Learn about ‘Victorian Times’ Sunday, June 4, at Presbyterian Cemetery

Learn about ‘Victorian Times’ Sunday, June 4, at Presbyterian Cemetery

On Sunday, June 4, Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery will host its third “Sunday Stroll” of the year. The hour-long, guided tour, “Victorian Times,” will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery office. The cost is $5.

The tour, given by Judy Harvey, will highlight mourning practices during the Victorian era. The time period, named for Britain’s Queen Victoria, runs from 1837 to 1901, the length of her reign. The tour also will include stories of people buried at Presbyterian Cemetery during Victorian times.

Augustus Winfield Scott 1843-1905
The weeping angel atop the grave of Augustus Winfield Scott (1843-1905).

Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch. Notable people buried there include Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington), Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist commonly known as “Queena” Stovall) and others.

There also are more than 200 Civil War soldiers buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.

I have written other posts about the “residents” of Presbyterian Cemetery, including five girls who died in a fire at the Presbyterian Orphanage and the Stephens children, who are buried together under four little stone lambs.

‘Babes Die in Flames’: The Presbyterian Orphanage fire

At about 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 1909, a fire broke out at the Presbyterian Orphanage in Lynchburg, Va., killing five girls, ages about 5 through 10. Stories about the tragedy appeared in newspapers as far away as Texas and Kansas, and perhaps even farther afield.

Under the dramatic headline, “Babes Die in Flames,” the Baltimore Sun reported that the fire erupted in Shelton Cottage, a girls’ dormitory. It was first detected by the orphanage cook, a “Mrs. Priest.”

Mrs. Priest, they say, was awakened “by the roar of the flames.”

In one eternally long sentence, the newspaper goes on to describe the scene:

“When [Mrs. Priest] saw that it was then impossible to get the children out by the stairway, the entire basement and first floor at that time being enveloped, and that it would be but a few minutes before the whole building would fall, she rushed to the third story and brought 15 children down to the second floor, leading them to the veranda roof, where they were taken down a ladder, several of them dropping into the outstretched arms of the older boys of the institution.”

As described in “Feed My Lambs: A History of Presbyterian Homes & Family Services, Inc., 1903-2003,” by Mary Jo Shannon, “Boys in nearby Paxton Cottage rushed to bring a ladder to rescue the frightened children. Some of the smallest girls jumped and were caught by the older boys.

“Tom Bowles, a sixteen-year-old crippled boy who lived on the first floor of Shelton Cottage because he could not manage stairs on his crutches, caught five or six of the girls before he collapsed, exhausted.”

The little girls who died that fall morning were Ruby and Lucile Moorefield, sisters from Lynchburg; Mamie Reynolds of Bath County; Marie Hickman of Campbell County; and Mary Poole of McDowell County, W. Va.

Beneath the exceedingly morbid headline, “Five Children are Cremated in Nursery,” the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal reported that Ruby Moorefield had initially been rescued but, upon learning that her younger sister, Lucile, was still trapped inside ran back into the inferno and “lost her life.”

Wanda Carpenter photo - graves of girls killed in pres home fire
Five little graves. Photo by Wanda Carpenter, Presbyterian Cemetery.

A funeral for the girls was held two days later at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The Washington Post reported that the church was “crowded” and “the bodies were held in five little white caskets.”

The girls are buried at Presbyterian Cemetery on Grace Street in Lynchburg.

As for the cause of the fire, Charlotte’s Evening Chronicle reported that there “seems to be no doubt but the fire was started in the furnace from which the building was heated.”

The Baltimore Sun said a coroner’s inquest, held the day after the blaze, “threw no light on the cause of the fire, but the verdict included a statement fully exonerating the Home authorities from blame.”

The Bryan, Texas, Eagle, reported that the building “caught fire in a manner that made the rescue impossible.”

Despite that dire description, 24 of the 29 girls were helped to safety, many by the aforementioned Mrs. Priest and possibly Sue Gamewell, another Shelton Cottage matron.

They did this without the benefit of a fire escape and neither escaped unscathed.

According to accounts in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, Gamewell, a widow in her late 40s according to 1910 U.S. Census, “contracted pneumonia while escaping from the fire in her night attire.”

As reported in the Evening Chronicle, Mrs. Priest — who was likely 20- or 21-year-old Ohio native Edna Preas, according to the 1910 census — had numerous injuries, including a dislocated shoulder, sprained back and a scalp wound.

“Mrs. Priest, after seeing the children in the main part of the building out safely, was compelled to jump,” the newspaper said, adding, “She will recover.”

There was even talk of nominating Mrs. Priest for a Carnegie medal for heroism. (Either she wasn’t nominated or didn’t win, as she’s not listed among the honorees for 1909 or 1910.)

Despite that, the Baltimore Sun had this to say about the bravery displayed by the women:

“Dr. R.H. Fleming, the superintendent, was away at the time of the fire, and there were no men about except some distance away in the farmhouses. When they arrived at the burning structure it was too late to save the little tots.

“The women could not have save[d] them, as they barely succeeded in saving 24 of the other girls.”

All I have to say to that is, “Really, guys? The lady saved 15 girls and then jumped out a second-story window, probably in her nightgown. Obviously, your editor was not a woman.” 

And special thanks to Wayne Fitzgerald for posting an article about the Presbyterian Home fire last October.

‘Sunday Stroll’ shows off natural beauty of Presbyterian Cemetery

On Sunday, May 7, Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery will host its second “Sunday Stroll” of the year. The hour-long walking tour, “Natural Beauty,” will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery office. The cost is $5.

The tour, given by Judy Harvey, will highlight plants and gardening traditions in the historic cemetery, along with stories of the past. Harvey also will address the meaning behind certain plants — roses, lilies, ivy, etc. — commonly used on tombstones and cemetery statuary.

You can read more about cemetery symbolism here.

10 babies
The final resting place of the 10 Waldron infants.

One story Harvey will tell involves the Waldron babies, 10 infants born to Robert and Susan Waldron, of Lynchburg. They are buried in a long, segmented plot behind their parents. Other than two monuments paying tribute to the infants as a group, the graves are unmarked — no names or genders and no birth or death dates.

Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch. Notable people buried there include Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington), Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist commonly known as “Queena” Stovall) and others.

There also are more than 200 Civil War soldiers are buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.

Road Trip Recap, Part 1

Last week, my good friend and running partner, Paula, and I took a road trip to Mississippi. Our primary mission was doing research for a book I’m working on about the journey William Macon Waller and his slaves took in 1847-48 from Amherst, Va., to Natchez, Miss.

Our secondary goal was eating. There’s lots of good food in and on the way to Mississippi.

We left Lynchburg on Saturday morning, April 22, bound for Birmingham, Ala. On the way, our route would take us through Bristol, Va., where there were doughnuts at Blackbird Bakery. Really good doughnuts.

The bakery, which is open 24/7, is located on the Virginia side of Bristol. In case you didn’t know, Bristol is a divided city. Tennessee is on one side of its main drag and Virginia on the other.

At Blackbird, I had three doughnuts: a vanilla cake, chocolate cake and a chocolate/caramel yeast doughnut. I washed them down with a pint of milk. Paula, who has more self-restraint than I do, had two doughnuts.

One of hers was blueberry pancake flavor with maple/bacon topping. It looked pretty good.

If I didn’t hate traveling I-81 so much, I might be at Blackbird every weekend.

Back in the car, we drove on, through Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and then Birmingham, Ala. Along the way, we counted 17 dead armadillos. They started appearing roadside, belly up with their tiny, clawed feet in the air, somewhere around Chattanooga.

Paula Googled “armadillo” on her phone and discovered the word was Spanish for “little armored one.” That made sense. She also read that armadillos had an odd — and suicidal — habit of jumping straight up when startled.

Sometimes, the article said, they jumped straight into the undercarriages or fenders of cars, thus all the little, armored bodies. Before the week was out, I’d count 42 dead armadillos along highways in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. And not a single, solitary live one.

alabama sign
Yes, it really says that.

In Bessemer, Ala., south of Birmingham, we checked into a hotel. Hungry again, we went to Bob Sykes, a local barbecue joint that’s been around since 1957. Husband John and I had been there once before, on the way to a family wedding in Louisiana.

It was about 6 p.m. and the place was packed. Many customers were wearing University of Alabama colors — red and white — causing us to suspect there was a spring football game down the road in Tuscaloosa that day.

I had a barbecue pork sandwich, macaroni and cheese a pile of fried okra. Normally, I wouldn’t cross a busy street for fried okra, but this was fried in a cornmeal batter and very tasty. Bob Sykes might have made a convert that night.

At the hotel, we watched several episodes of “Law & Order Special Victims Unit,” my favorite TV show. In addition to enjoying the dramatic stories and vicariously reliving my days as a sex crimes detective — yes, that was one of my “past lives” — I also appreciate its star Mariska Hargitay’s dedication to real-life sexual assault victims.

In 2004, in response to what she learned by playing Olivia Benson on “Law & Order” and the mail she received from sexual assault victims, some of which were telling someone about their abuse for the first time, Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation.

You can read more about the organization here.

Soon, I’ll take you a little further down the road, where more dead armadillos, more good food and a few historic discoveries await.

Road Trip!

Soon, my friend, Paula, and I will head to Mississippi for a week of searching old courthouse records and archives, and maybe even knocking on some doors. We’ll be looking for evidence of William Macon Waller and the slaves he sold in the towns of Raymond and Natchez in 1848.

If you’re new to the blog, for the past couple of years I’ve been transcribing and researching letters that Amherst County, Va., slaveholder William Macon Waller wrote while taking a group of his slaves from Virginia to Mississippi.

My goal is to write a book telling this story.

Waller and his slaves took the overland route, traveling through Virginia, Tennessee and likely Alabama before entering Mississippi’s eastern state line at Columbus. The slaves, including several children, walked 25 or 30 miles a day for 900 or so miles.

According to the letters, it appears Waller rode along on a horse or mule.

slave-coffle-virginia-lewis-miller-drawing
This is what the group might have looked like as they traveled to Mississippi. Credit: Slave coffle, traveling from Virginia to Tennessee. Lewis Miller, Sketchbook of Landscapes in the State of Virginia, 1853-1867. Courtesy, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.

Waller was selling his slaves to pay debts he had at home. On the advice of friends and family, he sold them in the deep South because prices were better in cotton country.

In Raymond, he sold “Sarah and child,” Henry, and three sisters named Lucy, Louisa and Sarah Ann.

forks in road
It’s possible Waller sold some of his slaves at the “Forks of the Road,” a huge slave market in Natchez. Today, there are interpretive signs and memorials at the site.

In Natchez, he sold Ellin, India, Pleasant and Charlotte — all children — along with Anderson (also called Tups), Susan, “Nelson and wife,” “Piney Woods Dick” and “Runaway Boots.”

There were four or five others, but I don’t know their names. It’s possible, they included individuals named McDonald and Emily, but I’m still working on identifying whether they were along on this journey or not.

I’ve included the slaves’ names because, first of all, they weren’t just “Waller’s slaves.” They were people with lives and families. Some, including the girl India, were forced to leave their families in Virginia.

Also, there might be someone out there who recognizes these names or this story from their own family’s oral or written history. If so, I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to tell you more about what your great-great-great-relative survived and share details about their life that you might not know.

Of course, all of this travel and research will make me and Paula hungry, so we’ll also be eating some good food in Mississippi. Hopefully, we’ll hit at least one spot on Garden & Gun magazine’s “Fried Chicken Bucket List.”

And then there are the tamales. Apparently Mississippi is famous for them. Really, it’s a thing. There’s a festival and everything. So, in Natchez, we’ll drop by Fat Mama’s Tamales.

Husband John and I ate at Fat Mama’s a couple of years ago, while traveling home from a wedding in Louisiana. It was definitely worth the detour, as was the town of Natchez, which is an architectural showplace perched above the Mississippi River.

big house
One of the many old mansions in downtown Natchez.

In the spring and fall, Natchez hosts Pilgrimage, when many of its historic houses are open for tours. Paula and I will arrive in town the week after spring Pilgrimage ends, but that’s OK, because we’ll be staying at a historic plantation called Glenfield.

Glenfield, previously called Glencannon, was once owned by William Cannon. According to another letter I’ve transcribed — this one written by a man named James Ware, who helped Waller find buyers for his slaves — Cannon bought the aforementioned Piney Woods Dick and Runaway Boots.

While Cannon didn’t buy the Gothic revival cottage until about three years after Waller came to Natchez, it’s possible that Piney Woods Dick and Runaway Boots lived and worked at Glencannon. So, as you might imagine, we had to stay there.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for photos and (hopefully) a report of amazing historical and culinary discoveries on the road.

armadillo
John and I drove a few miles up the Natchez Trace, an old trade route and now a scenic highway. Along the way, I yelled for him to pull over so I could see a live armadillo. There are lots of dead ones between Tennessee and Mississippi, so I was glad to see this tiny live one along the roadway. It was really hard not to reach down and pet it. 

 

Thoughts on a Book: “The Boys in the Boat”

I’ve been a little slack about blogging over the past couple of weeks. One reason is I’ve been more interested in planning an upcoming research trip to Mississippi than I have been about writing.

That and I’ve been a bit lazy.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about a book I read recently, “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” by Daniel James Brown.

Husband John gave me the book as a Christmas gift. Actually, John gives me lots of books, which I really appreciate. This past Christmas, John and his mother gave me several books, and I’ve been working my way through them over the winter and spring.

“The Boys in the Boat,” as the subhead well indicates, tells the story of the eight-man rowing team (the ninth man is the coxswain) that represented the U.S. in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

While the author writes about all of the team’s members, their coaches and the Berlin Olympics in general, he focuses a lot on the life of rower Joe Rantz.

As the passage on the back of the book jacket describes him, Joe was “a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world.”

Joe, like the rest of the boys, was a member of the University of Washington’s rowing team. One might not think about the Pacific Northwest when one thinks about rowing — also called crew — but Washington has been a powerhouse in the sport of rowing for decades.

Like Joe, the other “Boys in the Boat” weren’t the sons of doctors, lawyers and titans of industry, like one might imagine their Ivy League counterparts to be. They were the sons of loggers, laborers and farmers who, like many people during the Great Depression, were struggling to make ends meet.

You can learn more about “The Boys in the Boat” on the PBS website. In 2016, the PBS series “American Experience” ran an episode on the team, and there are videos, photos and articles that tell more of its history and the history of rowing.

In addition to the history of this particular rowing team, by reading this book I also learned a lot about the sport of rowing and the history of the 1936 Olympic Games.

About rowing, among other things, I learned that one, six-minute race uses the same amount of energy a person would expend by playing two, 40-minute basketball games, back to back.

That kind of makes me want to take up rowing for its bang-for-your-buck quality, if nothing else.

About the 1936 Olympics, which occurred during the early years of Adolph Hitler’s reign, I learned about how the campaign against Germany’s Jewish population, which would eventually spread across Europe as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” was officially toned down for the Olympics.

The Berlin Olympics was Hitler’s chance to show off Nazi Germany, after all, and to normalize his regime in front of an international audience. Everything would look nice and pretty, all of the people visiting for the Games would have a good time, and Nazi Germany would look like an OK place to be.

Jesse Owens - LOC
Jesse Owens starts the 200 meter at the Berlin Olympics. Library of Congress.

So, I imagine it was extra satisfying for those spectators who didn’t fall for Hitler’s ruse to watch not only the Washington rowers defeat the German rowing team, but also to see Jesse Owens, an African-American sprinter and jumper, win four Olympic gold medals.

Regarding a completely different book — albeit one also set around World War II — I just finished reading, “A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy,” by Thomas Buergenthal.

You can read more about the author and his story here. The book was a quick and interesting read and I recommend it.

Presbyterian Cemetery ‘Sunday Stroll’ is April 2

On Sunday, April 2, Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery will host its first “Sunday Stroll” of 2017. The hour-long, guided tour, “Lynchburg During the Civil War,” will begin at 2 p.m. The cost is $5.

The tour will focus on what life was like in Lynchburg during the Civil War. It also will highlight local Civil War soldiers — more than 200 of which are buried at Presbyterian Cemetery — along with mourning traditions and more.

Augustus Winfield Scott 1843-1905
This weeping angel atop the grave of Augustus Winfield Scott is one of many exquisite monuments that can be found at the historic burial ground.

Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch.

Notable people buried there include, among others, Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. (Civil War), Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington) and Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist known as “Queena” Stovall).

While not famous, the four Stephens children also are buried at Presbyterian. Their graves are overlooked by an exquisite statue, one of many beautiful monuments at the cemetery. I wrote about them a few months ago.

For full disclosure purposes, I’m a member of the Friends Board at Presbyterian Cemetery.