Main Street
What Cheer, Iowa

I frequently travel to the Iowa City and Coralville areas in eastern Iowa and every time I do I travel down Interstate-80 and see an exit for What Cheer, and every time I do, I think about how interesting of a name that is for a town, but my first actual visit revealed that the town itself is also rather interesting.

A tip from a fan mentioned that the entire main street through What Cheer is almost entirely deserted; they weren’t wrong. Very, very few businesses remain on the main drag. I usually see this level of neglect at forgotten schools or buildings in the middle of nowhere, not the middle of a town. A peek into one of the large windowed fronts revealed a cafe that could be open for business if it weren't for the collapsing roof, rotting plaster and crumbling walls. 

A What Cheer local (and friend of mine) tells me that the town use to be a bustling city supported by the business from the local coal pit, however as with many small Iowan coal communities, once the coal industry dried up, so did the town.


Hollow is an interactive documentary and community participatory project that focuses on the lives of residents in McDowell County, West Virginia. Hollow combines personal portraits, interactive data, participatory mapping and user-generated content on an HTML5 website designed to address the issues stemming from stereotyping and population loss in rural America. Community members will take part in the filmmaking process by creating their own documentary portraits and balloon maps. Hollow strives to bring attention to issues in rural America, encourage trust among the community and become a place where users can share ideas for the future.
This Kentucky coal mining town wants Republicans to stop blocking Obama's aid plan
They'd like Mitch McConnell to shut up and take the money, please.
By David Roberts

Coal is THE political issue in Kentucky for some goddamn reason, even in areas like mine that don’t actually have any coal mines. The congressman from our district successfully ran and won his campaign last year by playing up how much he supports coal–despite the fact that literally zero humans in his district work in the coal industry. Furthermore, even our so-called “Obama liberal” democratic candidate for governor has to assure constituents in his ads that he sued President Obama for his “job-killing cap-and-trade policy.”

Eastern Kentucky’s coal communities are seriously hurting and really need a lot of help. But what people in these communities need to realize that so-called “friends of coal” like Mitch McConnell couldn’t give a shit about lost jobs and unsafe work conditions and poisoned water and air as long as they can keep lining their pockets with big coal money.

Good for Whitesburg for passing this resolution. Hopefully surrounding communities will follow their lead and stop voting against their own self-interest for once. But I wouldn’t put money on it.


On a Soot-Covered Platform, Waiting for Dad’s Train

“…Sis, Dad’s late, isn’t he.”
“…Sis?… Are you asleep?”

This is a coal mining town.
The entire town runs on the coal excavated by the mining rabbits.
This was on a day once a month when the fathers who live in the coal mines return home.

so my dad explained to me that there’s this town in pennsylvania that for a while had a very poor economy (because they were originally a coal mining town and eventually coal lost popularity yada yada you know how it goes) and as a solution to that they decided to pool some money and buy the corpse of an old famous athlete, jim thorpe, to put themselves on the map as a tourist attraction. so they made a memorial for him and renamed their town jim thorpe and that helped them with their economy and all, but in the recent years the town’s been in a legal battle with jim thorpe’s family to get his body back and, according to my father, the town doesn’t appear to be winning right now. so basically my dad says that the town may possibly lose the body and no longer have much reason to call themselves jim thorpe anymore (they could always pull a prince and call themselves “the town formerly known as jim thorpe” but i digress) so basically, since a certain popular pop singer is originally from pennsylvania, i say that, should the town be looking for another star to name themselves after, a certain taylor swift would be right in their ballpark to name their town after. so basically @t get your people to talk to jim thorpe, pa ’s people cause if there ever happens to be a town/city/state/etc named taylor swift you can bet your ass i’ll pack up and move

pressxtodavid replied to your post “pressxtodavid replied to your post “aaaaaaand back to black goes my…”

We do ‘feral wendigo threatens poor coal town’ jobs for free, 'rich white dudes haunted mansion’ jobs for BIG bucks.

pressxtodavid replied to your post “pressxtodavid replied to your post “aaaaaaand back to black goes my…”

Being a vet would be an awesome cover though

Sign me up, man. I’ll be just like Deaton. 

When Calls the Heart (The Series): Summer Binge Watch

I wanted something fluffy and fun on Netflix and Season 1 of this show did not disappoint. It’s about early 1900s Canadian Pacific Northwest with a rich big city girl who moves to a small coal mining town to be a teacher. It is absolutely ridiculous and hilarious (and some bad dialogue but good stories) but so darn sweet. I love our feisty heroine, Elizabeth Thatcher, who of course finds friendship with the local widows and really tries to make a difference in her kids lives both in and outside of the classroom. And there’s lots of fluffy love/hate romance with the new Canadian mountie, Jack Thornton, who has been assigned to this sleepy town because of her rich father’s influence to keep his daughter safe. I really fell in love with all the characters and its a huge cast. They put the DORK in adorkable.

Then I found out there was a Season 2. Which has better dialogue and is less silly but also not quite as sweet. While I was happy we finally got to meet Elizabeth’s family, there was way too much time spent with them and it’s very ‘Downton Lite’. Ugh, and Elizabeth gets a new suitor: an old family friend. Nope. I’m Schooled Mountie all the way. Actually, I don’t know what their ship name is yet but I thought that would be a funny one. Also, they lost their period hair and their outfits took on a modern bent as well. Many new characters were introduced too. At first I was wishing for some of the old townspeople back but fortunately a number of the new characters won me over. Season 3 starts in December. At least, that’s when all my other shows go on hiatus which is perfect. I need my Schooled Mountie. ;-P

End Note: This is based on a Janette Oake novel and originally was a tv movie which starred Maggie Grace and Stephen Amell. lol I haven’t seen it yet but I might need to watch it just for Stephen. 


This is Centralia, Pennsylvania. A town that was set on fire fifty years ago, and continues to burn. The coal mines underneath the town were set on fire accidentally, but nobody did a single thing about it until the eighties, when a child fell in a sinkhole and was nearly killed by the toxic fumes emitted from the earth. The town since then has been nearly abandoned, with only ten residents as of 2010. It has served as inspiration for the Silent Hill video games and movies. The roads lay abandoned, cracked and covered in graffiti. “WELCOME TO HELL” is scrawled on the ground in white paint. Many of the houses that were there are gone now, and the of the ones that are still around few are used. The sides of the abandoned highway nearby are unkempt and wild looking. Toxic gas leaks from cracks in the ground. Welcome to Hell, indeed.


Wigan is a town in Greater Manchester, England. It stands beside the River Douglas, an is 16 miles north-west of Manchester city. Its borough area has a population of over 318,000. Wigan during classical antiquity, was the territory of the Brigantes, an ancient Celtic tribe that ruled much of northern England.

Wigan is believed to have been incorporated as a borough in 1246 following the issue of a charter by King Henry III of England. At the end of the Middle Ages it was one of four boroughs in Lancashire possessing Royal charters. During the Industrial Revolution Wigan experienced dramatic economic expansion and a rapid rise in the population.

Although porcelain manufacture and clock making had been major industries in the town, Wigan subsequently became known as a major mill town and coal mining district. The first coal mine was established was in 1450. Coal mining ceased during the latter part of the 20th century.

Following the decline of industrial activities in the region, Wigan Pier an its collection of warehouses and wharfs, became a local heritage centre and cultural quarter. The DW Stadium is home to both Wigan Athletic Football Club and Wigan Warriors Rugby Club, both teams being successful in their sports, with the latter being the most successful Rugby League side of all time.

Summer Theater Review: ‘October Sky,’ the Musical

The highly subscribed suburban Marriott Theater outside Chicago has been making strides over the last decade in developing original musicals, but it gets a jet-propelled thrust into the potential big time with this startlingly good musical version of the 1999 Universal film and the Homer Hickam memoir upon which it is based. An emotional, tuneful, immensely likable take on the true story of a group of boys in a 1950s coal-mining town who are inspired by the launch of Sputnik to start building rockets and dreaming big, “October Sky” provides a fine platform for a score by local composer Michael Mahler, which quite wonderfully captures the vibrant energy of youthful optimism, the drama of fraught familial conflicts, and the angst and sorrows of a community whose mine workers are always in danger of either injuries or layoffs. This is a musical coming-of-age drama with a lot of joy and the starry-eyed possibilities of broad adult and family appeal.

No surprise at all here: The youngsters are all played by the type of talented young (albeit not exactly teenaged) performers that Chicago grows like crops. Marriott regular Nate Lewellyn plays lead character Homer (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film), and he carries the complex core of the tale, the battle between dreams and reality, as well as demonstrating a vocal range that can hit and hold the high notes Mahler uses for songs about the stars. He’s vulnerable enough to crave his stern father’s approval, but ultimately strong enough to break free of his hold. Above all, he has a generous, upbeat, unpretentious presence.

Excellent Broadway pro David Hess plays Homer’s disapproving father, John, the local mine superintendent who’s caught in the middle of brewing labor disputes, and clear in his desire for Homer to work the mines as a sort of generational legacy. And Susan Moniz, as Homer’s mother, Elsie, provides the balanced, highly moral center of both the family and the show, encouraging her son’s dreams while guiding him to take practical steps towards them with the song “Solid Ground: “I know what it’s like to be a dreamer/And nobody understands you,/And they never even try./But a dream is just a dream/Until you snatch it from the mist/And you can hold it in your fist/And see it fly … ”

Aaron Thielen’s book moves briskly early on, slowing down a bit in the second act when, following an accident that injures his father, Homer has to work in the mines, making himself miserable but finally attaining his father’s nod of approval. Several scenes prepare us for Homer’s return to rocketry, which lingers a bit, perhaps because the choice that needs to be made provides for more than one song opportunity.

But while the story and characters are solid, the drama succeeds because of the score, and because the most important moments and scenes are set to music. This is not musical comedy (although there are funny bits), and there is not even a choreographer listed (even though there are a few moments of movement), so its future commercial prospects hinge on its ability to reach and sustain high emotion. The climactic scene is a genuinely intense duet between John and Elsie, as she insists he finally swallow a bit of pride to help their son succeed, while John worries even success will only take Homer away from them. But while that type of number fuels the drama, much of the emotional lift stems from the inspirational qualities of Homer and his friends’ underdog efforts to succeed against the odds.

The match of a movie to a composer is a pretty key choice, and Mahler turns out to be a great fit for the dark but still nostalgic Americana that “October Sky” depicts. He blends musical styles — country, blues, bluegrass, early rock ‘n’ roll — and, while not always consistently, he assigns these different American sounds to give voice to the characters and their inner emotions. You can hear some Jerry Lee Lewis-type upbeat piano riffs in songs for the four boys, while supportive but cancer-stricken teacher Miss Riley (a strong Johanna McKenzie Miller) channels a touch of Loretta Lynn country even while singing about the poetry of Robert Frost. But Mahler also regularly combines the sounds, or simply replaces them with his own somewhat personal style, a contemporary musical theater singer-songwriter pop.

And Mahler’s lyrics are often exceptionally strong and sophisticated, often incorporating convincing dialogue into the songs and always helping to give depth to characters who could easily be simplified to the uni-dimensional. He is particularly effective at sharing song dialogue among the four rocket boys as they attempt their various launches.

There are some peculiarities to the Marriott which the show won’t face elsewhere. This is a theater-in-the-round, which limits sets. There can be positives with this — director Rachel Rockwell, who has a nice sense of pace, finds theatrical ways to depict rocket launches and the descent into mineshafts. But the setup also banishes the orchestra to unseen space, which perhaps is why everything seems so over-miked.

Given its character-based orientation and its dramatic (as opposed to comedic) undertones, “October Sky” is at its most potent when at its most personal; this is a show that can go far as long as it strives for intimacy with the audience, rather than a slick showiness.

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Big Stone Gap

Adriana Trigiani, in her debut as screenwriter/director, brings her best-selling novel BIG STONE GAP to the movies. BIG STONE GAP, shot entirely on location in Trigiani’s hometown, is the story of proud working people and their lives in a coal mining town nestled in the southwest corner of Virginia, deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd), the town’s self-proclaimed spinster, has resigned herself to a quiet life of singlehood and being useful. She works in her family’
Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg in BIG STONE GAP Trailer

Adriana Trigiani, in her debut as screenwriter/director, brings her best-selling novel BIG STONE GAP to the movies. BIG STONE GAP, shot entirely on location in Trigiani’s hometown, is the story of proud working people and their lives in a coal-mining town in the southwest corner of Virginia, d…