Tag Archives: Alexandria

- Mug Shot Monday: William H. Oehlert, No. 11708 and 17831


Photograph of William Oehlert, No. 17831, 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 entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. William Oehlert had a lengthy criminal record, a history of escapes, a love of shooting guns, and was one of the worst behaved prisoners in the Virginia Penitentiary – until his incarceration finally broke him and he became a model prisoner.

William H. Oehlert, the son of German immigrants, was born on 21 July 1884 in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, August Oehlert (1851-1914) was a cigar maker and Alexandria’s police commissioner. Oehlert’s first known brush with the law occurred in January 1905, when he was arrested in Alexandria on suspicion of robbery. The case was dismissed but other arrests in Alexandria soon followed:

  • March 1905 – arrested on suspicion of robbing freight cars. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
  • January 1910 – arrested on suspicion of robbery. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
  • September 1911 – arrested for assault and fined $10 for creating a disturbance.
  • August 1912 – arrested for transporting stole goods. Charges dropped.
  • August 1912 – charged with stealing a spark coil from a Southern Railway Company freight car. Acquitted.
  • January 1913 – arrested for assaulting his brother-in-law A.E. Smoot and shooting a pistol in the street. Fined $10 for assault.

In October 1912, … read more »

- 12 Years a Slave

The release of the film 12 Years a Slave had us talking here at Out of the Box. Discussions on slavery are a common occurrence at the Library of Virginia, but it is an entirely different experience to see the brutality and violence of slavery on screen. Based on the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free African American living in Saratoga Springs, New York, kidnapped in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in Louisiana, the film offers an unflinching portrayal of slavery in the United States.

12 Years a Slave never pulls back from the brutality of its subject matter, and most importantly the film gives a human face to slavery—a system characterized by its dehumanization. So many of the records here at the LVA do the same, putting a name to those who suffered, and telling their stories. In addition to an original 1857 edition of Northup’s narrative, the experiences of slaves can be found in the state, local, and private records held at the LVA. Some of those stories have already been recounted here on Out of the Box. Unfortunately many of these stories end as tragically as they began.

After 12 long years, Northup managed to escape slavery, but for a young woman wrongfully enslaved in Alexandria, Virginia, that would not be the case. The details appear in the … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Theodore Gibson, No. 32872


Photograph of Theodore Gibson, #32872, 25 October 1934, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 23, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

[Editors Note: Yes, we know it is not Monday. The Out of the Box staff had a technical glitch this afternoon and accidentally published Monday's post today. We will have a new, non-mug shot post on Monday.] Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate mug shots in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Theodore Gibson’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he aged in prison.  When I researched his case, I was shocked by what I found.

In the early morning of Thursday, 18 October 1934, William H. Woodfield, a 71-year-old night watchman for the coal yard of W.A. Smoot and Company in Alexandria, was murdered.  Woodfield’s skull was crushed with a hammer.  No money was stolen but Woodfield’s watch was missing.  On Tuesday, October 23, acting on an anonymous tip, the Alexandria police arrested 25-year-old Theodore Gibson.  He  confessed to the killing two days later.  Gibson stated that he was walking through the coal yard when he was accosted by Woodfield who ordered him to leave the yard.  Woodfield struck him, Gibson claimed, so he grabbed a small sledge hammer and hit Woodfield in the head twice.   Gibson dragged the body 50 feet and fled.

The speed of Gibson’s legal proceedings, according to the Washington Post, was “believed … 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 »

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- 150 years later, nearly 400 letters reveal one couple’s Civil War story

Some of the nearly 400 letters written between Cecil A. Burleigh of the 20th Connecticut Infantry, and his wife, Caroline, during the Civil War.

The CW 150 Legacy Project was recently in Fairfax for a scanning event at the City of Fairfax Regional Library. The event was a great success with a number of diaries, letters, and photographs scanned. We also had one of our biggest ‘wow’ moments when a donor brought in a box of almost 400 letters from her ancestor for scanning. Most of the letters, written between Cecil A. Burleigh of the 20th Connecticut Infantry and his wife, Caroline, were still in their envelopes. It is exciting and rare to see a collection that is not only large but also comprehensive, with letters written from husband and wife. These materials give both sides of the story of a couple separated by war, as Cecil wrote from localities such as Stafford Court House and Alexandria, Virginia, and after participation in the Battle of Chancellorsville, while Caroline gave updates on life in Connecticut.

Due to the size of the collection it will take us a while to scan and post everything, but to have such a great resource from one family is just amazing!

-Renee Savits, CW 150 Legacy Project — Eastern Region… read more »