Risking repetition of a 2016 post, I decided to write again about the 1918 Influenza and past health crises as the world finds hope in vaccines. Discussing vaccines recently with my granddaughters, they informed me that they wanted “the one that’s only one shot.”  I told them about getting my polio vaccination in the form of a sugar cube and they immediately decided that was how they wanted their COVID-19 vaccination. Who knows? They’re starting tests on kids and COVID vaccines now so sugar cubes or another less-dreaded inoculation than shots could be possible in the future.

Diphtheria was a dreaded disease that vaccinations virtually eliminated. I found this booklet entitled “Train Ticket to No-Diphtheria-Town on the Health Road” filled out with my aunt’s name. In 1913, the Schick skin test was developed but only came to the United States in 1923. It offered a simple mass immunization and I suppose the “Train Ticket” was designed to inspire participation in the immunization programs. Maybe we should advertise vaccinations as train tickets. A lot of people are behaving like spoiled kids about vaccines so a campaign on their level might work.  

My great-grandfather, Harry Stilson, documented what was called the Spanish Influenza in his journal. Usually he simply called it the influenza and rightfully so. As with our current pandemic, the name Spanish Influenza was politically motivated. The world was at war. No one knew where the virus originated but to prevent panic, warring countries restricted news of illnesses and death. Neutral Spain, however, was more transparent and became the target of misinformation that Spain was the epicenter with more cases than other countries. This was not true. Fifty million died of the 1918 Influenza worldwide, more than died in WWI battles.

Returning soldiers spread the illness but sometimes our soldiers arrived home to find that loved ones had died from influenza while they fought in France. Such was the case of Ralph Goode. His son Clyde recalled:  “He didn’t know it…he was on the ship coming back and found out when he got home. “ Among the soldiers who died of influenza in France was Richmonder Otis P. Robinson of Jackson Ward. He wrote his sister Carrie Harris: “Dear Sister, pray for me or pray to God in Heaven is better than anything else I know. May God bless you and be with you til we meet again.” Circumstances like these echo the isolation of COVID patients today, dying without loved ones near.

A poignant illustration of this is illustrated in the set of burial at sea photographs Harry developed for a naval officer he met in Norfolk while on vacation. I researched A.V. Boykins who died of pneumonia which could have been caused by influenza. The timing and circumstances match.

Influenza dominated life in Richmond and I shared stories of that in my book, From Richmond to France. Times were hard and Dolores Miller reported that Bliley’s Funeral Home gave bread and eggs to families struggling to feed their children. One day her Elam relatives went for provisions. They described halls lined with bodies in an overwhelmed funeral home. As the children walked between corpses, they swore “one of the bodies sat up just like it was alive.” That was the story passed down through the family, at least. One fact is certainly true. Burying the dead was a massive job.

Dolores’ family was mentioned in Harry’s journal often because the Elams rented a house that he owned next door. He captured them in photographs and wrote that an Elam daughter had survived the influenza. Others didn’t make it.  Harry noted: “Fri 10/25/18 Spanish Influenza the end of Willie McCloud last night.” I assumed (wrongly) that this was a Richmond man Harry knew. Instead, William McCloud was a black cook who died in Norfolk of “Pneumonic type Spanish Influenza” and was buried in the “col cemetery” in Norfolk so he must have been a relative or friend of one of Harry’s African-American acquaintances. Harry’s streetcar route in Jackson Ward offered him a glimpse into black lives rarely experienced by a middle-aged white man in the early 1900s. I often go down a rabbit hole following a name in Harry’s papers. Tracking names in Harry Stilson’s journals and on photographs sometimes leads to unusual discoveries, like the fact that my friend Dolores’ family lived next door to my family, but many, like this example of Willie McCloud, end with more questions than answers. How did Harry know Willie?

One example of how prevalent the flu was and how it seeped into all facets of life is this little verse my father repeated to me: “I had a little bird, his name was Enza. I opened the window and IN-FLU-ENZA!” No one knew how the virus spread but assumed it was air-borne so this ditty may have been a warning. Masks were worn and, back then, it wasn’t a political statement but comprehension that your life (and others’) could depend on the protection of a mask.

A vaccine didn’t end the 1918 Influenza. We’ve learned from that historic pandemic how to prevent viral spread if we just use common sense and we’re so much more fortunate today. We have vaccines and knowledge. Harry Stilson never mentioned how he responded to the threat posed by his work as a streetcar motorman. He suffered respiratory illnesses so the fact that he survived despite constant interactions with the public indicates that he took precautions. We can do the same. Like Richmonders in 1918-1919, wear a mask. Keep socially distant. We’re far better off than they were: we can get a vaccine. Do it. Let’s be at least as responsible as Richmonders a century ago.

Norma’s Diphtheria Train vaccination record

Harry Stilson captured Richmond’s African-American residents at work: a man carrying bricks on his head, a woman with laundry basket balanced on her head, men in Gunn Lumber Yard. All these and more were ordinary people on the streets of Jackson Ward and other parts of Richmond in a time when those activities weren’t exceptional or photo-worthy of commemorating. However, my great-grandfather did commemorate those working folks, often naming them and telling their stories. Around Richard Willis’ photograph, Harry wrote his name, the fact that he had “Fresh fish and oysters” and his comment “I didn’t know any other way to carry them.” To end Black History Month, here are just a few of the black people who worked to feed the city, to maintain its streets, and to supply its residents with clean clothes. We’ve honored essential workers who have kept us fed and functional during the Pandemic so let’s celebrate essential workers of the early 1900s.

Someone, probably my grandmother, hand-tinted this photograph of a laundry woman carrying her baskets of clean laundry. Harry noted in his journal that he took “Snapshot at a young colored woman standing on bank near end of W. Leigh with a basket of clean clothes on ground” which I haven’t found but I wonder if perhaps this was another version of her.

This cobblestone work was in the 1700 block of Leigh Street. I know this because the two one-story houses in the background are still there. Mr. Barky Haggins identified that spot in several of Harry’s pictures and sure enough, when Harry said he took pictures at “1738 Leigh Street,” he did.

Harry’s son, my great-uncle Leon Stilson, worked at Gunn Lumber Yard for a while. I have his reference from them when he was looking for another job. Leon also had a camera and he may have taken these instead of Harry.  Either way, W S Gunn & Company was at Marshall & Kinney in Jackson Ward.  

I’ve shared this image a few times but it’s one of my favorites. I call it “Cook with an Attitude” and it could be the “Sue Coleman colored head cook at Bowe & Calhoun” as Harry described her.

Richmond’s abbatoires (slaughter houses) were a significant part of its economy. I’ve been told many stories about working at Kingan’s, from the son of the manager in one of Harry’s photographs to the nieces of a worker who walked them over boards to avoid the mud on visits. Not sure why a slaughterhouse would be a fun visit but those ladies told me that working at Kingan’s was a really big deal, steady pay.

Steady pay or not, these are some of the people who kept Richmond running a century ago. Black history month shouldn’t be relegated to a single month. We needed these folks every day of every year back when Harry Stilson was motorman on the streetcar and we need the same kind of hard workers to get us through the Pandemic. Essential workers, 1918 and 2021. They’re, well, essential.

As promised, this post describes what we call K-12 schools, although that loosely defines Richmond education in Harry Stilson’s time. Much of the following is from my book, On the West Clay Line: Jackson Ward, Carver and Newtowne West, which combines my great-grandfather’s photography with stories collected from people who grew up in those neighborhoods. Jackson Ward was built by African Americans and Jewish immigrants and offers a historically rich culture. If you’re curious, my books are available on the Richmond in Sight website, www.richmondinsight.com.

Family on Moore Street, First Union Church in background, Hartshorn Memorial College in far distance behind children

Most of Jackson Ward’s earlier African-American residents were uneducated. Free or slave, literacy was a rare gift in the 1800s and education a strong priority among the parents of black children. Education was so precious that sacrifices were made willingly so that teachers and facilities were available for future generations. There was no public education in Richmond before the early 1900s for either race. It was common practice to hold classes in private residences with casual arrangements of ages and schedules. Not good enough, said parents in Jackson Ward, so fundraising and political arm-twisting began at various levels.

” Miss Rubin Lee Moore” was written on this photo, Mrs. Hilda Warden identified her as a “childhood friend” who lived on Clay

Their efforts resulted in the construction of Booker T. Washington School at 21 East Leigh Street, the oldest public school building in Richmond. It was established as a black high school in the 1890’s. Armstrong High School, designed by Charles Russell (119 W. Leigh) was the only Richmond high school built specifically for African Americans until the late 1930’s and currently houses the Richmond Public Schools Adult Career Development Center.

In my last post, I introduced you to Irma Dillard, whose mother told her about Mr. Stilson and how he watched out for her friends, high school kids at Armstrong High School. Recalling her mother’s stories, Irma Dillard explained, “Originally there was a one room Newtowne School on Moore Street. And it was one room, a public school. She went to Moore School. It was not Carver. Moore School is the very old building back of Carver, literally abandoned now. I don’t know if it’s still standing.” It was, last time I drove down to look for it.

Irma Rainey (later Dillard), Robinette Anderson, Goldbug Wilson and other Armstrong students

It appears that Harry Stilson was close to a lot of the kids in Jackson Ward. On the back of one photo he wrote “A colored friend behind school” and the location has been tentatively identified as Moore Street School. Behind the curtsying girl is an outhouse. Gender-separated toilet facilities weren’t an issue back then. Everyone used the same outhouse.

“A colored friend behind school”

Irma Dillard’s mother’s friend, Wesley Carter, lived in the 1400 block of Moore Street so he also attended Moore Street School. “…and then Carver, then Armstrong High School.” Wesley Carter was an alumnus of an unusual school program in Richmond, “open air” or “fresh air” classes. Ella Flowers described open air members as “those who were thin and they thought they had tuberculosis.” Others mentioned respiratory illnesses or malnutrition but those students sat in classrooms with the windows open year round because it was believed to be beneficial to their health. Children wore coats as they shivered at their desks. Wesley Carter complained, “Let me tell you something about Moore Street School. They didn’t call it rheumatic fever back then but I had some fever and I stayed in a wheelchaiar all summer because I was very weak so they put me in what you call open air class. With windows wide open. Cold!”

We might want to reconsider those fresh air classes. Wesley Carter died at nearly 105 and other Jackson Ward “open air kids” whose oral histories I collected lived into their late 90s.

There were other schools besides Moore Street School. Ellalee Flowers’ sister, Laverne Fountain, recalled: “I started at Navy Hill. Then Booker T. I thought I was going from there to Armstrong but they’d built (Maggie) Walker the year before…I had to walk from 8th Street up to Walker but I got home in a hurry because those Newtowne kids chased us home every day. We didn’t have backpacks, we had our books like this (demonstrating holding books) “…but there was a classmate whose father was a minister so he had a car. We had to walk up to where Armstrong was and if they were still there, we could all pile in just like piling into a phone booth.”

Ruby Walker named her schools: “Elba, Moore, Armstrong. Elba was 1000 W. Marshall Street, across from the T&E Laundry.” In those days, Armstrong was in the building where Benjamin Graves School is now, across the street from the Armory, now the Black History Museum. According to my oral history sources, students walked over to the Armory for gym.

Many of those students from Armstrong and Maggie Walker, like Wesley Carter, later attended Virginia Union or Virginia State University. They fulfilled the dreams of the parents who sacrificed to build schools and provide teachers so that their children could be educated. Think of how parents long for schools to be opened as we endure the Pandemic. That’s the kind of desire that spurred African American parents of Jackson Ward to donate precious funds and efforts to create environments where their children could learn. That’s the kind of determination that we celebrate during Black History Month and always.

Black History Month is a good time to remember the significant role in education that Richmond has played. Virginia Union University (“Union” to its older alumni) is probably familiar to you but did you know that Richmond was home to the first African American women’s college to award baccalaureate degrees in the United States? As my grandmother would say “tis so.” Hartshorn Memorial College, funded by Joseph C. Hartshorn to honor his wife Rachel, was established in 1883, holding classes in the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street until the campus was complete. I once gave a program in that same basement, sharing Hartshorn pictures. Hartshorn was located at Lombardy & Leigh, where Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School now stands. My great-grandfather, Harry Stilson, had a streetcar route with a stop at Hartshorn, considered Newtowne West back then, I suppose. Today most people refer to area simply as Jackson Ward. The Carver neighborhood wasn’t called that until George W. Carver School was built in 1951, and, while the name Newtowne is rarely used, talk with any elderly residents of the area and you’ll hear very specific descriptions of where places were. This map is from my book, On the West Clay Line. No time to find the map so I just took a picture with my phone but it might clarify neighborhoods. The point is this: Harry was at Hartshorn, Harry never went anywhere without his camera, and Harry took a lot of photos of the ladies and buildings of Hartshorn. Those magnificent structures were demolished but, thanks to Harry, we can revisit a piece of educational history.

Stilson’s streetcar conductor, Mr. Epperson, at Hartshorn College during WWI

Richmond didn’t offer much in public education back then, for whites or blacks. My next blog entry will explore education for younger black kids in Richmond but Hartshorn actually offered both college and high school. Harry’s journal entry naming two girls was a surprising discovery. I found a photo of two girls and a journal entry with two names, Maude E. Brown and Iva Carter. I called Virginia Union to see if they were students and was told, yes, high school students.

Maude E. Brown & Iva Carter, high school students at Hartshorn

Several of my oral history sources had relatives that attended Hartshorn College. School rules were strict: no streetcar rides, no dating, no sweets. Temperance was supported, corsets were discouraged. I’m OK with no drinking or corsets but no sweets? The curriculum was geared to academics but health and homemaking skills were also taught, as evidenced by this photo of Miss Elwin’s class and their tatting, a form of lace-making.  Hartshorn’s innovative “model classroom program” was similar to today’s student teaching programs.   

Hartshorn students working on their tatting

Harry’s journal frustrates me because he mentions so many intriguing photos that either didn’t survive or are unidentifiable to me. On May 31, 1918, he wrote that he took photos of “Dr. and Mrs. Rigler in front of Hartshorn.” That would be Geoffrey W. Rigler, president of Hartshorn and the archivist at VUU sent me his photo hoping I could identify Harry’s picture. I doubt Dr. Rigler would look kindly on the man climbing out of the girls’ first floor dorm room that Harry captured on film. You can’t see it without a high resolution view but he’s there so the no dating rule was obviously broken at least once.  

First floor left corner…man climbing out of dorm window. Harry’s tripod is at fence line

The teaching staff was white, like Miss Julia Elwin. Harry took several photos of her, with her classes and in her rose garden. I am still trying to locate the garden pictures but I did find her in the 1920 U.S. Census. Julia Maria Elwin, born in Maine, teaching at 1600 Leigh Street. Yup, that would be her.   

Miss Julia Elwin seated with her students, Hartshorn College, 1920

The “Union” in Virginia Union University’s name is appropriate because the school is literally a union of nine schools, including Hartshorn, which merged with the larger facility in 1932. In its infancy, Virginia Union offered a unified educational system with an unusual feature: its power plant generated its own power and water supply and the adjacent Agricultural Training School housed pigs, chickens, cows, and horses. Students were expected to maintain the plant and tend the farm which supplied the University and supplied income. They worked construction as well. Virginia granite, cut and laid by students, created an impressive Romanesque Revival campus with an unusual agricultural component. Virginia Union is credited with hiring the first black staff and instructors in a Southern institution, among them architect, Charles Russell.  This wagon may have carried stock to or from Virginia Union.

Bull in wagon in front of Hartshorn College

One amazing part of my Richmond In Sight adventure is how often Harry’s photographic subjects have relatives still here who can share stories about the people in Stilson photographs, nearly a century later. An article in the Richmond Times Dispatch led me to Irma Dillard and I surprised her with pictures of her mother, Irma Rainey Dillard, and friends that Harry took. Irma Dillard identified them including her dad’s friend, Percy Jones, from New York, posing on the trestle between Hartshorn and Union.  

Percy Jones on trestle, Virginia Union University behind him

Those students are gone now but their children often followed them into higher education and better lives. Many of Virginia Union’s alumni can point to generations of Union students and one of my very favorite people was Wesley Carter, who held the title “Oldest Virginia Union alumnus” for years. He took classes there and attended events til the end of his life. He had a special seat in most buildings including the cafeteria where he ate often and students knew not to take his seat. When I expressed surprise that, at 103, he communicated through email, he proudly informed me: “I took computer classes at Union.  They give me free classes, you know.” As well they should. Anyone eager to continue his education into his 90s and beyond deserves free classes. Dr. Carter was engaged with learning and sharing that knowledge until the end of his life, just two months shy of 105. And when he died, his memorial service was held at his beloved Union. What a testament to the power of education and the determination of Richmond’s African-Americans to learn.

Wesley Carter introducing Kitty Snow at an Astoria Beneficial Club dinner

I’m not sure what to write on this holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King. My heart is broken after the events of January 6th and, while optimism is a core characteristic of mine, I’m having a hard time feeling hopeful. I’ve shared posts about how my family has volunteered in political activities for both parties and shown memorabilia from past campaigns and elections and parts of Harry Stilson’s speech of 1907, titled “Pride of Tint” where he advocated integration of schools, churches and other aspects of life as the path to what he called “familiarity” between races and faiths which he believed would inspire respect and would lead to a better America. In light of the attack on the Capitol, it seems that we are far from the respect that my great-grandfather dreamed of.

My eyes land on one of the thousands of Stilson items I inherited: a small jewelry box of the Capitol, a souvenir from decades, perhaps even a century ago.  Someone in my family cherished it and rightfully so. That symbol of democracy is sacred and it was desecrated by domestic terrorists, demanding death to our vice president, lawmakers, police officers, incited to violence by the very person who should embody our ideals. Images of that mob of thousands was a striking reminder of past events that brought multitudes to those streets, among them the March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and the first Obama inauguration. The first was a peaceful protest, the second a celebration of history being made. Inaugerations are normally exciting. The streets of Washington should be preparing to celebrate the endurance of our “American experiment,” the peaceful transition of one administration to another. It’s a declaration that America has voted and that vote is honored. Until January 6th. The contrast is stunning and heartbreaking.

I was almost twelve when I listened to Dr. King’s vision for equality on the radio but I was in D.C., on the street, along with my mom and sister when Barak Obama called for a “new era of responsibility.” Thank goodness for radios because again I heard historic words on a radio. We listened to his speech on a woman’s transistor radio, crowded closely to hear. My white-haired mom and an elderly black man, a young man from Australia, the rest of us various ages and races. All focused on the promise of a more perfect union as we were reminded why we were there and what we were charged with. President Obama’s charge to the nation is even more relevant today:

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.  On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.  We remain a young nation.  But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”  

One phrase strikes me as particularly profound, that the time has come to “choose our better history.” Lord knows our country’s image has suffered incredible damage by recent actions and words but we can choose our better history. We can hold those guilty of insurrection and tarnishing our sacred symbol of democracy accountable. We can say “enough.” We can come together to protect each other, to respect each other, to fufill the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned for America. Instead of a city under siege, the streets of Washington should be teeming with people with dreams, hopes, ideas. Like the small Capitol jewelry box, the “American experiment” can be preserved and cherished for the future. Barriers can come down, streets opened to share what democracy looks like. Instead of a call for change, “This is what democracy looks like!” can be and endorsement. Celebrations on the streets of our Capital will return. We’ll choose our better history and create a more perfect union.  I know we can.


My family has always been active politically. I found a McKinley/Hobart campaign pin in my great-grandmother’s button jar so perhaps my paternal side of the family was always Republican, unlike my mom’s side (which is MY side politically!). On the eve of this critical election, I thought I’d pull out some  political mementos from my Stilson archives but my time was limited. I was making calls for Joe Biden again today.  So…here’s a quick abbreviated glance at some political history as experienced by Harry Stilson and his descendants.

I’ve shared some of Harry’s writings regarding his opinions on racial inequality. His 1907 speech advocating integration, for one thing. He made that speech to the Ladies’ Literary Club in his hometown in Michigan on a trip back from Virginia, where he and his family had recently moved. As a middle-aged white man on his streetcar route in Jackson Ward, his journal notes about visiting black families, donating to a black man’s funeral expenses, taking pictures of African-American kids, his son’s photo with his black friend, all indicate a pretty progressive stance. He felt that familiarity would create respect and that respect for other races and religions would make a better America.  I’m an independent who mostly votes for Democrats and I tend to think of Republicans as very conservative so the items that suggest he voted Republican surprised me given his radical ideas but parties change over time. They must, because Harry’s granddaughter, a very strong feminist, was immersed in the Republican Party most of her life. As the second female bridge engineer in Virginia and a munitions designer at the Pentagon in WWII, her attention to detail and perfect handwriting lent itself to her volunteer schedule sheets below. Strikingly different from today when I go online, click on a link and the people to call and their numbers appears on my screen after the text or email confirming I’ll be making calls.

In Harry Stilson’s journal, he noted “Tues 8/6/18 took 6 pictures last one of myself voting to abolish Administrative Boards.” I have searched online for images of voting booths in Virginia back then to see if I could identify this mysterious photo. Nothing. I searched for “Administrative Board Richmond VA” and the only thing I find is articles about the 1918 Spanish Influenza and the Board actions regarding health restrictions. Boy, I hope Harry wasn’t the Trump equivalent of 1918, rejecting lockdowns and mask wearing! I posted the photo below on Facebook asking if anyone can shed light on what Harry’s in front of: voting booth? Dressing room? WHAT? Maybe you can help me out here.

Politics and world events interested Harry. He attended War bond drives, his son Leon fought and died in France, his wife was a leader in the Virginia Gold Star Mothers and sailed to France on a Gold Star Pilgrimage, and Harry documented WWI from start to finish in film, both still and movies. The family attended the 150th celebration of Yorktown where Harry photographed President Hoover and his secret service on parade. His young grandson, my father, shook the President’s hand that day. Harry had even written to Washington while on a rampage after his wife left him, demanding that the government do something, I’m not sure what. That crazy spell only lasted a short while and then he proceeded to get on with life as a single father, streetcar motorman, and amateur photographer. After the war, his ex-wife returned to Richmond and they resumed life as if years and a divorce hadn’t occurred. Far as I can tell, they both voted until their deaths.

I have an entire storage box of political memorabilia, from posters to letters to pins. Letters to my aunt Norma Kathleen “Kit” Lynch thanking her for her volunteer efforts.  A card from Eddy Dalton when Kit was in the hospital with cancer. Pins from Ike to Reagan. Jewelry, cartoons, whatever.

Browsing through these items, it saddens me that the divisive environment politically prevents us from having differences of opinions without rancor. I didn’t agree with my father or my aunt but I respected their passion. I respected their right to disagree with me. I’ve knocked on doors over the years and, in this pandemic, I’ve bitten the bullet and made cold calls, which I won’t do for my business but I will do for the sake of our country. I don’t have much in the way of souvenirs but I’ll share my T-shirt from Hillary’s campaign and a photo I took when President Obama was in Richmond and my mom and I stood for hours barely with room to move (pre-pandemic, remember those days?), so excited to hear and see him. I guess it runs in the family. That passion for being involved, for speaking our minds, for volunteering. For VOTING. If you haven’t voted yet, go vote tomorrow.

My cousin, Anne Soffee, loves the Virginia State Fair so, in this COVID world of canceled events, she’s mourning the loss of this traditional part of fall. I realize that the last post I did was to remember the summer fun we’d normally be having but I promised her nostalgic pictures. The fair was Harry Stilson’s favorite event as well so here we go again: pretending we’re doing things we can’t do right now. The first photo was nearly a century ago to the day.

Some of my oral history sources recall sneaking through the fence at the fairgrounds on the Boulevard where the Diamond is today. Morris Goldberg never paid for streetcar rides but scavenged transfers discarded by riders and he confessed to slipping through a hole in the fence to go to the fair. He heckled a midway barker, demanding his money back if not satisfied (he didn’t have money to pay anyhow) and the irritated barker growled “Get out of here, kid.”  Harry Stilson paid for his tickets and he was often accompanied by his children, Leon, Anita, and Don. Some of the photographs were taken by Leon.

As kids, we were required to visit the animal exhibits before we could hit the rides. One state fair picture struck me as odd. Were deer that unusual?

T.W. Woods was a prominent Richmond seed company so this exhibit of “electric lights” was probably well-attended. I just like checking out the fruits and vegetables.

I’ve wondered if the rides of today’s state fairs are the same machinery as back then. We do still have the Caterpillar and the swings.

Harry and Leon’s horse racing photos were blurred but, hey, those horses were fast. Did any of these horses go on to fame?

This act is African-Americans. I’d love to think the man dancing is Bill “Bojangles” Robinson because he was a Richmonder and he did come home regularly, performing here often before he made it big but probably not. I haven’t found a way to research his schedule for October 1920.

In Harry’s movies, there is a clip of a black performing group which could be the act that my would be/could be Bojangles is with. There’s also a midway act that reminds me of a young Morris Goldberg. I’ve shared this performer before but she’s worth another look.

This horse act is Holland & Dockrill, World Famous Equestrians.

It’s hard to see but this captures the high diver as he leaves the platform. Harry also caught a saner performer diving into this barrel of water.

And because it’s our most fervent dream these days, I just had to include this picture. Maybe one day we can crowd like this at the Virginia State Fair, candy apple in hand, cotton candy sticky fingers, the sound of the midway in our ears and our hardest decision which ride to go on next.

We’re missing our usual summer vacation trips and activities this year because of the pandemic so I thought I’d share a few Harry Stilson photographs from his vacations and trips. That way you can visualize the places you’re missing…oh, sorry! These pictures were taken in the early 1900s so places might look a little different but hey, it’s better than nothing. The first few aren’t really in summer but it’s Virginia Beach and they set the stage. Harry’s enjoyment of his two day vacation from streetcar work, documented by his sister, was well-deserved.

2 day vacation

Rolling deep

Some others of Virginia Beach include the boardwalk and another, “under the boardwalk” view. Harry liked to catch action so there’s one of a woman mid-air and what I assume is his labeling reference to the ladies in another.

Virginia Beach boardwalk under boardwalk

jumping in surf   good view of surf

Harry went to Cape Henry in 1920 and captured this view of lighthouse and men at work.

Cape Henry

His daughter  convinced him to go on a short trip to Natural Bridge and Endless Caverns. Here are a couple of shots of that trip. I’m always discovering things ‘a day late and a dollar short.’ On the back of a landscape photo from the Endless Caverns trip, Harry described the return trip to Richmond late at night. He mentioned stopping at “the store at Hancock and Clay” for a few items. That store was owned by my late friend, Morris Goldberg’s family. I never thought to ask Morris if Harry knew his parents or shopped at the family store. Now I know he did, at nearly 10 PM!

Natural Bridge entranceNatural bridge men


I suspect this picture was taken by my great-grandmother’s niece because they lived out west.  Cool but stupid. Those bears are too close for comfort.

bears too close

Not all summer activities we’re missing are far from home. Our current baseball season is in jeopardy because of COVID but this team at Idlewood Park can remind you of the joys of ball games. I realized that my great-uncle was on this team when I took another look at a team photo. No matter how many times I look at Harry’s pictures, I always notice something new.

ball team

Harry rented to tenants from England, a friendship that lasted well beyond the lease. I found letters from the Crawfords after they returned to Britain and Harry Stilson not only took a lot of pictures of Poppy, her husband, and son Victor, but developed film from their vacations, everywhere from Moore’s Lake to Valley Forge.

moore's lake 1930 blog  Poppy on car

Again, I’m not sure if this West Virginia scene was from Harry’s trip or someone else’s but here you go. Ansted, Hawk’s Nest Rock.

Hawks nest

Transportation is a big issue during these dangerous times. Safe to fly? Do we drive? In the ‘old days’, you just strapped your stuff onto the back of the car and hit the road. Not sure whose Wyoming-licensed car this is but it was with the Natural Bridge pictures. My point is this: we can’t go and do as usual this summer but we can get ideas from Harry Stilson. There are vistas to explore, places to go, ways to make this summer a memorable one that doesn’t include the pandemic. Be creative. Be safe. Wear masks, keep socially distanced, wash your hands, but don’t let the coronavirus steal your summer. If Harry could squeeze a few trips from his streetcar route schedule, you can find a way to have an adventure.

Wyoming trailer



In a pandemic where people are supposed to stay home, a lot of things have happened, haven’t they? I hesitated to write this entry because my intention is always to bring us together, to illustrate common interests and characteristics we share and it’s hard to ignore the divisiveness of current America. Where I stand politically isn’t hard to identify if you follow my blog or read my books. I try to listen to other points of view but sometimes there’s just one right perspective. George Floyd’s death can’t be “interpreted” as other than what it was: murder. I protested George Floyd’s murder on the streets of Richmond but I refused to chant certain statements. All police are not (insert profanity) and I won’t say “(profanity) the police” because law enforcement includes good and bad officers.  I support the right to feel and voice those feelings but it made me uncomfortable to hear that, especially with children protesting among us. Likewise, I can relate to  both sides of the issue of Richmond’s Confederate statues. I grew up seeing them and accepting them as part of our scenery which is why I can understand how hurtful they are to people of color. Have you ever been shocked to have someone tell you that one of your actions or words you said in innocence has hurt someone you care about? I think that’s how a lot of white America feels these days. I’ve been fortunate because I have African-American friends who will tell me honestly when I’ve misspoken or when someone else has. Many white people don’t have that benefit and I’m sure I’ve still said and done things that have been insulting or uncomfortable for others. I can never know what it’s like to be black in America. I’m a white 68-year-old woman. I’ve also felt a little ambivalence about the statues because my experience is a little unusual. I have photographs my great-grandfather took of those monuments a century ago because they were news, because he was present and they were part of the documentation of Harry Stilson’s world. Here’s what I mean…

Stonewall Jackson monument

I wondered why Harry took this photograph of the Stonewall Jackson statue dedication until Bob Krick, Chimborazo Museum historian, explained. Seems that when the dignitary who was unveiling the statue pulled the rope, it got tangled and the ceremony was delayed while someone climbed up and untangled ropes. Ironically, when the statue was being removed last week, there was another issue (involving horse hoofs and a kind of sawzall)  which caused a delay. And then there’s this…

French general use

This is the Robert E. Lee statue with a French general, I believe Marshall Ferdinand Foch, laying a wreath on his visit to Richmond after World War I. It’s worth noting that Robert E. Lee opposed the idea of a statue to him. It’s also significant that other events occurred at the monument in addition to the French general’s visit. It was the starting point for a women’s march that I participated in a few years ago as well as background in other parades. About those other parades…

confederate parade

This is what Harry labeled “Confederate Parade” on Monument Avenue. He photographed every parade he witnessed, in Richmond, Michigan, Yorktown. This parade was also included in his movies but not because of Harry’s Confederate pride. He was born in Michigan. To him, it was simply a parade. WWI  soldiers, cadets, and a band (Elks, I think) were in the parade, too. Richmond loved parades and never missed an opportunity to hold one. Even a “Confederate Parade,” promoting attitudes and times that our African-American residents could not forget because they were so  painful.

Confederate statues need to come down because they negatively impact many of our citizens but history isn’t eliminated by their removal. My Virginia history school books never mentioned many facts about black history (one reason I bought Black history cards for my grandkids) but that doesn’t erase those events from our past. I’ve always been in favor of adding context to the monuments. I was thrilled when Arthur Ashe’s statue was placed on Monument Avenue and have bragged on him often, reminding people that as a telephone installer, I worked on his aunt’s phone and she shared stories of him practicing on nearby Northside tennis courts. Our history includes both good and bad and should all be preserved. We can’t learn from the past if we are unaware of it.

Confederate statues were erected to promote white supremacy in the days of Jim Crow but there were other voices in the early 1900s offering other perspectives. One voice was that of Harry Stilson, documented in a 1907 speech he gave to a Michigan women’s literary club while visiting his home state. I’ve shared this before but it bears repeating. I’ve even printed it and carried it on protest signs over the years. I have Harry Stilson’s handwritten speech, entitled “Our Tinted Population.” I also have the rejection letter Harry received when he submitted the speech to a New York magazine in which he was told “We have no use for anything like this.” Well, we do have need of these words, now more than ever.

“We are black, brown, red, yellow and white. We are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jew, spiritualist, atheist, or whatnot. If they be of different types, at variance in color, religion or nationality, or all three, I am constrained to believe, being optimistic, it is so much better for the world. I believe that the true test is one of character or moral worth, and that the best education is the one that develops that character without regard to color of skin or condition of society. I also think that the best way to remove that “pride of tint” is by honorable familiarity with the adverse color, religion or nationality. In no place can this honorable familiarity be better brought about than in our common schools and public churches. I would abolish all private schools…(so) that they should become more familiar with and less suspicious of those of different tint, and thus become better citizens of this great nation, having more respect for each other.”

0151 Tinted Population bk

The word “integration” may not have been in our vocabulary in 1907 but that’s what Harry Stilson was advocating. We assure ourselves that our nation is integrated now but, if that were truly the case, the racism of today wouldn’t be possible. It’s such a simple concept: become more familiar with people of other races and religions and you will have more respect for each other. Why is that so hard to implement?







I am my brother’s keeper. That has never been more true. We each hold the health, even the life, of everyone we encounter, in our hands. Literally. We can be oblivious and figure, hey, I feel fine, and proceed to touch a grandparent or friend recovering from chemo treatments, and then wonder later how that person got infected, hopefully, not at that person’s memorial service. OR we can be cognizant of social distancing by performing a heroic act of restraint because it is hard to not touch, to not hug, to not be the outgoing, friendly people most of us are. This is our new normal and, while we can’t choose who will contract the coronavirus, we can choose our response to this health threat so I, like scientists, am looking back to the Spanish Influenza of 1918 for insight into how the world handled a similar pandemic. Unlike most of you, I have a pretty good source of information: my great-grandfather’s journal. Harry Stilson was a Richmond streetcar motorman (driver) whose camera never left his side and I inherited the collection of nearly 5,000 photos, movies, and negatives that survived but I also have letters and his journal of 1918-1919. Along with research I did while writing From Richmond to France, his writing offers a pretty good idea of how Richmond coped with a baffling illness without benefit of advanced medical technology. They did, however, have a new tool of incredible value and documentation collected during the Spanish Influenza has been saving lives ever since. That tool was radiology. X-rays were new back then, discovered in 1895 by William Conrad Roentgen, and the use of X-rays was just developing. Conflicting arguments surrounded its value and experts questioned whether distinctive lung changes were from tuberculosis or the rapidly-spreading virus taking lives across the world. Sadly, the Spanish Influenza provided an excellent opportunity for x-rays to resolve that question, to prove their worth, and become the standard diagnostic tool radiology is today. Incidentally, x-rays are a critical part of this new emergency. CNN profiled an infectious disease doctor studying x-rays of coronavirus patients. Her team discovered a radical difference in the appearance of “normal” pneumonia and corona pneumonia. The new virus produces easily-distinguished “round” spots, a difference visible even to viewers like me. While x-rays aren’t economically or logistically feasible instead of testing, they are an emergency alternative in the absence of tests.

The panic, uncertainly, and even anger that the coronavirus has created in us all isn’t a new experience. Even “fake news” claims aren’t a recent phenomenon as you can see in this early 1900s newspaper article I found in the family “archives.”

fake news

No, I don’t believe this five-year-old had a baby but I do believe what I learned about the Spanish Flu. It killed over 50 million around the world. More died from the flu than were killed in battle and it affected life in Richmond just like the virus today. Because no one knew how it was transmitted, rumors flew, no pun intended. The virus was actually of avian origin. I’m not sure if that was known back then but children jumped rope to this: “I had a little bird. His name was Enzo. I opened the window and IN-FLU-ENZA!” Little was known about how it spread so cities experimented with various practices with uneven results. Where isolation, quarantine and limited crowd gatherings were enforced, the number of cases and deaths were considerably lower. 2020, take note.

Another similarity between 1918 and 2020 is the urgent problem of food insecurity.  In my book, From Richmond to France, I related Dolores Miller’s story about her family’s experience in Richmond during the influenza.  Dolores Miller: “This happened during the flu epidemic in 1918. I guess a lot of people had nothing material-wise and perhaps a lot of families that lived in the city were going hungry. Joseph W. Bliley tried to take care of many of the poor families in Richmond. The way it was told to me, every week children were allowed to go down to 4th & Marshall and they were given eggs and bread according to the size of their families. The flu had hit the city of Richmond and people were dying like flies and the funeral homes couldn’t keep up with burying people. My mother and her sisters were sent to Bliley’s to get eggs and bread. They were standing in line and the halls were lined with bodies that they had not been able to get to during the epidemic. One of the bodies close to them released gas and scared them badly. They always told me that this body sat up just like it was alive. That’s one of the stories handed down in the family.”

I don’t know about bodies sitting up but food was scarce, money tight, just like today. Schools provide breakfast and lunch to students who wouldn’t be fed otherwise and we can’t ignore those kids. Charities and schools are scrambling to feed these vulnerable children and others during school closings. Cosings are difficult for families to maneuver but they’re essential. Dolores Miller never knew that her Elam relatives and the Stilsons were neighbors but, because of my Richmond In Sight work, she does now. Harry mentioned that Annie Elam was sick with the Spanish Influenza but she recovered. Just like most of the infected will today. Unlike Annie, Dolores’ grandmother did not recover. This virus business was serious in 1918 and it is in 2020.

043 woman on platform

                                                  Annie Elam, 1918 flu survivor, at Main Street Station mid 1920s

WWI’s returning service men carried the virus as did civilians. Modern transportation provided greater opportunities for  spread of the pandemic and the compromised immune systems of soldiers, exhausted and malnourished, increased the severity of the virus. One of Richmond’s African-American soldiers who died of the flu while in France was Otis P. Robinson of Catherine Street, Jackson Ward and member of Sharon Baptist Church. His sister Carrie Harris filled out an Army survey and included a card from him. “Dear Sister, pray for me or pray to God in Heaven, is better than anything else I know. May God bless you and be with you until we meet again.” Others returned from France to learn that family members had succumbed to the flu. Clyde Goode’s grandmother, Leeolia, died while her son, Ralph Goode was on the Princess Matoaca coming home from the war. Ralph’s son, Clyde, recalled: “He didn’t know it…he was on the ship coming back and found out when he got home.” In Richmond, Harry reported deaths of streetcar men from Spanish Influenza.  His journal entry on October 25, 1918 reported “Spanish Influenza the end of Willie McCloud last night.” He also wrote “Wed 8/7/18: W. C. Wright, my conductor, became sick and getting worse. I asked to have him relieved but it was 3.30 before Outland 212, came, and I had gotten Wright into Power House to wait for Ambulance which had been called to take him home.”  The next day Harry wrote: “Told that Conductor William Clarence Wright died last night after 7 PM at the house of his sister at 1505 Garland Ave, Barton Heights.” Mr. Wright’s death certificate stated “heat stroke” as cause of death but heat stroke symptoms are high fever, sweating, difficulty breathing, all symptoms of influenza. Based on timing and symptoms, I speculate that Harry’s conductor died of the flu. Streetcar men were exposed to people daily. Think about the passing of tokens or coins, the hand offered to help a passenger onboard. Meanwhile, quarantines restricted activities and Harry’s son, Leon, stationed at Camp Lee (now Fort Lee) mentioned that he was unable to make purchases prior to shipping out to France “because of the quarantine.” Camp Lee’s hospital treated flu patients as did other army facilities as the epidemic spread.

Camp Lee hospital postcard

This post is not my usual Richmond In Sight style but hopefully it’s a reminder to be vigilant in protecting ourselves, our families, our friends, and all the people we encounter as we move through this world. We just need to adapt. My “day job” is real estate broker and I’m still doing real estate. I listed and sold a property this past week and handled a few issues for clients at their properties. I got keys copied, dropped off paperwork, did all the usual real estate stuff but I did it with the least physical contact possible. This virus won’t last not forever. I pray that warmer weather WILL cause the illness to dwindle, that reduced interactions and social distancing will help us get through this. Richmond survived the Spanish Influenza of 1918. We and the rest of the world will survive COVID-19 but let’s survive it despite panic and fears, with grace and consideration for others. We shouldn’t hoard, profit from disasters, disregard the safety of others because we think we’re healthy or “that’s something other people get.”  We’re good people. Let’s call our elderly, our handicapped, our more vulnerable friends and family and offer help in a responsible way. Show them love by protecting them. Leave supplies on their doorstep (wipe or use sanitizer on whatever you touch) or keep your distance and wipe what you touch. We all are our brother’s keepers. Let’s act like it. Be safe.