Category Archives: Virginia

Ella Fitzgerald 4.25.13 Thought of the Day

“It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.” — Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Sings Broadway

Ella Sings Broadway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born on this day in Newport News, Va. in  1917.  Today is the  96th anniversary of her birth.

Her parents, William and Tempie Fitzgerald split when she was an infant and Ella and her mother moved to Yonkers, New York. Tempie fell in love with Joe Da Silva and the couple had a baby girl, Ella’s half-sister, Frances in 1923. When Joe couldn’t make ends meet with his part-time chauffeuring gig he dug ditches. Tempie worked at a laundromat. Even little Ella helped out, she was a runner for local gamblers.

Ella enjoyed sports as a child and liked to dance and sing with her friends. “some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.” [The Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald] She was inspired by Louis Armstrong and the Boswell Sisters, a trio from New Orleans who specialized in tight harmonies and intricate rhythms.

She had to grow up fast  in 1932 when her mother died from injuries she received in a car crash. Joe died shortly thereafter, and Frances shortly after him. Ella lived with her Aunt Virginia for a while.

Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. ….Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure….. [Ibid]

She was homeless for a while and on the run. But her luck turned around when she was 17. She was at the Apollo Theatre and her name was selected to compete at “Amateur Night.” Although she was planning to dance  she changed her mind when she saw another act  win the crowd over with their spectacular dancing. She would have to do something else. She decided to sing instead. She chose an old Boswell song, “Judy,” that she knew by heart.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ella could be shy off stage, but on stage she lit up like a Christmas Tree. The audience loved her song and demanded an encore (she did the song from the flip side of the Boswell record). She was fearless and she won the talent show and took home the $25 prize. “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience,…I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.” [Ibid]

She began to enter every talent show she could find. And she won them all. She met drummer/bandleader Chick Webb and signed a contract with him to front his band for $12.50 a week. In 1936 she recorded “Love and Kisses” on the Decca label. At 21 She recorded “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” her first #1 hit.

When Webb died his band changed its name to “Ella and her Famous Orchestra.” She recorded 150 songs with the group, but it wasn’t until she left, in 1942 that her career really began to take off.  She signed with Decca records  and did a  series of “songbooks” by famous jazz composers. From Irving Berlin to Duke Ellington to Cole Porter she reinterpreted jazz standards for a new audience.

“I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them,” Ira Gershwin once remarked. [Ibid]

She also began to work with Norman Granz on his Jazz at the Philharmonic and her sound morphed from big band to bebop and she began to master scat singing.

She received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan in 1987. She gave her final concert in Carnegie Hall in 1991. She died on June 15, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California

Here she is scatting away and doing a Broadway standard:


George Washington 2.22.13 Thought of the Day

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.”-George Washington

1795 - 1823

1795 – 1823 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Washington was born on this day in Westmoreland County, Virginia, USA in 1732. Today is the 281st anniversary of his birth.

Did you know that if your name is George and you went to Mt. Vernon–Washington’s home south of Alexandria Virginia — today you’d get in at a reduced rate?

So much has been said and written about our first president that that (the “George” Discount) is about the only thing I can bring to the table that is new.

Therefor  I decided that for today’s blog I’d focus on images of Washington.

For an excellent biography of the surveyor, soldier, statesman, farmer and cherry-tree-chopper I refer you to the bio. Another terrific bio can be found on the Mount Vernon site at Indeed if you are anywhere near the Northern Virginia area I strongly suggest a trip to Mount Vernon where you can not only tour Washington’s house and the grounds of his estate, but can explore Ford Orientation Center and the The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. If you have a little extra time you might want to drive over to the Washington Grist Mill and Distillery.

Washington was one of the most successful liquor distributors in the new nation. He built a state-of-the-art distillery at Mt. Vernon, where he made rye whiskey, apple brandy and peach brandy. The distillery has been restored in recent years, and is now open to visitors. []

George Washington dollar

George Washington dollar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the best known image of George Washington is this one done by Gilbert Stuart.

Perhaps the best known image of George Washington is this one done by Gilbert Stuart.

Gilbert Stuart was another artist who was inspired to paint Washington. [Image courtesy: The Library of Congress]

Stuart was inspired by Washington and painted him several times . [Image courtesy: The Library of Congress]

Tompkins H. Matteson's Washington at Valley Forge. [Image courtesy the Pocontico Hills School Washington site]

Tompkins H. Matteson’s Washington at Valley Forge. [Image courtesy the Pocontico Hills School Washington site]

General of the Armies [Image courtesy: the US Military Hall of Fame.]

General of the Armies [Image courtesy: the US Military Hall of Fame.]

A young George Washington [Image courtesy: The History Channel.]

A young George Washington [Image courtesy: The History Channel.]


An etching showing George Washington addressing the troops in 1775 [Image courtesy: The National Archives]

An etching showing George Washington addressing the troops in 1775 [Image courtesy: The National Archives]

Emanuel Leutze's famous (and highly stylized) version of Washington crossing the Delaware river.

Emanuel Leutze’s famous (and highly stylized) version of Washington crossing the Delaware river.

Washington at Valley Forge. [Image courtesy: the Library of Congress]

Washington at Valley Forge. [Image courtesy: the Library of Congress]

Washington was one of artist John Trumbull's favorite subjects. Here he is  resigning as commander and chief.

Washington was one of artist John Trumbull’s favorite subjects. Here he is resigning as commander and chief.

[Image courtesy]

[Image courtesy]

George Washington at Mt. Vernon. George Washin...

George Washington at Mt. Vernon. George Washington seated, half-length, with Martha Washington, and two children. (cropped) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An older Washington [Image courtesy: The Independent]

An older Washington [Image courtesy: The Independent]

English: The equestrian sculpture of George Wa...

English: The equestrian sculpture of George Washington at the center of Washington Circle, a traffic circle and public park, located on the boundary of the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Click HERE to see a forensic model of what George Washington looked like.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. 12,26.12 Thought of the Day

An engraving of Thomas Nelson, Jr., a signer o...

Thomas Nelson, Jr was born on this day in Yorktown, Virginia in 1738. Today is the 274th anniversary of his birth.

Nelson was a planter, statesman, and soldier. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and he was Virginia’s fourth Governor (he followed Thomas Jefferson in the post.)

English: Portrait of Governor Thomas Nelson at...

English: Portrait of Governor Thomas Nelson at age 15. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His grandfather and namesake, Thomas “Scotch Tom” Nelson  was one of the first men to settle in the Yorktown area. And the family was prominent in local and regional politics. Young Thomas traveled to England for his formal education. He went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge.  In 1760 he graduated and returned to the family home.

Capitol Building from the North side. [ritaLOVEStoWRITE]

Capitol Building from the North side. [ritaLOVEStoWRITE]

One year later, 1761 he was elected to the House of Burgesses, Colonial Virginia’s legislative house in Williamsburg, Virginia. His time in the Capital wasn’t all business, in 1762 he met and married Lucy Grymes, niece of one of the richest and most powerful men in the Colony, Peyton Randolph. He and Lucy had 11 children in their 27 year marriage. (One son, Hugh Nelson, served in the US Congress.)

In 1774, after hearing about the Boston Tea Party, he [Thomas] performed an act against the British Tea Tax by boarding a merchant ship, Virginia, which was anchored near his home, and dumped several chests of tea into the York River. []

He was a member of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1775 to 1777. A supporter of the independence cause, he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...

English: This is a high-resolution image of the United States Declaration of Independence (article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In May of 1777 he suffered the first of a series of strokes and returned to Yorktown. He also suffered “periodic bouts of asthma”[] but remained active in politics.

He also became a General in the Virginia Militia. He and his 3,000 Militiamen were part of George Washington’s Army during the siege of Yorktown. Cornwallis, the British commander had taken Nelson’s home for one of his head quarters. The

American artillerymen refused to fire on the house, in respect to General Nelson. Nelson then aimed … a cannon at his own home, and ordered the men to fire at his house…. [Ibid]

He offered a bounty of five guineas to the first American gunner to hit the house. The house, now a part of the Colonial National Historical Park system, still shows “evidence of damage from cannon fire.” [National Park Service]

Nelson House, York County, Virginia. [Image courtesy: National Park Service]

Nelson House, York County, Virginia. [Image courtesy: National Park Service]

In 1781 he succeeded Thomas Jefferson as Governor Virginia. He retired to his “son’s estate, ‘Mont Air,’ Hanover County, Va., and died there on January 4, 1789” [ Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress] He was buried in Yorktown, in Grace Churchyard.



Samuel Mudd 12.20.12 Thought of the Day

English: Samuel Mudd

English: Samuel Mudd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Alexander Mudd was born on this day in Charles County, Maryland, USA in 1833. Today is the 179th anniversary of his birth.


Mudd grew up on a tobacco plantation about 30 miles southeast of Washington DC. He was the fourth of ten children . He was home schooled until age 15 when he went to St. John’s boarding school in Frederick, MD. He went to college at Georgetown in Washington, and graduated from  the University of Maryland, Baltimore having studied medicine with an emphasis on dysentery. In 1856 he returned to Charles County and began a family with his long time sweetheart Sarah “Frankie” Dyer. Mudd’s father gave the couple a 218 acre tobacco farm called St. Catherine’s. He supplemented his income as a doctor with the sale of tobacco from the farm. (He grew the tobacco with the help of five slaves.)


Dr. Mudd's House

Dr. Mudd’s House (Photo credit: jimmywayne)

When the Civil War began Maryland was a border state. If Washington, with its large number of Union soldiers had not be located in its southern border along the Potomac River the state may have voted to succeed from the Union. When Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 ( a year after the Emancipation Proclamation) Mudd could no longer effectively run his farm. He began looking for a buyer and was introduced to a young, dashing, actor in the market for some property. That actor’s name was John Wilkes Booth.


Booth and Mudd met in November  at St. Mary’s Catholic Church  to discuss the purchase. Booth stayed overnight at the farm before returning to Washington. Unbeknownst to Mudd, Booth wasn’t interested in real estate at all, but was scouting out an escape path from the Nation’s Capital. The actor was planning on kidnapping President Lincoln to bring him to Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy). He would ransom Lincoln for a large number of Confederate POWS.


Portrait of John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865)

Portrait of John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mudd and Booth met again shortly before Christmas 1964, this time in Washington. They met John Surratt and Louis Weichmann for drinks.


Before Booth could pull off his ill-advised and grandiose plan Lee surrendered at Appomatox, Virginia and the War was over. Booth was furious. He altered his plan and decided to kill the president instead of kidnapping him. Booth shot Lincoln in the head five days after Lee surrendered. The President and Ms. Lincoln were watching a play, Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. After shooting Lincoln at point-blank range he jumped down from the Presidential Box to the stage to escape. He broke his leg in the fall but managed to get out the stage door and onto his horse and escape the city.


English: Interior of Ford's Theatre, Washingto...

English: Interior of Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C., where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The presidential box is towards the right. The theatre is still in operation and the stage is set up for a current stage play (i.e., it is not set up as it was when Lincoln was shot). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About four o’clock on the morning following the Lincoln assassination two men on horseback arrived at the Mudd farm near Bryantown.  The men, it turned out, were John Wilkes Booth–in severe pain with a badly fractured leg that he received from his fall to the stage after shooting the President–and David Herold.  Mudd welcomed the men into his house, first placing Booth on his sofa, then later carrying him upstairs to a bed where he dressed the limb. 

After daybreak, Mudd made arrangements with a nearby carpenter to construct a pair of crutches for Booth and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a carriage for his two visitors.  Booth (after having shaved off his moustache in Mudd’s home) and Herold left later on the fifteenth, after Mudd pointed the route to their next destination, Parson Wilmer’s. []

Military investigators followed Booth’s trail to the Mudd farm and Dr. Mudd admitted to having seen a patient, but claimed…”‘I never saw either of the parties before, nor can I conceive who sent them to my house.” []  When Lt. Lovett, the lead investigator on the Mudd end of the trail returned again to the farm Sarah “brought down from upstairs a boot that had been cut off the visitor’s leg three days earlier.” [Ibid.] Booth’s initials were in the boot’s cuff, but Mudd still denied knowing who it was.


Booth's boot, found at the Mudd's farm .[Image courtesy]

Booth’s boot, found at the Mudd’s farm . [Image courtesy]

During the trail Mudd’s lie about not recognizing Booth, compounded by his not coming forward  about “suspicions … aroused by a broken-legged visitor who, during his brief stay the Mudd farm, shaved off his moustache” [Ibid] stained his character far more deeply than the circumstantial evidence of witnesses who claimed he knew of the conspiracy.


Defense Attorney Thomas Ewing argued to the Commission that it is no crime to fix  a broken leg, even if it were the leg of a presidential assassin and even if the doctor knew it was the leg of a presidential assassin. [Ibid}

Mudd was convicted by a Military Commission and sentenced to life in prison.


English: Broadside advertising reward for capt...

English: Broadside advertising reward for capture of Lincoln assassination conspirators, illustrated with photographic prints of John H. Surratt, John Wilkes Booth, and David E. Herold. Français : Avis de recherche avec prime de 100.000 $ pour la capture de John Wilkes Booth, le meurtrier du président Abraham Lincoln, et deux de ses complices, David Edgar Herold et John Harrison Surratt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He, and the other conspirators who escaped the noose were sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of Key West,  Florida. He tried to escape once, but was quickly discovered. He and other prisoners were transferred to “the dungeon” a ground-level gunroom. They were let out six days a week to work, but were forced to stay inside the dungeon on Sundays and holidays. He wore leg irons while outside the cell.


Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the ca...

Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the carpenter’s shop in the prison at Fort Jefferson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



In 1867, an outbreak of yellow fever overtook the Dry Tortugas, claiming the lives of fellow conspirator and inmate Michael O’Lauglin, as well as the prison doctor.  Mudd assumed the role as the new prison doctor. [Ibid]

Mudd was pardoned in March of 1869 by President Andrew Johnson. The Doctor returned to his Maryland farm and his wife (they had 4 more children.) He had always been interested in politics and in 1877 he ran (unsuccessfully) for the Maryland House Delegates. In 1880 his farm was destroyed by a fire. and by 1883, at just 49 years old, Mudd was dead of pneumonia.




Lincoln’s death brought on a media circus the likes of which we are only all too familiar with in 2012. But then, when the nation need to be healed from its bloody civil war a swift and definitive trial was essential. Yellow journalism was in full swing. Certainly some of the men (and possible the one woman) on trial were guilty … but what do you think? Did was Dr. Mudd innocent or guilty?


English: John Wilkes Booth's escape route Türk...

Williamsburg (part 4)

Textile 3

[This is part four of my What To Do in Williamsburg Blog for part one go HERE. For part two go HERE. For part three go HERE. ]

Previous tips included:

  1. Planning your trip in the Fall or Winter to avoid the heat and crowds.
  2. Staying in a Colonial House.
  3. Engaging with the locals.
  4. Visit the Wren Building
  5. Take the Rubbish, Treasures and Colonial Life Tour & the Behind the Scenes Tour
  6. Visit the De Witt Wallace and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museums
  7. Tour the Governor’s Palace
  8. Tour the Thomas Everard House.
  9. Visit Bassett Hall.
  10. Get spooky with it.

Today we’ll  touch on some odds and ends in Williamsburg and travel down the road to the current capital of Virginia, Richmond.

11. Stop in to see the craftsmen making things with wood.  Bill likes woodworking so we spent time at the joiners near the Capitol on Frances Street…

Saw envy at the Joiners.

Saw envy at the Joiners.

Where they do ordinary work, like making sashes for windows and  bellows for the Gunsmith Shop….

Making 1 of three large wooden panels for the bellows.

Making 1 of three large wooden panels for the bellows.

…and fancy work, like this decorative piece.

The craftsmen at the Joiners used a lot of fine carving skills to make this wooden ornamental panel.

The craftsmen at the Joiners used a lot of fine carving skills to make this wooden ornamental panel.

We also went to the Cabinetmaker’s shop, which is on Nicholson Street, closer to the Palace Green.

Bill has a talk with one of the cabinet makers.

Bill has a talk with one of the cabinet makers.

Both shops had beautiful sets of hollows and rounds for making moldings.

Hollow and round plains on the shelf.

Hollow and round plane sets on the shelf.

12.) Get your Ps and Qs in line at the Printers. Bill indulged my love of graphic design with a trip to the Printers. We had a nice long talk with printer and he was kind enough to let me have a go at the press.

First I inked the plate.

First I inked the plate.


Added paper, cranked the carriage into place then PULLED the press down.

Rita putting paper on press

Cranked the carriage back out and lifted the paper tray and…

Gazette rita's pull

Taadaaa… my impression of a colonial paper. (Get it? IMPRESSION? It’s a letter-press. Never mind, it’s a printing joke.)

13.) Stroll along Duke of Gloucester Street. We  especially enjoyed the Blacksmith, the Silversmith and the Milliner.


The Milliner shows off a hat that would have been popular around 1790. I like to think of it as a Mrs. Bennett or Mrs. Dashwood appropriate hat. (Yes that is Jane Austen reference.)

14.) Stand witness for the prosecution at the Courthouse. Learn about the 18th Century justice system first hand with the Order In The Court program (it runs several times a day and is free with your Williamsburg pass).


The Williamsburg Courthouse is one of the original buildings and was still in use when Goodwin and Rockefeller began to rebuild the town.

We saw several civil trials which required audience participation.

A Williamsburg visitor takes on the roll of a townsperson who has failed to come to church -- an offense which was against the law.

A Williamsburg visitor takes on the roll of a towns person who has failed to come to church — an offense which was against the law.

You MIGHT even get a chance to be on the judge’s bench (even if you’re a woman == as long as you go along with premise that you are a man for the purposes of historical accuracy.)

Court House Judge Rita

Yes, that’s judge Rita conferring with the bearded judge to the right on the fate of some poor soul. Don’t worry I was very easy. Every body else was a hangin’ mood, but not me.

15. EAT. There are four Colonial Taverns to choose from in the city, Christiana Campbell’s, Shield’s, King’s Arms, and Chownings. I liked King’s Arms the best because they have an amazing Peanut Soup.  Dinner at any of the Taverns is by candle light and includes period entertainment, but be warned … it will be an expensive meal. You might choose to eat at one of the restaurants at Merchant’s Square  (which is between Colonial Williamsburg and Williams and Mary. The bus that runs in a clockwise circle around the historic district has a stop at Merchants Square so you wont have to get in your car.) We liked the Cheese Shop on the square, and especially the Aroma Coffee Shop on Prince George Street. If you do decide to step into your horseless carriage just go out Richmond Road and you’ll find the usual suspect of chain eateries, an oddly prolific collection of pancake establishments and some rather nice restaurants of the non-chain variety (yes, there are still some of them out there.) We enjoyed sushi at Kyoto and American fare at Food for Thought (the best food I ate all week was the Food for Thought’s quinoa salad.)

carriage riding down the roadTime to travel down the road and into the present, leaving 18th Century Williamsburg for 21st Century Richmond. Well, almost… there’s still a lot of history to explore on this trip.

Richmond is the capital of Virginia and during the American Civil War it was the Capital of the Confederacy. The city is ripe with monuments & museums to the South (and given the whole Slavery thing, that made me a mite itchy. But I do love my history, so…) While in the city you can visit the Museum and White House of the Confederacy, the Virginia Historical Society,  Hollywood Cemetery or take a stroll down Monument Avenue.

We went to Tredegar Iron Works on the James River. You get two museums in one location here. One is run by the National Park Service and the other is part of the American Civil War Center. We went into the (free) Park Service museum and enjoyed the displays and movie on the third floor. The Map Room is a great way to orient yourself on Richmond’s role in the war.

Photograph of the Tredegar Iron Works, shortly...

Photograph of the Tredegar Iron Works, shortly after the Evacuation Fire of 1865; despite the original caption of the image, the works themselves survived largely unscathed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The outdoor exhibits had seen better days, but this museum is a gem in the rough. I hope they get some funding and can restore all the exhibits to top-notch condition.

Next stop: Shopping. Carytown  is Richmond’s “Mile of Style” and we enjoyed a mild weather stroll down the main drag of boutiques and unique shops. This quaint shopping district won Southern Living Magazine’s “Best Neighborhood to Shop In” nod by the magazine’s readers.

Flower Power Case at Anthill Antiques, Carytow...

Flower Power Case at Anthill Antiques, Carytown, Richmond, VA (Photo credit:

We ate at the Can Can Brasserie a beautifully restored building that made you feel like you’d stepped off the streets of Paris. I kept expecting to see Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec stroll by the table. The atmosphere was delightful, so was the food (I got half a Roast Chicken Salad and a half order of their Roasted Apple & Rutabaga Soup. ) And don’t forget to order a Eloise (their special version of a Shirley Temple.)

But our big find in Richmond, besides the wonderful company, was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts… which I will talk about tomorrow.

Thought of the Day 9.8.12 Patsy Cline

“Here’s to those who wish us well and those who don’t can go to hell”

–Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline early in her career. [Image courtesy: Patsy Cline, A Fan’s Tribute]

Virginia Patterson Hensley was born on this day in Winchester, Virginia in 1932. It is the 80th anniversary of her birth.

At 4 she won a dance contest for tap dancing. Her mother gave her a piano for her 8th birthday and Patsy taught herself to play.  She sang with her church choir and at 14 was a regular on WINC Radio. At 15 her parents divorced and Patsy sang in clubs at night and worked in a drug store during the day to help pay the bills.

She married Gerald Cline in 1952 and continued to sing in clubs as well as with Bill Peer’s Melody Playboys in Maryland and as a regular on “Town and Country Jamboree” on a radio station out of Washington DC. She got a recording contract with Four Star Records in 1954 and she won first place on the TV variety show “Talent Scouts” with Arthur Godfrey where she sang “Walkin’ After Midnight.” The song became a hit and on both the country and pop charts.

Cline made her debut on the stage of the Grad Old Opry in 1960 and continued her rise to stardom with her second hit “I Fall to Pieces.” She is also known for her songs “Sweet Dreams,” “Crazy” and “She’s Got You.”

A country music legend, Patsy Cline helped break down the gender barrier in this musical genre. [Patsy Cline. biography profile, bio.TRUE STORY]

[This is one of the Patsy Cline albums that was in my parent’s record collection. Image courtesy: Decca Records]

She helped  the careers of other up and coming female singers, especially Loretta Lynn.

Cline died in a plane crash returning from a benefit concert in 1963.

In 1973 she was the first female soloist to be honored in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

[Image courtesy:]

Chillin’ out in GRAND CAVERNS

Who’d have thought that things that go drip in a cave could be so pretty?

On our way home from a family vacation in Staunton, VA we stopped at Grand Caverns. The cave was discovered in 1804 by a trapper and opened for tours two years later as “The Grottoes of the Shenandoah”. It is the oldest continually operating “show cave” in America and is rated 2nd best “show cave” (after Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico) by Parade Magazine. In 1926 it was renamed “Grand Caverns” and it was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1973.

Drapery formations hang from the ceiling in the Persian  Palace  (once known as the Tannery).

During the Civil War soldiers from both sides explored the cave. 200 men signed the walls of the cave. Two of the signatures, one from a Northern soldier, one from a Confederate soldier, were left on the same day, only hours apart. A firearm accidentally discharged inside the cave, piercing one of the shield formations. The hole is still visible today.

The rock formations are always growing, albeit at an extremely slow rate. Oil from human hands block that growth, so visitors aren’t allowed to touch any of the rock formations.  However, visitors will inevitably feel a drip or two while taking a tour. Those are called “Cave Kisses” and are supposed to bring good luck.

The Cathedral Hall is the largest chamber in the caverns. An impressive stalagmite, “George Washington’s Ghost” (foreground) stands century at the center of the hall. The white spot on the ceiling is likely a spot where a shield broke off centuries ago.

Naturally occurring colors in the cave are White (from calcite/calcium carbonate), Red (from iron/iron oxide) or Grey (limestone or manganese). Another color  in the cave is Green (from cave algae which is the result of dampness of the cave combined with lint from clothing and heat and light from the light bulbs.) Colored lights enhance the cave formations in certain areas. With out artificial lights the cave would be pitch black, of course.

The Bridal Chamber has a shield formation with drapery that represents a bride’s veil. It is about 17 feet tall.

With over 200 shield formations, Grand Caverns has more cave shield formations than any other cave or cavern in the eastern United States. No one knows how these formations are made, but for some reason they form flat disks rather than columns.  Some notable shield formations in Grand Caverns are  the “Clam Shell”  formation, a triple shield formation in the Lily Room, and the “Bride’s Veil” formation that combines both a shield and drapery.

The Lily Room. A shield with drapery resembles a calla lily and takes center stage in the Lily Room

Another formation in the Lily Room.

Grand Caverns is open daily except Thanksgiving, Dec 24, 25 & Jan 1. Summer Hours (April to Oct 31) are 9-5. Winter Hours (Nov 1-March 31) are 10-4. Tours are given hourly. For pricing and directions click here.

At the lowest part of the cave (as seen on the tour) looking up to the highest part of the cave.

FLLW Pope-Leighey House

In the 1920s and 1930s Frank Lloyd Wright (FLLW) began to look seriously at the way the common man lived. He wanted to design a series of affordable houses that were beautiful, streamlined, suited for their site and used local materials.  What he came up with was the USONIAN.

USONIAN houses were typically built as a single level dwelling. The houses had two wings. The public wing had a living and dining room. There was a  hearth wall that separated this formal area form the work area of the kitchen, “service core” of the house.  Then the house would bear off to a private wing for the bedrooms. FLLW’s goal was to build a USONIAN for $5,000 including the Architect’s fee, but, as with most  of his projects they tended to come in over budget. According the Wright foundation only 60 USONIAN homes were built.

One of those houses is the Pope-Leighy House in Virginia.

Loren Pope was a writer and copy editor for the Washington Evening Star when he approached Wright about building the house in 1938. He was  making $50 a week at the newspaper when he began to dream about owning a USONIAN home. Pope had a love for architecture and had read Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio (a two-volume set of Wright lithographs with line drawings and schematics of his early buildings). He met Wright  at a DC event and convinced the architect to design him a USONIAN by writing him a letter.  He appealed to Wright’s desire to bring his artistic aesthetic to the common man (AND appealed to his ego) “There are certain things a man wants during life, and, of life. Material things and things of the spirit. The writer has one fervent wish that includes both. It is for a house created by you…. Will you create a house for us? Will you?” Wright’s answer was magnanimous “”Dear Loren Pope: Of course I am ready to give you a house.” 1

The Evening Star financed a loan of $5,700 for the 1200 foot house. (Down from Wright’s original proposal of 1800 ft.)

Floor plan of the Pope-Leighy house

Some of FLLW’s houses were build on octagons, but the Pope house was based on a 2 x 4 foot rectangular grid. There is radiant heating in the floor which was made of concrete and painted Cherokee Red (a favorite color of FLLW.)  Other favorite Wright materials are used as well, Tidewater red cypress, brick and glass. The exterior vertical mortar on the brick work was tinted red to match the red of the brick, while the horizontal mortar was left natural cream. That gave a strong horizontal feeling to the walls, and made the house look longer that it really was.

You approach the house from a shady cantilevered carport. This is the “Public” side of the  house Most of the walls on this side lack windows, except for a clerestory at the top. This allowed the family privacy. Wright created a unique clerestory design each house.

Our tour guide opens the front door to the Pope-Leighey house for us.

The ceiling of the carport and the entrance hall are low, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. You can see the living room directly opposite the front door and Wright used a sense of compression and release to encourage visitors to go through the entrance into the more important area of the house. The LIVING room was for living, after all. He brings you down a short set of stairs while keeping the ceiling line constant and suddenly the space feels massive. The ceiling height here is 12 feet.

Living room as seen from the entrance.

The living room is warm and lush. The wood, which has been allowed to weather (as FLLW intended) to a stately silver on the outside is waxed to a wonderful rich orange inside. The light from the clerestory windows, the dining room nook to the left, and a screened in porch to the right wash this peaceful room with calm. The room is furnished by period pieces designed by Wright  some of which are original to the house (as well as a few reproduction chairs that visitors are allowed to sit on.)

The house from the garden. The dining nook comes right out into the garden area blurring the line between indoor and outdoor space.

FLLW strived to blur the line between the inside and the outside. When the floor to ceiling windows of the dining room are open he accomplishes the goal. Diners are both in the dining room and in the garden at the same time. The corner window opens completely — with no center sash — to give an uninterrupted view (A concept he borrowed from Fallingwater.)

The kitchen is small according to modern standards, but it was typical for the time. The tall ceilings make the room feel a little larger than it really is. There is a long skinny window  at the end of the kitchen, and FLLW created an herb planter just outside. All Mrs. Pope had to do was open the window and reach out to pluck a few herbs to add to what ever she was cooking. There is also a small utility room off the kitchen.

Exterior of the bedroom wing looking to the front of the house. This public side of the house offers a lot of privacy to the inhabitants, with only clerestory windows (above eye level) for light and air.

Looking from the end of the bedroom wing to the crux of the building and the dining nook. The garden side of the bedroom wing has large, hip to ceiling windows.

Back up the stairs and to the right is a door that leads to the bedroom wing of the house. A long, very narrow hall with a run of clerestory windows  leads first to a small bathroom (the only one in the house), to the master bedroom and to the children’s bedroom. The hall is very skinny –about as wide as a passage way in a Pullman railway car — so large furniture had to be brought in through the windows.  The children’s bedroom is especially light. With a wrap around window and two additional clerestory inspired at the far wall. Built-ins, like a child’s desk and cantilevered bookshelves make this room a delight.

At the far end of the bedroom wing the children’s bedroom has it’s own cantilevered roof and special windows.

A room to the right of the entrance, opposite the bedroom wing was Mr. Pope’s Sanctum, his study, until the growing family converted it into a nursery for their child.

Loren Pope wrote an article about the design and construction process on the house and it was this article that inspired other middle income families in the mid 20th Century to turn to FLLW and seek out a USONION. The Popes had hopes that FLLW would build them a new, large home, but by the time the could afford one Wright was in the middle of building the Guggenheim. They only lived in the house for 6 years.

In 1947 The Leighey’s bought the home. They lived there happily until 1961 when they received notice that expansion of Interstate 66 would be going right though the property. The house would need to be moved or it would be torn down. After Mr. Leighey’s death in 1963 Mrs. Marjorie Leighey made a deal with the Trust for Historic Preservation and the house was moved to the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation by flat bed truck. (The masonry and concrete foundation are not original, as those could not be moved and were lost when I-66 was expanded.)  Mrs. Leighey continued to live in the house at it’s new location and gave tours on the weekend.  This first relocation proved to be troublesome as the house had been placed on an unstable marine clay foundation. So it had to be relocated a second time in 1995. Although this second relocation site is only 30 feet from the first is much more stable.

Now the house is situated on a piece of land that is very similar to the original plot. It faces almost the same site lines so the sun peaks through the windows just as it did when the Popes and Leigheys lived there.

Wright was delighted with the house. He thought it truly embodied this ideals of USONIAN design.

Motif detail for the Pope-Leighey’s clerestory. Looking from outside the living room toward the front door.

The house is open for tours Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) from 10-5pm. Tours are limited to 16 people at a time and cost $8.50 for adults. If you are visiting Mount Vernon the Pope-Leighey House is a short drive away and well worth the addition to your plans. (See the National Trust link below for more information)

Other pages you’ll like on the Pope-Leighy House:

•The National Trust Historic Site  Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighy House page

• Peter Beers’s Pope Leighey House, 2003: Mount Vernon, Virginia page. This page has some wonderful interior photos, something we were not “allowed” to take on our visit. All my interior shots are taken from open doors and windows.

1 Pope and Wright correspondence, 1939, reprinted in The Pope-Leigh[e]y House (Washington DC: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1969), pp. 12-15.

%d bloggers like this: