Elizabeth Van Lew: Portrait of a Union Spy, From Print to Video

Liz Van Lew portraitIn recent years, Greg McQuade, morning anchor of WTVR in Richmond, Virginia, has produced award winning news segments on local Richmond history. Some of the stories have focused on people who are now all but forgotten, but who were, during their lives, groundbreaking members of the community. John Mitchell, Jr., “fighting editor” of the Richmond Planet is a perfect example.

Often, McQuade uses historic newspapers to accompany his reports and the Newspaper Project is always happy to assist him when he visits the Library of Virginia. Recently, he highlighted another pivotal, and, sadly, largely forgotten figure of Richmond’s past, Elizabeth Van Lew

Van Lew, abolitionist and fierce opponent of succession, risked her life as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. Surrounded by Confederate sympathizers, she lived in Richmond’s Church Hill district and carried out activities that would have been considered treasonous had they been discovered.  None of her neighbors, though, ever suspected her of any wrongdoing during the conflict.

Because of Van Lew’s daring and heroic deeds (which included helping prisoners escape Libby Prison), she was appointed Postmistress of Richmond by the US government after the war’s end. As her wartime activities came to light, she was maligned by many in the community as a traitor.

“The most hated woman in Virginia changed state’s course” tells the tale of a heroine who risked her life, her wealth and her social status to assist the cause of the Union. Historians elaborate on why she has been forgotten and if she will re-emerge with the recognition she is due for her role in shaping the course of the war.

To learn more about Elizabeth Van Lew, check out Elizabeth R. Varon’s comprehensive history, Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A read more »

Leave a comment

The Short Happy Life of The Chickahominy Sun

Masthead

The Short Happy Life of The Chickahominy Sun

The above stands as a slight upgrade, it is hoped, to the first headline of this small town weekly’s blog  introduction, the simply descriptive-Now On Microfilm, The Chickahominy SunThe Sun’s three year plus nine month duration is certainly not as short as many other newspapers nor is it possible to accurately attest to its comparable happiness.  Yet sometimes, even a minor coincidence cannot be resisted.  The Sun shares a year of origin, 1938, with the hardback publication of Hemingway’s short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”.  So there you are.  Let’s add one more word of description which could be applied to Macomber’s last moments (at least from his perspective) and to The Sun-perplexing.  Perplexing, that is, to imagine how an eight page, six column paper found itself a home in Providence Forge.  For in the time consumed reading  to this point, a driver (at 45 mph, assuming a green light at the intersection of route 60 and state road 155) might have successfully traversed the town and turned back to relive it all over again.

Before reproducing the front page of the first issue, let’s take a closer look (necessary since the scale is so curiously small) at the unusual design work beneath the arched Chickahominy in the masthead.

Map

Is this the sun?  One supposes.   As perhaps referenced via ancient Egypt and the eye of Horus? One supposes with a little less confidence.  Turning to firmer ground, the paper takes its name not from the town but the Chickahominy River that acts as border to the two counties of principal coverage, New Kent and Charles City.  The river is unidentified in this charmingly peculiar depiction but the residents know their own river and besides there’s … read more »

Leave a comment

Courage Undaunted: Project staff brave the elements to help preserve and provide access to the Southwest Virginia Enterprise.

Thanks to the many alert colleagues throughout the Commonwealth, the Virginia Newspaper Project continues to receive tips from the field about original ink press newspaper files in need of preservation and cataloging. And if the title meets certain criteria, the Newspaper Project will place the title in the queue for digitization for inclusion in both the NDNP database (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov) and the Library of Virginia’s digital repository at http://virginiachronicle.com

A recent example of a great find comes from the western regions, in Wytheville, Virginia. Cathy Reynolds, Archivist at the Wytheville Community College has put together a fantastic run of the Southwest Virginia Enterprise from the earlier years in the 1880’s right up to 1923.

There’s actually more, but we wanted to make sure we were able to get the job done on this initial batch before moving forward with the post-1923 issues.

As many of you know it can be a bit of an adventure traveling from Richmond to Wytheville and back again. This time around, members of team VNP were caught in a flash snow storm that, as if on cue, produced heavy downpours and a thick fog on Afton Mountain.

However, despite the slow going, we made it back to the Library of Virginia and the handsome 11 volumes are safe and sound at VNP Headquarters.

According to Lester Cappon’s Virginia Newspapers 1821-1935, the Southwest Virginia Enterprise began in 1870 as a weekly and then moved to semi-weekly later that year. From 1870 to 1900, the Enterprise appears to have moved through a number of changes in publishers including J. A. Whitman, who, in 1908, merged the SWVE with the Wytheville Dispatch, a venerable newspaper that began publishing in 1862.

We include a few images happy to have the opportunity to preserve and provide better … read more »

1 Comment

The Beauty of Hand Lettering in Newsprint

There is a growing interest in the lost art of hand-lettering as evidenced by the recent premier of Sign Painters at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in March.

At a time, when many young people have spent their entire lives with a computer in their home and Photoshop has become a verb, there is a renewed appreciation for the unique look that hand lettering produces.  Here is a collection of random photos I have taken over the years, while I have worked with original newspapers here at the Library of Virginia.

These pieces are most likely from newspapers ranging from the 1900′s into the 1940′s, though hand lettering continued to be seen well into the 1970′s. Even before computers came along and completely decimated the craft there were other methods of photo-mechanical reproduction of type that severely limited the need for hand lettering.

Enjoy the lettering.

Don’t miss this second gallery of images.

3 Comments

Richmond panned by press! — Restauranteurs “swindlers and knaves” say soldiers — One dollar twenty-five cent outrage!

The Family Budget was a hand-written camp newspaper by Edward Budget, Confederate soldier in Hampton’s Legion which was formed after South Carolina seceded.  The Library of Virginia holds this issue from July of 1861 in which Budget describes camp life on a rainy day, the arrival of artillery from Tredegar Iron Works, and criticizes Richmond at length for taking advantage of soldiers, and of being too “Yankee,” among other offenses.  The text is transcribed below.

 

 

 

 

 

Family Budget

July 14th, 1861

Camp Manning

We had hoped to have been able to chronicle in this issue an account of the presentation by Pres. Davis of a flag to Hampton Legion as the Legion were informed several days ago that said presentation would take place on the afternoon of Saturday the 13th […]; this however we are unable to do, not through any fault of our reporters but simply because the presentation did not take place, owing to the fact that the Executive was on that day too unwell to come out to Camp.  The presentation will probably take place tomorrow at any rate in time for us to give an account of it in our next. The [stand] of colors is a present from Carolina ladies.

Yesterday two six-pound rifle cannons arrived for the artillery and received a hearty welcome; these pieces were cast in the Tredegar Works Richmond and are beautiful specimens of workmanship.

Judging from appearances we would think that some important military movement was on foot in the neighborhood of Yorktown this morning.  There were […] about fifty or sixty feet long passed here on the rail road on their way to said place yesterday, a number of gun carriages, [timber chests], etc. and the day before several heavy pieces of artillery all … read more »

Leave a comment

Journey to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel masthead, 1987

I would like to introduce you to the Mountain Laurel, a unique paper from Meadows of Dan, Virginia. The Mountain Laurel warned readers that it would “not keep you informed of world events” but instead sought to “portray mountain people with honor and distinction”, hence the double-meaning in the title: a laurel is not only a native flower but also means “honor and distinction”.

 

Front page of the first issue in March 1983

Distinctly Appalachian, the paper introduced readers to Glendon Boyd, wood carver and artisan rake-maker, and it told the tale of the man who once fell out of his cornfield and broke his leg because the land there was so steep. It would keep readers up to date with a report from the Floyd County Public Library which once resided in the basement of the Floyd courthouse. Readers clamored to contribute their own stories and memories making the paper a rich and entertaining resource full of oral history.  The Mountain Laurel has been collecting and printing the lore, history, culture, and happenings of their Blue Ridge Mountain community since Bob and Charlotte Heafner and Susan Thigpen set up shop with an electronic typewriter in a rented farmhouse in March 1983.

A few years ago, Bob Heafner generously lent his collection of the Mountain Laurel to the Library of Virginia so it could be preserved on microfilm. Issues for March 1983 through Winter 1995 are available on Film 2025A.

The Mountain Laurel maintains a website for the journal with many transcribed articles available and they are still accepting submissions of readers’ stories.  Please visit mtnlaurel.com for more of these wonderful stories.… read more »

Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Day in Newspapers

St. Patrick’s Day News from the March 17, 1911 issue of the Times Dispatch. . .All images are from Chronicling America.

Headlines from the March 17, 1911 issue of the Times Dispatch. A prominent article on Ireland's home rule appears in the right column.

The Mar. 17 article detailed the continuing struggle for home rule of Ireland.

 

St. Patrick’s Day news from other newspapers around the state. . .

Leave a comment

“Flew on wings of death to the hills”:Southwestern Virginia reports on the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic

Big Stone Gap Post, 11-13-1918

The Fall of 1918 saw the end of World War I and hundreds of thousands in America dead from a influenza pandemic that was sweeping the globe killing millions worldwide.

More than 600,000 people died over the course of a year in what would be deemed the worst epidemic to hit America. According to the CDC, 20-50 million people worldwide died between 1918-1919 as a result of the flu.  The virus spread quickly, taking an enormous toll on densely populated areas such as Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.

But what about its impact on small towns?

The Big Stone Gap Post of Big Stone Gap, Virginia and the Clinch Valley News of Tazewell, Virginia published regular updates about the comings and goings of the flu. Roughly 100 miles apart in the southwestern portion of the state, both towns currently boast modest populations of around 4-5,000 residents. As the article below points out, Spanish Flu was considered a “crowd disease” but small towns in Virginia were not spared, with relative isolation making it difficult for the sick to get help.

Big Stone Gap Post, 11-20-1918

From the Big Stone Gap Post, November 20, 1918, nine days after the end of the war:

“It is hardly likely that the general public will ever realize the extent of the suffering and anguish caused by the Spanish Influenza in some of the more remote mountain communities in Virginia where the frightful malady raged with a degree of severity which is difficult to explain.”

As the war was ending, the local and national news seemed equally dominated by reports of influenza cases. World war may have even helped spread to influenza around the globe just as the spread of the flu impacted the war effort at home and … read more »

Leave a comment

The Fighting Editor and his Stanley Steamers

Most of us know John Mitchell, Jr. as the tireless “fighting” editor of the Richmond Planet, a newspaper he ran for 40 plus years beginning in the mid-1880′s. But Mitchell was a complex, multi-faceted person whose varied interests included a fascination for the Stanley Steamer, an automobile of the early 20th century that ran on steam produced by a vertical fire-tube boiler.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a great article that focuses specifically on John Mitchell, Jr. and the Stanley Steamers he owned during his lifetime.

http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/editor-s-travelogues-highlight-story-of-the-stanley-steamer/article_1c4e7e0a-7eff-11e2-8bd0-001a4bcf6878.html

The automobile’s steam boiler mechanism was based on technologies that had existed for decades, so it’s no surprise that someone would develop a personal vehicle based on the same concepts that drove railroad locomotives and factory motors. For an informative master class on the workings of a classic Stanley Steamer, check out Jay Leno’s Garage where he shows you all the necessary steps to getting the vehicle steamed up and ready to roll: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Me8b0ed59s

To-date, thousands of pages (1889-1910) of the Richmond Planet have been made available online at Chronicling America and well over 300,000 pages of Virginia imprint newspapers which makes up the Newspaper Project and the Library’s contribution to the National Digital Newspaper Program.

 

 

 … read more »

Leave a comment

Dark Day at City Hall

Earlier this month, WTVR Channel 6 news reporter Greg McQuade visited the Library of Virginia to assist in his research of Colonel J. M. Winstead, a North Carolina banker who committed suicide in Richmond, Virginia in August of 1894. The Richmond newspaper images that appear in this story are from the Library’s newspaper collection. We invite you to watch the story and check out related articles below. But be ready for the sad and grisly details.

The newspaper articles are from the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America, to which the Newspaper Project has contributed hundreds of thousands of pages.

For the full article from The Times (Richmond, VA), August 24, 1894: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85034438/1894-08-24/ed-1/seq-5/

For the full article from the Alexandria Gazette, August 24, 1894: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025007/1894-08-24/ed-1/seq-2/

To see the full page from the Roanoke Times, August 24, 1894: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86071868/1894-08-24/ed-1/seq-1/

 … read more »

Leave a comment