A Light In The Window

Walking into the lunchroom, the morning was still dark and rain threatened the cloudy sky. The windows in the lunchroom look out across a parking lot and Market Street. At the corner of 16th and Market streets, West Virginia Independence Hall looms tall in the almost dawn hour.

With the exception of an occasional street walker gracing the corner, the downtown is usually void of pedestrians at this time of the day. A look across the way showed that a light was on in an upper room of the Independence Hall building. It cast an eerie, yellowish glow as the day was yawning awake.

I paused to look at this magnificent structure, though plainly unadorned, still striking in its beauty. I studied the lines of the building, admiring the huge doors, wondering how many people have stepped across the thresholds.

Back in its heyday, the building served as a mecca for many people involved in court proceedings or simply wanting the use of the post office located there.

I’ve heard tales of courtroom drama on its upper floors and the life and death outcomes of some of the trials tried within its wall. Harsh punishments and even hangings were carried out there.

So many bits and pieces of our state history lived and died there. If the walls could only talk, I imagine we would gasp at some of the things said behind closed doors or whispered in the expansive hallways.

As I looked a bit longer at the light in the window, I could not help but consider that tales of ghosts in the building just might hold water. Was there really a woman who walked the halls, searching for her husband who met his fate there?

Did a cleaning worker leave in a hurry after feeling the presence of someone sitting in Gov. Pierpont’s office chair on display there now? I’ve heard both of those stories before and think about them when I see that lone light burning in the window.

I’ve been inside the building many times for newspaper business and as a casual observer and lover of American history. Each time, I see, hear or touch something I hadn’t noticed before, soaking in the memories held tight in its nooks and crannies. Photos from the early years of the building show a forgotten side of Wheeling, bustling with people caught in the tide of the Civil War. Sometimes I think we forget how deep our roots go in the history books that shaped our heritage.

Wheeling was important for so many reasons – industry, manufacturing, trade, pioneers, patriots and so much more.

The people who struggled through the dirt roads, inadequate water and sewerage systems, sickness and violence of war notched our legacy into every structure from that era still standing in the city. I wonder if we have lived up to the expectations and dreams of those who came before us.

Buildings must come down when no longer safe or useful. I just hope we can hold on to the good ones for a long time to come. After all, the ghosts have to live somewhere.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at ziegler@theintelligencer.net.