Four little lambs: What happened to the Stephens children?

Four little lambs: What happened to the Stephens children?

I’m beginning to think I should have called my blog, “Bring Out Your Dead,” in an homage to a darkly funny scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I’ll admit it: I enjoy writing about long-dead people and cemeteries and tragic accidents.

Morbid, I know, but interesting.

The other day, while driving through Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery with husband John — luckily, he enjoys this kind of stuff, too — we saw the grave of four children: Madie Vernon, Lillie Bell, William Jones and Louis Milner Kirk Stephens.

They were the children of James and Josephine Stephens.

Graves and Lambs
The grave of the Stephens children.

All four children are buried beneath a single stone slab with four small, stone lambs atop it. Behind the grave is a life-size statue of a mournful-looking woman. Her chin rests in one hand and the other clutches what looks like a palm frond.

Figuring the palm frond was symbolic of something, I Googled “symbols on cemetery statuary.” I found this neat website, which said a palm frond was a symbol of “victory over death.” A lamb, as one might imagine, symbolizes innocence and is a common feature on children’s tombstones.

Statue behind the graves. Note the palm frond.

Because there were no dates on the grave, I wondered if they had all died at the same time, of diphtheria, typhoid, smallpox or some other disease that swept through the household. My friend, Chuck, who works at Jones Memorial Library, told me recently that in the early 1880s one of his ancestors lost five of their 10 children in one week to diphtheria.

Maybe that was what happened to the Stephens children, too.

At Jones Memorial, I searched the Virginia death records on microfilm and found the date and cause of death for two of the Stephens children. Lillie died of whooping cough on Feb. 21, 1882. Her brother, William, died of scarlet fever on Dec. 31, 1883.

I couldn’t find a death record for Madie or Louis. I did, however, find mention of Madie, Lillie and William in the Diuguid Funeral Home records. These records also can be perused on microfilm at Jones Memorial.

According to the records, Madie’s 1873 burial cost $12. Ten years later, Lillie’s burial services totaled $40. William’s 1883 record indicated he’d been “carried in,” which I guess is why the burial services were cheaper — $35 for what was described as “metalic [sic] case and burial of child.”

John and Warren Stewart
Brothers John and Warren Stewart, who died while serving in the 13th Virginia Artillery, CSA, are two of more than 200 Civil War soldiers buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are many notable people buried in Presbyterian Cemetery, among them more than 200 Civil War soldiers, including Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. Folk artist Queena Stovall is buried there, too, as are Derek and Nancy Haysom, whose spectacular murder captivated people in Lynchburg and around the world in the 1980s.

It’s also a beautiful cemetery and worth a visit for that reason alone.

Augustus Winfield Scott 1843-1905
The impressive grave of Augustus Winfield Scott, 1843-1905.

Off we go, to ‘Antiques Roadshow’

Off we go, to ‘Antiques Roadshow’

A few weeks ago, my sister Theresa and I went to a taping of Antiques Roadshow in Virginia Beach. I’d been trying to score tickets for years — it’s a lottery — and finally got them this year. I was so excited, having collected antiques for decades and having deemed numerous things over the years my “Antiques Roadshow item,” should I ever be lucky enough to get tickets.

So, naturally, when I finally got tickets, I wondered, “Whatever will I bring?”

My first item, more correctly items, were letters written to husband John’s grandma by her second cousin, once removed, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice James Clark McReynolds.

John wondered what they might be worth and also what the appraiser might think of them.

James McReynolds circa 1913 LOC - Bain News Service
James C. McReynolds, circa 1913. Bains New Service. Library of Congress.

McReynolds, a Woodrow Wilson appointee who served on the court from 1914 to 1941, was apparently a character, and not in the best way.

He was known for doing things like turning his back on women who were addressing the court, and in 1924, he refused to sit for the annual SCOTUS group photo because, due to seniority, he had to sit next to Louis Brandeis, who was Jewish.

It doesn’t sound like McReynolds was a very nice guy, but he sure seemed to like John’s grandma, the former Lillian Boone. They both grew up in the same small town of Elkton, Kentucky, and while I don’t know much about their relationship, it appears he was quite fond of her.

In a letter congratulating Lillian on her 1944 marriage to Bromfield Ridley, McReynolds wrote:

Dear Lillian, 

Felicitations, my dear lovely girl! Brom may count himself the luckiest of men. And my affectionate good wishes will follow you both. 

Of course, I think no woman can have a higher mission than to make a loyal wife. She can be happiest there as nowhere else. You will make a success, I am sure. He will find that nothing is so superb as a woman who cares. 

As an indication of my interest, please accept the enclosed check and convert it into something you will like to have. 

The best of good luck all the days of your life. 


J.C. McReynolds

chair bottom rail2
Look how worn the bottom rail is from years of shoes resting on it.

The second item I took — you’re allowed to bring two — was an old ladder-back chair. Bringing the chair, which I bought for $10 at a local consignment shop, was a last-minute decision.

I took it because, in the end, it was the only antique in my house that I knew absolutely nothing about.

If you Google search images for “ladder back chair,” you come up with near-infinite examples of chairs from the 1700s to the present day. I figured my chair was “old” but had no idea how old or where it might have been made.

For her two items, Theresa took a powder horn our grandpa had given her many years ago and a painting.

She suspected the painting was by an artist named Edwin Oman, but since it was signed only “OMAN” she wasn’t 100-percent sure. It looked like Oman’s other work on AskArt and it was framed in New York, where Oman lived.

The painting’s subject looked like it could have been Central Park. Oman did a painting called “Walking in Central Park,” but Theresa hasn’t found a photo of it. Perhaps, it’s because she owns it. Who knows?

Before ARS
Pre-Roadshow. Theresa, with her painting, and me, with my chair.

So, off we went to Antiques Roadshow, where for six hours we waited in lines to have our items appraised. The painting line alone took more than two hours to get through, and by the time we’d had all four items appraised my feet were killing me.

We had a great time, though, and here’s what we found out about our items:

The Letters:
The appraiser said the letters were worth about $100 and were of sentimental value only. Had McReynolds been writing about SCOTUS-related subjects, he said, they would have been worth more. How much more? I didn’t ask, but there have been some McReynolds letters online that folks wanted about $1,200 for.

theresa with powder horn
The powder horn.

The Powder Horn:
It was a real, usable powder horn, made in the early 1800s. Value was about 30 bucks. Theresa was happy that it wasn’t a 1950s-era decoration.

The Painting:
The appraiser agreed with Theresa that it was an Edwin Oman painting. He wasn’t familiar with the artist and researched it online, just as Theresa had already done. He valued the painting at about $150. Theresa was happy to be right about the artist, but a little disappointed that the painting wasn’t worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

The Chair:
The first appraiser who looked at my chair said it was an 18th-century, ladder-backed “country chair.” It was the kind of low chair that would have sat in front of a fireplace. She also described it as “Colonial.” I thought it was old, but hadn’t expected Colonial, so that made me happy.

The appraiser, who works in New England, said the chair was made of ash, chestnut and maple, and had likely been painted in a former life. She said people would paint these kinds of chairs because they had used all sorts of un-matching woods. It looked to her like a New England chair. She was confident it wasn’t Shaker.

She valued it at about $100.

When she consulted another appraiser about it, he thought it was likely made in the 19th century and possibly in Lynchburg, maybe even by a member of the Johnson family.

A couple of weeks after the trip, I visited the Lynchburg Museum. I looked at furniture items in their collection and files on local craftsmen of the early-to-mid 1800s. While they have a few examples of Johnson chairs, in photos or in the collection, they are all Windsor chairs.

The files actually contained the names of several Lynchburg chair makers who were operating during the time period in which the chair was made, among them George T. Johnson, Lewis Johnson, Thomas H. Johnson, Benjamin Caldwell, George Walker, Edward Litchfield, Chesley Hardy and Alanson Winston.

It would take a great deal of research and an even greater amount of luck to find out who made my chair. It’s likely I’ll never know who made it. Regardless, I like it and had a great time at Antiques Roadshow.

Also, in case you’re interested, here’s a closeup of one of the McReynolds letters:

homestead mcreynolds 1

From cotton mill to battlefield. Who was William Harrison Brooks?

From cotton mill to battlefield. Who was William Harrison Brooks?

A couple of weeks ago, husband John and I went to Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery to look at the roses in bloom and the old gravestones. While there, we found the final resting place of William Harrison Brooks.

William Harrison Brooks Tombstone
William Harrison Brooks’ headstone at Old City Cemetery.

Actually, it was John who first noticed Brooks’ tombstone and the death date — November 11, 1918. The stone also said Brooks died near the Meuse River in France.

As I was photographing some roses nearby, John called over, “Hey, he died on the last day of the war.”

Sure enough, Brooks died on the last day of the Great War, the day the armistice was signed, and the date now celebrated as Veteran’s Day. He died during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of Argonne Forest.

We later found Brooks’ name on Monument Terrace, the Lynchburg veterans memorial. It’s a long flight of steps that runs between Court and Church streets and has monuments to the Civil War, both World Wars, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.

At the top of Monument Terrace, across Court Street from the Lynchburg Museum, is a statue of a Confederate soldier. At the bottom is what most people in town call “The Doughboy.” It’s a bronze statue of a World War I soldier and its official name is “The Listening Post.”

The names of the World War I dead from Lynchburg are listed to the right and left of The Doughboy.

The Doughboy stands watch at Monument Terrace.

Being a curious person, I wondered what more there was to learn about William Harrison Brooks. While I didn’t get all crazy and track down living relatives — but if you are a relative and see this, please contact me — I did find out a few things:

According to his WWI registration card, dated June 5, 1918, Brooks was 21 years old and born in 1897. He was white, with brown eyes and “reddish brown” hair, and he wasn’t bald. I don’t know why the Army cared about that, but apparently they did.

According to the 1910 U.S. Census, Brooks worked as a spinner at the Lynchburg Cotton Mill. He lived on Arthur Street, in a neighborhood known as “Cotton Hill.” The census has Brooks living with parents Henry and Clara, older brother Robert and a younger sister. The sister’s name is difficult to decipher, but looks like Iva or Eva. Henry was a carpenter and Robert worked as a carder at the cotton mill.

Lynchburg Cotton Mill Housing2 - Library of Congress
Lynchburg Cotton Mill housing, 1911. Note the outhouses. Library of Congress: Hine, L.W., photographer.

Thanks to the nice folks at the Lynchburg Museum System, I found out that Arthur Street no longer exists. Like a lot of Cotton Hill, the street disappeared when U.S. 29 Business was built and the Spring Hill Cemetery was expanded. But in 1918, Arthur Street was just two blocks from the cotton mill.

cotton mill - credit lynchburg museum system
Lynchburg Cotton Mill postcard, courtesy of Lynchburg Museum System.

The cotton mill closed in 1957 and was demolished in the 1980s, but at least one building associated with it remains: Melrose Hall.

According to the Facebook page “A Visual History of Lynchburg, Virginia,” Melrose Hall was built in 1906 as a social hall for cotton mill employees. Today, it’s owned by Liberty University and used for “Scaremare,” the college’s annual haunted house.

But back to Brooks.

A muster roll for what it calls “the War with Germany,” found at the Lynchburg Circuit Court Clerk’s office, says Brooks “selected service” on August 7, 1918. He joined the Army and served in the 330th Infantry. A little more than three months later, he was dead, killed in action in France.

On his tombstone is written, “Nobly he fell while fighting for Liberty.”

Here are a couple more cotton-mill-related photos you might find interesting:

Lynchburg Cotton Mill Housing - Library of Congress
Lynchburg Cotton Mill housing, 1911. Library of Congress: Hine, L.W., photographer.
scaremare building - tomlinson photo
Melrose Hall, circa 1979. Courtesy Andrea Tomlinson.

Jubal Early Punch

Last weekend, husband John and I hosted 50 people at our house for a cocktail party as part of the Boone Family Reunion. The Boones are John’s mother’s family, but before I go any further, you might have two immediate questions:

Q: Do you mean those Boones? The honest-to-goodness Daniel Boone Boones?
A: Yep, although actually more directly through Daniel Boone’s brother, Samuel.

Q: How did you get 50 people into your 2,300-square-foot ranch house?
A: I have no idea. It might have been the promise of copious amounts of alcohol.

I’d never hosted a cocktail party before, and I’m not even a big liquor drinker, but I wanted to do it right. First of all, I knew I had to have bourbon. These are Kentucky people — “Straight Outta Kentucky” as the official reunion T-shirt declared — so there had to be bourbon.

John’s parents took care of that. (Thank you!)

Because the reunion was being held in Lynchburg, Va., this year, I wanted to serve something “Lynchburg-y.” But what? I’m not from Lynchburg or even Virginia. I didn’t grow up with silver and china patterns. My family didn’t have a liquor cabinet or a Confederate ancestor buried in the back yard. We certainly didn’t have an old family recipe for punch.

But thanks to Google, I found a recipe for Jubal Early Punch.

Jubal Early LOC photo
Lt. Gen. Jubal Anderson Early (Library of Congress)

If you’re not from Lynchburg or a Civil War buff, you might be wondering, “Who is Jubal Early?” — more specifically Lt. Gen. Jubal Anderson Early.

Basically, Ol’ Jube was a Civil War commander known for his general badassery. He reportedly had a nasty temper and was known for his aggressive, albeit brilliant, nature on the battlefield, among other qualities. He also did things like threaten to burn down Union towns unless they paid a ransom.

With affection, Gen. Robert E. Lee called Early his “Bad Old Man.”

After the war, Early was what’s been called a “unreconstructed Rebel,” escaping to Mexico and then Canada, rather than swearing his allegiance to the Union. He later returned to the U.S. and settled in Lynchburg, where he died in 1894. He’s buried in Spring Hill Cemetery.

In Lynchburg, there’s a fort named for Early on the aptly named Fort Avenue. Across the street from the fort, an obelisk stands in his honor. There are streets or roads named after Early in West Virginia, Texas and in several Virginia towns.

As for his choice of libation, I don’t imagine Early ever drank this particular mixture of rum, brandy, lemon juice and champagne, but someone named it after him, so it was good enough for me.

Jubal Early Punch
Jubal Early Punch. Not the most appetizing color, but it sure tastes good!

Here’s how you make it (and a big thanks to Esquire magazine for the recipe and instructions):


1 cup superfine (quick-dissolving) sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1 quart plus 1 cup water
4 ounces dark rum
1 1/2 cups brandy
1 bottle dry champagne


In a punch bowl (large bowl, big pitcher, whatever), dissolve the sugar in the water and lemon juice. Add the rum and brandy. Let sit for a while, 30 minutes or so, in the fridge or some other cool place. Just prior to serving, add the champagne.

Before making the punch, use a gelatin mold, bowl or anything else that suits your fancy to make a big chunk of ice to float in the punch. The Esquire recipe suggested a “cannonball of ice” but I couldn’t figure out how to make one, short of using a water-filled balloon, and I didn’t know if that was food safe or not.


The ‘terrible death’ of Conrad Cramer

The ‘terrible death’ of Conrad Cramer

Sometimes, while looking for one thing, you happen upon something else — something too interesting to ignore. That was the case yesterday, when I learned about the shocking death of Pennsylvania teenager Conrad Cramer.

I was reading old newspapers at Jones Memorial Library, researching something I’ll write about later this year, when I happened upon this fascinating headline on page two of the October 19, 1878, Lynchburg Virginian:


Well, I had to find out what that was all about. How could I not?

Turns out, the story of Cramer’s gruesome death made numerous newspapers — not only in Virginia and Pennsylvania, but also in Maryland, New York, Ohio and likely other places.

So here’s what happened to poor Conrad Cramer:

On October 15, 1878, 15-year-old Conrad Cramer was working at a coal mine in Luzerne County, Penn. It was his job to carry coal dirt from something called a “culm pile” to a boiler room. He did this using a mule-drawn cart.

miner and mule - loc photo
A boy and mule in a Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, coal mine, 1911. Hine, L.W., photographer.

According to an article in The Carbon Advocate, of Lehighton, Penn., “It was the habit of the boy to jump upon the mule’s back, after dumping the load, and ride over the return trip.”

On this day, however, the mule was having none of it and tried repeatedly to throw Cramer. This cantankerous behavior amused the other mine workers, who reportedly “laughed heartily at what they termed the mule’s ‘circus tricks.’”

But as the article went on to describe, “their mirth was suddenly turned to mourning.”

The mule finally succeeded in pitching Cramer from its back, and when it did, the boy became tangled up in the harness. As reported in The Times of New Bloomfield, Penn., “The animal plunged and reared and bit at the boy, who was dangling in front.” Then the mule took off running, “dragging Cramer over the sharp rocks.”

When the mule finally stopped, as described in hideous detail by the Northern Ohio Journal, “he seized one of the boy’s arms in his teeth and literally tore it into fragments. He then attacked other portions of the bruised and bleeding body, and with fiendish malignity tore open the breast, thigh and back, laying the bones bare in many places.”

Apparently, it was a terrible scene. When the other miners finally reached Cramer, he was dead and his body unrecognizable. As reported in the Lynchburg Virginian and other newspapers, “The old miners, who has looked upon death in almost every form, turned their heads away involuntarily, sickened at the horrible sight before them.”

Using FamilySearch and Find A Grave, I was able to find out a few more things about Cramer. He was born on July 5, 1863, in Luzerne County, Penn., and was the son of Conrad Sr. and Amanda Cramer.

On December 12, 1864, when Cramer was about a year and a half old, his dad died while serving in the 4th New Jersey Infantry. He’s buried in the Loudon Park National Cemetery in Baltimore.

Before 1870, Cramer’s mom married Josiah Trumpore, described in the 1870 census as “boss at coal works.” Perhaps it was the same mining operation where Cramer would meet his untimely and “terrible death” eight years later.

(Both images of the boy and mule were taken by photographer L.W. Hine in 1911, as part of a series on child labor. While the photos were taken in a coal mine located in the same county where Cramer lived, the subject is not Cramer. Photographs courtesy of the Library of Congress.)