Thursday, September 22, 2016

...a vampire dress, Halloween totes, and the past...

“Think only of the past
as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
 ~Jane Austen

I have much to do this morning so I’m taking a moment to write a blog post, not to avoid but to do a bit of processing.

Initially, this post was going to be about my new awesome Hell Bunny Kiss Me Deadly dress from Cats Like Us. It arrived yesterday so as soon as I arrived home I decided to try it on. I was having a really great afternoon. First, a woman on the shuttle told me that I was “beautiful and completely stunning” which is always a happy compliment especially since I basically threw my outfit together at the last minute wearing jeans and pigtails. The classes that I taught went well and I even felt as though I made good progress in reading for my classes.

I also thought about doing a quick post about these Halloween shopping totes from Target that I picked up this weekend. I have the versions from last year so this year’s three adds to last year’s three. I love how they fold into themselves making it super convenient to carry.

As I was thinking through the post, I realized, “here we go again”… vampires and bags, or rather, baggage. Sigh.

I would love to write that I once moved with an unpacked box for ten years. The truth is that that box still lives upstairs in my bedroom closet. It includes old letters and paraphernalia from my early undergraduate days, and some left-overs from my high school years. I don’t recall exactly what is inside the box and I never intended for it to remain unpacked but at some point it became a symbol of carrying baggage. I wanted to keep the tangible acknowledgement of the intangible.

It’s the first day of autumn. This always makes me a bit melancholy. It’s the season of Death. Okay, that reads a bit dramatic but in high school my friends started dying in the fall, Halloween to be exact, and the deaths continued to spring. Thanks for the seasonal symbolism, universe.

A few days ago I also received an email from a long-since-passed’s mother, an email I have been avoiding. She sent me an email while I was on vacation in Eureka Springs and I was supposed to drive across the state to visit her… which really means to see him, my memory of a memory.  I don’t want to talk to his mother; I want to talk to him. I want to be alone with his grave. I want to take pictures of it since I might never get to see it again.

When I write that I want to see where he is buried, it reads a bit like I wasn’t at the funeral. I was. I remember exactly where I was standing. Then the family moved his body across the state to be buried on their land, private property. For twenty-six years, I have visited cemeteries and graveyards to visit loved ones and strangers and I have never been able to visit the one who disrupted everything. Disinterment was common in the Victorian era, move grandma if the family moves, but in 1990, it seemed so startling. I lost my friend and I lost his grave. I wasn’t even 16 years old.

I receive an email with hints of (what’s a nicer word for manipulation?) and I become tiny again. I play Depeche Mode’s Blasphemous Rumours and feel the hole in my heart and cry. But I am 42 and my fella tells me that I am big and powerful but I feel handled and powerless. I want to see the grave so very badly but I don’t want the baggage that comes with it. I don’t want to sit in an awkward room talking about her memories of a memory. I remember that she wore a pink silk shirt to his funeral. I hated that shirt; I hate the feeling of silk.

Sometimes I blame him. He was almost 18 and at 18 one gets out… even though I know that isn’t true; even though I understand that mental health doesn’t work that way. But I resort to my inner child, the 15 year old goth girl who frightened her teachers and parents because she just didn’t know how to process death.

How does this connect with a vampire dress and little tote bags? Well, vampires are forever. They’re a constant friend; they’re the “monster” in the Boris Karloff “The monster was the best friend I ever had” quote.  And the little Halloween tote bags, well, they’re neat and tidy, how I like to keep my baggage: pleasantly in-check and slightly hidden. 

All these memories swirling led me to go in search of an old picture (I was horrible about developing film back in the day; I still have disc film from middle school that I keep as a joke. I'm sure it will never be developed) and ended up finding an assortment of random shots. Most of these are circa 1989-1990. The last show with the polka-dot socks, the Shawn socks, is at least 1993.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

...a Dracula performance & enjoying one's region...

You know honestly
I think there's a Dracula,
a Wolf Man, and
a Frankenstein's Monster
in all of us.
~ Richard Roxburgh

Last night my fella and I went to see the Quill Theatre’s Dracula, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel written by Stephen Dietz and directed by Daniel Moore. For months I have been thrilled about not one but TWO vampire performances coming to the Richmond, VA area, including Quill’s and Firehouse Theatre's The Vampire: A Grotesque Melodrama by J.R. Planché, which I can no longer find information about anywhere.

My schedule has been exhausting and I’m fearful of all the “fun things to do” in October. Who writes “fearful” when it comes to fun activities? I could just not do it all but I really, really want to. So many of the fun gothy events are shoved into one month: one exhausting month. We can sleep in November when there are turkeys and the color palette focuses on all that is brown.

The truth is I am very tired. Yesterday, our day began at 4:30am as usual and then ended a little after midnight. Fridays have been terrible commute days with delayed trains so when I dressed yesterday morning, I wore what I planned to wear for the performance thinking that I might not have much time to dress. It turns out that I would have had time but still.

At 4:30am, I was already too tired to take a picture so I didn’t take a picture of my outfit. I wore my MiXT by Heidi Weisel Grid Burnout Dress. I like the belt that came with the dress but still switched it out for a belt with my Nosferatu's Hand Alchemy Gothic Belt Buckle. I wore a Kay Adams necklace which you can see in the photograph; W Hamond Silver And Whitby Jet Dracula Crest Signet Ring, and little bat earrings. 

Of all my Dracula book clutches, I opted for the P.S. Besitos Dracula book clutch, which is still one of my favorites (and I can carry the most stuff…but still that’s not much). I was happy how my lipstick turned out although it’s hard to see in the picture. I used Urban Decay lip liner in Pandemonium with Rimmel London Stay Glossy in Black Diva, which is basically a translucent black lip gloss.

We enjoyed a night out. We parked near the theater, walked around the Capitol looking at the statues and relishing in Richmond’s beauties. Then we headed back toward the theater, had some drinks, and enjoyed the performance. As for the performance, I especially enjoyed that Van Helsing was played by female actress, Melissa Johnston Price. She was amazing and completely believable. The set was gorgeous; the costumes were lovely. I'm not sure how they afforded the rights to Philip Glass music (just saying because I believe you have to pay for these kinds of things). Afterwards, we went and had dinner in The Fan District. In total with tickets ($74.50), drinks ($20), and dinner ($40), we contributed to our local economy.

I love living in a world with vampire advertisements!
I mention the economics of last night because this morning I have been emailing with a friend about local theater and he who pointed to a website where Quill’s Dracula received an unfavorable review. I’m not linking to that site because I don’t want to link to meanies and basically that’s what I think this review is.

I used the word criticism, removed it, and then decided that I needed to unpack that a bit. There are two definitions of criticism. The first focuses on the faults and mistakes of something which leads to an expression of disapproval; the second focuses on both the merits and the faults of artistic work. Often, I believe that theater reviews fall into the first definition and somehow we have all forgotten that there is a difference between quality and taste. I do not love all Faulkner (the English Professors of the world gasp!) but I can respect the quality of the work.

I also have a hard time with these reviews because they frequently do not differentiate between the work (the choices the actor makes and/or what the director tells him to do) and the actor (the person). When my fella was in a play a few months ago, he was incredibly talented (and I’m not biased at all!) There were so many patrons who complimented his work and who (still) ask what show he’ll be in next; but, there was one bad review: a bad review of Community Theater. He wasn’t paid a dime to participate. It fact, it cost us money considering he purchased all of his props and his suit, shirts, and hats. Mind you, my fella is a pretty sensitive soul; I believe that all creatives are. Some build a thick skin but I’m not sure if that is what they should be doing. The criticism my fella received was that he was too old to play the part. Thank you Mr. Lack of Imagination Critic. And how is this a critique of his performance? It is not.

Another issue, because this has become somewhat of a rant in my head, is that when we knock down local actors and regional theater, we’re only hurting ourselves e.g. read that as MONEY and ECONOMY! (Oh, boy, I’m in an all-caps now). You write that a local play isn’t that great and some people decide not to go. Well, there goes that theatre company’s budget. This ain’t Broadway, kids!

There were many aspects of the performance that I loved; there were aspects that left both of us puzzled. Will we go to another performance? Hell yeah we will. If we don’t invest in the creepy, weird, counter-culture, macabre, left-of-center, little-bit-odd, artsy who the hell will???

Steps down off of soapbox.   

Oh, and the floating doors and the woman sitting in chairs that Mr. Critic found so puzzling… I completely loved that!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

...old trees and a haunted portrait in an old plantation home...

You can never go home again,
but the truth is
you can never leave home,
so it's all right.
~ Maya Angelou

Last weekend, I went to my second site visit for the course that I am taking. I selected the Shirley Plantation, Virginia’s first plantation erected after a royal land grant carved the plantation out of the Virginia frontier in 1613. This was just six years after the settlers arrived at Jamestown to establish the first permanent English Colony.

It is considered the oldest family-owned business in North America dating to 1638 when Edward Hill I established a farm on the banks of the James River. The mansion on the land today was built from 1723 when Elizabeth Hill married John Carter, the eldest son of Robert “King” Carter, and was completed in 1738. Direct descendants of Edward Hill I currently reside in the home.

When I arrived, I had just missed the tour so had time to explore the gardens and grounds. I walked around looking at the Ice House, Smoke House, Stable, and the gardens which includes a rose garden and a willow oak that has been on the property for over 350 years. I took several pictures of roses and plan to ask Connie at Hartwood Roses if they are old, historic roses or if they are newly planted.

Walking the grounds took approximately 45 minutes. At that point, I entered the Store House to purchase a ticket. Since I was using the Richmond Regional Tourism pass, I purchased a book and a silver-wares ring to show support. At that point, I was given a visitor orientation map of the grounds. This probably would have been helpful prior to walking the grounds but sometimes we rely too much on man-made visual aids when it’s nice to orient oneself among the trees and landscape.

While in the gift shop, there was an older couple (probably in their mid-70s) asking about the plantation being haunted. I note this because I have tried to select the most conventional sites from the tourism list since I am naturally drawn to spooky places. I also wonder if an increase in ghost hunting shows has created sofa-paranormal-investigations across age groups.

The associate mentioned that only a portrait was haunted and that nothing “bad happened here like at Berkeley Plantation.” I had planned to go to Berkeley after my visit since I wanted to travel in chronological order; but, after touring Shirley, I decided to keep these visits separate. In October, there will be “Haunting Tales & Tours” at Shirley Plantation, Berkeley and at Edgewood. 

After the purchases, I headed to the Root Cellar, which was the site of the North Flanker, a freestanding wing that no longer exists. The cellar was creepy and I worried that I would drop my phone as I was trying to look inside.

Before the guided tour began, I met Edie, our tour guide, who was seated on the porch. This is her tenth year giving tours at “Shirley.” Edie is a retired fourth grade history teacher and says that she enjoys giving tours to the school groups.

As the group gathered on the porch, Edie greeted us and gave an overview of the Shirley Plantation that was established in 1613. She explained that the “Great House,” the home that was built from 1723 until 1738 has never been vacant and is currently occupied by descendants of the Hill-Carter family (11 generations that have lived here). Edward Hill built the house for his daughter, who had married John Carter, son of Robert "King" Carter. All of the buildings are made of brick; the bricks were made on the property.


As we entered the home, it was noted that there were no doorknobs and that Edie was entering with a replica key, the large skeleton original key was framed in the front room.

The tour focused mostly on the architecture of the home (e.g. how the home was designed for central heating; and, that all of the pine floors and panels and the black walnut banisters were taken from wood on the plantation); and, there was a good amount of history about the Hill-Carter family but with eleven generations and individuals having similar names it was challenging to follow even while taking notes.The "flying staircase" was a significant feature of the home. While visitors are asked not to take pictures, I found this picture online if you're interested in viewing the details of the stairs.

What I can easily recall is that the first floor is open to visitors, and the family lives on the top floor with a modern kitchen and laundry being housed in the basement. The family currently has young twins so the stairs are used quite a bit.

There were also several who’s who moments of those who have visited Shirley Plantation. Ann Hill Carter became the wife of Harry Lee and was the mother of General Robert E. Lee.

Shirley has experienced several wars. During the Revolutionary War, it served as a supply center. During the Civil War, it became an impromptu field hospital for the Union soldiers when the Hill-Carter looked out the windows and saw hundreds of wounded soldiers. Believing that other women would do the same for their men, they used their linens to make bandages, and they cooked soup and bread to feed the hungry men. This received noticed from the Union General McClellan, who in a formal letter (a copy of which was passed around during the tour) thanked the family and notes, "Their actions spared Shirley from attack."

Edie explained that these stairs, which were quite stunning, were also historically significant since “the floating stairs” appear to have no visible means of support. The secret is hidden wrought iron beams underneath.

From the website, I was eager to learn about “Siah Hulett [who] escaped from Shirley Plantation to serve on the USS Monitor”; however, I did not find any signage sharing his story. From doing a bit of research through the Charles City “Slave Ancestor File,” I learned that “Siah Hulett alias Carter, Seaman, USS Commodore Barney, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Martin Hewlett was enlisted in the U.S. Navy 18 JUL 1863 on the James River. He was described as 20 years old, a laborer and waiter, 5'4" tall. He served on the USS Memphis and the USS Kennebec.” Additionally, in TheMonitor Boys: The Crew of the Union's First Ironclad, Quarstein writes, “Siah Hulett Carter, confessed that he was the first slave to escape from Shirley Plantation. Carter had been warned by his master, Colonel Hill Carter, not to go on board any of the ‘Yankee ships’ because ‘the Yankees would carry them out to sea…& throw them overboard” (137). 

I have come to believe that all Southern history, perhaps all history, includes elements of dark tourism. While there was little acknowledgement of the enslaved Africans who had lived on the property, there was mention of a haunted portrait of a family member who never lived in the home. Martha Hill who was known as Aunt Pratt, went to study in England. She never returned to the United States, and died in England.  Before she left, she left a portrait of herself.

Allegedly, whenever the portrait is moved from that location “bad things happen” as noted by the Shirley Plantation store associate.   In HauntedPlantations of Virginia, Brown explains, “The tale that has been passed down through the generations is that Pratt’s portrait hung on the first floor for decades without incident. During a period of redecorating, the painting was moved to a second floor bedroom. The night it was hung in its new location, the family was awakened by the sounds of the portrait banging violently against the wall”(41-42). The story continues that when the portrait was returned to the original location, peace returned to the home.  Later when the portrait was sent to New York for an exhibit, similar occurrences were seen by the museum curators.  

The Virginia Is For Lovers website offers more haunting occurrences. The site lists, “Shirley Plantation reports scary rocking sounds and strange noises, possibly made by Aunt Pratt, who was angry about the placement of her portrait and is still lurking the premises.”

While I was visiting, the place moved me in a way that I did not imagine it would. The land was beautiful; there was an amazing 350 year old tree that I hugged; and, the house felt, well, loved as if it were part of this family. I probably become a bit too attached to inanimate objects and historic items but I do believe they hold a kind of energy and that sometimes we can feel it. 

Works Cited
Brown, Beth. "Heading Upriver: Central Plantations. Shirley." Haunted Plantations of Virginia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2009. 38-43. Print.
"Shirley--James River Plantations: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.
"Slave Ancestor File." Hulett- Carter, Siah. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.
Quarstein, John V. Monitor Boys: The Crew of the Union's First Ironclad. Charleston, SC: History, 2011. Print.
"Virginia's Ghostly Haunts." Virginia Is For Lovers. Official Tourism Website of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.