- “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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- If The Dead Could Talk: A Patrick County Estate Dispute


Nineteenth century seance. www.weirdlectures.com

In 1999, the horror film The Sixth Sense introduced the iconic phrase, “I see dead people,” into pop culture. The film followed the progression from a young boy’s ability to see the deceased to also hearing what they had to say. In the first decade of the 20th century, this unusual talent would have helped resolve a dispute over the last will and testament of a wealthy estate owner.

In 1906, the estate of Richard R. Rakes was the center of attention for two sets of heirs. The first were the children of Rakes’ first wife, Sarah D. Turner, who passed away several years before. To their dismay, Rakes did not leave them an inheritance because he believed they were already well cared for before his demise. The second set of heirs, however, received a much better report.

The surviving widow, Mary Rakes, and her children were the sole beneficiaries of the estate, which included several hundred acres of property, horses, county bonds, evidence of debts, and other assets worth thousands of dollars. The desires of Richard Rakes seemed fairly straight-forward, if it were not for the betrayal of C. P. Nolen—the executor of the estate.

Nolen decided to partner with the children from Rakes’ first marriage to fool the widow Mary into thinking that a different plan existed. Their efforts were successful and resulted … 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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- Love Letters in the Archives


Postcard image, undated.

While working on a project involving the Middlesex County Chancery Causes, I noticed a case that was filled with scandal and intrigue.  Middlesex Chancery Cause, 1907-033, Andrew Courtney vs. Mary Courtney is a divorce suit in which both parties accuse the other of adultery. Andrew claimed his wife ran off to Connecticut with a married man named Beverly Smith, and Mary responded by claiming that Andrew was guilty of adultery himself.

As evidence, Mary produced several letters written to her husband by various women, one of which included a lock of hair.  That letter, dated 30 August 1906 from a Miss Ginny Davis, proclaimed “Here is a peice [sic] of my hair look at it and think of me.”

While it is sad to think that some of the love letters that end up in the archives are the result of divorce suits and romance gone wrong in one way or another, it also proves the quest for love is something that is surely timeless.

The Middlesex Chancery Causes, 1754-1912, are available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site.  The lock of hair reference above has also been scanned.

 

–Mary Dean Carter, Local Records Archival Assistant… read more »

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- Ten Years Burning Down the Road: Web Archiving at LVA


Gov. Mark R. Warner (left) and U.S. Sen. John Warner (second from left) tour an intake center and temporary shelter for Gulf Coast hurricane evacuees at Fort Pickett Army National Guard Base near Blackstone, Virginia, on Friday, Sept. 9, 2005. Governor Warner says Fort Pickett and the nearby Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center are ready to house up to 1,400 evacuees, offering them medical, educational and social services at the base before dispatching them to longer term housing at the church center and other locations. From the archived version of www.governor.virginia.gov, captured Sept. 19, 2005.

September 2015 marks the ten year anniversary of web archiving at the Library of Virginia. In the fall of 2005, the Library partnered with the Internet Archive for a pilot program using their new web archiving tool, Archive-It (AI). The pilot program ran from September to November 2005 and captured the websites of Governor Mark Warner’s administration, campaign web sites for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and selected Virginia political blogs. After the successful completion of the pilot program, the Library used funding provided by Congress for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) to subscribe to Archive-It. Over the past ten years, the Library has created 21 collections containing over 3000 URLS and has crawled over 89 million documents and 5.1 terabytes of data. Following the Library’s web archiving collection guidelines, the Virginia Web Archive includes the web content of Virginia State Government and Virginia’s political leaders.

Some notable collections include:

This collection preserves the web sites that document Virginia’s November 2005 state-wide election. Included are former Governor Mark Warner’s website, the first lady’s website, the Virginia Democratic and Republican Party websites, as well as sites for the candidates for the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Also included are blogs related to the election, websites of cabinet secretaries, and sites for Warner

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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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- Are You Ready for Some Football?


Photo of Carl Hairston, NFL Historical Imagery

This week marks the start of the NFL’s regular season. In honor of the return of football, this week’s Out of the Box spotlights an unusual discovery from the state records collection:  two NFL contracts from a former member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In Virginia, unclaimed property is remitted to the state if it has been abandoned, meaning it has been held for an extended period of time with no owner contact and there has been a “good faith” effort to locate the owner. This includes safe deposit boxes, which are presumed abandoned after five years. The Department of the Treasury, Division of Unclaimed Property, then sends any papers or records from those lots to the Library of Virginia.  State records archivists appraise these records to identify papers with historical, legal, informational, or intrinsic value. For more information, check out this blog post on unclaimed property.

Lot number 13019 contains two contracts between Carl Hairston and the Philadelphia Eagles Football Club, the first beginning on 1 April 1981 and the second on 1 April 1982, although both were signed 8 July 1980. The contracts stipulate the expectations of the club for Hairston’s participation in training, practice, and publicity, as well as the details of compensation, conduct, and cases of injury.

The contract makes other expectations clear as well; for instance, it states that “Without read more »

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- Kaine Email Project @ LVA: Tim Butcher’s Hurricane Katrina Story

This is the eleventh in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).



Photograph of Tim Butcher, undated, from the 11 January 2008 issue of This Week, the LSU Hospitals newsletter.

Last week’s post focused on Bill Leighty’s first-hand account of the earliest days of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. This post will focus on the experience of Thomas “Tim” Patrick Butcher as shared in an email forwarded to Leighty. Butcher, a registered nurse, was the University Hospital Emergency Preparedness Director for the Medical Center of Louisiana in New Orleans (MCLNO) during Katrina. Flooding stranded Butcher and his staff at University Hospital for five days without power and low supplies.

In a 19 September 2005 email to Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Director of Emergency Preparedness Erin Downey, Butcher thanked Downey for her assistance. “There were some glitches in how things played out after landfall (to put it MILDLY),” Butcher wrote, “but all of our staff got out along with patients on [F]riday after the storm. I hope to be at as many of the after action meetings (assuming they will let me in, ha ha….for at a number of higher levels, those charged with making decisions failed miserably in their responsibilities to do so).”

Butcher also corrected many false stories circulating in the … read more »

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