Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Love, Sex and Marriage in Victorian Times

Queen Victoria reigned over the British Empire, the largest and most diverse empire the world has ever known, from 1837-1901, and gave her name to the age. Among other things the Victorian Age has become known for its sexual prudery. In many things, including social customs, the United States mirrored what was happening across the sea in Britain. Women were allotted a subsidiary role, with patience and self-sacrifice the prime feminine virtues. Motherhood was idealized, alongside virginal innocence. The ideal of purity in sexual behavior became sacrosanct, at least in public

We think we know the Victorians, but do we? The same passions, strengths and weaknesses that exist now, existed then, but people organized themselves very differently.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Pentagon in 1861

Fort Runyon, named after Brig. Gen. Theodore Runyon, was located astride the important junction of the Washington Alexandria and Columbia Turnpikes, a half-mile south of the Long Bridge. The fort was built in July 1861 on the land of a Washington building contractor.  The largest fort in the defenses of Washington, it covered 12 acres and had a perimeter of 1,484 yards. Construction began on May 24, 1861 and was completed in seven weeks. Fort Albany was built on the high ground to protect the rear of Fort RunyonFort Runyon was a pentagonal earth and timber fort, and was approximately the same size, and shape as the modern day Pentagon (built from 1941-1943).  Interestingly, the Pentagon now stands on almost the exact location of Fort Runyon.  A history marker now identifies where the fort once stood.  

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Liberty Is Not Anarchy

U.S. Has History of Banning Dangerous Immigrants

     In the early part of the 20th century an increasing number of Americans grew concerned about violent immigrants from Eastern Europe who harbored messianic beliefs about anarchism and communism.  This fear was inflamed when an anarchist (Leon Frank Czolgosz, a home grown terrorist whose parents had immigrated to Ohio) assassinated President William McKinley in 1901.
     After World War I, with a devastated Europe suffering economic and social upheaval, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe headed for America.  It is said that there were over 150,000 anarchists and communists in the United States by 1919 (which represented only 0.1% of the overall population, a small but dangerous minority).

     A series of bomb explosions in 1919, including a failed attempt to blow up the Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, lead to a vigorous campaign against the communists. On New Year’s Day, 1920, over 6,000 people were arrested and put in prison.  In 1921, Congress passed the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 which severely restricted immigration (new immigrants admitted fell from 805,000 in 1920 to 309,000 in 1921-22).  The 1921 act was made even tougher by the Immigration Act of 1924.  The purpose of this act was “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity,” and, among other things, outright banned the immigration of Arabs.

     These tough immigration acts lasted until 1965 when they were replaced during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson.

A brief look at the often overlooked stories of American history from colonial times to modern times, stories such as, the original Emancipation Proclamations, the plot to kill Martha Washington, terrorism in the Civil War, America’s plan to invade Canada in 1930, a planned coup against the president, and many others hidden tales.

Monday, November 30, 2015

George Washington and Billy Lee

George Washington bought William “Billy” Lee, his brother Frank and two other slaves in 1768.  Billy Lee was eighteen.  Frank became the butler at Mount Vernon, while Billy became Washington’s valet.  Billy also became the keeper of Washington’s pack of hunting dogs. 

Fox hunting was an important part of the social life of Virginia’s gentry, and Billy Lee distinguished himself as a huntsman at Washington’s side.  An eyewitness described Lee during a hunt, “Will, the huntsman, better known in Revolutionary lore as Billy, rode a horse called Chinkling, a surprising leaper, and made very much like its rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle. Will had but one order, which was to keep with the hounds; and, mounted on Chinkling ... this fearless horseman would rush, at full speed, through brake or tangled wood, in a style at which modern huntsmen would stand aghast.” 

Washington took Billy Lee to war with him, where he served at Washington’s side for eight years.  After the war, between 1785-1789, Lee injured both of his knees and found himself back at Mount Vernon.  William Lee was freed under the terms of Washington’s will for, “his faithful services during the Revolutionary War”, and received a substantial pension for the remainder of his life and the option of remaining at Mount Vernon.  Lee lived on at Mount Vernon until his death in 1828.

Who were the slaves of the Founding Fathers? What do their individual stories tell us about the Founding Fathers as men?

Lincoln's Flying Spies

War presented special problems for the world of ladies’ fashion in the Confederacy, as is best described in the words of General James Longstreet:

“While we were longing for the (reconnaissance) balloons that poverty denied us, a genius arose... and suggested we.... gather silk dresses and make a balloon. It was done, and we soon had a great patchwork ship.... One day it was on a steamer down on the James River, when the tide went out and left the vessel and balloon high and dry on a bar. The Federals gathered it in, and with it the last silk dresses in the Confederacy.”

These fictional memoirs are based on the true story of a southern belle who defied convention to become a front line soldier and spy for the Confederacy. 

Cemetery Iconography

     Matters of life and death converge at a cemetery.  In death, the everyday distinctions of race, class and religion disappear.  Cemeteries are where the rich and poor, the young and the old, the famous and the not-so-famous come together in the end.
     Those who conceived the idea of the modern cemetery anticipated the movement for public parks.  Cemeteries provided the public with beautiful outdoor gathering spaces during a time when parks were scarce. Out of the movement to beautify cemeteries arose a custom of gathering in these new public spaces. Families picnicked near gravesites, and children played there. Somewhere along the way, this practice fell by the wayside.  The appreciation of cemeteries has made a comeback in the digital age.  Many genealogists have been using the Internet and GPS systems to locate the graves of long lost ancestors.  This renewed interest in cemeteries has spread to an interest in photographing tombstones, the growth of in-depth historical research, and even cemetery tourism.

     Historic cemeteries are a treasure trove of art, biography and philosophy, one’s last chance to shout out to posterity “This is who I was, this is what was important to me”.  Art, symbols and inscriptions are called upon to succinctly capture the essence of life in a beautiful and meaningful way.

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 http://www.sasquatchwatch.org/, 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.”