Richmond is having its first big snow of the winter as I write these words. The good news is that there will be enough snow to sled, build snowmen, have snowball fights. The bad news is that it’s SO cold I’m debating the wisdom of packing down my 400 ft. driveway and pulling out the sled. Yes, I am 63, the kids are grown and gone, but that doesn’t preclude my careening downhill, hopefully missing the creek, dragging the sled back up and repeating the ride all alone. Just in case, I parked the car at the end of the drive to maintain sledding conditions. I miss the days when all my neighbors and their kids congregated at my house for the “Moseley Sledding Club.”

Harry Stilson’s grandchildren and their friends had their own “Grayland Avenue Sledding Club” as seen in this picture below. The girl with a camera in her lap is Minnie Arnold, a neighbor who learned from Harry to always have her camera handy. Harry developed Minnie’s pictures for her so I have lots of them in his collection. She was a lifelong friend of the Stilson/Lynch family and I wish I could find relatives to share her images with. Since I can’t, I’ll share them with you. Grayland Avenue, between Carytown and the Downtown Expressway, boasted lots of kids including Ralph Carr and Lin Lucas. The little girl is my aunt Margaret Lynch.

 Grayland kids with sleds

This is one of my favorite Stilson images. It reminds me of the Little Rascals. My dad, Howard Lynch, and aunt Kathleen Lynch, are wearing “Lindy hats” popular back then. In the Stilson movies of the Byrd Theatre matinee, half the kids have leather hats like Charles Lindberg wore. One of my older friends, Aleck Mollen, was taken to see Lindberg at the fairgrounds (where the Diamond is now) by “his” Main Street streetcar man, Mr. Argenbright and relates the story fondly decades later . Lindys’ visit to Richmond was even bigger than a school-closing snow. These pictures combine reminders of both of those memorable occasions.

033 little rascals

Today we watch television, listen to the radio, or go online to see if school is closed. In the early 1900s, many families didn’t have radios so Richmond devised a creative way to announce school closings. Paul Nolde, of the Nolde Brothers’ Bakery family, recalled the “999 bell” that firehouses used. When kids heard that sweet sound, they knew school was closed and they were free to dress in their warmest clothes and go sledding. Bootsie Madison described building sleds but many weren’t as creative or fortunate. For those kids, cardboard sufficed.

My book, Up & Down Church Hill, relates stories of snow days back when. Aleck Mollen was raised in Shockoe Bottom and sledded down 17th Street from Fairfield, depending on a “lookout” to warn of traffic coming. One time that lookout wasn’t paying attention and Aleck’s sled went right under a slow-moving car. Bet he never told his mother about THAT! There was also a story about a kid sledding under a streetcar and surviving, a story that I’ve heard often enough that if not true, is still a great Richmond legend.

Hopefully, kids in the next few days will enjoy the snow without causing parental trauma. Unlike the days when the city closed streets in Church Hill for sledding, kids and kids at heart will have to find other options. Wherever snow is packed down and hills beckon, there is nothing like the exhilaration of flying down a Richmond hill.

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