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If it's odd and unusual you're after, try Jeannie's guide

November 12, 1999

Earlier this year I saw a sign outside a church near Tombstone, Ariz., which read "Our Lady of the Sacred Cross/RV Parking."

It's the kind of quirk Jeannie Mozier might have appreciated, but of course not being local it wasn't eligible for her enjoyable new book "Way Out in West Virginia - A must have guide to oddities and wonders of the Mountain State."

Making West Virginia appear normal is a thorny chore under any circumstances, and Mozier doesn't bother to try. Instead, she shows all of the state's uniqueness and its tantalizing quirks and its little-known gems in a good strong light. Whether it's the Roadkill Cook-Off in Marlinton, or a $650-a-night luxury cottage at the Greenbrier, Mozier is playfully democratic with all attractions.

Through travel bureaus, word-of-mouth, the Internet and personal experience, Mozier spent 18 months collecting West Virginia notables. Although a couple oddities have come to her attention since its first printing, readers say the book is remarkable for how few attractions it misses.

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I know a few people who have gone out of their way for a West Virginia curiosity. My friend Mark Clothier once drove a more than a hundred miles from Roanoke, Va., to the town of Clothier, W.Va., just to see whether the clerk at the town's only filling station would comment on his name when he handed her his credit card. (She didn't.)

But Mozier's book is this sort of extreme multiplied dozens of times over. And its broad scope assures that few people will be unable to find something that piques their interests.

For the hungry, it's a good cafe guide, and I can vouch for its accuracy. Four superlative restaurants popped into my mind from past experience: The Yellow Brick Bank in Shepherdstown, The Hutte in Helvetia, the Red Fox in Snowshoe Village and Colacessino's in Fairmont. Mozier had them all. Even for a familiar old haunt like the Bank, there was a new tidbit of information: The loudly painted ceiling "was copied from the ceiling of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick, Ireland, which was painted in the 1960s by psychedelic Italians."

For women there are shopping hints, for men there is a list of the most drivable roads in the state and for the kids there's enough interest that the book has made its way into some classrooms. "They want to know if there's anything about UFOs, or mummies, or amputated limbs," Mozier said.

And, of course there are. Perhaps the weirdest think Mozier said she stumbled across were the Philippi mummies in the Barbour County Historical Museum.

The mummies were preserved more than 100 years ago by Graham Hamrick, who seemed intent on developing a sort of do-it-yourself home mummification kit. He tried his brew of water, saltpeter and sulfur, lighted up like a bananas foster and doused whatever he wished to preserve, be it animal, vegetable or human. For the corpse de grace, he rustled up a couple female stiffs from the Weston Hospital for the Insane (If the Blair Witch people could make a blockbuster horror picture out of a bunch of surly teenagers and dry sticks, what couldn't they have done with this scenario) and mummified their place in West Virginia lore.

The old girls traveled with P.T. Barnum in 1891, and were staples at the Philippi Street Fair in the '60s before mysteriously disappearing. The resurfaced, literally almost, in the great flood of 1985, floating to a rest under the piano of a fellow by the name of "Bigfoot" Byrer.

Another interesting nugget is that the outdoor advertisements: "Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco," was the brainchild of Aaron and Samuel Bloch, the Wheeling manufacturers who invented their blend of chewing tobacco in 1879. Once it was hard to find a barn without this message - the deal being, the company provided the labor and paint which saved the farmer the expense of doing the job on his own. Today such barns are so rare that they have federal landmark protection.

The smallest church in the U.S. is Our Lady of the Pines is in West Virginia; so is the largest teapot; the only building made entirely out of coal, and the home of Robert E. Lee's horse, Traveler.

It's hard to imagine a trip of any length in the Mountain State that wouldn't pass by one or more of Jeannie Mozier's curiosities. And even if you're a seasoned West Virginia traveler, there are bound to be some spots that you've never stumbled across before. It's a good thing to have in the glove box if you find yourself traveling down a Country Road.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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