‘Stampede at Church’: The Court Street Baptist Church Tragedy

‘Stampede at Church’: The Court Street Baptist Church Tragedy

It was standing room only at Lynchburg’s Court Street Baptist Church late on the evening of Oct. 16, 1878. The Iola, Kan., Register would later describe the crowd that gathered that night as an “immense throng,” reporting that while the church could seat about 2,000 people, “there were many more than that present.”

On that night, members of the black community in Lynchburg, Va., had convened at the church for a wedding ceremony and revival service. Some newspapers, including the Register, would identify the couple being married as Thomas Johnson and Malinda Bosher. Others would claim that Andrew Jackson Everett and Mary Rives stood at the altar that night.

What is certain, however, is that before the sun would rise the next morning, as many as 14 people would be dead and dozens more grievously wounded in what newspaper headlines across the country would call “The Lynchburg Calamity,” the “Fatal Panic” and “Terrible Disaster.”

Court Street Baptist Church was founded in 1843 as the African Baptist Church, a spin-off of Lynchburg’s First Baptist Church. The church building one sees today, at the corner of Court and Sixth streets, was built in 1879, a year after the tragedy.

It boasts the tallest steeple in Lynchburg — a steeple topped with a copper ball said to be more than 9 feet in circumference.

When the tragedy occurred, the church was meeting in a building located just west of the current structure. Newspaper reports of the day indicate that structure had seen better days. As the Lynchburg Virginian put it the day after the incident, “The church had been condemned and though repaired was believed to be unsafe, which doubtless increased the panic.”

News stories about exactly what happened on that fateful night vary, sometimes wildly. What appears to have happened, however, is that either during or shortly after the wedding ceremony a false alarm went out among the congregants that the church was collapsing.

Some newspapers describe the sound that prompted the alarm as breaking glass and place the blame on a pea-shooter in the hands of a mischievous boy. Others report that chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling, causing the massive crowd to panic and flee the building, trampling each other in the process.

frank-leslie-drawing-cropped
The tragedy, as illustrated for the Nov. 9, 1878, issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News. Jones Memorial Library.

The Nov. 9, 1878, issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News reports it this way:

There was a general rush to the doors and windows. The audience-room being on the second floor, those who first reached the head of the stairs were so pressed on by the panic-stricken crowd that they were thrown down, and those who followed shared the same fate, until they were piled up almost to the head of the stairs.

Upon this mass of writhing humanity the throng that followed trod. Men and women rushed over it, careless of everything, so that they made their escape. The consequences were terrible. Many persons were either trampled or smothered to death, and more were badly wounded. Some who were near the bottom bore a weight which every moment threatened to crush their lives out.

Some newspapers also give harrowing accounts of victims leaping from second- and third-story windows to escape the building. The True Northerner newspaper in Paw Paw, Mich., published this account:

Many leaped from windows, and a few who were in the gallery jumped from the third-story windows. Three women who made that venture were killed outright.

Seventeen-year-old Maria Wilson was one woman who leaped to her death. An Oct. 18 story in the Lynchburg News, headlined “The Church Horror: Some Additional Particulars,” ponders Wilson’s final moments:

The view from the window through which Maria Wilson jumped to an instant death is simply fearful. Whether her neck was broken by concussion against the fence or pavement is not known, but certainly ninety-nine in a hundred would never know afterwards that they had attempted the leap.

maria-wilson-marker
The grave of Maria Wilson at Old City Cemetery. Cemetery officials believe other victims are buried there, too, but no markers exist.

Like everything else in this story, the number of fatalities reported in newspapers from New York to New Orleans and beyond varies, from eight to 14 people. The Orleans County Monitor, of Barton, Vt., reported that “14 people are known to have been trampled to death and 20 were so badly injured that a number cannot recover.”

The New York Herald, while admitting that “it is still impossible to get the full list,” reported on Oct. 18 that 11 were dead and 30-some wounded. It also provided a list of 19 of the wounded: Jane Lee, Lou Winfree, Judith Ward, Ellen Archer, Milly Leftwich, Paschal Horton, Miss Irvine, Lena Diamond, Henrietta Booker, Mrs. Jones, Eliza Ward, Martha Bopp, Ellen Shurr, Mary Smith, Mrs. Coleman, Caroline Irvine, Miss Watkins, Mary Ann Read and Walter Perkins.

Some newspapers even said the bride and groom died in the chaos that followed their blessed event. If that couple was Jack and Mary Everett — sometimes spelled “Averett” — they didn’t perish that night. Through at least 1910, the Everetts were very much alive and living on Floyd Street.

(As for Thomas Johnson and Melinda Bosher, I have yet to find any records of them or their marriage.)

church-window
The names of the victims are painted on this church window, located behind the pulpit at Court Street Baptist. As you’ll notice, the spellings of some names differ from the city’s death records and other accounts.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics (records on microfilm at Jones Memorial Library), the following eight women died on Oct. 16, 1878, or succumbed to their injuries shortly after the tragedy:

Ann Cox, 16, born in Campbell County. Some sources call her Lucinda Cox or Arena Cox.

Mary Henry, a 60-year-old cook.

Emma Powell, 14 years old.

Virginia Robinson (sometimes Robertson), age 19.

Maria Ransom, 19 years old. According to the health department’s records, her mother’s first name was Malinda. The last name is illegible.

Millie Wood, a 26-year-old cook. She also can be found as Mildred Ward, Mollie Wood and Mildred Walls.

maria-wilson-diuguid-record-cropped
Diuguid Funeral Home record of Wilson’s burial.

Maria Wilson, 17, a cook. She buried at Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg. Her brother, John, paid $30 for her burial.

Adeline Burks held on for 10 days after the tragedy, surrendering to her injuries on Oct. 26. She was about 50 years old, born in Appomattox, and her occupation in the records appears to be “housework.”

Next to each name listed was the cause of death: “stampede at church” or “church stampede.”

Also, I’m working on a bigger project involving this story, so if anyone has information — family stories or records, etc. — that they would like to share, please post in the comments section. Thanks!

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All the ‘Bawdy Ladies’ at Old City Cemetery

On Sunday, Sept. 25, Old City Cemetery will host its biennial “Bawdy Ladies of 19th-century Lynchburg” tour. The free, hour-long tour will be led by local historian Nancy Jamerson Weiland.

While giving the tour, Weiland will portray Lizzie Langley, one of the infamous “sporting women” of Lynchburg, Va.

For those not familiar with the phrase, “sporting women” has nothing to do with tennis, golf or softball. We’re talking about prostitutes, ladies of the night, hookers — you get it.

Langley (1828-1891) is one of several sporting women buried at Old City Cemetery, which was founded in 1806. Langley and her mother, Agnes — same profession — are buried just inside the cemetery’s Taylor Street entrance.

An impressive monument and iron fencing make the Langley plot easy to find on the right-hand side of the driveway. It’s been said the elaborate plot was paid for by appreciative customers — that, or it’s evidence of just how successful these working women were.

The “Bawdy Ladies” tour begins at 3 p.m. at the Langley plot.

Langleys
The Langley plot.

During the tour, Weiland will talk about the history of prostitution in Lynchburg from 1805 to 1940. According to a brochure she wrote on the subject, the first “houses of ill repute” in Lynchburg were located not too far from the James River in an area called Buzzard’s Roost.

Buzzard’s Roost — now the name of a local antique shop — was located in the vicinity of Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Jefferson and Commerce (then called Lynch) streets. As Weiland writes, “Before the Civil War, this section along the river gained a notorious reputation for its bordellos, bars and gambling houses.”

Around the turn of the 20th century, Lynchburg’s prostitution business moved uphill from the river, to the Tinbridge Hill neighborhood, more specifically Monroe, Jackson and Fourth streets.

A passage in the book “Remembering Tinbridge Hill in Lynchburg, 1920-1970” describes this new red light district:

At the end of the 19th century, prostitutes began moving their thriving business into the area; bootlegging and gambling establishments sprang up there, as well. Unsavory activities, hilly terrain, and a growing black majority made it easy for the City to neglect this marginal area. By the beginning of Prohibition in 1920, its informal designation as “the forgotten hill” seemed well deserved, at least from the outside.

Also in the book, Gloria Franklin, who grew up in Tinbridge Hill, describes the “sporting houses” that were active there in the 1930s and 40s:

On the Monroe Street side, we’d sit on the wall and watch the people go in there. During the war the soldiers, they would line up out there. And the businessmen would come up in the big Packards, which was exciting to me. I’ve always loved cars. And they would take negligees, I guess, and things, it looked like that’s what they were, in to them.

Recalling the working girls she saw, Franklin adds with a laugh, “… they’d be sitting out there with the prettiest negligees on, and birds in cages. All of them had birds. I thought that was just wonderful. I probably wanted to be a prostitute at one time.”

Weiland, a research assistant at Jones Memorial Library, has been leading the “Bawdy Ladies” tour for 15 years. She’s been researching the women — approximately 700 of them — for more than 30 years.

Asked how she first became interested in these colorful women, Weiland said, “I was going to write the great American novel [and] I got caught up in the research. The research was just so fascinating I just kept researching.”

During her research, Weiland used newspaper articles and public records to learn what she could about Lynchburg’s early prostitutes. In the process, she also found some distant cousins among their ranks.

And she’s not the only one. In her 21 years at Jones Memorial, a genealogy and history library located on Memorial Avenue, Weiland said she’s encountered lots of people with familial ties to Lynchburg’s red light districts.

“Oh yeah, that happens quite frequently, people coming into the library to research and it turns out they’re one of my girls,” Weiland said. “That’s not an uncommon thing to happen. It’s happened a number of times over the years.”

Coming up in mid-October at Old City Cemetery are the annual Candlelight Tours, where professional actors in period costumes portray people buried at the cemetery. Past years have included numerous characters from Lynchburg’s history, among them World War I soldier William Harrison Brooks, who I blogged about recently.

Tickets for the Candlelight Tours are $18 (ages 13 and up) and $10 (12 and under), and must be purchased in advance. For more information about events at Old City Cemetery, call (434) 847-1465 or visit the cemetery’s website.

In his own words: the story of Lynchburg freedman Charley Mitchell

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to the 1930s and work for the Federal Writers’ Project. For those who’ve never heard of it, the Federal Writers’ Project was part of the Works Progress Administration, which was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The WPA provided jobs for millions of people during the Great Depression. While most of these jobs involved things like infrastructure — building roads and bridges, for example — the WPA also hired more creative types, including musicians, artists, actors and writers.

john augustus walker mural
This mural, painted by John Augustus Walker, was a WPA project. It’s in the lobby of the History Museum of Mobile.

The Federal Writers’ Project employed more than 6,000 people — not only writers and editors but also historians, researchers, map-makers, geologists and archaeologists. These people worked on all sorts of projects, among them travel guides, children’s books and local histories.

What they might be best known for, however, are the slave narratives.

From 1936 to 1938, Federal Writers’ Project employees interviewed more than 2,000 former slaves. They also took photographs. The collection that resulted is titled, “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.”

You can read the narratives online. They’ve also been used in other projects, including a book I read a year or so ago, “The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves,” by Andrew Ward. It was an interesting and enlightening book and I recommend it.

One of the individuals interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project (and included in “The Slaves War’ ” as well) was Charley Mitchell. Mitchell was born in Lynchburg, Va., in 1852. Because he moved to Panola County, Texas, in 1887, his interview is included with the Texas narratives.

Mitchell was owned by Nathaniel B. Terry, who is described in the narrative as an “itinerant Baptist preacher.” After the war, Mitchell worked in a tobacco factory and as a waiter. At the time of the interview, however, he was farming.

Mitchell, then in his 80s, spoke with the interviewer about a variety of things, everything from slave sales and attitudes about educating slaves to ghosts.

First, an important note: You’ll see that Mitchell uses the “N-word” throughout the interview. I’ve decided to leave the narrative as it was recorded by the interviewer. Also, there’s been some debate over the years about the use of dialect in the narratives, but again, I’m leaving it as is.

Charley Mitchell’s Story

“I’s born in Virginia, over in Lynchburg, and it was in 1852, and I ’longed to Parson Terry and Missy Julia. I don’t ’member my pappy, ’cause he’s sold when I’s a baby, but my mammy was willed to the Terrys and allus lived with them till freedom. She worked for them and they hired her out there in town for cook and house servant.

Charley Mitchell - FWP
Charley Mitchell, Texas, 1937. Library of Congress.

“They hired me out most times as nuss for white folks chillen, and I nussed Tom Thurman’s chillen. He run the bakery there in Lynchburg and come from the north, and when war broke they made him and ’nother northener take a iron clad oath they wouldn’t help the north. Durin’ the war I worked in Massa Thurman’s bakery, helping make hard tack and doughnuts for the ’federate sojers. He give me plenty to eat and wear and treated me as well as I could hope for.

“Course, I didn’t git no schoolin’. The white folks allus said niggers don’t need no larnin’. Some niggers larnt to write their initials on the barn door with charcoal, then they try to find out who done that, the white folks, I mean, and say they cut his fingers off iffen they jus’ find out who done it.

“Lynchburg was good sized when war come on and Woodruff’s nigger tradin’ yard was ’bout the bigges’ thing there. It was all fenced in and had a big stand in middle of where they sold the slaves. They got a big price for ’em and handcuffed and chained ’em together and led ’em off like convicts. That yard was full of Louisiana and Texas slave buyers mos’ all the time. None of the niggers wanted to be sold to Louisiana, ’cause that’s where they beat ’em till the hide was raw, and salted ’em and beat ’em some more.

“Course us slaves of white folks what lived in town wasn’t treated like they was on most plantations. Massa Nat and Missy Julia was good to us and most the folks we was hired out to was good to us. Lynchburg was full of pattyrollers, jus’ like the country, though, and they had a fenced in whippin’ post there in town and the pattyrollers sho’ put it on a nigger iffen they cotch him without a pass.

“After war broke, Lee, you know General Lee himself, come to Lynchburg and had a campground there and it look like ’nother town. The ’federates had a scrimmage with the Yankees ’bout two miles out from Lynchburg, and after surrender General Wilcox and a big company of Yankees come there. De camp was clost to a big college there in Lynchburg and they throwed up a big breastworks out the other side the college. I never seed it till after surrender, ’cause us wasn’t ’lowed to go out there. Gen. Shumaker was commander of the ’Federate artillery and kilt the first Yankee that come to Lynchburg. They drilled the college boys, too, there in town. I didn’t know till after surrender what they drilled them for, ’cause the white folks didn’t talk the war ’mongst us.

“Bout a year after the Yankees come to Lynchburg they moved the cullud free school out to Lee’s Camp and met in one of the barracks and had four white teachers from the north, and that school run sev’ral years after surrender.

“Lots of ’Federate sojers passed through Lynchburg goin’ to Petersburg. Once some Yankee sojers come through clost by and there was a scrimmage ’tween the two armies, but it didn’t last long. Gen. Wilcox had a standin’ army in Lynchburg after the war, when the Yankees took things over, but everything was peaceful and quiet then.

“After surrender a man calls a meetin’ of all the slaves in the fairgrounds and tells us we’s free. We wasn’t promised anything. We jus’ had to do the best we could. But I heared lots of slaves what lived on farms say they’s promised forty acres and a mule but they never did git it. We had to go to work for whatever they’d pay us, and we didn’t have nothing and no place to go when we was turned loose, but down the street and road. When I left the Terry’s I worked in a tobacco factory for a dollar a week and that was big money to me. Mammy worked too and we managed somehow to live.

“After I married I started farmin’, but since I got too old I live round with my chillen. I has two sons and a boy what I raised. One boy lives clost to Jacksonville and the other in the Sabine bottom and the boy what I raised lives at Henderson. I been gittin’ $10.00 pension since January this year. (1937)

“I never fool round with politics much. I’s voted a few times, but most the time I don’t. I leaves that for folks what knows politics. I says this, the young niggers ain’t bein’ raised like we was. Most of them don’t have no manners or no moral self-respect.

“I don’t ’lieve much in hants but I’s heared my wife call my name. She’s been dead four years. If you crave to see your dead folks, you’ll never see them, but if you don’t think ’bout them they’ll come back sometime.

“Two nigger women died in this house and both of them allus smoked a pipe. My boy and me used to smell the pipes at night, since they died, and one mornin’ I seed one of them. I jus’ happened to look out the window and saw one of them goin’ to the cow-pen. I knowed her by her bonnet.

“They’s a nigger church and cemetery up the road away from my house where the dead folks come out by twos at night and go in the church and hold service. Me and the preacher what preaches there done seed and heared them.

“They’s a way of keepin’ off hants. That’s done by tackin’ an old shoe by the side the door, or a horseshoe over the door, or pullin’ off part of the planks of your house and puttin’ on some new boards.”

A few more things:

Woodruff’s slave trading lot, mentioned by Mitchell, also is mentioned in Asbury Christian’s book, “Lynchburg and its People,” published in 1900. Christian writes that “Woodruff’s jail, on Lynch Street [now Commerce], between Ninth and Tenth” was “where the traders kept their slaves.”

Christian adds that the jail was “well patronized.”

According to an article written by John Marks in the 2007 issue of Agora, a journal published by Lynchburg College, the jail was built by Seth Woodruff in 1852 “to serve as a boarding house for slaves before their owners sent them to other parts of the country.”

That’s in keeping with Mitchell’s recollections about slaves being sold to buyers from Louisiana and Texas.

The college Mitchell mentions isn’t the current Lynchburg College, but one that operated in Lynchburg before the Civil War. The College Hill neighborhood, in Lynchburg’s downtown historic district, is named for this college. I couldn’t find much information about the college online, so that’s all I know at this point.

You can read more about Gen. Orlando Wilcox here in a book about his experiences.

I found the baker Tom Thurman in the 1860 census. His occupation is nearly illegible, but looks like “confectioner.” In the previous, 1850 census, Thurman works as a salesman for a confectioner named Samuel Thurman, perhaps his brother.

As for “Parson Terry,” I found a couple of censuses where he appears. Neither time is he described as a minister. In 1850, he’s a grocer and in 1870, he “works in tobacco factory.” Mitchell describes him as “itinerant.” Perhaps he means part-time preacher.

Hard to tell at this point without a time machine.

Extra! Extra!

Recently, while reading “And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank,” I learned that “extras” were published by big daily newspapers to share new information about things like the Leo Frank murder trial that gripped Atlanta in the early 20th century.

Having majored in journalism in college, I should have already known that. OK, let’s be honest, being a live, breathing person, I should have known that. But for some reason, other than knowing that paperboys back in the day hollered “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” I never gave it much thought.

This week, I want to share some “Extra! Extras!” — basically, stuff I learned from readers and other sources after posting articles. I love it when people post comments, especially when they have more information on the subject.

So, here goes.

Graves and Lambs

Four Little Lambs: the Stephens Children

After posting this article, I heard from Bob Stephens, great-grandnephew of the four Stephens children. He said the children’s father, James Stephens, bought the statue that overlooks the graves in Italy.

William Harrison Brooks: Cotton Mill to Battlefield

After writing about William Harrison Brooks, readers told me there was a photo of Brooks in the office at Old City Cemetery. So, of course I had to check that out.

Brooks Photo
William Harrison Brooks. Old City Cemetery.

When I got there, Ted Delaney, the cemetery director, showed me the photo and also a photo of Brook’s little sister, Ida. (See photo below.) Blog reader Wayne Fitzgerald told me Ida died of typhoid in December 1914. She’s buried next to her brother at Old City Cemetery.

Above Ida’s photo hangs the little girl’s wooden school ruler. Ida etched her name on it. Below Ida’s photo, hangs a photo of Brooks’ (and Ida’s) parents, Henry and Callie. (See photo below.)

According to notes from the cemetery’s files, the photo was taken around 1943. At the time, Henry worked at Lynchburg Cotton Mill and his wife ran a boarding house.

I also gathered this information from the cemetery’s files:

Because of his red hair, Brooks was nicknamed “Cock Robin.” He also was called “Harry.” He was unmarried and was, according to cemetery notes, “killed by a sniper on a [railroad] track in France.”

Brooks was originally buried in France. He was re-interred at Old City Cemetery — then called Methodist Cemetery — on Oct. 16, 1921.

‘White Negro Girl’ Helen Walker

After posting the story of Helen Walker, an albino African-American girl who appeared in sideshows and museums in the 1860s as the “White Negro Girl,” I was contacted by Ed James.

James is the great-grandson of the woman who his family calls “Nellie.”

James, who is currently working on a presentation about Walker’s life, said, “She was married three times and outlived five of her six children. She was a remarkable and intelligent woman. Despite her difficult start and lots of tragedy, she lived a productive life and was even involved in the suffragette movement.”

Wow!

Since I wrote that post, I also learned more about Major John Burnell, the showman who “managed” Walker and her twin brother, Henry. I believe he’s the man pictured with the twins in the third photo on this website.

It appears to have been commonplace for showmen to use military titles like “Major,” “Captain” and “Commodore.” I’ve found no evidence that “Major Burnell” ever served in the military. According to advertising, newspapers and other records, during the 1860s, Burnell was traveling with various sideshow acts and operating museums in St. Louis, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.

It doesn’t appear he had time to fight in the Civil War.

According to an article in The New York Clipper, an entertainment newspaper of the day, Burnell died of consumption on May 16, 1881. The paper reported that he left his widow in “very destitute circumstances.” The following week’s issue of the Clipper invited readers to make donations to help her.

Recently, I also talked with Beth Macy, author of the New York Times bestseller “Factory Man.” Her next book, “Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South,” will be released on Oct. 18.

I mention this because “Truevine” has striking similarities to Walker’s story.

“Truevine,” set in the early 1900s, tells the true story of George and Willie Muse. The albino African-American brothers were kidnapped in Virginia’s tobacco country and forced to perform with circus sideshows for two decades until their mother found a way to rescue them.

You can watch a book trailer for “Truevine” on Macy’s website.

I can’t wait to read it!

Other photos of interest:

Ida and Ruler
Ida Brooks and her ruler. Old City Cemetery.
Brooks Parents
Brooks’ parents, Henry and Callie. Old City Cemetery.

Dan Ray Justice: Hometown Hero

Dan Ray Justice: Hometown Hero

On October 28, 1939, a skinny kid named Dan Ray Justice scored the first touchdown at Lynchburg’s brand new municipal football stadium.

Justice, a sophomore at Washington and Lee University, was no stranger to football fans in Lynchburg, Virginia. He’d played high school ball for the hometown team, E.C. Glass High School, and was even named “Best Athlete” his senior year.

Captain Photo - football- cropped
Justice in the Critic Crest, the E.C. Glass yearbook, 1937. Jones Memorial Library.

While it’s likely many of the 12,000 spectators who came out for that first game at Lynchburg City Stadium knew Justice and had seen him play football in high school, what they couldn’t know as they took their seats in the bleachers was that Justice would be the hero of the game.

On that fall afternoon, the W&L Generals were playing Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, now commonly known as Virginia Tech. Tech, then nicknamed the Gobblers, was reportedly a much-bigger team and was expected to win.

From the beginning, the game’s outcome seemed a foregone conclusion — that is, until Justice picked up a Tech fumble late in the first period and turned what was supposed to be a throttling by Tech into a David and Goliath story.

Here’s how The Ring-tum Phi, W&L’s semi-weekly newspaper, later described it:

Capitalizing on a Gobbler fumble on their own 31-yard line in the waning moments of the first period, the General offense shifted into high and before the mighty VPI forward wall realized what had happened diminutive Dan Justice cut back over his own right tackle to cross the double marker for the only six-pointer of the game.

The article goes on to say that “Lynchburg’s pride and joy, diminutive Dan Justice” was the game’s stand-out player:

Justice scored the only Big Blue touchdown, did most of the passing, ran the ball one out of every three times, and gave probably the finest exhibition of punting the Lynchburg stadium will see in a long time.

Near the end of the third quarter, the Generals found themselves in a bit of trouble. Justice, standing in the end zone with the wind at his back, calmly booted to the VPI 24-yard line, a distance of 74 yards.

W&L went on to win 6-0.

1937 senior photo
Senior photo, 1937, E.C. Glass. Critic Crest, Jones Memorial Library.

It would be nice to say this story has a happy ending, that Justice was carried around the field atop the shoulders of his teammates and that he graduated from W&L and went on to marry, have children and live a long, happy life.

It doesn’t.

Justice did finish at W&L, but when World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He served as a second lieutenant with the 12th and 3rd Marine divisions until he was killed in action during the second Battle of Guam on July 23, 1944 (sometimes reported as July 22).

He is buried in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Even though he died on a battlefield far from home, Justice wasn’t forgotten. Since 1946, Washington and Lee has presented the Dan Ray Justice Memorial Football Award to its most-valuable offensive player. Lynchburg alumni of W&L also erected a monument to Justice at Lynchburg City Stadium.

City Stadium Monument - Copy
The monument, now located in the stadium’s entrance plaza.

Hopefully, with these efforts, the “diminutive” young man once called “Lynchburg’s pride and joy” will never be forgotten.

Here are some more images you might find interesting:

1936 football team - glass
1936 E.C. Glass football team. Note the City Armory, which still stands downtown on Church Street, in the background. Justice sits on the front row, second from left. Critic Crest, Jones Memorial Library.
1934 track photo
1934 E.C. Glass track team. Justice stands in the back row, third from left. Critic Crest, Jones Memorial Library.
Internment Form - cemetery - cropped
Military internment form, dated 1949, when Justice’s body was moved from Guam to the military cemetery in Hawaii.

 

 

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. 

Affectionately,

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.

Dougboy
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.