The Great American Road Trip
Destination: West Virginia
Movie: October Sky (1999)
There is no question in my mind that West Virginia would like to be known for more than coal mining, and yet the industry so defined the state, that a movie set in a coal mining town seems a perfect introduction to a West Virginia stop on the Great American Road Trip. However, this movie shows that besides coal, some great people came out of West Virginia.
Be sure to click on over to Music Road for some coal mining music to play while you drive through West Virginia.
“Sometimes one dream is enough to light up the whole sky.“
I recently re-watched the ten-year-old October Sky, starring the adorable Jake Gylenhaal as Homer, the Rocket Boy. The movie affected me as strongly the second time around as it did the first, but this time I paid more attention to the background.
Armed with some research, I now know that the movie was actually filmed in and around Coalwood, West Virginia, a company town until the mine was closed some ten years after this story takes place. Despite the gritty reality of coal mining, some of the surrounding wooded hills and streams will lure travelers looking for some backwoods peace and quiet. And the 1950’s atmosphere is recreated nicely, particularly helped along by a terrific sound track of music right off the Hit Parade.
In brief, the Soviet Union’s 1952 launch of the first rocket to become an earth satellite inspires a group of high school boys, led by Homer Hickam, to experiment with rocketry. For Homer, the event that sets him on fire, also ignites a feud with his father, manager of the mine. One teacher believes in him, and the book and the movie form an education message that continues to be used in classrooms.
While the movie (I have not read the book, written by the real Homer Hickam) simmers in all sorts of delicious twists and turns, some pretty melodramatic, everything is based on fact. (Here’s a site that sorts out the real from the reel drama.) The most heart-warming scenes of the entire movie, for me, come at the end when pictures of the real-life rocket boys flash on the screen and we see how their “little hobby” led to solid careers, not one of which involves going underground in a coal mine.
You might want to take your Road Trip to West Virginia in October, not only to see the beautiful colored leaves on the hillsides, but also to attend the October Skys Festival in and around Coalwood.
My research also revealed an interesting fact about the movie title. Of course, the obvious reason for October Sky, is that the Soviet Union fired off the first rocket to orbit the earth in October, 1952. But in addition, there’s a bit of word play going on with the title of the book that spawned the movie, Rocket Boys. Your assignment for today is to figure that out and report in the comment section what you discover.
Other questions about West Virginia? It is bordered on the northwest by the ___River. It used to be part of what other state? It was the birthplace of several famous people including a Civil War General. The major industry is___.
You can find a whole bunch of other movie sites to visit in West Virginia when you take your own movie road trip to that state at this site researched by an academic.
Photo of Blackwater Falls State Park, courtesy of West Virginia Department of Commerce (www.wvcommerce.org) Photo of Jake Gylenhaal from web site–click on picture to go to site.