Brent Carney, professor of History at Eastern Gateway Community College, conceived of the idea of putting a book of local Wheeling legends together.
“I approached Seán Duffy from the Ohio County Public Library about highlighting some of the people in and around Wheeling that have contributed not only to Wheeling’s culture but also to American culture at large. You know a lot of people know about Betty Zain, they know about Walter Ruther, but there’re so many other characters that locally, and even, I would say, you would have to be in the right part of town to know about them.
“Like Paul McGuiness who was on the USS Indianapolis—the famed ship talked about by Quint in the movie Jaws that went down and hundreds of people were eaten by sharks. When you go and sit in his kitchen and talk with him, he has this unbelievable story and then I go around town and very few people know about him.
So it’s just a way to highlight Wheeling citizens and Seán Duffy really ran with it.”
Seán Duffy is the programming and publicity coordinator at the Ohio County Public Library:
“Well, actually Brent Carney said we should do this book because we’ve worked with Arcadia in the past and he said we can donate the royalties to the Ohio County Library and so that’s kind of what sold me. So I thought, there are a lot of people from Wheeling who have accomplished great things, and it would be a worthwhile project.”
The two men collaborated with about forty writers in Wheeling to come up with the biographical stories that accompany the many photos and illustrations of the legendary locals. Duffy explains they began with a list of about 300 names but had to widdle that number down by about half.
“Ultimately it was a very difficult process to narrow it down. So we remain concerned that we haven’t included everyone who deserves to be in the book. It just wasn’t possible. So what we tried to do was find a representative sample beyond those people who are obvious choices like Betty Zain and Samuel McCollough, and Walter Ruther, Chu Berry the jazz musician…”
Many of the characters that landed in the book are also in the Wheeling Hall of Fame, but Duffy says by collaborating with so many local historians and writers, both he and Carney had the opportunity to discover lesser known legends.
“There were people in the sciences that I wasn’t aware of, people in the Aviation Hall of Fame from Wheeling, great architects who designed many of the buildings in Wheeling, the list goes on and on. Of course we knew about the sports heroes, Brent and I. We knew about the heroes of history that we’ve already mentioned… But there are a lot of people who’ve done things who don’t get the glamour and recognition that they deserve.”
Duffy says he was happy to be able to include one of his personal favorites: Augustus Pollack—a cigar maker from Wheeling.
“He’s also one of the only business owners who has a statue built in his honor by the people who worked for him, by labor, because he was—we’re talking late 19th century, guilded age—he was very progressive, he had an open-door policy. He treated his workers right, which was virtually unheard of in the late 19th century. And so he influenced a lot of other business leaders and made Wheeling sort of a better place for the working class. So I was happy to include all that in the book as well.”
Duffy says it’s a little early to plan a sequel, but with so many legends still unnamed, the thought isn’t far from his mind.
“I’m open to that idea, depending on the feedback that we get on this book, it might be something that we’ll pursue.”