Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.

 

Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.

 

It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.

 

The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.

 

Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.

 

It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.

 

This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.

 

Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.

 

Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 

 

“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 

 

This weeks front page:

 

 

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U.S. News again recognizes 12 specialities at Ruby Memorial as High Performing

 MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the third consecutive year, “U.S. News & World Report” has named WVU Hospitals, with its flagship hospital Ruby Memorial, the number one hospital in West Virginia.

The national magazine today released its annual Best Hospitals rankings, listing WVUH as high-performing in 12 medical specialties. In addition to the state ranking, WVU Hospitals was recognized as a Best Regional Hospital and high-performing in cancer; cardiology and heart surgery; diabetes and endocrinology; ear, nose, and throat; gastroenterology and GI surgery; geriatrics; gynecology; nephrology; neurology and neurosurgery; orthopaedics; pulmonology; and urology. WVUH received the same rankings in the previous two years. “We are honored to receive this recognition for the third consecutive year,” Charlotte Bennett, interim CEO of WVU Hospitals, said. “Our physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals are truly dedicated to providing quality care and to improving the health of all that we serve.” The annual U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings, now in their 25th year, recognize hospitals that excel in treating the most challenging patients. U.S. News publishes Best Hospitals to help guide patients who need a high level of care because they face particularly diffi cult surgery, a challenging condition, or extra risk because of age or multiple health problems. Objective measures, such as patient survival and safety data, adequacy of nurse staffi ng levels, and other data, largely determined the rankings in most specialties. “The data tell the story – a hospital that emerged from our analysis as one of the best has much to be proud of,” Avery Comarow, U.S. News Health Rankings Editor, said. “A Best Hospital has demonstrated its expertise in treating the most challenging patients.” Nearly 30,000 patients from throughout the state and the surrounding area are cared for each year at WVUH and Ruby Memorial. WVU Hospitals is part of WVU Healthcare, the entity that is comprised of the teaching hospitals and clinics for West Virginia University’s health professions schools. It includes a Level I Trauma Center, WVU Children’s Hospital, and the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. WVU Hospitals is a member of the West Virginia United Health System. The specialty rankings and data were produced for U.S. News by RTI International, a leading research organization based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Using the same data, U.S. News produced the state and metro rankings. The rankings are freely available at http://health.usnews.com/besthospitals and will appear in the U.S. News “Best Hospitals 2015" guidebook, available in August.