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Posts Tagged ‘penniman virginia’

Penniman Par-TAY! It’s DONE!

May 24th, 2018 Sears Homes 6 comments

Updated! Good lecture. Good times.  :D

Ghost Towns.

Virginia History.

Phenomenal Personal Sacrifice.

Women workers.

And a devastating epidemic that wiped out so many workers that the local cemeteries ran out of space.

Penniman has all of these elements and more, and it’s a great story that needs to be told.

On Saturday, May 26, 2018, I’m giving a talk on Penniman at the James City County Library, at 2:00 pm.

YOU MISSED IT! ;)

If you’re able, please attend and learn more about this forgotten chapter of Virginia’s history!

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Bricks from the Penniman smokestack were salvaged to build a school for African-American children.

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My information on Penniman is always expanding and changing! Last week, I obtained this Penniman fob on Ebay.

The information on Penniman is always expanding and changing! Last week, I obtained this Penniman fob on Ebay. This fob would have been worn by the workers at the DuPont plant, six miles outside of Williamsburg. Who is this young man? How I wish that I knew.

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The rear of the fob shows more detail.

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Come learn about Penniman!

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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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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Pulchritudinous Poquoson and Its Kit Homes

February 5th, 2018 Sears Homes 5 comments

Several months ago, I went looking for a GriefShare group to join, and chose one in Poquoson (Virginia). The primary reason was this: I didn’t know anyone in Poquoson, so if I had a panic attack or started crying or acted like a fool, I could surreptitiously slip out the side door and no one would ever know I was there.

As the weeks passed, I started coming early on Wednesday nights for the church supper, and then I joined a group for weekly trivia night at a local bar after the GriefShare meeting.

After spending so much time in Poquoson, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a drive around and see how many kit homes I could find. I drove through probably 75% of the area, and I found a few.

I did not find any Penniman homes, but I suspect there are (or were) a few of those too. (Penniman was a WW1-village just outside of Williamsburg, and is now a ghost city.)

What is a “Sears kit home”? In the early 1900s, you could order almost anything from the Sears Roebuck catalog, including a  house. These 12,000-piece kits were shipped by boxcar, and came with a 75-page instruction book that told the homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Click here to learn more.

Enjoy the pictures below, and please share this link with your history loving friends.

And if you’re on Facebook, please share the link there!

You can read more about Penniman here.

Want to read a story that will bring tears to your eyes? Read about my sweet daughter here.

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Poquoson is an Indian word for marsh which is appropriate, given the vast amounts of marsh found in this area.

According to several online sources, Poquoson is an Indian word for "great marsh" which is appropriate, given the vast amounts of marsh found in this area.

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This Sears Hamilton was one of the first Sears Homes I found in Poquoson. Its been through a lot of changes, but its definitely a Hamilton.

This Sears "Hamilton" was one of the first Sears Homes I found in Poquoson. It's been through a lot of changes, but it's definitely a Hamilton. Many of the houses in Poquoson have been elevated several feet due to flooding.

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The Sears Hamilton was a very popular house for Sears (1928 catalog).

The Sears Hamilton was a very popular house for Sears (1928 catalog).

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The Poquoson house has had its small porch enclosed, and its flipped (or reversed). More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and flipping the design was a very common alteration.

The Poquoson house has had its small porch enclosed, and its "flipped" (or reversed). More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and "flipping" the design was a very common alteration.

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Side by side, you can really

With the two images side-by-side, it's easy to see the similarities. The Poquoson house does not have the fireplace (which was an option).

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The Sears Conway is another model I found in Poquoson (1928 catalog).

The Sears "Conway" is another model I found in Poquoson (1928 catalog).

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The Conway has two floorplans, which are quite different.

The Conway has two floorplans, which are quite different.

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Because the Conway was a small home, its very common to see that those spacious porches were enclosed for more square footage.

Because the Conway was a small home, it's very common to see that those spacious porches were enclosed for more square footage. This is a really nice example of this popular bungalow.

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Sadly, the details around the front porch (on the subject house) were lost when that vinyl siding went up. Ick.

Sadly, the details and bracketing around the front porch (on the subject house) were lost when that vinyl siding went up. That's also a very common "renovation" (blech).

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1914 Moosejaw

I also discovered a couple "Aladdin kit homes" in Poquoson. Aladdin, based in Bay City, Michigan, was actually a larger company than Sears (in terms of kit house sales) but was lesser known. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the business (1908 to 1940). Aladdin was in business from 1906-1981.

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Almost next door to that Sears Conway, I found an Aladdin Sheffield.

Almost next door to that Sears Conway, I found an Aladdin "Sheffield."

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It had been dramatically altered in the last 100 years, but its origins are unmistakable.

It had been dramatically altered in the last 100 years, but its origins are unmistakable.

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A close-up view of the scrolled rafter tails.

Those oversized hipped dormers are a dead give-away.

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And

And the scrolled rafter tails are also quite unique.

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The view down the other side also gives many clues.

The view down the other side also gives many clues.

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I also discovered a couple Aladdin kit homes in Poquoson. Aladdin, based in Bay City, Michigan, was actually a larger company than Sears (in terms of kit house sales) but was lesser known.

And just across the street is the Sheffield Grocery! It's a sign!

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Further down Poquoson Road, I also found something that looks a lot like an Aladdin Sunshine.

Further down Poquoson Road, I also found something that looks a lot like an Aladdin "Sunshine."

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Is this an Aladdin Sunshine? Maybe my dear friend Dale Wolicki will weigh in with an opinion. Its close, but not quite right. And yet its only 1/4 mile away from that Sheffield.

Is this an Aladdin "Sunshine"? Maybe my dear friend Dale Wolicki will weigh in with an opinion. It's close, but not quite right. And yet it's only 1/4 mile away from that Sheffield.

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This house is another head-scratcher. Its very close to the Wardway Sheridan (sold by Montgomery Ward). And yet, it lacks the boldness of the Wardway model.

This house is another head-scratcher. It's very close to the Wardway Sheridan (sold by Montgomery Ward). And yet, it lacks the boldness of the Wardway model.

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Is it a Wardway Sheridan? Its darn close!

Is it a Wardway Sheridan? It's darn close!

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Its another house thats really, really close.

It's another house that's really, really close. If I were a betting man, I'd say it's 92% likely that this is a Wardway "Sheridan." I do know that this house is very shy about getting its picture taken. I made three trips to Poquoson at three different times in the day and every time, the pictures came out poorly.

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And this one is missing in action! Years ago, I made a quick trip through Poquoson and saw an Aladdin Pasadena. Ive been unable to find in more recent visits. Have you seen this house? Its quite distinctive!

And this one is missing in action! Years ago, I made a quick trip through Poquoson and saw an Aladdin Pasadena. I've been unable to find in more recent visits. Have you seen this house? It's quite distinctive!

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While I was in Poquoson, I was also looking for Penniman houses. If you are a faithful reader of this website, youll know that Penniman was a Ghost City just outside of Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people called Penniman their home, and yet after The Great War, the town was abandoned and all of the houses were wrecked (disassembled) or moved intact to other locations.

While I was in Poquoson, I was also looking for Penniman houses. If you are a faithful reader of this website, you'll know that Penniman was a "Ghost City" just outside of Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people called Penniman their home, and yet after The Great War, the town was abandoned and all of the houses were wrecked (disassembled) or moved intact to other locations. Given its location, it seems likely that a few of these Penniman houses landed in Poquoson.

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In 1938, the Richmond News Leader did a comprehensive article on The Ghost City of Penniman, and in that article, we learn that several Penniman houses were moved to nearby cities.

In 1938, the Richmond News Leader did a comprehensive article on The Ghost City of Penniman, and in that article, we learn that several Penniman houses were moved to "nearby cities."

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One of the most popular houses at Penniman was the Georgia. These houses were designed by DuPont (which created the town during WW1), and after the war, many of these houses were moved to Norfolk, where theyre still standing. Have you seen this house in Poquoson or nearby cities?

One of the most popular houses at Penniman was the Georgia. These houses were designed by DuPont (which created the town during WW1), and after the war, many of these houses were moved to Norfolk, where they're still standing. Have you seen this house in Poquoson or nearby cities?

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The Haskell was another Penniman house that may be lurking somewhere in Poquoson.

The Haskell was another Penniman house that may be lurking somewhere in Poquoson.

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And the Arlington was another house built at Penniman.

And the Arlington was another house built at Penniman and moved to other areas.

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You can read more about Penniman here.

How did they move the houses? Learn more about that here.

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Penniman: We Have Alleyne’s Last Name!

January 27th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

After that last blog, Milton, Mark and David (three faithful researchers that have been with me since the start of this project) went to work to find Alleyne’s last name.

This morning, I found an email from Mark Hardin, explaining that he’d found Alleyne.  Her full name was Alleyne Litell Conn, born in 1886 in Virginia (see full information below). Was she a “canary” at Penniman? (Canary was the name given to women who worked on the shell-loading line, pouring molten TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells. The highly toxic TNT would turn their skin a bright yellow.)

These women sacrificed so much, and yet due to strict censorship laws, published accounts of their life at Penniman were vague and almost polyannish.  There will be a day - hopefully - when I discover that one of these “Canaries” at Penniman left behind a written journal of her life at work, that tells what it was like to work at a WW1-era munitions plant.

And Mark explained here, he’s still trying to track down “Freckles.”

Below, you’ll see a few more of Steven Beauter’s wonderful photos. Steven - a sagacious and thorough historian - purchased these postcards and photos several years ago and shared them with me recently.

All vintage images below are courtesy of Steven Beauter. The newspaper clipping (about Alleyne) was found by Mark Hardin at newspapers.com. The death certificate for Alleyne was obtained by Milton Crum at ancestry.com.

Thanks to Steven Beauter for allowing me to use these images below.

To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Learn more about the “Canaries”!

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Perhaps one day, well know more about the women who worked at Penniman.

Perhaps one day, we'll know more about the women who worked at Penniman. The workforce was overwhelmingly female. Twenty-four hours a day, women loaded TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells at Penniman. TNT poisoning was a persistent problem, with multitudinous side effects. Some women were rendered sterile by exposure to this toxin.

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FFF

The caption within the 100+ year old photo album tells us that this is "Edith" (last name unknown) at Penniman. I am more than a little curious about her watch. I've never seen a wrist watch on a woman in this time period. It almost looks like she's used a leather strap to put a man's watch on her wrist.

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The occasion is "Jean's birthday party" on August 2nd, 1918. These women are sitting by the York River at Penniman, Virginia.

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Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos.

Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos. The water was apparently very shallow for some distance. Those suits are delightful!

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From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of H Street in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the six-room bungalow. Yes, thats its given name.

From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of "H Street" in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the "six-room bungalow." Yes, that's its given name!

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And

All we know is that this is Penniman. There were no captions within the photo album for this fellow.

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If  you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

If you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

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The poster on the left

The poster on the left states "Kan the Kaiser."

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And

This seems to be an especially appropriate poster for Penniman.

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Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne.

Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne (Times Dispatch, March 1919).

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Haggerty

This photo, titled "Harvest," shows "Mrs. Haggarty, Jean and Alleyne." We now know that Jean's birthday was August 2nd (see photo at top of blog) and that Alleyne's last name was Conn.

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Alleyne Conn died in 1953.

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When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

What a treasure to find a post card mailed from Penniman! The war had just ended five days prior. When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

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And the text is legible.

And the text is legible.

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

Freckle's genealogical records remain elusive.

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To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Why were they called “Canaries”?

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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Another “Sears House” Featured on HGTV, Part II

July 22nd, 2017 Sears Homes 9 comments

In my prior blog, I mentioned that HGTV’s House Hunters featured a “kit house” that was in Nashville. A Facebook friend and fellow Sears House lover shared some additional information on the program, enabling me to figure out what exactly HGVT was talking about.

Let me start off with this:  It was not a kit house. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, the motto of too many of these remodeling shows is, “Why let details get in the way of a good story?”

In fact, the house shown on House Hunters is located in Old Hickory, near Nashville, TN, which happens to be the site of a World War One munitions plant built by DuPont. You can learn more about Old Hickory here.

When America became involved in The Great War in April 1917, there was an urgent need for more munitions for the “boys overseas.” DuPont responded to this by building or modifying several plants around the country to make munitions. Old Hickory was built from scratch and was a phenomenal logistical effort, in every way imaginable. To learn more about this, you can read my book, which has much informtion on the build-up at Old Hickory.

Penniman, Virginia was also the site of a DuPont-built World War One munitions plant, and the houses at Penniman were the same models as the houses built within the Old Hickory community. These houses were the work product of DuPont. The lumber came from a variety of sources, but the designs were created by DuPont Engineering, and these models can now be found in many World War One company towns, such as DuPont, Washington; Ramsey, Montana; Hopewell, Virginia; Carney’s Point, New Jersey; Old Hickory, Tennessee; Sandston, Virginia; and Penniman.

Penniman was a city of 15,000 people that was born in 1916 and was gone by 1921, and the 200+ houses within Penniman were moved to other sites, including Norfolk and Williamsburg. In fact, I’ve written a book about this amazing place, located less than seven miles from Colonial Williamsburg.

The city that DuPont built at Old Hickory fared better. It still exists, and many of the 600+ houses that were built by DuPont are still in their same spot. These houses from DuPont were not kits, but they were based on plans that DuPont used at several other World War One munition plants around the country.

The house featured on House Hunters was known as The Florence, and was a darling cottage with many windows and something few of these plant houses had: A real masonry fireplace (see pictures below).

To summarize, the house featured on HGTV as “a kit house” was not a kit house. It was one of many houses designed by DuPont Engineering and built at several munition plants around the country.

If HGTV wants to be considered a credible source of information, they need to spend five or six minutes on Google chasing down some of these stories.

If not, I’ll keep writing blogs about them which is also pretty entertaining.

To read the prior blog about this program, click here.

To read more about the Penniman houses that landed in Norfolk, click here.

Thanks to Linda Ramsey, Robin Hurowitz, and Rachel Shoemaker for contributing to this blog!

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Old Nashville

Thanks to Robin Hurowitz for supplying a few screen shots of the show on HGTV. I'm not going to show the other shots from this episode because it's too depressing for words.

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House

My #1 partner in crime, Rachel Shoemaker, found the original listing of this house on Zillow, which provides some wonderful details not otherwise available. The name of this model was The Florence.

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There are several "Florences" within Old Hickory. Prior to the convergence of the construction crew, the house was in delightfully original condition. I'm not sure what all happened inside the house. Don't want to know.

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The colors, the many tall windows, the size (just under 800 square feet) all make this the perfect house for a young couple. When built, there was a small transom spanning that front door, which is one of the distinguishing features of the Florence.

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Cute front

And there's that masonry fireplace, sitting at an angle in the living room.

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HOUSE

These framing and flooring of these homes is probably Southern Yellow Pine, probably harvested from Mississippi (but that's a guess, based on what I know about the houses in Penniman). I do know that these are pine floors.

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Fireplace

Here's the floorplan for The Florence. The house in Old Hickory is "flipped" so that it's a mirror image of this house (shown above). When built, this house had several walls, which are now gone.

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The rear of the home shows that it was also a perfect match to this model.

The rear of the home is also largely original, and shows that it was also a perfect match to this Florence catalog image.

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Kitchen went bye

The kitchen was one of my favorite features of this house (as built). That right there is my dream kitchen. Absolutely, my dream. Oh, to find a house with that kitchen. It also went bye-bye in the remodel.

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catalog

The Florence, as shown in an old catalog showcasing the DuPont models.

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Florence

And here's a Florence with its original front door in Williamsburg, Virginia. This was originally located at Penniman, and moved after the war (along with 200+ houses). Williamsburg has a handful of Penniman houses.

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It's a beautiful house and in very good condition. I haven't had the heart to watch the entire episode, but I'm pretty confident that the home's exterior was undamaged by the "remodeling."

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NOT a kit Old Hick

The Florence is not a kit home, but it did come from DuPont.

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And amazingly it circles back to the story of Penniman

And amazingly, this whole thing circles back to the story of Penniman, a village outside of Williamsburg with more than 15,000 inhabitants at its peak (in late 1918). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Whisnant in front of Florence

The Whisnant family stands in front of a Florence on the streets of Penniman (1918). Image is courtesy of the Whisnant family, and is reproduced with their permission.

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HGVT really needs to do a little research before spreading this information. However, if they don’t, I’ll keep writing blogs about them which is also pretty entertaining.

To read more about the Penniman houses that landed in Norfolk, click here.

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Housing Rosemary, Part II

July 11th, 2017 Sears Homes 8 comments

In re-starting a new life at the age of 58, one of my greatest challenges is (now) decision-making. Even small decisions are very difficult, and I’m finding that larger decisions are almost paralyzing.

My nearest and dearest friends tell me that I’ve made much progress in the last few months, and I’m so grateful for every encouraging word, but when it comes to hard choices, I don’t do very well.

Last night, I looked at a house that was so appealing for so many reasons. It’s brand-new on the market and will probably sell quickly, so I need to decide soon. And yet, after seeing the house, the old familiar chest pains returned, as did the sleepless night and morning panic attack.

The house has so many good features, such as a NON-OPEN floor plan. It has rooms and walls - a big plus. It has a functional kitchen with white appliances - another big plus. I loathe stainless steel. The roof is less than five years old, so it should last the rest of my life. That’s good.

Inside, the 29-year-old home has popcorn ceilings in every room (ick), an unusually small master bedroom (drat), no sunporch (yikes) and very few windows (see pictures). I’m a solar-powered soul, and I live on light.

The mechanical systems (plumbing, electrical) are first class, but the HVAC is 15+ years old and inefficient.

The best part - the lot. It’s just the right size, delightfully landscaped and the rear is fully fenced. And - it has a massive 1,008-square-foot garage in the back corner. With an epoxy floor. And oversized doors. And a second-floor. That garage makes me swoon, and I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s my inner-hoarder coming out. Maybe it’s 10 months of being stuffed inside a small rental, with all my worldly possessions in storage.

And perhaps the other “best part” is the neighborhood. It’s a lovely neighborhood and all the lots are at least 125-feet wide. It’s not in the wilderness, and yet everyone has their space.

The last bad thing - it was built in 1988, during  a housing boom in this area. It was not custom built, and I see some evidences of it being economically constructed.

But do I need a house that will last 100 years? No. I need a house that will last 20 years. After that, I’m leaving for assisted living or heaven (undecided as of yet).

So that’s the story. I welcome opinions, as I try to navigate this difficult decision.

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The best part is the lot. Its .7 acres - big enough for privacy but not overwhelming. And its all fenced and ready for me and Teddy to move right in.

The best feature of this house is the lot. It's .7 acres - big enough for privacy but not overwhelming, and well landscaped. And it's all fenced and ready for me and Teddy to move right in, and start the next chapter of our life.

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House

There's a 1-1/2 car attached garage, but there's a 1000+ square-foot garage in the back yard. The house has excellent curb appeal, and the lawn has been beautifully maintained.

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As you can see from the rear, it just doesnt have many windows.

As you can see from the rear, it just doesn't have many windows. There are only two windows on the side of the house, and only one on the second-floor rear. And yet, it does have a new roof...and that's how these internal conversations go - back and forth.

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You can read one of my most popular blogs here.

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Flipping Insane…

July 5th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

Back in the day, “Flipper” was a television show, featuring a bottle-nose dolphin. Flipper was, in fact, a lot like Lassie with fins. I remember crowding around the television with the fam to watch Flipper on Saturday nights. (As I tell my daughter, ours was the last family on the block to get a color television.)

But now, this once lovely name - “Flipper” - has such ugly connotations. In 21st century America, “flippers” are investors (blech) who take fine old houses and rip out walls and replace original windows and create cathedral ceilings in homes that were never intended to have cathedral ceilings. Ick.

Today I was on Zillow looking at the new listings and I discovered a new listing in Portsmouth. Sadly, it’s another 1960s house that’s been gutted in the name of homogenizing every American house until it looks like something on HGTV (Houses Getting Totally Vandalized).

Zipping through the photos, I noticed a very odd “chandelier” which made me laugh out loud. Words defy me, so I’ll show the actual image.

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Wow

Yup, that light fixture looks a lot like a squirrel-cage blower, doesn't it? I wonder if this blower was harvested from the furnace? That blower, er, uh, "chandelier" sure looks dusty.

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And now, for the palate cleanse: The GOOD Flipper.

And now, for the palate cleanse: The GOOD Flipper.

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To read about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in the history of a Virginia Ghost Town? Click here.

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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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Only Two More Weeks: “Penniman: Virginia’s Own Ghost City.”

June 8th, 2017 Sears Homes 21 comments

In about two weeks, the long-awaited book on Penniman will be arriving at my home. That’s the very good news.

As dear friends and faithful readers know, there’s a lot more to this story. If you’re interested in reading the back story, continue on.  If you’re here to read about the Sears Homes, click here.

If you’d like to pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button at the bottom of the page. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.*

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Almost 14 months ago, on April 10, 2016, my husband and I met with the editor that I’d hired to do the final edit on my manuscript on Penniman. It was a Sunday afternoon. The editor was confident that the completed manuscript would be returned to me in about two weeks. After that, it wouldn’t take long to incorporate the changes and send the book off for printing.

Five years of research and study and digging and effort was finally coming to a close. The book was finished. During those long days, when completing this comprehensive tome looked impossible, I’d close my eyes and imagine the finished product resting in my hands. In my vivid imagination, I’d caress its beautiful cover, pull it open to a center page and listen to the soft sibilant sound of the book’s spine being unfurled for the very first time. Next, I’d plunge my face into its bright-white pages and take in the aroma of that fresh-off-the-press smell.

There were many times that I got so overwhelmed by the enormity of the research that I started to think that this was an impossible task.

In August 2015, I kicked it into high gear and boldly announced to my husband that I was going to sequester myself and finish this book. “This means,” I told him, “that I won’t be much company for a time. I’ll be working morning, noon and night, literally, until this is done.”

“You shouldn’t work so hard,” he said half-heartedly. At the time, I assumed the “half-hearted” part was due to his knowing that once I set my mind on something, it was done and done.

I was wrong.

On April 11th, my husband came home from work and after I gave him a big hug, I posed him in front of all the research materials, filed, organized and boxed up, ready for storage.

“Look erudite,” I told him with a big smile, as I stroked his silver hair and kissed his cheek. He struck a delightful pose and I took many pictures of my beloved, and posted the best one on Facebook.

Looking “erudite” was no problem for him. He had an IQ well north of 160, and a flawless eidectic memory. I was in awe of his intellectual prowess. As a person with a natural love of learning, I thoroughly enjoyed just listening to him talk.

And he knew it.

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Through the years, Wayne had been an integral part of the Penniman book. He’d been the preliminary editor on every bit of it, and many an evening we spent an hour or two reviewing a page or a chapter, discussing phrasing, word choices, and historical accuracy. He read every chapter and I was excited to read his edits and commentary. It was just one more place where his shockingly high IQ shined through.

“You’re a ten-talent man,” I’d frequently tell him (a reference to Matthew 25). “You’re brilliant, gifted, discerning, charming and beautiful. God has blessed you with so many gifts and abilities.”

Wayne always responded the same: “It’s good that you think that.”

Wayne’s “fingerprints” were all over that book. And unfortunately, because of that, every paragraph, every sentence and every word within its pages would become a painful memory of my husband.

My husband. The man with whom I intended to grow old. The man to whom I entrusted my extremely sensitive and delicate heart.

On April 18th, 2016, one week after he “looked erudite,” Chief Deputy City Attorney Wayne Ringer left City Hall and ended his life. If I live to be 112, my life will always be divided into two compartments: Before April 18th and After April 18th. The old Rosemary died that day, eviscerated by the holocaust of a spousal suicide. The new Rosemary is now, and will be for some time, a work in progress, but is still largely an emerging, amorphous form, and most notably, chronically dehydrated. I’ve yet to experience a single 24-hour period without soul-wracking crying jags.

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I don’t remember the date, but a few days after Wayne’s suicide, the editor contacted me to let me know that the manuscript was completed. In those early days, I was in deep shock. It was ugly and hellish. I don’t remember details, but I know that the blue notebook - which contained the editor’s marked-up copy - ended up in the trunk of my Camry and remained there for many months.

For at least five months, I lived out of my car and spent the nights at a friend’s house about an hour from Norfolk. Each morning, I’d drive back to my home in Norfolk, pick up clean clothes, and then run around during the day, visiting doctors, lawyers, bankers, or friends, trying to sort out the surfeit of legal, financial, medical and mental problems that I now faced.

I kept granola bars, Boost (liquid supplement), Funyuns and Gatorade in the trunk, along with a Bible, some inspirational books and spare clothes, together with a manila envelope which contained the important papers that I needed constantly. During this time, I was losing weight and suffered from fainting spells. If I stood up too fast, I’d sink right back down.

When I would open that trunk, the very sight of the word Penniman made me nauseous. I kept hoping that repeated exposure would make it easier. It didn’t. In time, I covered the notebook with a beige towel and buried it in a box in the hinterlands of the trunk.

Every few weeks, I’d carry the notebook into my friend’s house (in a canvas bag) and try to read through the edits. Still, I couldn’t do it. Back into the trunk went that tired blue notebook.

In January 2017, a caring friend invited me to join him at dinner. He asked many questions about the book. By now, I had given up on the manuscript and decided it was a dead project. My mental health was more valuable than a book on regional history. As far as I was concerned, the manuscript died with Wayne. I just hadn’t buried it yet. I made a plan to donate all the research materials and the unfinished manuscript to a local library.

I knew what my friend was doing. He was trying to re-invigorate me, and re-ignite the passion I’d once felt for this topic. But now, I had no passion for anything in any direction. I was the walking dead, slogging through the moments and the days, eating enough to stay alive and not much more. Two simple thoughts dominated my waking hours, which were, “Why did Wayne do this?” and secondly, “Why does everyone keep trying to save me?”

That dinner with my friend was such a blessing. He showed me “no little kindness” and when I looked in his eyes, I saw love looking back at me. I was loved. Maybe I really was lovable. Maybe I was worthy of love. Maybe my husband’s last text - blaming me for his death - wasn’t a burden that I should carry for the rest of my life.

Maybe.

Even the people at the periphery of my life were showering me with love. Today, the very memory of that love stirs my soul and lifts my spirits.

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A few weeks after Wayne’s suicide, my eldest daughter gave me a shake and told me, through tears, “Mom, the only way we’re going to survive this hell is by focusing on light and love. This darkness is so horrid and the truth is so awful that this trauma could easily destroy us. I need you to stick around and I need you to stay focused on the good. Promise me you’ll focus on light and love. Promise me.”

I promised my little girl that I’d try.

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That night, the dinner with my friend, I felt the love. It was as though I was being given a mental hug, and it fed my hungry soul. The love in his heart and the warmth in his eyes was a laser-beam of light that pierced the heavy blanket of psyche ache that had engulfed me. His kind words and the love behind them reached right into my heart. I felt something stir inside of me. The next day, I pulled the blue notebook out of the trunk and plopped it down on the desk beside my computer. I told myself, “Just do one page. Just one page. And if you can’t do one page, do one paragraph. And if that’s too much, just do one sentence.”

Opening the book, the dizziness and nausea returned. I paused, closed my eyes and said the simplest of prayers. I kept my eyes closed for a couple minutes. I decided that maybe one sentence would be plenty for the first day. And then I did that first sentence. And then another and another, and then one page was finished but then I hit a bad bump, and an intense memory of a discussion with Wayne washed over me and dragged me down under the waves. I slapped the book shut, closed out the computer screen and flopped on the nearby couch to commence the daily crying jag.

The next day, I made it to the end of the first chapter. When the tears came, I took a deep breath and said, “One more page. Just do one more page.”

And so it went, day after day. Getting through those pages was an act of divine grace and sheer willpower.

In about three weeks, I had incorporated all of the editor’s corrections. After that, three friends gave of their time and brilliance to help me finish up all the “dog work” of incorporating photographs, creating captions, and putting it all together. Next, I had to read the manuscript from beginning to end.

Again, many tears flowed. I was so weary.

That was several weeks ago.

Now, June 8, 2017, we’re drawing mighty close to the finish line. As of June 2nd, the Penniman manuscript is in production, 14 months later than expected. When I chastise myself for the delays, I remember, it’s a miracle of grace that this book will even see the light of day. It may not be exactly how I wanted it to be, but it is finished.

In about 10 days, the “new baby” will be born. And as fast as freight can move those boxes, they’ll come to my home in Southeastern Virginia. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the final product resting in my hands, where I’ll caress its beautiful cover, pull it open to a center page and listen to the soft sibilant sound of the book’s spine being unfurled for the very first time. Next, I’ll plunge my face into its bright-white pages and take in the aroma of that fresh-off-the-press smell.

And then, I’ll put it back in the box, and turn the box label side to the wall, so I don’t have to see the word “Penniman,” and hope and pray that one day, the pain associated with that lovely name will ebb a bit, and that this unknown story will garner much interest, and will bring a blessing to every reader and to the community and to the country.

As my friend George said, “Sometimes the biggest ugliest dogs are guarding the loveliest of treasures.”

In other words, sometimes the greatest blessings are lurking right behind the greatest sufferings.

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In 1875, 54-year-old Mary B. Eddy wrote her seminal work (”Science and Health”), a book that was prefatory to creating the first church in America founded by a woman. In 1908, a congregant lovingly returned one of those early books to Eddy. According to Eddy’s secretary, Eddy carefully took the small book, examined it, and handed it back to the secretary and said, “Put it away, Mr. Dickey. No one will ever know what it cost me to write that book.”

Every book comes at a cost to its author, but sometimes the cost far exceeds what the author was intending to pay.

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Less than nine months before his death, Wayne and I had picked out a “dream appliance” - a fancy side-by-side refrigerator with all manner of bells and whistles. It was a fine thing. We’d spent the prior three years planning this purchase. There was much discussion about options and colors and features and prices. And then one day, we went to Sears and made our selection. It was a happy day.

“How is it,” I thought to myself recently, “that we spent three years discussing a major appliance purchase, and yet he never said one word about his final exit plan? How could he think it was okay to destroy our marriage and destroy his wife and destroy our family with a nuclear detonation, without any discussion? How could my husband, an officer of the court and brilliant communicator, take a gun and murder my best friend without even a clue being proffered?”

It is a question that still plagues me, and yet it’s an intractable question. Like so many other aspects of this nightmare, the answer died with him.

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Several months before his death, the veneer of civility began to peel away from his persona (which is Latin for “mask”). While struggling to write a single paragraph explaining the composition of a WW1 155-mm artillery shell, I frequently turned to him for help. It’s hard to believe that any historian at any college or museum could possibly know more of early 20th century military history, munitions and armaments than he did. His eidectic memory and brilliance shown in this arena, too.

After my 9th attempt to write a simple explanation of this shell, I handed him the freshly printed text and said, “Does this sound right to you?”

With his eyes glancing down through his bifocals, he read the paper. He shook his head in disgust as he thrust the papers back at me.

“What kind of dumb-ass doesn’t understand the difference between a shell-casing and a cartridge? How many times must I explain this to you? I don’t have any interest in writing this book for you.”

And with that, he stomped out of the room.

More than a year before his death, we sat at breakfast and chattered away as we did every morning. He mentioned a female colleague, and went on and on about his great admiration for her intellect and mental acuity.

“Wayne, I think I’m just as intelligent as she is, and perhaps even a smidge more.”

He replied, “You write these little history books. She’s a lawyer with seven years of schooling. It’s okay though. You’re smart when it comes to Sears Homes.”

It was a slice that cut me to the marrow. Throughout our marriage, he’d never been able to tell me that I was beautiful. And now he couldn’t even offer reassurances as to his pride in my intelligence.

In January 2016, after proofreading my preface he said, “This isn’t a good preface. It’s more like a first chapter.” He then urged me to try again. I brought him a pen and paper and said, “You just read my very best effort and that was the result of 12 months of writing. I’ve given it all I can. Why don’t you write a preface for me?”

Surprisingly, he agreed and for the next 60 minutes, he sat at the dining room table and wrote a four-page preface. He summoned me when he had finished and said, “This is a good preface for the book. It will explain your background.”

Eagerly, I sat down to read his writing. Below is a snippet.

I know relatively little about World War One. I’ve seen “The Blue Max,” part of “Gallipoli,” and part of “Sergeant York.” I’ve never read “All Quiet on the Western Front” or seen the movie, but I know they’re out there. I’ve seen “Downton Abbey” and its treatment of Matthew, Thomas, William and Archie. Efficient 20th century warfare required artillery, great guns that would hurl great shells great distances, and would explode doing great damage…

After reading this, I looked at him and said, “Are you serious?”

He sternly replied, “Yes, quite. You need to explain to the reader that you have no academic background or specific expertise.”

“You’re right, Wayne. I have no academic background or specific expertise, but I’d be willing to make a bet that I know more about early 20th century munitions than 99.9% of the people in the United States. In the last five years, I’ve now studied more than 25 books on the munitions of World War One, and that doesn’t include the many other World War One books on more generalized topics. And I think we’re going to have some trouble finding a vet from The Great War that can offer ’specific expertise.’”

The conversation did not end well. I retreated to my room and wept. I loved him dearly, but I was beginning to wonder if he was preparing to leave me. Something was off, and at the time, I had no idea what was going on.

About six months after Wayne’s death, I sat down and read through a dream journal that I had kept for several years. In the 12 months before his death, I had a recurring dream that he died suddenly, and I had to move out of my beautiful home into a depressing rental home. I’d often awaken from that dream with tears still flowing. More than once, after this recurring dream, I’d awaken Wayne and wrap my arms around him and say, “Wayne, I had this horrible dream that you died. It was terrifying. I don’t think I can live without you.”

He would hug me back and say flatly, “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Promise me?” I’d say, still feeling very emotional.

“Yes, I promise.”

We had this conversation several times. The last time was less than a week before his death.

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In the last seven years, two of my dearest friends collapsed and died in the blink of an eye. In 2001, my mother passed suddenly as well. Every morning, as Wayne left for work, I gave him a proper hug. I’d hold him for at least a minute, and during that time, I asked God and His angels to surround him with love, to keep watch over him, bless him, and protect him, and keep him well, strong and healthy. And then I’d visualize the very angels of heaven surrounding Wayne in every action and in every moment. I’d always close with, “God, please bring him back home to me, safe and sound, at the end of this day.” Nine hours later, when I saw his green truck pull into the driveway in the evening, I’d always whisper, “Thank you, God.”

For reasons that should be obvious, his suicide has been a very hard slap down of my once-strong faith. It’s hard to imagine that any 63-year-old man was the recipient of more prayers than Wayne, and yet, it ended so horribly.

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When I sequestered myself in August 2015 to finish the Penniman book, I had no idea that those were to be the last months of my husband’s life. “Come snuggle with me,” he’d often say as the sun set in the western sky, and most nights (thank God), I’d reply, “Okay, give me three minutes to finish up a paragraph,” and then I’d save my work, arise from the chair and spend time with him. Thank God for that.

But now that’s another painful memory. The Penniman manuscript took up much space in my life and my mind and my heart. I convinced myself that telling the story of the “Canaries” at Penniman was God’s will for me, a utilization of my best talents, life experiences and passion for telling a story forgotten by the rest of the world. But was that correct? It doesn’t feel like it today. Perhaps in a few years or decades, the reception and success of this book will help me sort it out.

I do know that - if I let it in - this devotion of my energies to a book in the last months of his life, could be another source of crushing guilt. Those were the last breakfasts, lunches and dinners I’d ever have with Wayne, and I spent many of them buried in a manuscript.

“You need to turn off that computer and come pay attention to me,” he’d say frequently. Was that one of the clues that I missed? Looking back, how did I miss that? And more important, how do I forgive myself now?

And there was the more haunting comment - almost a mantra in those last weeks: “I’m old, and I’m going to be dead one day and you’re going to regret spending so much time on a book.”

I’d grab him and say, “Please don’t say such things. Not a day goes by that I don’t pray my best prayers for you. You are the beloved of God, and you’re going to live a very long time.”

“You’ll find someone else,” he’d say, as though he hadn’t heard a word. “You won’t be alone for long. Someone will snatch you up.”

“Wayne, I don’t want anyone else. You’re the love of my life. Please - don’t say such things. We’re going to grow old together.”

If I permitted it, the review and rehearsal of those excruciating conversations could lead me to insanity.

When I find myself circling that mountain again, I use every iota of willpower to “focus on the light and love.” It’s an act of great will, and I tell myself, “It only takes 12 repetitions to form a habit. Focus on good thoughts. Stop thinking about the horror of this.”

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I’m so very grateful that the Penniman book is done. If it had been left wholly to me, the unfinished manuscript would have been tossed into a bin and carted off to a local history room at the closest library. But thanks to so many dear friends, that did not happen. And today, I’m actually feeling a little joy and hope, looking forward to sharing the story of Penniman with the rest of the world.

The book that cost me so much may well be one more thing that helps to lift me out of the mire. I find myself earnestly hoping that this book is well received, and accomplishes its purpose of showcasing the amazing sacrifice of the men and women who gave so much to help win The Great War. Their story has been largely forgotten by time. This new book of mine will correct that gaping hole in local, state and national history, and for that, I’m truly grateful.

In the following weeks or months, I’ll go out into the world and give a few lectures and sell a few books. That will be very good for me. And focusing on future happy thoughts rather than depressing past events helps promote the healing of my shattered heart.

When my quivering hand struggles valiantly to write out a daily gratitude list, some iteration of this comment appears every day: “The Penniman book is done. Thanks be to God for that.”

It’s a good book, and it’s an important book, and hopefully, it will bring many blessings to its readers.

Please leave a comment below, or you can contact Rose directly at pennimanva@gmail.com

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To pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.

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Did I miss something

This photo was taken seven days before his death. I've often studied this photo and wondered, did I miss something?

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Eeyes

I knew those eyes better than anyone, yet I had no inkling that he had a plan.

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Pennima

Front cover of the Penniman book.

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cover

The rear cover - just as it will appear.

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This Penniman worker has traversed a great distance to buy the new book.

This Penniman worker has traversed a great distance to buy the new book.

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To pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.

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