The Virginia Historical Society’s Role in Richmond’s Impending Zombie Apocalypse: How the Past Can Help the Future
Zombies have become an inescapable part of pop culture in the past decade. They feature prominently in numerous successful films like World War Z, television series like The Walking Dead, and they find their way into a remarkable amount of media and literature. Zombies are so widespread they even feature prominently on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website! It appears the zombie apocalypse is unavoidable, so I have decided to see what the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) can offer when that day arrives.
First and foremost, the society’s goal is to preserve the state’s history, and it will always be best suited to do that. If the building itself is abandoned until the zombies are gone (an optimistic prediction), many of our valuable treasures and historic resources will be preserved for future generations. That being said, if the zombie outbreak occurs right at our doorstep and we do not have the luxury of choosing our stronghold, this is how things would likely unfold.
As our patrons descend upon us in a more ravenous fashion than usual, we could all reasonably assume the zombie apocalypse has finally happened. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide (not a part of the collections, but available online and at most book retailers) provides invaluable instructions for such a situation, and it clearly outlines how to proceed. Because of the copious amount of windows on the first floor, we would be forced to retreat to the second floor and start barricading the stairwells. Fortunately, along with the large amounts of furniture on hand, there is also a healthy stock of tools and handy supplies such as plywood and 2x4s kept by the maintenance staff. Once the barricades were up and the immediate danger passed, we would know to start stockpiling water from the numerous bathrooms. Then it would be time to take stock of the VHS’s strengths and weakness.
The VHS has a considerable supply of first aid materials and as mentioned before a wide range of tools for any maintenance needs. We also have invaluable human resources, as several staff members are CERC (Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication) certified and would have exceptional knowledge and the ability to lead in any disaster situation. A natural gas-run electrical generator provides power for our most crucial needs once the electricity goes out, and a small fleet of cars and a dump truck provide escape and reconnaissance options. Furthermore the society’s large, four story building offers the safety of height and would allow us to focus our defenses considering there are only a few stairwells.
We boast a magnificent collection of muskets, but no powder or ammunition. They are best served as clubs and spears (with attached bayonets). Our assortment of swords will prove quite useful as well, as they won’t discriminate between the living and the undead any more than they would a gray and a blue coat. A sleek saber, such as the one below, would give its wielder some elegance in disposing of the dead, whereas a naval cutlass is a shorter blade made for close-quarters hacking.
A pike, like this one that John Brown attempted to arm slaves with during his infamous failed raid on Harpers Ferry, would hopefully see more success in keeping zombies pinned away from its handler.
If all else fails, there are substantial amounts of grain alcohol and acetone in our conservation lab, which could be used to fuel Molotov cocktails.
The VHS library contains a few real gems for the apocalypse. Francis P. Porcher’s Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical, and Agricultural (call number: C.I. 3041) offers a plethora of helpful uses for plants found in and around Virginia. A 1937 Red Cross first-aid textbook (call number: RC 87 R313 1937) could prove helpful in a pinch. Unsurprisingly, though, the majority of the VHS’s resources are dated and inapplicable for the present situation. I risk my job by suggesting they are best served as fuel.
Unfortunately, there are serious dangers to using the VHS as a zombie-proof fortress. Apart from a couple vending machines, the building has little to no food supplies. The location is less than ideal as well. The Map of the Dead (another helpful online resource for mapping the Zombie Apocalypse) points out many useful resources near the VHS, such as convenience stores, pharmacies, and hospitals.
However, all of those resources are ultimately not enough to outweigh the fact that the best place to be during a zombie apocalypse is far, far away from population centers. Therefore, we can only suggest the VHS as a temporary refuge and supply stop on your way out of Richmond. Stick around too long and you’re history!
Tony Walters is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.
March is both a time to recognize the achievements of women and to plant yourself on a couch or bar stool for three weeks and obsess about college basketball. In recognition of both events, the Virginia Historical Society will screen four films as part of the 2014 Richmond International Film Festival: “Political Bodies” and “This is Normal” on Friday, February 28, at 6:30 p.m. and “Unbelievable is Believable, Here” and “The Goldfish” on Sunday, March 2, at 1:00 p.m.
Soon after the schedule was announced, I received a call from K. N. Bentley about one of the films. “Political Bodies” documents the ongoing debate over women’s reproductive rights in Virginia, and specifically the 2012 demonstrations against proposed House Bill 462 requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. You might remember that the debate over the bill and the public reaction made national news. Bentley was one of the organizers of the February 20 (known as F20) and March 3 (known as M3) demonstrations at the Virginia State Capitol. As a participant in a historic Virginia event, I asked her if she had any items related to her participation in the demonstrations. A few days later she arrived at the VHS with handmade signs, flyers, newspaper articles, and other items that she saved from the event. Earlier this week she donated those items to the VHS as part of a new collection of items associated with the group “Speak Loud with Silence.”
One of the items that Bentley showed us was the January 2, 2013, issue of Style Weekly. The photograph on the cover features a young woman, eyes closed, mouth agape, and body hanging limply in the arms of a Capitol police officer. In a photograph that is otherwise colorless, her red slacks seem to jump off the page. I talked with Camille Rudney, and she agreed to donate the slacks she was wearing that day to the VHS collection. I know, it sounds strange that we’d be interested in preserving a pair of red denim trousers (c. 2012), but their appearance in the media turned an otherwise ordinary pair of pants into an iconic symbol of that day’s event.
Bentley also introduced us to Molly Vick, who told us that the 2012 women’s rights debate turned her into an activist. Because the F20 demonstration was a silent protest, Molly ironed slogans onto a pink cotton shirt. Known as the “pink shirt girl” to those who didn’t know her, she continues to remain involved in the movement. Molly is the representative voice for “Speak Loudly With Silence” in the film, and she and her shirt are featured on the movie poster.
I was struck by a number of things during my interactions with these women over the past few weeks.
1. The F20 and M3 demonstrations are part of a long history of political activism in Virginia, and our right to peaceably assemble is at the heart of the republic that Virginians were so instrumental in creating.
2. 21st-century demonstrations are far more organized than I imagined. Among the items donated to the VHS were maps identifying key rally points, prepared media statements, and detailed instructions for participants. Modern demonstrations even use legal observers and media liaisons who wear armbands so that they could be easily identified. Having just watched the 2013 remake of Les Miserables, I wondered if the people behind the barricades in Paris had legal observers.
3. Anyone can become an activist when their core beliefs are challenged. I’m not sure what I imagined, but the three women I had the pleasure to meet didn’t really conform to the stereotype I have of “activist.” They are mothers, wives, and daughters; social workers, data analysts, and care givers united in a cause. When you think about it, were Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason, and Henry so different? Did they fit the stereotype of political activists in colonial America? Perhaps not.
4. None of these women were previously supporters of the Virginia Historical Society, but now they are united with our cause to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia’s history. That probably wouldn’t have happened had we not decided to screen the film as part of the festival.
Molly’s shirt and a number of other items related to “Speak Loud with Silence” will be on display on Friday, February 28, before the screening of “Political Bodies.” I’m looking forward to meeting current and future VHS supporters at the movies this weekend.
Limited seats are available free for VHS members and reservations can be made by contacting Matt Weber, senior officer for donor and visitor services, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Non-members can pre-order tickets through the Richmond International Film Festival. Tickets will also available for sale at the door for $10.00.
Andrew Talkov is head of program development and coordinator for Virginia’s Civil War at the Virginia Historical Society.
The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at vahistorical.org.
Canada Goose Decoy
Decoys—like this one made by Miles Henry Hancock (1887-1974) of Chincoteague, Virginia—are used to entice wild birds to land within range of a hunter’s gun. After the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 ended the mass shooting of water fowl for commercial sale, Hancock made decoys and served as a guide for sport hunters who traveled to the Eastern Shore. Today, the goose population is not only thriving, but factors such as climate change and urban development have resulted in a resident goose population that no longer migrates seasonally.
It’s February, that time of year when all our thoughts turn to love. Even in war time, love survives, and we all have at least one story about star-crossed lovers who were torn asunder. But war has also brought couples together, even if it does make for some unlikely combinations!
Take, for instance, two members of Company D of the 57th North Carolina Infantry. This regiment was formed in Forsyth County, North Carolina, on July 4, 1862. Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Bell of Stanly County was twenty-one and enlisted as a private. William T. Nelson of Forsyth County was thirty-one and joined as a corporal. By November 1862 the men were in Virginia, moving between Fredericksburg and Richmond, hoping they would soon be settling in winter quarters. From the references William makes in his letters to his wife, Ann T. (Crawley) Nelson, it’s obvious that he and Frank were sharing quarters. In his letter of November 17 William mentions that Frank is also writing a note to Ann; here is a transcription of the first of the two surviving letters he wrote to her:
Camp, Nov, 62
I am not in the habit of writing letters to men’s wives nor in any way interfering with the domestic relations of other folks, but under present circumstances, I hope I am excusable for addressing you a few lines to assure you that I have no intention of trying to cheat you out of your old man, although he persists in calling me his old woman and grumbles when he is not allowed to sleep next to me; but with all his protestations of (don’t know what you call it) I can see very plainly that he thinks more of you than of me and that your jealosy is all for naught; Now pray quiet your fears, and be generous enough to allow me the pleasure of caring for him while in camp, hoping some day to restore him to you, “clothed and in his right mind.”
By mid-December Frank had evidently received a response from Ann, which, unfortunately, did not survive. But we can get the gist of her message by reading between the lines of Frank’s next letter:
Camp, Dec. 19th/62
I never was lawyer enough to make a good plea in a bad cause and now that I see I will be beaten, I plead guilty and will hereafter call him our old man; though a partnership business seldom works well, and in this case will no doubt end in a row.
….Hoping you will be content with a half interest in our old man and trust the rest to me, to good luck and Providence (for certainly all of us will bring things out right in the end).
I will close, so no more from your friend “til deth”
B. F. Bell
Shortly after this letter was written, William, who had been injured, was granted a furlough. Upon his return to his regiment, he was no doubt disappointed to discover that Frank had been detailed to work with the Pioneer Corps.
Both Frank and William survived the war. William was captured near Farmville, Virginia, in early April 1865. By April 14 he was in Newport News, Virginia, where he took the oath of allegiance on June 26 and was released. He and his wife show up in Forsyth County in the census for the next two decades, until Ann dies in 1886. They had one son, born in 1858, who lived for only a few months; there were no other children.
Frank was captured near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1864, and spent a short time in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., until he was transferred to Elmira, New York. He took the oath of allegiance on June 29, 1865, and was released. After the war he returned to Stanly County, where, in 1866, he married Frances Ann Miller. They had six children, all of whom survived to adulthood. Frances died in 1917 and Frank in 1919. Both are buried in the Stony Hill United Methodist Church Cemetery.
There’s another interesting bit of history connected to these letters. They survived Hurricane Katrina! The donor, Mrs. Frances W. Crawley, was living in Waveland, Mississippi, when the hurricane struck. Her home was destroyed, and the trunk containing the letters was one of the few items her family salvaged. The trunk remained unopened for many months, and when it was finally cleared out, the letters were still water-logged. The paper is fragile and the writing somewhat faded, but the letters, and the humorous sentiments they contain, have survived.
Eileen Parris is the archivist at the Virginia Historical Society.
Educators from the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) are joining tens of thousands of educators and millions of students from all fifty states and the District of Columbia to celebrate the third annual Digital Learning Day on Wednesday, February 5. Spearheaded by the Alliance for Excellent Education, Digital Learning Day recognizes innovative teaching and common-sense, effective applications of education technologies that support teachers, improve learning, and help students achieve at their highest potential.The VHS is proud to be participating in its third Digital Learning Day on February 5, 2014.
In years past, the society has participated through its HistoryConnects programs, using interactive videoconferencing in order to connect with students and teachers throughout the country on topics ranging from Pocahontas and the Powhatan Indians to the changes experienced in the Old Dominion during the twentieth century. These programs serve as broad overviews for topics and also highlight the collections more specifically with primary source explorations.
This year the VHS will be connecting with a group of middle school students in Pennsylvania for a customized program centered on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Later in the day society educators will meet with fourth grade classes around the state of Virginia, specifically in Loudoun and Spotsylvania counties and the city of Newport News, to discuss Virginia’s role in the American Revolution and some of America’s founding documents.
Additionally, the VHS is using Digital Learning Day as a launch pad for a brand new initiative—its first online teachers’ institute, Primarily Virginia! This thirteen-week online teachers’ institute highlights the collections of the VHS and the Library of Congress while emphasizing both primary source learning and historical inquiry. The institute consists of an introduction and six modules, each of which is centered on specific objects from the VHS collections that relate to a particular historical era. VHS educators will use these objects as a lens to examine the historical era, revealing new information while looking at Virginia’s history in a different manner. The class will repeated throughout the year.
The online format has been designed for asynchronous work, which allows K-12 teachers from around Virginia to access the resources of the VHS and the Library of Congress from their homes or schools. Completion of the course results in forty-five teacher recertification points, and the course is offered free of charge thanks to a generous grant from Teaching with Primary Sources and the Library of Congress.
A sample of the primary sources to be looked at as a part of the institute:
The institute has already proven to be a success, with the class filling up within twelve hours of the call for applicants. Teachers from all over the state who have previously not been able to utilize some of the professional development opportunities from the VHS make up our first class.
Digital Learning Day is a great experience, and we are very excited to be taking part in it again!
Evan Liddiard is Senior Education Specialist at the Virginia Historical Society.