NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

From Mother's Day to Mummies - On the Road to Philippi, West Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

From Mother's Day to Mummies - On the Road to Philippi, West Virginia

Covered bridge in PhilippiFor those seeking a day trip that is beyond the ordinary, Northern West Virginia offers the perfect solution. Though the final destination is to the Barbour County Historical Museum in Phillipi to see a couple of modern day mummies housed there, there are more than enough attractions along the way that merit an entire article unto themselves. Following is only a condensed version of what is available for those of us who only have a few precious hours on the weekend. You may, however, consider taking a few days off to completely explore all the wonderful options the area has to offer.

West Virginia is famous for its beautiful winding mountain roads. It is fairly typical to travel for many miles seeing nothing but beautiful mountainside only to find a wonderful hidden treasure tucked away in the middle of nowhere. Such is case on Rt. 50 east of Grafton where we were greeted by this curious wayside park filled with a hodge-podge of rusting railroad cars and railroad paraphenalia, farm implements, and a spring fed water wheel littered among the somewhat overgrown grass. Next to the unusual park and picnic area is a country store of sorts touting a sign "Cool Springs Park since 1929". Inside the store you can find a bit of everything from leather moccasins to tacky souveniers and right in the center of the store is a restaurant. The whole place gives you a taste of Mountaineer country.

Train station museum PhilippiAs you continue along the route to Phillipi on Rt. 250 and 119 south of Grafton, you will pass Webster, West Virginia, Birthplace of Mother's Day founder, Anna Jarvis. Her home is now a museum open to visitors. The town holds Mothers Day Founders Weekend the second weekend in May each year. (For more details call (304)265-5549.)

Just when you think there can't possibly be any more to see along the way, you reach the entrance to Phillipi on Rt. 250, where there is yet another surprise in store as the Philippi Covered Bridge comes into view. This structure, over the Tygart Valley River, was built in 1852 and is over 280 feet long. It is the only remaining two-lane "double barrel" covered bridge still in use on a US highway. This bridge is also historically significant as on June 3, 1861, it was the scene of the first land battle of the Civil War. This covered bridge was nearly destroyed by fire in 1989 but has been completely restored.

To the casual observer, Philippi appears to be like any other small town in rural America. Its main street, appropriately called "Main Street", is lined with blue banners proclaiming "Philippi - A city of values". Yet Philippi has a unique past and contains the most unusual residents, namely the famous "Mummies of Philippi".

Philippi museumIn order to get an appreciation of the true flavor of the town, lunch at the local Medallion Restaurant on the corner of Court St. and Main St. is suggested. The restaurant offers good home cooking at a fair price. The organ in corner proclaiming "Live Music" really adds to the ambiance of the place.

Everything in Philippi is within a fairly short walking distance so exploring it on foot is well worth the effort. While exploring the area, you will discover that the first amputation occurred in this unique town. James Edward Hanger, an 18 year-old member of the Confederate Cavalry at Philippi, was stuck in the leg by a cannon ball. Union officers amputated his leg above the knee. After returning home, this resourceful young man developed the first artificial limb which he later marketed to help other disabled veterans.

Philippi MummiesThe crown jewel of the town is definitely the Barbour County Historical Museum, which is housed in an old restored rail depot located at the end of the covered bridge. Upon entering this unassuming museum, you are immediately greeted by a friendly face and are surrounded by several rooms containing a variety of interesting artifacts. You will see the usual fare offered at town museums such as Civil War memorabilia, historical clothing and photographs. Some of the more interesting exhibits include a drum from the surrender at Appomatox, an old moonshine still, an old Myers phone switchboard and a billy club carried by the sheriff of Philippi who served 3 terms from 1920 - 1948.

The real draw to the museum, the famous "Philippi mummies" is very much downplayed by the folks in the area. In fact there was very little information available regarding the mummies even in the literature put out by the society. However, if you are brave enough and venture into the rear room to the left you will find articles relating to Graham Hamrick and his infamous mummification process, as well as bottles of the actual mummification fluid. If you are really brave you can pay the $1.00 cover charge enter the through the door with the handwritten sign proclaiming "Mummies $1.00". Beware! This venture is not for the faint hearted.

Philippi Mummy 1The tiny room that houses the mummies is actually a tiny old bathroom. Upon entering, you will note the unusual odor that is barely masked by the air freshner strategically placed next to the tiny wooden caskets. The room is a glaringly bright white and the walls are covered with newspaper articles of varying ages written on the mummies.

The mummies themselves are less than an arms length away and lay eerily under a glass cover. Their skin appears leathery and whithered (and to be honest somewhat moldy) to the point that they are hardly recognizeable as humans as they appear more resemble wooden carvings. It is impossible to determine that these are woman, other than to read the available literature.

Philippi Mummy 2The history of the mummies is both sad and macabre. In 1888, local farmer and amateur embalmer, Graham Hamrick, proclaimed that he knew the secret of mummification and requested these cadavers from the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane for his experiments. Once mummified, the cadavers travelled around for years with the P.T. Barnum's circus and eventually ended up forgotten in Philippi. Since they "retired" from the travelling show, the mummies were once again brought into the public spectacle when flood waters caused water damage and mold to the bodies. They were rescued from total decay but the process left them more grotesque than before as all their hair was lost in the restoration process. Finally, the mummies appear to have reached their final resting place in the museum quietly waiting in the tiny bathroom in the back of a train depot for the brave and the curious to see.

For an unforgettable experience from the surreal to the sublime, a trip to Philippi is well worth the effort. Just don't get too "wrapped up" in the mummies to see all the other wonderful sites this region has to offer.

For more information contact:
The Barbour County Historical Museum
200 North Main St
Philippi, West Virginia 26416

Letter from Reader

Dear Michelle,  I really enjoyed your piece on Philippi west Virginia.  I too met the mummies and had quite an after experience.  I felt so bad for those two woman, not only for the life they had lived but also for their death.  It stayed on my mind for days.  Anyway I live in North Carolina and was visiting with a friend of mine whose mother lives near Philippi.  They took me to see the mummies.  Later that night my friends mother became ill and an ambulance transported her to a near by hospital.  We were in the waiting room until appx 3 am, waiting for an ambulance to transport her to a larger hospital to meet her medical needs.  I decided to go to the car and wait (I thought I might get a little sleep).  Every time I closed my eyes I thought of those two woman,  especially the one who wrote the letter home  (only to have it returned unopened to the asylum).  I could almost feel her desperate loneliness and rejection.  Anyway sitting in the front seat of the car (with heater running, it was November), I kept thinking if I looked over at the passenger window I was going to see her looking at me with totally empty eyes.  As I was freaking out and ready to go back to the hospital waiting room,  A mist or sort of fog was about 50 ft away from the front of the car.  It hovered over a small pond in front of our parking space.  I have to tell you it was weird because it was only a patch of fog no bigger than a large person.  Slowly this patch of fog started to head toward the front of the car.  I just sat and watched it, feeling nervous to say the least.  When it reached the front of the car it just stopped.  At this time I started to talk to the mummie in my mind.  ( I told her how sorry I was for the way she was treated not only during her lifetime but also now,  I told her she was scaring me and to please go away),  I swear, as soon as I started thinking about how she was scaring me the patch of fog started to retreat.  It ended up on the far side of the pond and then slowly disappeared.  I know this sounds crazy but after reading about the sympathy you felt for those woman you would understand.  As for the fog,  I promise you that happened... It may have been my imagination and I didn't see anything that would prove it was her,  Just a very convincing feeling that she was there and just wanted someone to understand..    Thanks for your time,  Lisa


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