Through the Lens: Road Trip to Mystery Hole
Over the last half century road side carnivals have slowly faded from American culture. For myself the traveling carnivals that came to town and set up in the Brooklyn rail yard were eagerly anticipated each summer. Rides, cotton candy, hoochie-coochie girls and the side’s shows made up the attractions. I still remember the fresh smell of saw dust that covered the grass, keeping the ground from becoming muddy. The carnival was encircled with walls of canvas and carnival trucks. Inside the enclosure was adventures and side shows for the public’s enjoyment. Well, maybe not all public viewers when it came to the girlie shows.
Today, if the traveling entertainment were still around, I would have enjoyed taking my family to see it. I was always amazed how I would pass by the empty field one day, then the next day the carnival was set up and in full operations. A week later they were gone just as quickly as they had appeared.
Places like Coney Island and other permanent carnival shows are still around and operating. But, for the most part, traveling side shows and their odd entertainments have faded into history. I figured that I may never see another side show attraction. Well, that was until I saw an advertisement for the Mystery Hole. Now, I knew the Mystery Hole was a permanent location alongside the road, beckoning travelers to stop and see the improbable mystery described in their advertising.
When I told Mary we were going on a road trip to see a couple unusual sights in southern West Virginia, she asked when are we leaving. She has come to realize when I discover something new to see, she will probably also enjoy seeing it. This trip, we went looking for three places of interest, a coal mine, a statue of a legendary hero and the secret of the Mystery Hole.
Now, I will have to tell you a couple of these places are not on the beaten path. They are on the back roads through the beautiful West Virginia Mountains. With fall colors coming very soon, it is not a bad weekend road trip. By the way, be careful going through the mountains. As I was driving around a sharp turn, which there are many of, a black bear came off the hillside and ran into the side of our vehicle. It was over in a split second. It took me a few minutes to find a place to turn around on this back road so I could return to see if the bear was still there. When we got back the bear was long gone according to a guy who was taking a lunch break across the road. He was as surprised to have seen the event as much as we were. The bear survived and so did Mary and I.
The Mystery Hole is located between Amsted, WV and Hawks Nest State Park. Our GPS was of no help traveling through the deep valleys and high mountains. But we still found the place our curiosity had beckoned us to visit. Warning, it sits in a wide spot along the Midland Trail road on the side of a mountain. After you park, you will want to look over the bank in back of the parking lot. I’m guessing a thousand feet straight down below you will see the New River.
The Mystery Hole was constructed in 1973 by Donald Wilson. Over the last 48 years the road side attraction has welcomed thousands of visitors to discover the mystery. It is said curiosity killed the cat. Well, in fact curiosity is also an uncontrollable emotion in most humans. That’s what draws people to this out of the way location.
Be warned, you are not permitted to take cameras or cell phones into the Mystery Hole. The owners of the mystery want to preserve the secret for future generations. And to be truthful, a picture could not capture the unusual place hidden below the shop above. The signs outside warn, if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure or vertigo don’t go inside. If you have ever attended a big screen theater where they project riding a roller coaster and you feel the effects as if they are real, well, that’s what it’s like for some.
I have to confess, from past fun house experiences, I knew what Mary and I were about to experience as we followed our guide into the dimly lit place below. Upon entering, I felt the effects of the Mystery Hole confuse my senses. Try as I might, telling myself the reason for my experience made no difference. I do know why they warn you about vertigo before you enter.
I am not going to tell you the secret of the Mystery Hole, I will leave that for you to experience for yourself. But if you go south into the mountains to see the colors, don’t pass by the Mystery Hole without stopping. I would suggest if you are in control of your senses, go inside and experience an old time fun house illusion. I believe you will smile and enjoy the experience.
Our cultural entertainment today has to be electronic and glitzy for us to find enjoyment in it. But, at a time in our past, side show fun houses with distorted mirrors, odd creatures and mind bending events were enjoyable. The Mystery Hole is still one of the unique places in West Virginia where you can enjoy the odd and unusual. I will give you one word of advice, when your guide suddenly opens a door in the wall, beware as you look at the Mystery inside, Through the Lens.