Much of my writing is centered around the people I meet as I travel through the various communities in western Virginia and in southern and eastern West Virginia. Often, people will ask me where I find such interesting people to interview. A good answer is long and complicated. The easy answer is, they come from everywhere. But yesterday, I had a surprise acquaintance.
I ride motorcycles almost every weekend for fun and exploration. One of my most frequent riding partners is a local man named Mike Gunther. MG and I have ridden thousands of miles together over the years. He is every bit as interested in seeking new places and new experiences as I am.
Yesterday he charted a course for me and two other riders into primarily Wythe and Carroll counties. We left Interstate 81 at the Grahams Forge exit in eastern Wythe County. We stopped to take some pictures at a mansion which evidently is showcased a couple of times a year for holidays and special events. Clearly, someone has put a considerable amount of money into the mansion, an elaborate metal gate and several outbuildings.
We wound our way to the southwest through Porters Crossroads, Cripple Creek, and Speedwell. From there, we turned southward and crossed the Iron Mountains in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. We entered the town of Fries where Mike wanted to look for a monument that he remembered seeing with me on another ride years earlier.
Fries it is an interesting, historic former mill town on the New River near Galax. Once the home of a bustling cotton mill, Fries is now largely without commercial establishments. It is the quintessential lost town. All its residents are either retired or commute to jobs in other cities. We stopped at a convenience store situated near the River and the New River Trail State Park.
MG began asking several local patrons if they had any idea where this monument might be. He described it as a long, wall-like structure made of river rocks and thought it was west of town. I told him that I remembered a different sort of monument, built more in a vertical fashion almost like an obelisk. I thought it was northeast of town. Asking around, we found ourselves in conversation with two retirement aged man. I ended up speaking to one of them in an extended conversation about the mill where he once worked and about the music reputation of Fries.
When this man looked for a piece of paper to write down his phone number, he showed me a letter that was on a letterhead from the Ku Klux Klan. This man told me that he was a national leader of the Klan. He said he had been interviewed by many newspapers and magazines. I asked him if he would allow me to interview him for my next book and he said yes. When I told him that my family was Jewish, he seemed unfazed. “You bring your tape recorder down here and I will tell you anything you want to know.”
This morning, I called and made an appointment and I will visit with him again this Wednesday. In all of my wanderings and in all of my conversations I had never met a person associated with a hate organization. This Wednesday is likely to be a very interesting day.
On our way home with MG leading the group, we found a monument built of river rocks, much taller than wide, and resembling an obelisk. It was northeast of town. Sometimes I get lucky.
Please stay tuned and thank you for reading my blog.