Legends & Lore roadside markers celebrate what makes this country unique

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Driving through West Virginia, it’s impossible not to see those iconic white roadside markers which celebrate the people and history of the Mountain State.

Those signs will soon be joined by a new style of roadside marker called Legends & Lore. Much like the historic markers, these signs will share tales of the state, but instead of history, the signs will focus on folklore and legends – fiction or non-fiction – that make the state special.

The Legends & Lore Marker Grant Program was founded in 2015 by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation in New York. Foundation communications manager Steve Bodnar explained that the program gives states a way to honor the folklore of their communities.

“The program gives communities the opportunity to recognize an aspect of their cultural heritage that you might not find on a traditional historic roadside marker,” Bodnar said. “In light of that, it was important to us that Legends & Lore had its own unique look and be different from state markers, so we created a specially designed marker with its own trademarked logo.”

In 2019, the West Virginia Folklife Program became a Legends & Lore partner, opening up grant opportunities to the state. In the first round of the application process, four points of interest in West Virginia were selected to receive signs.

“We have about four markers in the works,” West Virginia Folklorist Emily Hilliard said. “We have a grant panel that reviews all the applications. Then, we make recommendations based on their review to Pomeroy, and Pomeroy has the final say.”

Bodnar said that having the partnership with the Folklife Program will ensure that the applications are vetted properly and the legends or lore are legitimate.

“The role of our partner organizations is to ensure that folklore is legitimate, accurate and well-written so that it can be displayed on a marker,” he said. “We believe that markers have a number of key benefits. They help to preserve cultural heritage and history, educate the public, promote historic tourism and economic development, and instill pride of place in local residents.”

Pomeroy Foundation Trustee and director of strategic initiatives Deryn Pomeroy said that the partnership has led to a great start for West Virginia’s foray into celebrating its legends and lore.

“The West Virginia Folklife Program has been a great partner and is doing a wonderful job working with communities across the state to share their unique folklore and legends,” she said. “The stories that will be commemorated on these new markers – John Henry, Johnnie Johnson, the Alderson Lion and the pepperoni roll – are prime examples of the interesting cultural heritage that runs deep in West Virginia. We are delighted to make this grant opportunity available in West Virginia and look forward to helping more communities recognize their local folklore and legends with Legends & Lore markers.”

Despite the name of the marker, entries can include more than legends and lore. A sign could also celebrate a certain culture in an area or an individual who made an impact, locally, regional or globally.

“It doesn’t just have to be a legend,” Hilliard explained. “It could be any other piece of local folklore including an important tradition, musician, style of music, festival – that sort of thing.”

Examples of folklore that could be recognized on the signs, according to the Folklife Program website include:

• A local occurrence that has become an important story in your community – such as a strange or memorable event, a supernatural phenomenon, or a folkloric explanation of a natural feature in the landscape;

• A person in your community’s history or folklore about whom tales are told;

• An important tradition – such as a craft, a style of music, or a special festival – that is part of your community’s identity.

Applications for the grant are available online at: wvhumanities.org/legends-and-lore

The next grant cycle deadline is October 1.

Legend & Lore grants are available to 501(c)(3) organizations, nonprofit academic institutions, and local, state and federal government entities within the United States.

Once a sign is approved, the Pomeroy Foundation has the markers made by Sewah Studios in Marietta, Ohio. They are then shipped to the state to be installed.

Legends & Lore signs can also be found in Alabama, Louisiana, Connecticut, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont.

About the William G. Pomeroy Foundation

After beating acute myeloid leukemia in 2005 with a stem cell transplant, Bill Pomeroy established the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, based in Syracuse, New York. One of the Foundation’s main initiatives is to help people celebrate their community’s history, primarily through roadside markers. In 2006, the Pomeroy Foundation launched its first roadside marker program, the New York State Historical Marker Grant Program, commemorating historic people, places or things. Since then, the Foundation has expanded to other marker grants in Ohio and has established several nationwide programs: Historic Transportation Canals Marker Grant Program, Legends & Lore Marker Grant Program, National Register Signage Grant Program and National Women’s Suffrage Marker Program. In all, the Foundation has funded nearly 900 markers and plaques across 12 states. Visit the Foundation’s interactive digital map at www.wgpfoundation.org/history/map to view all marker locations.

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