The Underground Railroad, the Dry House, and the Underground, 1982-1990
In 1982, 123 (the stage room) and 125 (the upper room) became the home to a vibrant Morgantown music community with the opening of The Underground Railroad (URR), largely conceived and operated by the now-legendary (in Morgantown, at least) Marsha Ferber. Marsha and a group of friends with a common interest in music and a distaste for the status quo of the early 1980s spawned the idea of a bar where music was the binding force bringing together all types of people in a peaceful atmosphere. The Underground Railroad's name came from her desire to have a place where people could "find their way to freedom," by interacting and listening to music without regard to skin color, dress, sexuality, hair style, or ideas. Harriet Tubman, the heroine of the real Underground Railroad, was painted on the wall of 123 and came to symbolize the bar's concept of basic equality among all people.
The bar reflected Marsha's idealism, her politics, and her taste in music. To help things out, at nearly the same time U92 (the WVU student radio station) went on the air with an alternative format and began supporting local music, while the student newspaper, the DA, began to follow happenings and shows at the bar with interest. To complete the circle an independent record store on High Street called Backstreet Records began carrying local music in conjunction with stuff you couldn't find anywhere else. Morgantown's underground music scene was born.
The Underground Railroad specialized in music-inspired fun, with healthy doses of art and politics which emanated an energy that invigorated Morgantown. It was the Reagan years after all, and there was revolution in the air among those not of the conservative mind-set. There had always been local bands and artists in Morgantown, but the arrival of a venue which supported them on a long-term basis inspired a flowering of original music, art, and nearly anything else people wanted to put on the stage or the walls. Moreover, beginning with a show by Bo Diddley in January 1985, nationally known bands started showing up on the URR stage at an ever-increasing rate. The Dry House, an all-ages venue, opened in the lower room in 1985. The Brick Row building was showing its age by this time, but it became a place that drew people back again and again.
[Note: During URR days the liquor bar was in the stage room. The upper room was turned into a vegetarian eatery (during the day) and bar area at night. The Blue Ribbon Restaurant, two doors up from 123 in what is now The Adventure's Edge store, was a standard visit for Undergrounders after long nights of music.]
The Daily Athenaeum, April 24, 1986
In the spring of 1988, the pivotal Morgantown band Th' Inbred broke up, and student favorites Shank Swing and the Divots called it quits also. Still, April of 1988 was like any other month at the Underground RR, with a bevy of bands playing. This changed on April 25, the day owner Marsha Ferber walked out of the bar and disappeared without a trace. She was never seen again. Marsha was reported missing but the police, her family, and her friends never turned up any substantial leads to her whereabouts either dead or alive. Like Elvis, one can still hear rumours of Marsha sightings from ex-Morgantownies around the world. The case is still open.
An article about Marsha's Disappearance from the DA, 1988
"Duff's Band List," 1989
The employees kept the venue running for another year but it closed, along with The Dry House, seemingly for good, in late May of 1989, one year after Marsha's disappearance. In January, 1990, the bar changed hands and reopened as "The Underground." The Underground only lasted about 6 months, when the bar changed hands again.