Category Archives: Private Papers Blog Posts

- A stone’s throw from madness


Image of a mad stone, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C., as displayed on the Old Farmer's Alamanac website (www.almanac.com).

“I send you two patients to the mad stone. They are natives of this place and had their children bitten today.”

-J. Reuben Richerson to R. L. Harrison, 26 June 1893

“1/3net receipts from mad stone since same was placed into hands of R. L. Harrison.”

-written on checks from Harrison to Richerson and Maria L. Motley, 14 March 1893

“Mad stone? What’s a mad stone?” I wondered out loud.

I’d stumbled across the R. L. Harrison Papers, 1893-1901 (Library of Virginia accession 26527), during the dog days of summer. This business records collection consisted of correspondence, checks, accounts, and receipts from Harrison, a druggist in Richmond during the 1890s-1910s, to J. Reuben Richerson, Nannie E. Richerson, and Maria L. Motley, all of Caroline County, concerning something called a mad stone (or madstone) and payments for its use. Piqued by this reference, I set out to answer my own question.

I learned from the Oxford English Dictionary that a mad stone is a “stone or similar object supposedly having the power to counteract the effect of the bite of a rabid or venomous animal.” Furthermore, thanks to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, I discovered that it was a “stony concretion (as a hair ball from the stomach of a deer).” In appearance, it looked like a small stone; according to various descriptions, it could be … read more »

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- “Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why hast thou forgotten me!”

The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has been travelling around Virginia and scanning privately held Civil War-related manuscript documents for the past four years. Recently, as I was cataloging some of the scanned materials, I came across a letter, written 14 August 1864 by Ole R. Dahl of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company B. Dahl had been captured by Confederate forces and was imprisoned in Savannah, Georgia. Written to his son, Anton P. Dahl, the letter relates his suffering in prison, his concern for various family members, and his hopes for release. Dahl writes that if he knew “all the truble [sic] and suffering I since have been subject to I would rather be shott [sic] down on the spot before I would surrender.” What really caught my attention was the beautiful drawing at the top of the letter, assumedly done by Dahl. The drawing features two prisoners in camp washing and cooking, with areas labeled “the death line” and “guard line” surrounding the prison. Underneath the drawing was written ‘Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why has thou forgotten me!”


Detail view of drawing Lieutenant Ole R. Dahl, 15th Wisconsin infantry Regiment, Company B, included in his 14 August 1864 letter to son Anton P. Dahl while in a Confederate prison in Savannah, Georgia. Item scanned as part of the CW 150 Legacy Project. Original is privately owned.

According to information on the Wisconsin Historical Society website, Dahl enlisted on 9 October 1861 and was mustered into service on 13 February 1862 to serve with the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company H. In March 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant … read more »

- “There’s only one thing I don’t like about Combat–It Ain’t Safe!”


Recruitment poster for U. S. Army Air Corps. Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

When John Hager Randolph Jr. wrote to his parents in Richmond near the end of his Virginia Military Institute career in the spring of 1942, he had a few things on his mind. There were the girls he was interested in, the potential for a “bawling out” from Mom and Dad once they received his grades, and the average college student’s ever-present concern: money (“Please send me the money soon!” was his plaintive postscript to one letter).  But, while his life at this point resembled that of pretty much any other soon-to-be graduate, Randolph was on the verge of a new chapter of adventure and danger, thrown in the midst of one of history’s greatest conflicts. His service as a World War II bomber pilot is detailed in the letters he sent home, preserved in the John Hager Randolph Jr. Papers (Acc. 51038) at the Library of Virginia.  

After VMI, Randolph entered the Army Air Corps, training stateside as a pilot with the war looming ever larger in his future. At the end of a prolonged period of uncertainty as to his eventual assignment, he found himself heading to the Pacific Theater in the spring of 1945. There, he would take part in an aerial battering of Japan that would test its resistance to surrender before the atomic bomb finally brought it down.  … read more »

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- News of a tragedy


Alden Aaroe, in an undated photograph, shown broadcasting over the WRVA airwaves.  (WRVA Radio Collection, Accession 38210)

Most of us—whether we were alive at the time of the event or learned about it from parents and grandparents, books, magazine articles, documentaries, and movies—are familiar with the basic details of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas.  This week, reminders of the tragedy are ubiquitous, as the marking of 50 years since that day spurs historians, news outlets, conspiracy theorists, and others to again go over the sudden snuffing out of the “leader of the free world.”

One of my least-favorite terms as an archivist, only due to its extreme over-use, is “bringing the past to life.”  However, I can’t help but use that phrase to describe the sort of record that we are highlighting on the blog today.  Included as part of a sizable trove of news recordings in the WRVA Radio Collection (Accession 38210) is a special report which aired that very evening, just a few short hours after the death of the president.

Even in the early 1960s, the nation was able to hear important news almost as soon as it happened, and WRVA listeners were fed anxiety-producing bulletins (some provided by NBC News) from approximately ten minutes after the shooting until the heartbreaking confirmation of Kennedy’s death came over the station’s airwaves at 2:36 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.  This program, “The Death … read more »

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- Archives as art


A group of customer orders for goods from Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia. The orders are seen as they were originally kept by the store, attached to a piece of wire roughly in the order they were received and filled.  Easley, Holt and Company Records (LVA Accession 50951)

Discovered in a box of election records from the Secretary of the Commonwealth by a member of the Library of Virginia’s State Records staff, this distinctive-looking work of art came to us just as it had hung in Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia, operated by James Stone Easley (1802-1879). How and when it arrived is not clear, and it is a mystery how it ended up in a box of state records.  Since being transferred to the Library’s Private Papers collection, it forms part of the Easley, Holt and Company Records, Accession 50951.

The composition, now only preserved in the photograph on the right, consisted of customer orders for goods, created from 1837 to 1844.  The orders, of various shapes and sizes, were attached to a simple piece of wire, roughly in chronological order as they were received and filled.  The result, although dating from the 19th century, is a hanging paper sculpture that the viewer could imagine seeing today in a contemporary art gallery.

The hanging store orders are for clothing and material, dry goods, liquor, medicine, and other items. Some of the orders for cloth have a swatch of material attached, with instructions that it be matched by cloth that is in stock. Easley was also postmaster, so customers frequently added a request that their mail … read more »

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- All’s Fair in…


Detail shot of blue ribbons won at the Virginia State Fair in 1914 and 1928 (see photo gallery in body of article to see ribbons in their entirety). Records of the State Fair of Virginia, Library of Virginia Accession 42808.

The smell of deep-fried pickles and cotton candy.  The sounds of music and laughter.  The sights of the midway.  For well over a century and a half, the State Fair of Virginia has been one of the sure signs that autumn has arrived, and this year is no exception.  Beginning last Friday and running through October 6, rides, exhibitions, and entertainment are drawing thousands to the fairgrounds for a good time.  Here at the Library of Virginia, the long history of the fair is documented in the State Fair of Virginia Records, 1927-2005 (Accession 42808)

Founded by the Virginia Agricultural Society to promote Virginia’s agriculture, the fair was established in 1854 near a horse race track at what is now Monroe Park in downtown Richmond.  The fair prospered during the 1850s, but, like much else, its annual observance was halted by the Civil War

After the Civil War, the fair relocated to a new site near the current home of the Science Museum of Virginia and continued to grow, but over-expansion led to debt which closed the fair in 1896. Ten years later, the Virginia State Fair Association restarted the fair, this time at the present home of the Diamond baseball park.  In 1920, the fair expanded its schedule to ten days.  In 1942, the Association purchased Strawberry Hill just outside Richmond, but World … read more »

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- A Child is Waiting


An advertisement touting the success of WRVA's A CHILD IS WAITING documentary, produced on behalf  of the Children's Home Society of Virginia.

In 1964, the Children’s Home Society of Virginia (CHS) sought to make use of the power of radio, requesting some air time from WRVA to let the public know of a problem it faced. Taking this request several steps beyond the agency’s expectations, WRVA co-producers Harry Monroe and Brick Rider crafted a comprehensive documentary designed to illuminate “the problem of the unwanted child.”  As the program explained, the number of children available for adoption was greater than the number of families stepping forward to parent them.  The CHS hoped to alleviate this imbalance by detailing their services, debunking misconceptions about adoption, and making the public aware of the need for adoptive parents.  A transcript of “A Child Is Waiting,” the resulting documentary, is found in the Records of the Children’s Home Society of Virginia (Accession 44227)

Airing 23-27 November 1964, first individually as nine five-minute segments and then as one complete program, the documentary included interviews with CHS staff, boarding mothers (the women in whose care children were placed while awaiting placement), adoptive parents, and perhaps most poignantly, an unwed mother who had given her child up for adoption.  The issue was examined from all angles in a way that CHS Executive Director Lois Benedict described in a 9 March 1966 letter as “a deeply understanding presentation…avoiding the clichés and inaccurate dramatics that are … read more »

- Feed your family on the cheap!


A suggested means of saving ration points--using rabbit for the meat dish.  From a HELPS FOR HOMEMAKERS booklet produced by Kelvinator circa 1943-1945. (Jessee Family Papers, Library of Virginia Accession 50402).

Having trouble stretching that dime in tough economic times?  Need some inspiration figuring out how to feed hungry mouths on a budget?  For advice you need look no further than the “Greatest Generation,” which made it through the Great Depression only to be faced with the sacrifices made necessary by World War II.  Among the papers of the Jessee family (Accession 50402) of Russell County, Virginia, relief arrives in the form of Helps for Homemakers, a series of booklets produced by the Kelvinator appliance company as part of a “wartime idea exchange for home economists.”

Two of these booklets were saved by Martha Viers Jessee (1892-1968), wife of Ora Stanford Jessee (1884-1954) and mother to Ralph Stanford Jessee (1918-1999), Carroll Lee Jessee (1921-1978), and Arthur Dance Jessee (1922-2006).  While her three sons were serving overseas in various capacities, she was feeling the pinch back home.  The good folks at Kelvinator came to the country’s rescue, holding a national contest for home economists and publishing the top 40 prize-winning suggestions in their “Helping the Homemaker Make the Most Out of the Food She Can Get” issue (#3).    

Opening with a side-by-side “Peacetime Menu” and “Wartime Menu” for Thanksgiving dinner, one sees that by substituting fruit cocktail for crab cocktail, mashed sweet potatoes for mashed potatoes, and roast pork for roast turkey one could have a … read more »

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- Everything I know about the Constitution, I learned from Chester the Crab (and Star Trek)


A page from the CONSTITUTION CONSTRUCTION comic book, part of the Chester the Crab series created by Bentley Boyd (Bentley Boyd Papers, LVA Accession 41945). Copyright Chester Comix, LLC.

Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before, or since, tall words proudly saying “We the People.”  That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for ALL the people!  These words and the words that follow…[t]hey must apply to everyone or they mean nothing!”

-James T. Kirk, Star Trek, “The Omega Glory”

Not long ago, I caught ”The Omega Glory” episode of Star Trek on television.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are trapped on a planet very similar to Earth and they discover that it had a parallel history in which the United States (Yangs) and its Communist opponents (Kohms) had fought a devastating nuclear war in that planet’s mid-20th century with the U.S. being on the losing side and the country taken over.  The descendants of that U.S. had held on to their documents as sacred relics, and it is Kirk who shows them that the Constitution, which they’ve locked away, is a living document for all people.

Oddly enough, this show reminded me of one of the most entertaining collections in Private Papers at the Library of Virginia—the Bentley Boyd Papers (Accession 41945), which center on the artist’s Chester the Crab comic series.  Boyd began drawing Chester … read more »

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- From the files of a funeral home



Detail shot of the oversize sketch provided by family members for the tombstone of Hugh C. Tucker (1857-1956). LT Christian Funeral Home Records, 1912-1986 (Acc. 34483).

Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of
The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter, and has been edited slightly.

Among the vast array of resources available for genealogical research at the Library of Virginia, it may be easy to overlook one potential treasure trove of information – funeral home records.  One such collection, the L. T. Christian Funeral Home Records, 1912-1986 (Acc. 34483) holds a wealth of information on generations of Richmonders, making it potentially useful to genealogists, scholars of local history and Richmond personalities, and perhaps even students of race relations.  

Langdon Taylor Christian (1853–1935) began life as the son of a Charles City County farmer who emphasized field work and not education. Christian had acquired only an elementary education when he decided to leave his family at the age of 18 to seek work in Richmond. After laboring for a time in a tobacco factory, Christian entered employment with John A. Belvin in 1872 in the leading furniture and undertaking establishment in Richmond. Christian applied himself in this endeavor as a fine finisher, varnisher, and cabinet and casket maker. When Belvin died in 1880, Christian succeeded him, reorganizing the business under his own name.

The files kept by the L. T. Christian Funeral Home contain a mass of biographical data relative to nearly every client of the … read more »