The death of Porte Crayon

Giles Snyder
3 min readMar 8, 2022

Sit down and pour yourself some applejack.

This week’s PCAS newsletter is coming to you a bit early because today is the 134th anniversary of David Hunter Strother’s death at age 71.

He was living in Charles Town at the time.

He caught a cold.

It morphed into pneumonia.

It didn’t end well.

At the time of his passing, Strother wasn’t nearly as popular with the reading public as he was in his 1850s heyday. You could even say he had sunk into obscurity by comparison.

His name in 1888, however, still had some juice. Strother’s death was noted in newspapers across the country, including in The New York Times, which pointed out that although Strother may not have been as well known to magazine readers of the day, he had once been the highest paid contributor to Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

I tried to include Strother’s Times obituary here as a JPG. After all, if The New York Times notices that you’re no longer in this world, you know you’ve made it — although you probably wouldn’t ever know about the Times choice to give you some love.

Unfortunately, I was only able to successfully download the NYT’s obit from newspapers.com as a PDF. I think it probably had something to do with the resolution. It wasn’t great. Portions of it were unreadable, so I guess it’s just as well.

If you downloaded the PDF, you likely noticed that the Times confuses Charleston for Charles Town — proof that outsiders have been making that mistake for at least as long as West Virginia has been a state. Probably longer.

My other attempts at downloading JPGs were more successful, including the remembrance published by the NYT’s rival, the New York Tribune. The Tribune hilariously (to me) chose to focus on Strother’s trademark beard, never mind his accomplishments as a writer, artist, soldier and diplomat.

The way I figure it, whoever wrote the short Tribune piece must have had a bad case of beard envy.

And if I’m honest?

I want someone like that to write my send off.

Beards are important.

And frankly, my beard is likely the only real accomplishment I can claim in a life spending way too much time in front of the TV streaming old Star Trek episodes. It would be nice for someone to finally recognize my efforts.

Anyway, I won’t take up much more of your time, but I thought you’d like to see what the local Charles Town paper, the Spirit of Jefferson, published about Strother’s death.

I think it’s worth including a tidbit dug up by Strother biographer Cecil Eby, Jr., in the Virginia Free Press. The paperdescribed Strother’s funeral on March 10th, 1888 as “one of the largest ever witnessed in Martinsburg.”

Strother is buried in Green Hill Cemetery, just minutes from where I live.

I’ll have that drink now, please.

Writing this week’s newsletter, got me thinking — West Virginians ought to find a way to celebrate Strother each year, sort of in the same way Scots celebrate Burns Day.

I know Burns Day falls on the Scottish poet Robert Burns birthday, so maybe I’ll revisit the idea this September 26th, the day Strother was born in Martinsburg in 1816.

For now — and I’m just spitballing here — state lawmakers could easily pass a bill creating a Porte Crayon holiday. And Porte Day celebrations would include a traditional meal, readings from Strother’s work and Applejack, of course.

Lots of Applejack.

Originally published at https://gilessnyder.substack.com on March 8, 2022.

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Giles Snyder

NPR Newscaster and Porte Crayon newsletter writer.