Freak Show Sanctuary

“It was a bunch of freaks, whether it was punk rockers with mohawks, or hippies or whatever – it was a sanctuary and I like to think it still is.”

That’s Don Duppee, one of the managers in charge of running the day-to-day operations at 123 Pleasant St. He’s been with the freak show since the start, coming in as a freshman in 1985 – heading to 123 Pleasant St. for his first time on September 4 – and it has been home to him ever since.

And the 123 Pleasant St. we know all too well may not have been a reality if it weren’t for this guy, along with LJ (the head manager) and the local community that has loved the brick row sound garden since its beginnings.

This week I headed back to 123 with Michael Caplinger, the historian, and got to check out the main office for the venue. Obviously, it was a treasure trove of ticket stubs and event posters. But one picture stood out:


That’s Marsha Ferber, the legendary creator of the Underground Railroad that started the music wave in Morgantown.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know her story is an interesting one to say the least – vanishing outright in 1988 without a trace. The Underground Railroad closed down shortly after. It opened again as the The Nyabinghi Dance Hall, but due to complications with the building it was ready to be shutdown.

“When this bar shutdown – the dance hall – when it closed and that whole legacy of the Underground Railroad and everything – it was devastating to this community. It really was. It can’t be underestimated what a dark cloud descended on Morgantown at that time. It was like ‘what are we going to do? Is it worth even being here’ because there was no outlet for anything like that?”

They managed to buy the condemned building and spent half a year refurbishing the century-old building, conducting “some kind of geology experiment.”

“(The building) was neglected. The biggest issue as far as code enforcement was the electric, so that was huge. And there were a lot of holes in it, and the building inspector really frowns on holes,” Duppee said. “It was in bad shape. A lot of work that had been done to this building over the years – going back decades – a lot of it was like ‘well you know we can fix that or just lay something down on top of it.’ So you started ripping up the floor in the upper bar and there’s like 5 layers of flooring. There’s linoleum, and then there’s a layer of carpeting, and then another layer of linoleum. Oh my god they just never took anything up, just layered it over.”

With the help of the community, they managed to dig the building out and revamp it in a matter of 6 months.

“I mean I don’t even know how we did that,” Duppee said. “It seems to me now – we’re all much older and maybe much wiser – but I can’t even figure out how we managed to do that. But there were a lot of us. Literally hundreds of trips to the dump to throw stuff away.”

Morgantown can certainly attest to new out-of-town businesses coming in nowadays, and Duppee speculates that the brick row may have been home to these random assortment of businesses if it were not for the communal love that kept the joint alive.

“For LJ to see that at that time – a much younger man than he is now – to look at it and be able to say ‘I have the means to do this; I can take on this project,’ it was pretty monumental,” Duppee said. “I can’t imagine that if he hadn’t have done this… if he hadn’t had stepped up I don’t know that this would not be a parking lot right now…”

“Or changed into a sheets,” Caplinger chimed in.

And thank god they kept it that way. The assortment of ticket stubs I saw in that office was staggering. A random compilation of musicians you never thought would make a stop in Motown:



(Pt. 3 of an ongoing series.. )

7 thoughts on “Freak Show Sanctuary”

  1. First of all, I must say that I love how you have a series going. I think that’s a really cool idea, especially for a blog that may only span one month. Secondly, I think this piece is really cool. I enjoyed proof-reading it earlier, and I think the title is really catchy. Made me want to read it at least. The photos are eerie, which is all the better. Great final post!


  2. This was a great post. I really enjoyed the series you did and I love the visuals you have in this post. It was really informative for someone like me who doesn’t know anything about 123 Pleasant because I don’t frequent there but this piece kind of makes me want to go. Also great title. It drew me in immediately. Great post


  3. I’m gonna miss this series, bruh. It was really cool to learn about all of this. It makes me wonder what other places in Morgantown have a rich history that nobody really knows about.


  4. I really like how you had a series going it made me want to go check out your other post. I also really liked the angle you took for this story. It wasn’t just well heres a guy it was the history and the pictures are really cool. I wonder what it would be if LJ didn’t take over…parking lot sounds about right, but good thing we don’t have to find out.


  5. This was a really good series, thanks for doing this. It’s cool that a place like 123 Pleasant – which has been there forever and I think a lot of people take for granted – has so much history and intrigue behind it, including a mysterious disappearance. If you don’t cut it short due to the end of the class, I’d love to see the end.


  6. This series is awesome. Good work. I’ve enjoyed reading these. The visuals were really cool and I think that your quotes really contributed to your blog in a really great way. I’ve learned a lot after readying these. If you continued to write them, I would read them!


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