Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 5, 2013

From the West Virginian Hotel to the Great Pyramid, a few interesting facts

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Although I love being a high school English teacher, storing up a treasure trove of fantastic facts has always been one of my favorite hobbies. As a child, “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” was for me a true delight — the biggest, strongest, weakest, oldest, etc., was very appealing. I was never the strongest but the onset of years has propelled me closer to being the weakest. If I am fortunate enough to have a few more birthdays I might even secure that “oldest” title. Nevertheless, unusual information remains delightful.

For instance, for more than a generation it has been my privilege to broadcast high school football games for Adventure Radio and then translate the information into stories for the Daily Telegraph a few minutes later so that many of you can read more about the games the next day. Sometimes I get a bit loud, especially when those Bulldogs make a big play. However, the mammoth blue whale, which can reach a length of almost 100 feet and weigh an estimated 150 tons, has the loudest voice of any living creature. A jackhammer is louder, but not by much when the big mammal sends out a bellow into the sea.

We are far removed from any large body of water, and after the holidays are over many of us might only concentrate on the effort it might take to “float” a serious loan to pay for the merriment. Teachers are forever reminding students that school is about money, after all. Grades are the first pay day but their accumulation will eventually result in a diploma which is the ticket to the future. Better education almost always translates into more impressive paydays. Someone said once that just about any of us can make money but keeping it is the challenge. How long we keep it, at least in the United States, has been charted. A $1 bill will last about four years, on average, while a $20 has a life expectancy of six seasons and one of those precious $50 bills often survives for nine to 10 years.

Living up here in Four Seasons Country gives us a first hand experience with some grand mountains and their influence can certainly affect our money. We all tune in to find out what the weather is doing at least once a day during the winter and elevation always affects that sort of thing.

According to the meteorologist (the entertainment artist formerly known as the weatherman/woman) rain turns into snow when the temperature is below freezing and the altitude is more than 2,500 feet. My hometown of Tazewell has an elevation of 2,516 feet on Main Street, I believe, so there is quite a bit of the white stuff this time of the year. Just up the road on Route 16, the Tazewell County version of Stoney Ridge (Bluefield has one, too!) tops out at an impressive 2,822 feet.

If you can stay on Route 16 some 60 miles over into Grayson County, the lofty Mount Rogers climbs more than 5,700 feet into the Virginia sky and is the state’s tallest peak. Far above the swirling waters we have created some impressive structures of our own. As a student of American history, I often have to remind myself that greatness has not always been confined to the United States. Around these parts, one long-standing symbol of greatness in the coalfields that has been in place for 90 years is the great West Virginian Hotel (now known as West Virginia Manor). Did you know it stands 12 stories high and is the tallest building in the state south of Charleston?

As impressive as the West Virginian was/is, it would have a hard time comparing to the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The huge pyramid rises more than 42 stories above the desert floor and covers some 13 acres of ground.

That alone would cover just about any city or town in our region. I am not quite sure just how much stone it took to build our local hotel but there is enough rock in the Great Pyramid to build a wall 10 feet high around the whole country of France. Engineers estimate there are nearly three million stones in the structure and some weigh as much as 15 tons. Architect Alex Mahood designed many great buildings including the West Virginian, but the Egyptian engineers gave him a run for the money. That pyramid is almost a perfect right angle in every corner and each one faces exactly toward the four points of the compass.

Of such stuff legends are made, said the poet, and the people who have come and gone through both the West Virginian Hotel and the Great Pyramid have often been notable. Although I took the elevator (yes, Virginia, there was an operator) to the top floor, some folks insist on climbing buildings.

Take George Polley, for instance, who climbed to the top of more than 2,000 structures in the early decades of the 20th century. Polley grew up in Richmond, Va, but climbed buildings all over the country.

He became famous, was arrested, once got a free suit for standing on his head after climbing one Chicago skyscraper, and charged a fee of $200 for climbing up the outside of buildings after he became known as the “Human Fly.”

If heights make you a little uneasy, you might reach for the Dramamine. Certainly, the late Samuel Jessop would have no trouble taking a few of the pills. Jessop lived in England and was well known as a hypochondriac. During one 21-year period, he swallowed an incredible 226,934 pills — about 10,806 annually or 29 per day, while at the same time drinking more than 40,000 bottles of medicine.

Surely “Booney” Bovenizer or “Bus” McNeer or Angelo Monaco, those late, great Bluefield area pharmacists, have loved to have Jessop as a customer.

Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.