Friday, November 20, 2015

The Beast of Gum Hill

     A Bristol man recently claimed that he and a hunting companion encountered a Bigfoot type beast near Gum Hill in Washington County.  The two came across a large figure sitting on a rock.  As the men approached, the figure rose, whistled and made other noise and then ran off.  The witness described its face as “Neanderthal.”
     For generations, there have been sightings of Bigfoot like creatures across America.  The legend grew in popularity in 1967, when two men in California filmed a huge and hairy beast in the woods, walking on two feet, and at one point turning directly toward the camera.  The film clip is known as the “Patterson-Gimlin film,’’ named for the men involved in the filming.  Over the years, the film has been surrounded by controversy, with many experts concluding that the subject captured on film is non-human, while others have judged it “a man in an ape suit.”
     In Virginia, a man named Billy Willard runs the Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, a Bigfoot and wildlife scientific field research group.  The group conducts field investigations and field research of reported encounters or habitual recurring encounters of Bigfoot in Virginia.  Willard’s group has identified thirty eight counties in Virginia that have reported Bigfoot like sightings.
    This account from Spotsylvania County is typical of the type of sightings that the Sasquatch Watch of Virginia documents:

     “It was following a foxhunt and we were getting up hounds about the edge of dark. My husband, my granddaughter and I were on one side of the pond when suddenly I saw movement on the other side. I observed what appeared to be a 7 foot man in black walking slowly across the field towards the woods....I blinked to try to get a better focus while at the same time saying ‘what the hell is that?’ About that time my husband and granddaughter caught sight of it and my husband swung the truck around to try to get closer. He said ‘is it a bear?’ At this time the ‘thing’ started running, and when I say running I mean RUNNING! I have never seen such a large animal/person be able to run so swiftly nor so gracefully! It was almost as if it ‘glided’ across the ground. Upon realizing that a bear could never run like that on two legs we were baffled as to WHAT this ‘thing’ is. I have never seen anything like it before and if someone asked me to describe it the best way I can I would have to say it looked like a gorilla but was taller but leaner and much more graceful and swift.”

Mind bending stories from the Old Dominion. A collection of Virginia’s most notable Urban Legends, many include the true stories behind them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Richmond Vampire

     According to this legend, a blood covered creature with jagged teeth and skin hanging from its’ body stalks Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.  Hollywood Cemetery is a likely place to encounter a vampire.  It is a large sprawling, Victorian era cemetery often called the Valhalla of the Confederacy since it is the final resting place of twenty five Confederate generals (including George Pickett of “Pickett’s Charge” and the dashing cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart) as well as the only Confederate States President, Jefferson Davis.

     The legend of the Richmond Vampire got started in 1925 after the collapse of the Church Hill Railway Tunnel.  The collapse outed a vampire.  A blood covered monster with jagged teeth and rotting, hanging skin emerged from the cave-in and raced toward Hollywood Cemetery.  Pursued by an angry mob, the creature fled into the hillside mausoleum of one W.W. Pool.  Curiously, the mausoleum of W.W. Pool has no birth date, just a death date, 1922, three years before the cave-in.  The mob found no sign of the monster, which had vanished, and which presumably still haunts the cemetery.  Certainly some people believe this, reporting sightings of paranormal orbs of light near the crypt to this day. 

     Researcher Gregory Maitland is not a believer.  Maitland discovered that the legend is based on the true story of the collapse of the Church Hill tunnel, without the vampire.  One living man emerged from the disaster that gobbled up a still unknown number of transient laborers.  That man was 28-year-old railroad fireman, Benjamin F. Mosby.  Mosby was horribly burned, several of his teeth were broken, and layers of his skin were hanging hideously from his body as he emerged from the collapse.  Mosby, in shock, headed toward the James River, in the general direction of Hollywood Cemetery.  Concerned onlookers overtook him and took him to Grace Hospital, where he later died from his injuries.  But the legend of the vampire lives on.

Mind bending stories from the Old Dominion. A collection of Virginia’s most notable Urban Legends, many include the true stories behind them.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Tomb of the Unknowns

Installation of the Sarcophagus for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from World War I) is seen hereThe Tomb sarcophagus was dedicated on April 9, 1932.  The marble sarcophagus weighs seventy nine tons and is inscribed, “Here Lies in Honored Glory – An American Soldier – Known But to God”. In 1958, Unknown American soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were interred with the Unknown Soldier of World War I.  On August 3, 1956, President Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War. The selection ceremonies took place in 1958. The World War II Unknown was selected from remains exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.  The caskets of the World War II and Korean War Unknowns were interred beside their World War I comrade on May 30, 1958. The designation of the Vietnam Unknown has proven to be difficult. With improvements in DNA testing it is possible that the remains of every soldier killed in the Vietnam War and later conflicts will be identified.

A first person account of the Normandy campaign from D-Day + 1 to the liberation of Paris. 

War from the perspective of the average citizen soldier.

George Washington's Church

Pohick Church was the parish church of George Washington.  Established in 1724 it was the first permanent church in the colony of Virginia. The Reverend Lee Massey, Pohick's second Rector and a close friend of the Washingtons, once wrote: “I never knew so constant an attendant at Church as [Washington]. And his behavior in the house of God was ever so deeply reverential that it produced the happiest effect on my congregation, and greatly assisted me in my pulpit labors. No company ever withheld him from Church. I have been at Mount Vernon on Sabbath morning when his breakfast table was filled with guests; but to him they furnished no pretext for neglecting his God…”

During the Civil War, occupying Union forces stripped the church for souvenirs of “Washington's Church” and used it as a stable.  Lieutenant Charles B. Haydon, from Michigan wrote, “I have long known that Mich 2nd had no fear or reverence as a general thing for God or the places where he is worshiped.... I believe our soldiers would have torn the church down in 2 days.”

Lieutenant Haydon continued, “They were all over it in less than 10 minutes tearing off the ornaments, splitting the woodwork and pews….They wanted pieces to carry away . . . A more absolute set of vandals than our men can not be found on the face of the earth. As true as I am living I believe they would steal Washington's coffin if they could get to it.”  

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Graves of Washington's Slaves

Memorial at Mount Vernon (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Here descendants of Washington’s slaves gather at the memorial dedicated to their ancestors.  When Washington died, there were some 317 slaves living at Mount Vernon.  Under the terms of Washington’s will, his slaves (not including forty who were rented or the 154 slaves belonging to Martha Washington) were to be freed upon the death of his wife.  The terms of the will created an almost immediate problem for Martha Washington. The only thing standing between 123 slaves and their freedom was her life. According to a contemporary letter, Martha Washington “did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their [slaves] Hands”. Nor was this fear groundless. The records of colonial Virginia document the trial of 180 slaves tried for poisoning. Martha freed Washington’s slaves within a year after his death. She never freed her own slaves.

Near George Washington’s tomb are the unmarked graves of some 150 slaves, including William “Billy” Lee, Washington’s personal servant during the Revolutionary War.  William Lee was freed in Washington’s will for, “his faithful services during the Revolutionary War,” and received a substantial pension and the option of remaining at Mount Vernon.  Lee lived on at Mount Vernon until his death in 1828.  Another slave buried here, West Ford, is claimed by some to be George Washington’s illegitimate son.  According to Linda Allen Bryant, a direct descendant of West Ford, there is an oral tradition in the Ford family indicating that West Ford was the child of George Washington and a slave named Venus. At the present development stage of DNA science, no direct link to George Washington can be established.  The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has pledged its cooperation with testing as DNA science progresses.

George Washington's Tomb

The Old Tomb

At ten at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington, fearing premature burial, requested of his doctors to be “decently buried” and to “not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.” In his last will he expressed the desire to be buried at Mount Vernon. George Washington was entombed in the existing family vault (seen above), now known as the old Vault on December 18, 1799.  Visitors wrote that the tomb was, “A low, obscure, ice house looking brick vault,” which “testifies how well a Nation's gratitude repays the soldier's toils, the statesman's labors, the patriot's virtue, and the father's cares.”  In his last will, George Washington directed the building of a new family burial vault in the following words: "The family Vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one of Brick, and upon a larger Scale, may be built at the foot of what is commonly called the Vineyard Inclosure.”  In 1831, Washington’s body was transferred to the new tomb.  A French visitor wrote that Mount Vernon had become, “like Jerusalem and Mecca, the resort of the travelers of all nations who come within its vicinity.” Visitors were filled with “veneration and respect,” leading them “to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of patriotism and public worth…” 

The New Tomb

George Washington’s nephew, Bushrod inherited Mount Vernon from his uncle. The marble obelisks in front of the Tomb were erected to the memory of Bushrod Washington and his nephew, John Augustine Washington, who in turn were the masters of Mount Vernon. Both are buried in the inner vault together with many other members of the family. Bushrod Washington was the favorite nephew of President George Washington. In 1802, upon the death of his aunt, Martha Washington, he inherited Mount Vernon.  Bushrod Washington spent thirty one years as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and died in 1829. When Bushrod Washington died he left Mount Vernon to his nephew John Augustine Washington who survived Bushrod by just three years.  In 1850, his widow Jane conveyed Mount Vernon to their son John Augustine Washington, Jr., who was the last private owner of the estate.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Medal for Animal Gallantry

The Dickin Medal

Maria Elisabeth Dickin was a British social reformer and animal welfare pioneer who founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 1917 to provide care for the animals of the poor.  During the Second World War, the PDSA established the “Dickin Medal” (1943) to recognize animals that displayed "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units".  The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949 and twelve times since 1949.

Some of the recipients include: (1) Rob, a mongrel who served in North Africa and made over twenty parachute jumps, (2) GI Joe, an American carrier pigeon who flew twenty miles in twenty minutes just in time to prevent a friendly fire incident, (3) Beauty, a terrier who helped dig out sixty-three people from under the rubble of a bombing raid in London, and (4) Simon, a ship’s cat who, although wounded continued to hunt rats and protect the crew’s food supply throughout a siege in 1949 along the Yangtze River in China.

The United States has no medal for animal gallantry.

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Pets in War

Throughout history animals have been used in warfare.  The Carthaginians used elephants against the Romans as early as 262 BC.  Things have not always gone in accordance with the best laid plans of the military however.

During World War the Soviet Army strapped bombs to dogs and deployed the suicide dogs to destroy German tanks.  The well cared for dogs, however, ran toward their own army which they identified with food and comfort, causing some Red Army units to beat a hasty retreat.

The American Army had similar problems with “Project X-Ray” which involved strapping miniature incendiary charges on thousands of bats which were to be released over Japan.  The plan was scrapped when the bats escaped and destroyed an aircraft hangar and a general’s car in New Mexico.

Supposedly, during World War I, the French army stationed trained parrots atop the Eiffel Tower, from where they were expected to give a twenty minute warning of incoming German aircraft.  The project was abandoned when it was found that the parrots could not discriminate between friendly and enemy planes.

The alleged source of this information is Flight of 7 February 1918:

"Parrots early in the war were tried at the Eiffel Tower with the result that at first they gave warning fully twenty minutes before the aeroplane or airship could be made out by the eye, or heard by the human ear. These birds, however, appear to have grown bored or indifferent, as they could not be kept indefinitely at the work."

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Oldest Pet Cemeteries in America

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

America’s oldest pet cemetery was established in Hartsdale, New York, in 1896.  A veterinarian converted his apple orchard into a final resting place for dogs.  Today the cemetery, known as “The Peaceable Kingdom” is the final resting place for more than 80,000 pets of every kind.  Some of the pet mausoleums are spectacular, including a fifty ton above-ground mausoleum for two spaniels, the first and largest of its kind in the world. The famous War Dog Memorial, dedicated after World War I, was the first public tribute to honor military canines for their bravery and sacrifice.  The cost of a burial plot, casket and interment runs some $1,800 for small pets.

The Aspin Hill Memorial Park, established in 1921 in Aspen Hill, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C., is believed to be the second-oldest pet cemetery in the nation, and is the final resting place for various animal celebrities, including stars of movies and television, pets of U.S. politicians and heroes of foreign wars, as well as more than 50,000 other beloved pets.  Notable pets buried in the cemetery include seven dogs that belonged to J. Edgar Hoover, and Rags, the mascot of the First Division on World War I, “who risked life and limb in the Meuse-Argonne when he crossed enemy liens to deliver a not to Allied Forces.” President Lyndon Johnson’s dogs were cremated at Aspin Hill and the remains sent to Texas.  There also are 17 horses and hundreds of pet rabbits, monkeys, parrots, turkeys, goats, hamsters, guinea pigs, frogs, goldfish, turtles and snakes buried at Aspin Hill, as well as thirteen humans who chose to be buried close to their pets.

Reality is no respecter of delusions, except perhaps in Del Boca, a model American community, struggling to be heard above the din. The days are fully packed as the good people of Del Boca deal with such problems as elitism, education reform, celebrity culture, political correctness, free speech, science, and politics. A social satire about life in our times.