Please feel free to comment, as I am greatly interested in your opinion – good or bad.
Certain realities tear at one’s solar plexus, like a vanquished steelworker’s ripping bar yanking the entrails from one’s body, like being hit in the chest by a coal train that once rumbled through the city: The reality that Wheeling – having recently lost 838 residents and now totaled 27,648 residents as reported in your newspaper – has fallen to the fifth largest city in West Virginia, has became such punishing-assaults.
Charleston was not the city responsible for establishing the state of West Virginia and changing the complexion of the Civil War – it was Wheeling.
Morgantown was not the first capital of West Virginia – it was Wheeling.
Huntington was not the city where the Suspension Bridge crossed the Ohio River, and the National Road opened a path to the frontier – it was Wheeling.
Clarksburg was not the city that was the steel capital of West Virginia – it was Wheeling.
Yet, sad to state, Wheeling ranks fifth – behind the aforementioned cities – in population. And still yet, sad to state, the city fathers seem to have forgotten or never learned Wheeling’s once-prominent status.
When I speak, write and hear the word, Wheeling – it includes both sides of the Ohio River –Moundsville, Benwood, McMechen, Shadyside, Bellaire, Bridgeport, Martin’s Ferry, Wellsburg, Follansbee, Weirton, Steubenville, and all locales in between and on the periphery – for they are as important to Wheeling as are the hands that feed me and the feet that take me where I must go.
The Wheeling mayor and city council will soon be sitting at the controls of the city’s future, so here is my idea of a proper sendoff:
It is time to place Wheeling’s lost prominence foremost in the minds of our residents and to reestablish, by deed, the city to its rightful prominence – that of being the most populous and the most dynamic city in West Virginia. But how? We first must gain the region and the nation’s attention by becoming a ground-breaking city.
When a teenager, I – a smelly, crusty-faced, tough-talking, cussing, sloppily-dressed, run-down-at-the-heels kid – knocked on the door of the girl-of-my-dreams almost every night of my freshman year, and during her freshman year, she routinely slammed the door in my face; September through June – that was how long it took me to figure out that perhaps I should change my image. I took a bath, put on clean clothes, and stopped offending everyone.. Guess what? – the girl’s-of-my-dreams door no longer slammed the door in my face. That change of image is what I believe Wheeling must do.
I believe Wheeling must lead a reluctant state into twenty-first century progress: For starters, it can declare our antebellum town a L.G.B.T.-Friendly-City; legalize medical marijuana; offer free daily methadone treatment for opiate addicts rather than incarcerating them; tax sugar products – colas, candies – and use the money to reduce obesity in our youth; become an advocate for recycling cans, bottles, and plastics; and embrace other sensible and beneficial programs that will place the city among the nation’s progressive leaders.
I believe financial progress starts with small undertakings to bring those most welcome visitors –tourists – to Wheeling – such innovative moves as renovating the city’s abandoned, historical mines and industrial plants to attract tourists (this was done in the West – albeit, gold mines – with great success); close off the city’s most prized possession – the Suspension Bridge – to motor traffic on weekends and open it to visitors, allowing vendors, artisans and entertainers to set up shop on the scenic site.
When I watch traffic speeding through Wheeling’s barren streets, I envision local-history aficionados reenacting frontier days at Heritage Park. I see tourists milling about repaired and engaging corridors – patronizing a potpourri of ethnic restaurants on Main and Market Streets – under ultra-modern lighting; I hear gay music continuously serenading the Ohio River and downtown. I look upon banners hanging from downtown buildings depicting Wheeling’s heritage and its adventure through the centuries; miners – local actors – can be seen riding along Main Street in horse-drawn wagons, supposedly going to work, along with steelworkers trudging home from a day at the mill – handing candy from their lunch buckets to toddlers. Tourists flock to a paddle-boat about to steam underneath bridges for a trip up river, other tourists rent kayaks from local vendors and paddle away from Heritage Park; these visions are just a collection of one person’s imagination; many lay unspoken for other free-thinkers to articulate and implement.
The mayor should engage our local talent to compose a Wheeling song that will captivate listeners as they view the city’s advertisements.
In my belief, the bigger ground-breaking undertakings should start with big innovative thinking that will bring industry to Wheeling. Where to start – I would hire a city executive, whose sole responsibility would be to bring industry to Wheeling; announce Wheeling as a city welcoming alternative energy – wind, water, solar, and geothermal; establish supervised, medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown – such dispensaries will eventually surround West Virginia; build a conversion plant to turn the area’s animal and human waste into natural gas (the A.R.C. has millions of dollars for such purposes); recruit box-store distribution centers and insurance mega-centers; again – these are just a collection of ideas; many more lay unspoken.
The aforementioned will certainly increase population and put people to work in Wheeling. But, to my thinking, there is more that can be done: Wheeling’s mothers and fathers might educate their daughters and sons about their rich heritage and what their obligation is to the city that gave them the opportunity to excel in sports and academics, go on to higher education, and, in most cases, enjoy a wholesome beginning – and explain what duty falls on their shoulders to mend a city in need of their energy and good management. School teachers should be encouraged to install Wheeling’s history into their curriculum, hence students know from whence they came and hence they go. Media – publications, radio and television stations –should include a weekly visit to Wheeling’s history in their broadcasts and publications.
Opportunities are staring at us – including governments, businesses, schools, media, churches – in the face – all we Wheelingites and adjoining communities have to do is reach out and take their hands.