The West Virginia State Museum is a required stop for most 8th graders in West Virginia. It is here that students interact with replicas of company stores and hear an obtrusive voice over telling you how to experience the place. When these stories are presented in authoritative spaces such as landscape and museum narratives, they become ‘the’ story of Appalachia.
These spaces are constructed as reminders of how the coal mines operate as cultural and economic markers in West Virginia.
For example, this marker on the wall states, "living in company towns created and intense sense of community and bond with other town residents." This quote negates the plight that many coal miners and their families experienced. Because coal companies owned everything in a company town, they basically owned the miners. Miners were paid in scrip, not money. This scrip could only be spent in the company store which inflated prices and sent many families into deep debt. As the song written by Merle Travis says, "16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don't you call cause I can't go. I owe my soul to the company store."
This construction is a space where memory and meaning merge. This merging provides a truth that is felt in and about a space. When riding in a coal car into an old coal mine, we experience what it “must” have been like for miners, therefore we construct the meaning and memory without the context of the temporal circumstances. The exhibition coal mine in Beckley, West Virginia is funded by Friend of Coal. They are responsible for the rhetoric of the mythic "War on Coal" in order to divide and conquer the politics of rural spaces. With this tour experience being funded by pro-coal supporters, the narrative only speaks to the positives of the industry. Therefore, a specific narrative is shaped for visitors to this place.
“If you’ll take just a moment to look over there you can see a small stream. Looks pretty natural to this setting, but it is not a “natural” stream. This stream was man made to facilitate drainage of a nearby coal mine that was shut down.”