Haunted Williamsburg Ghost Tour

Experience Colonial Williamsburg by lantern light in this eerie tour offering something for the whole family.

As fall approaches, my wife and I are eager to get out, enjoy the nice weather, and kick off the Halloween season. The Haunted Williamsburg tour in Williamsburg, Virginia came highly recommended. I’ve been on dozens of haunted tours all over North America, so I was keen on seeing if this one lived up to the hype.

Haunted Williamsburg is the “official” ghost tour offered by Colonial Williamsburg, and the only haunted tour to allow access to the town’s historic buildings and museums. We went on the 75-minute tour at 7pm. Our guide dressed in 18th Century colonial attire and carried a lantern as he took us to about a half dozen locations around the Palace Green.

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Civil War History Tour of Old Town, Alexandria

Ed Moser led us on a trip into Alexandria’s complicated and exciting past.

Sunday night, a small group of history enthusiasts gathered at the Lyceum in downtown Alexandria, Virginia for a tour of that storied city’s Civil War sites. It began in the shadow of Alexandria’s Appomattox statue, a statue which epitomizes the city’s complicated place in America’s bloodiest conflict.

As a thriving trade and manufacturing city at Washington, DC’s doorstep, Alexandria was a prized possession for both North and South. The Union controlled it for almost the entire war, but it teemed with Confederate sympathizers and spies. It was also the site of the first Union casualty of the Civil War.

Our tour guide, Ed Moser, an author and former writer for the Tonight Show and speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, highlighted many contradictions that characterized Alexandria’s role in the Civil War. This included the story of an enslaved woman who had a common law marriage with a Confederate officer. She escaped during the war and founded a school for other escaped slaves.

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Ghost Town Graveyards of Prince William Forest

The 16,084 acres of Prince William Forest Park in northern Virginia was once home to at least three small towns, two mines, and dozens of homesteads. During the Great Depression, the Federal Government began buying up this land to form the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area. It purchased 79 properties and condemned 48 others.

Enforcement of the eviction was half-hearted, however, until WW2 when the Office of Strategic Services wanted to turn the land into a training ground. They forcibly removed dozens of residents without compensation. After the war, the National Park Service took over management and renamed it Prince William Forest Park, charging visitors $15 a week to walk around the woods. What a bunch of dicks.

There are approximately 45 family cemeteries dotting the park, reminders of the people who once lived there. It’s estimated over 300 people are interred there. Less than twelve are marked on the official park map.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Cannon-Reed Cemetery is closest to the Visitor’s Center, off Birch Bluff Trail. A small sign misspelling the family name points to the side trail leading to the graveyard. Revolutionary War veteran Luke Cannon is buried here, as is a young man who lost his life working in the local mine.

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Fredericksburg Memorial Day Weekend Luminaria 2019

Sudden downpour interrupts reverential displays at Fredericksburg Civil War veteran cemeteries

On Saturday evening, May 25, Fredericksburg, Virginia, site of the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, held separate events to honor Civil War veterans at Fredericksburg City Cemetery and Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The first, honoring Confederate dead, was held from 6pm to 8pm, and the second, honoring Union dead, was held at 8pm. Unfortunately, an unexpected thunderstorm cut the second ceremony short.

The first event was organized by the Fredericksburg Ladies Memorial Association and attended by approximately 50 to 60 visitors. It featured a cemetery tour that stopped at notable grave sites led by local historian Dan “BigFrench” Janzegers.

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Field of Lost Shoes

An emotional tribute to young cadets who fought and died in the American Civil War.

Written by Thomas Farrell and David M. Kennedy and directed by Sean McNamara, Field of Lost Shoes (2014) tells the story of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market during the American Civil War. Despite an obviously low budget and inexperienced cast, the film is charming and emotionally engaging; one of the better Civil War films to be released in recent years.

Robert (Nolan Gould) is a freshman cadet, or “Rat”, who falls in with a tight group of upperclassmen, including John Wise (Luke Benward), an ex-governor’s son, and Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman), an aspiring sculptor and the first Jewish cadet at VMI. The war forms a backdrop to schoolboy antics like hazing, stealing food from the Institute’s enslaved cook, Old Judge (Keith David), and pursuing a romantic interest with the local girls, including Libby Clinedinst (Mary Mouser).

War comes knocking on their doorstep, however, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt) sends Franz Sigel (Werner Daehn) and Captain Henry A. DuPont (David Arquette) with an army to subdue the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing him with a much smaller force is Confederate general and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs).

Breckinridge badly needs reinforcements, and he reluctantly sends for the VMI cadets, who his battle-hardened veterans regard as nothing more than children playing soldier. Will the cadets get there in time, and more importantly, will they prove their worth on the battlefield?

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Class of ’61: Disappointing and Forgettable Historical Drama

This made-for-TV drama meanders through the opening salvos of the American Civil War.

Written by Jonas McCord, directed by Gregory Hoblit, and produced by Steven Spielberg, Class of ’61 premiered on ABC in April 1993. This confusing drama follows members of the West Point class of 1861 and their families as they head off to join opposing sides of the war. It’s notable for an early appearance by Clive Owen, who is the only actor to stand out among the myriad of stock characters.

As the film opens, three friends, Shelby Peyton (Dan Futterman), George Armstrong Custer (Josh Lucas), and Devin O’Neil (Clive Owen), are attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Tensions are high as Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter, leaving cadets with divided loyalties. Shelby Peyton, a Virginian, decides to resign and head south to join the Confederacy, despite his engagement to O’Neil’s sister, Shannon (Sophie Ward).

Back home in Maryland, Devin O’Neil learns his brother Terry (Christien Anholt) has joined pro-Southern partisans, which upsets his pro-Union Irish family. Things get complicated when O’Neil is unable to secure a commission in the Union Army. He rooms with George Custer in Washington, DC, where he falls in love with Lily Magraw (Laura Linney), who also happens to be a Southern spy.

Things get even more complicated when Shelby Peyton returns to his plantation, where his favorite slave, Lucius (Andre Braugher), has killed two slave catchers in an escape attempt. He is forced to flee northward in the Underground Railroad, leaving his pregnant wife behind to an uncertain future. Will destiny reunite all these characters at the First Battle of Bull Run?

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

In mid-October 1859, a wild-eyed, white bearded man and 21 accomplices seized the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), in a misguided attempt to ignite a slave revolt. The man was John Brown, whose fanatical visage likened him to a Biblical prophet.

Brown was already known as an abolitionist who fought against pro-slavery elements in the Bleeding Kansas conflict of 1856, but the failed raid on Harpers Ferry made him a martyr and foretold the American Civil War.

Brown was tried for treason and hanged on December 2, 1859. The brick fire engine house where his followers and he made their last stand, later known as John Brown’s Fort, is now a popular tourist destination and interpretive center telling the story of the raid. It was relocated several times and now sits 150 feet from its original location.

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