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.

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