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‘Babydog’ Presence on Seneca Rocks Mural

By The Pendleton Times

In the original design, the center-right field in the middle of the West Virginia State Capitol’s mural on the West Side of the rotunda simply had grass in it. The center top featured Seneca Rocks while figures representing culture and recreation held a traditional wedding party known as a “shiveree.”

Between then and the application of the finished product, a curious thing occurred. A very familiar round white English bulldog with tongue panting is now found sitting on the previously empty patch of grass.

Some felt that this indicated that state government had gone to the dogs.

“Babydog Mural Highlights Weak Capitol Oversight” trumpeted a headline from an online outlet called “Mountain State Spotlight.”  The accompanying article said that “confusing rules” have “hampered” oversight and that “disastrous effects” could result.

The guideline for the mural was to “depict iconic state scenes and landmarks” as part of original architect Cass Gilbert’s vision. Randall Reid-Smith, secretary for the West Virginia Art, Culture, and History, explained that members of the committee who formed to make decisions concerning the murals noticed that the scene depicted no wildlife. 

At first, some suggested that an elk be placed in the open space to reflect the state’s initiative to restore their population in West Virginia. “And then they said a dog,” Reid-Smith explained, going on to add that “all of us at the same time said ‘Babydog’ and that’s how it came about.”

Reid-Smith also noted that as the governor’s pet so closely identified with his promotion of state government and policy that Babydog is state history.

Governor Jim Justice told West Virginia Metro News that “I was just as shocked as anybody. When I walked out there, I was sitting in the chair or the stool, and I kept looking up there and everything and I kept saying ‘my gosh.’ . . . I couldn’t really determine if it looked like Babydog and everything.”

He went on to say that “Randall said it was her 20th grandma.” Justice added that he was told that the dog could have historically been there.

Some criticized the inclusion of the governor’s pet, saying that it violated the guidelines of the mural and perhaps even the rules governing such additions to the appearance of the Capitol. Charles Burgoyne, former Pendleton County Commissioner and school board member agreed, saying “I don’t think that Babydog has any place in a mural that represents West Virginia culture, history, or natural landmarks like Seneca Rocks.”

Burgoyne suggested that a more appropriate and accurate choice of canines would have been a “blue tick hound dog used for hunting.” He asserted that “I just think it is totally out of place and in no way represents West Virginia.”

Paul Clayton, president of the Pendleton County Historical Society, however, said, “I don’t have any heartburn about Babydog being in the mural,” saying that the mural also represents individuals, like President Abraham Lincoln, who were never in Pendleton County.

“Personally, I’m a fan of Babydog,” said Dewayne Borror, also from the historical society. He added, however, that “they never ask Pendleton our opinion” and that the “Independent State of Pendleton” has “always had our own opinion about things.” He quipped that “I am happy Seneca Rocks was represented. Maybe people (in Charleston) will ask ‘where are they?’”

Amber Nesselrodt, executive director of the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau supported the inclusion of the governor’s pet on “one of the most iconic landmarks in West Virginia” and that it “definitely shines a spotlight on our most popular tourist attraction.”

“I think it’s pretty cool that Seneca Rocks has a mural in the Capitol,” stated Sam Yokum, owner of Yokum’s Vacationland and related tourist serving businesses situated near the base of the mountain. He added that “I don’t have a problem with Babydog being on it, but it’s going to cost Jim Justice a trip to Seneca Rocks with his dog. They’ll have to come and visit!”

Babydog joined other edits to the original design. Members of the committee also, for example, pointed out that it would be appropriate to include a representation of black Americans and a figure was added.

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