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“One of Your Boys”


William R. Martin (right) included this photo in a letter.

I am often intrigued by the VHS’s twentieth-century collections, although (or perhaps because) I am surrounded daily by the papers of Revolutionary-era heroes and Civil War legends. Recently I paged through some of the papers of the Virginia Home for Boys (now the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls), founded in 1843 as the Richmond Male Orphan Asylum, and was drawn to the wartime story I found there. John G. Wood and his wife, Bessie, co-superintendents of the home from 1929 to 1956, saved stacks of letters spanning decades as evidence of their monumental legacy.

The correspondence includes career updates, wedding invitations, and birth announcements. But perhaps the Woods’ legacy is best seen in the letters they received from former residents serving in the military during World War II.

From the Boys’ Home to the Service

The service flag that hung at the boys’ home during the war must have been quite the sight. Joseph W. Benninghove, a former resident, wrote to Bessie from his post with the U.S. Navy about the remarkable number serving from the boys’ home—by his count, some forty former residents had joined by 1943, each represented by a star on the Woods’ flag. “If many more go in,” he wrote, “you will have to get a new and larger service flag. I hope that no more gold stars have been and will have to be added.” Over the course of the war, men from the home were stationed everywhere—from New York to California, Panama, Great Britain, and the Philippines, and even Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Benninghove’s letter implies that at least one gave his life.

The experiences of the former boys’ home residents during World War II varied widely, though they often returned to themes from their shared childhood experiences. Some wrote letters only from domestic bases, like Wilson Brooking, who was stationed at Camp Somerset in nearby Maryland for the majority of the war. He expressed some frustration with his role, saying, “It seems that they just won’t let us get out and do any fighting.” He signed his letters, “One of your boys.” Others did see action abroad, like G. Herman Traylor, who wrote to Bessie Wood about witnessing important battles in the Pacific Theater. Carrying memories from the boys’ home overseas, Traylor recounted to Bessie, “We were subjected to a direct attack on the 21st of February—to tell the truth there was more fright in me then than it was when Mr. Wood and I visited the laundry room.”


Letter from Traylor, Mss3 V81954a Sect. 5, f. 6

“Hope for Peace and a Letter from You”


Card from Joseph H. Brooking. The Woods also saved a newspaper announcement of his bronze star. (Mss3 V81954a Sect. 5, f. 1)

Distance from home and the pressure of military life during wartime inspired soldiers across the nation to write reflective letters home; for the former residents of the boys’ home, that meant writing to the Woods. Many asked about Bessie’s garden and wished her good health, passed along advice to boys at the home, and inquired about former residents. The content and the tone of the letters reflects the deep love and appreciation the boys held for the Woods and the brotherhood between residents. For many, at least, the boys’ home was a true family.

Men also frequently reflected that life at the boys’ home prepared them for military service. Several mentioned that they found their fellow soldiers lacking in the discipline, obedience, and work ethic they had learned in childhood. Most of all, nearly all of the letters express deep gratitude to the Woods for the lessons they imparted.

Earl R. Fox, who was made a squadron leader and operations officer during his time in the Navy, wrote:

Words and advice you gave me seem to come in when I least expect it. Those times I came to you with my troubles, golly, you have no idea how they come back to a fellow when he is standing watch at night with nothing but your memories to keep you company.

John and Bessie Wood were parental figures for hundreds of boys, many of whom took the lessons they learned at the boys’ home into military service at a critical point in history. Like many soldiers, they wanted to make the people back home proud, and they drew comfort and inspiration during the war from their communication with family.

Marvin G. Leigers, a pilot who served in England, expressed a commonly shared sentiment of wanting to make the boys’ home proud. He wrote, “If I can carry a few bombs to Tokyo or Berlin, I’ll feel that I’m doing just a little to repay all of you who have taken such an interest in me.” Judging by the number of letters the Woods saved over the years, I’d guess that they were pretty proud of their boys.

To read much more from the World War II letters or from one hundred and fifty years of history at the Virginia Home for Boys, visit us in the Reading Room.

Candice R. Candeto is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.  Posts by Candice Candeto

What’s all the buzz about mead?


When I first heard of mead, I thought of medieval chalices containing a liquid that resembled muddy grog, but I was surprised when I first sampled this fermented honey and water beverage at Black Heath Meadery this past Spring. I discovered that it wasn’t the unappetizing liquid that I’d envisioned but a refreshing flavorful beverage packed with complex tasting notes. It was delicious!

This wonderful tasting experience is what sparked our third History on Tap program—a collaboration with Black Heath Meadery, The Queen Bee. Bill Cavender, owner of Black Heath Meadery, recreated a historic mead based on a recipe from The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook (1802) by Susannah Carter, which is in the collection of the VHS. The recipe features various spices and herbs from the British Empire—Cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and bay leaf—and from the British Isles—Sweetbriar, Rosemary, and Thyme. You will have your chance to taste this historic mead, said to have been a favorite of Queen Victoria, on September 8 at 6:00 p.m. at the VHS.

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook published in 1802. (VHS Call Number: TX705 . C32 1802)

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook published in 1802. (VHS Call Number: TX705 . C32 1802)

Tickets are currently on sale for the event ($18 for VHS members/$20 for nonmembers) and include a glass of Queen Bee mead, an additional pour of Black Heath’s Muse mead, and hors d’oeuvres. Paul Levengood, President and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society, will discuss the importance of the society’s collections; Bill Cavender will explain the mead-making process and the featured collaboration, Queen Bee; and Keith Tignor, State Apiarist, will discuss beekeeping and honey.

I wanted to do a little research on beekeeping, so I ventured into our online catalog and discovered that we actually have a large number of items in our library collection that deal with beekeeping, bees, and honey. I thought it would be appropriate to share them in a slideshow below, hoping that they’d whet your appetite for a night of history and mead.

I hope that I’ll see you next week when you can find out for yourself “What’s all the buzz about mead?”

Purchase your tickets for History on Tap: The Queen Bee.


Meet the Staff: Jessica DeRuosi


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet the Staff - Jessica DeRuosi

What is your job title?

Senior Retail Officer

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I began working at the VHS in December 2011 in our Pusey Museum Shop.

What are your job duties? Read more…

Welcoming a New Era for The Story of Virginia



  • 10,500 square feet
  • 1,589 days
  • 725 objects, books, maps, and manuscripts
  • 628 light bulbs
  • 453 graphics
  • 390 custom-made object mounts
  • 16 lending institutions and individuals
  • 13 audiovisual programs
  • 29 days to go

It’s funny how things seem to snowball. Four years ago, I started having conversations with our board and staff about how we could update and expand our fifteen-year-old signature exhibition, The Story of Virginia. This eventually led to other discussions about how we might better engage our audiences, both online and onsite, and today we’re nearing the end of a $38-million Story of Virginia Campaign.

Work began on that first idea—updating The Story of Virginia exhibition—almost immediately. There were brainstorming sessions with noted historians and public focus groups followed by thousands of hours of research, object selection, conservation, design, digitization, and writing. Until about three weeks ago, I was still having a difficult time imagining how all of that effort was going to fill the vast and empty space we had prepared for the exhibition. Then the construction crews arrived, and things got exciting.

We’ve had a lot of excellent partners along the way. The VHS has been working with designers since March 2013 to create the experience. Together we developed a new Story of Virginia that features some of our most significant collections pieces, eliminates visual clutter, and helps our guests to focus on the objects and the stories they tell. The designers also helped us use objects to define spaces as opposed to walls, and the result is a much more engaging and open space. They also held our feet to the fire and encouraged us to convey our story in bite-sized blocks of text. The longest labels in the exhibition are seventy words, which makes the content so much more accessible to all viewers and, surprisingly, improves the quality of the storytelling.

On June 22, 2015, the fabricators arrived to install casework and other elements. The entire exhibition was built in their Buffalo, New York, warehouse and then shipped by truck to the VHS in pieces to be reassembled onsite. As soon as each case is complete, the mount-makers, who have actually been here since January custom building the intricate devices that will hold the objects, begin placing the objects artistically in each case.

As I write this, work is underway to turn all of that planning into a physical environment for us all to engage in, and with four weeks to go, I’m looking forward to seeing the completed Story of Virginia exhibition when we open it on August 8.

Welcoming a New Era on the Boulevard


WANE Banner - June (2.0)


January 8, 1913, photograph of a partially finished Confederate Memorial Institute (2010.1.65)

I’m always struck by how barren our neighborhood looks in this January 1913 photograph. It shows ongoing construction of the Confederate Memorial Institute one year after the groundbreaking. Only the best (luckiest) prognosticators of the day could have imagined that the area now known as the Museum District would become one of Richmond’s most fashionable neighborhoods. Home to thousands of residents, many coffee shops and restaurants, and two world-class museums, the corner of Kensington and Boulevard is part of a bustling neighborhood. As the VHS reopens its newly transformed galleries, the exterior of our Boulevard entrance also experienced a major renovation as part of our $38-million Story of Virginia Campaign.

The core portion of our building, known by many native Richmonders as the Battle Abbey, is both historic and monumental. Its massive, monolithic, limestone walls can also be a bit intimidating to passers-by. Our new landscaping doesn’t detract from the building’s unique architecture, but has been softened by new planting beds and a pedestrian friendly plaza that is far more inviting to our guests.

Today the Boulevard is frequently traveled by pedestrians.

Today the Boulevard is frequented by pedestrians, bikers, and even the occasional Segway. (VHS Collection)

Where there was once a small parking area that served relatively few guests, we’ve installed usable green space on the Boulevard. This not only allows us to offer displays and events along our very visible Boulevard front, but it also offers a space that our neighbors can enjoy even when the building isn’t open.

The plantings, designed by Glavé & Holmes Architecture and  Stewart/HG and provided by James River Nurseries, feature varieties—some of which are native to Virginia—that will bloom throughout the year. I noticed that the PowWow White Cone Flowers (echinacea purpurea) were in bloom today. I also learned that echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos meaning hedgehog, which makes sense when you see them.

The War Horse also received a bit of attention with a newly painted fence that better blends into the facade of the building.

We plan to reopen the VHS’s Boulevard entrance on Saturday, August 8, along with many of our signature exhibitions. In the meantime, feel free to come on by and enjoy a cool summer evening on our front lawn.

Meet the Staff: Meg Eastman


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet the Staff Meg Eastman graphic

What is your job title?

Digital Collections Manager

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I began working at the VHS in October 2006. I started as the Visual Resources Manager, fulfilling photo orders (with film!) and scanning documents for grants. Technology and the VHS have come a long way since then.

What are your job duties?

I am the VHS’s photographer. I create, store, and distribute images of collection items. The photos I take are used to improve access to the VHS collections and end up being used in VHS publications, on our website, online catalog, social media, exhibitions, presentations, etc. I also provide photography to fulfill photo requests and shoot many of the VHS programs and events.

How did you become interested in history?

I didn’t really. I’ve always been into art. I received my degree in studio art and art history from the University of Richmond. I spent a few years working with art conservation at the National Gallery of Art and at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, always with photography mixed in my job duties somewhere. I took the job at the VHS and history found me. I didn’t grow up in Virginia, but I like to say that working at the VHS puts you on the fast track to becoming a Virginian. I’ve learned more about our commonwealth than I ever thought I would know. The best part about being the VHS photographer is that it’s usually the really cool stuff that needs to be photographed. I get to hold history in my hands so it’s hard not to get interested when you’re that close. 

What is the favorite part of your job?

The favorite part of my job at the VHS is that I get to use my artistic side and stay involved in new technology. I don’t always get to shoot at home and I don’t always get to shoot at work, but between the two, a camera is never far from my hands and I love that.

Also, every once in a while I get to go to Virginia House and photograph the gardens. There’s nothing better than getting to walk among the blossoms and create art while on the job. 

Photo of Virginia House

A photo from one of my recent photo shoots at Virginia House.

What has been your most memorable moment at the VHS?

On January 25, 2013 a big snow storm passed through in the afternoon. The snow fell fast and I knew it wouldn’t take long before we were all told to go home early. I grabbed the camera and rushed to the front of Battle Abbey to catch some winter shots that could potentially be used on the VHS website. The snow was coming down too quickly to take the equipment out in the elements, so I stayed on the portico and got this shot.

Image of the War Horse in the snow on January 25, 2013.

A snowy January day at the VHS

What is your favorite item in your office? Why?

I have four wonderful paintings in my office, each very different from the next. My favorite is probably the portrait of the activist Irene Langhorne Gibson painted by her husband Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson Girl.” It shows a quiet moment of an otherwise busy and influential woman. I like that she has found the time to practice her art—needlework in this case. Aside from the painting being beautiful on its own, it brings me some peace and reminds me that I too can find quiet moments to create.

Painting of Irene Langhorne Gibson by Charles Dana Gibson (VHS accession number: 1993.144)

Painting of Irene Langhorne Gibson by Charles Dana Gibson (VHS accession number: 1993.144)

What is your favorite collection piece at the VHS?

I really like the stereo daguerreotype of Thomas Goode Tucker (VHS accession number: 1975.25). It’s the only one of its kind that I’ve ever seen. Combining two cool photographic techniques—stereoscopy and daguerreotype—it makes for one really unique viewing experience. And it doesn’t hurt that the subject is Edgar Allan Poe’s friend and classmate from UVA.

Photograph of the stereo daguerreotype of Thomas Goode Tucker (VHS accession number: 1975.25)

Here is the Mascher stereo daguerreotype of Thomas Goode Tucker (VHS accession number: 1975.25)

What is your favorite historical period?

My favorite historical period is the early 20th century—art nouveau was in vogue, photography was becoming mainstream, and suffragettes were on the prowl.

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies include photography (yes, even on my time off) and reading children’s books—these things I actually get to do. Then there are all of the other things that I like to do but haven’t done in years—canoeing, quilting, traveling, gardening, hiking…

If you did not work at the VHS, what would you be doing?

Caring for my three beautiful children, taking their pictures, and finding other things to photograph.

Read more blog posts written by Meg.

Welcoming a New Era for the Memorial Military Murals



What’s the largest piece of artwork in the Virginia Historical Society collection? The answer is easy. It’s Charles Hoffbauer’s Memorial Military Murals, known by many by their nickname, “The Four Seasons of the Confederacy.” The French artist Charles Hoffbauer began work on them in 1913, and they’ve been on display in the historic core of our building since 1921. For generations of Richmonders, they have been synonymous with the VHS.

Before conservation began in 2011, this small square around this soldier's face offered a glimpse of the artist's original work.

Before conservation began in 2011, this small square around this soldier’s face offered the only glimpse of the artist’s true colors.

Ever since I’ve been VHS president, the murals have been a stop on any tour of the building that I give. I always used to point to a 12-inch square around the face of a soldier in the center of the Infantry (Spring) mural. That one little square foot, a tiny island amid more than 1,500 square feet of painted surface, had been cleaned to reveal the vibrant colors and subtle details hiding beneath decades of dirt and discoloration. My colleagues and I hoped that some day in the future we might be able to secure funding and complete the Herculean task of cleaning not just a small section but all the murals.

Happily, that day has come. Thanks to a Save America’s Treasures grant awarded by a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior as well as hundreds of donors, I’m happy to say that as of Wednesday, May 6, 2015, our restoration of the murals and the gallery that contains them is complete.

Today, when you stand in the lobby of our Boulevard entrance, the mural of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his generals seems to glow. Lee, or really Traveller, looks as if he could step right out of the painting and into the middle of the room, and the moonlight that shines down on John Singleton Mosby seems to shimmer.

It’s been my pleasure during the past four years to watch the conservation of these remarkable paintings and to learn more about the artist and the process by which they were made. Every time I look at these images now, I see new details that were previously obscured. I now realize that what I thought was a rock, or perhaps a pile of equipment, in the lower left-hand corner of the Infantry (Spring) mural was in fact the body of a fallen Union soldier. Another favorite detail is the soldiers in the background of the Lee and His Generals (Summer) mural. Now that they are cleaned, you can see them drinking from their canteens and leaning wearily on their rifles.

In addition to cleaning the murals, part of our Story of Virginia Campaign included restoring the stunning original parquet floor, installing dramatic lighting, and adding interpretive panels that highlight some of the details found in the images.

Come and see for yourself. The murals are now on display Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Let me know what you’ve been able to see in the murals that you hadn’t noticed before.


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