Mother's Day sign.

Mother's Day Shrine

Field review by the editors.

Grafton, West Virginia

The Mother's Day Shrine is in an old church on Main Street in the downtown of this once more-prosperous town. It commemorates the first celebration of Mother's Day, which took place here on May 10, 1908. It wasn't until six years later that President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday, possibly to whip up "Let's defend our mothers from the Hun" sentiment, pre-World-War-I. The holiday was started by a local, Anna Jarvis, who historians say never enjoyed motherhood herself. Over in Fairmont, West Virginia, there's a simple highway sign marking the site of the first observance of Father's Day; this memorial in contrast is significantly more substantial.

After strolling the grounds of the shrine, we entered the deserted main building. After a pause, an older woman stuck her head out from behind a large wooden door and said nothing. Neither did we. We eyeballed each other warily. She finally spoke.

"What?"

"May we view the church?"

"It's not a church. It's a sanctuary."

Another pause. She emerged from behind the door. "I'm not going to show you around until every one of you gets here." We were all already here. We decided to make conversation.

"When do you get most of your visitors. On Mother's Day?"

"No. Hey -- where are you going? Don't you want to see the sanctuary?"

Update: Our original visit to the Mother's Day Shrine and encounter with the "gatekeeper" was in 1994. A New York Times reporter was traveling with us, and frankly, the time saved by fleeing Grafton was a blessing that allowed us, 11 hours later, to gamble for canned hams on the Jersey Shore. We never actually entered the Mother's Day Shrine, and our account was limited to the strange doorway exchange.

International Mother's Day Shrine and Museum Program Coordinator Cindy Mason wrote to us in 2006: "Although I am well aware that your description on this site is accurate for the time that you visited, it is now in the hands of a much more welcoming team. Our mission is to preserve, promote and develop through education the spirit of motherhood. ...[The Shrine's] Board made a very wise decision to open the doors to the public, conduct daily tours, and focus the facility as a community outreach center. "

Mother's Day Shrine

Mother's Day House and Welcome Center

Address:
11 E. Main St., Grafton, WV
Directions:
On Main St., next to city hall
Phone:
304-265-1589
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October 21, 2014

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