Archives for posts with tag: library

Here’s a sequel to my Richmond In Sight Facebook entry about being passed from person to person. Recently, Dan Bailey, my friend in Washington state, posted on Facebook about a PBS show & said I was mentioned in the credits. Huh. I watched the show, The Race Underground, wondering what my connection was, and then I saw a name I recognized, Daisy Schmitt. Searched RIS emails and there it was.  A year ago, I got an email from an American Experience producer who was referred to me by the Valentine Museum’s Kelly Kirney. They wanted streetcar photos from 1888 which I didn’t have. Harry didn’t come to Richmond until 1909.  I suggested the book Rails in Richmond by Carlton McKenney, Richard Lee Bland, streetcar historian, and Thomas Riddle, a volunteer at Lewis Ginter and a great local history source. A flurry of emails followed, PBS searching for the out-of-print book, stuff like that, and then silence until Dan watched the resulting show and read the credits. It was lovely that they remembered to thank me for the help, amazing that Dan noticed my name, and another example of how my Richmond In Sight project functions (and why we need our own documentary!)


Excursion “open car”

My journey to identify people & places in Harry Stilson’s collection follows a crooked path. It’s 2017 but internet and technology can be replaced with a storage box of photographs and willing feet. When I started this, I took Harry’s pictures to the streets of Richmond, visiting churches, businesses, and homes. A telephone call would result in an invitation to visit. Richmond is a very small town when it comes to our social network. There’s a reason I wrote in my first book, “Richmond…not six degrees of separation, maybe two.”


Carlton McKenney is a good example. I’d read his book and noticed a photo similar to one of Harry’s so I tried to find the man the photo was attributed to, and, when that failed,  Carlton McKenney’s family to ask if they knew more about it. There were still phone books back then and I found a McKenney related to Carlton but she knew nothing about the photo so that was that. Or so I thought.  A year later, I was working on my third book, Up & Down Church Hill, and asked my childhood friend, Richard Nolde, for oral history souces within his family, owners of Nolde Brothers. Richard sent me to his brother Ed who suggested Anna Nolde McKenney.  She already knew about my work because I had called her daughter!  I was wondering about the name coincidence (McKenney) and sure enough, my Nolde contact was also my McKenney contact.  And Thomas Riddle, the Lewis Ginter Garden volunteer? He was friends with Carlton McKenney and very familiar with his research. See what I mean? Two degrees of separation at most.


First & Viaduct derailed, Stilson photo, almost identical to one in Charles W. McIntyre collection

The Richard Lee Bland story is even wilder.  A woman came to one of my presentations and bought Richard Lee a book.  He called me and said that he had seen these pictures before. At the Church Hill Tunnel collapse anniversary, he met a man with a picture of the Tunnel before the disaster. That man gave him the photo to scan at VCU Libraries. Well, that man was my father, Howard Lynch. Richard was still marveling (years later) that someone would loan a complete stranger such a rare photograph. He wanted me to have a tape he’d made of their visit when he returned the photograph. When we met, he also brought me a picture he’d bought since we talked…a Stilson photograph.  He said he’d have bought it because it was rare (an African-American man, identified by a Richmond street sign, and hand-dated) but, because he had just read my book, he recognized the writing and the image as a Stilson photograph. What are the chances of all this happening?  I couldn’t make this stuff up.


Richard Lee Bland’s Stilson photo, taken day after African-American troops’ parade in Jackson Ward


There’s more.  In 2012, I showed Harry’s collection to VCU. I pointed out the Tunnel picture and archivist Ray Bonis said “We have that.” It was in their digital online collection. He didn’t remember how they’d gotten it, though. As Paul Harvey used to say, Richard Bland was “the rest of the story.” He’d taken the photo to Ray all those years earlier. And there’s more…a year after all this, I found a letter in my father’s papers from VCU Libraries. It was from Ray Bonis, dated a decade earlier, after he’d gotten the Church Hill Tunnel picture and asking that my father consider donating his images to VCU. Ray didn’t remember any of that (it was ten years earlier!) but all this goes to show that RIS work and its mysteries are like Richmond: intriguing, exciting, and yeah, a very small network.


East end of Church Hill Tunnel years before collapse

There are so many instances of these “coincidences”. At the Weinstein Jewish Community Center when I first started what I call “The Great Harry Stilson Adventure,” I heard a voice say “I knew a streetcar man named Stilson. He let me drive his streetcar.” Morris Goldberg knew my grandfather when he was a boy. What are the chances me showing pictures to about 30 random people and hearing a voice in the crowd saying THAT? You can call this stuff coincidence. I think I’m supposed to be doing this work.

That’s why I share Stilson images in presentations, books, online, whenever and wherever I can. I’ve met folks whose relatives are in Harry’s pictures. I’ve had people recognize tiny bits of buildings and that information identifies dozens of pictures. And that 1888 streetcar image that I couldn’t provide to PBS’ American Experience? I couldn’t do that but I do have pictures of the apartment of the man who collected the first nickel fare on the first Richmond streetcar run in 1888, along with pictures of the miniature streetcar he built to recreate an incident on that first run…and I’ve met and shared those images with that first streetcar conductor’s grandson, Walter Eubank. Even took him on a visit to the Valentine to show him that miniature streetcar on display. He had seen it as a boy visiting “a museum” but never knew that his grandfather built it. Now he knows. All because of Harry Stilson’s photography, Richmond In Sight, and Richmond’s “not six degrees of separation, maybe two”…and my storage boxes of pictures.

Harry Stilson labeled the picture (left) “Bo Eubank’s miniature car to  represent the first  run in Richmond Virginia in 1888 on which it ran over a cow, two goats and a horse.” (right) Walter “Bo” Eubanks’ grandson, Walter, at the Richmond Valentine Museum by the miniature streetcar his grandfather created



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