It’s Porte Crayon in case you were wondering

No one has asked but I’m going to answer the question anyway.

The image I’m using as a header here was created by Porte Crayon, otherwise known as David Hunter Strother. Here it is in full:

The above is an image of a woodcut illustration that Strother included in his 1850s travelogue “Virginia Illustrated”. It depicts the Natural Chimneys, a limestone landmark in Augusta County, Virginia also known as the Cyclopean Towers. Notwithstanding the caption, I decided to crop it and use it as my header here and on my other social media accounts because Porte also looks like he’s reading from a script, which dovetails nicely with what I do as a newscaster for NPR. He was also from Martinsburg, in what is now West Virginia, where I’ve lived since 2004.

Pretty sure it’s safe to say that most Americans today have never heard of Porte Crayon, but he was a rock star before the Civil War, the Bill Bryson of his era. He was so popular that when the war broke out the New York Times thought it necessary to lament rumors that he had joined the Confederate Army. He hadn’t. He sided with the Union and at war’s end, he was breveted a Brigadier General for meritorious service.

I’m sure he did many worthy things during the war, but to my mind he deserved recognition on the strength of his long, bushy beard alone. For a war known for the facial hair of its combatants, his beard stood out as particularly glorious and endlessly noteworthy. I mean, look at thing! I should probably give up and go cut my pandemic beard off right now because we have a winner.

Porte Crayon was not the first to write about the backcountry of (West) Virginia, but he is likely the region’s most accomplished travel writer, first gaining notoriety for his humorous chronicle of a hunting and fishing expedition to West Virginia’s Blackwater country. His words and illustrations brought the mountains and its people to life for the American public decades before the hillbilly stereotype was indelibly stamped into the popular imagination.

I’ve often thought it would a good idea to follow in Porte Crayon’s footsteps and write about the places he visited in his heyday. Maybe I’ll get serious one day and do it. For now, though, he resides in the header of my corner of the internet.

Originally published at http://www.gilessnyder.com on December 21, 2020.

NPR Newscaster and Porte Crayon newsletter writer.