Wednesday, March 11, 2015

time traveling.

A bunch of house museums in the area are open for free next weekend, March 21-22! Via RVANews:
“A lot of times we don’t take advantage of what’s in our own backyard,” says Nancy Lowden, Maymont’s Historical Program Manager. “A lot of Richmonders will travel to DC to see museums, but they don’t know about the Wickham House or the Dooley mansion!”
I couldn't agree more. Clearly the official favorite thing of the Midnight Society has been house tours in recent years. Don't let us hog all the fun for ourselves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

historic cemeteries 101

In this month's edition of Richmond Magazine there's a great article titled "Voices from the Graves: Richmond's historic cemeteries through the eyes of their caretakers and advocates." This is a nice crash course on the city's oldest graveyards, so if you're looking for a sightseeing itinerary you can look no further. You are probably tired of me jabbering on about Evergreen Cemetery (now actually called East End Cemetery), but I was glad to see this article mentioning it and the restoration efforts there. There's also a part about Hebrew Cemetery featuring my former work colleague and all-around cool guy Bill Thalhimer. And I loved the quotes from Donald Toney, longtime foreman at Hollywood Cemetery:

I've been here at the cemetery for 47 years; I'm almost 65 years old. It's mainly the mowing and trimming, grounds maintenance. We're an active cemetery; we probably inter about 60 percent cremations now. [The year] 1849 was the first recorded burial. 
The Hollywood name started with the hollies at the entrance, and it originally had a hyphen, Holly-Wood. I wish they would have left it that way, because everybody thinks Hollywood, California, but it was named after the holly bushes. 
We've got W.W. Pool buried here. There are stories about W.W. Pool and the vampire lingering around, but I haven't seen any ghosts. If I had, I might not be working here right now. I've stayed out here working all night long, and I've never seen anything.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lee Hall and Endview.

Now that my kid's getting bigger and more able to handle short road trips, I'm hoping to get back out exploring more often. House tours with a baby in a backpack are not for the faint of heart, and I've found that she does better walking the grounds briskly than when we're on a tour and we have to stand still and listen to a tour guide. We recently headed east to check out some fancy farmers' houses in Newport News that are interpreted to emphasize the Civil War era.

Lee Hall is a grand, beautiful brick Italianate home that I'm surprised I hadn't been to before. Walking up the rock driveway, I thought, "I could live here." Such a classic, stately house. But inside is anything but tame. The tour guide was very friendly but focused on the basic entertaining flow / use of rooms that any house tour veteran worth her salt would already know, so I used most of the time to drink in the decor. Heavy, luxurious draperies from ceiling to floor. Garish wallpaper that would give even Mount Vernon a run for its money. Faux marble work around the fireplaces, which is always a treat. The upstairs was simpler of course and reminded me a bit of the Monticello bedrooms, all decked out with plain walls and cotton bed furnishings. The small museum in the basement features a ton of beautiful old guns and exhibits that are a bit too tactical for my tastes, but certainly attractive for most Civil War buffs.

Right down the street (seriously -- just on the other side of the highway, you can almost see it from Lee Hall) is Endview Plantation. This is actually a much older house than Lee Hall, and more modest. Their basement museum is more of a sweeping picture of the estate throughout the ages, different ways it was used, various family members involved, etc. Upstairs the appearance is pretty rustic, with delightfully creaky floors and worn wood everywhere. They have one room set up to reflect that it was used as a Civil War hospital, with medical instruments and soliders' items strewn about. You can actually touch some of these artifacts and replicas, which delighted the kids on the tour. My kid was not impressed with the leather rucksack she was invited to handle.

There are some trails behind Endview that lead out to a small graveyard and some trenches. After a quick lunch sitting in the back of the car, Morella went back into the backpack and we hiked for a while. The gray day and deserted grounds made for a pleasantly creepy little walk, and finding what I can only assume were some crumbling reenactment cabins in the woods was the icing on the cake.

These are two great sites that are easy to get to and are pretty much deserted in wintertime, even on a weekend. Go enjoy having the whole plantation to yourself.

Friday, January 30, 2015

do something.

Virginia's Travel Blog publishes a lot of lists, and they run the gamut from right down my alley, not down my alley. If you want to know about foodie towns, best hot chocolates, sporting events, most difficult hikes, fancy hotels, festivals, cabins, you name it -- they've got a list for that. As if I needed more of a reason to galavant all over this fair state.

But they do their due diligence in the history realm, too. They recently posted 15 for '15: Historic Sites for History Buffs, and amazingly I'd been to less than half the sites on the list. I must be slipping. I've added several of them to my to-do list and I've made it out to at least one place since I saw the article, so progress is happening.

One place on the list that I'm excited to visit is Gunston Hall. Northern Virginia honestly may beat out southwestern Va as the most heavily-avoided area of Va by me, and not really on purpose but just because I'm helplessly thorough and end up overexploring one area before I move on to the next. And those areas are pretty far away from me, more than just an afternoon jaunt. Anyway this place will be on the top of my list for future forays into NoVa. The dining room looks familiar, no?

Hint: it looks like a fancier version of my dining room. Great minds think alike, Mr. Mason.

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.