Category Archives: Private Papers Blog Posts

- Ghosts in the Archives: Communing with the Virginia Historical Inventory


Photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, 1936. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In recent years, tourists and locals alike have flocked to Virginia’s many old downtown areas to attend ghost tours. These events have quickly become popular ways to learn about the ways that the past lingers in the present day, but the relationship between Virginia’s history and its ghosts is much older than the tours. The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) records held at The Library of Virginia illustrate that historical ghost-lore is not a new trend; Virginians in the 1930s and 1940s saw hauntings as appropriate and desirable elements of historical properties as well.

The VHI was part of the Federal Writers Project (FWP), a leg of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The FWP program hired authors to write, and researchers to find and document, iconic American stories and locations. In Virginia, researchers spanned out across the commonwealth documenting the location, status, and history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings. This brought them to familiar cities like Williamsburg and Alexandria, and to smaller, more rural places that were best described by the nearest highway. They collected the information they needed from archives, newspapers, and interviews with homeowners and neighbors. Written sources gave them the names of previous owners, construction dates, and famous events. The oral interviews filled in the stories not present in the archives. In many cases, when the researchers spoke with locals they used ghost … read more »

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- Opportunity Time: The Records of Virginia Governor Linwood Holton


Inauguration of Governor Linwood Holton, 17 January 1970, A. Linwood Holton Papers, 1943-1970. Accession 31535, Personal papers collection, Library of Virginia.

On Monday, 16 October 2017, the City of Roanoke will dedicate Holton Plaza, a new park named in honor of former Virginia Governor A. Linwood Holton (1970-1974). Out of the Box thought this would be a good time to spotlight some of the Library’s collections related to Holton.

Abner Linwood Holton Jr. was born 21 September 1923 in Roanoke, Virginia, to Abner Linwood Holton and Edith Van Gorder Holton. He attended local schools, before receiving his B.A. from Washington and Lee University in 1944. Holton served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1946. He then attended Harvard Law School, receiving his LL.B. in 1949. Admitted to the Virginia bar that same year, Holton commenced practicing in Roanoke and became active in the Virginia Republican Party. Following an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1965, Holton then won election in 1969, serving as governor of Virginia from 1970 to 1974. After his term ended, he served as assistant secretary of state for congressional relations in 1974. Holton resigned that position and practiced law in Washington D.C. He married Virginia “Jinx” Harrison Rogers on 10 January 1953, and had four children with her: Anne, Tayloe, Woody, and Dwight.



Opportunity Time: A Memoir by Governor Linwood Holton, The University of Virginia Press, 2008.

Gubernatorial Records

  • The records of the Holton administration (1970-1974) are one of the largest 20th century gubernatorial collections held by the Library. Housed in
  • read more »

- Looney Tunes: the World War I Cartoons of M.A. Dunning

This is the latest entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I. The M.A. Dunning cartoons are part of the World at War: Library of Virginia WWI Collections.

               Heads Up takes pleasure in presenting to its readers the maiden effort at this post
of Private Dunning.  He has considerable previous experience in this line in both
civilian and army life.  His work will appear regularly each day.

                                                                                                                        Heads Up, vol. II, no. 4, 4 January 1919


Cartoon, Heads Up, 18 January 1919, U.S. Army Debarkation Hospital no. 52, Richmond College, Margaret Ethel Kelley Kern Papers, 1895-1949, Accession 23481, Personal papers collection, Library of Virginia.

During World War I, military camps, regiments, ships, and military hospitals often printed their own newspapers for military personnel stationed there, keeping them informed on both internal and external news. Heads Up (film 1670) served as the newspaper for Debarkation Hospital 52 located on the Richmond College (now University of Richmond) campus in Richmond, Virginia, and provided news about the hospital, the Richmond area, and the end of the war.  One of the regular features of Heads Up was the cartoons of M. A. Dunning. Twenty-three of Dunning’s original drawings are located in the Margaret Ethel Kelley Kern papers (LVA acc. 23481).

By the time his work began appearing in Heads Up, M. A. (Marshall Alston) Dunning already had a successful career in cartooning. Born 28 July 1894 in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, Dunning … read more »

- A morning not unlike any other morning

December 7th marked a “day that will live in infamy” for many Virginians. However, for one Richmond family, the crucial day fell not in 1941, but in 1955. On that day, at approximately 9:23 am, the three small children of Benjamin Dennis III and his wife Jean were upstairs in their Windsor Farms home watching Captain Kangaroo, a children’s program that had debuted two months earlier. Minutes later, flames shot out the windows of their home. A U.S. Navy McDonnell F2H Banshee fighter jet had crashed outside their house, twenty-five feet from where the children were happily watching television.

 

Coverage of the immediate aftermath of this alarming event can be heard on recordings made by Richmond radio station WRVA. The newscasts have been migrated and saved on compact disc at The Library of Virginia, through funding from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The recordings capture the accounts of WRVA reporter Alden Aaroe on the scene minutes after the crash, as well as those of eyewitnesses. Coverage can also be found in newspaper accounts in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond News-Leader.

Ensign Robert Ammann of Dallas, Texas, was on training maneuvers in his jet based at Oceana Naval Air Station, near Norfolk, with a fellow pilot in another aircraft. Traveling at 300 miles an hour, the two jets were flying about … read more »

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- Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941


USS Arizona, FDR Presidential Library and Museum, Pearl Harbor Historic Materials, Pearl Harbor Photographs, https://fdrlibrary.org/ph-historic-materials

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Millions of Americans learned about the attack and heard the president’s speech on radio. For most people in central Virginia, they learned the news from listening to Richmond’s WRVA.

Listen to a clip of WRVA’s coverage of the Pearl Harbor attack and “Day of Infamy” speech.

This recording is part of WRVA 50th Anniversary Vignettes program which aired in 1975. To learn more about the WRVA collection at the Library, please consult the finding aid. Further information about the history of Radio in Virginia can be found in this on-line exhibition.

According to the Library’s Virginia Military Dead Database, at least 40 Virginians died on 7 December 1941. The primary purpose of the Virginia Military Dead Database is to honor those Virginians that have given their lives in defense of freedom. It pulls together information from a wide variety of sources and makes that information more accessible. For more information consult the Introduction to the Virginia Military Dead Database and the Source Guides.

 … read more »

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- Three Elections That Remade Virginia

Editor’s note: Tomorrow is Election Day! Get out and vote!

For well over half of the 20th century, Virginia state politics was dominated by a conservative Democratic machine, which was perfected by the organization of Governor and U.S. Senator Harry Byrd. The Byrd Organization drew its strength from rural counties, benefitting from a state constitution and laws that depressed voter turnout by effectively disenfranchising African Americans and poor whites. By the end of the 1960s, this changed. Laws restricting voting based on race were lifting, the urban and suburban populations were rapidly increasing, and the state’s Republican Party was expanding. In 1969, the GOP broke the Democratic monopoly on state office by electing Linwood Holton governor.

 

The 1973 gubernatorial race highlighted these changes. Lieutenant Governor Henry Howell ran as an independent candidate by choice, receiving the commendation of the state Democratic Party. The party’s nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general remained neutral in the campaign, not endorsing Howell. The state Republican Party was in more disarray. Constitutionally unable to renominate sitting Republican Governor Holton, the party had no candidate to oppose the popular yet liberal Howell. Desperate, Republican leaders turned to Mills Godwin, last of the Byrd Organization governors, hoping that he would secure conservative Democratic voters dismayed by the state Democratic Party’s liberal shift. Godwin reluctantly accepted the Republican … read more »

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- A Little Fresh Air Is Good For The Body

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the LVA newsletter.


Courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund.

 Alice Trissel of Rockingham County spent 41 years helping provide New York City children with summer vacations in rural Virginia through the Fresh Air Fund program. During that time she amassed a mountain of documentation concerning the programs activities. Although she didn’t want to part with all of her memorabilia, she eventually ran out of room in her house to store the overflowing boxes of materials.

So in the same spirit that moved her to host Fresh Air children and serve as a fund representative and committee chairperson, in the summer of 1999 Trissel donated her collection to the Library of Virginia. The collection, which contains over 18 cubic feet of host family applications, correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, posters, and other promotional materials, was a major addition to the Library’s private papers and organizational records collection at the time.

The Fresh Air Fund, which still provides thousands of children with free vacations each summer in small towns and suburban communities, originated in 1877 in Sherman, Pennsylvania. The Fund estimates that more than 1.8 million New York City children have participated in the program since Reverend Willard Parsons first asked members of his congregation to open their hearts and homes.

Although Trissel first became acquainted with Fresh Air in 1927 when her mother … read more »

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- Willis M. Carter Journal and Research Collection Donated to the Library of Virginia


Title Page, A Sketch of My Life and Our Family Record, Willis M. Carter Collection, ca. 1896-2016. Accession 51546. Personal papers collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Author and researcher Deborah Harding recently donated to the Library of Virginia a rare, firsthand account of slavery and its aftermath written by Willis M. Carter, a once influential but now little known 19th century civil rights pioneer. “A Sketch of My Life and Our Family Record” was acquired by African American historian Cuesta Benberry in the mid-seventies and entrusted to Harding to research and authenticate in 2005. It is the centerpiece of a larger collection of material on Carter compiled over ten years of research on his life and work. The Willis M. Carter Collection, ca. 1894-2016 (accession 51546), also includes the only surviving copy of Carter’s newspaper, the Staunton Tribune dated 1 September 1894 (donated by Jennifer Vickers of Staunton, VA); a handwritten memorial tribute written at Carter’s death by his fellow teachers in Staunton; 18 boxes of supporting research that include depositions from the family that once owned Carter and their views on the Civil War, as well as additional material on slavery, education, and early civil rights in Virginia; a cross referenced manuscript by Harding summarizing Carter’s life and work; and a companion finding aid. The journal, newspaper and memorial tribute have been digitized and are available to researchers online.

Willis McGlascoe Carter was born into slavery in 1852 in Albemarle County, Virginia. He achieved a formal education at … read more »

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- There Are No Small Preventions, Only Smallpox

Before the Commonwealth of Virginia began officially recording vital statistics in 1853, many people recorded the births, deaths, and marriages in their families in the pages of their family bibles. The Library of Virginia has in its collection thousands of such bible records, which provide precious information, frequently recorded nowhere else, to researchers of family history.

The Needham family of York County recorded many births, deaths, and marriages in their family bible, including the births of seven children between 1774 and 1791. They chose, however, to include an unusual piece of medical information. Directly under the list of births there is a notation reading, “1792 November the above children wear anockerlated with the smallpox.” The inoculation of their six living children against smallpox– one of whom was less than a year old – was clearly of great importance to the Needhams. Having already lost an infant child, whose cause of death is not recorded, the Needhams likely wanted to protect their living children from at least one of the deadly diseases that killed so many in the 18th century.

Smallpox had long been a scourge in North America, from the epidemic in New England in the 1630s, which killed a significant percentage of the Native American population, to the continent-wide outbreak from 1775 to 1782. Smallpox, caused by the variola major virus, was likely … read more »

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- A ‘Salty’ take on survival


CERTIFICATE OF SURVIVAL, 2 May 1945, issued to Grayson Boyer upon the conclusion of the Battle of the South Atlantic. (Grayson B. Boyer Papers, 1937-1945, Accession 50238, Personal Papers Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond)

In cataloging the papers of Grayson B. Boyer (1915-1970) of Grayson County, Virginia, one cannot help but notice the dramatically-titled and cheekily-illustrated “Certificate of Survival” issued to Boyer upon completion of the Battle of the South Atlantic during World War II.  As well as being a unique marker of the end of a major wartime naval effort, the document also helps offset the Library of Virginia’s surprising scarcity of holdings featuring cartoon images of lusty, bare-chested mermaids.

Dated 2 May 1945 and given some semblance of credibility by the facsimiled signature of Admiral J.H. Ingram, commander of the South Atlantic forces, the document humorously celebrates the various achievements of Boyer and his fellow sailors. These range from spending months (19, in Boyer’s case) “in a state of moral indecision and physical peril,” to “enduring the rigors of Gin tonicas and Caçhaca.”  The mock-solemn text concludes by commending  Boyer’s “placing in sacrifice the best years of his life on the gilded altar of Pan-American Relations.”

The document’s light tone is further indicated by its comic drawings. The aforementioned mermaid and two similarly-clad women (who are given the courtesy of names–Maria and Inez–if not opaque bikini tops) are surrounded by fish, sea horses, and shells.  Still, the accompanying aircraft carrier, blimp, and seaplane remind the viewer that this is war, not merely a pleasure cruise.

Our hero the American sailor is featured triumphantly, flanked by his mermaid gal pal and … read more »

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