On 16 August 1912, 17-year-old Virginia Christian was electrocuted at the Virginia Penitentiary for the 18 March 1912 murder of Ida Belote, her white employer. Today, she remains the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908. That historic distinction may be about to change. Barring any intervention by the judicial system or Governor Robert McDonnell, Teresa Lewis will be executed on 23 September 2010 at the Greensville Correctional Center for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis. Lewis’s pending execution has sparked renewed interest in the Christian case.
The Library of Virginia has a variety of documents concerning Virginia Christian’s execution. Rather than summarizing the case, I will let a representative sample of 51 documents tell the story from all sides: Christian’s family and her attorneys, Belote’s family, the prosecutor, and Governor William Hodges Mann. These documents were drawn from various State Records collections including: Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary; Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers; and Records of Governor William Mann. Each image caption includes the citation of the document. The records of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558) are now open to researchers.
Readers interested in exploring how the Christian case was covered in the media should consult the Library of Virginia’s extensive newspaper collection. Click here … read more »
In 1913, Mary Ella Gray stated in a deposition that she moved to her parents’ home in Fredericksburg after her husband James “continuously abused me, and was very profane to me and often told me that he bore for me no affection whatever, and I could pull up and leave whenever I got ready.” Court documents show that, prior to reaching this point, happier times were evident in their marriage.
Like so many other Spotsylvania County chancery causes, Mary Ella Gray vs. James Oliver B. Gray, 1913, appeared to be a fairly routine divorce case; however, the marriage certificate was not so ordinary.
The couple was married in the District of Columbia on 1 November 1902. The certificate is a noteworthy document, illustrative and colorful. It cites a Bible verse, Ruth 4:13, describing the marriage of Ruth to Boaz, and features an illustration of Ruth gleaning barley in Boaz’s field. The document was published by Jennings and Dye of Cincinnati, Ohio, printed in Germany.
Divorces were granted through county chancery courts. The marriage certificate was included in the cause, possibly as an exhibit. The Spotsylvania County Chancery Causes Collection contains about 40 cubic feet of records and covers the years circa 1811-1925. It is currently closed for processing and will be digitized.
-Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist… read more »
The fate of the Richmond Coliseum has been in question recently, with the city soliciting input from business leaders, local officials, and a consulting firm to determine what comes next for the much-maligned structure. Should the city continue to keep it limping along with costly repairs as needed, do a large-scale renovation, or demolish it in hopes of building a flashier replacement? Which of these options is best for Richmond, and where will the money come from? Alas, the Out of the Box bloggers can’t answer these questions for you. We can only lament on behalf of the near-40-year-old Coliseum, “What a drag it is getting old!”
Here at the Library of Virginia, however, there are reminders of how it all began, when the 13,500-capacity arena was the pride and joy of Richmond native and architect Ben R. Johns, Jr. (1922-2006). In 1968, Johns was tapped as the primary architect to work with the Philadelphia firm of Vincent G. Kling and Associates on the Coliseum project. While today the building has its share of detractors, back then it had at least a few admirers. As a result of the Coliseum design, Johns was recognized by the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1974 and the Richmond Planning Commission in 1975.
In 2007, the year after Johns’ death, a collection of his business records was donated to the LVA. Chiefly … read more »