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Heritage Days 2019

On the weekend of September 20-22, 2019, Bobbi and I traveled back to Pikeville, KY for the annual “Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days” homecoming. These events are a welcome chance to be back “home” with our extended “Hatfield McCoy” family. The weekends are always a wonderful mix of dedicated attendees, new faces and curious tourists. It was also an anniversary of sorts for me. 2019 marked my 20th year of attending Hatfield-McCoy get-togethers in Pikeville.

In April 2019, the Appalachian Center for Arts, Eastern Kentucky’s only professional theater, took up residence at the former Jenny Wiley Theater on Second Street in Pikeville. The Center is committed to creating a thriving regional arts hub in Pikeville, scheduling a full slate of Broadway-caliber shows for the venue. On Friday, Sept. 20th, the theater debuted a wonderful presentation of “Sally McCoy” by playwright Lane Michael Stanley. Although the play has been performed previously in Chicago, Baltimore and Abingdon, Va., it was “Sally’s” inaugural presentation in Kentucky.

Set entirely on the night that Sarah (“Sally”) McCoy crossed into West Virginia for a one-on-one dialogue with “Devil Anse” Hatfield, the play addresses the role of women in society, a message that remains relevant 130 years after the feud’s end. Executive Director of the Theater Robin Irwin delivered a masterful and evocative performance as “Sally.” Although I have never met my great-great-great grandmother, I told Robin that her performance made me feel that I had the opportunity to do so. Other notable performances included Chris Swan as “Devil Anse,” Matthew Conn as “Johnse,” Luke Sage as “Cap” and Theater Director of Education Erick Buckley as “Valentine.” After the play, Director Michael McNulty led a panel discussion of feud descendants including Bob Scott, Judy and Reo Hatfield, Margie Annett and me.

“Heritage Days” 2019 featured a number of perennial favorites including the annual performance of “Bloodsong” at the historic Pike County Courthouse and the Unity service at the McCoy Homeplace site in Hardy, KY

For the first time, the Saturday night Hatfield McCoy Homecoming dinner was held in the Taproom (Pearse’s Place) of the Dueling Barrels Distillery in Pikeville. Manager Clay Christian and his staff partnered with Pike County Tourism to host a night of food, music, libations and fun. Tony Tackett, Tourism Director for Pike County, honored a number of individuals for their contributions to local heritage preservation over the past two decades. Among the recipients were former Tourism Director Phyllis Hunt, longtime Tourism Office Manager Lenna Goff, former Tourism Board Chair Walter “Doc” Fletcher, current Chair Debra Huffman, Board member Bob Scott and his wife, Rita, former First Lady of Kentucky Judi Patton as well as Bo McCoy and Reo Hatfield.

Bobbi and I were surprised and grateful to be presented with a “Humanitarian” award from Pike County Tourism. The award was given "for preserving history in Kentucky and West Virginia with a diligent and loving heart." It was the first time that we have been officially acknowledged for our service. I found that I was profoundly moved by Tony’s kindness. I have always considered my involvement with our greater Hatfield-McCoy family to be a matter of personal obligation. Working on behalf of the families to support heritage tourism and historical preservation efforts has always been a labor of love for me.

In receiving the award, I was reminded of my grandfather, Eugene and his lifelong pride in his Pike County roots. Born and raised in Pikeville, he always considered it home, despite living in Durham, NC for nearly 40 years. His influence has always been a guiding force behind my involvement in Hatfield-McCoy affairs. When Bo and I organized the first national reunion of the families in 2000, we dedicated the event to the memories of our grandfathers. After 20 years of family reunions, I find that his legacy of his affection for Pike County has become my own. I could still feel him looking over my shoulder as I accepted the honor in his memory.

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