• Pages

  • Categories

  • Editors

Search Results for: chris baker

Chris Baker: “Cheerful Among Corpses”

Chris Baker (left) with anatomy students at MCV circa 1899. Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Anatomical dissection is a matter of course for today’s medical student. Those who selflessly donate their bodies to science are treated with utmost respect for the critical service that they provide to burgeoning doctors and surgeons. Medical schools in the 19th century had a more difficult time with this aspect of education and often had to turn to “anatomical men” or “resurrectionists” to procure cadavers for study by their students. Virginia schools had no legal means of acquiring bodies until 1884 when legislation established the state anatomical board and made the bodies of prisoners and the indigent available for study. An August article in Style Weekly piqued the interest of some Library of Virginia (LVA) archivists, which turned up some interesting archival records about Richmond’s own “anatomical man,” Chris Baker.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor Shawn Utsey has endeavored to uncover the thus-far unknown history of Baker’s work for the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). In that effort, he has combed the archives of MCV and the LVA as well as other sources. So far revealed is that from sometime after the Civil War until just after World War I, Baker worked as a janitor in MCV’s Egyptian Building. However, his duties went far beyond the tidying of the dissection room. With the tacit approval of the college, Baker and his cohorts (often including young medical … read more »

Mug Shot Monday: My Hometown Edition


Mugshots of Joseph Winsey, Chester Lewzewski, John Lutz, and William Schmitz, Reading Eagle, 11 March 1919, page 1.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. John L. Brown, James L. Davis, Charles C. Williams, and Joseph L. Cary, the subjects of this week’s post, pleaded guilty to robbery in Petersburg in November 1911 and were sentenced to 12 years in the penitentiary. The four first caught my attention while processing the penitentiary records in the early 2000s, when I saw the police from my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, wanted them for murder. Ten years later, thanks in part to Google News Archive and Ancestry.com, I am able to tell the story of how their Pennsylvania crime spree, culminating in a senseless murder over apple pies, ended in central Virginia.

On Tuesday, 14 November 1911, A. W. Harman, son of the Virginia state treasurer, arrived at the Byrd Street train station in Richmond at 8:15 pm. As Harman started walking up 8th Street, two men stepped out in front of him. “Both of them pointed revolvers at me,” Harmon later told the Richmond News Leader, “and ordered me to throw up my hands.” When Harman resisted, they struck him on the head with a blunt instrument. Two other men arrived; the four dragged Harman behind some freight cars, stole his watch and $10, and fled … read more »

Virginians in the Great War: Harry Anderson Matthews (1894-1918)


Photograph of Harry Anderson Matthews (1894-1918), Questionnaire, Virginia War History Commission, Series I. Individual Service Records (Questionnaires), box 17, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

This is the latest entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I. Corporal Harry A. Matthews, the subject of this week’s post, died on 5 December 1918 from wounds he received during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on 11 November. Matthews’s sparse World War I Questionnaire tells a sad story of love and loss.


Harry Anderson Matthews (1894-1918), Questionnaire, Virginia War History Commission, Series I. Individual Service Records (Questionnaires), box 17, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Harry Anderson Matthews was born on 8 December 1894 in Richmond, Virginia, to Harry Lee Matthews (1868-1925), a general contractor, and Minnie Pohle (1870-1951). The Matthews family had at least eight children: Hudson W. Matthews (1893-1924), Henry A. Matthews (1894-1918), Irving Lee Matthews (1898-1967), Linwood C. Matthews (1901-1965), Marie Matthews (1905-1969), Herbert T. Matthews (1906-1967), Audrey L. Matthews (1906-1994), and William A. Matthews (1909-1910). When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Matthews worked for his father as a building foreman. On 19 January 1918, Matthews married Adelia Charlotte Howland (1899-1982). He was inducted into the army on 27 May 1918 and left for Europe on 6 August 1918. His daughter, Marjorie, was born thirteen days later.

Matthews served in the 164th Machine Gun Company, 26th Infantry Division. His unit fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a 47 day (26 September to 11 November 1918) American offensive along a twenty-four mile front from the Argonne Forest to the Meuse River. … read more »

Library Makes New Batch of Emails from Governor Timothy M. Kaine Administration Available Online


Senior Advisor to the Governor for Workforce Daniel LeBlanc (2006-2010)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the release of 10,441 emails from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine (2006-2010). This latest batch comprises emails from individuals in the Office of the Senior Advisor to the Governor for Workforce. Included are the email boxes of Daniel LeBlanc, Gail Robinson, Brian Davis, Marietta Salyer, Beatrice Young, Sarah Abubaker, and Patrick Callahan. Since January 2014, the Library has made 156,188 emails from the Kaine administration freely available online to the public.

The primary responsibility of the Office of the Senior Advisor to the Governor for Workforce was the development and implementation of the Commonwealth’s first ever Strategic Plan for Workforce Development. The office also worked across secretariats to achieve consensus on a State Partner Memorandum of Understanding for Comprehensive One Stop Centers, a landmark directive for workforce service delivery in the Commonwealth signed in March 2008. This document clearly delineates the specific requirements of state agencies and programs towards the creation and support of a workforce development system that operates effectively in a one stop environment with a primary focus on serving citizens and employers in an efficient manner. For the complete picture, you will need to jump into the collection and start digging. The archived web site and Cabinet Weekly Reports of the Office of the Senior Advisor provide additional information on its activities.… read more »

First Freedom: The Great Sabbath Debate, Part 1


 Broadside, Sabbath Breakers, London, William Miller, 1671. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Source: WikiCommons.

The passage of the Statute for Religious Freedom by the General Assembly in 1786 guaranteed religious freedom to people of all faiths. However, Quakers, Mennonites, Jews, and other religious minorities continued to have concerns about worshiping freely. Their religious beliefs and practices did not conform to the mainstream Protestant beliefs and cultural customs of the day. They felt it necessary to file petitions with the General Assembly in an attempt to safeguard their religious practices.

The topic of the petitions could be something seemingly mundane as with one filed by Quakers from Surry County seeking permission to keep their hats on when greeting another person. They believed the custom of removing one’s hat to greet someone “originated in pride and superstition and that it [hat removal] is a mark of honor due only to the Supreme Being.” Other petitions were more controversial such as ones filed by a group of Quakers, Mennonites, Dunkards, and Tunkers asking to be exempted from military duty on religious grounds.

Some petitions filed by religious minorities were more easily accommodated than others. One religious tenet that proved difficult to accommodate was observance of the Sabbath. On 26 December 1792, the General Assembly passed a law entitled “An act for the effectual suppression of vice, and punishing the disturbers of religious worship, and Sabbath Breakers.” The portion of the act related … read more »

Mug Shot Monday: Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald, No. 38685


Photograph of Robert S. Fitzgerald, No. 38685, 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 photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald, the subject of this week’s post, was tried for performing abortions on three women between 1927 and 1937.  All three died as a result of Fitzgerald’s “illegal operation.”

Melva Victoria Royal was in trouble.  The unmarried 18-year-old North Carolinian King’s College student learned in the fall of 1927 that she was pregnant.  Melva wanted to terminate her pregnancy but didn’t know how.  A North Carolina physician provided James Royal, Melva’s father, with a name of someone who could perform the operation:  Dr. Robert S. Fitzgerald of Richmond, Virginia.  On 10 October, Melva and her father arrived in Richmond and made an appointment to see Dr. Fitzgerald.  After examining Melva, Dr. Fitzgerald, according to James Royal’s later court testimony, said he would not take the case for less than $200.  Royal obtained the money from a local bank, returned to Fitzgerald’s office at 6 p.m., and paid him.  Fitzgerald told James Royal take a walk for about half an hour.  When he returned, Melva was asleep.  At 8:30 p.m. the Royals  took a cab to their place of lodging.  Melva complained that she did not feel well.  At 9 a.m. on 11 October, Royal entered his … read more »

Mug Shot Monday: Benjamin Liverman, No. 18759


Photograph of Benjamin Liverman, #18759, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B.  Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Benjamin Liverman, the “Boy Bandit,” the subject of this week’s post, was first arrested at the age of ten.  By the age of 17, he had a lengthy criminal record.  His life of crime and the beginning of his reformation began in Norfolk in 1923 when he was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 53 years in the penitentiary.

Benjamin Liverman was born Donatto Siravo on 28 February 1905 in Fall River, Massachusetts.  The son of Italian immigrants, Siravo did not have a good home life.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, Alfred Siravo, Donatto’s father, worked as a weaver in Fall River.  He was “quick tempered and very emotional and is blamed for much of the [couple's] marital troubles.”  In September 1915, Siravo, only ten years old, began his life of crime when he was arrested in Fall River for trespassing.  Over the next six years, Siravo, still a minor, was arrested nine times and served time in the Lyman School for Boys and the Shirley Industrial School.  He escaped the Shirley Industrial School on 9 January 1922 and made his way to Norfolk, Virginia, by November 1922.  Over the next two months, Siravo, using the alias … read more »

Mug Shot Monday: Ted K. Calvert, No. 24376


Photograph of Ted K. Calvert, #24376,  Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 420, Folder 8, 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 photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Ted Calvert, the subject of this week’s post, escaped the State Lime Grinding Plant after a gun battle, only to be recaptured in California.

In May 1929, 24-year-old Ted K. Calvert was sentenced by the Stafford County Circuit Court to five years in the Virginia Penitentiary for forgery.  Calvert was assigned to work at State Lime Grinding Plant No. 1 in Augusta County.  On 6 October 1931, six prisoners, including Calvert, attempted to escape during a daytime shootout between the convicts and guards.  Plant officials believed that the prisoners’ friends planted several guns in the limestone quarry where they were working.  Two prisoners were shot by the guards and seriously wounded.  Four others, including Calvert, escaped.

Calvert, using the alias James Livingston, was recaptured two months later in Bakersfield, California.  He waived extradition and returned to the Virginia Penitentiary on 23 December 1931.  On 29 February 1932, the Augusta County Circuit Court sentenced Calvert to an additional five years in the Penitentiary for conspiracy and attempted escape.

Photograph of Ted K. Calvert, alias James Livingston, #6127, Bakersfield Police Department, ,  Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 420, Folder 8, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Upon his return to Virginia, Calvert was assigned to State Convict Road Force Camp 29.  In a letter to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell, dated 3 September 1932, Calvert promised “to make … read more »

Walk Like a Man? One-Legged Prisoner Escapes Road Camp

On Sunday 20 January 1907, Ed Baker, a “one leg Italian” with “a bad face”, escaped from the State Convict Road Force camp near Williamsburg. Baker, one of the camp cooks, made his break at 6:07 a.m. when a guard sent him to get some wood. The alarm was sounded at 6:15 and a manhunt begun.  Baker, who had a wooden leg and only an eight-minute head start, was not easy to recapture.  The Virginia Gazette reported that Baker was pursued by several guards as well as local citizens and students for nearly nine hours.  Baker was finally caught at 3 pm by guard R.F. Morris – 20 miles from the camp!  The guard in charge of Baker when he escaped was fired.  That evening camp Sgt. W.B. Pattie wrote Penitentiary Superintendent E.F. Morgan that ”a man who can’t hold 4 men with a shot gun & pistol is no good to me.”  Baker was also punished.  Even though Baker only had one leg, Pattie “put a ball and chain on that and will give him 39 [lashes] in the morning.”

Letter from W.B. Pattie, dated 20 January 1907 to Capt E.F. Morgan

The State Convict Road Force was created by the General Assembly in 1906 as part of the Withers-Lassiter “good roads” law that created the State Highway Commission. The Penitentiary was responsible for creating, … 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 Gazetteread more »