I’m fairly certain that nearly everyone who has traveled much in West Virginia or even in many other states has at some point noticed the trio of crosses that are visible from many roads or interstate highways. Perhaps, though, you may not know the story behind the beginning of the crosses — one gold cross in the center and two blue ones on each side that are intended to signify the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible.
What I would like to do today is to relate the story behind the existence of the crosses and connect them to all COVID-19 victims in a memorable way that might forever serve to honor the lives of those who succumbed to the terrible virus, just as the crosses are intended to remind us of the death of Jesus. It is my hope that upon each future sighting of the crosses, families and friends of the deceased will be reminded of their loved ones and perhaps reflect upon their lives.
To begin with, let me point out that you may look through a telephone directory and find the last names of numerous Logan Countians that we’re all familiar with — locally common names such as Adams, Bryant, Conley, Farley, Hensley, Evans and many others. However, there is one name that, when mentioned in Logan County, can (to the best of my knowledge) be linked to just one family, and in particular, one man who died as a result of COVID — Larry Coffindaffer.
It’s not like Larry and I were great friends or anything, but as the longtime court reporter for Logan County Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant, and as a former Logan softball league foe, we occasionally traded barbs and had much in common, particularly when it came to sports. Larry fell victim to COVID not even a year ago, after a long hospital struggle. His presence in the Chapmanville arena of sports leagues and school events is sadly missed in Tiger land.
So, the following account is dedicated especially to Larry, his family, and his many friends. And, who knows? He may have even been related to Rev. Bernard Coffindaffer, the West Virginian who, after undergoing two open-heart surgeries, started in 1984 erecting the crosses because he said a spirit appeared to him and directed him to do so.
After becoming quite wealthy in a coal-related business, the former businessman-turned-evangelist spent nearly $3 million dollars of his own money erecting crosses in various parts of the country, including the District of Columbia, and even in Zambia and the Philippines.
He was born in the small town of Craigsville in Nicholas County, West Virginia. After reaching the age of 42, he became a Christian and later ministered several Methodist churches in Pocahontas County. Coffindaffer’s life consisted of six years in the Marines during World War II that included duty a Iwo Jima and Nagasaki. He later began his successful industrial career after graduating from the University of Charleston with a degree in business.
Coffindaffer’s success story can truly be appreciated when one realizes that he became an orphan at 10 years old following the death of his mother. His father had died before her, making his life story that much more amazing.
If you’ve traveled north on Interstate 79 in West Virginia — something Larry Coffindaffer did many times in route to a WVU sporting event — then you likely have seen the first three crosses ever erected by the Rev. Coffindaffer, which he had placed in his native county near Flatwoods. All totaled, there are nearly 2,000 sets of crosses erected in the United States, including 352 in West Virginia.
Most travelers recognize the crosses as monuments to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, perhaps the most important event in Christianity. A group of three crosses can usually be spotted approximately 50 miles apart from each other in much of the eastern and southern part of the U.S. The crosses symbolize Christ on the cross flanked by the two thieves who were crucified with him.
The middle cross is painted gold and the two smaller crosses are always blue.
Each cross is made of Douglas fir and weighs about 400 pounds. Rev. Coffindaffer at one time hired nine full-time employees to erect the crosses after he founded the nonprofit organization, “Crosses of Mercy — Cast Thy Bread Inc.,” which he operated from his basement home.
One month after having erected a trio of gold and blue crosses in Ozark, Alabama, in September of 1993, the man with the “big heart” died from a heart attack at his home. Nevertheless, his non-profit program — now renamed “Crosses Across America” — continues and is headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
It is this writer’s hope that from now on, every time a friend or family member of Larry Coffindaffer or any COVID-19 victim happens to see a trio of crosses while traveling anywhere in the U.S.A., they will be reminded of a loved one who has passed on.
In a twist to this story, I can tell you that there is (to the best of my knowledge) only one place in Logan County where the trio of crosses were erected, although I don’t know when the work was done.
Even though most of the Coffindaffer crosses erected in America were located near major highways for maximum visibility purposes, the crosses in Logan County are located approximately nine miles outside of Logan on a rural hillside many of us are very familiar with — the William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann.
One has to imagine that the choice of placing the crosses at the cemetery was because of the anticipated frequency of visitors to the historic site. Unfortunately, if you are an aged person or anyone handicapped, or just physically unable to trek up the steep and unkept dirt road to visit the life-sized statue of ol’ Devil Anse, well, I suppose you can take solace in the fact that one can at least clearly identify the three crosses that stand on the cemetery hill.
It seems to me that Rev. Coffindaffer’s “vision” is apparent at the cemetery site and elsewhere in much of West Virginia and other places. On the other hand, I think it suffice to say that the many visitors to the Hatfield Cemetery do not go there to look at the crosses — crosses that visitors likely saw on their way from other states to ride the Hatfield-McCoy trails and to visit the mostly neglected cemetery.
The road leading to the cemetery is an embarrassment to Logan County.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.