hippie…part thirty four…Mud Farm Seder (copied to word)

“What are we going to use for lamb’s blood?”

“How about tamari sauce?” laughed Marsha.

The house was a convivial crawl as things were prepared for the seder. The sun was still in the afternoon sky, but the prophet wouldn’t wait. You had to be ready.


Strider and his big white dog were always on the corner.

The dog was friendly, but Strider gave me the creeps. Strider was tall and slender with long blondish Jesus hair. He always carried a satchel slung over one shoulder. He never mentioned a “farm” or “land” like any other hippie in town. He could have been homeless, but he was so at ease wherever he stood that he didn’t need a home.

“You want to come with me?”

I didn’t at first think Strider was talking to me. I was on my way up the stairs to the health food store, and had just gone past him standing at the doorway.

“Where?” I asked, more from curiosity than agreement.

“Do you want to come with me?” he asked again, this time taking on the other worldly stare that he had. The stare was what creeped me, more than the man. It just seemed like he was seeing something that no one else could. It couldn’t be called a trance, but his eyes sort of opened wide enough to show white all around the iris, and his voice took on a sound that seemed to be a lack of concentration.

Strider was benign. He fancied himself the character from Tolkien’s Trilogy, and it actually served him well. I don’t think he was a ‘settling down’ type of person, and the wandering persona of Strider gave him license.

I really didn’t have any excuses not to go on an adventure.

“Let’s go in this truck,” said Strider. I hesitated, because the old pickup was parked there at the curb with no one in it, and I knew it wasn’t his truck. He was Strider, and he walked everywhere.

Strider let down the tailgate on the truck, and the big white furry dog jumped up without being told. Strider opened the passenger door.

“Get in.” he said.

I got in.

He motioned me to move to the middle of the seat.

I did.

Then he got in the passenger side next to me, and closed the door.

We were obviously not trying to steal the truck, which greatly relieved me. At the same time, I wasn’t sure why we were sitting in a parked truck at the curb. How were we to “go” somewhere if there was no driver?

In the time it took for those thoughts to pass through my mind, a dark haired hippie came down the stairs from the health food store. He was carrying a bag. He was extraordinarily handsome, and it made me stare.

The dark haired handsome hippie got into the drivers seat, and started the truck. He turned to me and smiled, but didn’t say a word.

We drove out of town to the east, and turned north up a road I had never been on before.


“Where are the walnuts?” asked Marsha. “I can’t make a fruit salad without the walnuts.”

Marsha wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, but was asking the entire commune to help her locate the walnuts. She had a big voice, pleasant and loud.

“Somebody! I need walnuts!” she said again, this time louder, when no one had seemed to respond.

There were at least twenty people engaged in various preparation activities in different parts of the huge open room of the farmhouse, and as a unit, when Marsha asked again, loudly, all movement stopped.

‘Walnuts’ had become the focus.  I was fascinated by every one’s apparent involvement in locating the walnuts, but no one was moving. No one was hunting for them.

“Sharla will know,” someone said quietly.  “Somebody, go get Sharla for Marsha.”

A short, slim man slipped out the open front door. Nobody else had moved or talked.

There wasn’t tension in the big room, but rather a feeling of anticipation, like a favorite Aunt was coming to visit.

A young woman appeared on the threshold.

“I can’t find the walnuts,” Marsha said again, this time to the young woman named Sharla.


Marsha was the matriarch of the Mud Farm, not so much by design but by quality of personality. Marsha was just that way. She was inclusive and comforting, and you always knew she was there, because you could hear her voice.

“Is Marsha here?” would be asked, and the answer would be, “Yes, she’s here. I heard her.”

The Mud Farm was one of two communes that had developed simultaneously across a few hills from one another.  The Mud Farm’s people were mostly from Long Island, and the Armadillo Farm people had come to West Virginia from Texas. The Muds and the Armadillos were legend.

A rumor of good authority was that the daughter of Walter Cronkite, the television journalist, lived at the Mud Farm, and he would visit her there on occasion. Whenever he would visit, he would make a special trip to Arnoldsburg for pie, but that could have just been part of a myth.

West Virginia was the magnetic choice for the people needing to be back on the land. They came from everywhere of their own unique volition, but met hundreds of other doing the exact same thing once they hid in the mountains.


Sharla stood in the doorway and scanned around the big kitchen great room. She stood there for a long time, not moving, just scanning. Every one watched her.

Marsha and I were side by side at the kitchen counter island that was made of a cinder block base with a slab of butcher block for the top. She was making the fruit salad of apples chopped into little cubes, with the red peels still on, and I had been helping by preparing orange slices.

Sharla looked straight at me. She had the same white eyed stare that Strider had. She stood staring at me, and I began to feel horribly uncomfortable.

All this while, no one in the room had talked or moved. Everyone seemed to be waiting for something to happen.

Then Sharla started to glide toward me. The hair stood up on my neck. I had a paring knife in my hand, but it hardly felt like protection. I was terrified.

Sharla approached the butcher block island and stood staring right into my face from the opposite side. She wasn’t really looking at me, but rather through me. I could feel myself tear up, but that was all I could do. I was frozen in place.

Sharla put her left hand on the counter top, not really reaching out to me, but laying her hand toward my direction, palm down. Without moving her hand, leaving it like an anchor, she moved her body around the end of the counter, coming around to my side. I stepped back, away from the butcher block, and the oranges and the fruit salad.

I’m not sure what I actually witnessed at that moment, but I don’t think it was ordinary. There could have been any number of explanations for what happened, but ultimately there is only one conclusion.

Sharla bent down where I had been seconds before, and reached her slender hand into one of the holes in the cinder block island.  She withdrew a crinkly cellophane bag of walnuts. She laid them on the counter, and then with a serene smile to Marsha, glided back out the open front door and down the porch steps.

Activity resumed in the room, and some soft laughter came from a far corner.

Marsha grabbed each side of the walnut bag with her hands, and pulled the top open.

“It just wouldn’t be a fruit salad without the walnuts,” she said to me as she crumbled handfuls of the nuts into the big waiting bowl.


“Ginsberg. I’m gonna do the Ginsberg part,” I heard Marsha saying quietly to a young man who was standing next to her holding a book and pointing to a place in it with his finger.

Marsha was at the head of an enormously long, heavy, communal dining table. It was late afternoon, and the sun was on it’s way behind a hill, throwing a cool light into the hollers. It was early spring, and even though it was cold at night, the daytime reminded you to enjoy the cool while it lasted.

This balmy strange day was finishing, and I was hungry and beginning to wonder how I was going to get home. The handsome hippie with the truck that had brought me to the farm lived here. He wasn’t going back into town tonight. Strider was nowhere to be found. He and his big white dog had disappeared.

Candles were lit in front of Marsha, and it threw the room into darkness, except for her face. Everyone stood around the table.

“Why are you here tonight?” Marsha asked.

I scrambled in my brain to find an answer.

I didn’t know.

My eyes filled with tears.

Was I not supposed to be here among these strangers?

How was I going to get home? Why did I come in the first place? What was going on?

Why did I have to live in an apartment in town, and not out here where it was peaceful?

In the candlelight, I had mistaken the question from Marsha as one that I alone needed to answer. The question was not mine alone. It was a traditional question, but Marsha had put her own twist on it.

“I’m making this quick!”  she said. ” I’m starving!”

Marsha proceeded with the rituals of the seder. Homemade matzoh, a giant horseradish root grown in the garden, bowls of salty water, “to represent tears” I was told. Wine.

Then we sang a Bob Dylan song. I knew the words.

The front door rattled as a wind swept down the holler. Everyone turned toward it.

“Open it up! Elijah wants in!” Marsha shouted.

Everybody laughed.

A slight girl in a long skirt jumped up and opened the door, shoving a rock doorstop in front of it, propping the door open wide.

The full moon was just rising over the hill.

“Pass the fruit salad!” Marsha trumpeted, and the big bowl passed hand to hand in her direction.



I have gone on to learn that I was attending a seder, albeit a non-traditional seder. I wish I had known ahead of time what I was experiencing so that I did not include fear in my range of emotions.

Strider was strange.  That was not my imagination.

Sharla apparently divined the location of the walnuts, and everyone paused to watch her do it. I have thought up some more pragmatic explanations for her ‘ability’, but none fit. I saw what I saw, and it was magic.

I am honored to have known Marsha for the short period I did. I ‘heard’ her at numerous other hippie gatherings, always in the kitchen cooking something, or dishing out food to people. Always talking, always audible.

Marsha Ferber is presently listed as a missing person.  She moved at some point to Morgantown, West Virginia, and operated the “Underground Railroad” gathering place for food and music. She disappeared from there sometime in 1988.   She is an unsolved mystery.

I prefer to think of her as stirring a big steamy pot of something, somewhere, laughing and talking loudly, and maybe asking, “Why are you here tonight?”


Marsha Ferber

 123 Pleasant Street


35 thoughts on “hippie…part thirty four…Mud Farm Seder (copied to word)”

  1. what a really interesting thing to experience, I would have been a little freaked out too ;) that is horrible that Marsha is missing, always sad to read about people like her that are missing and possibly never heard from again :(

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    Marsha was one of those huge personalities.
    I only knew her for a short period of time, and can hardly say we were ‘friends’.
    Unless, of course, you counted me among the thousands of people she had as friends.
    I can’t even begin to speculate what happened to her.

  3. Yes, a great profile of Marsha. She sounds like the consummate earth mother. So sad to hear about her being missing. That must be hard for all who love her.

    Your hippie days are absolutely fascinating, leslie. I love, too, that you drop into these vignettes versus trying to paint them with a broad brush. The narratives and details pull me right in. (How long did you stay on the farm?)

  4. Hi ybonesy,
    I surprise myself with what I do and don’t remember of that time. Some of the dialog is in my head as if I’m hearing it right now.

    I have permanent visual mental images of events, and the trick for me has been to describe them in words so that they make sense to a reader.
    Sometimes I just want to say, “Roll film!”, like a movie director, and let everybody see what I see inside my visual mind, and just let me make popcorn :)

    I lived on the land from approximately April of 1973 until approximately September of 1975, so about 2 and a half years.
    The travelling around the country started in 1971, and I finally settled in Midland, Texas in late 1977.

  5. You do such a good job of putting a person right there with you.

    I was scared, too!

    I had that same “on the land” idea, but was too risk-averse to just *do* it, and the communal thing — no way; *far* too misanthropic.

  6. I’ve had waaaaaaaaay too much experience of groups of people supposedly working together toward some end.

    It is *always* the case that some people do their share, some people do a huge amount, and some people do nothing.

    Carrying the people who do nothing makes me crazy……………………..

  7. Vicki,
    In my old age (hehehe), I have embraced the notion that if I do something that I enjoy doing, and it benefits others, good. But I certainly don’t do it FOR others.
    “Expect” me to do something, and I become totally contrary.

  8. Wow. Marsha was an advertiser for Zenger, when it began as an underground paper. Passed through town about the time of her disappearance. She was freaked out about something. She was in a barely controlled panic. Didn’t find out about her case until much later. Didn’t know her last name and recently stumbled across this.

  9. Hi Jackson,
    It would be wonderful to have her case solved, wouldn’t it?
    I never knew Marsha to freak out about anything. She was always the one keeping every one else pretty cool…Is it possible it’s not the same person?
    If you think it is the same gal, will you contact the people investigating?
    What town are you referring to that you passed through?
    Sorry for all the questions, but maybe it might somehow help to think about all these things…
    Thanks for commenting.

  10. I came across your blog quite by accident while Googling WVA Mud Farm last night out of a ‘where-are-they-now’ nostalgic induced curiosity. I knew Marsha, although did not know of her disappearance. :( Bizarre and sad story. I sometimes visited both the Mud and Armadillo Farms in early 70’s, and had many friends at both. What is really weird deja vu and coincidence about your hippie story is Tanner Crossroads Bar. It was owned by my ex! I never entered the place, as he and I had already split up and I didn’t like bars or his heavy drinking_one of the inducers of our break-up. Also, I had already left the Spencer scene by then. I did know many who worked there, and our son (born 1971) sometimes visited his dad there before we (son and I) split for California. I have quite a WVA hippie story as well, but I’ve been concentrating on writing my back-to-the-land CA story! Your own story is provocative and unique, juxtaposition of innocent youthful exuberance with a seamy dark side. Email me if you’d like and we can talk. I’ve searched my brain; but cannot place you or Mike. I think we may have just missed each other??? But, you may remember me and/or my son?
    Glad you are well and thriving,

  11. What an amazing story. I’ve always been really interested in 123 Pleasant St. (used to be the Underground Railroad). It’s where we played our first gig.

    I’ve always been interested in Marsha and have tried to find out about her. I wrote a song about her called Marsha Ferber Will Have Her Revenge on Morgantown.

    If you’d care to talk more, leave a comment on our myspace page


  12. Thanks, Musician Morgantown,
    I may stop by over there at myspace to poke around.
    I don’t know that I have much more to add about Marsha.
    I know she was loved.

  13. I am Marsha Ferber’s niece – her brother Larry’s daughter. I google Marsha’s name every so often to see what, if anything new, is being written about her. Tonight, my 7-year-old daughter asked whether her Papop had any brothers or sisters and I told her about Marsha for the first time. Your story is wonderful and brings back many memories of Passover Seder celebrated with Marsha at my home growing up. Unfortunately, the family has not heard anything new about Marsha’s case for many years. The original detective passed away from cancer several years ago but it is still considered an open case in Morgantown. It is really helps ease the pain of her disappearance to know that so many people cared about her and still think about her.

  14. Hello Debbie,
    What an honor to have you comment here.
    Marsha was bigger than life, and I know that she is remembered and spoken of by many every day. She is unforgettable!
    I am proud to have your words here on the blog.

  15. Wow…I lived on the Mudd Farm the next year – was at the next year’s Seder in 76 – have photos. missed you by a few months. Very reminiscent…hadn’t thought of this in years. Was doing a google search for a lost friend thought I might trace them this way. Didn’t know Marsha had disappeared like that.

  16. Hi Eve,
    It is always such a nice surprise to have comments on this particular post. Glad you found it.
    At the risk of sounding greedy…you have photos??? I would love to see them , if you have a way.
    My email is leslie at lesliehawes dot com if you would be interested in sharing them.
    I hope my post described the scene fairly. It was an unusual place, and an unusual time.
    I hope you can connect with your friend.

  17. hello leslie,

    it was wonderful to read your piece, i am an original armadillo and still remember the day marsha and i think sam and a couple of other people came driving up our road in some big car and she said hi in that big way of hers and she had some mystic mint cookies. and those were heaven to sugar starved hippies. i lived in w. va. from 72 – 74 and was gone before the mudds were finally moved in. but i spent plenty of time with marsha. went to a rained out dead concert in n.j. sometime in 1975. she was one of a kind.

    jackson wolffe (formerly alan cohen)

  18. Hi Jackson!
    It would be just like Marsha to bring sweet peace offerings to the neighboring tribe!! :)
    I am so delighted that people who had the Mudd/Armadillo/West Virginia experience are finding this post and commenting. If it can reunite old friends, or help in bringing peace to Marsha in some small way, then the post has accomplished far more than intended.
    Thank you so much for adding to it. I appreciate it.
    (hehe…I never knew a Dead concert to not be rained out ;) )

  19. That’s a really great story, and I can just “see” Marsha in it. I lived next door to Marsha on College Ave. in Morgantown (77-78). Our houses were collectively known as “Earth House-I” (hers) and “Earth House-II” (ours). We shared many communal meals and parties. I never typed at that time, so I paid Marsha to type all my papers. She was always glad to help, and did great work. I remember she had a teenage son who lived with her at the time. She and I were pretty close, and I have very fond memories. It was a wonderful time in my life. I left Morgantown in 78, and never saw her again. I later heard of her disappearance. Very sad.
    For some reason, I’ve been thinking of her lately, so I just Googled her name and found this. I’m glad I did.

  20. Hi, Tim!
    I am always so happily surprised when a new comment shows up on this post. Gotta love the Google.
    Earth House one and two is fabulous! Made me smile. I can sense the moment when the names were suggested, and they stuck :)
    This post and all the wonderful comments can now serve as a Virtual Earth House, where people can drop in and hang out.
    I think Marsha might like that.
    Thanks, Tim.

  21. HI any story about Marsha is great. I lived at the Mudd farm from the fall of 75 until jan 77.I have a little history about the Armadillo farm and the Mudd farm to share.I moved to a friends farm down Rowles run near Hur in 74. They were collectivly growing strawberies on there ridge about 1-2 acres with the Armidillo farm. It was in the spring of 75 that I first met folks from the Armidillo farm.We harvested strawberies for about a month and sold them in Spencer and Grantsville during the Wood festival.Now the Armadillo farm was 2 communes that grew togeather. The Armadillos were from Texas, and the Dreamers were from NY.They merged together and were known by most everyone as the Armadillo/Dreamer farm.Walter Cronkites daughter stayed at the Dreamer farm as roumer has it.So when most folks refere to the Armadillo farm they are including the Dreamers.During this time I met the folks from the Mudd farm as everyone that lived down that way past by our farm on there way to town.The mudd farm was started by Marsha, Sam and there 2 boys Mike & David,along with Marco,Debbie,and there son Joshuwa,Bruce Morgan,Richard Burton and others. They came from Morristown, NJ area where Marsha had a bookstore. Marco,and Marsha were the driving forces at the Mud farm.It was a vedgitarian commune that allways seemed to have a bumper crop of Zucchini squash every year,and you learned to cook it for each meal, heck we had a cook book just for zucchini.Marsha invited me to come live at the Mudd farm in the fall of 75.In the Spring of 76 I invited a friend to come out to visit And Robin and I are still together today.The mudd farm was full of energy and there was a lot happening all the time.We opened a fabric shop up in Mt Zion,and later in Grantsville. We got a large box truck and hooked up with FORC in Columbus Ohio and delivered whole foods to coops and buying clubs in southern Ohio and Wv ending up at the Growing Tree in Spencer.Robin and I did this every 2 weeks in 76.Living at the Mudd farm and being around Marsha could not do anything but raise your concinious and enlighten you. When I met Marsha in most ways I was spiritualy young like an infant.She helped me become much more self aware.I WILL NEVER REFER TO A WOMEN AS A CHICK AGAIN. That was even hard to type.Just one example of how she could affect your life. She would never turn her back on anyone!!!! never judge you but allways would help you find your way.Most people say Marsha is Missing,and mayby physicaly she is but if you knew Marsha it was her spirit that was strong and that is with us as strong today as it was then. Robin and I moved from the farm in 77 went back to the DC area worked a couple years and bought a place back in Calhoun CO in 79. Where we lived and raised a family up untill 95. But that is another story. Thanks for reading this rambeling message and hope it gave you a little more insight into Marsha the Mudd farm and all the great people that moved into Roan and Calhoun Co. back then. There are alot of folks still living there. Tom Mudd

  22. Wow, Tom! Thanks millions for adding all that info to this post! Love the part about the zucchini squash. Ha! :)
    You are so right about Marsha… “her spirit is with us as strong today as it was then”.
    I truly appreciate your sharing all of this.

  23. Just stumbled upon this while doing a google search. Were on a family road trip back home to Morgantown from visiting my brother in Rochester. Somehow Marshas name came up. Her son, Mike, is my fathers best friend, in fact he is in town visiting right now. My parents have been divorced for 10 years but my mom remembers Marsha fondly, as well as hanging out at the Earth House with my dad and Mike. Looking forward to digging a little deeper into this, since it is very close to home.

  24. Hello Elizabeth!
    I am always so pleasantly surprised when a comment shows up on this post. Thanks so much for adding to it! Only good will come from everyone visiting here and leaving thier thoughts.
    Marsha has had a positive effect on so many people. It is truly heart warming.

  25. I heard from WV people who knew Marsha well that she was in the witness protection program. I myself lived
    in Morgantown back in the day. Years later (early 90’s ) I was in a southern county visiting and connected
    w/ people who were extremely close to her and they said this.

  26. I have so many kindred spirits/relatives that share a birthday with Marsha. April 5th. I feel connected to this date even though I don’t “believe” in that sort of thing. Plus, of course, I lived in Morgantown for about 7 years (post 1998). Technically, I was too late to ever know Marsha, but because of the places she established and her birthday, I feel oddly drawn to her story and am glad for the things she did. Also, August 13, witness protection…I’m from a Southern County….that just seems like an odd thing to say; though of course, who knows…

  27. Like many of you, I have stumbled upon this page in my attempt to learn more about Marsha. My family farm is at Hur and as a Calhoun native I had always heard of the “farms” and have a close relationship with Jude Binder from the Armadillo tribe. My father knew Marsha as an acquaintence, but his brother, my uncle Chuck knew her quite well. He lived with her in the Earth House in Morgantown. While attending WVU, 123 Pleasant Street was one of my hot spots as far as the bar sene goes and finding quality music and entertainment. I knew about Marsha and it’s prior existence as The Underground Railroad and loved looking up at the lasting image of Harriet Tubman on the wall with the inscription, “Follow the drinking gourd.” I remember finding out about her disappearance when I realized my uncle’s connection with Marsha and it always remained a mystery. Upon reading an article on The Hur Herald about the sudden disappearance of a local man in the 1800’s, I found myself thinking about Marsha’s disappearance and started searching the web to see what was out there in order to satiate my curiosity. I asked my dad about her and he told me what he remembered of her and how he would visit my uncle in Morgantown and remembers Marsha reading off names and handing out mail to all the inhabitants of the Earth House. And because I am close to people that knew her, I figured that asking them about her would probably be the best way of finding out what she was like. Jude’s response both verbally and emotionally made it very clear what kind of a person she was. I felt terrible bringing it up and because it envoked a painful longing in her and made me almost regret addressing it for my own desire in finding out more about Marsha’s existence. I have yet to talk with my uncle about this as he lives in Japan and in doing so it would have to be electronically, either via facebook or skype. and I’m not sure if that would be a proper medium, after witnessing the feelings and emotions of someone who was so close to her. But this site seems to have flourished and I believe that Marsha would be cool with a virtual Earth House, as well. I have just felt that with my current mindset to transition “back to the earth” after living as a military family and with the personal connections and geographical connection with the land in which she “came back to” and where she was last seen, something about her spirit has called me out, whether she be alive or dead. It’s hard to pinpoint… I apologize for my wordiness, but I had to convey with others that have possibly felt this very same way at some point in time.Peace and blessings to all!

  28. I lived in Earthhouse one for my college uears.Marsha was our big sister/mother.She loved everyone,and she was honest…maybe to a fault.If her son mile or any of you want to contact me please do.Mike was still in highschool when I lived there.Those years were lovely,wonderful years…we all helped with the organic garden and cooking.Oh where is our Marsha?

  29. Hi Lesley,
    We communicated for awhile several years ago regarding our hippie times in Spencer, WVA and my ex-husband, Bruce Mitchell, who owned Tanners Crossroads bar. I am sorry to share sad news: Bruce N. Mitchell
    July 18, 2012
    Parkersburg News and Sentinel

    Bruce N. Mitchell, 64, of Spencer, W.Va., passed away on July 16, 2012, at his home unexpectedly.

    A gathering of family and friends will take place from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, July 21, at the Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home in Spencer with a meal following at the St. John’s United Methodist Church from 5-6 p.m.
    Bruce and I had a son, he was originally named, Moriah Wheeler Mitchell, but changed his name to Mitch Wheeler Mitchell years ago. He has not seen Bruce in quite sometime, but will be returning to Spencer to attend the funeral this coming Saturday. There will be a memorial gathering on Bruce’s farm in October, at which time his ashes will be scattered. I have not been back to WVA since 1975 or 76_but may return for the memorial.
    Best to you and shared fond memories,
    Jodi Mitchell

  30. Jodi,
    Thank you for sending this information. Sad news. Very sad.

    I am going to add your comment to the comments on another post on this blog about Tanner’s Crossroads, called Trapezoid. http://www.lesliehawes.com/wordpress/?s=trapezoid

    Bruce was a major part of my experience in Spencer, West Virginia.
    I most specifically recall giving him a set of gold French-cuff cufflinks that were my uncle’s. Don’t know why I did it, but the cufflinks just seemed to belong to him. Silly, isn’t it?
    I have fond memories of Bruce.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>