Education and self-improvement were valued by my great-grandparents, Harris & Mary Stilson. Both were teachers in Michigan. Harry actually used schooling as an inducement to marriage. He offered to pay for classes that Mary Perry needed but couldn’t afford… if she would marry him. Mary’s teaching skills were beneficial when the family moved to Orange, Virginia, and money was tight. Public schools were rare in those days so Mary taught class in their living room. It put food on the table.

Robert E. Lee school roomEducation wasn’t always available in a schoolroom environment. Harry took correspondence classes and I have textbooks dating from 1892. White’s School for the Reed Organ & Melodeon included music for “Come Where the Rippling Waters Flow.”

reedThe Stilsons’ daughter, Anita, continued that tradition of correspondence schooling, taking classes from White School of Costume Art. One lesson advises studying “style magazines for type.” The text continued, “Study every line and trimming effect from neck line to hem and compare or change according to those best suited to your type.” Anita must have been a determined student because my mom credited her mother-in-law with teaching her proper tailoring. Those skills enabled me to wear dresses that looked “store-bought” but were homemade.

White School of Costume Art lesson

White School of Costume Art lesson

Harry, on the other hand, didn’t study style but electricity, bookkeeping, hydraulics, even hypnosis.

hydraulicsHis books on hypnosis are a hoot. Personal Magnetism & How to Develop It by Paul Weller, promised that “Sage’s Revolving Mirror, endorsed by the largest schools of hypnotism in the world” is “the only mechanical device ever invented that is absolutely sure to produce hypnotism in every case.” I haven’t found the revolving mirror or Rev. J.S. Wharton, M.D.’s hypnotic ball in the massive collection of Stilson memorabilia but they could be here somewhere. What does a revolving mirror look like, anyway?

hypnosis pictHarry’s grandchildren chose more traditional learning methods. Howard & Norma “Kit” Lynch attended Robert E. Lee School.  Harry took movies of recess there and this is a still from that movie.

RELeeschool01Norma, particularly, was a good student. She was class valedictorian at Midlothian High School, worked at the Pentagon designing munitions during WWII, and became the second female bridge engineer in the Virginia Highway Department, now known as VDOT. Kit was an avid reader. She owned an eclectic collection of books, some of which I consulted when writing books on Richmond’s past, but Kit also depended on Richmond’s library. As a little girl, her library card with its metal stamped identification number was well-used.

NKL library cardAll sorts of literary endeavors appealed to Harris Stilson. In 1907, the Ladies’ Literary Club in Danbury, Michigan invited him to visit and give a talk. I have that hand-written speech and share it in presentations. Harry’s journal mentioned library visits and I’ve even found a book or two stamped “Portland Library” (Oops!) so it’s only appropriate for his great-granddaughter to make presentations and share his films in libraries a century later.

Stilson photo of Ida Cauthorn reading book, 1207 Brook Avenue

Stilson photo of Ida Cauthorn reading book, 1207 Brook Avenue

I’ve given presentations at libraries in Henrico, Chesterfield, at VCU, and I’m going to Rockville next month, but November will offer an experience unlike my usual talks. I’ve been asked to participate in Midlothian Library’s Festival of the Written Word as part of a panel of local authors. Maybe I should read Harry’s books on hypnosis to see if I can hypnotize panel members and audience into barking…or buying my books of Harry’s images! Maybe not. After all, I have no proof that Harry passed those correspondence classes in “personal magnetism, hypnosis, and suggestion” or that the techniques even worked!

personal magnatismI promise not to hypnotize you but I do promise to share my process of collecting oral histories, researching Stilson images, restoring them, and combining them with stories to place you on Richmond’s cobblestoned streets back when streetcars ran. If you’re in the Richmond area, you might want to be part of the Festival of the Written Word on November 7th. Here’s the info:

LibposterStory of my life…I published this last night and then found a magazine page, no way to identify the publication,  in the Stilson stuff that BEGGED to be included. It was in an article about Christmas gifts and labeled “Book tree for mobile readers.” Well, that was probably in the 50s, way before e-books, iphones, even computers, so we’re a lot more mobile in our reading. A great gift for Christmas this year! So here it is…

"Book tree" for mobile readers, unknown magazine

“Book tree” for mobile readers, unknown magazine