After this week it will have been a month since I started to spend my time working with the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation. I have accomplished a lot! I am going to try to explain what I have done and what I will spend the rest of my time doing in a way that makes sense without actually seeing the collection I am working on. I found out that the foundation has been around since 1988, and while I had noticed that 1988 seemed to be the earliest date on any of the material I have been working with, I had more assumed that I was just dealing with a collection from 1988 on. Out of this entire collection it is up to me to group every piece of paper that has ever been saved or filed away by the foundation. I explained this in my last blog post, but getting a little more in depth is necessary to explain the roll I will continue to play at my internship. The first week I spent going through their entire file box of correspondence (which consisted of letters, mail, cards, emails, etc) and sorting it by year in new files. For every paper clip I saw I removed it with a special tool and replaced it with a paper clip over a piece of paper, as mentioned previously. Then, it took me about two weeks to get through the entire history of every historic site that they have ever worked to preserve that was given a file. This was the same process as the correspondence was, but it just took a very long time to get through the sheer amount of paper that was in those files, sort it chronologically, and organize it based on series and subseries. Now that I am finally done with that I am moving on to alllllllll the miscellaneous things, papers, articles, pictures, slides, and much more that the foundation has acquired over its time. THIS is the monster of the job, says my boss. Whereas what I was working on before was time consuming and repetitive, this portion of the job requires me to read through every piece of paper and decide where to organize it-and let me say…there is a lot. Everything I was working with before was already organized into their own little category. Over the next week and a half I am going to work as hard as I can to get completely through the collection or come as close as I can. I will update with what kind of fun things I come across as my days will now be a little more diverse in content. I have attached a picture of the room I work in! It is in the historic Gainsboro Library and it is a room named after Virginia Y Lee, the fourth librarian at the library. In the picture you can get a glimpse of just how much paper I am working with!
I came close to transcribing all of the Paschal letters, which covered a young soldier’s life and death in the trenches of World War One. While I worked on them, I couldn’t help but think about how I would feel in Robert’s place a century ago. I am older now than Robert ever lived to be. What does this tell me about his life? What does this tell me about mine? These thoughts will stick with me for a long time.
I also came near to completing my documentation assignments with Oakwood Cemetery. Not only did I learn about the importance of meticulous research, but I learned some interesting facts about the important citizens from my hometown. I would be excited to contribute to Oakwood’s future historical projects should they require assistance.
It is hard to think that the internship is almost over, I have learned and still am learning so much throughout this time.
Looking at military troops and divisions from Salem has been really interesting, I have found so many major divisions from both World Wars that participated in many major battles and were highly decorated. The book on the history of Salem has been a really interesting read and shed a lot of insight on what went on in Salem during World War II and the role of Roanoke College during that time.
My COVID data collection has been keeping me busy, I have talked to eleven people so far, all in different areas of the community and all have provided a unique perspective to my project. I am still hoping to talk to a couple more people but am not quite sure who to reach out to. I am excited to see how this project ends.
There has not been much change since my last post, only the amount of information that I have in the different areas that I am looking at.
One of the pictures I have attached is a short list of military regiments originating out of Salem and other divisions and areas within the military that men from Salem were a part of. The other picture is another book on the history of Salem, going back to the Civil War.
At this point I have been working with the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation since the 7th. It has been a great couple weeks so far. I am working on a collection of a plethora of the foundation’s records. It is my job to get boxes on boxes of paper organized into different series, sub-series, and folders that correspond to a google doc to keep track of it all. In fact, one of the most challenging things in the end of my project will be how to decide to actually organize everything after I have it all of the records in their respective folders. I need to figure out how it would best make sense to navigate once the collection ends up in its home in the Virginia Room archives. Each piece of paper in each folder must be arranged chronologically and if there is any kind of staple or paper clip on the paper it must be removed and replaced with a small strip of paper and a new paper clip over it to keep those together. If there is a photograph or a news article it is my job to photocopy that and preserve the photograph in a special sleeve. Those photographs have a series of their own, and have their own specific markings that I must write on the back that correspond to the digitized portion of the collection I mentioned earlier for the convenience of researchers in the future. It may sound a little complicated, but I finally have it down. My supervisor says it is enough work to keep an intern busy for 3-4 months, due to the size of the collection, but I am making headway and hope to see it all the way through or get very close by the end of my time with the Preservation Foundation. I am doing all of my work in the Gainsboro Public Library, which is chalk full of history in itself. It is a beautiful building and makes for great surroundings while I am working on the collection.
I was supposed to also produce a series of videos highlighting people in our community who have saved historical sights from demolition. However, due to COVID we have removed that part of my project to keep both me and the subjects of my would have been interviews safe. I certainly have enough on my plate without this project, but I do regret not being able to meet avid preservationists through the interviews I was supposed to do. Things are going great so far working on the collection, and I can’t wait to see how much I accomplish!
The penultimate week of my internship with the Bassett Historical Center glimpsed another moment of reflection for me. This time, I took note of my improvement in speed and accuracy.
I made considerable progress at Oakwood Cemetery, for example. My first search for graves to document took 3 hours to find only 15 plots. Wednesday, I located 43 in half the time! Similarly, as I began compiling short biographies of the cemetery’s noteworthy inhabitants, I found diving through obituaries an easier task than expected. All in all, Oakwood Cemetery and the Bassett Historical Center are more than satisfied with my progress so far.
I am also pleased with the progress I have made transcribing World War One letters I have been working on. While I hope to finish this task by the end of my internship next week, I have made arrangements to continue as a volunteer with the Bassett Historical Center should I need the extra time to finish.
Due to the time crunch at the end of the internship, I have decided not to read Thomas S. Kidd’s biography of Patrick Henry, a book which I have long desired to finish. Henry lent his name to my county, where he and his family lived for a while on their plantation (Leatherwood) during the American Revolution. While it would be interesting to view another crucial piece of my hometown’s history, I simply cannot find the time to read this well-reviewed novel. I have hope to amend this in the near future.
My final week will consist of my last few documentations for Oakwood Cemetery and the planned final transcription of the World War One letters. I could not have asked for a better internship than right here at home with the Bassett Historical Center!
I have spent the majority of my time working on the COVID information so far. I am finding it hard to get people to respond to me and actually set up a time to talk, a lot of people have been referring me to other people and being noncommittal, which has been frustrating. I have been able to get in touch with four people, a couple principals from local schools, restaurant owners and local business owner and all have had very different and interesting stories to tell. I am waiting on responses from ten other people in areas such as the police department, city hall, and the Salem Civic Center. Collecting this information has taken longer than I thought it would because people are taking days to respond and then another week to actually schedule something. I sent out 8 more emails today and am switching focus to the military information while I wait for responses. The museum did receive a call from the Communications Director for the city of Salem asking about me, I am glad that my name is getting around the community it has helped me get responses from different city officials.
I do not have an update on the military information as most of my time has been spent on COVID, but I will be dedicating time to that over the next few days.
Starting at the Salem History Museum I was assigned two areas of study, one of which is looking at various military troops and another looking at COVID in Salem.
My first area is looking at military troops that have originated out of Salem in different wars throughout history. There are many in the Civil War, and both World Wars. I am excited to look more into this as military history is an interest of mine.
My second area of study throughout this internship is creating a questionnaire or survey of some type about how COVID has impacted different areas of the Salem community. I have set up meetings with a couple different school principals, and local businesses and restaurant owners. I am still looking for more people to talk to and get different perspectives and stories. I am really excited about this because I get to be in control of creating questions, networking, and gathering my own information.
I appreciate the museum giving me the freedom to collect my own information, it will be a great experience and interesting to see what I can learn.
After a couple weeks, the internship has definitely matched my expectations going into it.
I have talked to three people so far in my COVID study, one school principal, a local restaurant owner, and a local salon owner. All have had very different stories to tell and it has been fascinating to listen to them and hear what the business or school has done during this time. Listening to the principal was especially interesting because he focused a lot on community support and the ways that he saw the community come together to help the students. I could tell that he was really passionate about the school and his students, it was amazing to listen to and talk with him. The restaurant owner was also very passionate and even got a little emotional telling me everything that the restaurant has gone through and the fear he had that he was going to lose the business. Listening to these people has kept me motivated to find other people to talk with and share their stories.
The military research has also been going well, I have found that there were a number of people from Salem that were first to land in Normandy on D-Day. The museum gave me a book called “Salem: A Virginia Chronical” by Norwood C. Middleton that talks about the history of Salem and every notable person, event and place. It is a really interesting read.
Overall, the internship so far has been interesting and enriching. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have had to do.
The fourth week of interning with the Bassett Historical Center (6/29-7/3) was one that left plenty of room for deep thought and introspection.
Finishing Beth Macy’s book Factory Man this week, I was both sympathetic and conflicted by its overarching narrative. I was appreciative of the clear historically-backed examination of the Bassett family in the first half and an in-depth deconstruction of ‘underdog’ J.D. Bassett III vs the ‘forces’ of globalization in the second half. It certainly entertained me! However, the closeness of the novel’s subjects and people (some of whom I know) make my objectivism harder to reach. Nevertheless, I felt Macy’s treatment of the Bassett family rivalries and domestic intrigue almost cartoonishly melodramatic at times. Overall, however, the book captivated me and gives a glimpse (if only that) into the damage wrought by free trade and globalization in the area I call home.
New perspectives and insights also entertained my work at Oakwood Cemetery. As the oldest cemetery in Martinsville, Oakwood is a place of great beauty and deep history, dating back to the founding days of Martinsville and Henry County. Getting to learn a thing or two about the people buried there has made the experience even more unique. My favorite individual to learn about was Sallie Booker, one of the first women ever elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in the mid-1920s. The Democratic political leader combined years of teaching experience with suffragist advocacy to become a significant figure in Richmond’s majority-male government. Although only serving two terms, Booker’s impact in the legislative chamber earned her the trust and friendship of future governors and U.S. senators before her untimely death in 1944. Stories like this are not uncommon in most cemeteries, but I am glad to have found this one at Oakwood.
Finally, Robert Paschal’s letters are (as usual) very deep and personally touching. While Robert writes in a somewhat confusing, train of thought, almost Jack Kerouac-style, it does NOT detract from the emotive symbology of his words. For Robert to write directly what he was thinking may be, in my opinion, a unique window into the life of this early 20th-century soldier.
I hope to continue working on the Paschal letters and at Oakwood Cemetery peacefully next week, and I may perhaps begin my own reading of a history book I have long neglected to finish reading. Either way, I have high expectations for my last two full weeks interning with the Bassett Historical Center!
Pictured: John D. Bassett High School, almost directly across the road from the Bassett Historical Center. While long closed, the former school (now engagement center) remains a testament of the Bassett family’s major influence upon local life in my hometown.
The job of a historian is not always a glamorous one, as some people seem to think. Working long hours under the hot sun archiving and researching various gravesites is proof of this. To be fair, however, sitting at a computer or research catalog for hours on end can be equally mind-numbing and boring. Nevertheless, the good historian (or someone hoping to become one) realizes the payoff to diligent research and sees the value of dedication in the benefits of knowledge they create. Working at Oakwood Cemetery for my third week has proved this beyond doubt.
I traveled to the quiet cemetery earlier than I expected Monday (6/22) to meet Lucy Davis and Kay Lewis, two dedicated board members of the cemetery. Leading me on a short guided tour of the grounds, they gave me the instructions I had been waiting to hear for more than a week. I was to find approximately 40 graves, in need of location and documentation. Upon finding them using sizable cemetery blueprints I was to photograph them and annotate various informational material to add to both the cemetery’s and the Bassett Historical Center’s archives (such as grave location upon a lot, possible epigraphs, etc.)
I learned quickly the determination needed to begin work on this project. Despite being located on a hill, Oakwood does not have much of a breeze to balance the heat of the sun. Information wrongly listed or suggested in graveyard documents led me several times to wrong sections of the cemetery for hours looking at incorrect tombs or headstones. Transcription errors, air pollution leading to granite and marble decay, missing markers, erroneous deeds… many graves suffered from one or more of these setbacks. Nevertheless, I managed to finish 20 graves before Friday, halfway through my beginning documentation run. Next week (beginning 6/29) I will be finishing up the 20 remaining graves and beginning several more.
Interestingly, several of the prominent businessmen mentioned in my current reading, Factory Man, are buried at Oakwood. In my surveying, I found the family plot of J.D. Bassett, Jr., the first heir of his father’s massive Bassett Furniture Company. His grave was as immaculate and ornate as the life he lived if Beth Macy’s book is to be believed. Below are a few pictures of his gravesite.
In another cemetery on the opposite end of Henry County, I stopped by one day to see the grave of Margaret Paschal. Margaret was the loving wife of Robert Paschal, the sender of the World War One letters I am currently transcribing for the Bassett Historical Center. The affectionate epitaph on her headstone echoes the undying sentiment those around Margaret (such as Robert, as shown in his letters) had for her. Stopping by for a few minutes encouraged me to press forward and continue the important transcribing process that has been going well so far.
I hope next week to finish Factory Man, continue the steady transcription of letters, and explore more of Oakwood Cemetery’s historic grounds. Here’s to another fantastic week of interning with the Bassett Historical Center!
Pictured: A very confused me at Oakwood Cemetery, orienting my blueprints and looking for a nearby plot.
Pictured: J.D. Bassett, Jr.’s headstone and the beautiful Bassett family plot. Note the family name centered within the frieze.
Pictured: The grave of Margaret Paschal, who remarried following the death of her first husband, Robert Paschal. “To know her,” says the epitaph, “was to love her.”