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Is this Jefferson’s desk?


One in 8.5 Million

Is this Jefferson’s desk?

There are many reproductions of the desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Some have even been mistaken for the original. Each contained a copy of the letter written by Jefferson to his son in law, Joseph Coolidge, reproduced through a photographic method called “photographic drawing” and indistinguishable from the original with the naked eye. This replica was built by James Degges and given as a gift to the department of the treasury. Jefferson’s original desk is at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.


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

A Day in the Life of a Collections Assistant


I am so thankful to have the opportunity to work as a collections assistant at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) to help with the redesign of its premier exhibition, The Story of Virginia.

As a collections assistant my first responsibility is to help manage locations of objects. This means that I must keep up with all location changes between storage, conservation, and photography while we are preparing them for display.

VHS Registrar, Rebecca Rose, and I work together to update locations in the VHS catalog.

While I am pulling objects for The Story of Virginia, I also review all the object files to confirm the history of how we received pieces. After I search through the object files I update catalog records on all aspects related to each item.

How would you start organizing the thousands of objects removed from the original exhibition only some which are slated for the new exhibition? One way is to use color coordinating tags. We use color coding to separate graphics from originals and to differentiate objects going into the new exhibition from ones going back into storage. Each tag for a The Story of Virginia object has a set of numbers and letters that is unique to that piece (for example 2005.302.A-B). For the new exhibition, each tag also lists a gallery, area, and section number of the exhibit on one side and on the reverse, a brief description.

We use color coding to separate graphics from originals and to differentiate objects going into the new exhibition from ones going back into storage.

We use color coding tags to separate graphics from originals and to differentiate objects going into the new exhibition from ones going back into storage.

This will help me and my coworkers distinguish what artifacts are going into The Story of Virginia and where in the new gallery they will be located. This may not be the most exciting part of my job, but it will make my job a lot easier down the road.

I am the liaison between the programs and collections divisions at the VHS. The programs department mounts the display for the objects and collections care for the objects. Once a week I get to attend meetings with the design team and curators of The Story of Virginia to discuss the different galleries, what the curators are trying to portray, and the artifacts needed to help tell the story.

On a daily basis I am pulling objects for conservators to look at to determine the state of each artifacts and if it needs conservation treatment or should be rotated with other objects.  Many people don’t understand that some objects, especially paper or textiles can only stay on display for a brief period of time, and other similar objects must be rotated in their places. The major reason artifacts must have rotations is because of light damage. All light is damaging, not just UV light. The society’s conservator, Stacy Rusch, explained it by saying that “just like exposure to light with our skin is cumulative, so it is with objects, and this cannot be reversed. Every object has a certain number of hours that it can be exhibited without causing damage. Paper and textiles have an even lower amount of hours available for exposure to light.”

The Story of Virginia object list is very diverse. I selected two very different artifacts that caught my eye while working on the new exhibition.

Patrick Henry’s spectacles

Patrick Henry’s spectacles (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number 1934.2)

Imagine what Patrick Henry saw through these spectacles. Patrick Henry was an influential leader in the colonial opposition to the British government. He is best known for the speech he made in the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. Most of us know the famous words he spoke that day:

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!

These words expressed the passion that gave birth to the Revolutionary War.

Phyllis Galanti's dress and jacket

Here I am measuring Phyllis Galanti’s dress and jacket (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number 2005.302.A-B)

Moving from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, a new addition to The Story of Virginia is a dress with jacket worn by Phyllis Eason Galanti. She was just a newlywed when her husband’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam and he was captured on June 17, 1966. Paul Galanti spent almost seven years in various POW camps in North Vietnam. Phyllis began a campaign to get her husband and other POWs home. The Richmond “Write Hanoi” campaign was held February 5–13, 1971, and delegation including Phyllis Galanti flew to Stockholm, Sweden, on March 8 to deliver more than 400,000 letters from the Richmond area. The goal of the campaign was to give evidence to the North Vietnamese government that the American public demanded the observance of the terms of the Geneva Convention on behalf of the prisoners. That is when she became known by some as “fearless Phyllis.” The VHS has the dress Phyllis wore on February 15, 1973, when she was reunited with her husband Paul (LCDR, U.S. Navy) at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.

Learn more about Phyllis in our previous post.

The reunion of Paul and Phyllis Galanti was captured in a photograph that appeared on the February 26, 1973, cover of Newsweek magazine. (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 G1315a, Section 4)


What I love about my job the most is that while I am searching around in storage for The Story of Virginia artifacts, I find rare, unique, and exciting objects that make up the history of Virginia. I’m fascinated with the artifacts I come across, as well as astonished with the number of collections in the Virginia Historical Society. After all, according to William Byrd II, “In the beginning all America was Virginia.”

 Brooke Jones is a Collections Assistant at the Virginia Historical Society.

Phyllis Galanti: A Life of Personal Activism

Paul Galanti, Adrianna SheerCook, and Paul Levengood

Paul Galanti, Adrianna ScheerCook, and Paul Levengood at the VHS’s 2014 awards luncheon on July 16, 2014.

It is our pleasure to host Adrianna ScheerCook as guest author of this post.  SheerCook was recognized at the Virginia Historical Society’s 2014 awards luncheon on July 16.  She was the winner of Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2014 Undergraduate History Paper of the Year Award for her paper entitled “Phyllis Galanti and the Importance of Private Citizens’ Activism during the Vietnam War”.  Along with personal interviews with Phyllis Galanti, SheerCook used the Galanti papers in the VHS collection for her research. 

On June 17, 1966, Lieutenant Commander Paul Galanti of the U.S. Navy was shot down over North Vietnam, beginning almost seven years of captivity for him and a lifetime of public service for his wife Phyllis. During Paul’s time at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, Phyllis transformed from a shy navy wife into a whirlwind political force who brought governmental, national, and international attention to the plight of POWs in Southeast Asia. Her comprehensive collection of documents housed in the Virginia Historical Society’s archives reveals her belief that the cooperative actions of private citizens was capable of influencing the outcome of international affairs, particularly the treatment and return of the POWs during the Vietnam War.

Phyllis’ mobilization efforts on behalf of the POWs started locally with her leadership of the Richmond “Write Hanoi” campaign in February 1971. Through this campaign, individuals were asked to write letters to the North Vietnamese government expressing their wishes for the government to treat the POWs humanely in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention standards. These guidelines included releasing a list of all POWs, allowing the prisoners to send and receive letters, and providing them with access to adequate medical care.

Phyllis roused massive participation in this movement, motivating groups from elementary schools, colleges, labor unions, churches, and businesses to volunteer by manning sites for the letters to be collected and written and by organizing letter drives in their respective spheres. Fourth grade teacher Joyce Goforth from Bowling Green Elementary School was just one of the teachers to send Phyllis letters from her students, while Reynolds Metals Company enclosed a brochure about Paul in employees’ salary envelopes. The United Virginia Bank also included pamphlets about the POWs in their checking account mailings, resulting in 235,000 of these leaflets reaching Richmonders. All these efforts resulted in the collection of 452,000 letters from Richmonders to the North Vietnamese government.

POW armband

POW armband and buttons including an “I wrote” button that refers to Phyllis Galanti’s “Write Hanoi” campaign. (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 G1315 a, Section 4)

Soon, Phyllis’s work on behalf of the POWs moved to the international stage. In 1971, she organized a delegation to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, to deliver the letters from the Richmond “Write Hanoi” campaign. Many major news outlets, such as the Associated Press, covered the visit, and she met with the Swedish Red Cross and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, Phyllis’s ultimate goal was to get an audience with the North Vietnamese ambassador to Sweden to directly deliver the letters and voice her concerns about the treatment of POWs. This was unprecedented, and no one, including the press and the local U.S. embassy, believed she would be able to accomplish it.

Undeterred by the extremely remote chance of obtaining such a meeting, Phyllis went directly to the North Vietnamese embassy and asked for an audience. When the officials denied her request, she warned them that she would come back with members of the media to publicly deliver the letters to the embassy. The North Vietnamese delegation did not want such publicity, and consequently, because of her persistence, she secured an hour and twenty minute long meeting with Mr. Viet, the charge d’affaires. Her trip was a great success because she, as a private individual, had a chance to convey the sentiments of the American people both to the diplomatic representatives of North Vietnam and to an international audience.

Galanti Moorer

Phyllis Galanti and Admiral Tom Moorer, 1969. Moorer expressed his admiration for the Galantis in this signed photo. His inscription reads “To: Phyllis Galanti – A wonderful young lady married to a great pilot and outstanding Naval Officer – their combined courage, dedication and fortitude set them on a plane above most citizens of our country. Best wishes and highest esteem – Tom Moorer, Admiral – Chief of Naval Operations.” (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 G1315 a, Section 4, Folder 79)

Ever humble, Phyllis insisted that she and the other military wives were simply “making it up as they went along.” In fact, they were moving out of their supportive background roles to take an active stand against the inhumane treatment of POWs in Vietnam, and they succeeded.

POW bracelets

During the Vietnam war American citizens commonly wore these bracelets in support of POWs. It was customary to mail the bracelet to the soldier when he returned home. This is a small selection of the hundreds of bracelets that were sent to the Galantis upon Paul’s return in 1973. (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 G1315 a, Section 4)

Happily, Paul returned home to Phyllis in February 1973. They resumed their life together, and both remained active in the Richmond community, serving as educators about veteran affairs. Appropriately, the Virginia War Memorial dedicated its new education wing to Paul and Phyllis in 2010 to honor their work restoring the monument as well as their decades acting on behalf of prisoners of war and veterans. Throughout her amazing life, Phyllis truly demonstrated the impact a determined, caring, and brave individual could have on the lives of so many.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

Unexpected Art Treasures at the Virginia Historical Society


There is no question that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the star of Richmond’s art scene. However, its neighbor, the Virginia Historical Society, also has a few gems from the art world that stand out in its collection. My two favorites are relatively modern works, both valuable and unique editions from prominent artists. Though both are less directly related to Virginia than many of our collections, they unquestionably improve the depth and diversity of our holdings. Blog_2014.07.23_6 The first, Cy Twombly’s Souvenirs of D’arros & Gaeta, is a beautiful collection of the artist’s work from 1990. Cy Twombly (April 25, 1928–July 5, 2011) was an accomplished painter and sculptor who achieved great success in the twentieth century, with many of his works currently on display in the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art. The Lexington-born painter spent much of 1990 on the island of D’Arros (Seychelles) and in the city of Gaeta, Italy, working on a collection of untitled drawings. Blog_2014.07.23_5 All of them were created with acrylic, crayon, and pencil on paper and collected into this book in 1992. The last page features a picture of Twombly with his back to the camera as he walks through a forest of palm trees on the island of Praslin (Seychelles). Only 1,000 limited copies were printed, and of those only the first 100 were signed by the artist. The Virginia Historical Society has number 84 of those 100.   Blog_2014.07.23_3eThe second piece of artwork is a fascinating oddball of a book, Stephen King and Barbara Kruger’s My Pretty Pony. _DSC0994eKing (b. September 21, 1947) is an extremely popular award-winning author of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Kruger (b. January 26, 1945) is an American artist noteworthy for her acclaimed conceptual and pop art. Together, they combined to create a unique book for the Whitney Museum of Art, of which 250 editions were issued and signed by the author and artist/designer. It combines a Stephen King short story and Barbara Kruger’s artwork within a dramatic stainless steel cover inlaid with a digital clock._DSC0999 The story focuses on the passage of time, illustrated through a man speaking to his grandchild. Though not as overtly dark as many of King’s other works, it is a slightly grim meditation that ends up characterizing time as a pony that is “pretty, but with a wicked heart,” although the narrator admits that “having a pony to ride was better than having no pony at all, no matter how the weather of its heart might lie.”_DSC0988 Interspersed between King’s text are Kruger’s images, each bearing a word or two that by the end of the book complete the sentence: “Time ain’t got nothing to do with how fast you can count.” _DSC0991eBoth of these books are generous gifts from Frances A. Lewis, who is a winner of the National Medal of the Arts, one of the founders of Best Products with her husband Sydney Lewis, and a kind and generous benefactor of the Virginia Historical Society. Both of these wonderful artistic creations can be requested in the Virginia Historical Society’s reading room.

Tony Walters is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.

Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag


One in 8.5 Million

Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag

In 1993, as a response to high suicide rates among Virginia’s gay, lesbian, and bisexual residents, a group of concerned citizens began discussing the creation of a community center that could serve as a meeting place and sanctuary. After two years of planning—which included designing this banner—the group disbanded before a center could be built. Currently there are numerous regional LGBTQ community centers—including the Gay Community Center of Richmond—that serve people throughout the commonwealth.

Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag

Flag, Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag, c. 1993 (Virginia Historical Society, Gift of Steven Kent Jones, Accession number: 2004.358)


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

Tobacco Boys




Kurt Jensen

Kurt Jensen

We are pleased to share this post by guest author Kurt Jensen.  Kurt is working with VHS’s business history collections this summer. We would like to thank the University of Virginia for partnering with us to offer this internship to one of their recent graduates. 

I find it hard to recommend the book by Maurice Duke and Daniel Jordan about Richmond’s Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Tobacco Merchant, for a light beach read this summer. But it was a tremendously pleasant surprise to find a group of interviews in the Virginia Historical Society archives, conducted during the research for that book, that lend themselves excitingly to dramatization.

If the corporate world of creative advertising in the 1960s can command the attention of so many viewers through the TV show Mad Men, surely so can the story of Universal Leaf through the World Wars. Let’s call it Tobacco Boys.

Postcard - Tobacco Warehouse Scene (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.625.8)

Postcard – Tobacco Warehouse Scene (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.625.8)

It’s a story of young, largely uneducated men who make a great deal of money they don’t know how to spend; American businessmen at the forefront of international business, entertaining clients and buying from suppliers whose languages they hardly know how to speak; and of course their wives, many of whom worked for the company! (At least, before they were married.)

During this period, Universal Leaf ran a highly successful buying and selling operation in Shanghai, China, which helped the company avoid the worst effects of the Great Depression—an early example of successful international diversification.

It wasn’t a simple task, however. Executives like A. I. McOwan, a Scotsman known as “Mac,” had to traverse mainland China, fording dangerous rivers, with armed guards to avoid bandit attacks. Not to mention the fact that this period saw near constant political turmoil in China, from the Nanking Incident in 1927 to the Japanese invasion of the mainland in 1937.

Bombing outside the Palace Hotel

Bombing outside the Palace Hotel; Shanghai, China, August 14, 1937 (Image from Institut d’Asie Orientale via Wikimedia Commons.  Photographer unknown)

 Here’s just one exciting narrative of love and danger in 1941—best-selling novel material—as told by Mac’s wife, Lou:

I met him in May, I think it was, we were engaged in June, and he left in July. . . . In those days it took seventeen days to get to China. He got to the west coast and kept calling me from out there, and so I flew out to San Francisco and we were married out there. . . . I said about three weeks before I met him, “Now listen, I am going on record now, standing here in the Richmond Trust Building, if I ever had to get in an airplane, I will never get in one for anything or anybody.” So you don’t ever know what you are going to do.

Mac planned to take Lou to Hawaii as part of their whirlwind, fairytale wedding and honeymoon, but they were stopped at the British consulate.

It was going from the sublime to nothing. . . . I had a British passport and the man in the British Consulate said, “Don’t take your wife anywhere.” Mac then said, “I thought I would take her to Honolulu,” and they replied, “Don’t you do that.” [T]hey might have known more than we knew.

Like in any good war drama, the British consulate charged Mac with delivering a cache of secret documents, weighted to sink if his boat was attacked. He managed to do so, but shortly after he returned to work, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese Marine Guard took over international business interests in Shanghai and placed the employees in internment camps. The British consulate neglected to put Mac on their books as an official messenger of the British government, so he wasn’t exchanged with Japanese officers during the war. Lou recalled:

I didn’t hear from him for a long time, but once in a while I would get a message from the Red Cross that would be dated last August, and I wouldn’t get it until this August. I didn’t know for five years whether I would ever see him again. However, when I finally saw him down at Main Street Station, I felt like I had never been away from him.

When he finally was released in 1946, he went straight to Universal Leaf of China, which had been taken over by Japanese business men, burst into an executive meeting in his tattered clothes, and gave them a dramatic ultimatum to turn over the company in three days.

How would that be for a season finale?

Mac is just one of the colorful cast of characters at Universal Leaf. Everyone has different stories to tell about Pinkney Harrison, a ranking executive at the time, who was the type to go fishing with a client and accidentally catch the client on the end of his line. Or founder J. P. Taylor, who formed a company named Universal with international ambitions, yet hated to travel.

Universal Leaf logo

Universal Leaf logo, 1947 (Virginia Historical Society, Mss3 UN39a FA2, Box 2, Folder 122)

There’s also Sara Maynard Warwick, who accompanied her husband Pierre on exploratory business trips to South America at the expense of the company and who took the stand in legal proceedings when the issue came up with the IRS. When asked whether she enjoyed the trips, despite being told to say yes or no, she answered, “Well, yes and no,” which I’m sure the judge enjoyed.

The exotic settings, period fashion, high stakes business and war, and the outstanding cast of characters ought to make for excellent TV drama.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

Take me out to the VHS: The Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and a southpaw from UVA


Tomorrow, many of us will celebrate our nation’s birthday through fireworks, family gatherings, and flying the American Flag. Many of these activities have been a part of our culture and way of life since the eighteenth century. At the end of this month, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) will celebrate another of our national symbols—the national pastime of baseball. On Saturday, July 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., the VHS will hold a behind the scenes tour Batter Up: Baseball Memorabilia in the VHS Collection.

From poet Walt Whitman to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, baseball has been touted as our national pastime.

I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us. (Walt Whitman)

Baseball has been called the national pastime and rightly so because it stands for the fair play, clean living and good sportsmanship which are our national heritage. That is why it has such a warm place in our hearts. (Franklin D Roosevelt)

I agree with Whitman and Roosevelt, and I have a particularly biased opinion of our national pastime, because it was part of my life for more than twenty years. As a Chesterfield, Virginia, native who played in the local South Richmond little league system and then went on to pitch for the recent runner-up in the College World Series, the University of Virginia Cavaliers, I’ve been involved in this wonderful game since I was five years old. I have a passion for it, so when I was given the opportunity to showcase some of our great baseball collections in a behind the scenes tour, I jumped on the opportunity.

UVA autographed baseball

2003 University of Virginia autographed baseball with VHS Manager of Web and Digital Services, Greg Hansard’s, signature.

Our collections are full of unique baseball memorabilia that tell the story of both the country’s and Virginia’s national pastime. The collections range from jerseys and baseballs to baseball cards and photographs. They tell the stories of little leaguers, hometown heroes, all stars, and hall of famers.

Highlights of the collection range from photographs of Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb to a signed jersey of All Star and Cy Young award-winner Justin Verlander. However, about a month ago, a truly special baseball collection came to the VHS.

Babe Ruth

1921 glass plate negative of Babe Ruth (VHS: 1991.1.31808)

Ty Cobb

1912 glass plate negative of Ty Cobb (VHS: 1991.1.5596)

Richard and Kathy Verlander, parents of Justin Verlander,  donating Justin's signed jersey to the VHS on Saturday, February, 8, 2014.

Richard and Kathy Verlander, parents of MLB pitcher Justin Verlander, donating Justin’s signed jersey to the VHS on February, 8, 2014.

It was a relatively normal day at the society when one of my colleagues brought in a box of donated items. They stopped by my office and asked me to take a look at some of the items. As I sifted through the box, I picked up a baseball that caught my eye. There were two very distinct signatures on the ball—“Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra.” I couldn’t believe it! As I continued to look at the ball, I found other names of Hall of Famers scattered on the ball. It was a 1958 New York Yankees autographed baseball. Now that my heartbeat was racing, I continued to peer into the box hoping to find another jewel. (And I did.) I couldn’t believe my eyes as I picked up another baseball peppered with signatures. This one included the signatures of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. It was a 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball. After further investigation, I discovered that the Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series, and the New York Yankees defeated the Milwaukee Braves in the 1958 World Series.  Despite these baseballs being national treasures, they also have a distinct Virginia connection. From 1956 to 1964 the Yankees farm team was the Richmond Virginians.

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers autographed baseball

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers autographed baseball (VHS: 2013.86.84_5)

1956 New York Yankees autographed baseball

1958 New York Yankees autographed baseball (VHS: 2013.86.83_4)


So come to the VHS on July 26 to learn more about not only these World Series baseballs but also the many more items in our collections related to baseball as we celebrate our national pastime.

Appropriately enough, tomorrow this southpaw from UVA will be celebrating our nation’s birthday while watching a ball game from the bleachers at the Diamond. Happy Fourth of July!

Are you interested in signing up for this behind the scenes tour?  Learn more about Batter Up: Baseball Memorabilia in the VHS Collection.

Greg Hansard is the Manager of Web and Digital Services at the Virginia Historical Society.


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