Poor Wayfaring Stranger

My best friend from the University of Virginia and the Virginia Glee Club, Don Webb, died two years ago next month. I haven’t been able to process that and wasn’t able to talk about it for a long time. But yesterday I attended the college graduation of his daughter, and sitting with some of Don’s friends and his family, I found that the stories started to want to come out. So I thought I’d write them here.

Don and I were fellow singers, colleagues (we served on the executive committee of the Glee Club together in my fourth year), friends and neighbors. But we didn’t meet at UVA. As it turns out, we met the summer before our senior years of high school, at Boys State of Virginia.

Boys State was one of those myriad of summer activities, along with Governor’s School, Latin Academy, and working at amusement parks, that seemed to be the only options for getting out of the house in summertime. But none of us knew much about it. It turns out to have been founded in the late 1930s to counteract the influence of the American Nazi Party’s Pioneer Camps. To me, as an ironic late-1980s teenager who had been sensitized by the Reagan years to regard too much patriotism with mild suspicion, the camp’s relentless display of the flag and its presence at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University seemed a little over the top.

Thank goodness for music. I had sung in my church choir but never with kids my age. The Boys Statesmen of Note, as they called the glee club they formed for the week to sing at the different ceremonies, was a whole new thing. It’s probably the reason I ended up trying out for the Glee Club when I got to UVA. And it’s where I met Don (and fellow Virginia Glee Club fossil Chris Anderson, and fellow UVA alum Lash Fary).

1989 Boys Statesmen of Note. Don Webb back row far left. Chris Anderson middle row fourth from right. Lash Fary front row second from left. Author front row far right.

Don was funny and brash. He was still very much a boy; I learned last night from his sister that the thing he talked most about from Boys State was having won the farting contest on his hall in the camp dorms. I remembered him but hadn’t really gotten to know him.

That changed as we went through our years in the Glee Club. I still remember the first rehearsal of our fall 1991 season, as second years. Our new director John Liepold had pulled out a Donald Moore arrangement (re-arranged for men’s voices by Donald Loach) of the folk song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” The work (which appears to have been one of those American folk songs that has roots in European hymnody) opens with the following stanza:

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
I’m traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I’m just a-going over home

At the end, Don asked Liepold if he could say a word. He told us that his father had died the preceding summer, and that he felt completely overcome by singing the song with us, but at the same time was struck by how the beauty of the sound we created together gave him hope. He called us all his brothers. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

A few years later in the spring of 1993, that speech and others like it had established Don’s spiritual and charismatic leadership of the Glee Club and had been formalized in his election as president of the group. I was glad to have him leading the Glee Club. I had taken on too much, was trying to pull the literary magazine I had founded out of insolvency after its second issue, had a suspicion that my major in Physics (which I was nine credits away from completing) was leading me on a path I didn’t want to follow, and was struggling with a variety of stress related ailments. I loved the Glee Club but didn’t think I was the right man to lead it. I was very happy to serve as secretary.

Regardless of anything else, we had both applied to live on the Lawn, an honor nominally reserved for the student leaders and representatives of the University’s values. To our great mutual surprise, we both got rooms. In the drawing for which room we’d live in, we agreed that whoever got the lowest number would grab 5 West Lawn, which had been a Glee Club room since 1973. At the end of the evening we had 3 and 5 West, establishing that we would be neighbors the following year.

We might have been neighbors that year anyway. We both had provisionally agreed to live in the Glee Club House, and both spent a fair amount of time hanging out there. Which is where we were when we saw Chris Anderson wandering with a dazed look through the kitchen. Chris had left the Glee Club to focus on the Virginia Gentlemen, a tight-knit a cappella group in which Don sang vocal percussion. We asked him what was wrong, and he stuttered, “Brogan… Brogan’s gonna be a da… a fa… a father.”

Brogan Sullivan had graduated from Club and the VGs in 1992 and had married soon after, so this shouldn’t have come as a shock to us. But somehow it did. Don and I looked at each other, left, and walked back to the Lawn, where we pulled out our rocking chairs onto the Jeffersonian sidewalk in front of our 160+ year old student rooms. I don’t remember whether we tapped into the solitary bottle of Jack Daniels that I kept in my room for the entirety of the year for entertaining (I didn’t entertain, or drink, much, then). But we talked, for hours, about the coming of adulthood, about family, and friendship. By the end of the day we had become brothers, and I knew that we would do anything for each other.

Watching Don’s daughter graduate from college this weekend felt like fulfilling a 31 year old promise. I hope you’re happy in that bright land, Don, and that you got a chance to watch.

Change

I was at the Virginia Glee Club annual dinner last night, and as always it was the perfect combination of reconnection and reminders of the passing of time. The more often I come to these things, the more the members of the Club and their guests look like my friends, and also like they could be my children. (One young woman at our table, whom I had first met at last year’s dinner, let me know that her mother was UVA class of 1989, or just a few years older than me; then there was the mother of another member who was herself class of 1993.)

The University itself is in constant change; as my cab driver remarked on the way into town from the airport, “It wouldn’t be Charlottesville without something under construction.” This time of course it was Alderman Library, which is famously losing its incredibly dense and labyrinthine stacks and gaining … something. But also it was the building to the right of New Cabell Hall that was under reconstruction, and the myriad of businesses that didn’t survive the pandemic. And even the inn I stayed at, which when I was in school was student apartments; a friend lived there for a few years.

So it was in a pensive mood as I walked back to my hotel from breakfast, and decided to take a different route around Grounds. And found myself walking through Dawson’s Row. I’ve only written a little bit about the Row — all that remains of a set of buildings of varying purposes and origins that originally stretched in an arc from Monroe Hill to where the front steps of New Cabell Hall now stand. Some were originally constructed as dormitories; these were demolished over the years, and no trace of them remains.

One housed Arthur Fickénscher, the first professor of music at the University and conductor of the Virginia Glee Club from 1932 to 1933.

One was built as the parsonage for the University, becoming the first building constructed for religious purposes on Grounds. Built in 1850, it appears to have been expanded in the later 19th century, gaining Italianate porches and roof brackets and possibly losing a rear porch (seen as the black line across the brickwork in the second photo).

And one, inevitably, was slave quarters for James Monroe’s house across the way at Monroe Hill, or so oral tradition says:

The latter buildings, along with a late 19th century cottage, comprise the Office of African American Affairs at the University. I never saw the buildings as an undergraduate; I knew they were there but had no reason to engage with them. It was only recently, as I was writing Ten Thousand Voices and reading works about the University to inform my research, that I thought about why the OAAA was so important. It came as I was reading The Key to the Door, which I highly recommend for those looking to understand how UVA integrated in the 1950s and 1960s—and, to be honest, through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.

And through that research, the way I view the University has changed. I still feel it is my home; in some ways, I belong to it more than ever. But I now can see where the footprints of enslaved laborers were. And yes, some aspects of the University have changed. But that’s not where the most important changes have been. As I learn, as I dig, as I acknowledge that I am old enough to be these young adults’ parents, I feel even more keenly the responsibility of the past, the need to own this story and tell it and compel action from it.

More 10K publicity

A few more items for the press scrapbook for Ten Thousand Voices:

This article about summer reading from UVA affiliated authors was posted in UVA Today on June 27. It links to the Author’s Corner interview.

I also announced the book on UVA Magazine‘s website. It’ll be interesting to see if it makes the print edition.

A reminder that the book is now available for sale everywhere.

Finding faces from 84 years ago

“Glee Club,” 1930s, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library

My latest exercise in madness has been an effort to index all the images on the Virginia Glee Club History Wiki. In doing so, I took the opportunity to link images to their sources where I could and to find some more context, including trying to identify individuals in photos. Which brings me to the photo above.

There might be no more momentous photo from the early years of the Glee Club. It’s one of the better photos of legendary Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt (conductor from 1933 to 1943), a showman who took the group to New York City, got them their first radio gigs, and instituted the Concert on the Lawn, among other achievements. And just over his left shoulder, eyes closed, is one of the more famous Glee Club alums, at least to UVA graduates, Ernest Mead. The two professors together had about 80 years of teaching UVA students between them.

But who were the other students with them? I decided to find out. Thankfully Corks and Curls came to the rescue.

The man on the left is the easiest guess. Since Mead was only in the Glee Club in 1936-1937, that narrowed the field, and my first guess proved correct. Say hello to Mac—or McDonald Wellford, president during that year. The only reason I was able to make the identification was thanks to a fraternity brother, Mr. Bosher, who donated photographs to the UVA online exhibit “100 Years on the Lawn” (sadly, the exhibit is no longer available and was not archived. Boo!) Wellford, like many a Glee Club alum, went on to practice law, and was the commissioner of accounts for the chancery court and the circuit court of the City of Richmond from 1963 to 1994.

After that it gets a little squirrelly, but thanks to Corks and Curls I was finally able to identify the other two men. Next to Mac stands Chester Harris Robbins, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who sang in the Glee Club from 1933 to 1937.

And at the end is the distinctive visage of Kenneth Seaman Giniger, who had the most colorful career of any of the alums. While a student, he instituted the Jefferson Society’s Woodrow Wilson Memorial Banquet, with guests including five US senators, the University’s president, a Supreme Court justice, and the governor of Virginia, to say nothing of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Edith Bolling Wilson), who was elected as an honorary member of the Society by the end of the evening, the first woman to be so honored. After serving in World War II, Giniger became the assistant to the director of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency in 1951-1952. And then he went into publishing, forming the K.S. Giniger Company and writing inspirational books. He might be the only person to receive both the French Legion of Honor and the Norman Vincent Peale Award for Positive Thinking.

So, quite a gathering in one unassuming photo!

Saving Jefferson

Statue of Thomas Jefferson, University of Virginia Rotunda. Photo © Tim Jarrett 2017.

A quick one today. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in various kinds of work, but this was too cool not to write about.

The Glee Club has thousands of known alumni and all of them have some sort of story to their lives. One who I didn’t know much about was Dr. Lawrence Thomas Royster (1874-1953), who was a member in 1893-1894 and 1896-1897. A physician, he taught pediatrics at the University of Virginia Medical School. And he saved Thomas Jefferson… or at least his statue.

While Royster was a student, in October 1895, the annex to Jefferson’s Rotunda, his library and centerpiece for the Academical Village, caught fire and burned. Efforts were made to keep the fire from spreading to the main Rotunda with little success, and the building burned completely, leaving just the brick shell behind. But while the fire progressed, students rescued what they could from the building, including books from the library and, notably, the enormous marble statue of Jefferson that had been given to the University by Alexander Galt in 1861.

Historian Philip Alexander Bruce writes of the rescue:

A few minutes before the explosion occurred, the fine marble figure of Jefferson by Galt had been lowered by ropes to the level of a table hastily pushed forward to catch it. So great was its weight that this support at once gave way under it; but luckily the fall to the floor did not damage the statue. Turned over on its face, it was rapidly dragged to the door opening on the front stairway, and just as there began the attempt to pull it through this narrow exit, the explosion shook the whole building. “The statue,” says Morgan P. Robinson, in his vivid description of the scene, “was gotten out on the staircase, and step by step, it was carried down the western stairs feet foremost. As the base of the statue was eased over each step, it would gather momentum, and gaining speed, would tear off the top edge of the next step, while, under the combined weight of the statue and twenty to thirty of the students, the whole staircase would tremble. It is conservatively estimated that it took from ten to fifteen minutes only to remove the statue from the library to the Lawn.”

Bruce, History of the University of Virginia, Vol. IV, p. 260, 1922.

The story is well known to me, but until today, I didn’t know that a Glee Club member was among the students who rescued the statue. Then, while checking my sources on Royster’s photo, I found the entry for the photo at the UVA Library and read the following:

A native of Norfolk, Virginia, where he was born in 1874, Dr. Royster received his prepatory education at Norfolk Academy and entered the University in 1892. In the memorable fire of 1895 he was one of the group of students who entered the burning Rotunda and lifted the Galt statue of Jefferson from its pedestal, drew it through the room on a mattress, safely eased it down the curving stair, and deposited it on the Lawn. The only damage to the statue was a slight chipping of the edge of the drapery. 

Bulletin of the UVa Medical School and Hospital, Fall 1942.

So, Royster was one of those responsible for saving the statue of Jefferson. And it’s interesting to note that, in this age of iconoclasm, the statue was not one of the post-Reconstruction Civil War statues. Instead, Alexander Galt, Jr., a native Virginian who took up sculpture after being inspired by the work of Houdon and studied in Florence, was commissioned to create the statue for $10,000, completing it in 1861. (Galt died in 1863 of smallpox while serving as aide to Virginia’s Confederate governor John Letcher.)

Eight UVa basketball players who sang

Basketball spot illustration, 1925 Corks and Curls, p. 274.

I started writing this post six years ago, and for some reason never finished. It felt like a good time to pick it back up, since we were robbed of the chance to defend our NCAA championship title this year.

As I began writing this in 2014, UVa men’s basketball is in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. It’s pretty sweet, and it’s a good reminder that Virginia has its fair share of sports successes. The games have inspired me to dive into the archives, and I’ve found eight Virginia Glee Club alums who also played hoops for UVa. In chronological order:

George Harold Atkisson. From Quincy, Illinois, Atkisson (1887 – 1964) played center in 1906–1907 for Virginia.

Percy Rudolph AshbyA Hampton boy, Ashby (1888 – 1931) was an engineering student who was also at home on the court and on the track.

UVA Men's Basketball Team, in 1912 Corks and Curls
UVA Men’s Basketball Team, in 1912 Corks and Curls

Edward White Kearns. Born 1890 in Taunton, Massachusetts, Kearns wasn’t just a basketball player–playing at right forward, he was also captain of the team in 1911–1912, having played the previous year with Ashby. That year the team went 7 and 4, losing to Guilford, Georgetown (twice), and Washington & Lee (a blowout, 24 – 9).

Charles Cazeove Plummer. This engineering student from Mobile, Alabama (born 1899, died 1967) was also in the German Club, meaning that he was responsible for helping to plan and organize the germans, or formal cotillons, for the student body.

Carlysle Allen Bethel. Bethel (born 1904 in Richmond, Virginia, died 1996) appears to have been a well rounded athlete, as he played on both the football and basketball squad in 1923 – 1924.

Norman N. Adler. Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, Adler was a basketball player, ran track, and was in the Navy ROTC program during the war years, graduating in 1944. He went on to become a physician, practicing in New York until his death in 1988.

Roger Dana Fraley. Fraley likely played on the team alongside Adler. Born in 1923 in Cleveland, Virginia, he appears to have been highly active at Virginia, as he was also a member of Alpha Tau Omega, the Raven Society, the Honor Committee, Alpha Kappa Psi, the semi-secret T.I.L.K.A., and the political organization Skull and Keys. He died in 2011.

Robert B. Roberson. The last (so far) singing hoops player on the list, Roberson, graduating in 1964, played varsity basketball and baseball and was also the sports editor of the Cavalier Daily, which is a pretty neat trick if you ask me.

The Old Cabell Hall skylight

Old Cabell Hall ceiling and skylight, 1994 (University of Virginia)

I read with interest a UVA Today article about Andrew Ashcraft, a fourth year architecture student who has had the privilege of exploring attics and other hidden spaces at the University as an intern in the Historic Preservation team. Having been an inveterate explorer of the University’s nooks and crannies myself (with a particular fascination for Old Cabell Hall and the roof of Clark Hall), I envy Ashcraft his job. However, one paragraph caught my attention:

“His favorite view so far has been from the attic of Old Cabell Hall, where he could look down through an ornate false skylight into the building’s grand two-tiered theater.”

It may be a “false skylight” today, but it certainly didn’t start out that way. The evidence, as always, is the University’s collection of the photographs of Rufus Holsinger. In a collection of views of the Grounds dating to 1914 we get the photo below, showing the view of the stage but also the ceiling above:

Old Cabell Hall stage, 1914, Rufus Holsinger (UVA Library Special Collections)

That sure looks like a working skylight to me! The Library’s online exhibit on the work of McKim, Meade, and White (the designers of Old Cabell Hall) indicates that the skylight was eventually enclosed “to accommodate modern lighting equipment,” and from the stage you can see the lighting in the space that would originally have let natural sunlight in.

The University has a small tradition of enclosing skylights, apparently, or at least doubling them up. As an undergrad I learned from some of my older neighbors how to enter Clark Hall (originally the home of the Law School) at night and climb up to the dusty hidden room enclosed by the outer skylights and the inner skylights of the building. Yes, there are two layers of skylight. I haven’t been able to determine if this was the original design or a concession to weatherproofing. (You can see a hint of the double-layered design in this photo.)

Seeking the inhabitants of the Cabell House

Yesterday’s post on the Cabell House is a fiber in an ongoing thread of an investigation to understand the earliest members who took part in the Virginia Glee Club. We know from the January 1871 issue of the Virginia University Magazine that “those gentlemen rooming at the Cabell House, and in that neighborhood, have made great efforts, and we understand tolerably successful ones, to form a Glee Club.” We seek now to understand who “those gentlemen” are.

But it’s hard going. The year 1871 predates Corks and Curls, and the 1870-1871 catalog doesn’t list student addresses. I’m still trying to figure out who was the proprietor of 852 West Main Street during that year; Ansel(e)m Brock died in the late 1850s and Pattie J. Daffan isn’t identified through the city directory there until 1902. But with luck we’ll turn up more evidence.

The (real) location of the Cabell House

The Virginia Glee Club was founded in 1871 by highly motivated singers who lived in the Cabell House, according to the Virginia University Magazine. For several years, we have assumed that the Cabell House, a boarding-house in which famed Confederate “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby shot a fellow UVA student, was located between 9th and 10th Street, based on the finding note attached to the only known photograph of the house in the University of Virginia Library.

More fools, we. As one digs deeper into the history of the house, one turns up a handful (only) of references to it in official University and Charlottesville publications. One of those identified a Miss Pattie J. Daffan as the proprietor of the Cabell House. Another publication placed her as the proprietor of a boarding house at 852 West Main Street, only a block from where the Cabell House was supposed to be. It seems pretty clear that this was the actual address of the Cabell House.

Why, one may ask, is this exciting? Well, partly because it’s important to know where to pay homage to our as-yet-unknown founding fathers. But also because the property between 9th and 10th on West Main Street is a Hampton Inn, but the property at 852 West Main Street is World of Beer (as well as apartments). Surely a World of Beer is a better location for our Glee Club than a motel.

100 years’ anniversary: James Rogers McConnell

Some members of the fighter squadron N.124, “l’Escadrille Américaine,” in May 1916. Corporal James Rogers McConnell is at the right. (Courtesy Air Force Times)

Yesterday was a solemn anniversary of sorts, covered in the Cavalier Daily (Ceremony honors 100th anniversary of alumnus’s death in WW I) and UVA Today (UVA Honors Inspiration for “Winged Aviator” Statue, 100 Years After His Death). I’ve written about McConnell before, both as student and martyr. On this hundredth anniversary of his slaughter, it seems fitting to reflect on his legacy and what he represents.

First, McConnell was at once the last and first of his kind. First because he was the first UVA student to be killed in that awful war; last because he was the last American airman killed before the United States officially entered the war April 6, 1917, just 18 days after his death. He was also effectively the last American warrior-as-adventurer, in the model of Teddy Roosevelt or the other early 20th century military leaders who held greater fame in civilian life.

Indeed, his decision to head to France, and later join the Escadrille after serving as an ambulance driver, is best read through the lens of Roosevelt as a role model. As he is quoted in the introduction to his memoir Flying for France, “These Sand Hills will be here forever, but the war won’t; and so I’m going.” But later he was converted to the belief of the absolute rightness of the French cause, and so he entered his combat role.

He was last in another way too—probably the last prominent UVA student to partake so fully of UVA’s extracurricular offerings. As King of the Hot Feet he was part of the University’s tradition of revelry; as one of the earliest known members of the Seven Society he was a founder of the tradition of more sober and secretive organizations that focused on good works.

The UVa Library has a comprehensive exhibit on McConnell’s life online, showing not only his letters home and artifacts from his plane and personal effects, but a memoir from his frequent correspondent Mademoiselle Marcelle Gúerin. Reading the material is a sobering reminder of a time when causes were just and consequences were mortal.

Cocktail Friday: Midwinters 1951 recipes

1951-spectator-32-33

I’m still working my way through the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, which has some interesting treasures beyond the Pogo-related content we wrote about yesterday. In particular, here’s a set of cocktail recommendations for Midwinters drinking, proving that straight bourbon and beer didn’t always prevail (though certainly “Mad Men” style sexism did).

In fact, as one might expect from the mid-century period, there’s no bourbon in any of these cocktails, or any dark liquor at all (aside from a little rum). None of these cocktails is fancy, but they’re mostly true to their models—with the possible exception of the fruit salad on the Zombie. Enjoy!

Martini

  • 1 part French Vermouth
  • 4 parts Dry Gin

Stir with cracked ice, strain and serve with stuffed olive.

Zombie:

  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 tsp. syrup
  • 1 oz white rum
  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 1 oz Jamaica rum
  • 1/2 oz demerara rum
  • 1/2 oz apricot liqueur

Shake violently, strain into 14 oz zombie glass, 1/4 filled with ice. Float splash of demerara on top. Spike 1 green cherry, 1 small pineapple stick, 1 red cherry on a toothpick, insert into drink, decorate with mint sprig, dust with powdered sugar.

Absinthe Drip

Pour a jigger of Absinthe into a drip glass, then place a cube of sugar over the drop hole in the upper section, pack with cracked ice, and pour cold water to fill the dripper. When all the water has dripped through you’re ready to deteriorate.

Daiquiri

  • Juice 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 oz rum

Shake well with cracked ice and strain.

Champagne Cocktail

  • 1 cube sugar
  • champagne
  • 1 dash angostura bitters

Place sugar in glass and saturate with bitters. Pour chilled champagne over and serve without stirring.

Virginia Spectator: “February Pogo issue”

Virginia Spectator, February 1951
Virginia Spectator, February 1951

As previously mentioned, I now have my copy of the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, the “Pogo issue” of the University of Virginia student magazine that started out as the literary magazine (jointly published by the Jefferson and Washington Societies) but was by the 1950s more a college humor magazine with the occasional short story thrown in.

Calling this the “Pogo issue” is based on the incredible Walt Kelly UVa-themed cover (above) which I’ve discussed once or twice before, plus the inclusion of two articles: a biography of Walt Kelly and a discussion of the characters in his most famous comic strip. “The Land of the Elephant-Squash,” of which the first three pages are reprinted below, was later reprinted in the Okefenokee Star fanzine and in Fantagraphics reprint collections. “What Makes Pogo Tick?” is less often reprinted. Reading both, there is nothing to tie them to Virginia, but this appears to be the first time both appeared in print.

1951-spectator-11

1951-spectator-121951-spectator-13

1951-spectator-141951-spectator-15

I’ve scanned several more of the pages in the issue into this Flickr album. Enjoy…

Evaluating Paul Goodloe McIntire

Following yesterday’s link regarding the possible fate of the Confederate war statues donated to the City of Charlottesville by Paul Goodloe McIntire, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig a little deeper. Was McIntire, a huge donor to both the city and the University of Virginia, a virulent racist like composer and white supremacist John Powell

It seems many have been asking the same question, and as you might expect the evidence of his intent is a little murky. 

Let’s start with the facts. McIntire, after having made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange, returned home to Charlottesville and started giving away that fortune. In addition to the school of fine arts, the amphitheater, and other gifts to UVA, he donated land and money for parks in Charlottesville, including two white-only parks (Belmont Park and McIntire Park). At the same time he donated the land for McIntire Park, he also donated the land for the all-black Washington Park.

Was he on the side of white supremacy? Or was he simply endowing all Charlottesville’s citizens, black or white, within the scope of the prevailing legal framework of “separate but equal”?

It’s hard to say. An article in CVille Weekly notes that “he did invite the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to plan the statue’s [Lee’s] unveiling.” But given the heavy concentration of Confederate veterans in Virginia, was this like inviting the Klan or only like inviting the Disabled American Veterans?

I don’t know if we will ever get a good answer on this, given that people like Ben Railton and Waldo Jaquith have been plumbing it since 2009. But it’s worth continuing to remind ourselves that many who have been held up as civic heroes were also products of their times. And, with Railton, to remember that we have many public spaces dedicated to the narrow Confederate view of history, and to call for more reminders of how life was on the other side. 

“The Seven Joys of Mary”

I continue to make my way through the carols in “Songs from the Hill Folk,” a medley in this year’s Boston Pops program (see my write-up about Jesus, Jesus, rest your head from a few days ago). If “Jesus, Jesus” found John Jacob Niles conflating the roles of song collector and songwriter—as he also famously did with “I Wonder as I Wander”—then “The Seven Joys of Mary” finds him more firmly in song collector territory.

I’ve written before about English ballads and ballad collectors, and “Seven Joys” (also called the “Seven Blessings of Mary”) is one of those. The tune that Niles found in Cherokee County, North Carolina in 1933 is quite unlike other tunes for the song, but hews closely to the traditions of the “number song.” There were many earlier known versions, including “The Ferste Joye, As I 3ou Telle” from the fifteenth century in England. Later versions included the African American teaching song “Sister Mary’s Twelve Blessings” (published in the Tuskegee Institute Collection in 1883).

Coming back to “The Ferste Joye,” I note two facts with some delight. The first is that it (and its fellow fifteenth century variant “The Ferste Joye as I Zu Telle” are both full-on Middle English carols. The second is that the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site, from which I drew some of this research, recommends using the Junicode font for optimal viewing of the text. That font is created by none other than University of Virginia professor Peter S. Baker, who taught me Old English, and helped me read through Beowulf, more than twenty years ago.

Viewing the mysteries

Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Hyperallergic: Folk art relics from the Golden Age of America’s Secret Societies (via Boing Boing). Interesting exhibit of artifacts from the Freemasons and Odd Fellows.

It made me think of some of the few artifacts that have surfaced from the University of Virginia’s secret societies. Most of them have left behind only their rings or ribbons, but a few other items of stranger affect survive, particularly from the Hot Feet.

My favorite is the crown of the Hot Feet, pictured above and worn by James Rogers McConnell, among others. Though the crown was updated by the time that Lewis Crenshaw wore it, it is still a fascinating reminder of this intersection between UVA mythology, folk art and the American tendency toward the borrowed ritual image. It would be fascinating to see if any of the other … intriguing artifacts pictured below from 1906, showing the coronation of Charles S. McVeigh outside the East Range, survive.

Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.