Monday, May 9, 2011

What I Didn't Know

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I climbed on the motorcycle and rode to Paint Bank, Virginia so I could cover Hollow Hill Farm, a bison farm, for Lancaster Farming. The ride was beautiful. Spring was in full bloom in western Virgina and there were wildflowers everywhere.

Paint Bank is an intersection in the middle of nowhere. I'm not kidding. There is a gas station with a general store, a small quaint hotel and a smattering of houses. The Paint Bank General Store is like a movie set with barrels of dry goods and glass jars of penny candy. The second floor has a country chic gift shop and outdoor outfitter. The general store is also home to the Swinging Bridge Restaurant which has an actual swinging bridge suspended from the second story and serves a fantastic hot bison sandwich with sweet potato fries.

The same family owns the farm, general store and hotel along with Potts Creek Outfitters, a hunting and fishing guide service. It's obvious that they spent a lot of money making Paint Bank special. Everything is a little nicer than you would expect and all of it is charming.

The bison farm itself was inspiring, with green, lush pastures, a committed farm manager and enormous bison. Some of the bulls were over 2,500 pounds and looked me in the eye in the pickup truck Aaron Calfee, the farm manager, was using to show me around. It was a completely humbling experience, and I couldn't wait to tell my sister about the size of the animals. She's a bison freak, and I knew she'd want to know about the farm.

I called her as soon as I got home, and to my surprise, she said she knew about the farm. "That guy that worked with Michael Milken started it," she said. "You know, the insider trading guy." Well, I didn't know about the "insider trading guy" so I googled Mulheren, the family's name.

John Mulheren was a financial powerhouse and a Wall Street icon. By the age of 25 he was the managing director of Merrill Lynch. In the 1980's, he was implicated in an insider trading scandal. He was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in 1990, but his conviction was overturned in 1991. Ivan Boesky, who was an informant in the Milken case, was apparently the one that implicated Mulheren in the insider trading scandal.

Mulheren loaded his car with weapons and set out to kill Boesky. Fortunately his wife called the police and stopped him from making a life altering mistake. Mulheren went on to switch from trading to management, building a successful career at Bear Wagner Specialists. He died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 54. Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen both spoke at his funeral.

Mulheren and his wife were prolific philanthropists giving millions of dollars to a varitey of causes. They built buildings, funded scholarships, and they raised seven children of their own. Regardless of what may or may not have happened in the 1980's, the Mulheren's Paint Bank employees are very loyal and obviously like the family. They're passionate, hard workers committed to the Mulheren's vision. Mulheren, a kid from the Bronx, built a tangible legacy in western Virginia.