WHERE JUSTIFIED BEGAN: Read on. It isnt Harlan, Ky.

  • WHERE ‘JUSTIFIED’ BEGAN: Read on. It isn’t Harlan, Ky.


Funny thing. I’ve been power watching the first two seasons of “Justified,” the FX series about a federal marshal who more often than not finds a way to put a justified plug in a bad guy. It’s set among the lowlife-studded hills and hollows Harlan County, Ky. A stock opening shot shows a long view of a small town, I presume to be Harlan. I’ve found myself with a curious hankering to drive up there and look around for that blind tiger mobile home or the country store run by a homicidal matriarch famed for her “apple pie” moonshine. (Careful you drink only from the vessel she drinks from, lest you get some mountain hemlock as an additive.)

It comes to mind again from a New York Times story about an effort in West Virginia to make a tourist attraction of the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Local tourism departments, along with members of the Hatfield and McCoy families, are working to transform feud folklore into a dependable source of jobs and revenue for Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, a region grappling with the decline of coal. In the past year, communities along the Tug Fork, the stream that is the state boundary in the area, have witnessed a surge in out-of-town foot traffic, tourists by the thousands drawn to the region in search of history.

Officials on both sides of the river attribute the increase to “Hatfields & McCoys,” a 2012 History Channel mini-series that told the families’ story. There is an urgency to capitalize on the show, Mr. Hatfield said, and to promote the feud as a draw to the region.


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Dark and violent history is always more compelling than the genteel stuff. If you ever find yourself in Melbourne, Australia, for example, be sure to visit its historic jail, full of death masks of desperadoes and lots of stories about that country’s violent frontier past. Little Rock has its Central High museum, which wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic had the desegregation battle been carried out only in court and school board meetings. Angry mobs and armed troops, with TV cameras running, are more riveting.

What else do we have? The Brooks-Baxter war isn’t bad. The 1969 civil rights march of Lance “Sweet Willie Wine” Watson across the Delta is a fine story with many witnesses still around to talk about it. In fact, it’s at the center of Arkansas native C.D. Wright’s book, “One With Others,” which she talked about at the recent Arkansas Literary Festival.

A kicker on where this rumination started: Harlan County, Ky., is already equipped with a website that separates fact from fiction about Harlan as depicted in “Justified.” I learned, for one thing, that the series pilot, with the long view of a town, was actually filmed in Pennsylvania, Kittanning to be precise.