Monthly Archives: October 2011

- I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost!


Spirit Rappings sheet music cover page, 1853. (Image public domain, used courtesy of Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.)

In 1896, Virginia Anderson, nicknamed Jennie, filed for divorce from her husband, Epps G. Anderson, in the Scott County Circuit Court. He was in his seventies, she in her fifties, and both had grown children from previous marriages. Like many other divorce cases, Virginia and Epps accused each other of a variety of shortcomings including abuse, abandonment, property mismanagement, and infidelity. Having come across cases like this before, I was not expecting it when half way through his deposition Epps stated that “after July the 4, 1896 there had been a knocking spirit down at Doc. Kyle’s. Jennie said she would go down there …when she came back said she heard it and seen it act and it knocked on her… and she said before she started she was going to bring it up here and run me off or scare me.” Epps went on to describe a two-hour episode occurring in the night, with chairs being knocked to the floor, doors blowing open, ghostly footsteps, and a spirit that answered questions by knocking on the walls.

Epps’ daughter, Mollie Edens, also testified in the divorce case and described an encounter with the entity in which Virginia asked the spirit if it was the good spirit or the evil one and told it to “knock three licks if the evil spirit, then [it] knocked three. … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday (Halloween Edition): Benjamin Gilbert


Photograph of Benjamin Gilbert, 5th person executed at the Virginia Penitentiary, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 23, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday (Halloween Edition)!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.

At 7:15 A.M. on 19 March 1909 , Benjamin Gilbert, age 19, was electrocuted for the 23 July 1908 murder of Amanda Morse in Norfolk.  Gilbert and Morse dated briefly.  After Morse ended the relationship in the spring of 1908, Gilbert made frequent threats of bodily harm to her.  On the evening of 23 July 1908, Gilbert approached Morse and several of her male companions on the Campostella Bridge.  When Morse refused to speak with him, Gilbert pulled a revolver and fired three shots, hitting Morse twice in the back.  She died the next day.  Gilbert was convicted of first degree murder in October 1908 and sentenced to death.  Virginia Governor Claude Swanson granted Gilbert two respites to allow his attorney to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.  The Court refused to grant a writ of error and the death sentence was carried out at the Virginia Penitentiary.

After Gilbert’s execution, the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch reported on an effort to revive him.  Dr. J.P. Jackson of South Norfolk wanted to revive Gilbert with a respirator, an invention that he claimed could restore life if used immediately after death in cases of electrocution and asphyxiation. The 19 March 1909 … read more »

- Building Furniture, Building Up the South

Image from Green & Brother catalog, 1871. Ephraim Baker Records, 1857-1910. Accession 50152. Business records collection, The Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia recently acquired business records of Ephraim Baker (1836-1919) of Mount Olive, Virginia (Accession 51052).  Baker, born on 13 December 1836 in Topnot, Shenandoah County, Virginia, was the son of Lewis Baker (1808-1889) and Anna Dellinger (1811-1879). He operated a general store in Mount Olive for most of his life. The store was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Ephraim Baker was married twice, and died on 19 June 1919. He is buried in St. Stephen’s Cemetery in Strasburg.

The majority of the collection consists of correspondence, accounts, and accounts of sales to Baker from commission merchants in Alexandria and Baltimore. The correspondence includes information on market conditions and current prices of goods being sold. There are also circulars, advertisements, and price lists from various merchants. Baker was an agent for the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Watertown, New York, and the collection contains correspondence and invoices from the company’s headquarters. Also included are customer orders from local residents requesting goods from Baker’s store.

Among the records is an 1871 Green & Brother catalog with annotated prices. Nineteenth century furniture catalogs or price lists are fairly unusual to find, and this one has particular importance for the furniture making business in Virginia. As early as 1820, English born cabinetmaker William Green was advertising his furniture in the Alexandria read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Bob Addison, No. 35074


Photograph of Bob Addison, #35074, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 26, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate mug shots in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.

On 16 May 1936 at 8:15 PM, Bob Addison, #35074, a prisoner assigned to Camp 16 of the State Convict Road Force located in Fauquier County, escaped.  Addison used a fake shackle to fasten himself to the chain that bound all the inmates together at night.  He quickly used an iron bar to open the back cell door, fled into the night and disappeared without a trace.  Addison remained a fugitive for the next 30 years until his past finally caught up with him.

Bob Addison was born in Tazewell County in July 1913.  In May 1932, at the age of 19, Addison was convicted in Tazewell County of assault with a knife and sentenced to four years in the Virginia Penitentiary.  He served 2 1/2 years and was released.   Addison got in trouble again in 1935 in Russell County.  He was arrested for cutting another man with a knife but escaped prior to his trial and fled to West Virginia.  He met a girl, Edna Sanders, whom he married in October 1935.  Addison used his real name during the ceremony and was captured five days later.  He was tried in December 1935 in Russell County and received … read more »

- Drunkenness is no excuse…

 "Drunken Man" etching by Walter Geikie (1795-1837). Original can be found at National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. (Image public domain/Wikipedia.)

Ever want to claim you were too drunk to be responsible for committing a criminal act?  In Virginia in 1915, you would have been out of luck.  Jury instructions found in the Staunton criminal case of Commonwealth vs. Vaughan Bell (Staunton Commonwealth Causes, barcode 1184535) suggest that Mr. Bell, indicted for housebreaking with the intent to commit larceny in the store house of H. N. Tinsley, tried to use being drunk as an excuse for his accused criminal behavior.  He also may have tried to claim insanity, as a notation on the case wrapper indicates that a commission was held to inquire into his mental state.  The commission found him sane and the jury found him not guilty.  Additional jury instructions speak to the necessity of proving beyond a reasonable doubt not only the housebreaking but the intent to commit larceny and that any doubt must cause the jury to judge in Mr. Bell’s favor.  Clearly the jury did have doubts and Mr. Bell went on his merry way, dubious excuses and all.

-Sarah Nerney, Senior Local Records Archivist

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- Mug Shot Monday: Sylvia Elwood Huffman, No. 38770


Photograph of Sylvia Elwood Huffman, #38770, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 32, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate mug shots in the records of the Virginia  Penitentiary.

In June 1936 in the Augusta County Circuit Court, Sylvia Elwood Huffman was convicted of first degree murder in the death of W.H. Riddle, an Annex merchant.  Huffman shot and killed Riddle in a botched robbery attempt that netted him less than $5.   He was sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 7 August 1936.  Governor George C. Peery granted Huffman four respites during his two appeals to the Virginia Supreme Court.  On 27 December 1937 Governor Peery commuted Huffman’s death sentence to life in prison after receiving a report from the Board of Mental Hygiene that stated Huffman was not sane.  Huffman had been a patient at Western State Hospital on two separate occasions (January-June 1924 and December 1931-June 1935) and Huffman’s defense attorneys unsuccessfully presented an insanity defense.

Huffman’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he had aged in prison.  I was curious why there were two negatives, one from 1937 and a second one dated 3 March 1959.  Huffman’s entry in Prison Book No. 2 noted that he had been returned to the Penitentiary in 1959 for violating his 1957 conditional pardon.  Governor J. Lindsay Almond, … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: James “Jimmie” Strother, No. 33927


Photograph of James Strother, #33927, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 25, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate mug shots in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.

In April 1935 James “Jimmie” Strother, a blind musician, was convicted of second degree murder in Culpeper County in the death of Blanche Green, his wife. Strother received a twenty-year prison sentence. He was received at the Virginia Penitentiary on 21 May 1935 and transferred to the State Farm in Goochland County six days later. He was pardoned by Governor James Price in 1939.

According to a Virginia Department of Historic Resources Historical Highway Marker, famed folklorist John A. Lomax visited the Virginia State Prison Farm and the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond in 1936.   The marker states that “working for the Library of Congress’s Archive of Folk Song, Lomax canvassed southern prisons in search of traditional African American music. On 13 and 14 June 1936, Lomax, assisted by Harold Spivacke, recorded quartets, banjo tunes, work songs, spirituals, and blues at the State Farm. Among the notable performers were inmates Jimmie Strother and Joe Lee. The Library of Congress first released songs from the sessions in the 1940s and they have appeared on many recordings since. These sessions are among the earliest aural records of Virginia’s black folk-song tradition.”

In 2002-2003, the Library of Virginia … read more »

- Mayhem and Skull Fragments in Rockbridge Co.

Skull fragments of Lone B. Vess used as an exhibit in the Rockbridge County Commonwealth Cause vs. Oliver R. Bane alias Dock Bane, October 1903.

At the October 1903 session of Rockbridge County court, Oliver R. Bane, called “Dock” Bane (alternately spelled Bain), was convicted of unlawful assault against Lone B. Vess (alternately spelled Vest) and sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary.  The grand jury indictment of Bane charged him with making “an assault and him the said Loane B. Vest feloniously and maliciously did strike, beat, cut and wound with intent him the said Loane B. Vest there and then to maim, disfigure, disable and kill.” The official charge was mayhem.  A newspaper article from the Lexington Gazette gives a fuller picture of the circumstances surrounding the crime.  The article states that Bane and Vess had gotten into a fight at the home of Mr. Dave Potter while returning home from a dance.  “Knucks and chairs were freely used in the battle” and Vess was struck on the head with a fire shovel.  Jury instructions from the case file indicate that part of Bane’s defense was that Vess had attacked him first and without provocation.  The article explained that Vess was not expected to recover and that the doctor had extracted several fragments of bone from his wounded skull.  Preserved as evidence in the case file are these bone fragments, wrapped up in tissue paper.  Vess did survive the attack and the loss of pieces of his … read more »

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- Archives Month 2011 is Here!

 

 ”No people can be deemed masters of their own history until their public records, gathered, cared for, and rendered accessible to the investigator, have been systematically studied and the importance of their contents determined.” — Charles M. Andrews, Historian

Saturday, October 1, marked the official beginning of Archives Month, a nationwide celebration recognizing the critical role that archives and archivists play in preserving the documentary history of the nation. 

Since 2002, Virginia has celebrated those institutions and individuals in the commonwealth that help preserve and make accessible the important records of our actions as citizens, businesses, religious groups, government, and society.  The work of these repositories and individuals give us a sense of being part of a larger picture and helps us begin to see ourselves connected to others — family, community, nation or a group defined by ethnicity, religion, work or play. The result is a sense of belonging, direction and meaning. Far from focusing only on past accomplishments, those who care for our archives and special collections help provide us with a foundation for discussing the things that matter most in our communities today.

Archives Month is a collaborative project of the Library of Virginia, in conjunction with the Virginia State Historical Records Advisory Board, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference

This year’s Archives … read more »

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