Yesterday Richmond became a city of detectives, historians and cheerleaders.  The Richmond Times Dispatch ran an article about my great-grandfather’s pictures, my books and the search to identify people in the nearly 3,000 pictures and negatives that I inherited. You might want to read the online version before proceeding so that this entry makes sense.

OK. Back now? This is the incredible thing that happened yesterday. Starting at 6:00 AM, I got phone calls and emails, a total of over sixty of them that I recorded (family and friends not included…sorry, gang). I got a phone call from a 95 year old African American physician who has lived in South Richmond all his life and wants to share his stories. Turns out my mom knows him from the Methodist Historical Society meetings but then, Mom knows everyone.

I heard from a woman who said she was raised on stories about the streetcar and Mr. Stilson. Her mother and “Aunt Bob” said he “watched out for them” and “held the trolley for them.” Can you imagine anywhere but Richmond where, ninety years later, a kind streetcar operator would be remembered so clearly by TWO different people, one an African American woman, one a 93 year old Jewish man? I have to admit that I had tears in my eye as memories were shared.   

I also was able to identify the “man in the white coat” in the Kingan’s Abattoir picture on the front page. His great-nephew, who was raised by him and refers to him as his father, told me that Robert Cleveland was the plant manager for Kingan’s. I excitedly told him that I have a journal entry recording that Harry Stilson took a picture of the chief engineer of Kingan’s. Then, this morning, I found the entry and it’s someone else, W. H. Dickinson, so they are different men…perhaps I’ll find someone related to Mr. Dickinson. Mr. Cleveland wrote an autobiography and I’ll get to see that as well as interview his adopted son.

The calls and emails poured in. Katherine Calos, the wonderful writer who set this all in motion, fielded calls and sent me “one more” all day long. People wanted to offer suggestions, give me names of people who could do oral histories, encourage me in my “noble quest” as a high school classmate put it, and suggest sources for all kinds of help. I heard from local historical societies, museums, simply everyone, everywhere. It was amazing.  Yesterday afternoon Katherine called to tell me that the Associated Press had picked up the story. How cool is THAT?

So, today, I just want to say thank you. To everyone who read the article and responded, to everyone who read it and took the time to consider who or what they knew that could be helpful, to Richmond in all its generosity. Ms. Dillard said “Now I have someone to tell all these wonderful stories to.” That was the goal of the article and, thanks to all the good people of my hometown, it was an overwhelming success. I promise to tell all the Richmond stories shared with me. Thank you, Richmond.