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Boxcar Stage

By Barry O'Keefe

On February 4th, 2016, one last freight train passed Athens County before the closing of Norfolk Southern’s West Virginia Secondary Line. The freight service was no longer needed to sustain a declining coal industry. In a region that has been defined by, and defines itself with the industries of coal and rail, this final train embodies the need to embrace different lineages of Appalachian identity. The legacy of extractive industry must be respectfully laid to rest, and revised with more sustainable relationships to the landscape and to each other. Last summer, I visited a closing branch of a coal company in Southern Ohio. They had filled a dumpster to the brim with old records and maps. I was allowed to rescue a carload, and back in Athens I poured over the haul. Beautiful aerial photographs of industrial scars, ghostly blueprints of mining equipment, and mysterious ledgers of...

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