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Posts Tagged ‘ghost city’

Ladies, Where Are Your Names (and Stories)?

February 19th, 2018 Sears Homes 1 comment

While little is known about the men who worked at Penniman, even less is known about the women of Penniman, and yet, the majority of the workforce at DuPont’s 37th munitions plant were women.

Loading TNT powder into 75mm and 155mm shells was a nasty bit of business, and the women suffered deleterious effects from this work. The health problems associated with the work was so common that it had a name: TNT poisoning. Both medical journals and journals on industrial hygiene talked about this phenomenon at length.

TNT caused multitudinous problems to health, but perhaps the most severe was this: It damaged the bone marrows ability to produce white blood cells, and without white blood cells, the body can’t effectively fight off infection.

And then the Spanish Flu came to Penniman.

The death count at Penniman was so high that local papers said the numbers were unbelievable. Stories in the press said that coffins were stacked “rafter high” at the Penniman depot, day after day.

A lesser, but more obvious effect of TNT poisoning, was that it turned the women’s skin a bright yellow. (TNT was a relatively new invention, created by Joseph Wilbrand [in Germany] in 1863 as a yellow dye.) The workers at Penniman  were known as “Canaries” because of this dramatic change in their appearance.

In a desperate bid to mitigate the effects of TNT poisoning, the women workers at Penniman were given special uniforms, that were cinched at the ankles, waist and wrist to keep the ultra-fine TNT powder from lodging on their skin. Most women wore scarves around their neck.

I would love to know more about these women and to hear their story. Right now, I only have names for a handful of the women workers at Penniman, including Penelope Johnson and Sadie Bowers.

It’d be so helpful to know more about these women and their life at Penniman.

To read more about the Canaries, click here and here.

Want to learn about one of my personal heroes? Click here.

Thanks to the generosity of the family of Dr. John Henderson, I’m now in possession of “The Penniman Projectile,” which has a picture of the female workers in their uniform!

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This image, from the 1918 Ladies Home Journal, shows the uniform of a munitions worker.

This image, from the 1918 Ladies' Home Journal, shows the uniform of a munitions worker.

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And this image, from the December 1918 Penniman Projectile shows the female workforce at Penniman.

This image, from the December 1918 "Penniman Projectile" shows some of the female workforce on the shell-loading lines at Penniman in their DuPont-issued uniforms. Notice the caps! The men (seated) look quite dour.

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Itd be lovely to know more about the women of Penniman. I do know that the YWCA was the heart of Camp Penniman (as it was known), and for several weeks, the YWCA offered morality speakers to help the young, and oftimes naive women, stay away from mashers and sailors.

It'd be lovely to know more about the women of Penniman. I do know that the YWCA was the heart of Camp Penniman (as it was known), and for several weeks, the YWCA offered "morality speakers" to help the young and oftimes naive women stay away from mashers, soldiers and sailors.

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To read more about the Canaries, click here and here.

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Is That You, Dr. Cottrell?

February 11th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last month, Steven Beauter was kind enough to share an incredible vintage photo album with me, which featured more than a dozen pictures from 1918-era Penniman, Virginia, a “ghost city” six miles from Williamsburg.

There are several unidentified folks within the pages of Steven’s photo album, but I’m asking your help in figuring out one image in particular.

Two years ago, the family of Dr. John Henderson (a physician at Penniman Hospital) sent me a photograph of the staff of Penniman Hospital. It was a wonderful discovery. Dr. Henderson’s family also shared the December 1918 edition of “The Penniman Projectile” which provided an insight into day-to-day life at The Camp (as it was known).

With this new knowledge, maybe we can stitch together more of the fabric of this story.

Please take a moment and look at the image below and give an opinion!

Thanks so much.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

A note about watermarks: It saddens me to alter these images by adding a watermark, but unfortunately, it’s a necessity of these times in which we live.

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Within the pages of the Penniman Projectile, I found this picture, identifying Dr. Sam Cottrell as Pennimans Chief Physician.

Within the pages of the Penniman Projectile, I found this picture, identifying Dr. Sam Cottrell as Penniman's Chief Physician.

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This image above came from the family of Dr. Henderson, and I can now identify the second fellow from the left as Dr. Samuel Cottrell (Penniman's chief physician). And I'm still hoping to figure out that woman on the far right. She was a female physician, employed by DuPont to provide care to the overwhelmingly female work force.

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Cumberland
This image is from Steven Beauter’s photo album. My friend, Anne Robinson Hallerman, has posited that the man shown above is also Dr. Samuel Cottrell. I’m terrible with these type of judgments, but my first guess is, Anne is right about this.

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Here's a picture of all three images together. Is that fellow on the far right also Dr. Cottrell?

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Cottrell

Countless thanks to the family of Dr. John Henderson for sharing this 80-page magazine with me. It's the source of so much information about life at The Camp.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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The People of Penniman - We Have Pictures!

January 25th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

Now we just need some names.

Thanks to Steven Beauter, a sharp-eyed and devoted historian and lover of history, we have pictures of the people of Penniman. A few years ago, Steven purchased an early 20th century photo album that he’d found on eBay. More recently, he discovered that I was seeking more information on Penniman. He contacted me through Facebook, and two weeks ago, we met at the Williamsburg Public Library and had a lovely visit.

As yet another testimony to the goodness of people, Steven permitted me to take his much-beloved photo album back to my home in Suffolk, where I carefully scanned more than two dozen images.

Below are a few of those wonderful images.

We have pictures, and I’m going to share all the captions and names within these pages. If there are any genealogists that can help us learn more about these people, please leave a comment! All photos are circa 1918.

Thanks so much to Steven for sharing this treasure. Thanks to him, we now have another insight into this ghost city.

Lastly, I would welcome the opportunity to do lectures. If your historical society/group would like to make arrangements to have a lecture on Penniman, please contact me at pennimanva@gmail.com.

All photos are courtesy of Steven Beauter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Please forgive the obnoxious watermarks. After countless and blatant theft of images, I must resort to this.


Want to learn about one of my personal heroes? Click here.

Did you know that the Great Atlantic Fleet remained anchored near Penniman throughout the Great War?

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First, my favorite. This is a picture of Freckles and the caption reads The trial of all of Penniman.

First, my favorite. This is a picture of "Freckles" and the caption reads "The trial of all of Penniman."

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Name given

The caption reads, "You might think that Charlotte might be afraid of being bombed by that aeroplane but being in a munition plant, one gets used to that sort of thing. Besides, it was only a spot on the negative." In other captions, Edith and Charlotte are identified as close friends.

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Dick and anme

This photo is captioned "Effie and Dick."

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people

The office staff at Penniman.

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Bank

"First National Bank of Penniman."

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Penniman

"Lodge 9 at Penniman."

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This photo is identified as Mr. Benesh's home. He was the superintendent of the plant.

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"Noontime at Penniman." Check out those clothes! Were these women loading shells? Judging by their clothing, I don't think so. The shell loaders wore a company issued uniform.

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Cumberland

No information is given with this photo, but that's a Penniman house ("The Cumberland") behind this young couple. To read more about the houses at Penniman, see the link below.

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Haggerty

This photo offers the most clues. It's titled "Harvest" and reads, "Mrs. Haggart, Jean and Alleyne." You'd think with names like "Alleyne" these people could be found.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Read one of my first blogs about Penniman here.

Want to learn more about the houses at Penniman? Here’s the link.

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If Your Book is Missing or Lost…

June 29th, 2017 Sears Homes 4 comments

In the last 48 hours, I’ve received three emails from people asking about books that were ordered more than 30 days ago. When I started digging into it, I found that - in short - I screwed up.

For 15+ years, I’ve been shipping out books, but my world has shifted. My once-meticulous record keeping has become a little sloppy. More than 50% of my personal possessions are in storage units, piled high atop each other. I’m living in a small rental home, and nothing is where it should be.

And there’s this:  I still do a whole lot of sobbing. That really consumes a lot of time, and leaves me exhausted.

My humblest apologies if your book order was one of the 12+ that “fell between the cracks.”

Today, I spent more than two hours going through the orders, and trying to affirm which orders were lost and which orders were fulfilled.  I think I’ve found all the missing orders and they went out in the morning mail.

If you haven’t received a book, please contact me as soon as possible and I’ll try to make this right.

And thanks for your patience.

You can reach me at pennimanva@gmail.com or better yet, please leave a comment below. I’m living on love these days.

To order a book, click here.

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This morning at 7:00 am, I started reviewing records and making sure the right books went to the right people. I hope I got it right. If not, please let me know.

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I had them all in one pile by the front door, but when I returned to the room, theyd apparently decided to play trains.

I had them all in one pile by the front door, but when I returned to the room, they'd apparently decided to play "trains." It does look like fun!

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Apparently, about the time I was supposed to be shipping books, I was hanging out on Route 460 in Zuni, watching trains go by. This Amtrak was moving at 70+mph and I was amazed that this cell-phone photo came out as good as it did!

Apparently, about the time I was supposed to be shipping books, I was hanging out on Route 460 in Zuni, Virginia, watching trains go by. This Amtrak was moving at 70+ mph and I was amazed that this cell-phone photo came out as good as it did! This route has at least a dozen freight trains per day.

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Ass

A random picture of two very cute donkeys.

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And theres this.

And there's this. The same brain and personality type that can bury themselves in a research project for six years (Penniman), has trouble letting go of the "whys" here. Fourteen months later, and I still don't know what happened and what went wrong. The only thing I do know is this: In a thousand million different scenarios, this was always going to end with Wayne committing suicide. Just realizing that one horrible truth has brought me some peace. On his last night on earth, he asked me to make him his favorite dinner, and I did. (And I still can't see a recipe for "Chicken Hassleback" without sobbing.) Two nights before his death, I asked him to play "slap and tickle" and he bluntly refused. Three nights before his death, I asked him, "Wayne Ringer, what do YOU think that I think of you?" He smiled an odd smile and said, "You think I'm utterly wonderful." The good thing about being a writer - you spend a lot of time using your words to tell your husband how much you adore him. I don't doubt that I did a lot of things wrong, but I also know that I did many things right. (Photo is copyright 2007, David Chance, and can not be duplicated or reprinted without permission.)

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To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

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So Damn Tough…

May 11th, 2017 Sears Homes 6 comments

Thanks to the intercession and help of many skin-clad angels, the Penniman book is so close to the finish line. Heretofore, my friend Milton has done most of the proofreading, because reading this manuscript sends me into such a tailspin that I invariably end up sobbing or in a bad state - for hours.

Every page, every jot and every tittle is a painful memory now. Wayne sat right with me - for five years - as I ruminated over every paragraph. He and I talked for hours about the difference between shrapnel shells and high explosive shells. We discussed the minutiae of the layout of the village, the styling of the houses, the logistics of moving those houses, the manufacturing of Amatol (TNT) and every other detail that one can imagine.

We laughed and we talked and we argued and in one memorable moment, he came up with an inspired solution to a very thorny problem and I said, “You must be the most brilliant man walking this earth,” and I (again) told him how much I adored him, and then pulled him out of his chair and into the bedroom and said, “Your intellect is such a turn-on.”

Little did I know that that would be the last time that I was intimate with my husband.

After his death, I found out that my adoration of my spouse was not reciprocal. It has nearly broken me.

Too many people have said, “You need to move on and forget about Wayne.”

That’s not helpful. He was my husband. Our lives were inextricably linked for a decade. He was the man that I promised to love forever. And he left me with one hell of a mess.

This manuscript is also a vociferous memory of that former life and former home and former Rosemary. There are days when that life feels almost like a fuzzy dream, and that’s also unsettling.

It’s taking every single thing I have to get this book completed. I’m not sure that I can proofread it again, but I know that I must. Let’s hope I can plow through it one last time, and emerge from the other side without losing it.

All of which is to say, when this book - in its finalized and published form - sees the light of day, it will be a miracle of grace.

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On April 9, 2016, I wrote this blog expressing great joy that the book was nearly finished.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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The manuscript has been completed and proofed by a dear friend, but in truth, I need to read it myself one more time - cover to cover. And its so damn tough.

The manuscript has been completed and proofed by a dear friend, but in truth, I need to read it myself one more time - cover to cover. And it's so damn tough.

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The research materials are now at my rental home, where they sit in the living room, just in case I need the notes for some reason.

The research materials are now boxed and stored at my rental home, where they sit in the living room, just in case I need the notes for some reason. My faithful companion guards them.

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When Wayne came home, I insisted he pose here too.

This photo was taken on April 9, 2016 and was the last photo I have of Wayne Ringer. He killed himself seven days later. When he came home that day on April 9th, I asked him to "look erudite" and this was the pose he struck. I adored him, and he knew it, but those feelings weren't reciprocal.

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These were the books that I used most often.

The manuscript - and everything associated with it - are a memory of my life pre-April 2016. That's part of what makes this so agonizing. These were the notebooks that I referenced most often, a collection of newspaper articles from the "Virginia Gazette" and the "Daily Press."

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A street scene of the now-lost village of Penniman.

A street scene of the now-lost village of Penniman. The streets are mud and the houses are fresh and new. The village was built in 1918 and abandoned in early 1920. Photos are courtesy of the Whisnant family.

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On April 9, 2016, I did this blog expressing great joy that the book was nearly finished.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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