Found Friday #9: The Gift of Ghost Stories

Back in 2016, my friend Liz gave me this book as a housewarming gift.

To be fair, I don’t know that it was meant to be a housewarming gift, as both Liz and I love a good ghost story and she just thought I’d enjoy it, but the timing worked out. And it’s more special than a “just because” present. It’s signed by Frank Raflo, the author.

He passed away in 2009.

I felt like it was time to revisit this book today. After I read it the first time, I tucked it away on my bookshelf and didn’t really think much about it. But stories are the gifts that keep on giving, and I thought it would be fun to re-read these, since it’s spooky season. There are lots of good stories in this book, but, as it turns out and after reading it today, there’s one in particular that I just can’t get out of my head.

And next week, I’ll tell you why. 😉

*In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about some of the ghost stories I grew up with living in Virginia, I recommend the Ghosts of Virginia books by L.B. Taylor, Jr. I devoured them when I was younger, and I come back to them often.*

Found Friday #8: The Willow Will Tell

We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow
But now alone I lie and weep beside the tree
Singing “O willow waly” by the tree that weeps with me
Singing “O willow waly” till my lover return to me

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to have a weeping willow tree in my yard. There were three big willows near a little creek in my neighborhood, and whenever I saw them, I thought they were just the most beautiful trees. I loved to sneak away and sit underneath them and read, even though they were definitely sitting on someone else’s property and I was definitely trespassing. Kids don’t think about stuff like that.

My mom used to say weeping willows look messy, but I think there’s beauty in a certain amount of chaos. I’d be lying if I said the willow on the property wasn’t one of the reasons I wanted to buy this house.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend came over and spent some (socially distanced) time on our back patio. As we were chatting and enjoying a fire and some wine on what turned out to be a pretty chilly fall evening, he pointed to the willow in the field. He said that in Persian culture (his culture), the willow tree is a symbol of love, and that there’s a term for a willow tree that’s gone crazy from being in love, “beed-e majnoon,” which translates to “crazy willow.” That feels right, doesn’t it, for the tree that my mom used to call “messy?”

This week, I watched the first episode of The Haunting of Bly Manor. I perked up a little bit when I heard one of the main characters sing a few lines from “O Willow Waly.” It’s funny how the universe works sometimes. See, I’d been thinking about our conversation about the willow tree, and I couldn’t quite get it out of my head. You know those moments that you just can’t shake – like you’ll need them for later, like they’re not quite done with you yet.

I feel like our willow has a story to tell, one of these days, and that it’s my responsibility to tell it, when the time comes.

I wonder what it will be.

Found Friday #7: The Old Mill

In case you missed last week’s post, I talked about how my house sits along a mill race. The race is small and narrow, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was only a creek. The mill, on the other hand, is a bit more…striking. Noticeable? Big. It is big.

You can’t miss it. Though you might not realize, if you’re just driving by, that it still operates today. It’s actually part of NOVA Parks, and you can take a tour, rent the space for events, and watch Mike the Miller at work. The mill also hosts historic reenactments and other educational events, as well as the occasional farm-to-table dinner.

Before we even moved into our house, when we were still under contract and stressing about it, I did a bit of reading on the mill. We’d driven by it several times, but we’d never taken an opportunity to learn more. What better way to distract myself, I thought, than to do some research. (I was an academic kid, and I never grew out of it.) I came across this article, which I won’t rehash but will encourage you to read, that tells the mill’s story: https://www.loudounhistory.org/history/aldie-mill/. It’s a good story. My favorite bit (if it gets you interested) has to do with Civil War soldiers hiding themselves in the wheat from John Mosby and his rangers. (See? You want to read about it now, don’t you?)

Anyway, I know I talk a lot about how lucky I feel to live in an area with such a long and rich history, and I probably sound like a broken record. But I think it’s important to understand that history is alive.

And this mill is a living piece of Loudoun County’s history.

Found Friday #6: It’s not just a creek!

Back in 2016, when we were neck-deep in our search for a historic home and pretty stressed about it, I had a dream. I dreamed about an old farmhouse with a trail behind it. Just a quick dream. I woke up and didn’t think much about it. Searching for a home, especially a historic home, can be a grueling process, and I had lots of things on my mind, and weird dreams almost every night.

I also don’t normally put a lot of stock in dreams. But sometimes strange things happen.

See, in the woods behind my house, there’s a trail.

After we moved in, I asked some of our neighbors about it, and they called it “the mill race.” I didn’t know what that meant, though I knew we had a mill in town, and that the trail led about halfway to it. And then it occurred to me.

Beside the trail, there’s a little creek.

Or, at least, when we moved in, we thought it was only a creek. Turns out, it’s a race. And when neighbors told us about “the mill race,” they were talking about the creek, not the trail.

I did some digging and found this map, drawn by a noted local Loudoun County historian named Eugene Scheel.

Source: https://www.loudounhistory.org/history/aldie-mill/

So, as it turns out, we live along a head race. It starts at a small dam on the west end of the Village, and runs all the way to the mill on the east end.

Pretty cool, right? I certainly think so. It’s another piece of history I get to experience every day.

Next week, I’ll write about the mill and share its story, so if you’re interested, be sure to check back on Friday, October 9th.

Until then, happy hunting, history adventurers!

Found Friday #5: A Historic Site in Journalism

Moving off of my property for this post, but only just, and I promise a good story. About five minutes from my house, there’s a church and cemetery.

Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church was the site of a Civil War skirmish, a hospital, and a barracks (among other things). Graffiti dots its walls, tangible remnants of the soldiers who recovered within them. Its congregation met until 1980, and it is now a public park offering educational events, tours, and event rental space. The adjoining cemetery contains both marked graves – including one War of 1812 veteran – and at least 64 unmarked African American graves that lie outside of the cemetery’s gray stone walls. It sits along a historic roadbed, at a crossroads that was, once upon a time, essential to travel in Loudoun County.

There aren’t many places in the area that have seen quite as much history as Mt. Zion, and, when I first visited, I was intrigued to find that it’s even considered a Historic Site in Journalism. (I didn’t know such a thing existed, and am happy to have that knowledge, now.)

The text on the plaque reads:

In the graveyard adjoining this church, on June 23, 1863, Harpers Illustrated Weekly’s Alfred A. Waud, one of the Civil War’s most renowned artists, dug the grave for the burial of his friend, Lynde Walter Buckingham, the chief cavalry correspondent for the New York Herald.

Buckingham had spent the day of June 21 covering what would become one of the largest cavalry battles in U.S. history, in and around the villages of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville. At the front with Union General Judson Kilpatrick throughout the June 21 fight, Buckingham was on his way to Washington with his account of the fighting when Confederate Partisan fighters under Major John Singleton Mosby’s command overtook him and caused his horse to dash down a steep hill and throw its rider powerfully to the ground. Buckingham later died of injuries to his skull in a makeshift Union Army hospital within this church.

After burying his friend, Waud rode on to Gettysburg, where on July 2 and 3 he sketched scenes of the fighting there that continue to shape Americans’ views of that epic battle. A couple of days after Buckingham’s burial, Union Captain Webster, an old friend of his, came to Mt. Zion with an escort and ambulance to disinter the body and send the remains to Buckingham’s family.

The Society of Professional Journalists hereby designates Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church and Graveyard a Historic Site in Journalism. For as long as they exist, they will recall the devotion to duty and fellow man that embody the best qualities of America’s war correspondents.

Marked this 14th day of June, 2013.  

It’s a sad story, isn’t it? And a tragic memory worth preserving. But there’s life and community at Mt. Zion these days, as the curious passerby and the avid history buff alike drop in to look around and learn, and to enjoy the beautiful rural viewshed ideal for an afternoon picnic.

I’m sure Mt. Zion has many, many stories left to tell.

Found Friday #4: Pretty Mantis

I’ll start this one with a story.

When I was in third grade, my class had two pets – a cute, chubby red and white guinea pig, and two bright green praying mantises that I thought looked a lot like aliens. At the end of every week, two students were chosen, by popular vote of the class, to take the pets home and care for them until Monday. I desperately wanted to bring the guinea pig home for the weekend. But when my name finally came up and the class voted, I got…the praying mantises.

So there I was at the end of Friday, trundling down the steps off the school bus, saddled with my backpack, my spring windbreaker, the books that wouldn’t fit in my backpack, my lunch box, and a wire cage containing two potentially extraterrestrial life forms that I had absolutely no idea what to do with. When I opened the door and plopped the cage down on the kitchen table, my mother was predictably less than pleased.

“What is THAT?”

“Praying mantises.”

“Why do you have those?”

I explained what happened, and she told me I shouldn’t volunteer to take the class pets home ever again. Honestly, I don’t blame her.

Fast forward about thirty years, give or take, and my garden is positively brimming with brown praying mantises right now. It might be karma. But they’re actually kind of interesting to watch, so I’m not complaining.

We’ve been seeing them mostly on our windows at night, seeking out moths to snack on. Earlier this week, though, my husband looked out the window of his study and found this little guy hanging out in our euonymus.

He’s sort of cute, actually. And very photogenic.

And possibly has aspirations to conduct an orchestra?

Live your dream, buddy.

I don’t want him inside my house, would not even consider keeping him as a pet, but as an occasional visitor who keeps to himself, he’s perfectly welcome.

Found Friday #3: The Fantastic Family Fox

Aren’t they adorable?

We get all sorts of critters and beasties on our property. We’ve got a family of deer who come through in the evenings, a groundhog who loves our still-growing orchard, opossums, butterflies, cardinals and other little native birds, and the occasional black bear. And there are two spoiled animals who live *inside* the house with us.

These two really enjoy their creature comforts, and the consistent access to snuggles, soft places to sleep, and snacks.

We’re constantly looking out our back window to see who might be visiting, and back in the spring we were delighted to learn that a family of foxes – mom, dad, and kits – had made a den under our barn. They normally popped out around sunset for playtime and dinner, and we tried to snap some pictures without scaring them.

We found them to be lovely neighbors. They were very adept at controlling the field mouse population, and so fun to watch (from a distance, of course).

The kits have grown up now and I think they’ve moved on, but we still see a fox or two out back under the willow tree from time to time. I’d like to think they feel as happy and at home here as I do.  

Found Friday #2: Civil War Bullets in the Ceiling

When we moved into our house back in 2016, the previous owners told us that there were four Civil War bullets in our breakfast room ceiling.

Though we knew the house was built around 1820, we didn’t realize until later that it actually sits in a Civil War Battlefield Study Area. I’m sure that if we headed out to our back field with a metal detector, we’d find some interesting artifacts. I’m actually surprised we haven’t done that already. We don’t own a metal detector, so perhaps that’s why.

At any rate, before we even got unpacked, the first thing we did – and I’m serious, the very first thing – was examine that ceiling. We found three bullets fairly quickly.

The first three were easy to spot, but we’ve never found the fourth. Which means we’ll just have to keep looking!

(P.S. – I bought a metal detector. So there’s that.)

Found Friday #1: Fruit Trees and Fragments

It’s ended up being a rainy day today. Here’s the view out of my back window:

Normally, there’s a mountain back there. Today, just clouds and downpours. I think we’re getting what’s left of Hurricane Laura.

I’ve spent the day procrastinating writing a short story for August. I made cacio e pepe for lunch and banana and oatmeal cookies for breakfast tomorrow. I watched Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and I gave myself a manicure. I’ve already had two Diet Cokes.

All of this not working got me thinking, and I think it would be fun to write some short posts featuring the various odds, ends, and interesting items my husband and I find in and around our 200-year-old farmhouse. Trust me, it’s a lot. Like, right after we moved in, we found a machete hidden above an air duct in our basement. Not sure what that was about, or how long it was there before we found it.

Anyway, I’ll try to make this a weekly thing, and we’ll call it “Found Friday.”

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Back in the spring, we planted some apple trees in our back garden, to accompany some cherry trees we’d planted the year before. One of these days, I’ll make all the pies, if I can manage to keep the trees alive long enough to produce fruit.

As we were digging, we started to find fragments of pottery and bone china. The bone china seems to have grown legs and walked off, but I’ve still got a pretty sizable chunk of the pottery (which I found, again, when I was doing some cleaning over the weekend).

I wonder what this looked like, when it was whole. And I wonder how old it is. It’s interesting, living in a house that so many people have called home before us. I’m sure we’ll leave something behind, too.