Caitlin Tan

Inside Appalachia's Folklife Reporter

Caitlin Tan is working as Inside Appalachia’s folklife reporter, as part of a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies grant. The goal of her reporting is to help engage a new generation in Appalachian folklife and culture.  

Caitlin comes from a rural mountain town in Western Wyoming. She grew up ski racing, showing her horses in 4-H and moving cows in the high mountain deserts. It was in this town she discovered her love for journalism. Caitlin’s career began in print, interning for the local newspaper. She went on to write and eventually worked as news editor at the Branding Iron newspaper, part of the University of Wyoming, where she later graduated with a B.A. in journalism.

Although she was always an avid listener to NPR, she found her love for public radio journalism as an intern with Wyoming Public Media. After, Caitlin spent a whirlwind summer as a fisheries reporter in Bristol Bay, Alaska - international sockeye salmon capital - working for KDLG, the local NPR affiliate station. She was a solo-correspondent based in Naknek - a Native village of 500 people - where she climbed on commercial fishing boats and trudged the rainy, muddy beaches to find the fishing scoop.

This job helped her land a producing internship, and later a job as news assistant for NPR’s All Things Considered in D.C. She worked closely with the entire team - helping to produce everything from a manicly decorated Christmas house to live interviews with U.S. senators to an exclusive interview with fashion designer Alexander Wang.

All along, Caitlin always knew she wanted to return to feature reporting in a rural area. As shown from her fisheries reporting, she loves to immerse herself in new cultures. So when the Inside Appalachia folklife position opened up she jumped at the opportunity. Caitlin and her Border Collie up and moved to Morgantown, WV. As someone who grew up in a rural area, Caitlin understands the value and heritage of tradition and craftsmanship in a culture. She’s very eager to further her knowledge, as well as engage and report on folklife in Appalachia.

 

Ways to Connect

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Little creatures are popping up on the streets of downtown Fayetteville, W.Va. People might find them hiding in trees, behind bushes, on benches or even inside local shops.

“Cause at this point, we’re like a gnome explosion,” said Tabitha Stover, Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia folklore includes many alien and monster-like characters, such as Mothman, Big Foot and the Yeti. One such monster has made a big resurgence in the past few years, becoming a part of the state’s pop culture.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, late summer night in the small town of Hindman, Kentucky. The sun is setting against the backdrop of the steep Appalachian Mountains. Musicians are warming up for the Knott County Downtown Radio Hour. 

It is essentially a recorded open mic hosted once a month by the Appalachian School of Luthiery, a school that teaches people how to build wooden stringed instruments. Doug Naselroad is the founder and the master luthier of the program.


A view of the Monogahela River in Morgantown, W.Va., from beside Woodburn Hall, on West Virginia University's Downtown Campus.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Inside Appalachia’s What’s in a Name segment explores the history and folklore of the names of Appalachian places. For the latest segment, we dug a little deeper into a debate we’ve had here in our newsroom -- the origins of the name of one of our rivers --- and how to pronounce it.

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This summer in Morgantown, elementary school students had access to  a special summer art camp series almost every week.

Last week, students learned a  story telling art form rooted in Appalachian tradition called crankies. Crankies are also sometimes called moving panoramas, as they are a drawing or painting that can be manually moved and is portrayed within a box.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, muggy day along the Monongahela river. Zoma Archambault is standing on a small, sandy beach about 10 minutes from Morgantown. It is one of the few along the river, as much of it is covered in thick brush and mud.

The beach used to be an informal camp spot. Zoma found it abandoned, with trash covering the ground in every direction. It is almost all picked up now, aside from some muddy clothes, a couple hypodermic needles and roof shingles.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Just about any search on Google for “best white water rafting” includes West Virginia. Around 150,000 people commercially raft a West Virginia river each year, mostly on the New River and Gauley River, which are near Fayetteville, West Virginia. At one point there were just less than 30 rafting companies in the area. Today, they have consolidated into six adventure businesses. 

Jesse Wright

Some of the names of places in Appalachia have a long history, dating back to the 1600s. The history and story behind a name can get lost over time – leading us to question how a place got its name.

One such place is Coopers Rock state forest, located outside of Morgantown. Who was Cooper? Was he a real person? Did he live there?

Caitlin Tan

Peanut butter stouts, guava sours, hazy double IPAs, pomegranate ales – these are just a few experimental beers to come out of the craft beer craze in recent years.

According to the National Brewer’s Association, this expanding industry started in the 1990s but didn’t gain momentum until 2010, making it relatively new. Today there are more than 7,000 commercial breweries in the country.

Photo courtesy of West Virginia and Regional History Center

West Virginia University researchers recently completed a year-long project exploring the history of a coal community in Monongalia County, using photos and oral history to create an exhibit.


Caitlin Tan

Greasy pepperoni rolls, pungent ramps, sweet apple butter, shaggy Big Foot, scruffy Mothman – these are all symbols that represent West Virginia. Local treasures that began from traditions and legends from long ago that are getting a modern flare, thanks to a graphic design artist in Morgantown.

Liz Pavlovic’s business “Liz Pavlovic Design and Illustrations” recreates West Virginia’s mementos with an endearing modern, cartoonish flare.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we explore how our cultural traditions change over time and evolve as they get passed from person to person.

 

How does foklife fit into our already busy, and frankly, quite stressful lives?

“Henry Glassie, another folklorist, says that folklore is the creation of the future out of the past. So in order to know where we're headed, we have to know about these traditions in the past,” explained West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard.


Caitlin Tan

Walking down the streets of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, it feels a bit like a ghost town. There are houses, business signs, a post office, but only two cars drive by in 10 minutes and no one is walking the streets.

The small town in southern Pennsylvania is just across the West Virginia border. It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River, surrounded by small hills and patches of trees. In years past, the town has weathered the boom and bust of a pottery industry, river trade and coal. Lately, it has been more bust than boom.

Jesse Wright

Across the Atlantic Ocean -- 3,586 miles away from West Virginia -- you will find Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom. The western side of Wales is lined by two channels from the Celtic Sea. And inland is quite mountainous. Within those mountain towns, you will find similar folk culture to Appalachia.

“The nature of the people and the landscape is very similar. Plus, many people from West Wales came over here. So we’ve got those really strong connections,” said Peter Stevenson, a Welsh artist, writer and storyteller.

Jesse Wright

The tall, red brick building that was once home to Rowlesburg High School still stands after surviving the historic 1985 flood.

After the flood it was no longer used as a school, but today it remains the heart of the community of Rowlesburg – it's where people meet, festivities are held, weekly dinners are made, etc.

Caitlin Tan

Families all across the world pass on traditions and it is no exception in Appalachia.

Traditions like making apple butter in the fall, or celebrating Christmas morning at mamaws, or picking ramps at that secret spot in the spring, or even just going to church on Sunday.

But for one family in Lincoln County, West Virginia, the tradition is building furniture.


Caitlin Tan

See a recipe for salt rising bread at the bottom of this page. 

Salt Rising bread has a long history in Appalachia. Typically, people outside of the region have never heard of it.

The bread often brings to mind a variety of distinctive scents and grandmothers tending to a time-intensive dough in a wood-heated kitchen.

Caitlin Tan

Editor's Note: It is with great sadness to report that Jane Gilchrist passed away Friday, March 8, 2019. The West Virginia Public Broadcasting team offers its deepest sympathies and condolences to Jane's family and friends. Click here for Jane's obituary.

Most Americans typically wear clothes made in factories overseas. The same goes for fabrics in homes, such as potholders, rugs and blankets. But it has not always been this way.

Jesse Wright

Around the holidays, homemade treats are everywhere — whether it be Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses or fruit cakes. One Swiss holiday tradition involves making Rosettes — light, crispy, deep-fried pastries made using a floral-shaped iron mold.