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 in the Civil War (Pohick 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.”  

Read more in: Historic Cemeteries of Northern Virginia

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.

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.