The chancery causes we encounter usually involve disputes over lands, estates, and businesses, but occasionally we stumble upon cases that can only be categorized as bizarre. One such oddity found in the chancery collections is a dispute over the winner of a contest held during Harrisonburg’s Fourth of July celebration in 1893. There are many traditions involved in marking the independence of the United States – hot dogs, baseball, parades, and, of course, fireworks. The Harrisonburg celebration included among those traditions a hose contest participated in by local fire companies. However, the outcome of this particular Fourth of July diversion was not resolved until two years later in the Rockingham County chancery court when Hose Company No. 4 brought suit against Hose Company No. 1, Hose Company No. 2, and the Harrisonburg Guards, who hosted the event (Rockingham County Chancery Cause 1895-043).
For the hose contest, squads of fifteen men from each of the companies were to start from a given point, run a distance of 100 yards with their hose carts on which was to be reeled 200 feet of hose, unreel and disconnect 150 feet of hose, fix a nozzle upon one end of the hose, connect the other end with a fire plug, and “throw water.” A prize of $30.00 was to be given to the company whose squad accomplished the test … read more »
On the afternoon of 18 April 1924, an Imperial Ice Cream Company truck got stuck in the mud on the road between Winchester and Front Royal. The driver left the truck to telephone the company’s Winchester plant for help to get the truck out of the mud. When the driver returned ten minutes later, he saw that a “gang of convicts, in charge of a guard, had climbed on the truck and stolen from it five quarts of brick ice cream and ten dozen Chocolate Coated Ice Cream bars” worth $6.50. The guard told the driver that “he couldn’t do anything with the convicts, as they were in for stealing at the time.” Or so A.W. Warne, Manager of the Virginia Division, claimed in two letters to Major R.M. Youell, Virginia Penitentiary Superintendent. Outraged, Warne demanded an investigation and financial restitution. He added that “it seems to me a deplorable state of affairs when a guard in charge of a gang of convicts does not have enough control over the convicts, or himself, to prevent the stealing” of ice cream. A subsequent investigation by Penitentiary officials tells a completely different story.
A week after the alleged incident, Superintendent Youell ordered J.W. Johnson, the officer in charge of State Convict Road Force Camp 29, to investigate. Johnson’s reply on 29 April 1924 reported that the driver … read more »
“In the time worn and musty old folios long since filed away in our public offices, there is many a fact recorded that has occured [sic] under the personal observation of no one now living; and which if placed within the reach of the public, would go farther to give us a knowledge of the manners, customs, and character of the pioneers of Augusta County than all the histories that have been written on our native state.”
These words were written by a young lawyer who was researching court records filed in the Augusta County courthouse in the early 1830’s. He was amazed by the amount of history found in the old court papers. He discovered stories about the first settlers of western Virginia and the many obstacles they encountered in their efforts to start a new life in an untamed wilderness. He read about events that happened during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. The young lawyer came across suits in which the litigants talked about their migration down the Shenandoah Valley from western Pennsylvania to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mesmerized by what he was reading, the young lawyer wanted to make his discoveries in the court records available to the public, and so, he wrote a letter to the editor of an unidentified newspaper requesting a weekly column in which he … read more »
Another presidential election year is upon us, and we are already bombarded with television ads touting the two candidates and proclaiming their positions on every issue from A to Z. Will 2012 be an election for the history books or will it be relegated along with other campaigns to the dustbin of history? You may remember the elections of 1800 (Jefferson’s “Revolution of 1800”), 1860 (the election that sparked the Civil War), 1932 (FDR, Hoover, and the Great Depression), and 1984 (Reagan’s “Morning in America”). But what about others? Quick, without Googling it—who ran against Teddy Roosevelt in 1904?
The election of 1840 mostly falls into the dustbin file. It is usually remembered only because of a catchy campaign slogan (“Tippecanoe and Tyler too!”) and the fact that the winner, second-rate military hero William Henry Harrison, served only one month before becoming the first president to die in office. Yet 1840 was a key election year, and a broadside found in the Library of Virginia’s collection reveals some of the issues at play. Entitled “This Is The House that Jack Built” (LVA accession 28192), this 1840 political cartoon by John Childs utilizes the nursery rhyme of the same name to illustrate the views of Harrison’s Whig Party.
Four years earlier, the Whig Party had formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson, coalescing around Henry Clay’s … read more »
It is rare for anyone to be directly involved in an event that can be labeled, without exaggeration, a turning point in world history. The recollections of those who have done so take on a special significance for the rest of us as we try to imagine how it must have felt to be part of an extraordinary moment in time. As archivists, we can only hope that these recollections are recorded and preserved before memories fade and entire generations pass away.
Today, on the 68thanniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, one of those voices speaks through the June 1944 diary of Douglas J. Raymond (1921-1994), an acting petty officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. A native of Rosemont-LaPetite-Patrie, Quebec, Canada, Raymond became a United States citizen and resident of Virginia after the war. While keeping this diary, he was serving aboard the destroyer HMCS Saskatchewan providing anti-submarine protection for the landing forces.
Raymond’s widow, Mary, donated the diary to the Library of Virginia last July. In a note she tucked in with the little book, she apologized for her late husband’s spelling, saying that it was more phonetic than technically correct. No apologies are needed, as the diary is an honest, sensitive, and exciting account of what a 23-year-old man saw, thought, and felt in the midst of intensely stressful circumstances.… read more »
In the early 1980s, Mary Helen Gravitt went looking for a coffin. Gravitt, then a secretary at Virgilina Elementary School, was looking for a Halloween decoration in an old store building but stumbled upon a piece of Virgilina’s history. So began the strange turn of events that led to the town of Virgilina’s first town council minute book’s arrival at the Library of Virginia where it will be preserved, reformatted, and stored for posterity.
Recognizing the significance of Gravitt’s find, teacher Hallie T. Owen studied the book and published an article in the South Boston News and Record back in February 1983. Owen wrote in celebration of Virgilina’s 83rd birthday and described the town’s ordinances and regulations which ranged from the prohibition of playing marbles in town streets to allowing bar partitions that separated white and African American customers. Not knowing what to do with the volume but recognizing its importance, Mary Helen Gravitt held onto the book for the next thirty years.
At the chance request of a South Boston history buff, Owen’s 1983 article was reprinted in February of this year and spotted by the mother-in-law of one our archivists. Local Records director Carl Childs followed up on the article and with the help of Hallie Owen was able to track down the whereabouts of the minute book and persuade the town … read more »