Dateline: July 14, 2010, Capital Fringe Festival, Washington, D.C.
Q: Thanks for meeting me, Ms. McMath. First question: I understand you like to keep your projects under wraps?
A: Absolutely! I write and produce plays in order to satisfy myself. And I have actor friends who'll play with my words, and I love them for it. But I believe having actual audiences and professional reviews is a total sell out of the artistic process.
Q: Interesting. Most playwrights would, I would think, at least want an audience.
A: Beyond friends and family? Can't think why.
Q: No reasons at all?
A: Look, there's a strategy to all my work - from the title to the marketing campaign. You read the title of this one, Case 22 - a clear reference to the famous Heller novel Catch 22? (laughs). Nobody reads that anymore unless it's assigned. My point is to keep the art pure - all by itself. I write a play when a play tells me to write it, but it does not follow the play wants to be seen. A lot of playwrights make that mistake, y'know - getting wrapped up in wanting to be seen and heard .
A: So, here's my system: I start with a dull title. I mean, if I'd wanted someone to see it at the Fringe, I would have used the Fringe Titling Software.
A: Fringe Titling Software takes keywords about your show and adds random words, and re-orders them into eye-catching titles: adds body parts or genitalia, references to religion, sex and the like. Not everyone at the Capital Fringe Festival uses it, but you can always tell the ones that do.
Q: How so?
A: The review complains the show was not as advertised.
A: Now, if someone actually has the gumption to click on a dull title like mine — Case 22 – they'll read the description, and who wants to see a dark farce about child abuse? Nobody! That's right. I just liked the way the words sounded together. It's just not important to me if anyone sees it. The point is that it should exist as an existential statement. Pure.
Q: ... An existential statement to whom?
A: If you have to ask, I can't help you.
Q: So, then, no marketing campaign?
A: Of course there's a campaign. I have to do whatever the fringe process asks of me, because after all these years I know that, whatever I do, the Universe is ready to fly an incontinent bird over my head.
Oh, I know what you're thinking, but it's not true. It's incredibly lucky to be shat on by a bird. I should know!
So I sent out the Case 22 press release to 150 papers, but I wrote a hideous release. Ha! Just kidding. I've written for The Washington Post. Nothing wrong with my press release, it's just that, hey, is there anyone out there being paid to read press releases anymore? I knew I had nothing to worry about.
Q: No advertising?
A: A little - again, as requested, but I spent my wad paying the application and insurance fees. Then we had the absolute best luck of all.
Q: How so?
A: Randomly assigned the worst times and dates imaginable! Phenomenal break for us.
Q: So, I take it you've had no reviews.
A: Well, that was rough. We were reviewed by a fella' from DC Theatre Scene, and he raved about it. I was so disappointed!
Q: But if no one sees the play and no one reviews it, why put anything out there?
A: Because it's a total vanity piece, and I take great pride in saying so.
I mean, yes, I might have once had an urge to do a seriously complex, play-within-a-play that dealt with the phenomenal tragedy of abused children and youth who can't get help from the current American social services system, because the courts are determined to "keep the family together at all cost". Got the best actors I know, and they've knocked it out of the ballpark, and... Blahdy-blah-blah. Nobody cares.
Q: So, is this "good luck" something new to you, or has it...
A: Been here my whole life? Definitely. I'm a history major, a writer, and a playwright - about to finish a Masters in Arts Administration. Lot of folks say I'm a 4-strike Career-Chooser Loser, and I've asked my friends to stop introducing me that way. Draws too much attention.
Q: So what have you been doing all these years?
A: Well, here are some highlights: Got a Civil War documentary accepted by The History Channel - aired several times - and, just as we finished our next documentary on Civil War women, the Channel closes the department. Marketing said, "Women don't watch The History Channel." True story!
Oh, and I took first prize at the Source Theatre's 10-minute Play Competition in 2003... just before the theatre closed their doors, so...
But my best good luck goes back even further: I got published - three historic fiction novels set up to be part of a long series.
I even got a call of congratulations from my Junior High School Math Teacher. (Laughs) Turns out she was mistaking me for my older sister. I had to remind her, no, I was the one in the patched, ripped blue jeans that spent her entire class putting on makeup. She said, "Ohhh..." and got off the phone pretty quick. Not sure how I feel about that, actually.
But my great luck continued: months after my first book was published, the editor who said she lovvvved my books and they'd publish whatever I gave them... quit the publishing house. My fourth manuscript was returned un-opened.
So... been like that my whole life: luck after luck after luck. I'm sure it's obvious by now that the Fringe has just been that watery icing on a thin, flat cake.
A: Oh, no. Don't take it that way. I couldn't be happier. It's everything I expected and less.
Q: So... will you be at the Fringe Festival next year?
A: Heavens, no! I'm starting a series of Civil War plays next July (grinning). Do I know how to pick 'em or what?
Q: So, um, I have to ask: why did you agree this interview?
A: This... wha— What?!
But Mrs. Rice simply didn't understand. My thumb was the toggle switch to my imagination… and vital to my work as a storyteller.
You see, the process is the same for all of us, regardless of level. Like all forms of artistic endeavor, writing comes from utter immersion in creative thought. As a result, writers lose track of copious amounts of time, are often late for meetings and sometimes forget them altogether. Our friends and family understand - at least we hope they do, because we cannot help ourselves. We must create and tell stories. And I can't be blamed, because I was born with the need to tell stories.
My father told stories passed to him from his father and my dad continued the tradition, adding his own hilarious stories from his childhood and college days. And, from the time I could pull up on his armchair to listen, I wanted to be a storyteller, too — a keeper of the flame.
I began writing short stories, songs and poetry as soon as I mastered the pencil and kept diaries throughout my youth (and have them still). Since then I've had several "turning points" — publishing, productions, prizes, commissions, etc. — and I'm moved forward one thing and one thing only: the next story to catch my attention as it unfurled itself within my imagination.
What kind of stories? Well, I believe in the strength of a woman's voice and am fascinated by the inherent differences between the sexes. And I believe the only one way to create real characters and bring them to life is to know those differences well. And what I've learned from that study has also helped shape my career decisions as I struggle to make my way in a field in which the majority of decision makers have trouble sharing their toys with the other half of the room. But that bias hasn't always been a bad thing: it's one of the main reasons I decided to form my own production company and begin producing my own work. Also made me want to fight for the underdog.
And I've always wanted to tell stories that reveal the past. The past has so much more to tell us than today, and if you set that truth into the framework of a story arc, you build a doorway people are willing to pass through. And if you tell that story well, they'll be willing to turn and face history... hard history.
Lastly, I believe the words of a former play writing instructor: "Great playwrights ask important questions and try to answer them".
For all the above, I feel lucky and blessed to be a writer.
And although I kicked the thumb-sucking habit long ago, I thank heaven I never stopped daydreaming.
by Meredith Bean McMath
February 20, 1863…
By 11 pm, the party at the pro-Union James Filler home in Loudoun Country was well under way.
Among the guests was Union Cavalry Sergeant F.B. Anderson, a member of the Independent Loudoun Rangers - the only Union troop ever formed within the confederacy. Sergeant Anderson's sister, Mollie, was also there that night and no doubt pleased to know her brother was safe for the evening.
But, out in the fields around the home, another sort of party had formed: a Confederates from the 35th Confederate Cavalry Battalion. Commanded by Elijah V. White, the troop was nicknamed "The Comanches" for the fierce war whoop they yelled during an attack. And like legendary Confederate Colonel John Mosby, they took pride in surprising the enemy.
And a few minutes after 11 pm, White's Comanches gave a war whoop and burst into the Filler house. In the next few seconds, around twelve revolvers were leveled at Sgt. Anderson's head, and the fellow in charge of the raid, Confederate Lieutenant Marlow, informed Anderson he would be taken to Libby Prison in Richmond.
Libby Prison was well known as a cesspool of starvation and disease, and sending Anderson to Libby was tantamount to sending him to his death. So, when Marlow gave his edict, Anderson's sister, Mollie, came to the Confederate Lieutenant, threw her arms around his neck and began to weep as she begged him not to send her brother to Libby.
In a society in which one never touched an un-gloved hand, let alone throw their arms around a stranger's neck, Mollie's action was a shock. And what effect did this have on Marlow? In Ranger Briscoe Goodhart's The History of the Independent Loudoun Virginia Rangers, he simply said, "Marlow wilted."
Marlow told Miss Mollie he'd send her brother to a camp where the soldier could be released on parole... but only on one condition: if she would dance the next set of dances with him.
Mollie happily consented.
Then things grew even stranger.
All the Confederate soldiers decided to take partners, as well. And, as they lined up for their first dance, Sergeant Anderson walked over to the musicians, borrowed a violin, and began to play, "The Girl I Left Behind Me."
Then Marlow called for the "Grand March". This was usually the first dance of the evening, so Marlow was telling the crowd the party was starting over. The Confederates stayed through 6 or 8 dances, and then they took Anderson and the other Union soldier away.
As promised, Lieutenant Marlow paroled Sgt. Anderson the next day, and Anderson dutifully signed in to Camp Parole in Maryland. He was eventually exchanged to return to his unit.
But, as the Civil War progressed and Loudoun was torn to shreds by war, the charming compromise found at the Filler residence would never be repeated.
VIRGINIA'S ONLY UNION TROOP
With two-thirds of the County pro-Southern and another third either Quaker or pro-Union, the border County of Loudoun was a breeding ground of conflict. The Independent Loudoun Rangers were formed June 20, 1862 under the Quaker-turned-Captain Samuel Means, and they've gone down in history as the only Union troop ever formed on Virginia soil.
Members of the troop were drawn mostly from Germans and Quaker families. The Germans who settled Taylorstown and Lovettsville (then known as Berlin) had moved to Loudoun from Pennsylvania and retained their pro-Northern, anti-slavery attitude. According to their faith, the Quakers who founded Waterford, Hamilton (then Harmony) and Lincoln were anti-slavery and therefore pro-Union. They were also decidedly pacifist. but when war came to their doorstep, things began to change. Many Quakers chose to be "written out" of the Church to join the Union Army.
From the start, the Rangers knew what they were up against. Surrounded by pro-Confederate sentiment for years, they knew their enemy well. The men of the Loudoun Rangers and White's 35th Battalion had grown up together and many were former friends and schoolmates…. and sometimes brothers.
Charlie and William Snoots split as they joined up — William signing with the Comanches and Charlie with the Rangers.
And now Charlie and William waited for the day they'd face each other on the battlefield. As Loudoun is a relatively small county, it was a short wait.
Two months after the Rangers' formation, about 23 members of the new troop set up makeshift headquarters at the Waterford Baptist Meeting House and bedded down for the night on the long wooden pews. In the early morning hours of August 27, the Rangers were awakened by loud noises. They tumbled out of the church and formed a line in front of the Church's plaster and lath vestibule.
Luther Slater, the Lieutenant in charge that night, called out, "Halt! Who comes there?" The answer was a tremendous volley of short-range pistol fire from members of Elijah V. White's 35th Battalion. The Comanches had slipped passed the Rangers' pickets and come through the cornfields to meet their prey.
The Rangers returned fire as they retreated into the church through the wood vestibule, but as the Confederates continued firing, Goodhart tells us, "The bullets poured through this barrier as they would through paper."
After several hours of fighting, two Rangers died and half the men lay wounded in the pews. Lieutenant Slater was suffering from five wounds - several from the first volley. Goodhart noted that, by the end of the fight it was said the place looked "more like a slaughter pen than a house of worship."
Eventually the Rangers were forced to surrender.
As the prisoners filed out of the church, one Comanche, William Snoots, watched closely for his brother Charlie. Charlie had indeed been in the church and exited without a wound. When William saw Charlie alive and well, he made a sudden move to shoot him but, Goodhart says, William was, "fittingly rebuked by his officers for such an soldierly and unbrotherly desire". And Charlie was left unscathed.
Soon after this fight, the Rangers had a small success in the town of Hillsboro (Then Hillsborough) on Charlestown Pike, where they surprised a few members of White's command and took away prisoners along with some valuable equipment and arms.
But the Rangers' joy was short-lived.
On September 2, a group of Rangers rode into Leesburg and ran into another Confederate Unit, the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. Seeing the disadvantage of engaging the enemy in the middle of a highly pro-Confederate town, the Rangers quickly reformed north of the city at Mile Hill on the Carolina Road (now Route 15).
With numbers greatly in their favor, the Confederates rode north to meet the Rangers and soon outflanked and surrounded them. As the Rangers fought to break free of the line, the fight dissolved into a battle of sabers. Many escaped but with sword wounds.
With one dead, six wounded and several prisoners taken, this second battle came close to destroying the Rangers entirely. Only 20 cavalry soldiers remained, but they pressed on. Each had made the choice of principle over place, love of country over old friendships, and conscience over the bonds of blood. They would fight on.
While it's Briscoe Goodhart's contention the two early defeats, "did to a very large extent interfere with the future usefulness of the organization," the cavalry unit eventually grew to 120 in number and went on to fight a battle at Harpers Ferry, participate in the Battle of Antietam and the Gettysburg campaign, and made themselves useful to the Union Army by successfully carrying dispatches and scouting throughout their old neighborhoods.
And, in April of 1864, the Rangers found out several members of the 35th Battalion would be at a dance being held at Washington Vandeventer's home near Wheatland.
Perhaps it was payback for the humiliation Anderson suffered the year before, but Anderson and another Ranger led the attack.
Unfortunately, this time the Confederates were ready for them, and they were immediately engaged in a skirmish. Eventually the Rangers pushed the Confederates back and out of the house, and the battle soon ended as they made their escape. In the end, the Rangers had shot and killed an 18-year old Confederate soldier named Braden and slightly wounded his sister. The Confederates were not likely to forget the incident - nor Sergeant Anderson who led the attack.
In late November of 1864, General Sheridan decided it was time to burn out the “bread basket of the Confederacy," i.e. the Shenandoah Valley and much of western Loudoun County. The Union Army was ordered to "consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills and their contents, and drive off all stock in the region." Sheridan hoped one byproduct of the raid would be the destruction of the Confederate citizens’ morale (In fact, the Burning Raid was so successful on both counts, General Grant gave General Sherman permission to take the concept south in his famous "March to the Sea").
Just before the Loudoun's Burning Raid, the Union Army thought it was logical to ask the Loudoun Rangers to lead the burning parties, because they'd have first-hand knowledge of who'd still have cattle or wheat in the barn,
Well, they did their duty, but few were proud of their part in this “scorched earth” policy. After all, the soldiers' main source of resistance was the anguished tears of women and children begging them not to burn their barns or kill the livestock who were starving.
For the Confederate households, the Burning Raid meant no food for the winter, but for the Quakers, it meant the loss of all their goods despite their constant, adamant support of the Union cause. Small wonder Briscoe Goodhart book on the Loudoun Rangers gives scant space to the "Burning Raid."
THE LAST DANCE
By Christmas of 1864, there was hope among the war was winding down - would soon end in peace, but in Loudoun County, Virginia, the violence was unremittent.
On Christmas Eve, the Loudoun Rangers were visiting their families, and Anderson's mother decided to a party at their home near Taylorstown. One of their guests that night was a young lady that, rumor had it, would soon be Anderson's bride.
But outside the home, sixteen Confederate cavalrymen — some with the 35th Battalion and some with Colonel Mosby's troops — gathered for yet another raid. Ten soldiers drew their revolvers and entered the Anderson residence. Anderson must have known they'd rather kill than arrest him, so he drew his revolver and rushed to the back door.
But he'd removed his sword in order to dance that night, and in a tragic twist of fate, the S-hook of his sword belt caught on a chair, and the chair caught him fast in the doorway. He was desperately trying to detach himself as the soldiers opened fire. Shot four times, his mother mother caught him as he fell. He died in her arms a few minutes later.
And in April of 1865... peace.
When the Independent Loudoun Rangers mustered out of service, they'd lost a third of their number. The vast majority of survivors had suffered wounds in battle or starvation in Confederate prisons, but, through it all, each had remained true to the Union cause. And the Company earned the honor of being the only Virginian soldiers to serve the Union Army.
But none could blame them if, at every dance they attended for all the years to come, they watched the dance hall doorway rather than their partners' toes.
This McMath article first appeared in the former LOUDOUN MAGAZINE, 2011.
Ever wondered what it would be like to put together a "Light Musical" in 7 short weeks (Valentine's Weekend!). Wondered what the trials, tribulations and triumphs of writing and directing that show might be? All right. Then how about a diary as we work with professional singers and some of the best actors in the DC area to create a comedy with gorgeous music. Great! Let's go...
Romance from Broadway to Lincoln Center began when a man deeply involved in the arts here in Loudoun County, Virginia: Chris Maré. met with Loudoun Lyric Opera President Pamela Butler to throw out an idea: interest new audiences in Opera through a review of Broadway and Opera songs, and set the show in 1966, just as the Metropolitan Opera was being relocated from 39th and Broadway to its new digs Lincoln Center. Pam knew a good idea when she heard one, brought it back to the board and the tweaking began. The common theme became "Romance", and Pam suggested having the review hosted by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald (two of my personal heroes).
Pam asked if I would I like a commission to write the script and direct the show? As these are my two favorite occupations, I jumped at the chance. And, since then, creating Romance from Broadway to Lincoln Center has been like writing a sonnet — one long, painful, curious, but ultimately satisfying sonnet.
Nelson and Jeannette soon evolved into a married couple with respective expertise in Opera and Broadway music. They'd be rehearsing a tribute presentation of romantic music, each presenting fascinating details of the songs from their respective genres. The catch: there's no money for the production, so their producer, Jackie, has wheedled the Jeanette and Nelson into letting everyone rehearse in their living room.
My "Poetic" constraints:
1. Every song had to be in the public domain, because who can afford modern works? 1966 made that a cinch, and our Music Director, Cuong Van, Pam Butler and I worked together to chose each piece.
2. Audition the best singers in the area - the ones able to perform both Broadway and opera tunes (two completely different sets of vocal training) - during the busiest time of the performance season.
3. Oh, and make certain all of them can act, because they'll all have lines.
4. Write a brilliant show. Or a great show? Or a good show. But for heaven's sake, Meredith, don't write a bad show. This last I must leave to the critics to decide... but it keeps me up at night, just the same.
Besides finding songs in the public domain, 1966 turned out to be a great choice for me for two reasons: I began life as an American historian, and it's easy for me to wanna' play in that sandbox. Secondly, I had two fabulous aunts who lived in New York City in '66. Some of my best childhood memories involve visits with my highly sophisticated Aunt Ruthie who worked for Life Magazine and lived in a posh city apartment. And even more memorable were my visits with my brilliant, enthusiastic and artsy Aunt Libba, who worked at a medical research center and happily dragged me to every favorite corner of "her city", so I could truly understand why New York City was the center of the Universe.
So, let's talk romance. All great story telling begins with strong, recognizable conflict, so of course the stars, Nelson and Jeanette, must be at odds: he's opera; she's Broadway. He's the Managing Director of the renowned Brittleupsie-Yodelthor Opera Company, and she's the Head of Broadway Musical Research at the Glockenfluder Institute of Rhythm and Lyrical Song. He thinks Broadway is fluff; she thinks opera is a snob's game. But they've both been hired by the Paleos Perdomai (Latin translation, "Old Farts") Foundation to present a history and presentation of romantic opera and Broadway music. Jackie, the producer, has worked with Nelson and Jeanette before, and when these two begin to fray at the edges, she knows how to knit things up.
WRITING & CASTING & CHANGES, OH, MY!
This... has been an unusual play in so many ways - casting no exception. Playwrights know that having a strong sense of character helps a play along, and I prefer Neil Simon's method: he writes a new play with a certain actor in mind. I've used this technique on and off for years, depending on the work, and, if I'm lucky, the actor I have in mind is actually available for the show. I especially like to "pre-cast" in my head when I have a short amount of time to write, and my writing time for Romance was tight. When Pam Butler suggested the Nelson Eddy / Jeanette MacDonald concept - a married, musical couple looking back on their work ala Maytime - I immediately thought of Penny Hauffe and Phil Erickson, two actors with whom I've had the pleasure to work for many years in many different types of shows. Once I had those leads in my mind, I was ready to write.
As I let my mind burble, the framework for the show became a rehearsal... in the home of the couple. Oh! Suddenly, I needed a producer. No sooner had I begun to write the role of a Producer than it became Nancy Purcell's role - another fabulous local actor.
Now it was time to break into a cold sweat and call Penny, Phil and Nancy, hoping beyond hope they could all do it... Yes, they were available and willing! Huzzah!
I asked the three to come over and read the first 10 pages with me. I'm never so precious with my words that I can't appreciate one simple fact: an actor who invests hours trying to understand their character is likely to see something in a role that I couldn't while my subconscious was pouring out a play. And, for the rehearsals of a play's premiere performance, the playwright is usually right there in the rehearsal studio, because a playwright who puts a lid on the actors' process while trying to get a new work on its feet is a fool.
Same rule applies for a director who tries to bring actors "to heel" to a precise artistic vision for any play. A great production is always a group effort, a group investment, and, if done correctly, a group pleasure beyond words.
So I listened to Penny, Phil and Nancy's input, and, as I continued writing, six singers began to come to life, and their songs and stories began to naturally intertwine with the warring couple and their embattled producer. In addition to the singers, Since the "rehearsal" takes place in the couple's living room, it was natural to have a large piano there... and that meant the pianist had to become part of the show... and take some of the lines.
Well, Loudoun Lyric Opera's exceptional Music Director, Cuong Van, is a world-renowned pianist with undergraduate degrees from Saigon Conservatory and Moscow State University, and a Masters in Orchestral Conducting from Cleveland Institute of Music. Former concert engagements include Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Smithsonian Institution, and in December, Cuong had been in Vietnam conducting the Ho Chi Minh City Orchestra.
But... something told me he'd be up for this. I braved the phone call, ET VOILA! Yes, Cuong was happy to play the part.
This was just getting better and better.
Next up: in order to secure the six singers needed for the show, Pam Butler sent an audition notice to her Loudoun Lyric Opera list. With the help of accompanist Nancy Prestipino, Pam and I spent two wonderful evenings meeting and listening to some of the most amazing singing talent in the area. Opera singers tend to perform with local companies like Loudoun Lyric Opera alongside professional organizations such as Washington or National Opera, so the vast majority of those auditioning were professional singers in every sense of the word. And the group I wanted to cast held both Broadway Musical and Opera experience - and were terrific actors, as well.
I felt like a kid in a candy store.
Casting came together (with only a couple bumps in the road: always hard to find enough male tenors!), and now I really can't wait to get started. This odd little hybrid holds great promise!
January 6, 2010
THE READ THROUGH
Monday night the cast and crew of "Romance from Broadway to Lincoln Center" met in a meeting room at Leesburg United Methodist Church, circled the long benches, and read through the script together for the first time. As a writer and a director, the first read -through is an adventure riddled with adrenalin rushes and moments of shear terror.
As a director, you love it when the actors start to get a feel for the show and really start to enjoy themselves. And the cast was fabulous, so stacked up to a hundred read-throughs before this one, it was a pure delight. But you're also taking notes as you go, and your heart stops a little when you realize something isnt working.
Then you spend a sleepless night thinking about how it went, mulling things over, and by morning, you know what you have to do and how to help the actor do it.
But for the playwright the reading was another kettle of fish. The gist of the show is to have the couple begin arguing and have the Producer bring them back together in the end, with the singers and pianist trapped in the middle several times.
For the audience to go along for that ride, they have to like the couple before things get out of hand. If the two begin the fight too early (and they were), the audience would spend the whole night hoping they'd shut up and get a divorce already.
Just needed to tweak things...
It was easy for me to make Jeannette more gentle, but what could I do for Nelson? He needed to love his wife, but he also had to be a true opera snob. What do I do to make the audience like him, without changing focus?
Well, Frank Capra once said, If you can't make a character good, make 'em clever. That was my next task. Make Nelson more clever.
And one more thing that needed tweaking was the tension build - the kind that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat. My ride had some bumps to smooth out.
To let it become more apparent these two loved each other but were having very old arguments, the Producer needed to give hints to the singers and the Music Director (But, of course, to the audience!). Jackie just needed a few more opportunities to react and clue everyone in. I'd already decided the two had driven Jackie to drink in the past. Hmm... Let's ramp that up and have the audience worry about Jackie, too...
So I went back and changed that opening to make the couple's opening shots more gentle - more subtle - and more alarming only to Jackie, the Producer.
Jackie is the one person in the play who sees and knows all, and when she looks as though she doesn't know what's going on, she does... and knows how to fix things, too. Having been underestimated many times in my life, Jackie is the character with whom I most relate. Fact is, there can be great benefits to being underestimated. You will have chances to move and direct things without anyone seeing it coming. In the case of this show, Jackie is truly a puppet master. But I can't tell you more without giving away too much of the plot.
One joy of the reading was to hear the vocalists act. The show is such an anomaly - a combo pack of Broadway and opera song - that I was once worried we wouldn't find singers who could go between the genres. And if they could sing, could they act? I shouldn't have worried. These vocalists have a broad range of experience in both opera and musicals, and most have had acting experience. In fact one, Melody Prochazka, first trained at NYU had studied at the Stella Adler Studio. Melody plays Susie, a flamboyant singer who flirts with Nelson every chance she gets. Pitch perfect at the read-through, I can't wait to see what she brings to it as we layer the work in rehearsals.
Ah, the layers.
There was a time when I was learning Director basics that I wanted everything at once: I'd tell the actors EVERYTHING I wanted in a character and then be surprised they couldn't take it all in and apply it at once! Thank heaven I learned.
The fellow who taught me how to slowly build a show was Tom Sweitzer (Now head of the well known and acclaimed "A Place to Be" Music Therapy Academy in Middleburg, Virginia). As Tom worked through our play, PORCHES, I'd say, "But Tom, you haven't asked her to go further with that!" And he'd say, "She's not ready, Meredith. When she's ready, I'll ask her to go full out."
And he would, and she did, and I learned.
One thing a director also has to learn is that you 're lucky if the actors remember and apply 10% of what you're asking for. So only ask for the most important things... and then let them own it and take it from there. As I've mentioned before, one thing I really love about the rehearsal process is watching actors bring amazing things to a script... if you let them. So I start the first rehearsal with blocking (movement) and talk about some of the things I think are important to the show. And we build a show together from there.
Our first true rehearsal (last night) was only with the principal actors: Penny Hauffe (as Jeanette McAvoy), Phil Erickson (Nelson Eddington), and Nancy Purcell (Jackie, the Producer). We first talked about the characters (and the new changes I 'd made to the script).
These three actors are excellent and, in a musical, they tend to want to build from the physical out. So we started discussing their look, their demeanor, costuming - the elements that will cue them to head in the direction they want to go.
For the producer, it'll be a sophisticated - slightly artsy style. Pantsuit for a "power woman" of 1966.
For Nelson, it's a tweedy sophistication - the glasses are crucial to give him the scholar's gravitas. For Jeanette, it's embracing the "Beat Generation" culture - where hippies were soon to come from, so she hangs out a lot at the famous Caffé Cino - a great source of 1960s New York City beatnik culture, and one of the first off-off Broadway venues to explore new plays, poetry and other art forms. This is in huge contrast, of course, to Nelson's interest in opera - a conservative cultural phenomena - and there's the natural conflict between the two.
From there, we walked through the First Act with basic blocking and established what I consider the important things: the couple has to clearly love each other and the Producer has to clearly become alarmed as their relationship begins to disintegrate.
From now on, I'll shut my mouth a bit, sit back and see what the actors bring...
FOUR WEEKS OUT!
As a playwright, I'm very aware that the words of a play are living things — things that are going to be read aloud, interpreted and chucked back at you by those rare, brave beings the world calls actors, so you better be ready for it. What I love about writing plays is that you find out whether it's working right away. If the actors don't get it, you first have to ask yourself whether they should get it. And if they should, how are you going to make that aspect of the plot, or the joke, or the character clearer to them... so it'll be clear to the audience?
Hey, sometimes you want things to be subtle. When I wrote the book for Tom Sweitzer's musical, PORCHES, we wanted the audience to wonder about the paperboy and the woman with him… and let each audience member discover for themselves that the two were not, in fact, of this earth. But a romantic comedy rarely needs to be subtle.
As I've already mentioned, in every play the audience has to either love (Jeanette), admire (Nelson), or empathize (Jackie) with characters. Now they or their situation always needs to be funny.
Personally, I like to build a joke in layers (which is to say, building a character with layers, such when that person does the same ridiculous thing again, your audience becomes absolutely giddy with recognition). But then there's the Comedy Rule of Three: you can ruin any good thing if you revisit it more than thrice. This is as firm a law of physics as the Law of Entropy.
Next, for the audience to have a chance to laugh, they have to believe the conflict. Very important rule: share a private joke with the audience — something they can see but the characters can't.
Last rule: my old play writing instructor says there are no rules in comedy, so these are just my rules.
I have Actors' Rules, too. Each actor has to love their characters. Doesn't matter if they're evil or good, brilliant or dense, if they don't love who they are, the audience will sense it. It's all downhill from there. It's just physics.
As a director, one of my jobs is to help an actor invest in that character - make it their own. But as a playwright directing their own show, I can't get too nuts about whether the words are memorized perfectly. Infinitely more important to me that they understand the character and let ideas flow from there.
For example, at our last rehearsal, Kim Shahbazian brought up a great point: she plays Mary, and I wrote Mary as a vocalist who goes from shy to brazen during the play. As Kim worked on Mary, she pointed out that, if this girl was a successful vocalist, she couldn't really be shy, could she? She thought maybe neurotic would be a better starting point. Well, folks, that is even funnier, of course, and it'll be even funnier to you when you see the show.
This is exactly the sort of thing I love about rehearsals. In fact, at that last rehearsal, every actor brought something new to their character.
And when that starts happening (and I know it will keep right on happening), the rehearsal process becomes this amazing journey of discovery. As the actors throw out ideas, my creative juices begin pumping - which lead to new ideas - ways to play on a running theme - pull in a running joke - or bring together a stray piece from another part of the play. We work as a team to make the play richer, deeper, more layered.
That whole wonderful process then translates into a living, vibrant performance that will abide in audiences' memories for a very long while.
Is it any wonder I love actors? Any wonder I find directing a most noble and rewarding pursuit?
THE LAWS OF NATURE
Art loves to make room for nature, but this is ridiculous. Loudoun County, Virginia is buried under 3 feet of snow (still falling as of Saturday, Feb. 6 at 11:30 am), and our week of Technical Rehearsals (Tech Week) for Romance begins Monday.
First the good news: the show was pretty much ready a week ago, so I'm not losing sleep... yet. In fact, the cast and I were hoping to strike a balance and not wind up over-rehearsing. Well... no worries about that now!
Monday at 4 pm is the time we're supposed to load in the set to Franklin Park Performing Arts Center in Purcellville. Yes. That should be hilarious. Thankfully, this set is meant to be black box - just furniture with some standing pieces to give the set height. A truck is what we need to transport furniture, and a truck is going to be the only thing that can get around town on Monday, so that's all good!
Tuesday night is full dress rehearsal (the only night everyone can be there), and we were expecting about 100 high school drama students from Stone Bridge H.S. for audience, but... there ain't gonna' be any school on Tuesday.
Oh, and they're predicting a little more snow that day, too. So, that'll be even more fun.
But, since "hoping" worked out so well for us last time, here's one more hope: I hope everyone has cabin fever by next weekend and they all dig out of their igloos to come see Romance at Franklin Park. We'll be there if we have to get there by toboggan!
ROMANCE FROM BROADWAY TO LINCOLN CENTER was produced to critical acclaim at both Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia and Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Virginia. Romance was sponsored by The Friends of Franklin Park Arts Center and produced by the Loudoun Lyric Opera Company.
The performances were dedicated to the memory of Christopher Maré, who, we are sad to say, passed away before rehearsals began. The following was written and read by Pamela Myers Butler, at Chris Maré's memorial service:
On rare occasions, a chance meeting or brief acquaintance can have a lifelong effect. That was my experience with Christopher Maré.
I met Chris only once, on April 24th of this year . We shared lunch at Magnolia’s while discussing Loudoun Lyric Opera’s exciting plans to move into our first theater home at Franklin Park Arts Center this fall. Chris’ knowledge of opera was extensive and he shared my great love for the art (What other venue allows one to sing, dance, act and communicate in a foreign language all at once?)
Chris & I also shared several common acquaintances in the performing arts world, from here in Loudoun County up the East Coast to New York City and the South shores of Lake Ontario. I felt immediately connected to Chris through our common interests, his wealth of knowledge and delightful persona.
During lunch Chris shared his idea for a musical revue to be presented by LLO at Franklin Park. He suggested using the title, “From Broadway to Lincoln Center” and that LLO perform songs from both musical theater and opera, as a means of acquainting new audiences to our art form. LLO ran with his idea, and our show will take place Valentine’s weekend 2010 in his memory. Our Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem offered at today’s service, celebrates Chris’ life and shares his love of the combined styles of Broadway and classical compositions.
As Loudoun Lyric Opera enters its third season, I trust that Chris will somehow be watching over us. Our choice of the songs You’ll Never Walk Alone from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel and The Prayer (“I pray you’ll be our eyes and watch us where we go…”) show our faith that he will continue with us on our musical journey.
Loudoun Lyric Opera
Tired chirp she brings to end of day.
and every note echos a reply:
"Silly chickadee, sing to them all;
But we know whom you hope to call.
But no matter how sweet your song may coo,
Only the mockingbird sings to you."
Poor chickadee knows she sings alone,
A flutter of wings, a sigh, forlorn.
Now owl calls out in a long, benign way,
"Chickadee, don't forget to play.
You're young yet, child.
Sing aloud another day."
Chickadee smiles... then flits away.
No pedestal - no platform - no milky steed,
Nothing like it was "supposed to be".
The chills and flutters pass and fade -
Why, oh mind, did you think they'd stay?
No path's easy and none short -
Time it takes to know for certain,
And lots of time to court.
Too long? Oh, no. Love's enough to wait.
And love's enough to walk me through
This limbo, labyrinthic state...
Love's enough to push me, too,
To dream of love that's mean to be...
And release it into silly poetry.
Meredith Bean McMath, March 1979,
three months before Chuck and I married
Lorenzo Lee Bean, Jr. was The son of a man who had grown up in the hills of West Virginia, and learned how to take care of himself. And he was determined to teach his son the same skills. Hi son had an excellent sense of humor and the dark eyes and complexion typical of the Welsh. But with a name like Lorenzo, he was sometimes taken for an Italian child and had two bossy older sisters, so that sense of humor came in handy. Nevertheless, he changed his name to "Lee" as soon as he could.
Lee's first memory came at the end of World War I. His father, L.L., had served in the home guard, and when the boys came home from "Over There," the whole town came out to greet them. Lee remembered standing on the butt of his father's rifle as his father steadied him, so he could see the World War I veterans marching through Fort Meade, Florida - a sight that left a deep impression on the toddler.
His next memory was a little less fun. Their back yard held a huge tree dripping with the Spanish Moss indigenous to the region — the bane of mothers who liked to keep their children tidy - one day the three little Bean sprouts were headed to a birthday party in crisp, clean whites: Lee wore linen shorts and shirt, and his sisters had lovely dresses of fine lawn and cotton.
As Lee walked down the sidewalk, he decided to pass through a slick of Spanish Moss. He didn't make it and went down on his backside, covering his fine outfit with green slime. He sat there in the slick moss and began to cry, while his sister Virginia laughed and laughed. Then Libba walked up. She'd missed the show, so Virginia decided to demonstrate Lee's hilarious fall - and wound up on her backside beside him. They cried in stereo.
Such is the sad tale of the white birthday outfits.
Adelaide loved her family well, but she was an over-protective mother with a penchant- perhaps you could call it an obsession - for tidiness. This put a strain on free-spirited little Lee, and around the age of eight, he developed colitis. A doctor and family friend recommended he be sent to a quiet, farm environment during the summer. Probably made excellent sense to his father, L.L.,k as he'd done well raised on a farm. Lee spent two summers there, and, sure enough, these "visits" cleared him of his troubles; he loved farms ever since.
His father took Lee hunting, now and then, always instructing Lee in the finer points of good sportsmanship. For instance, Lee was never, ever to aim at anything on the ground for fear of hitting a human.
One day the two were out dove hunting. They'd walked away from each other for a bit when Lee heard a welcome sound. He came up behind a palmetto bush and looked over to see a dove cooing from a clearing. He thought for a moment about his father's words... then something caught on his eye on the other side of the clearing. There stood his father, L.L., behind another bush, his gun pointed down at the dove. Lee had just enough time to hit the deck before L.L. got off a shot. Then Lee stood up, unharmed, and stared at his wide-eyed father.
They two walked home in utter silence - the incident weighing heavily between them.
Father and son would also go on long camping trips to hunt with friends. One would cook for all, and the rule was this: whoever complained about the food had to cook. One night, a fellow decided to try to get L.L.'s goat by pouring salt into his coffee when he wasn't looking. L.L. took a big gulp and spewed the contents all over the campfire as he bellowed, "SOMEbody put SALT in my coffee!"
Everyone held their breath as the cook looked up in anticipation. L.L. quickly added, "But it sure is good, though!"
L.L. was a man of pride. To a fault, you might say. The man never said he was sorry. An example of his unnerving obstinacy can be found in the family's regular Sunday Drive. Back then, folks would pile into their Model T Ford's and just drive about the bumpy roads and enjoy the shaky view as best they could; at some point they'd stop and have a picnic, and then they'd pile in the car and trundle back home.
L.L. always got lost.
Adelaide would inevitably point this out, and she would always hear the same answer: "Adelaide, we are not lost! I know exactly where we are: we are in the great state of Virginia!" and that's where the discussion would end.
In 1920, the Beans received notice that L.L.'s father, David, had passed away. His obituary described David Ferguson Bean as 77 years of age, "a man of unassuming manner and friendly to everybody, and very close to his friends of whom there were many. He was a man of great tenderness of heart and was generous to the poor. He held the respect of all who knew him and his acquaintance was large." His services were given at Asbury Lutheran in Moorefield, West Virginia, and he was interred alongside his wife in the family plot behind the George Bean house on Simon Bean Mountain.
It is said L.L. only returned to West Virginia a couple times in his lifetime, as his childhood away from the farm had not been as pleasant as his father's. But attending his father's funeral was one such visit. L.L. was tight-lipped on the reasons for staying away, but he was happy to relate the more pleasant stories of his youth. Knowing L.L. from the letters he left behind, it was likely one reason was his father's profession: growing apples and turning them into fine Apple Jack (a friend to all, indeed).
In 1924, L.L. moved the family to Lakeland, Florida to get into the Real Estate and Insurance business.
Then came the Great Depression.
Sales and banking died, as did the remains of L.L.'s business hopes. As so many did, they headed home for comfort. They were soon Virginia bound, but it was to South Hill, Virginia, where Adelaide's relations lived. In 1932, L.L. took a job as a Bookkeeper at the South Hill Grocery Company. Lee, a teenager, now, liked South Hill very much, and South Hill liked him. A natural athlete, he spent every waking minute playing baseball or football.
The mountain men of the Bean family have a tendency toward height, and Lee had the family growth spurt in high school, where he rose to a thin and wiry 6'1". Right around that time, he developed a hard crush on a pretty young girl in his class named Ruth Montgomery. Ruth had the look of a 1930s Beauty Queen: a round, pert face, short, wavy hair and big, beautiful eyes. She invited Lee to her birthday party, and he was very pleased to accept the invitation. But he had a friend coming up from Florida that weekend. "Could my friend come as well?"
Then Lee had a devilish thought. "Oh, that's swell, but there's just one thing you need to know about Fred. He's a bit deaf. So, if you could speak up when you meet him, I'd be grateful. Then he wouldn't have to be embarrassed about it."
"Oh, all right! I'll remember that."
Lee greeted his friend at the train station and told him about the party. When they came to Ruth's porch, Lee paused. "Now, Fred, Ruth's a fine girl, but there's just one thing you ought to know about her..." and on he went.
Lee knocked, and when pretty Ruth came to the door, he exclaimed very loudly, "RUTH? This is FRED McDONALD, FRED? This is RUTH MONTGOMERY!" and then he backed away from both of them.
Ruth and Fred began to yell salutations back and forth, until Ruth became so flustered, she yelled, "Well, there's NO NEED TO YELL AT ME! I'M NOT DEAF!"
Fred shouted back, "We'll, I'M NOT DEAF, EITHER!"
At this point both turned to look at Lee, who was about to fall off the porch laughing.
Ruth didn't speak to Lee for days.
In 1933, Lee entered Hampden-Sydney College, an all women University in Hampden Sydney, Virginia. The school was a perfect fit for this athletic young man. He joined the Hampden-Sydney Tigers football team, led by a quarterback named Homer Hatten from West Virginia, and Lee and Homer, whose nickname was "Moose," became fast friends. Lee also joined Chi Phi Fraternity and made another set of lifelong friends. And, in his spare time, he honed his Prankster Skills among equally clever devotees of the art.
Fall at Hampden-Sydney began with a ritual: when the apples were ripe, the bravest boys ran to a nearby apple orchard, climbed the trees and ate their fill... all night long.
The trip was a hoot for the boys but an annual disaster for the apple orchard owner - who happened to be a professor at the college. And that year was the year he decided he was going to fix things.
When the apples were just about ready, he went to his orchard and laid in wait for the thieves, his trusty shotgun and a pile of little paper pellets by his side.
If you load a shotgun by replacing the lead in the shotgun shells with balled up paper pellets, you will get a satisfying kaboom and a flash of something akin to a fireball. Terrifying to behold.
Each night he loaded up the weapon and waited.
The third night, they came... Lee Bean among the hopeful apple wranglers. They whispered as they walked, watching for the Professor. They crawled over his fence. He waited. They carefully chose their trees and climbed. He waited. A sentry was posted at the gate, turning his head side to side to watch the night. The rest began to ate fruit, and soon began to chat with one another tree to tree. They started laughing and singing and throwing apples at one another.
Still he waited.
Waited until he was sure they were perfectly, perfectly relaxed. Waited for the sentry to turn his head away from him one more time.
And then he rose up from his hiding place and watched the sentry turn back and catch a glimpse as he yelled out, "I GOTCH'OU NOW!" Ka-bloom went the shotgun. And as he reloaded, he listened.
They yelled in fright and fell from the branches in terror.
"YOU AIN'T GONNA' GET OUT'A HERE ALIVE, I TELL YA'" Ka-bloom.
The boys screamed as they ran, holding their busted arms, stumbling over the fences as they made their escape.
One more "ka-bloom" toward their frantic retreat, and the work was done.
Downed branches lay all over the orchard.
His apple crop was destroyed. Yet he was a happy man.
There was only one thing left to be done.
The next morning, he walked the paths of Hampden-Sydney, and every time he met a young man with a black eye, a bandaged head, a limp, or an arm in a sling, he took off his hat and greeted him with, "Good morning, Mister Black. How d'you do, Mr. Evans. Fine morning, Mr. Bean..." and extended the same kindness to the wounded students who sheepishly appeared in his classroom. From then on, the professor's apple crop was left unmolested.
But Lee Bean's taste for adventure wasn't undone. It was simply going to find new, er, "pastures" to explore.
One night, Lee and his best friend and room-mate Bobby Richardson decided they wanted some ice cream. They knew just where to get it. The Dean of the School was holding a Faculty Ice Cream Social. The freezer was in a second story room of the Dean's home, and the kitchen had an open window - right next to a sturdy drain pipe. That ice cream was practically begging to be snatched.
The boys took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and shimmied up the pipe, crawled inside and crept toward the freezer. The goal almost reached, they could almost taste the creamy home-churned confection - when the Dean's wife stepped into the kitchen.
"Oh!" she cried, but quickly recovered. With her best Virginia manner, she drawled, "Mr. Bean! Mr. Richardson! What a pleasure to have you drop in. You simply must come greet everyone."
"Oh, no, ma'am, we couldn't."
"Ou-our feet! No shoes!'
"Oh, that doesn't matter at'all. Ahh know they'll just love to see you!"
A more perfect punishment could not have been devised. Shoe-less, pant legs rolled, their intent obvious to all, the boys had to walk in to that party and be formally introduced to each of their teachers and all the important persons present, in turn. Next, she had them sit upon her delicate antique chairs and eat ice cream from her fanciest dishes. With a final flourish of hospitality, the Dean's wife sent them off through the front door.
Obviously Lee Bean needed his ethics readjusted. For that, there was compulsory Religion Class.
Religion was taught by one Professor McGee, known among the students as "Ole' Snapper", due to his striking likeness to the sound, look, and sudden fury of that venerable form of turtle. Snapper's classroom was in an upper story, turret-like room (no doubt chosen for its proximity to heaven), with a winding staircase much like an old castle keep. As you'd expect, Snapper was a punctilious man who never missed a class - unless it snowed. A rarity in southern Virginia, any amount of snow stilled all campus activity. You only had to go if your Professor made it to class, and Snapper was too old to manage snow.
One winter morning the students awoke and rejoiced to see to see Mother Nature had blessed the campus with a thick, white blanket of frozen freedom. So certain they had the morning off, they lounged about the dormitory in their pajamas... until a young man glanced out the window at about two minutes to 8 a.m..
His comrades rushed the windows.
Yes. Ole' Snapper was headed for the turret. It was a miracle. He was walking on top of that deep snow as though he was walking on water. As he got closer to the dormitory, the miracle took shape: two humongous snowshoes - Canadian tennis rackets - strapped to Snapper's sure and steady feet. Ole' Snapper was smiling as he walked.
The boys were late, but they came.
Snapper looked about, grinning foolishly; he knew he'd caught them all. They stood at their desks, waiting to be seated still wearing their winter coats (mere pajamas don't provide much protection in a drafty, cold turret in the dead of winter). Snapper smiled all the more at their unusual attire, and then he bade them sit and begin.
Come spring, Snapper's boys planned their revenge. Most of the young men had grown up on farms, so they knew something about cows: like the odd fact that a cow is willing to go up a stairwell, but she won't come back down without a... "fuss".
The cow had never trod such boards, she'd never seen a turret, and she was very unhappy.
In fact, she made known her deep unhappiness all over the classroom.
As the boys stood at their desks before class, they were a little unhappy themselves. This particular stunt had, uh... backfired, so to speak.
But they began to enjoy themselves again as they heard Snapper's plodding step upon the stair.
Snapper entered the room, observed the cow mooing forlornly in the corner, and walked up to his desk without a word.
The students' faces fell.
Snapper's desk stood on a raised platform, and no one thought to walk the cow up on to Snapper's platform. The Professor's portion of the room was smelly - but otherwise pristine.
Sadly, this could not be said of several of the boy's seats.
Naturally Snapper looked about the room and told everyone to be seated.
And therein "lay" their punishment. Those who could sit, did. Those who could partially sit, partially sat. Those who couldn't sit, stood beside their desks the entire class - one hand taking notes, the other holding their noses.
After Snapper gave his lesson and left the turret, the students went to a great deal of trouble to arrange to have the cow taken out a window.
You'd think after these disasters the students would have learned to leave pranking alone. But, no.
There was a farmer who had a strawberry field. Come May, Lee and his friends decided to raid the strawberry patch. The farmer was ready for them.
When they'd filled their hats to the brim with fresh strawberries, the farmer stunned them by stepping out from behind a tree. He carried an elaborate tray, which he raised as he spoke these words: "Them strawberries taste much better with cream and sugar, boys."
Seems all the clever men of Lee's youth were farmers. Conversely, all the fools were those who called themselves important. Lee never talked down to people, and he never bowed and scraped to those made it a habit to overestimate their self worth.
Down in Florida there'd been a boy who'd been named after six rich uncles in order to inherit from them upon their death. Yukson Haben Obergat Teban Earnest Fleming Cox thought he was King of the Hill. And he was the meanest boy in town. They called him 'Yuk' for short. The kids used to come to his front yard, form a circle and chant his name until he came bolting out of the house, hoping to catch one and beat them senseless.
Sure enough, by high school, Yuk had inherited from two of the uncles. Then he became the meanest and the richest boy in town.
No friends, no respect, lots of money: To Lee's mind, useless.
Conversely, in South Hill, Virginia, a truck drove through town with a full load and got stuck under the town's overpass. Everyone came out to try to try to fix the problem. Police, firemen, town council - all the "important" people, and the neighborhood, too. Dismantle the cargo from the back, take apart the truck - you name it, they thought of it.
Along came the town drunk. He surveyed the situation from his slanted point of view and blurted out, "Why don'chou let the air out o'them tires!"
No friends, no respect, no money - just incredibly useful.
Well, there was a particular snob at Hampden-Sydney who got on everyone's nerves. He was easy to pick out, because he was the only student who'd brought a car - his own car, as he readily pointed out - to school. A brand spanking new Model-T Ford.
One weekend, this young man went to visit relations quite a distance away. In light of the Model T's thin tires and the rough roads, he wisely decided take the train.
As soon as the whistle blew on his departure, the students went to work. Those boys might not have owned their own Model-T's, but they sure knew how to take 'em a part and put 'em back together Mr. Ford had made it a point of pride to design the Model T in such a way that anyone could learn how to manage and fix the car themselves - and many did.
When the fellow returned Sunday afternoon, he looked for his car and screamed bloody murder. "Who stole it!", he demanded.
"Nobody", came the calm reply. "There it is", and a finger pointed skyward.
He looked up to find his gleaming Ford - perfectly rebuilt - straddling the high ridge pole of a three-story dormitory.
As mentioned, cars were a rarity, so the train was an important part of students' lives. If a boy couldn't get a date at nearby Longwood College (girls only), he'd arrange for a an old girlfriend to come in by train.
One friend of Lee's, a dashing cavalier, invited a girl to come in for the weekend, only to realize he'd double-booked himself. He had a Longwood Gal set for the weekend's events, as well.
He begged Lee to help him. Lee didn't care for the arrangements, but he did his duty by his friend. Lee met Train Gal and took her around campus while his friend shared a soda with Longwood Gal, etc., etc. Lee thought up a great excuse for the boy while he escorted Train Girl to the school dance in his friend's place (while he was dancing elsewhere with Longwood Girl).
The weekend went off without a hitch; Lee sent Train Gal off at the station Sunday afternoon and sighed relief.
And then Don Juan made just one mistake. He wrote thank you notes to both young women and slipped Train Gal's's letter into Longwood's envelope, and vice versa. He saw nor heard from either woman again.
Ah, Longwood. A short walk for the fellows on a Friday night. If you didn't already have a date lined up, you could always take your chances at Longwood. Fellows lined up outside the girls' dorm, and the lassies came to the windows. Now the lights would be on inside their rooms, so all the fellows could see was the girls' silhouettes. You had to chat up and make arrangements for the evening with a silhouette. Eventually the silhouette would come down, and you'd find out whether you'd guessed right. Some silhouettes could look so promising in that second story window. It was like playing the lottery every Friday night... or Russian Roulette.
But the best story of all to come from Lee's Hampden-Sydney was the Bell Puller tale.
Ah, the morning bell. 6 a.m. every day, without fail. A huge, fifty-gallon bell sat high atop a twenty foot stand (so the sound could reach every sleepy ear). One long rope came all the way to the ground. One man, The Bell Ringer, came each day at five minutes to 6. Everyday he watched the second hand on his wrist watch until the time came. And he would pull. And the students would groan and get up, up, up.
Then a student hatched a brilliant plan. One night all the young men went out into the dark and used ladders to hoist themselves up that tall bell tower. They tipped the bell upside down and used wooden boards to loosely hold it in place. Then they formed a bucket line from the creek and filled the bell to the brim with cold, fresh creek water.
The next morning, the boys set their alarm clocks for 5:50 a.m. Everyone got up to wait by a window. The Bell Ringer came at five minutes to six. He stood at the base of the bell and looked at his watch. The boys waited in appreciative silence. And then, at six precisely, he pulled the rope and a dorm full of boys watched a grown man scream as 50 gallons of cold water hit his head and wash him to the ground.
And the boys hung out their windows and laughed and laughed
The Bell Puller was furious - so furious he stomped to the Dean of the School and demanded the guilty parties be expelled.
The boys from the dorm were lined up outside for hours and hours as the Dean waited for the guilty youth who planned the assault to step forward. But not one of them ever did. Since the Dean couldn't send them all home, the matter ended right there.
And the boys had one brief shining moment of triumph. They’d beaten the daylights out of that 6 o'clock wake up call.
A lot going on that freshman year, and Lee looked forward to the next adventures when he headed home that summer. Back in his home town of South Hill, Virginia, he and Ruth became an item, so summer wasn't looking too bad after all.
And in order to be his physical best for football the coming year, he thought he ought to take a physically demanding job. He began work at his Uncle Sam Dortch's Ice House. He worked hard and came and went from a freezing building into 90-100 degree heat each and every day.
But one morning he woke up to searing pain shooting through his arms and legs. He couldn't move.
Lee had contracted polio. Work at the ice house - the work meant to keep him strong - had actually lowered his resistance. There were only two cases of polio in South Hill that year: Lee and the other young man who'd worked there with him.
Years later, he told his youngest daughter that the pain he felt those first three months was so excruciating, if he could have found a means to kill himself, he would have. As he lay there, he fell into a deep depression. A young man with great prospects was trying to face the loss of every happy expectation - no more football, no more pranks - even Ruth quietly pulled away from him.
What was there to live for?
But his friends and family rallied around him. Particularly his father, L.L.. Lee's self-pity may have been understandable, but it did not sit well with a mountain man like L.L. Bean.
From the very beginning, his father's words were unremittingly harsh: Get over it, get up, get on with life. Quit feeling sorry for yourself; get up and DO something! The words struck Lee as nothing less than cruel... but they were exactly what he needed to hear. Lee used humor to get the most out of life until then, but now it was his father’s encouragement - his call to Lee to have an iron will - that would take him through the rest of it.
and along with his father's rough exhortations, were the daily visits of his mother. Adelaide now used her over-protectiveness to help Lee make a new life.
The doctor said there was a small chance Lee could regain the use of his arms and legs, but it would take daily movement - painful daily movement - then long sessions of exercise.
Adelaide was up for the task, even if Lee wasn't.
She came to his room every day to massage the failing muscles and help Lee push himself to his limits. The exercises were hideously painful, and, for his legs, the efforts turned out to futile. But the hard work on his arms paid off. Over the course of two-years, his arm muscle returned, and he learned to walk on crutches - Canadian Canes, they called them at the time. His legs - which grew thin to the point of skin over bone and nothing more - were fitted with strong metal braces, and he used his old physical agility to learn to move with quick grace on metal legs.
And all during that difficult two-year rehabilitation period, he kept up with his studies - ever hoping to graduate along with his friends at Hampden Sydney.
And, amazingly, he made it and was allowed to join his senior class at the College. But, although he could get around quickly on crutches and braces, there was no "handicapped access" anything back then, so certain classrooms were seemingly out of bounds. That's when a good old friend from the football team, Homer Hatten of West Virginia, provided a solution. "Moose," offered to pick Lee up before class - literally - and take him around. He would throw Lee over one shoulder and ran him to class, and that's how Lee Bean, Jr. completed his education at Hampden Sydney.
He was graduated in 1937 alongside the classmates he'd begun school with four years before.
By that time he'd decided to become a lawyer. There are a large contingent of Bean cousins practicing law back in Hardy County, West Virginia, so it could have been DNA at work. In any case, he was accepted to The University of Virginia Law School and began in 1937. But he needed extra cash in order to assist with tuition.
Enter the New Deal.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration created millions of new jobs, and Lee Bean was one of the lucky recipients. He became an assistant to Dean Ribble, Dean of the Law School.
One afternoon late in his second year he was standing at the counter collating when he overheard the Dean's voice rising from inside his office: "I am TELLING you, you cannot FAIL the SON of the President of the UNITED STATES!"
Turns out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Junior was a law student at UVA but not a good one.
As Lee stood there, mouth ajar, the door swooshed open and the Dean's head appeared.
"What's your average in Contract Law?"
"Get in here."
Yes, Lee wound up tutoring F.D.R., Junior, so he could pass Contract Law and graduate that year. His not being able to graduate would be embarrassing, yes, but even more embarrassing when the President of the United States was coming to the College to give the University of Virginia Law School Commencement Speech.
And tutoring this young man was no easy task Turns out, F.D.R., Junior had two baaaaaad habits: women and drink. And, as a result, Lee lost a lot of hair. Every week Lee struggled to help Junior understand Contract Law, and every weekend Junior would disappear to enjoy various and sundry vices. Then every Monday, Lee was there to try to pick up the pieces and start again.
But. by golly, F.D.R., Jr. passed Contract Law and was set to graduate along with Lee in June of 1940.
And when Junior's father, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to give the Commencement address, he wanted to thank Lee personally.
So, on June 10th, Lee was told to be at a certain place on campus at a certain time, and when the time came, a large limousine rode up. The chauffeur came to the back door, opened it and asked Lee to get in.
He did. And there was the President, sitting beside him.
What Lee was thinking, one can only imagine. Knowing the President also suffered from polio had to be a huge inspiration. As L.L. would say, Nothing should hold a man back, and here he was two feet from the truth of that notion.
He sat in that limousine, and the President thanked him, and then he asked Lee if had any hobbies.
"Yes, sir. Philately." Lee had collected stamps since he was a boy.
"Ah! Well, I'll send some stamps around, then."
Lee left the limousine, beaming.
F.D.R. went on to provide the speech to the law school graduates. The war news was grim that day: Italian troops had just invaded southern France, and so President Roosevelt put a message in his address. He described Mussolini's invasion as a "stab in the back," and so that speech went down in history (Further information: https://uvamagazine.org/articles/the_hand_that_held_the_dagger/ ).
According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, F.D.R., Junior went on to be "admitted to the bar in 1942, called... to active duty as an ensign in the U.S. Navy and served in North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific... [was] awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Silver Star... vice president of pres. Truman's Committee on Civil Rights in 1947 and 1948," served in congress, etc., etc. You'd have to say things turned out all right for him.
As for the President's promise of stamps, Lee never really expected such an important man to bother with details. So he was shocked when three months later a huge plastic bag arrived - two-foot by two-foot - stuffed full of stamps from all over the world. With it was a letter from the Post Master General Farley of the United States, stating the President had personally wanted to thank Lee with this gift of stamps.
Upon Lee's graduation, he took a job with the government, but he always regretted being unable to serve his country during World War II. His friends were becoming Air Force Fighter Pilots, and that would have been Lee's choice as well. Several of his college buddies died during the war.
As for Lee's father, L.L. wasn't done "getting up and getting on" with things. Always ready to push on with new ventures, in 1943 he moved to South Boston (in business for himself, with a partner, Mr. Allred) to begin "Southside Wholesale Distributors." Eventually he wound up back in South Hill and once served as Mayor of the town, so things turned out all right for him as well, the self-made mountain man.
Meanwhile, Lee took a job as a lawyer with the Department of Agriculture and wound up best friends with a fellow named Tom O'Reilly.
By 1942, Tom and Lee had been sent out from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, Missouri. Lee was 26 years old, happy with life and law.
Then Tom and Lee started noticing the office mail girls: there was a tall, thin, striking-looking with auburn haired, and a short, perky blue-eyed blonde. The gentlemen promptly struck up a flirtation.
In the weeks that followed, Tom developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde, Jean, while Lee also developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde. She looked just like Ruth Montgomery: pretty eyes, perky, rounded face.
"Too late, Lee. Already got a date with her," said Tom one afternoon, "but I think I can set you up with her friend, Maxine." Maxine was the auburn-headed, tall one. She was shy and equally pretty and laughed at all of his jokes, so Lee got to thinking that might be all right after all.
Maxine Hay, for her part, liked Lee Bean from the start. Whenever she came through the offices, he'd put aside his paperwork to chat. She loved his laugh, his smile, his good looks, and the way he always had his shirt sleeves rolled up, the dark Welsh complexion a beautiful contrast to the crisp white starch of the sleeves.
By the time he stood up and she saw he was on crutches, it was too late to matter.
Some of life would be hard, yes, but what was the point of thinking like that when you could have those dark brown eyes to gaze into, and his laughter, and his heart. Really, what did anything matter when you were in love?
Well, the matter turned out to be Maxine's mother.
Virginia Hay was vehemently opposed to Lee. As they dated throughout Maxine's college years, Virginia continued to tell her what a poor choice she was making. "Only think what you're doing! Throwing your life away on a... on a LAWYER!" She couldn't admit Lee's handicap was a problem, so she blamed his doctorate of jurisprudence.
If you'll just note the look on Virginia's face in the above photo, you won't be surprised to find she eventually demanded Maxine quit seeing him.
The months that followed were miserable for the couple.
The only thing they could both looked forward to was the marriage of her best friend, Jean, to Tom O'Reilly. She was to be Jean's maid of honor. Lee was to be Tom's best man.
When the wedding day arrived, it had been twelve long months since Maxine and Lee had seen each other. After the ceremony, Lee approached Maxine, looked into her eyes and asked in his sweet southern drawl, "How you been, sugar?"
After that, Virginia Hay was just going to have to find a way to get over it.
Maxine and Lee were married in 1949 at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Their film footage of the moments before they left on their honeymoon. reveal Lee's parents looking on with pride... and a somewhat sour look on Virginia Hay's face. And there's Maxine, smiling like the sun just rose for the first time, and Lee, with a lovely grin, rushing to the getaway car so quickly his crutches all but disappear.
Lee was a rarity: an honest lawyer who was remembered - and honored - for his integrity.
And then there was the work that made him famous.
During the Civil Rights movement, Virginia schools were in an uproar, and the racist faction in Arlington wanted to make certain desegregation never happened there. The U.S. Supreme Court had formed integration into law. Virginia had decided it did not have to integrate. It was time to stack the School Board in favor of racism - to make certain the Supreme Court would not get a toe-hold in Arlington County.
A group of men, led by Mr. Robert Peck of the once well-known Peck Automobile in Arlington, asked Lee to serve on the Board. They took for granted that a boy raised in Florida and Southern Virginia would see things their way. That, and the fact that, as a lawyer, he'd be in danger of losing his law license in Virginia if he went against the Virginia Court's decision, seemed to seal the deal. There were two "liberals" on the board - one of which was Elizabeth Campbell who went on to found WETA Public Television. And there were two "conservatives."
And there was Lee. A man of fairness. He voted with the liberals, and won integration for Arlington schools.
The family soon received anonymous phone calls in the dead of night. Death threats. But Lee pressed on, standing firmly by what was right and fair.
Then there was a second vote to be made. Now that they'd won for integration, they wanted to integrate as quickly as possible. Lee felt integration needed to be slowly invoked over time. He feared that the poor education the black children had had left them unprepared for public white schools. They would fail, he thought. He lost the vote, and the newspaper came down on him hard - as if he'd changed his mind on the issue. But he was right. A huge number did fail, but integration had begun (For details on Lee's involvement in Arlington County, Virginia desegregation visit Arlington County School, head to Arlington County Public Library's Oral History collection: Bean, L. Lee; Attorneys; School Board; Desegregation.
And he remained a hero to integrationists. His youngest daughter can recall the strange excitement of finding herself in the car on a Sunday heading out into the far hills of Virginia where Lee would attend a small, black church and give the sermon. Throughout his life, he was called upon to speak.
One evening he found himself at a lawyers' conference where he'd just been given a fine introduction. Lee approached the podium, looked down at the stand, and quickly looked back up. "I thank you so much, Jim, but I have to say... you've left me absolutely speechless. I mean to say, Jim, you've accidentally taken my notes, and I have no speech."
As a lawyer, Lee's focus was Domestic Relations, and he became quite well known - famous, actually - for his work in the field, writing a book on Virginia Domestic Relations Law (University of Virginia, 1982) and for becoming President of both the Virginia Trial Lawyers and the Virginia Bar Association (only one other lawyer - Tom Moynihan of Winchester - has accomplished the same).
And, yes, he was a skilled lawyer, he was best known for caring about his clients. His first question for a person intent on divorce was always have you tried counseling?
In the 1980s, Maxine went to New York with a group of women to see the Kipps Bay Showhouse. The women knew each other only a first name basis. As they sat talking over lunch, the conversation veered to the realm of their respective nasty divorces. Harsh words for ex-husband, but even harsher words for the useless lawyers they'd had to represent them. But one lady kept saying she'd had a great experience - that her lawyer had done everything for her, and she was deeply grateful for his efforts.
Who was that?, they all wanted to know.
Lee Bean of Arlington, she replied.
Maxine jumped in her seat a little, then leaned over to the woman next to her and whispered, "That's my husband!"
He was a friend to all. The family once drove back to South Hill for a family reunion; Lee pulled up to the gas station and struck up a conversation with the attendant using a suddenly thick drawl - as though he'd only left town yesterday. It was clear he wanted to make an old friend comfortable talking to this fancy lawyer in a Lincoln Continental.
You'll notice most of these photos do not show Lee with crutches. Like F.D.R., Lee never liked to think of himself as handicapped and, when standing in place for any length of time, would put them aside.
He appreciated handicap access - that was only fair - but otherwise, he let the subject drop. By middle age, Lee had become as powerfully built as L.L. In truth, the fact that Lee had to exercise everyday as he pulled his own weight around, throwing his hips forward to take every step, probably served to prolong his life. So, while other dads played "airplane" by laying on their back and flying the little ones on their knees, Lee just lay on the floor and flew his children by holding them high. So, he couldn't carry them up on his shoulders, but he could lay on the floor and let them come at him to try and tickle him, but he always won and then he'd tickle the life out them. But the childrens' favorite past-time was the dessert that came after dinner: listening to Lee's stories from his youth and his father's youth.
And he never lost that sense of humor. Naturally, he was a member The Optimists Club (while at college, his youngest treasured the quick notes, tucked with a five dollar bill and a list of the Optimists Club Newsletter jokes - all his favorite jokes checked off), he and Maxine loved all forms of music, particularly swing, classical and Jazz (Maxine and Lee had gone to Eddie Condon's Club in New York City during their honeymoon), and in 1966, Maxine and Lee purchased a farm in Fauquier as a weekend retreat. Lee took to farm life like a duck to water. as did the family. "Bridle Tree Farm" in Sumerduck, Virginia, became the perfect spot to have horses, go fishing, swimming and renovate a beautiful of house the family could enjoy for decades.
Lee always loved work as a trial lawyer (there's an actor in every Bean) and never wanted to miss a day of work, despite 50 years of walking with the help of Canadian Canes. Lee Bean away in 1989, a few months after the birth of his first grandson, Palmer Lee McMath. and in the end, he nearly got his wish. His third heart attack took him at age 73. He'd only missed half a day of work.
"Lawyer L. Lee Bean, Jr. Dies - The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 1989 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1989/12/07/lawyer-l-lee-bean-jr-dies/efd366c3-128a-4883-b6a4-54fc62119453/
DEATH THREATS and DESEGREGATION: My Father's Role in the Integration of Arlington, Virginia Public Schools
L. Lee Bean, Jr. was a wonderful father and an amazing man, but I didn’t know exactly how amazing until I was about 16... when I asked him about his role in the fight to integrate Arlington, Virginia Public Schools.
The United States was experiencing huge and long-anticipated changes in the 1950s. And on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided any law that had established segregated public schools was unconstitutional. Every public school in America was required to integrate.
To no one's surprise, southern state's refused to comply with the Court. And thus began a painful stand-off. Virginia liked its segregation, thank you very much, and had Jim Crow laws in place to make certain every aspect of Black Americans' lives difficult:
- Black public schools provided a sub-par education.
- Black Virginians could only get sub-par housing, because it was hard for them to secure loans.
- Black Virginians had difficult getting good jobs with good pay, because businesses were segregated and only saw them as "worthy" of low level jobs.
And the list goes on (Visit "The Story of Segregation and Desegregation in Arlington" for further information).
My father - known as Lee - was a successful practicing attorney in Arlington in the 1950s, and in 1957 he was elected to the Arlington, Virginia School Board (Another momentous event that year was the birth of his third child, Meredith).
Arlington Democrats liked Lee, because he was known as an intelligent moderate and an all around great guy. But Democrats' opinion didn't count for much.
Republicans held the majority of powerful Arlington positions. They, too, wanted my father on the Board for the reasons listed as above, but they knew that if school desegregation came up, Lee was unlikely to wander off and make an "anti-Republican" votes. They had an ace up their sleeve: if Lee voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration, he'd immediately break Virginia State law and lose his license to practice. Hence Republicans were absolutely positive he'd keep things just the way they were.
The issue came up in 1959. There were five members on the Arlington School Board that year - two ready to vote for, two against and my father - smack in the center.
When the vote came up, L. Lee Bean, Jr. voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration.
After that, our family received death threats and my father waited to lose his law license. But he never did. Arlington's decision was the first domino, and Virginia began a massive change.
Years later, my father told me the whole story. And I asked him why: why with all that danger and tension he went ahead and cast the swing vote to integrate Arlington Public Schools, and he paused. Then he said, "It was a matter of justice".
He lived his whole life that way, so I understood. And I'm deeply grateful to have been his daughter.
First, find a cheap Tavern...
As a "better do this while we're still young" married couple, in 1987 my husband, Chuck, and I took a leap of faith and purchased Birkett's Tavern in Hillsboro, Virginia. As you can see from the '87 photo above, we were very brave or very stupid - more likely both.
The original two-story structure of Flemish Bond brick (center) was built by John Hough in 1819. We knew the date by looking in Virginia State Archives to find the real estate taxes went from nil to significant on the property that year. And in 1824, John "Birkit," Sr. purchased the building from Hough and opened a tailor shop.
Sixteen years later - April of 1840 - Birkett took the half day's wagon-ride to Leesburg and acquired a license to operate an "ordinary" - a tavern - "from his home."
And it's been known as Birkett's Tavern ever since.
The Tavern stands on Charlestown Pike in the center of Hillsboro - one of only two brick homes built in the village. Back in its early days, the tavern had at least three outbuildings: a long stone kitchen (Indicated by an exposed stone wall inside the modern kitchen), a chinked-log smoke house (Good for a garden and tool shed!), and one large outbuilding (Likely a barn to hold the horses of the guests). All that’s left of the barn is a stone foundation - which sits a few inches under the sod at the back of the one-third acre property.
THE ca. 1819 BRICK SECTION
First job was to remove the decrepit porch that threatened everyone who tried to get to our front door. Chuck and his brother, Robbie, stationed themselves on either side of the porch, waited for traffic to clear, and in short order (really, really short order), the porch fell into Charlestown Pike. Quick work to clear the debris before the next car came over the hill.
Then we tapped a bit on the old plaster that barely hung on to the stone and brick sections and brought that down. Okay, okay - it was more than a little tapping. Anyway, we were getting somewhere! And it wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.
Now that people weren't going to die attempting to knock on our front door, we tackled the front "parlor."
When we removed some truly hideous red and white wallpaper, we found the ghost of a chair rail, some markings from the original tavern bar, and evidence of the various layers of milk paint - all the way down to the first coat: a bright salmon color. We liked it, so we recreated the color as closely as possible (Our test paints can be seen on the wall below). When we were done, we left an 8" square on the north wall - unpainted, so visitors could see the layers for themselves.
The brick section has three Rumford corner fireplaces: one in the front parlor, one in the dining room and a third in a second floor guest room. What the devil is a Rumford? A fireplace sytem designed created by Sir Benjamin Thompson - Count Rumford - to maximize heat and space efficiency.
Fireplaces are placed in the corners of rooms, are shallow and have a curved back wall that sends rising heat out into the room. They were placed in adjacent room corners and over one another on the next floor up so their chimney flues could intertwine. Nifty, eh? But since one of the chimneys had collapsed and we didn't have 10,000 bucks, all three fireplaces remained a decorative talking point while we lived there...
Birkett's tavern was very well-situated, as taverns go. It stood at the crossroads of Charlestown Pike and the old road to Purcellville. Back then, the road to Purcellville ran all down the tavern's west side (The current road to Purcellville - Rt. 690 - lies several doors down and east of the tavern and was built much later).
Now, the ca. 1900 west frame section was put on an early 19th century stone foundation (The type of stone work gave the date away), so we thought the stone foundation might have been built for an early, wide and deep covered porch.
Further proof: the brick section's west wall had two front doors - one from the parlor and one from the dining room. Why did we think they were doors to the outside? Dead giveaway was the transom windows. The west side dining room door that led to our living room had a completely intact transom window - still set with its wavy 19th c. glass. And the west side parlor door had been closed in by the time we got there (turned into a shallow entrance closet). but they left that transom space over the door. so we turned that into a little display shelf:
Birkett's property used to encompass an eastern patch of land where a red barn stands today. The tavern keeper owned other properties, as well (Like the little stone house to its west which is the oldest structure in Hillsboro), and his total land amounted to around 12 or 13 acres. A typical early 19th century tavern required around 13 acres to support the business (Farmland for planting and pens to store animals brought through town by drovers). This was in the days before the trains, and there was only one way to get an animal all the way to the large markets of Alexandria: walk.
By the way, the house's original hand-carved mantels, the built-in corner cupboards, and all were "9 over 6" windows. (Nine panes over six). In the 1930s, the government established the Works Progress Administration to create jobs for a very depressed American economy. One thing they developed was the Historical Homes Study, and our home was lucky enough to be a part. This gave us clues on how we could restore them home. For instance, we knew the large brass locks had all been removed by the time we got there! Likely sold, as they were valuable. The WPA reports can be found at Leesburg's Thomas Balch Library.
We also learned that the front parlor mantel was gone. The original was described as "a Federal-style medallion with crossed arrows and side pillars," but the mantel that stands there now is a very simple affair. We did our best for it, though, and dressed it up nicely at Christmas time...
As we were hunting for historic clues to the home, we decided it must have been a fine tailor shop. We found evidence under the attic floorboards: they include scraps of fabric, a 19th century woman's apron re-made from an old dress (likely Civil War-era), a front piece from a pair of ca. 1810-1830 breeches, various pockets, a portion of bonnet lace, and a flattened beaver skin top hat. At first we thought it was a rat skin, but then... few rats are oval. When pumped up with a wide rim of cardboard, lo' and behold, a very worn ca. 1830 beaver hat appeared. John Birkett's? Whoever the owner, he was right-handed: the brim is worn on the upper right edge.
The framed receipts below the frabric scraps are a blue I.O.U., dated May of 1854 and signed by the then-Hillsboro resident Walter Friggins and written to Hillsboro Shoemaker William Fritz who lived across the stret. The I.O.U. is for the grand sum of 12 cents. Silly - until you realize a dozen eggs went for a penny, so the I.O.U.'s true value was around twenty or twenty-five dollars.
But the long piece of paper above it is the true treasure. It has no date, but as a Civil War historian I can say unequivocally it was written during the war. From the top the note reads, "Samuel Arnit Dr." and below his name, a list: "87 pounds butter, 6.37; 66 pounds rags, .37, 74 chickens, 1.54; 64 doz eggs, 64." Then another of the same sorts of items for different amounts.
Without question this is a list of items Union soldiers took from the tavern. The huge number of rags is the first tip-off (bandages were ever in short supply), but the sinker is the phrase "at 75 cents per hundred." Seventy-five cents on the dollar is what the federal government compensated civilians for goods taken by Union soldiers. We know the Union Army passed through Hillsboro on the way to Antietam in 1862, so it's highly likely this is when the goods were taken.
Now, the town was decidedly Confederate, and half way through the war Confederates gave up the idea of ever getting anything back from the government - that is, unless they swore an oath of allegiance to the United States. So the owner - one of Mary's sons-in-laws - "filed" the worthless receipt on the attic floor of the brick section of the house - allowing us to pick it up and solve the puzzle 130 years later.
We now resume our regularly scheduled program...
The stone kitchen that once stood about 12' back from the house was about 25 feet wide and 12' feet deep. Why was it separate from the home? Well the roof can tell you: there fireproof slate shingles on it, while the main house shingles were wooden. It appears there was a "Dog Trot" - a passageway from house to kitchen - that led from the dining room of the tavern (Where we had our dining room).
There is another door cut in this back wall which once led to an outside stairwell that went straight to the root cellar below the current dining room (this door is now set with removable shelves for an optional bookcase). While visitors can stand up in the basement rooms below the dining room and front parlor, the only current access to the root cellar is via a crawl space under the L-shaped back porch.
In the basement under the front parlor sits half of a ca. 1850 wardrobe. It was a great place to tell ghost stories, because there are hints of a dark tale:
During the Civil War, wood became scarce and coffins were always hard to come by, so tall wardrobes were often cut in half to use as replacements. There's a half a wardrobe lying in that cellar.
I used to love taking our son's friends down there and have them sit on that wardrobe while I told them a few ghost stories. I would end by telling them the other half of their "bench" probabaly sits in a Hillsboro cemetery. Highly effective.
Another interesting item which can be seen and gotten to from the crawl space is the lower half of the original kitchen's stone fireplace. The fireplace is five feet wide and four feet high, but, because the kitchen floor was raised three feet above the original dirt floor kitchen, the fireplace in no longer accessible. It rests behind the back wall of the large kitchen pantry. But the outside of the fireplace chimney stands in the north wall of the back workroom.
A portion of the old kitchen wall an stood in for our mud room - just inside the back porch.
In the 1940s, the store was turned into three apartments, and in the 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. Hoff purchased the property and turned it into a home. The Hoffs created the modern kitchen by raising the kitchen floor to the same level as the rest of the house. Although the kitchen has nine-foot tall ceilings, there is one low beam - the evidence remaining from a once a much higher ceiling beam for the dog trot. The stone kitchen foundation was easily mapped by visiting the crawl space underneath the existing kitchen. We renovated the kitchen again in 2000.
PART II: OF STONE AND FRAME
The stone section was added to the house in 1840 (Evidence: taxes on the house made another significant leap in 1839). This was around the time Birkett opened his tavern doors. No doubt he needed an extra tavern room or extra storage.
Leesburg Court House records note the cost of the bond to run an Ordinary was $150.00 (If you ever look through Loudoun County, VA records, keep in mind that the town of Hillsboro is usually listed separately in the back of these record books (all entries are alphabetical - look under "Hillsboro"). An 1856 post-mortem inventory of Birkett's Tavern and home are found in Loudoun County Court House records. Several kegs are listed, along with half a dozen tavern tables and bedsteads. It also lists the debtors to the tavern-keeper - which began on the day - perhaps even the minute - the tavern opened.
Soon Birkett's Tavern became known as Birkett's Hotel. In that day, a "Hotel" like Birkett's slept several men to a bed, and a drover's animals - be they goats, cows or sheep - would be kept in pens on the property (or on one of Birkett's many other tracts of land). Easiest to manage were the flocks of turkeys: the drovers just encouraged them to flap up into the nearest tree to bed down for the night.
His tavern guests must have feasted on fresh oysters from the Canal boats at Harpers Ferry, because we found hundreds of oyster shells in the backyard. Then there were all those kegs of course. A few good beers might have helped a man sleep through a crowded, smelly, noisy night with strangers - not to mention the noise from flock of turkeys in the nearby tree.
Hillsboro's Charlestown Pike (Route 9) fed into the Leesburg Pike (Route 7) - the main road that led straight to the docks at Alexandria. After Hillboro, a drover would walk a day and stop at Dranesville Tavern. They could make it to Alexandria by late afternoon the next day.
But Birkett and his family were not the only people managing this busy place. The 1850 slave census of Loudoun County lists John Birkett as the owner of seven slaves - a woman in her thirties and six children ranging from 2 to 17. It is likely the slaves lived in the upper room of the west stone section of the house and that the first floor area was used for tavern storage (large hand-hewn nails are still there on the open beams). One indicator was marks of an outside stairwell to the west loft.
In the second story, there are marks on the decaying, original ceiling plaster (now removed) which indicate the space was divided into three rooms with a hole cut in one wall for a stove. That one wall is still standing and now separates the bedroom from the hall stairwell. The wall is made from pine boards - some of them 18" wide - that are simply no longer available anywhere. Prior to 1870 (when the stair well was built in the stone section), the only access to the upper rooms was by a stair on the east end of the house - typical of slave quarters. "Masters" separated themselves from "servants." The outdoor stairwell is long gone, but the doorway is now visible (and became a bookcase), and the pre-Civil War door (found by the current owners under plaster) was restored by John Ware, Jr., Stonehedge Restoration of Hillsboro, and serves as a closet door in the upper stone room.
The slave history of Hillsboro was not known or recognized when we first moved there. In fact, the Hillsboro History pamphlet that existed then made no mention of them at all. When I asked why, I was told there were no slaves in Hillsboro! As an historian, I knew that was incorrect and determined to do the research and find the truth.
I already knew there were Quaker towns in Loudoun County whose residents were known to help the Underground Railroad. In addition, the sons and fathers of Quakers and German farmers formed Virginia’s only known Union troop – the Loudoun Rangers. And Hillsboro was a town of commerce and almost entirely Confederate. These farms and businesses were run with the labor of Loudoun County slaves, and their history must be recognized. I found the slave census for Hillsboro by visiting Leesburg's Thomas Balch Library. It wasn't easy. The entire book was alphabetical by owner, but cities were listed by themselves at the very back.
I've since learned the majority of Hillsboro’s slaves lived on the ridge of the south hill. Although I haven't walked up there, a local historian and townsperson said evidence of their log cabins are still there. One of the stories I found during my research was that of Zilpha Davis, a freedwoman of Hillsboro who lived down by Catoctin Creek. Read her story.
In 2019, Hillsboro United Methodist Church finally marked the slave cemetery. Now measures are being taken to protect their grounds. It should be noted that, although their slave cabins are disappearing, the stone and brick homes we enjoy today were built by their hands.
To find out more about black history in Loudoun County, visit the Thomas Balch Library or connect with The Black History Committee, Friends of Thomas Balch.
Part of the joy of renovating the home was to try to create looks that were appropriate to the time. For me, that meant painting the walls of the east stairwell (above) in the Limner style. Limners were 19th c. traveling artists who'd come into a town and take commissions to create quick portraits or decoratively paint a parlor or dining room wall. The techniques used counted on quick work (milk paint is fast drying), and to really save time portrait artists often painted the bodies of unknown future patrons and simply filled in the heads on the spot. Keeping the Limner tradition of working as quickly as possible, I finished the wall painting in a day and a half.
I also painted the faux marble on both downstairs fireplaces, and created a primitive pictorial of Hillsboro ca. 1850 on the dining room mantel at right. This mantel has been dated to 1850 but was not original the house. We bought the mantel (sans top shelf) from the former owners, installed it ourselves, added the mantel shelf and stained it to match the rest of the piece
My mother, Maxine Bean, had been an interior designer and came to live with us after my father passed. She helped us make a boatload of design decisions.
She had the second floor bedroom in the stone secion seen below, and chose to have the far east wall plaster removed to reveal the beautiful stone work. The stonework was then re-pointed, and a small stairwell was built to give access to a loft over the bedroom hall - an excellent writer or painter's garrett or playroom.
By the way, after Birkett added this 1840 stone addition, he apparently wanted the house to look "all of a piece," so he decided to plaster the entire house (brick and stone) and keyed it to look like blocks of marble (George Washington used exterior wood panels to simulate marble blocks at Mount Vernon). Each block was then "marbleized" with streaks of gray paint. You can see why I wanted to try the limner style...
When we purchased the house, the plaster was already irreparably damaged. So we made the hard decision to remove it from the stone and brick sections. Until then the brick section had never been painted, but we were told by more than one restorer that paint would be the safest way to protect the old brick.
Birkett died in 1854 and was buried in Hillsboro's Arnold Grove Cemetery. Court records note the 1876 court order that forced the sale of the house. Apparently Mary remarried within a year after John's death. Her new sons-in-law ran the tavern during the Civil War, but after the war, it began to "gather dust." "Birkitt's Hotel in Hillsboro" was put up for public auction in1876 and sold for $1,000 to one Lydia Hough (Likely Lydia was related to John Hough, the original builder).
Around the turn of the last century, the owners added a frame section to the west end of the home. At that time virtually all of the old windows were replaced to match the addition. Gone are the 9-over-six windows with bubbled glass (except for one remnant in the back work room). Now all the houses are set with tall Victorian window panes, 2-over-2. The frame addition became a general store in the early 20th century.
When we moved in, the floor of the long room had been painted, with the exception of a large rectangle of in its center - probably where the store's central cabinets sat. Previous Hillsboro residents remembered "The Weller Store", and folks could set their clock by Mr. Weller's 7 p.m. closing time. In summer months, he sold ice cream from the front bay windows (See below at the back of the room). Former Hillsboro resident Lucy Roederick once said, "You could get everything at that store - even bananas!"
We re-finished the floors, and suddenly the long wide room was perfectly suited for a Victorian dance....
PART III: TREASURES, DEEDS & 1930 ADDITIONS
During all the years we were there, we just kept finding treasures! WE found hand-blown marbles (Yep. They aren't round), Victorian paper dolls, and an 1870s children's school book. The book was probablyt issued by Hillsboro's first public school, the 1874 Arnold Grove Academy - now known as Hillsboro's Old Stone School.
And then there were china and pottery shards and all those oyster shells!. And up under the 1870 stairwell in the stone section (in a space we were trying to clear for wiring), we found a ca. 1917 flour bag from the flour mill that once stood at the west end of town, and in it were three items: a medicine bottle, an empty can of salmon, and a whiskey bottle. Perfect bag lunch!
TRACKING THE DEED
The tavern deed is easily traced back from its modern owners, but there was a gap in the deed track - a chunk of empty space in the records between 1874 and 1928. I happened to be volunteering at the Thomas Balch Library, cataloging entries from local newspapers, when I ran across a small advertisement: a notice of the sale at auction of "Birkitt's Hotel in Hillsboro" in 1874. It was sold for $1,000 to one Lydia Underwood.
Having finally found this connection, I was able to easily trace the deed up to 1928 through the records of wills and deeds, and so the deed track is complete (Lydia Underwood gifted the tavern to Joseph Underwood in her will which went into effect in 1878, and Joseph willed the tavern to Harriet Underwood in 1893). An interesting piece of history is the forced sale of the Tavern in April of 1874:
Birkit [sic](Defendant), S.P. et al vs Reed, Harman et ux,â" of the Chancery Index 1875-1940 (No. M 3533). The chancery case lists "John and Mary Birket" at the top of the page, then says Mary died intestat, "leaving no personal estate and but a small lot of ground in Hillsboro Loudoun County Virginia some 50 x 22 feet on the main street of aforesaid town and leaving no debts or liens so that said lot descended to her heirs at-law to writ your oratrix and Susan Birkit who has married D.M. Divine. Margaret - the wife of Wm. Allder. Sallie - the wife of J.W. Price. Cornelia - the wife of Wm. A. Baker (said Cornelia is insane). S.P. Birkit and John Birkit and Wm. Birkit - who is dead leaving a widow - Margaret Birkit - and children.
It went on to say the lot couldn't be split, so he (Reed) demanded they sell. The case was settled and "Birkett's Hotel" was sold at public auction to Lydia Hough.
For more information on Birkett's Tavern, marriages, deaths, censuses, town history, or Loudoun history, please contact The Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA 20175 or visit the Loudoun County Clerk's Office.
THE 1930s SECTION
Yes, it looks smaller from the street, but the home is actually quite large. The back of the house was added some time in the 1930s or 40s, probably in order to support the store - much like the stone section for Birkett's Tavern. Chuck and I restored these rooms one by one, and they now contain a library, full bath, and office. We left one room in the house unrestored: the back storage/workroom.
And, off the library, one finds the most valuable item in the entire house: the original full-flushing toilet. Plumbers have offered to buy this gem of a fifteen-galloner from us, but we wisely refused. The bathroom once had layers of grimy linoleum, cracked and peeling false tiles linoleum wallpaper, and a claw foot tub... with no claw feet. After our renovation, it had a painted wooden floor, the same wallpaper in excellent shape (the addition of a chair rail above hid a multitude of cracks and tears), and four pedestal feet for the tub courtesy of my brother, Lorenzo Bean.
In 1999, we added a back porch off the kitchen and stone sections. One reason we put it there is because we'd found evidence of a porch along the south wall of the stone section: the original v-grouting stopped below the threshhold of a back door. We assumed if there were only stairs at the door, the v-grouting would have continued down to the ground on either side. Instead there was a clear line across the stonework.
Also, up around the second story were two metal flanges - leftover supports for a back porch roof. We hired carpenter Paul Pronske to create a Hillsboro-style porch, so he based the railings and columns on a home that sits across the street. And, while the original back porch apparently only attached to the stone section, we chose to create an L-shape porch in order to make it possible to walk on to the porch from the kitchen. A stone patio completes the sideyard.
Whe we left, Birkett's Tavern had a third of an acre, all fenced in and, beyond the back stone patiom we had a garden set with old-fashion roses - the ones with scent.. And there were peonies, lilacs, wisteria, and Butterfly bushes, alongside Hawthorn, Magnolia and Water Elms.
Then, at the front of the house, we placed Double Lace Cap Hydrangeas whose magnificent flowers and changing hues caused curious individuals to knock at the front door and ask about them.
And on that note, we end. our tale and say may Birkett's Tavern long stand and continue to delight all residents, visitors, and passersby alike.
I was born October 20, 1924, the third daughter of Hattie Mae Whirshing and Walter Gabriel Hay. They named me Maxine Lucy Hay – Maxine for an exotic French celebrity and Lucy for my mother’s beautiful baby sister… who married her first cousin (whoops).
I loved my Auntie for her free spirit and her love for her husband, Vernon Barlow, and her funny bone, and because she is part of one of my favorite memories: June 10, 1949, my wedding day. The wedding was held at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia on a typical, steamy Williamsburg day. The ceremony was set for 3 pm, and we were gifted just in time with a 2:30 pm tropical thunderstorm that caught most of the guests as they were coming in to the church.
To get inside, everyone had to splash through a huge puddle that formed in the old brick walkway. Now the bridesmaids were waiting for me in the vestibule, and the groom and groomsmen were stuffed and waiting in the ante-room of the pulpit area.
I began to navigate the rain and wind under an umbrella and managed to completely soak my organdy gown and bridal veil before entering that storm-drenched vestibule. As we prepared to walk down the aisle, I was now wearing a soaking wet organdy wedding dress and a wet and shrinking veil.
And I became distraught and on the verge of tears. I was always the sister most likely to cry, and my younger sister, Ruthie, turned and saw my distress. So Ruthie leaned in and helpfully whispered in that she would walk out of the church if I cried!
So, trying to quickly blink away my tears, I tried to focus on the congregation - to find friends and relatives. When that didn't work, I began to focus on the architecture of the beautiful Bruton Parish Chapel.
And it was then my Aunt Lucy saved the day.
My eyes floated up, way up, and there was Aunt Lucy: my happy, loving, hard-working Aunt Lucy was sitting in the Bishop’s Chair, looking all the world like the Queen of England in her Minnie Pearl hat and farmerette dress. She’d found the perfect spot to enjoy her niece’s wedding.
And I began to smile. How could I not be made joyful?
Now I was now ready to enhance my beautiful moment by heading up the aisle to join my precious man... who didn’t notice my condition at all! Never mentioned it once.
But another Aunt had enhanced the day as well: my Aunt Evelina – the practical nurse who had delivered me in a difficult birth. I was the third daughter in four years, and, yes, it was a risky delivery. My Auntie, who must have been in such a state, promised my mother she would give this little niece her diamond engagement ring if she survived.
And I wear that ring today.
So to Aunt Lucy and Aunt Evelina, Thanks for everything!
- written by Maxine Lucy Hay Bean, "for my children and my children’s children, etc. etc., with confidence this will not be posted on a Bulletin Board, Police Station, Church Hall or Psych Ward, and that it will be met with the same generosity of spirit in which it is given."
Maxine and Lee... heading for the honeymoon!
This was written by my mother, Maxine, in 2011. She passed away in 2014 and is deeply missed by all who knew her.
"And a Straight-Jacket for the Editor": Three Pro-Union Women Journalists Living in Confederate Virginia
A Union commander, to take charge of the Rebel Conscripting Officers.
A plaster for the [Second Street] mud-hole, it is breaking out again.
A straight-jacket for the Editor, who was bent on having her own way.
The Waterford News - 11 Mo. 26th, 1864, Vol. I, No. 6
In 1864, a young woman of Waterford, Virginia named Lida Dutton decided providing meals to Union soldiers and helping the wounded was not enough. She had to do more for the Union cause. Never at a loss for bold ideas, Lida soon came up with the concept of an underground newspaper for Union soldiers and promptly roped in sister Lizzie and friend Sarah Steer as fellow-editors. Thus was born, The Waterford News, quite possibly the only newspaper ever written by Union women to be published out of Confederate Virginia.
What kind of women begin such a conspicuously dangerous work? Why, the kind bent on having their own way, of course — ones whose story you are about to learn.
Lida (L) and Lizzie Dutton of Waterford, Virginia
When Barbara Black was a very little girl, her grandfather would sit her upon his knees and tell her the story, and, although she’d heard it a dozen times, she loved to hear it once more:  A handsome soldier in a Confederate uniform approached a pretty young miss for the purpose of asking her directions. His name was J. William Hutchinson, and he was actually with the 13th New York Cavalry, acting as a Scout in what he thought was enemy territory. The young lady was Lida Dutton, a Quakeress living in one of the only pro-Union villages in Lee’s Virginia.
By his uniform, she assumed he was a Confederate soldier. By the fact she was standing in Virginia, he assumed she was a Rebel. He politely asked her the way to a certain place, and from there things took an interesting turn.
Being a Quaker, Lida wouldn’t knowingly lie, but she also wouldn’t knowingly help a Confederate get where he was going any faster than he should, and so she cheerfully gave him directions using landmarks used only by the locals: “Left at Brown’s stump, right at Uncle Harmon’s well, left at Zilpha’s Rock...” As the end of the impossible-to-follow directions, Hutchinson quietly asked, “Miss, which side would you like for me to be on?”
Momentarily flustered, she finally blurted out: “If you’re a Rebel, I hate you, but if you’re a Northerner, I love you!” At this point, he introduced himself and showed her his Union insignia.
And that is how Lida Dutton met her match.
In the first three years of the Civil War, Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer could be found caring for wounded Union soldiers, hiding them from marauding Rebel troops, and managing to hold together the farms and businesses their fathers and brothers had had to leave behind to avoid conscription into the Confederate ranks. But in the spring of 1864, they decided they would do more, and nothing — not the lack of goods nor the abundance of Confederate soldiers — was going to thwart their good efforts.
At least eight issues of The Waterford News were published before the spring of 1865, and in each edition’s four, small pages these young women neatly packed a tidy meal of patriotic editorials, poetry, riddles, local news and humor, a sample of which reads as follows:
"The next day or two the rebels again visited this district and appropriated to their own use several horses and two wagons loaded with corn, belonging of course to Union citizens. They also visited the tannery of Asa M. Bond and arrested thirty-five dollars worth of leather."
A few stores... with Dry-Goods, Molasses Candy and other stationery, suited to the tastes of the community. Young and hand-some Clerks not objectionable.
The soldiers ate it up... to put it mildly.
Not only did it boost the morale of the troops, it also brought in subscription fees – monies which the girls turned right around and sent back for soldiers’ aid.
The Waterford News was even perused by President Lincoln. Private Schooley of the 11th Rgt., Maryland Volunteers sent a letter to the President with this introduction, “To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln. Will your excellency please accept the two enclosed copies of ‘Waterford News’ and excuse me for taking the liberty of sending them to you... You will see by the Sending, the intention of the Fair Editresses in editing the Paper under the difficulties which they do. ‘Tis for to aid the ‘Sanitary Commission.’ They have already made up nearly 1000$ [sic] for the same purpose!”
To understand the nature of these exceptional young women, we must understand their social context: the history of Quakers (also known as “The Religious Society of Friends”) has been marked by unusual bravery and strength of character. Students of Quaker history find evidence of the persistent influence of a people of faith who helped change the course of American history, as well as evidence of America influencing the nature of Quakerism. These competing influences are best exemplified in the history of Loudoun’s Quakers — a people who found themselves struggling to maintain a pacifist tradition in the midst of Civil War.
By the early nineteenth-century, most Loudoun Quakers associated themselves with the Hicksite faction of the church which espoused a more liberal point of view than Orthodox Quakers. By the time of the Civil War, they were still pacifists, met twice weekly for Meetings, disciplined their members, and encouraged plain dress, but further assumptions are destined to break down. They had been living in the middle of a heated political situation for several years, and their pacifism had been sorely tested. When John Brown’s Raid occurred so near to Loudoun, local militias were formed. Quakers were told to show up for muster or pay a fine. At the beginning of the war, the Confederate army took Quakers for laborers or jailed them for use as bargaining chips. As a result, most headed north, but several risked church discipline and joined the Union army. One of those men was young James Dutton, brother to Lida and Lizzie. By 1862, Lizzie had fallen in love and become engaged to a Lieutenant Holmes of the 7th Indiana Regiment. The matter had become personal, such that when it came to a choice of allegiance between country or faith, Quaker women like Lida, Lizzie and Sarah stubbornly chose to support both. A Waterford News editorial boldly stated, “Christians make the best soldiers.”
At every turn, Loudoun Quaker women refused to be categorized. Regarding the tradition of Quaker “plain dress,” for example, there is this interesting notation in the very first edition: “Great distress is felt by the ladies of this vicinity at not being able to appear at meeting in new bonnets, dresses and wrappings, owing to the stringent blockade.”
These women were very well educated and strongly encouraged to express themselves. Only a few years before the war, Lida, Lizzie and Sarah had been active members of The Waterford Literary Society, writing essays whose topics ranged from a thoughtful, “What is There Left to Write About?” to a hilarious ode “On Chickens.” Essays were read aloud to the group, gently critiqued by the members present, and then recorded in a large bound book. Thankfully, the Society’s volumes survived the war and rest in the archives of The Thomas Balch Library of Leesburg, Virginia. One of the anonymous notes in the Society Essays reads, “Take life as it is, a real matter-of-fact thing, and do it justice,” and it is easy to imagine the “Fair Editresses” of The Waterford News taking the sentiment to heart.
Although the Literary Society provided a place for young ladies to sharpen their wits as well as their pencils, their excellent educations began at home. Several years before the war, Sarah Steer had been sent north to a Ladies Academy, and John and Emma Dutton had always encouraged their four daughters to exercise full use of their minds. In a letter written in 1864 to his youngest, Anna Ellen, John Dutton wrote, “I take great pride in my childrens’ writing. I want each to exert themselves in this particular branch of learning and now is the time whilst thy little fingers are limber... Make it a rule to study — to think — weigh thy thoughts well for thy self. Don’t conclude things are right just because the mass of the people say so.” As a result of such parenting and the Quakers’ insistence on female education (all this despite 19th century ‘Woman as Shelf-Ornament’ thinking), Lida, Lizzie and Sarah’s writings are a treasure of womanly expression:
The young ladies of Waterford, Loudon [sic] Co., Va., are hereby notified to meet the first opportunity and lend their mutual aid in filling a large mud-hole with stone, said mud-hole being located in the middle of Second Street... the men have driven around it so much that it is extending each side. Being fearful the gentlemen will get their feet muddy, the ladies will try and remedy it.
While the state of the Second Street mud-hole made itself useful as a running joke (c.f. opening quotation), the young women knew how to turn a joke on themselves, as well. The paper contained a marriage column, but it was always empty. At the bottom of the column, a sad little footnote would appear, such as, “Words are inadequate to express our feelings on this subject.” Edition number three contained this note of surrender: “We think there is no prospect of having this long-continued vacancy filled until after the war: so we will discontinue it for the present.”
And how did the soldiers react to the news? In a word: quickly.
The very next edition reads, “After the marriage column was closed, the young gentlemen became very patriotic, volunteering to serve a lifetime, and proposals numerous flocked in. We will make them feel that delays are dangerous.” All humor aside, letters from Union soldiers which appear in the paper make it clear they had a serious appreciation for the young ladies’ efforts. And, make no mistake, it was an effort.
With no paper and no money, getting a newspaper out of Confederate Virginia was no small task. Draft copies of The Waterford News had to be smuggled north across the Potomac River. The Baltimore American voluntarily printed the newspapers for them. Subscriptions were handled through the Federal Post Office at Point of Rocks, Maryland; the active Confederate troops made it impossible for the girls to distribute the paper from their homes. For their efforts, the young women risked severe “discipline” by the Confederate army, as did all of Waterford for its pro-Union sentiment.
The worst Confederate attack on the villagers occurred in 1862: Confederate troops arrived to forage and announced when they were through they intended to burn the pro-Union village down. The wife of Samuel Means of Waterford ran to the only person she knew who still had a horse: a farmer who lived just outside of town. She asked him to ride to Union General Geary, stationed just a few miles away, and tell him to send Union troops to save the town. The fellow flat-out refused. She then asked him to lend her his horse so she could make the ride. Again he said “no.” She then said, “Then I will steal thy horse and go myself.” And so she did. General Geary promptly dispatched troops to the town, and Waterford was saved... for the time being.
With war literally at their doorstep, Lida, Lizzie and Sarah chose to publish the newspaper, despite personal risk, and even personal tragedy.
The July 2, 1864 edition of The Waterford News encouraged its readers to press on:
"Let not kind words, loving tones, and love of good deeds cease to find a place in our hearts. Now, if ever, is the time to ‘cast bread upon the waters,’ when tired and weary ones are all around us, and starvation stares so many in the face; when loved ones are struggling with pain, and joy and happiness are hidden in the distance; when hope leaves us and misery looks at us with hollow eyes. Let us be up and doing — old and young — we have no time to idle; every quickly flitting moment is to be improved, every space filled up."
This editorial, which might be dismissed as nothing more than flowery patriotic sentiment, becomes poignantly descriptive when we discover it was written soon after Lizzie received the news her fiancé, Lieutenant Holmes, had been killed in action.
Doing life justice means that much more when life isn’t doing you justice in return.
In late November of 1864, General Grant authorized a raid on Loudoun County. It has become known as “The Burning Raid,” but The Waterford News called it “The Fury Order in Loudoun.” Frustrated with the seemingly unchecked activities of Colonel Mosby’s Rangers, Grant’s concept was to burn out the farms still able to provide forage to Mosby and his men, and to this end a multitude of barns were burned and livestock was killed or driven off. In addition, men under 51 capable of bearing arms and any slaves remaining in the area were to be taken.
At this point, political sentiment was unimportant. Mosby gathered forage from whoever had goods, thus the Union army visited whoever had goods.
So, in a sad twist of fate, Pro-Union Loudouners had the unpleasant task of watching the Union army destroy in less than a week what they’d been protecting from bushwhackers and Confederates for four years. Between November 27th and December 2 of 1864, the skies over western Loudoun were dark with the smoke of hundreds upon hundreds of fires.
And, again, Loudoun’s Quaker women persevered. Major J.B. Wheeler of the 6th New York recorded that, “At Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia, two young ladies perched on the wide gate posts in front of their home, waving American flags and said as their hay was being destroyed, ‘Burn away, burn away, if it will keep Mosby from coming here.’ ” Tradition holds that one of those young women was Lida Dutton.
An editorial in the Jan. 28, 1865 edition of The Waterford News had this to say about the ‘Fury Order:’
We do not believe, if our Government had been as well acquainted with us as we are with ourselves, the order for the recent burning would be have been issued; but having suffered so much at the hands of the Rebels ever since the commencement of this cruel war, we will cheerfully submit to what we feel assured our Government thought a military necessity.
It should be noted not everyone reacted as stoically. When Union soldiers demanded matches from Quakeress Ruth Hannah Smith for the sole purpose of using them to burn down her barn, she quietly held the lucifers in the steam from her teakettle before handing them over. Her barn was saved.
We know that the effects of war did not alter Lida, Lizzie and Sarah’s resolve, so it should come as no surprise that when peace came they continued to “do life justice.” Sarah Steer applied to the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Philadelphia Meeting and to local Quakers for the funds to open a school for the children of freedmen. The school was built in 1867, the first of five in the County, but Sarah didn’t wait for the walls to go up around her. She began teaching in 1865 and so became the “first teacher of black children” in Loudoun County.
The building, an historic property now known as “The Second Street School,” is owned by The Waterford Foundation and is the site of a unique living history program. As part of the Loudoun County’s Third and Fourth grade curriculums, children are able to spend a morning in the one room school house taking on the identities and responsibilities of the African-American children who attended in 1880.
An excellent summation of the trials and tribulations of Waterford Quakers is beautifully detailed in the Waterford Foundation book, To Talk is Treason, by John Souders, Bronwen Souders and John Divine. Most of the story of Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer is contained therein. It is abundantly clear from their histories, each of these women were capable of being that Editor referred to as “bent on having her own way.”
And what of Lizzie and Lida Dutton after the war? Both continued to write, submitting poetry and articles to local newspapers on occasion, but life still had a few surprises left for them.
Lizzie continued to live in the now quiet village of Waterford, and we could forgive her for assuming the exciting portion of her life was over. There had been one fleeting correspondence between herself and a Lieut. James Dunlop of the 7th Indiana - a friend to her fallen fiancé and the very man who’d written her with news of his death - but, after the war, Lieut. Dunlop had gone home to Indiana to marry his childhood sweetheart.
But fate decreed Dunlop’s wife would die within two years of the marriage. He never remarried, and for years he let the thought nag him: “Whatever happened to Lizzie Dutton?” In 1881, he came to Washington on business and used the excuse to send a card to the Dutton home. The reply was a letter from Miss Elizabeth Dutton.
He took himself straightway to Waterford. An account of the event reads, as the two renewed their acquaintance, “matters flowed on so easily, smoothly, and naturally, that in a few weeks Mr. Dunlop found himself at his Indiana home busily engaged in preparing for the reception of a new mistress, and soon the little town of Waterford was all a blaze of light and a scene of general rejoicing, for the lady was popular and beloved by all.” Joseph Dunlop and Lizzie Dutton were married January 22, 1882.
Last, but not in the least least, there was the matter of strong-minded Lida. Was she be able to square things with her Union Lieutenant after her bold attempt to hood-wink him? Yes, but not before he winked right back.
Lieutenant Hutchinson followed his surprise introduction by telling Lida he planned to hold her to her bold promise — her promise to love him if he were a Northerner. When she regained her composure, she told him she believed she’d said “like,” not “love.” He strongly disagreed and promised to return for her after the war.
Well, like him or love him, when Lieut. Hutchinson came back for her, she married him. Apparently they continued the happy argument of “like” vs. “love” with their children as audience... their grandchildren... and, eventually, their great-grandchildren.
The two were man and wife for 53 years before William passed away. 
Heroes are the simple creation of continually choosing to do life justice in the midst of trying circumstances. Thanks to the preservation of Loudoun history, we’re able to celebrate the heart of these three heroes: Sarah, Lizzie and Lida... three women editors who were, thank heaven, absolutely bent on having their own way.
And they must have the last word:
Many threats have been made
about burning our houses over our devoted heads,
but Waterford is still standing.
And we trust it may stand long in the future
to remind other generations that in its time-honored walls
once dwelt as true lovers of their country as ever breathed the breath
of life-long-suffering but faithful... to the end."
- The Waterford News, July 1864
This article was first published in Citizen's Companion Magazine The author, Meredith Bean McMath is an award-winning historian and prize-winning playwright who resides in Loudoun County, Va. Her Civil War novel, Pella's Angel, is set in Loudoun County, Virginia during the Civil War and is available on Amazon and via Kindle.com
 Letter of Barbara Dutton Conrow Black to Ladies Home Journal dated Feb. 4, 1962 (copy in Waterford Foundation Archives, Waterford, VA)
 Waterford Perspectives, Education Committee of The Waterford Foundation, Waterford Foundation Archives
 To Talk is Treason, Bronwen and John Souders and John Divine, The Waterford Foundation, Waterford, VA (1997) p. 56
 The Waterford News, Vol. 1, No.’s 1-8 (copies in “Civil War File” of The Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA and The Waterford Foundation Archives)
 ibid, Vol. I, No. 2 (Nov. 6, 1864)
 “Robert Todd Lincoln” papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (referred to in Oct. 6, 1955 article from The Blue Ridge Herald, “Lincoln Papers Reveal Waterford Had Newspaper During Civil War;” copy in “Civil War File,” Thomas Balch Library).
 To Talk is Treason, et al
 The Transformation of American Quakerism, by Thomas D. Hamm, Indiana Univ. Press (1988), p. 52
 “Girls Published Civil War Newspaper,” by Emma H. Conrow, Baltimore American, February 5 1922, p. C-3 (copy in “Civil War File” at the Thomas Balch Library and The Waterford Foundation archives).
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 6 (Nov. 26, 1864)
 ibid, Vol. I, No.1 (May 28, 1864)
 Essays of Friends Literary Society, Waterford, 1857-60, Rare Manuscripts — Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
 To Talk is Treason, p. 87
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 1 (May 28, 1864)
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 3 (July 2, 1864)
 Waterford Perspectives
 Hillsboro: Memories of a Mill Town, Hillsboro Bicentennial History Ctte, Pub’d by the Hillsboro Community Association, p. 25 (The Thomas Balch Library)
 To Talk is Treason, p. 92
 Ye Meetg Hous Smal, Werner and Asa Moore Janney published by Werner and Asa Moore Janney (The Thomas Balch Library) p. 42 - insert
 Friends Intelligencer, vol. XX, pp 250-251 (copies in Waterford Foundation Archives)
 The County of Loudoun, by Nan Donnelly-Shay and Griffin Shay, The Donning Co. (1988) p. 53
 Camp & Field, Sketches of Army Life, by Wilbur F. Hinman (Cleveland, 1892) (Ref., The Thomas Balch Library) pp 422-423
 “Commonplace Book” by Mary Frances Dutton Steer (collection of letters and memoirs), Waterford Foundation Archives, p. 15
Meredith Bean McMath is the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc., a prize-winning playwright, award-winning historian and a critically acclaimed stage director.