Mountain Made by J.T. Arbogast
Everyone has an emotional home. It’s not necessarily where you were born, or even where you grew up, but it’s the place you dream about in the quiet moments—the place that defines your happiest memories. For me, that place is the tiny, turn-of-the-century logging town of Cass.
Though I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, my roots run deep in the mountains of Pocahontas County. Both sides of my family are from there, my grandparents owned a grocery store on Main Street, and 50 years ago—after the mill shut down—my granddad, Jack Kane, wore out two cars driving back and forth to Charleston lobbying the state legislature to turn Cass into the state park it is today.
Every holiday and summer of my life we packed up the car to go “home” to Nana’s house. When I think back on my childhood and the stories and events that define who I am as a person, almost all of them can be found there. Whether it was walking the tracks up Back Mountain, fishing Leatherbark Creek, big family dinners around the table, or sitting out on the front porch with Nana late into the evening, each trip brought me closer to who I am today. I learned to make my bed every morning, turn my socks right side out before they go in the “warsh,” and, more importantly, to approach the world with a smile and appreciate even the simplest of things in life. That’s where the beauty lies.
West Virginia is so often depicted in films as a place where terrifying hillbillies come down out of the mountains to kill college kids who made a wrong turn. But that’s not the West Virginia I know, nor is it the West Virginia known by the people who call it home. It’s a state full of beautiful landscapes, small towns, and proud, hardworking people. I knew one day I was going to find a way to show that to the world, but for many years I was unsure exactly how.
In 2004, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and over the next few years I watched as she slowly lost her memories. Through it all, the one thing she always held onto was the little town of Cass she had helped to save so many years before. She was so proud of the place and the people. There was something very poetic about her struggle to hang onto her memories while living in a place that is a preserved memory, and that will also pass away in time.
After she passed away in 2008, an idea for a film began to take shape. Inspired by my roots, her battle with this terrible disease, and the life lessons I owe to those trips “home,” I set out to write a love letter to Cass. I wanted to make a film to show the world a place where people still sit on their front porches and wave, cake walks still happen in the summertime, and a lonesome train whistle still blows as the train climbs up Back Mountain—and there are no hillbillies waiting to kill you.
Nana always introduced herself as, “Dess Kane from Cass, West Virginia,” followed quickly by one question: “Have you ever been to ride the train?” She thought everyone should see this place and experience its beauty. Through this project, I hope to carry on that tradition for her, and I hope you’ll consider taking the ride with us.
Through the support of friends, family, fellow Mountaineers, and an extraordinary partnership with the West Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, we aim to begin shooting Angel’s Perch in the spring of 2012 and hope to premiere the film in West Virginia in the fall. Just like that ol’ Shay locomotive, the project continues to find its way, picking up passengers as it steams along, bringing us ever closer to the top of the mountain and the realization of this dream. Folks who wish to learn more about the project or make donations can visit Angel's Perch online or on Facebook.
J.T. Arbogast is a Los Angeles-based actor with Pocahontas County roots, working on a film set almost entirely in Cass. Called Angel’s Perch, the film examines the delicate relationship between past and present, memory and loss. The film is part of a partnership with the West Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. J.T. plans to begin shooting in spring 2012 and premiere the film in West Virginia in the fall.