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Has the VHS gone Hollywood?

06/22/2010

How my mind imagines Ms. Indiana Jones.

While shelving manuscripts one morning, I found what I thought was the Holy Grail of items: the papers of Indiana Jones (Mss2J7178 b). I just had to take a look. As I opened the folder, the iconic theme song rang in my head. I envisioned snakes, Nazis, the Ark of the Covenant. When had the VHS collected this Hollywood relic?

Okay, so it wasn’t the beloved Stephen Spielberg character portrayed on screen by Harrison Ford. This Indiana Jones’s full name was Indiana Harrison Edmunds Jones, and while I envisioned a whip-toting man, our Indiana was a woman. But she was not one to stray far from the Indiana Jones persona of danger and intrigue.

This Brunswick County girl did not stay close to home. Her manuscript collection includes a diary in which she recorded, in entries dated September 12–27, 1856, her travels across Charlotte, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg counties. For me, her most endearing quality is her cramped, hurried handwriting, which suggests intrigue, begging the questions: Was she rushed? Was she trying to hide something? Or, like other poor souls, did she have a great mind but poor handwriting?

Also in this collection there is an incomplete, undated letter from Indiana to her father, Nicholas Sterling Edmunds. This letter peels back another layer of Virginia’s own Indiana Jones adventure. Indiana wrote to her father in response to rumors about her engagement to a “Dr. J.” She knew how the gossips would spin their web, and she had so far kept her promise to “Dr. J” to keep their engagement secret. But now she had to set the record straight for her father.

The third item in the collection is an 1859 resolution from the Ladies of Brunswick County, in which they declared that “Virginia soil [had] been stained with the blood of her sons.” The person who “stained” this soil was the famous John Brown, and he did so with his raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). So many unanswered questions: did Indiana lead this group of women in this proclamation against John Brown and his Harpers Ferry gang? And what happened after the resolution?

The final item in her manuscript folder is a letter dated September 22, 1869, from H. T. Montgomery to the Reverend Charles F. Deems. It was written on behalf of Indiana and a woman named Sarah M. (Tucker) Harrison, and it contained a request for charity and aid. These women had evidently “once been affluent—but by the misfortunes of the late war, are now in a suffering condition.” So, maybe the VHS’s Indiana Jones never went on to make sequel blockbusters that gained her fame and riches, but anyone can read her script (well, photocopies of her writings). All they have to do is brave the perils of our front door, climb the steps hidden with booby traps, and request her collection at the library. This is a Virginia Hollywood ending.

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