Category Archives: Uncategorized

- “See to it that his name be not forgotten”: An unknown soldier in the State Art Collection

Unidentified, by John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), 1920


As a non-librarian at the Library of Virginia, I am constantly grateful for both the depth of our collections and the knowledge of our archival and reference staff. My job is to help look after Virginia’s State Art Collection, which consists of artworks owned by the Commonwealth on display in public buildings in the Capitol Square area.  As part of my job, I do research on state art objects in response to inquiries from the public and in order to flesh out catalog files.

The works in the State Art Collection are mostly what you would expect – portraits of public officials, statues and busts of presidents, and the occasional scenic Virginia landscape.  Paintings of private individuals have also become part of the collection over the years, either through association with a notable Virginian, or as a gift to the state.  In some instances, as with this portrait of a World War I era soldier, the identity of the subject and the way the piece was acquired have been forgotten, and we are left with a mystery.

As with any piece of material culture, the best place to start is the object itself. There are a few clues in the painting: the signature indicates that it was painted in 1920 by local artist John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), and the uniform insignia shows  that our read more »

- (Belated) Archives Month Greetings!

Virginia Archives Month poster 2015

It’s that glorious time of year again when the air is cooler, leaves are donning their autumnal colors, and archives and special collections are on everyone’s mind. That’s right, friends, it’s Archives Month in Virginia. Though we’re a bit late sharing archival greetings from the Out of the Box blog, that in no way indicates a diminished enthusiasm!

This year’s theme is “Archival Treasures: Find Your Hidden Gem.” Nineteen institutions from around Virginia submitted images for handsomely designed 2015 poster. A downloadable poster image, information about Archives Month events, and other relevant information can be found on the Virginia Archives Month web page.

So as you go hunt for you hidden gem, give a thought to the devoted men and women who make archival materials available for public access and the institutions that collect tomorrow’s history today. And before October ends, hug an archivist (but ask permission first)!… read more »

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- Hidden Treasures and Lost History: Murphy’s Hotel in Richmond

Working with state records often means finding the most interesting things in the most unexpected places. For example, I never thought that going through Land Office records would lead me to a piece of Richmond’s lost history.

The records in question were among the papers of the Superintendent of Weights and Measures, whose duties were transferred to the register of the Land office by a legislative act in 1867. The superintendent retained a series of advertising circulars, printed materials sent by various companies promoting their products—including various hotels advertising their amenities and rates. Although most of the hotels that sent their pamphlets to the superintendent were located in Washington, D. C., one local hotel was also represented—Murphy’s Hotel, which stood directly across from the Library of Virginia’s current location, at the corner of 8th & Broad St. The building, which shares the block with St. Peter’s Church and the former Hotel Richmond, was torn down in 2007. The original plan was to replace the hotel with a modern high-rise that would house offices for the Commonwealth of Virginia; however, this has not yet occurred.

Murphy’s Hotel began life as oyster shack owned by John Murphy, who immigrated to Virginia from Ireland at the age of six. Murphy joined the Confederate Army when he was 20, serving at different times in both the artillery and … read more »

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- Have You Seen The Vigilante Man?: Reconstruction Era Violence

Thomas Nast.

Life for African Americans in Virginia following the end of the Civil War can be described as uncertain at best. As the social balance between white and black Virginians was virtually turned on its head, Virginia’s African American population expected to be governed by the same system of law and order as their white neighbors. Unfortunately, this was usually not the case, and stories of mob violence directed towards African Americans permeate the historical record immediately following Emancipation. These stories are being uncovered daily by the Library of Virginia’s African American Narrative project and made public by the Library’s new exhibit, Remaking Virginia: Transformation Through Emancipation. These acts often erupted out of allegations of crimes committed by African Americans and usually ended in an illegal execution of the alleged criminals, bypassing the standard presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Two instances of such violence were recently discovered in the Library’s collection of Coroners’ Inquisitions. Coroners’ inquisitions are investigations into the deaths of individuals who died in a sudden, violent, unnatural or suspicious manner, or died without medical attendance. They are a revealing and sometimes gruesome source of historical information. In Accomack County, sometime in early April 1866, a coroner and his jury were sent to examine the body of an African American man found hanging from a tree. He was named James Holden, but little … read more »

- Ask A Curator Day – September 16!

What will you #AskACurator?

On September 16, the Library will be taking your questions for our third year of Ask a Curator Day. You’ll be able ask curators from cultural institutions around the world questions on Twitter using the hashtag #AskACurator. These can be about collections, processes, personal favorites, or the field as a whole. Direct your questions to specific institutions, or just use the hashtag and see who responds from around the world! There are already 868 museums from 47 different countries signed up to participate.

Our LVA specialists will be ready to field questions throughout the day. We’re here to open a window onto our process and the brains behind what the public sees. Check out our schedule of experts below, and get those questions ready!

9 am: Audrey McElhinney, Senior Rare Book Librarian

10 am: Barbara Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator

11 am: Adrienne Robertson, Education and Programs Coordinator

12 pm: Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist and Blog Editor

1 pm: Meghan Townes, Visual Studies Collection Registrar

2 pm: Cassandra Farrell, Map Specialist & Senior Reference Archivist

3 pm: Leslie Courtois, Conservator

4 pm: Dana Puga, Prints & Photographs Collection Specialist


Tweet your questions @LibraryofVA with #AskACurator on Sept. 16th!

 … read more »

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- A Few of Our Favorite Things: Letterhead in the Archive Part 4

Governor Pollard Executive Papers, 1930

It’s been a while, but as promised in a previous post, here’s another look at some of the plethora of letterheads and stationery found in our archives.  The original text by Vince Brooks is included here for context.


Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.

Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.

The primary role of these illustrations at the time of their use was publicity. The images showed bustling factories, busy street corners, and sturdy bank buildings–all portraying ideas of solidity, activity, and progress. Other types of symbolism can be found in commercial stationery, the most … read more »

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- Hampton Roads Group Features Kaine Emails in Open Government “Hack-a-Thon”

Editor’s Note:  This article first appeared in the July 2015 Library of Virginia Newsletter.

Governor Kaine attending launch of the Virginia Higher Education Wizard, Virginia State Police Headquarters, Richmond, 11 March 2009, Office of the Governor (Kaine : 2006-2010), State Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

One of the Library of Virginia’s newest online collections was recently hacked, and we could not be more excited. The Kaine Email Project has caught the attention of a group of civic hackers called Code for Hampton Roads. As the local chapter of the Code for America Brigade, Code for Hampton Roads provides opportunities for people to marry technological skills with a desire to foster open government and improve communities through open-source web solutions. The group’s recent projects include web apps for finding local restaurants’ health inspection results and for searching all of Virginia’s civil court records from a single search page.

@StanZheng explaining his work on the Governor's Emails project #NDoCH2015 #Code4HR, 6 June 2015, photo from Code for Hampton Roads Twitter feed, (accessed 7 July 2015).

In the case of the Kaine Email Project, on 6 June 2015, hackers got a chance to tackle this massive data set (currently composed of more than 130,000 processed records) as part of the third annual National Day of Civic Hacking. The hackers’ goal was to devise new entry points for researching the collection, such as visualizations of topic frequency in Kaine administration email discussions or maps showing which correspondents interacted with each other the most. An immediate output of the hack-a-thon was a “word cloud” of the most common terms used in the set of emails currently available for public viewing. A word-cloud generator … read more »

- From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come): Five Years of Out of the Box

Anniversaries have been a theme in recent entries on Out of the Box. Today’s post is no exception.  May 14 is the 5th anniversary of our blog!  Our first post spotlighted a Where History Begins workshop held for Virginia’s local historical societies at the Library.  Three hundred eighty-seven posts later we are still going strong.

Out of the Box wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the work of former LVA Local Records Archivist Dale Dulaney.  Dale’s enthusiasm and determination, with a big assist from Jason Roma, the Library’s web developer, turned his idea into reality.

In his second blog post, Dale encouraged our readers to “visit often.”  Visit you have!  The numbers speak for themselves.

Fiscal Year (July to June)



FY 2010



FY 2011



FY 2012



FY 2013



FY 2014



FY 2015 (thru March)



Dale also asked our readers to “make comments” and “share your stories.”  One great example of reader participation is the response to Jessica Tyree’s post on the Leona Robbins Fitchett Collection (Acc. 50068).  Fitchett donated her childhood letters received from pen-pals from Carbrooke Junior School in Thetford, Norfolk, England.  Jessica’s post brought together Fitchett with the son of her World War II pen-pal and forged new friendships.

The editors … read more »

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- The Sinking of the Lusitania: 100 Years Later

Today marks the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, usually acknowledged as the first step towards the United States’ entry into World War I. The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. The death toll included 128 Americans, sparking outrage throughout the nation.

One of the survivors was Richmond native Charles Hill, who was 38 at the time of the sinking. Hill, who worked for the British-American Tobacco Company, had been living in England with his family for almost fifteen years. He returned periodically to Richmond to visit his father, C. Emmett Hill. In April, Hill, his wife Eva, and their children returned to the U.S. for the sake of her health, travelling on the Lusitania. On 1 May, Hill reboarded the Lusitania in New York, bound for Liverpool with almost two thousand other passengers and crew members.

Hill was on the starboard promenade deck of the Lusitania when it was struck, and saw both the periscope of German submarine U-20 and the wake of the torpedo. After rushing below decks in an unsuccessful attempt to find several friends, Hill returned deck and made it into lifeboat number 14, which over the course of the afternoon capsized six times. Hill clung to the lifeboat with several other … 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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