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All the way from Ground Zero, salvaged metal to be erected as memorial in Clyde

When the World Trade Center fell nearly 10 years ago, there was little left of its once-majestic towers but scattered bits of steel and a sorrow that blanketed the nation.

Now as the site is rebuilt, that steel is being ferried to communities around the country and the world to commemorate the lives lost that Tuesday.

The tiny town of Clyde, chosen from among 1,500 vying for the honor, is one of the lucky locales to garner hunks of the twisted metal that once framed the towers.

The steel rode into town with a guard of honor last week after being trucked by local firemen from New York’s JFK Airport. A hangar there has become the staging area for World Trade Center artifacts as they await distribution to monuments across the globe.

Mitchell Sellars, chief of the Clyde Volunteer Fire Department and one of the men who went to ferry the steel back down the Eastern seaboard, said the warehouse full of the towers’ remains is an unreal sight.

“There’s a bike rack that has a lot of the bicycles still chained to it that were pretty much destroyed. There was only one of the people who made it back alive,” said Sellars of the charred bikes’ owners.

He said that it was in honor of the days’ victims that the department decided last year to put in an application for some of the steel, after hearing, via the Internet, of the plan to give it out.

Altogether, there were 1,500 applicants who asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for remnants of the wreckage. According to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the port authority, they have about 1,040 pieces to give out and 450 have been distributed already.

The criteria for getting the metal is simple: the applicant must be a non-profit or government organization and have a plan to display the pieces publicly.

The plan for the two pieces Clyde now owns — two six-foot-long I-beams, weighing in at around 1,000 pounds — is not yet solidified. But Sellars said the department is in talks with local architects, trying to work out a design that would be fitting.

The monument will eventually sit in front of the fire department on Carolina Boulevard, commemorating the 2,819 people who died in the WTC bombings, especially, Sellars said, the firefighters.

“We just feel like its something that we can create a memorial, not only for the citizens that lost their lives but mainly the firefighters that lost their lives,” said Sellars. When he and fellow firefighters went to New York to collect the beams, they spent some time visiting other fire departments around the city. The experience, he said, was heart-wrenching, even 10 years later.

“It’s still very close to home for a lot of those guys because they worked with them, beside them every day,” said Sellars. Sellars is hopeful that Clyde’s memorial to the 343 firefighters and paramedics killed in the collapse of the towers will be unveiled by this September 11.

Since the designs are in the planning stages, it’s unclear how much the monument will cost, but the department plans to launch fund drives to help make it a reality.

As for the rest of the steel, Coleman said he’s hopeful that the port authority will have the remaining portions donated to worthy memorials within the year. The pieces are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible groups, but since the response was so robust, applications aren’t being taken anymore.

“We’re already overloaded with applications,” said Coleman, “but the ones that we did take were from entities that could ensure that it would be in a public display.”

The lion’s share of the steel from the World Trade Center was sold, to be recycled into new and reusable steel. Around 150 pieces were retained for research, while the rest is being kept in JFK’s Hangar 17, waiting for Ground Zero’s memorial and museum to be christened on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

Southern cuisine comes to Clyde

If you had to pick a concept to describe Mary Catherine Earnest, it would probably be local. The owner and co-founder of Haywood County’s Blue Rooster Southern Grill is a proud local girl, through and through, and she said that’s exactly what she wants her new Southern culinary endeavor to be.

“My family came over the mountain from Transylvania County in 1849,” explained Earnest. “I’m a real local person, I grew up in Waynesville. That’s a big source of pride, to be able to be here, to be a local person that’s starting a new business.

“My family’s been in business here for a long time, so I want to work very hard to uphold that tradition.”

And with the November opening of her restaurant in Clyde’s old Wal-Mart shopping center, she proudly joined the ranks of other small-business owners looking to serve the local community.

Asked why she chose to open a restaurant in such tumultuous economic times, Earnest said this was really the most logical step in her career.

She’s been in food service for most of her life, graduating from A-B Tech’s culinary program in 1994. For the last eight years, she’s been one of the top salespeople at Sysco, the commercial food distributor. While she said she was happy — and successful — there, she wanted something new, something of her own. And to Earnest, the uncertain economy made it an even more appropriate time to take such a big step.

“I believe that it’s kind-of a more important time than ever for us to take charge of our careers rather than sit back,” said Earnest, so she and her partner Steve Redmond put together a plan, secured a location and opened for business.

She said business has been encouragingly steady since they opened, and they’re eager for the influx of customers that the Wal-Mart revamp promises.

Since Haywood County commissioners have committed to moving hundreds of their staff to the old storefront by the fall — when the building will house the Department of Social Services and the Health Department — the Blue Rooster will have a whole new crop of full-time and hungry workers as neighbors. Earnest hopes that more than a few of them will become regulars. In fact, it was a part of the business plan from the beginning.

“We’re near all the biggest employers, and of course the big project that the county’s working on, that was a huge part of our plan,” said Earnest, adding that she wouldn’t have embarked on the project if she wasn’t certain the county was going to add to her client base with the project.

When she started toying with the idea, though, Earnest said there were several restaurant concepts that they were working with. They finally settled on Southern cuisine because they couldn’t think of anything that fit the space, the place and their own tastes better.

“Southern cooking is my personal heritage,” said Earnest. “I’m a good Southern girl, that’s the food I was raised eating and cooking. It just turned out that that’s the genre that fit that location.”

She said that being right in the middle of the county is a pro for the business, too, because they’re offering down-home food that you can’t really get in that area.

“Being away from Waynesville proper, you know, with the lake right next to us and of course the hospital, the college, Lowe’s, and all the churches that are out there, we’re right in the middle of Haywood County. And I think Southern comfort foods in Haywood County, that’s what people want to eat.”

Apart from having local clientele, the restaurant is looking to provide local food, too. For someone who spent nearly a decade sourcing good foods and ingredients for other restaurateurs, Earnest said she and her staff are prepared to use the best local food in whatever ways they can.

“In food service, about 150 miles is what we consider local,” said Earnest, and she’s happy to report that they’ve been able to source natural chicken and natural ground beef from inside that range, as well as some other ingredients. And when the spring rolls back around, they hope to be plating up offerings from even closer to home.

“We’ve already had lots of farmers that come eat with us that are saying, ‘hey, we want to do your tomatoes,’” said Earnest, “and that’s really exciting.”

But until then, she said that everyone at the restaurant is happy to be in business, offering their neighbors something they couldn’t get before and cultivating relationships with customers they hope will be dining there for years to come.

“We already have regulars, I mean what does that tell you?” Earnest said, excitedly. “That’s just a wonderful thing, to be able to work my dining room every day with my neighbors and my friends. My 86-year-old grandfather lives less than a mile from the restaurant and eats with me everyday.

“We’re not perfect, but we’re doing things right.”

Ghost hunters turn attention to historic Shook House

In the clear chill of a mid-October midnight, all is quiet, but in Clyde, a hunt is on. Within the walls of the county’s oldest house, the Cold Mountain Paranormal Society is holding an investigation — in laymen’s terms, they are ghost hunting.

This particular evening, the Shook House is their haunt, and they’re hoping to encounter some spirits of the past in this gem of Haywood County history.

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The house itself was built in stages, starting in the first few decades of the 1800s and continuing renovations and additions until the 1890s, when Levi Smathers and his family owned and expanded the home. The third level of the house served as a Methodist chapel and pulpit for the traveling circuit preachers in the early days of the county.

On the wide-board walls the scrawled signatures of many are still evident, like a centuries-old guestbook preserved in the planks. One of the home’s claims to fame is the lauded and legendary visit by Francis Asbury, traveling preacher and early Methodist church father. And while his name is not to be found on the chapel walls, his letters confirm a visit to the area in 1812.

But on this night, the quest is not for God, but for ghosts — or at least their early manifestations. As the paranormal crew lays their cords and sets up their infrared cameras, the group’s leader, Tony Ruff, explains what, exactly, they’re looking for.

Tony is a lifelong Haywood County resident, and both the high-tech equipment and the idea for the group’s inception are his.

“We kind-of hope to find any paranormal activity,” Ruff says, going on to explain the three basic stages of paranormal apparition.

The first is orbs.

“Some people say that’s the first stage of a spirit trying to manifest itself,” says Ruff, bedecked this evening in a “Ghost Hunters” T-shirt in honor of the occasion. An orb, to the untrained eye, looks like a little white circle, the halo of light that develops when a drop of water hits a camera lens. And Ruff says that it is easy to mistake a bug or some other easily explained phenomenon for an orb, so to be sure, photos must be blown up and analyzed.

The second stage is a mist, which is the step between an orb and a full-blown apparition and, apparently, is almost exactly what it sounds like: a mist.

When asked which they’re looking for this evening, fellow enthusiast and group member Laura Elizabeth, who describes herself as an author and medium, chimes in.

“An apparition would be wonderful,” says Elizabeth.

“That’s like the holy grail,” agrees Ruff.

Once the recorders are set — infrared cameras, a full-spectrum camera, several digital point-and-shoot models, motion detectors and a few electronic voice recorders, “because with most spirits, the frequency is lower and you can’t hear it with your ears,” Ruff explains — the investigation begins in earnest right around midnight.

While most of a ghost-hunting expedition is rather less exciting that one would anticipate — it is largely a waiting game — the three-person investigations have all the right ingredients for spookiness at times. With the lights off to prevent false-positives and the rooms empty of all but their furniture to avoid evidence contamination, the full weight of the house’s long history comes to bear, and every creak of the floorboards or breeze blowing through the walls prompts a look over the shoulder, conjures thoughts of Shooks and Smathers and Morgans, haunting the halls of their historic home. And although asking questions of empty rooms feels, at times, foolish, Ruff says it is sometimes the best way to get a response from an apparition.

To prepare for this night, Ruff and his compatriots did exhaustive research, trying to learn the ins and outs of the house’s history.

“The more you know about a place, the better off you are,” says Ruff. “Knowledge is the best thing to prepare for an investigation. The more history you have, the better chance you have of catching something.”

And if this is true, the group could not have chosen a more opportune location. The Shook house predates the creation of Haywood County, and following its restoration, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, to be preserved as a treasured monument to the region’s growth and history.

The group spends the evening using their knowledge and equipment attempting to make contact with those who lived, loved and likely died here.

And after four hours spent trying to entice the spirits into appearance, the paranormal enthusiasts pack up their equipment and go home to analyze their data.

In the end, the ghosts of Shooks past didn’t manifest themselves fully, but Ruff, Elizabeth and the seven others joining them all agreed that there were orbs to be had.

“You don’t have to see anything to have activity,” says Ruff.

And who knows, if the orbs were flying on this investigation, maybe the ghosts themselves will soon follow.

Buffer buyout launched along Pigeon River

A trail alongside the Pigeon River may materialize between Canton and Clyde, but recreation will not be its primary purpose.

The goal is to create a buffer zone clear of any development 100 feet from the riverbank as a safeguard in the event of future floods. The buffer strip could additionally be used as a walking trail or biking trail beside the river.

“It’s much more than a recreational use — it’s mitigating a flood hazard,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews.

Haywood County, along with the towns of Canton and Clyde, undertook the project shortly after massive flooding on the Pigeon left a devastating wake in 2004.

All three worked together to lock down $1 million from the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Though that is far less than the $10 million they originally applied for, the trio still has a chance of receiving additional funding from Clean Water.

Most of the work on the trail now involves acquiring conservation easements for nearly 100 properties in the flood plain next to the river, a process that could take years.

Property owners will be reimbursed for participating with a share of the $1 million that’s been set aside.

Though the program would be mutually beneficial to both landowners and the river, it will be strictly voluntary, according to Tony Sexton, project specialist for Haywood County.

For those who participate, farming alongside the Pigeon could continue, though building new structures would be forbidden.

For now, Sexton is not positive a full-fledged greenway will be achievable. He anticipates a checkerboard effect of conservation easements along the river.

“It’s unusual to get three or four property owners in a row that ever agree on anything,” said Sexton. “The odds of having a continuous swath of property owners is fairly remote.”

Asheville-based Martin-McGill Associates is coordinating the project and will be responsible for acquiring properties or negotiating conservation easements with property owners.

While everyone hopes that the 2004 disaster won’t repeat itself, a buffer would be helpful in case another major flood strikes, said Ellen McKinnon, grant administrator with Martin-McGill.

“This is a proactive thing to do before the next flood,” said Sexton.

McKinnon has begun talking to property owners about the easements, but still spends most of her time with paperwork at this stage.

Sexton agreed that securing the $1 million grant has been a drawn-out process.

“There’s lots of hoops to be jumped through and committees that only meet once every three months,” said Sexton.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the project hasn’t faded over the years.

“What we’re trying to do is make the Pigeon River as healthy as possible, so that it can handle the influx of water,” said McKinnon. “These buffers are incredibly helpful to keep the banks stable and keep that sedimentation out of the water.”

“We are excited,” said Joy Garland, town administrator for Clyde. “It’s a great opportunity for the towns, as well as the county.”

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