Archives for posts with tag: historical

Some people perceive Black History Month as a time to remember injustices and it is. It truly is. It’s also a celebration of perseverance, of courage, faith, and humor. Each of us has many facets and talents and to reduce a person’s life to one piece of that life is to slight them. Richmond’s son, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is a good example. His name evokes stunning dance steps, often with a dimpled Shirley Temple, and, while that was part of his legacy, there is so much more. Bill Robinson came home to Richmond often and once, he saw two children almost hit by a car in Jackson Ward. He asked about the lack of a street light at that intersection. When told that the city wouldn’t spend the money in a colored neighborhood, he paid for that street light himself. That’s why his statue stands at that particular intersection at Adams & Leigh. It was sculpted by Jack Witt and erected by the Astoria Beneficial Club in 1973. How do I know that story? Wesley Carter, an Astorian who died at the age of 104, made the trip to deliver the statue to Richmond and he shared his story. Both of these men, Bill Robinson and Wesley Carter, were dedicated to their home town and its people. Richmond has so many people like that.

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Wesley Carter & Kitty, Astoria Beneficial Club      Bojangles Statue

Dr. Carter was a teacher and mentor of countless young people and an institution at Virginia Union University. I met him through his cousin, Barky Haggins. Visiting or calling Barky’s Spiritual Store at 1st & Broad is unlike any other “business.” You’re welcomed into Mr. Barky’s store and his heart and that’s a really big heart. I won’t embarrass him with details but I have heard stories of incredibly generous acts from several Richmond folks and I can vouch for the lift I receive every time I hear his voice or am pulled into a big hug. One characteristic shared by Wesley and Barky is the ability to see humor in events that could as easily inspire tears. Talking about hardships like being the last kid in the bath water in a kitchen tub or walking miles to deliver school work, Wesley would just cackle. He’d shake his head at the absurdity of it all and laugh. That’s an admirable trait.

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                                 Far background, left, is the Norton Street house Barky Haggins grew up in

Both Wesley and Barky reminisced about “2 Street”. That’s 2nd Street in Jackson Ward, the “Deuce,”  where the good times rolled. The Hippodrome was part of that but the whole street was a party. I found a glass negative labeled “Alonzo ‘Spider’ Waller” in Harry Stilson’s photographs and it just looks like it belongs on 2 Street, doesn’t it?

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Alonzo “Spider” Waller

Waller is a well-known name in Richmond. Did you know that Waller & Co. Jewelers is a four-generation family business, established in 1900? That they make a signature watch? A Waller watch is a cherished possession. But my Waller, Alonzo, isn’t from that Waller family. At the Genealogy Roadshow at the Hippodrome, I met a woman who knew someone who was related to him and she promised to give her my card. I’d love to know Alonzo’s story and to share his picture with his family. Sadly, I never heard from Alonzo’s relative but I remain hopeful. Don’t you want to know more about Spider?

Richmond has stories to tell and Richmond In Sight wants to tell them. Celebrating Black History Month is a start but we need to celebrate people and stories like these all year long. Check back for more stories and images and don’t forget that we have a Facebook page. Richmond Views is the blog for Richmond In Sight and RIS is sharing the pictures of Richmond in the early 1900s everywhere we can. If your organization has programs, get in touch. I give presentations ‘most anywhere I’m invited and Black History Month is a great time to see what our African-American Richmonders were doing when Harry Stilson’s streetcar ran on the West Clay line.

 

It’s a combination of things, you see. The weather, for one thing. Hundreds of thousands with no power, telephone lines down and that means that stalwart men and women brave the bitter cold to “hook poles” and restore vital services for us. When I say I can imagine how painful that is, I really can imagine it because I used to hook poles myself. I was an installer/repairman in Church Hill, Highland Park, Fulton, Shockoe, Oregon Hill, Jackson Ward…in other words, all of Richmond’s downtown neighborhoods where the utility poles are really old, really skinny, and in really weird places sometimes. And EVERYTHING is aerial. So, my empathy for these guys runs deep.
Then, this morning, I gave a presentation at the Eastern Henrico Rotary Club on Eubank Road, the road where the ‘storeroom’ I worked out of is located. Haven’t been on that road in decades but it took me back. Way back.
Lastly, we found a Stilson picture that I’ve been looking for. Harry Stilson’s journal entry stated “Joe Pace et al, lineman up a pole at Lathrop’s” so I got excited. I thought I’d see a telephone man from the early 1900s up a pole. Cool. Except that I never found that picture. Until a couple of days ago when Randy said, “This guy has a belt of some sort on him.” Hey! Let me see that! Oh, wow. A check at Ancestry.com showed a Joe Pace employed by the ‘street railroad’ (streetcar company) so he wasn’t with C&P, as I was, but the guy hooked poles, just like I did, WHERE I did. Really cool.
Only he didn’t work ‘just like I did.’ He climbed power poles in a fedora, a business suit and tie. His safety belt is strapped around his waist, tool belt slung over his shoulder but those are about the only similarities. I wore T-shirts, jeans, steel-toed work boots, safety glasses and hardhat. Had to. OSHA requirements. Joe Pace tucked his necktie into his shirt so he wouldn’t get it caught as he climbed. Take THAT, OSHA! Here’s Joe ‘et al’ posing for Harry:

Joe Pace et all lineman

I’m going to give you a reason to howl with laughter. That’s how generous I am. I know that the nasty, debilitating snow storm has everyone depressed so this is my gift to you: pictures of me in 1976 at C&P’s “new training facility” at Eubank Road. Our training supervisor, Dick Wright, asked me to help him create a brochure because he thought seeing me (a lot smaller than I am now!) handling a 28’ wooden ladder and climbing telephone poles would encourage guys to apply for installer positions. We did the brochure and a training film, which I have a copy of, thanks to Ed Taft, and these pictures are from that brochure. It was the middle of August, hot as the devil on that blacktop, and the sweating people in the hardhats are R.V. (Dick) Wright and me.

tying off ladderhooks 001ladder off truckDick and me

I’ll let you in on a secret. While filmng, Dick told me to remove the ladder from the truck. I hopped up onto the bumper to unhook the ladder and he said “What are you doing! You can’t do that!” I explained that I was too short to reach the ladder otherwise. He pondered the situation, then shot the film with me reaching up to the ladder, then cut to me sliding the ladder from the top of the telephone truck. Cecile B. Demille had nothing on Dick Wright, film director extraordinaire.
In those days, C&P installers and repairmen did it all…from connecting the service at the pole, sometimes going to three or more poles to complete the connection, known as ‘tip and ring’ (your basic dial tone) to drilling holes in walls, concrete, plaster or whatever and knocking the cockroach eggs out of the phone so the ringer would work. Once I was working at the back of a house and a pony came up and bit me in the butt. I admit. I didn’t report that “on the job injury” to my foreman. No way.
Our (hopefully) last Comcast technician, Mike, came out yesterday when we lost internet once again. He told me that his safety belt had frozen to the cable up a pole so he just left it there. It can happen. Trust me, it’s at least 10 degrees colder up a pole than on the ground so be appreciative of these valiant utility employees in this fiercely cold weather. I can’t remember where my steel-toed boots went and they took my “baby hooks” as the guys called my gaffs (climbers) when I got promoted to Marketing after three years outside but I miss them. I admit…I loved climbing poles. When I applied for the job, my grandmother offered to call and give me a reference. She knew I could do the job because when she needed me, she never looked in the yard. She looked up in the trees or on the roof. That’s where I’d be, usually hanging by one leg.
Loved hooking poles, hated the cold wind, frozen hands, numb feet. When you’re warm as toast watching TV, laptop beside you, take a minute to say a prayer of thanks for the guys (and girls) braving the storm so you can enjoy the comforts their service provides. From Joe Pace to Mike-the-Comcast-guy, Dominion Power and Verizon repairmen, we owe them our gratitude. And a cup of hot coffee when they restore our service. I’d clean this up, edit the pictures, etc. but the power has gone off a couple of times so I’m on borrowed time here.This will have to do. Stay safe and warm here in Richmond, Virginia and wherever you are.