Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UVA's Division of Perceptual Studies


Well if this isn't one to file under that Reddit post about creepy things kids say, I don't know what is. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know about UVA's Division of Perceptual Studies before this recent (really, really great) article by Don Harrison in Richmond Magazine. This is fascinating stuff about how brains work, and it seems like the people studying it are insatiably curious and pretty humble. Whatever your thoughts on parapsychology, you can enjoy that this is highly, highly eerie:

Take, for example, the case of James Leininger, a boy from Lafayette, Louisiana, fascinated with airplanes, who began having nightmares when he was 2 years old. “Airplane crash on fire,” James would cry out, an atypical comment for his age. Over the coming months, he would inform his parents, Bruce and Andrea, that he’d been a pilot, also named James, who flew planes off a boat and his plane had been shot down. When Bruce asked him who shot his plane, the boy, a bit exasperated, said, “the Japanese.” A few weeks later, he revealed that he had flown a Corsair plane, and remembered the name of the boat: “Natoma.” Shown a map, the youngster pointed to the waters surrounding Iwo Jima and stated that this was where he died. He added that “Jack Larsen” was there.
James’ father, a conservative Christian who struggled with the idea of reincarnation, was a little spooked. He did some research and discovered that there was indeed a USS Natoma Bay involved at the battle of Iwo Jima, and one of its Corsair pilots was lost in the mission, a man named James Huston. In the violence of the larger war, the crash was a nondescript event not widely reported or remembered.
“Huston’s plane had crashed in exactly the way it had been described by the boy,” says Tucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS). “It got hit in the engine, burst into flames, crashed in the water and quickly sank. The pilot of the plane next to his was named Jack Larsen.”

Another story from the article:

Like, for example, the conservative Oklahoma couple whose 5-year-old son, Ryan, was convinced he had lived in Hollywood, providing details of meeting stars like Marilyn Monroe and feeling genuinely lonely for his “other life.” One day, when he was 4, his mom checked out a big Hollywood picture book from the library and they perused it together. “Hey Mama, that’s George,” he said, pointing to a caption-less photo that featured actor George Raft. “We did a picture together,” he told his mom. Then Ryan pointed to the man standing next to Raft and jumped up and down. “That guy’s me. I found me.” The man Ryan was describing was a longtime talent agent, and the facts of his life matched eerily well with the boy’s memories.

Regarding DOPS' founder, Dr. Ian Stevenson:

“I cannot emphasize too strongly that a child who is going to remember a previous life has only about three years in which he will talk about it,” the professor told Omni Magazine in a rare 1988 interview. “Before the age of 2 or 3, he lacks the ability. After 5, too much else will be happening in his life, and he will begin to forget.”

And some of the impetus behind the work:

“We’re not just doing this to chase ghost stories,” says assistant professor Emily Kelly, who, in addition to her academic work, has been a longtime volunteer researcher at DOPS. “We want to make people understand the larger issues that we’re dealing with, and to look at the bigger picture, which is that of the relationship between consciousness and the  brain. Does the brain cause the mind, or are they simply correlated and it’s not a causal connection? That’s a huge question.”

Happy Halloween, y'all.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Richmond Day 2014

Well here's an event that's right down our alley. Picnicking? Civil War history? Dressing as your favorite Richmonder, past or present? As I said elsewhere, it'd be hard to choose between some of my favorite female RVA figures, like Elisabeth Scott Bocock, Sallie Mae Dooley, Dirtwoman, etc.



Via CHPN, of course.

scenes from Westover.

I've been reading an absorbing book about the Byrds lately: The Byrds of Virginia: An American Dynasty, 1670 to the Present. So my head has been sort of roaming about Westover, and I was delighted to see that the amazing Virginia Flair on Instagram posted some beautiful shots of the house's interior.


I had the chance to see the inside of the house on my birthday a few years ago due to the kindness of a friend, and I've always wanted to go back and see it again. It remains my favorite plantation.


In other coincidences, I was just watching the (good, so far) Turn colonial miniseries on AMC and spotted Shirley Plantation in a few of the shots, and Virginia Flair also posted some great photos of Shirley.


Obviously if you're not following Virginia Flair and you're into Virginia scenery and history, you should be.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Richmond's Post-Industrial East End

Another gem brought to my attention by CHPN:


UVA's Community History Project published this incredible look at some of the East End's history, focusing on the Church Hill area and surrounding neighborhoods. The entire thing is worth a read, and honestly, even if you only have the intention of skimming a few articles, you can very easily end up spending hours poring over it. This publication has blown my mind with some of the little-known tidbits it has unearthed. I've listed some of the most interesting parts here:

  • Some of the former slave dwellings along the backs of homes in the neighborhood are pointed out, and I didn't realize that there were so many left standing today (pages 14-21).
  • Apparently "disagreeable odors" used to waft up from Fulton Gas Works, making Chimborazo Park unpopular (page 36).
  • More info about the Church Hill Train Tunnel: I don't think I knew that there were two additional collapses of the tunnel, in 1962 and 1988 (page 41).

  • The site of Chimborazo Hospital afterwards briefly became a refuge camp for former slaves (page 42).
  • "During its early phases of development, the neighborhood around Chimborazo Park was advertised as a Suburban Resort, a green landscape offering residents open spaces in which to enjoy fresh air, exercise, participate in various social activities, and admire majestic views of the James River (page 50)."
  • I've often wondered where the cobblestone roads at the bottom of Chimborazo Park were supposed to go, and the answer is to Fulton and to Libby Hill Park (page 57).


  • Around the entrance of the house at 3406 E. Broad there are a wreath and some urns, which allude to it being the residence of Mr. Billups of Billups Funeral Home (page 65).
  • A toxic byproduct known as "Blue Billy" exists on the ground at Fulton Gas Works (page 97).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

wake up and smell the history.

My inactivity in the history realm due to baby-slinging notwithstanding, I feel like this is a really exciting time for Richmond history buffs. Some stuff that's come through my feeds recently:
  • A citizen is trying to get the eastern end of our much-loved Church Hill Train Tunnel turned into a memorial park with benches, informational plaques, etc. This would be amazing for the neighborhood and just for satisfying general curiosity about the tunnel. I've actually gone through and appropriately tagged a bunch of the posts on this blog referencing the tunnel, which you can find here.
  • The Virginia Historical Society is putting together a documentary based on video submissions from regular ol' Virginians in all walks of life, dubbed Virginia Voices. This is right down the Midnight Society alley -- after all, stories are what got us into this in the first place. Right now I'm wishing for video skills to magically appear in my repertoire so I can participate in this.


  • I know I've harped on this before, but basically my prayers were answered and someone started a Richmond-specific history podcast. If you haven't checked out History Replays Today yet, what better time than the beginning of day trip season? This podcast is not very polished or really edited at all, but it's a labor of love and as painful as some of the sound quality is, I've finished every episode having learned several new facts. Coming from someone who's been on every historical tour in a 30 mile radius (and some repeatedly), that's saying something. Kudos to this guy for getting out there and interviewing all the people who know this stuff.