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Another Minor Virginia History Tour

November 17, 2007

Written December 12

Dear Friends and Families,


I like history stories, especially off-the-beaten-path stories. Back home in Bavaria, history has a long history, so to speak, but here in America, a traveler has to get history in smaller, less awe-inspiring bites. On this particular November weekend, I revisited a small car museum, stumbled into a cemetery, and looked around a locally-famous war memorial. Here's the small stories.


The Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke is mostly about trains. But, I've already told that story. On this visit, the train interiors were locked up and, mostly, inaccessible, however I had the small space devoted to old cars all to myself.

A few of the cars were those that seem quite ordinary, sitting on side streets or in old farm yards, with their stories rusting away. Here at VMT, sitting under a (historically inaccurate) "Vote Eisenhower" sign, they were special somehow.

Of course Studebakers are special anywhere. This old "torpedo", in its original paint job, recalls another age, not quite antique to some of us.

Then there were the Golden Hawk and the Corvair Monza. I can remember being a 16-year old and lusting after the turbo-Monza, a perfect car for me since mom's car was a 36 horsepower Renault Dauphine and Dad's was a 350-horse Chevy Impala.

But the real history story in the dozen-car display was this old Model-T truck. This was one of the earliest models, with an elegantly simple transmission-differential, just a flat disk driven by the engine and an axel-mounted wheel. The wheel could be moved in and out on the disk as an infinitely-variable transmission: simple, but not sufficiently reliable.

VMT: http://www.vmt.org


Back "home" in Lynchburg, I was hoping to snap a few fall pictures as the trees were entering their last colorful days. However, the sky turned dreary and the colors dull, but I did manage a quick tour of the Spring Hill Cemetery.

The Cemetery, started just before the Civil War, became the final resting place for many Lynchburg notables, including Southern general Jubal Early, James Dearing and Thomas Munford. In this town, all the heroes fought for the South. (Sometimes, that Old South feeling stills shows itself to us foreigners.)
Not all the stories on the old headstones were of rebel heroes. This small stone memorialized a young bride who died as many of that era did, in giving birth. In this case, a cloudy, gray day seemed correct for photos.



Speaking of war heroes, I finished my search for fall pictures outside two house made famous by the June 1864 Battle of Lynchburg. The first was "Sandusky" a fine old Federalist home seized by the Yankee general David Hunter as his headquarters. Hunter's army, including troops led by two future U.S. presidents Hayes and McKinley, approached Lynchburg from the south, encountering a three-tier defense starting nearby.
General Early's rebel army abandoned the first tier but fought at the second line of defense, still called the "line of outer defense" on historical markers. The yankees were held at this point, through the evening of June 18, 1864.

Meanwhile, in the center of Lynchburg, the home of Colonel Robert Owen and his wife Narcissa, served as a resting placer for Confederate officers and soldiers. The story goes that a couple Union spies, dressed up as tired and hungry rebel soldiers, stopped here and asked for food during the battle. Mrs. Owens gave them food while she told exagerated stories of the strength and invincibility of the Lynchburg defensive lines. Reportedly, the spies believed her and convinced General Hunter that Lynchburg was too well defended. Consequently, the Union Army turned around and marched off in search of easier targets. Today, the Owen house is called The Point of Honor. (http://www.pointofhonor.org)

OK, maybe this day tour didn't have the significance of Normandy or the grandeur of Florence, but we need to look nearby to make sure we've seen what's around.

So, look around.


John and Marianne.


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