Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Excitement Continued

Brushing off the previous day's bomb scare, Sue and I fueled up with the hotel breakfast and headed to Heathsville.  We went in to the historical society first where we reacquainted ourselves with the wonderful volunteers we'd met before and set to work with books and papers.  My favorite part of the day was when Tom Wolf agreed to take me to the old jail for a look around. This jail building is under the protection of the society and sits within the same area as the courthouses.  We'd been loitering around it the day before. 
Northumberland County Jail, Heathsville, Va.

In the context of my book, this is the jail where Magnolia and her "accomplice" Albert Viehmeyer were placed after the murder indictment came down.  In fairly quick order Magnolia's lawyers had managed to get her out of the jail by citing frail health and she was lodged in the hotel, which you can see part of in the photos in my last entry.  (Viehmeyer was left here from his arrest in April until his release in December.)  At the time Magnolia was placed there in April 1895, there were no real separate areas for women.  I imagine she was taken to the upper storey, assuming the ground floor was inhabited by men.  There have been many changes to the inside of the building, of course, and where there were two large rooms with a central hall and stairway, these floors are now open so one can walk around the three barred cells, with the staircase on one end.  I paused close to an upper window and wondered if Magnolia had looked through it.  I even wondered if it had glass at the time since there is no mention of window glass in the records of the jail until 1897.
Did Magnolia gaze through this window?

I enjoyed my tour by Tom Wolf so much.  I never imagined I would be lucky enough to find such a knowledgeable source as Mr. Wolf to give me such insight into an event from 1895.  To stand in the court rooms as I have done, then the jail, is something I look upon as a gift.  These gifts inspire me to attempt the best book I can do.  There have been many gifts given me during this research.  Sue's interest and time and effort has been the biggest gift of all.  I feel it is her book project as much as mine.  Add to this people like Tom Wolf, Virginia Burgess and Blanche E. Jones, and you have a pretty bow.  Our meeting with Blanche took place the following day and having her as a guide to sites unseen is another entry.

What was our excitement this day?  After supper at a lovely cafe in Lottsburg that is attached to a tire supply/garage, we raced to the hotel ahead of a storm!  The news that evening was duly memorable for it highlighted two areas where we'd just been gallivanting. 
Once again we survived the day, of course!  The final part of our journey will be another entry.  Until then.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Who Says Excitement Is Good?

Days after my packet arrived from the University of Virginia I was reminded that excitement isn't always a good thing.  My sister-in-law Sue and I made our trip down to Virginia to do some planned land research.  We were also going to meet with a lovely lady named Blanche who is the granddaughter of Fuller Jones, the brother of Magnolia.  In the past she had sent me a few photos and some info, but we'd never met.  This time she was going to guide us on a little tour of certain sites such as where Magnolia's house stood.

We arrived at our hotel in Warsaw on Wednesday evening and used that time to go over notes and make lists of what we needed to search for in the courthouse the next day.  The new courthouse stands in the same area as the old courthouse and jail and the Northumberland County Historical Society, where we planned  to stop as well.  So after breakfast on Thursday we travelled about thirty minutes down the road to Heathsville.  Heathsville is a lovely little place and Sue remembered exactly where to turn to find the Historical Society and courthouse.  We were a little confused once we turned though, to find our way blocked.  There were people standing around under the trees on the old courthouse lot and I wandered over to ask what was going on.  Would you believe it was a bomb scare at the courthouse?

This shows the back of the Old courthouse. One of the men behind the building was the intrepid reporter of the weekly paper. Sue and I, along with one of the more bored firemen at the scene, dubbed him "Scoop Newton."

The road to the New courthouse (where we wanted to be) runs beside the white building.

Needless to say, there was no courthouse research to be done that day.  We weren't allowed to the Historical Society either, since it is just about a hundred yards or so behind and to the right of me as I shot those photos.  Sue and I wandered around, chatting up firemen if they didn't look too grumpy.  Consensus was that someone due for trial that morning left the dynamite-looking package at the courthouse that morning.  We did see the truck come in, pulling a steel boxy piece of equipment, which we found out was the box used to detonate explosives when found.  Later we learned it had been fake.  People were mostly nice and we were left to wander as long as we didn't get too close to the cones, but there are photos of Sue and I in the files of the Virginia State Police.  We asked the young fireman we talked to why the trooper had taken our photo and he shrugged and said, "Well, in case you did it."  Sue laughed.  "You tell me who did this and I'll get him!"  (You don't hinder Sue's research and expect her to take it, do you?)

We finally left, putting the authorities at ease I'm sure, and went exploring.  We hunted up some cemeteries we'd seen on previous trips and did another fruitless search for the grave of T. Ferdinand Williams, Magnolia's husband.  For someone who'd been buried twice, you wouldn't think it would be that hard to find a marked grave, but what do I know?  One of our first research trips turned up the odd fact that his death wasn't even recorded in the official record book at the courthouse.  But traipsing through cemeteries is always a fun thing for both of us so we didn't mind.  Back at Warsaw we stopped in the cemetery where the defense attorney William Atkinson Jones is buried.  Being that he was also a member of the House of Representatives from 1891 until his death in 1918, and that he had sponsored the Jones Act which promised ultimate independence to the Philippines, his grave is graced by a lusciously huge memorial given by the people of the Philippines.  Not hard to find.

That night we had dinner and spent the evening hooting over the news coverage of the bomb scare and trying to get by-chance unflattering photos of the on-screen reporter!  I scored big on that one.

I wonder if I should offer this to her for her portfolio?

We went to sleep that night hoping for good luck on Friday.  For the most part we got it.  But we also had another day with news breaking surprises.  I'll write that up next time.  Until then.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It Worked!

Just yesterday I blogged about the copies I'd ordered from U.Va dealing with Magnolia and her trial.  It wasn't long after I'd gotten off the blog when I had an email come from them with directions regarding payment.  I called them, had a brief, very enthusiastic conversation with a nice woman, gave her my card number and got the assurance that the copies would be mailed that afternoon!  I'm afraid I got a bit loud with her, at one point yelling, "I'm so excited about this! You just don't know!"  She laughed and replied, "O-kay!"

This is excellent timing.  I should have them tomorrow, next day at the latest, which gives me a week to comb through them before our research trip.  I have so many questions I hope the papers will answer.  Too many to all be included in those thirty-four precious pages, I know, but is it too much to hope for a couple A-ha! moments?  Can't I wish for a lead on the machinations behind getting Magnolia indicted?  Will there be a finger pointing at someone, anyone, so that Sue and I can fish through records with something more suitable than a broad net?  I'm sure the honorable Mr. William A. Jones was not the sort to fill his notes with wishful lunch menus, after all. 

I'm also anxious to read the two letters from her brother, Fuller, to Mr. W.A. Jones.  Henry Fuller Jones stayed at his sister's side through the entire ordeal.  He is a hero in this story as much as the distinguished attorney (who may be related).  I'm sure his letters will be key.  There is a third letter, from W. A. Jones to his wife during the trial.  What can I learn from his unguarded intimacies?

The trip is to begin on May 30th.  Before then I will give you news on what our tentative plans are, and tell you about our intent to spend some time with a relative of Magnolia! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Magnolia Time

There have been some butterflies in my stomach lately.  After nearly a year with no new leads on a project of mine, I stumbled upon a possibly key piece of the puzzle last week.  This all has to do with a true story that took place in 1895 Virginia. 

The central figure in this story is one Magnolia Williams, a woman who took care of her small farm and nine year old son while her husband was out at the Smith Point lighthouse in the bay at the mouth of the Potomac River.  It had been a cold enough winter for ice to form on the bay, a constant danger to a screwpile lighthouse.  On Valentine's Day ice pounded at the lighthouse and the two keepers managed to flee the light before it was scraped from the bay floor and swept away.

This event was the beginning of a horrible ordeal for Magnolia.  A week later, while she and her son were out in the yard doing chores, there were two gunshots from the house.  An inquest ruled it a suicide.  Magnolia's in-laws weren't happy with this ruling. As one, her husband's brothers had his body exhumed, examined by another doctor, and managed to get a ruling of murder.  Magnolia found herself arrested and indicted within the month. 

Add to this these tidbits: a mysteriously vanished note, a "confessed" accomplice, threats to her life which force a request for a change of venue, and a very respected congressman who becomes her defender.  Those tidbits are just a few of the reasons this story captured me.  My sister-in-law, Susan Bundy, genealogical researcher and road trip queen, has pushed me and helped me along the way.  We've been to both of the Virginia counties and courthouses.  She's dug through microfilm and census records.  We have our own beliefs on what really happened.

Just a week ago, I found that Magnolia's defender, William Atkinson Jones, left his papers to the University of Virginia.  After a few calls and filling out a request for research form, I'm told there are twenty pages of notes from the trial (a real jewel in the day of no transcripts) and fourteen pages of correspondence that deal with the trial.  I am currently awaiting an email from U.VA, from the Print Order department, which will give me the payment info.  They will not mail the copies until they have the payment, of course, but I was told it could be ten days before I even get that email.  Today is Day 7.  I am as anxious as a kid at Christmas.

Today is a drizzly day.  I must walk in the rain to the post office to do my Monday cleaning, but I am smiling all the same.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Just Give Me The Chocolate!

Easter weekend.  It really doesn't mean more to me than the fact it's the Vernal Equinox and there's no takey-backy on the part of Father Time and Mother Earth, so it is really Spring.  I would have to say I am a pagan if pressed for a religious belief, so I see the bunnies and eggs in a pagan way.  And to be honest, the bunnies and eggs are only on my mind if they are chocolate or hard boiled.

As for the eggs, I hard boiled about 15 of them and pickled them with red beets.  Yum!  We all like red beet eggs here and will have them on the side of the dinner plate or sliced on mustard-spread bread (well, that's me).  We got the eggs from my husband's friend who has all sorts of fowl running around on his mountaintop.  I got to see them close up when we went to the RV last weekend.  Imagine getting out of the vehicle and being met by a gaggle and flock and of any and every kind of bird. 

The Thanksgiving Contingent was the heartiest group, but the guinea hens (you can see one in the background) were quite vocal, and the chickens all rushed away soon after the greeting.  No turkey or guinea eggs were taken in this visit!

I have no chocolate bunnies this year but I do have chocolate stashed away, in the form of eggs oddly enough, in the way-back depths of the fridge.  No one has found them and I still can't believe I haven't touched them myself.  I try to get these eggs every year, and they are honestly the closest I come to a church on Easter.  A local church makes tons of these for their major fundraiser and I believe in helping them out!  This year I only managed to get one dozen of the gold wrapped chocolate covered peanut butter eggs, and a dozen of the silver wrapped chocolate covered coconut eggs!  They are a fair fistful of sweet and addictive enough to make me consider joining that church if only to get the secret recipe!  And it is a secret.  There is another church that makes eggs, but they are poor imitations, and I can imagine all sorts of shenanigans going on with one church trying to infiltrate the other...  It could happen that way.

Before I go and leave you to your own celebrations, I think I should show you that I did indeed finish the towel I was knitting for the RV.  I am tickled that it turned out pretty nice.  No wiping red beet juice on it, please!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Spring is here for real and we're all glad, of course, and trying to ignore the fact that it isn't impossible to get snow in March. I have some spring bulbs blooming in the neglected bed beneath the kitchen window.  And it appears there are some gnomes in danger of drowning...

Not safe for bathing yet!

Last weekend Russ, Frankie and I rode up to the RV to do some cleanup there.  It was a beautiful day and while Russ and Frankie worked outside on the manly things like Awning Deployment, I cleaned counter and cabinets and, well... kitchen work.  But Frankie did do windows from the outside and I didn't have to cook so you can't call that a bad day.  I think Russ is planning for us to go for our first stay the first weekend of April and I'm ready for that.

Lately, between crocheting, knitting and life, I've been thinking hard about the nonfiction book I want to write this year.  A new page on my blog with info and photos might be in order and I will work on getting that done, so stay tuned.  My logical side says that spending some time alone at the RV will be conducive to writing.  I don't need to tell you what the other side says, do I? 

It's time to get on with my day here so I will sign off.  Feel free to leave comments, even if they pertain to the cruelty of unguarded bird baths that prove dangerous to gnomes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gathering Gadgets

It's beautiful today, almost as if spring has really come.  The sun is shining and I've got the kitchen window open.  I might get outside a bit to enjoy it.

But right now I'm casting on 90 stitches very slowly (I only knit at one speed) for a mitered hanging towel for the RV.  Gathering things for the RV has been fun and I have a bag of things just sitting on the sofa waiting to go.  Russ and I are heading up there on Saturday to check things out and I can't wait.  We won't be able to stay over yet, but I want to stock, and take stock, of the items we have and need. 

What's in the bag so far?  Well, there are about ten paperbacks that will go on a shelf in a cabinet, an extra food chopping gadget I had here going to waste, a few lock-top containers for left overs and a pitcher.  There are four of those small solar lights you can stake down into the ground and a little string of fish lights that Frankie gave to Russ in the bag as well, all to insure a festive campsite.  I will also carry up a project bag filled with cotton thread, small hooks and several filet patterns.

Now, will I finish the hand towel in time for the Saturday visit?  I'll let you know.