citizens and their families, along with those of the merchants, workers and farmers who settled and cultivated the land around this pretty river town. Our intent was not to ghost-hunt; that is not part of what I do as a storyteller. Our intent was to see the place as it once was, to pay respects to those who rested there and to get a feeling for the place and the history of one small town.

We also visited a grave that has been the source of many stories and legends. This family monument is a beautiful granite stone standing probably 8 feet tall, with a stunning woman bending over the stone with her arms stretched out protectively–or at least they used to. Vandals have broken the arms and disfigured her face, sadly, and the rumors of her vengeance on them make a compelling story. True or not, I can’t say. I simply tell the story and provide the background of this hard-working family that became wealthy through their efforts and the foresight to buy mineral rights just before the first oil and gas boom in the late 1800′s that made Sistersville one of the richest places in the world for a time.

(Storyteller Katie Ross stands beside, but not touching the statue, in the photo. You might wonder why.)

This is the stone of Philo Stocking, who moved from New York state to Wheeling, VA (at that time) and later to Sistersville to establish a flour mill and to attempt to drill (unsuccessfully) the first oil well. He became a wealthy, prominent man in the town and his son George carried on the family business later on. The inscription on the stone says much about the man it commemorates:

“Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”

The key to telling ghost stories or historical stories about people of the past, I believe, is respect. Respect for the deceased and for their descendants. That is important, especially when visiting graves and other reportedly haunted sites. These people lived and loved; the places they lived still belong to someone (or at least the site does, if the structures are gone).

And the key to a successful workshop is not only willing and active participants who will trek out in less-than-ideal conditions, but also a place that is welcoming and supportive. Terry Wiley of the Gaslight Theater made huge efforts to make our concert there successful and we were glad to see some familiar faces in the audience; our storytelling guild seems to have a small but loyal group of listeners in the area. The Wells Inn also made our stay comfortable and it’s like coming home to be greeted by Ann and the staff, to get messages from the owner letting us know that arrangements for our stay were in place, and to enjoy the good food and service.

How was this workshop funded? Through the generous support of the WV Commission on the Arts via a grant written by guild member Jo Ann Dadisman. It takes more than willingness to present or attend; it takes people like Jo Ann, and like Terry Wiley and Charles Winslow (of the Wells Inn), and guild supporter John Mullins who arranged our lodgings and food and even made homemade cheesecake, to make it work.

We told and heard many stories during our stay in the town, and I hope each person there went home thoughtful, inspired and ready to dig into their stories with new energy.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Coming Soon: Seeking the Spirits: Find, Researching and Telling Ghost and Paranormal Stories

26 February, 2013, 8:48

In 3 days! Storyteller Jason Burns and I will be presenting a workshop and hosting a concert on March 1-2 in Sistersville, West Virginia on a topic dear to my heart, as long-time readers here know: ghost stories.

The workshop kicks off with a storytelling concert at the historic and rumored-to-be-haunted Gaslight Theater at 7:00pm on Friday, March 1. Storytellers will be Jason and myself, Katie Ross, Mikalena Zuckett, Danny McMillion, Sue Atkinson, Judi Tarowsky and perhaps a few others. Our topic for the concert will be historical stories–tales found or rooted in history. Why? Because adjacent to the Gaslight Theater is the Golden Derrick Gallery, and owner (of both places) Terry Wiley is staging an exhibit of historic Sistersville photos focusing on the many floods that have ravaged the area over the years, courtesy of the town’s bordering neighbor, the Ohio River.

We will stay overnight at the historic and rumored-to-be-haunted Wells Inn, one of the oldest inns in West Virginia and one of its must beautiful, in my opinion. Storytellers for this event get a special room rate because we were the very first to book rooms in the hotel as a group after Charles Winslow took it over and began extensive renovations in 2010. Renovations continue but the hotel is fully operational, and the food is both delicious, affordable and served in an attractive and comfortable setting. It’s like coming home when I go to the Wells, and I try to stop by whenever I’m traveling through the area.

The following day, Saturday, March 2nd, we will be in the meeting room of the Wells Inn, getting down to work. Well, not work really because storytelling and stories are a fascinating topic and storytellers themselves are a fun group anyway. Each person will either bring a story idea with them–some thread of a tale they’ve heard, a story they’ve told but want to improve or deepen in some way, or as a last resort a story from one of the books I will have available.

Jason and I will both share a story and discuss why we tell it and how we “grew” the story. Then we’ll ask questions of our participants about the stories they’ve brought with them, have them tell the story in “bones” form and find out what they want to do with the story. We’ll share some resources and ideas for researching a story. Then we’ll break for lunch.

After lunch, weather permitting, we might make a field trip to one of several possible sites in the area. Because, you know, to tell a ghost story means soaking in the atmosphere of a place, listening, noticing, and feeling the place.

Then we’ll be back to work on their stories, having our group work a bit on their stories and then telling them once again and seeing how what they learned during the day impacted their perception of the story and what areas they identified for strengthening and enriching the tale.

It will be a great time. Maybe you can come! If you’re interested, please contact Jo Ann Dadisman at jdadisman at, or email me at susannaholstein at Room reservations can be made by calling the Wells Inn directly at 304-652-1312.

Copyright 2013 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Of Pickets, Boxes, Tables and More

19 February, 2013, 23:20

You must be getting tired of seeing these, but I finished, for the time being, the expansion project at my booth. It will change again as soon as we finish with the Hoosier cabinet and a few other projects, but the basic layout is in place.

It’s a lot bigger. I feel like I almost have a small store in there! This photo doesn’t even show the whole length of the booth.

 I found this expandable drying rack at the auction. It’s huge! It expands in a very odd way. You open it up, then flip it upside down and it makes this lower-than-normal standing rack that is great for displaying linens.

 along with a sweet little bunny who was in a box lot of dolls and stuffed animals I ended up with.

 I did a kitchen display on a table I am selling for my son. He redid this table a few years ago but no longer has room for it, so it’s up for sale and in the meantime makes a nice display space.

That’s tonight’s tour. Today we’ve been working on painting projects, finishing up work on the Hoosier and the porcelain topped table and a few other things. My husband is really getting into this–he says he enjoys making things useful again. And I sure appreciate his help. It’s a lot more fun with two!

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


A Few of the Auction Finds

18 February, 2013, 21:17

I promised a look at what we found at the auction. The dust has settled from the sorting and tossing operation that follows every auction that offers box lots, and the best things saved. The next step is more decision-making: what to keep for our home, what to send to which booth, and what goes on eBay. The booth things are already in the booth for the most part, so here’s a look at what’s going on eBay when I have time to list it.

 When I was a child these were my favorite books.A set of eight volumes, I believe, they contained stories of mystery, of fairies and castles and mermaids and monsters and more. I loved them. We all read them until the books disintegrated from so much love. They had belonged to our father as a boy so you know they were old. I’ve been collecting the different volumes and now have all but two. I also ended up with several duplicates! At the auction they had three of the books as one lot, and one of them was one I didn’t have so I bought the lot. Now the extras, along with two other duplicates I had, are in my booth for sale. They are such treasures with their period illustrations and jackets. Some of mine are the old originals, others are later reprints but all have the same wonderful stories.

 This teapot is in Hall’s “New York” shape, which I do like. The things you learn when you look these things up.

 Another EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass) cream pitcher in the pattern called Classic Medallion. It’s difficult to see but there is a woman’s face in the medallion on the side, which give the pattern its other name, cameo. This one was made about 1870 and is in near perfect condition.

I was pretty surprised to get these two cookie jars for next to nothing. While the apple jar is nothing special, the yellow crock jar is a real find. After some research I identified it as a Red Wing Pottery jar made in Minnesota in the 1920′s.

They also came with a wood butter paddle. A better paddle was used to work the buttermilk out of the butter after churning. The butter had to be washed too, to be sure all the buttermilk was out of the butter would turn sour. So a bowl would be filled with cold water and the butter dumped in and worked until no more trace of white milk came out of the butter. Then the water was drained off, and the butter worked again until all the water was also gone. You could do some of this with your hands, but of course your hands are warm and that could soften the butter so it was better to use the paddle. After the butter was washed and clean, it was put into a butter mold or press to form it into a round or rectangular shape, and in that process usually any remaining water was squeezed out.

So there you have it: an assortment of information as random and varied as the box lots themselves!

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


From the Auction to the Booth

18 February, 2013, 8:28

Few things go in a straight line from the sale to the antique mall. There is work to be done first–cleaning mostly, sometimes repair work, sometimes painting, sometimes even laundry and ironing. Right now we’re in the middle of several projects that will make things ready to sell–or to provide space for selling. Expanding our booth at the Riverbend Antique Mall is all about making space.

I’m about 75% finished with it, but there will be more changes even after I’m finished as we sell things and add new item–and as I get bright ideas. I have a few pictures to share today, and will post more later this week. I didn’t have time to take many today as I was there right up to closing time and still have more to do.

Remember the beautiful oak dresser we took to out booth about a month ago? It sold this weekend.So that meant even more hauling and moving and changing.

Larry’s painting today, getting the sifter cabinet ready to sell. He’s been sanding on it all week off and on. It’s going to take two coats of paint; we decided to go with white and not use any color on it so that any prospective buyer can paint it however they like. I played with the idea of cream and seafoam green, those old retro colors but decided against it. We had to bring it inside to paint because it’s just too cold in any of our outbuildings right now–night temps are in the teens, not good for new paint.

All in pieces now, but it should be back together later today, if all goes as planned.

Today I’m taking pieces of picket fence, a leaded glass window and a few other things over. I need to double-check and make sure everything is priced too, because it’s easy to miss something.

More later!

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Working on Work

0 Comments 16 February, 2013, 1:57

Which means, we’re expanding our booth again! Pics coming soon.

And tonight we found a new auction. Oh woe is me. The car is stuffed with great, er, stuff. But it’s late/early and it shall remain stuffed until daylight, at least. In the meantime, this ol’ granny is off to bed for a few hours of sleep before we unload and head out to work on the rearrangement of our space at Riverbend.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.



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