Friday, October 21, 2011

Sort of spooky but not really scary

This is just some background information.
My thesis was titled "The Recollection of Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest Library; and an analysis of content with known colonial era libraries". Yeah, pompous right? Anyway, this paper (all 83 pages of it) was for graduation but also for the Jefferson's Poplar Forest Foundation.  Research, writing and publishing took me to Virginia many times. Usually, I would drive over from Indiana making unplanned stops at historic sites on the way there and the way back. It's what I do. I'm a firm believer in serendipity.

On one such trip I stopped by Appomattox Court House, VA. This is the site where General Lee of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Lieutenant General Grant of the U.S.A. This meeting spelled the end of the War Between the States. This was one of several Civil War sites that I had visited and wasn't expecting anything other than the wonder I get from seeing a place that I had read about or collecting more information.

I took the tour through the house where this momentous event took place listening intently to the guide. Filing away bits of information, feelings and emotions to analysis and retell to JR later.

When the tour was over and the others in our group filed out of the house I continued to linger. I had some more questions. I waylaid the park personnel that gave the tour in the doorway of the parlor where the declaration of surrender had taken place. As we were talking an old gentleman walked up to us. I hadn't noticed him in the tour. He was just there. I thought; he must have just slowly walked around the corner of the staircase.

He says; "these two men were true gentlemen."

He goes on to describe the scene, the house and the players (Lee, Grant and most of the other 14 people) in detail. He talks about the terms of the surrender. He talks about the furniture in the room, the desks that each General used and why that particular one. (Lee sat at a simple wooden table and Grant sat at a larger marble topped table.) He talked about the great respect each man had for the other. He talked about how these two warriors had met before when they were both in the U.S. Army. He talked about humility. He talked about dignity. He talked about courtesy. He talked about generosity. He talked about courage. He talked about how one of Grant's officers took a small doll that was lying in the corner; left there by one of the children of the house.

As this white haired and bearded slow talking southern gentleman spoke, the tour guide, the rail barrier that kept people out of the room and the modern trappings in the room fell away. I could see this event taking place through this man's drawled words. He wove the story as easily as if he had been there. I became entranced.

I couldn't tell you how long he spoke; it could have been a few minutes or an hour. I wished it had gone on longer because I had questions to ask that I'm sure he would be the only one that could answer. Unfortunately, the tour guide ushered us on our way.

I remember walking out of the house thinking that I would find him outside. Like I said I had more questions. He was nowhere to be seen. He had just disappeared.

I decided to go to other places around the town that were significant to the events that took place over 150 years before. Places that he had spun in his tale. I wanted stand in the places that he had described and envision the events. I was half hoping that he would also find his way to those places. Thinking all the while that I had seen him someplace before. Thinking that I had heard his voice before. Thinking that he reminded me of someone.

I got in my car to make my way back to Indiana. I needed to make Charleston, WV by that evening so I had better get a move on but the thought that I knew this old gentleman nagged at me. The experience was too profound to keep to myself. I called JR with this extraordinary experience. Who was suitable amazed and jealous.


PS: I'm calling this my Spooky Spin Cycle for this week. You can visit other bloggers with spooky stories over at Jen's place.

PSS: Can you guess who the old gent was?


  1. I can't guess at all who it was, I'm not all that familiar with the Civil War. I keep picturing the Colonel of KFC. :-)
    Oh, tell me!
    You're linked!

  2. Omar Bradley, no. He died in 1980, so too early. And not Southern either. Mark W Clark ?.
    But someone of that era.
    Just don't say 'twas Elvis.

  3. LOL Sprite... the KFC Colonel. I'm not good with names and dates in history so I'm not going to attempt to guess.

  4. I keep wanting to say Shelby Foote - my absolute favorite historian - but he's not that old. So give; who was it?

  5. Jan guessed right. It was Shelby Foote. It was the year before he died. I didn't go back to grad school until I was in my forties.

  6. Oh, gee - I guess he was old enough, since Mr. Foote died in 2005 (I did not know that). So, was it him??

  7. *SQUEEE* I, too, am impressed and jealous!

  8. I'm still dining off this chance meeting. He was the most amazing person to talk with.

  9. I like how the words of one man can make an entire scene come alive like the ghosts of the past.

  10. That is too cool. I was thinking the ghost of Thomas Jefferson! LOL Too cool!

  11. WONDERFUL! I would have loved to be there and see also. Like JR I'm excited for you and a bit jealous!


  12. I AM SO JEALOUS! Frankly, as soon as you said

    "He talked about humility. He talked about dignity. He talked about courtesy. He talked about generosity. He talked about courage"


    I think he is the best civil war historian. Have you read his trilogy? Not only does he tell the tale well, he got me interested in military strategy and history.

    I wish I was there. Though I have heard that he was a bit cantankerous. But you have to consider the source of that. Have you read "Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War" by Tony Horowitz? He talks about meeting Shelby. It's a funny book - it's about following civil war re-en actors and following them through battle sites in modern times (read - look at the suburbia on this historical site).