The Story Teller
The Native American People of our country used no written language. Their history and culture was passed from generation to generation by only the spoken word. Often one was chosen to remember and tell his people’s story. As he grew older a younger member of his community would be entrusted with the retelling of the history and culture. This way history was preserved for the future.
A few weeks ago our community lost one of its story tellers, Jim Fitzsimmons. Fitz, for those that knew him, spent most of his life preserving our history through the written word. Jim’s legacy to our history is that he preserved the activities and events of our community for many years in our local newspaper. Before modern printing presses the words of each story were often set in place to be printed by hand-a tedious and labor intensive task. Jim talked with me of how those early days gave him a sense of the words and an understanding of the responsibility they had with the readers.
If you remember, last week I wrote that today’s headlines may be tomorrow’s history. Jim’s passing may not have been a major headline, but he will surely be part of our proud community’s history.
I had the distinct privilege of sitting down with Jim on occasion to talk about our community and its past history. He enjoyed sitting at the small table in the museum that he and others worked hard to establish on South Main Street. Jim would talk of the past and the pictures on the walls that preserved the images of New Martinsville.
We talked of floods, racetracks, trolley cars, and many things that are preserved in the old wooden building. He pointed out that his community had donated many of these pieces of its past to be preserved inside the museum for future generations. That’s what a story teller does and Jim truly passed on the stories of our community.
I thought back to our talks and one story he told always comes to mind. It was the story of a man called, Morris Raymer Daugherty. To most he was known as “Dinger”. When I remarked I did not know of this person, Jim leaned forward in his chair, saying he could not believe that I had never heard of the Charles Lindbergh of New Martinsville.
Jim explained that back in the early 1900’s Dinger worked for the railroad. In his job he may have been known as a detective or a railroad bull. However you call it, he roused those that could not pay to ride the trains. In the course of his job, Dinger fell under a moving train and lost both legs and one arm.
As bad as those injuries were, they did not prevent Dinger from becoming somewhat of a legend in our community. He tried his hand at many different careers in his life. Inventor, racing cars, motorcycling, author, composer, dog breeder, and perhaps the career he is most famous for is aviator.
Throughout his flying career Dinger is said to have owned four different airplanes. Reportedly none of the planes were in what may be called the best of conditions. But that fact never stopped him from barnstorming around the country and becoming famous along the way.
Dinger decided that he was going to follow in the footsteps across the Atlantic that a few years earlier Charles Lindbergh had made famous. He took off for New York in a plane fitted with extra gas tanks and lots of glue and bailing wire and most likely a little prayer. The trip was interrupted several times along the way for repairs to his old plane. Eventually his luck, flying skills, and perhaps a little divine intervention got him to his destination.
After landing in New York, the airport authorities decided his plane was probably more suited for the scrap yard than flying. During his stay Dinger enjoyed the friendly hospitality of the big city. He was given almost royal treatment during his time there. It was said he was the best no legged, one arm dancer the city had ever seen. After enjoying the town and with the help of a few friends from back home Dinger, managed to retrieve his plane from the airport authorities and return to New Martinsville.
That story Jim told me has been told many times over the years and has now became part of our community’s past. Dinger’s exploits were many and his part in the community is chronicled in the history of our local museum. I enjoyed reading about Dinger, but I also miss hearing Jim telling it with his big smile and laughter.
The Native Americans realized that preserving their culture in stories that are retold over time was the greatest gift they could pass on to their children. The men and women that have preserved our history and culture in words and material items also realized that important fact. We are fortunate in this community there are citizens that work to save stories like Dinger Daugherty, floods, community affairs, and all the small parts many have played in making our community the place it is today.
Jim Fitzsimmons may be gone, but his legacy will be with us for many years if we each choose to pass those stories he told us on to the next generation. Dinger lives with each retelling of his remarkable life. And Jim’s lifetime of creating the printed words in newsprint someday will become part of all our history for future generations.
The pain of Jim’s no longer being with us is still felt by his family. The passing of time will help to heal the loss, but never his memory. The community and friends left behind will long remember his contribution to writing our history and then the preserving of it. And we will all miss a good friend.
The Wetzel County Museum contains the history of our community and its people. Fitz has now passed the responsibility on to the next generation of story tellers.
Please, be part of that legacy. Visit the museum and tell the story of Jim Fitzsimmons and his many contributions to his community as I look for my friend Thru The Lens.