Category Archives: history

Local History: Hyde Park

In The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer & a Rescue from Nazi Germany, Richard Gillette tells the story of Hyde Park, a farm in Nottoway County that became a home for about three dozen Jewish young people in the late 1930s. The students came from a communal training farm in Gross Breesen, Germany, at the invitation of William B. Thalhimer, one of the brothers in the retail business Thalhimer Brothers whose family owned the land near Burkeville. The Thalhimer family itself came to Richmond from Germany in 1840, choosing the Virginia capital city as it had a large population of German Jews.

Thalhimer was involved in Jewish resettlement during the 1930s as Hitler rose to power and Jewish immigration was becoming increasingly difficult. Gillette’s book details the challenges of getting the students to the United States. During Kristallnacht, some of the students from Gross Breesen were taken to Buchenwald although Gillette indicates they were eventually released and able to get to the United States. All Gross Breesen graduates were able to immigrate to a variety of different countries.

The Richmond Times Dispatch has a good story about the farm as part of its reporting on a visit by a group of contemporary German students. The Washington Post featured the story of a reunion of the students at the farm in 1990.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture features a lecture by Gillette:

William B. Thalhimer had to step back from active work after a heart attack in 1927. His son, William Blum Thalhimer, Jr., took over and led the company for almost 60 years. The son’s entry at VMHC’s website includes some information about Hyde Park. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has a good summary of the farm’s history.

I am not able to tell if the farm is currently open for touring but I’m not too far from Nottoway County so may take a drive one of these days. At the least, there is an historical marker near Burkeville.

Tracking Death

The Washington Post has created a gruesome but necessary database that tracks those shot and killed by police. The database was begun in 2015 after the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officers led to the discovery that many police killings were never recorded in the FBI database.

The data is clear: young, black men are killed more often than others.

Unfortunately, the database focuses on shootings so this morning’s news about the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder who was killed by police with a taser may not be included. The young man from Washington, D.C. was visiting family in Los Angeles for the holidays. The video, released at the request of the family, shows his fear, driven by his sense that he was probably going to die like so many others. It will stay with me, alongside George Floyd calling for his mother. I won’t post it but encourage you to watch it. I think about Emmett Till’s mother who insisted the casket stay open so people were forced to confront the truth.

Today’s Challenge: Five White Anti Racists

Book Cover of Black History Saved My Life: How My Viral Hate Crime Led to an Awakening by Ernest Crim III

I follow Ernest Crim on Instagram and have learned so much from him about being Black in America from history to present day. In a recent post, he challenged white people to list five white anti racists, and for white parents to encourage their children to adopt one or more of them as role models.

Not surprisingly, John Brown was the first person the came to my mind as he does show up in American history classes. I also thought of Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison, both from the same era as Brown. I wondered about Eleanor Roosevelt and a search found this interview with Vernon Jarrett who describes Roosevelt’s growth as an anti racist. So, I’m up to four…Jane Addams, the founder of Chicago’s Hull House, also came to mind. This time the search revealed the complexities that often surround supposedly “good” white people: Addams was close friends with Ida Bae Wells whose push back on Addams’ views on lynching helped her grow. But, there are still questions about her general views on Black people as being culturally inferior, a typical progressive white view of the time, and Hull House rarely housed Blacks, focusing instead on immigrants.

A larger Google search provided a list compiled by Teaching While White. It includes both old and new white anti racists and I encourage you to check it out. It helped jog my memory with a few more names, mostly abolitionists, and widened my perspective. I’m planning on a bit more reading and research and may choose my own role model for the year.

Backyard History

Last month, I took a quick trip up the Eastern Shore to Salisbury, Maryland, and then on to Annapolis to visit with family. I hadn’t been over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel for years. Hampton Roads was its bustling self, of course, but the traffic fell away as I headed north on Route 13, over and under the Bay, touching down briefly on Fisherman’s Island where my husband and I once took a nature walk to see terns, and then onto the Delmarva peninsula.

I was immediately reminded of the experience of taking the Jamestown Scotland Ferry from Williamsburg to Surry: you leave suburbia behind and find yourself in the rural South, fields dotted with small houses and barns, chickens wandering the front yard with a row or two of collards in a winter garden, and, in the few small towns, a post office, gas station and dollar store. I could have been driving along a road near my own home except for the flatness that reached to the horizon.

Harriet Tubman Statue

Both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were Eastern Shore natives. I didn’t have time to visit the sites on the Harriet Tubman Byway and the road to the National Historical Park was flooded, but I did visit the Harriet Tubman Statue on the grounds of Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland. The sign features a quote from Douglass about Tubman: “The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witness of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism.” For good reading about Tubman, I can recommend The Tubman Command, a historical fiction biography of this fascinating woman that gets beyond the myth and includes details about the raid at Combahee Ferry in South Carolina, which Tubman led and which freed over 700 slaves.

Viking Pranksters

One series I binged watched in December was Secrets of the Viking Stone, a documentary created by actor Peter Stormare (better known as the wood chipper guy in the movie Fargo) to explore the origins of the Kensington Runestone. The stone, covered with runic etchings, was discovered in the late 1800s by Olof Öhman, a Swedish farmer, as he cleared some poplar trees in his field. Eventually, the stone was deemed a hoax, and the farmer himself ridiculed and ostracized for his claims.

Stormare learned about the stone when he was filming Fargo in Minnesota and found a connection to the disgraced farmer as they came from the same county in Sweden. He hoped, with his investigations, to clear Olaf’s name by proving the stone is a real artifact and that Vikings had made it far inland long before Christopher Columbus. He and his sidekick, Elroy Balgaard, a historian, practice wide-ranging research from hosting a happy hour with locals to buying metal detectors to road tripping to the east coast. The second season ends without a definitive conclusion, and we aren’t sure about a season three. While some of their experts and historians seem legitimate, I almost gave it up when their main supporter suggested it wasn’t Vikings that made and buried the stone but…wait for it…the Knights Templars.

While it would be nice to think the stone is real, North American runestone hoaxes is a category unto itself in Wikipedia. In addition to carving and hiding fake stones, pranksters have buried real artifacts in false locations. Turns out those Vikings have a sense of humor. Of course, Stormare and Balgaard never mention this proliferation of hoaxes during the show. But, it’s all good: it was a fun romp through history and archaeology and a reminder that, despite our hyper-connected world, there is much we don’t know about the past. Who knows? Maybe it was the Templars: as much as there is no evidence in favor of the theory, there also isn’t any evidence disproving it.