Image by Chris Visions
Richmond, Virginia: Sic Itur Ad Astra.TRANSCRIPT
BR= Brent Raper
AA= Arthur Ashe
KC = Karen Cooper
NVDK= Nick van der Kolk
GG= Goad Gatsby
OU= Oderus Urungus
VJG= Vixie Jill Glen
JF= John Friar
FE= Free Egunfemi
WC= Wesley Chavis
AG= Arlie Gilford
ED= Evrim Dogu
NAR: Consider the Atlantic sturgeon. Scientific name acipenser oxyrhynchus. It’s one big fish. A prehistoric wonder! Its ancestors swam in the waters of Pangea more than 200 million years ago. An asteroid killed the dinosaurs, but not the Atlantic sturgeon! They kept on swimming. Sturgeons are bottom feeders, probing for small prey with barbells that look like moustaches. It’s a bony fish, covered not in scales but in rigid plates known as scutes. Imagine an ankylosaur—or a turtle, for that matter. And they live a long time, if we let them. Fifty to 60 years is normal; 100 is not unusual. Which means Atlantic sturgeons grow to enormous sizes. 300 pounds is common, but they’ve been caught weighing up to 800 pounds. Occasionally, they propel their enormous bodies out of the water entirely, catch mad air, and smack noisily back into the depths. Why do they do it? No one knows. But given the size of the fish, their ecstatic flights can be dangerous to unsuspecting river-goers. The Atlantic sturgeon: a deadly surprise!
But not as deadly to us as we are to the sturgeons.
Once upon a time, there were more Atlantic sturgeons in Virginia’s James River than anyone knew what to do with. During the bad winter of 1609 known as the “Starving Time,” the Jamestown colonists were forced to eat whatever they could, including snakes, rats, cats, dogs, their horses and one another. But good news! Come early spring, there were sturgeons. John Smith–yes, that John Smith– once wrote: “We had more Sturgeon then could be devoured by dogge and man, of which the industrious, by drying and pounding, mingled with caviare, sorrel, and other wholesome herbs, would make bread and good meat.” The Atlantic sturgeon! The fish that saved Virginia! And in time, Jamestown’s first cash crop.
The fish’s popularity grew over the centuries. By the 1880s, fishermen in Richmond had industrialized collection, dragging nets upriver along the James, catching hundreds of fish at a time, then floating downriver to do it again. By 1900, the Atlantic sturgeons were mostly gone. They were harvested for many reasons. Their meat was used for food, their skin for clothing and bookbinding, their bladders for isinglass. Primarily, though, it was the black gold in their bellies that doomed them. Caviar! Good eating! When the Commonwealth of Virginia banned sturgeon fishing in 1974, the gesture was merely a formality. There weren’t enough fish left to be affected.
In 1779, when Martin Hawkins of Richmond grabbed hold of an Atlantic sturgeon and accidentally rode it into the churning waters of the James, Richmonders recalled that the young men of the Pamunkey tribe had once done exactly the same thing. Except they did it on purpose! A right of manhood! A trial by fish! It’s unknown whether Martin Hawkins knew of their tradition. Probably, he did not. But he was hungry. And he’d gone down to the James River to catch some fish. The river was high and its waters were bursting with Atlantic sturgeons that had come up upstream to spawn. More than a hundred years later in 1889, The New York Times would write: “Our hero was at his post watching for a catch when along came an immense sturgeon and stopped to rub his sides against the rock, according to the habit of sturgeons.” A habit from prehistory!
When the fish did not object, he moved his hands toward the gills, then took hold, one hand on each side of the head. He’d intended to pull the sturgeon out of the water, but the fish lurched forward in surprise. “He fell astride the fish’s back, but his hands were held as in a vise,” said the Times. “For a moment all was surprise and interest, then both fish and rider sank in the deep, roaring waters of the flood.”
Observers cried in alarm to see a man lost to the river leviathan. But soon, both Hawkins and the fish emerged downriver. Hawkins managed to take a breath before the fish pulled him under again. This pattern of breach, breath and dive was repeated several times, until the pair passed Mayo’s Bridge, nearly half a mile from their starting point. The fish was tiring. Hawkins steered its head like the wheel of a ship, guiding it to a sandbar on the south bank of the James. There, he dragged it ashore. The fish was monstrous—over ten feet in length and weighing 300 pounds.
“The distinguished adventurer was ever afterward known as Martin Hawkins, the sturgeon rider.” Remembered because he reached into the James River and grabbed hold of the mighty Atlantic sturgeon. Of something bigger than himself. A living fossil. A fish immemorial. A swimmer in the river of time.
NVDK: From Radiotopia, you’re listening to Love and Radio. I’m Nick van der Kolk. Today’s episode: Such is the Way to the Stars.
ARCHIVE: Where to today? Could it be the rolling sands of Daytona Beach, Florida? The Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina? Or the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia? Today, a guided tour is going to take you to a beautiful and historic city that is played an outstanding part in the history of our country: Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the old south. Five US highways run through Richmond, including US number one, the principal north-south thoroughfare, and US number sixty, the main east-west highway…
BR: From, from Richmond, Virginia, the famous, the dangerous, the unbelievable Dirt Woman, so let’s have a hand for Dirt Woman, come on out here Dirt Woman. Well, Dirt Woman, welcome to The Bunny Hawkins Show.
DW: Thank you.
BR: I might say, you look ravishing tonight.
DW: Oh I, I look so, oh…
BR: Well I’ll tell you, ever since I’ve been in the tri-city area, I’ve heard over and over again, Dirtwoman, Dirtwoman, everybody knows who Dirtwoman is.
DW: Oh yes.
BR: Everybody in this town, you hear all sorts of rumors.
DW: Oh yeah, rumors.
BR: First thing I want to know, the first thing, is how did you come to be known as Dirt Woman?
NVDK: So the story is that in World War II they built, to keep Richmond from getting bombed by the Germans, they built a whole other fake city out near the airport, out in S–
C: Oh, oh! I have heard this story! I have heard this story!
C: Okay. Well I remember a long, long time ago when I was like a teenager, first got a car and everything, I think I was uh, I was barely driving age, so whatever age that is. And we were, we were out near Bird Airport, and we were just cruising around, just drinking, slinging beers and, and we came across this, it was like ghost town, it was like a… nothing but like concrete sidewalks and fire hydrants, but no buildings. Erase all the buildings, and just keep all the sidewalks. Just erase EVERYTHING you see, and keep the sidewalks, and the fire hydrants, and shit like that, and that’s what it was.
ARCHIVE: Richmond is a major manufacturing center producing products valued annually at more than a billion dollars. First of importance is the manufacture of tobacco. More than one hundred ten billion cigarettes are made a year in Richmond factories, including those in this section, which is known as tobacco road. Richmond, where the best of the old is combined with the best of the new, making it one of the most interesting and charming cities in America today.
NAR: Richmond has produced its share of famous sons, daughters and gender-fluid offspring. The late journalist, novelist, and sartorialist Tom Wolfe came from Richmond. “Just think of all the people not fortunate enough to be born in Richmond, Virginia,” he wrote. There’s the tap dancer and actor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who started his career dancing in the beer gardens of Jackson Ward. There’s the singer Michael Eugene Archer, better known as D’Angelo. And of course, there’s the singular Donnie “Dirtwoman” Corker.
DW: Chris, order me a pizza please. Where you at, Chris, it’s after three o’clock, Chris, I’m hungry. Chris, where’s my pizza, Chris, please, I’m hungry, where is it. You ain’t got it to me yet. It’s 7:30 somethin, bye. Pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza. Why are you ignoring me, Chris.
NAR: The tennis icon and health activist Arthur Ashe was born in Richmond, where racial segregation meant he was not allowed to compete against white athletes or use indoor courts. “To achieve greatness,” he later said, “start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
TV Host: Have you ever been in a movie or anything like that?
AA: Oh no. No, no.
TV Host: You haven’t.
AA: When I went to see Devines play in New York City, she stopped playing and told everybody I was gonna be the next Devines in this country when she died.
TV Host: Right. Well now, now she is gone, isn’t she.
AA: Yeah, I’mma take her place.
TV Host: You are.
TV Host: Well, I, I, I know everybody’s anxious to see that happen.
KC: The Nation of Islam thinks races should be separate, you, black and white.
I was raised in New York. Met my husband who was a member of the Nation of Islam and became a member. The Nation of Islam has a very bad rap because all the sound bytes and, you know, when they talk about white people or jewish people or stuff like that, but in the meetings on Sunday and on Wednesday, the focus really is on self-improvement, it’s on independence from government and to do for yourself. Eat better, take better physical care of yourself, and I liked that. But then that didn’t work out. Then I moved down here.
NVDK: How did you end up leaving the Nation of Islam?
KC: Well when I left my husband, um, it was a domestic issue and I felt that I didn’t have help from the sisters or the brothers in the mosque, I was like, gonna do this on my own and you know, I’m gonna leave religion alone.
NVDK: Why did you find a different mosque, why did you decide to walk away from the whole thing?
KC: Good question, actually, you know, I did that because when I came down here, the race relations was totally different than New York, I–the North, they claim that they like black people and they care about black people but it is so segregated, it’s not funny. I felt more welcomed in the South.
And then comes 2008, I have three children now. I’m working. I’m trying to raise my children and I feel taxed everywhere, I have to pay so much tax and I feel the government present in my life so much, I thought that was too much. And I joined the tea party. On Facebook I started meeting, you know, my friends who was in the Tea Party, they were mostly, you know, they had Confederate ancestors. Then I met this lady [name redacted], and she started flagging. And I said, well, I should go out there and flag with her cause, one I support, you know, Confederate history, and two it’s a great way to show my freedom of speech. It’s my right to be able to be out there in public with the battle flag.
GG: I’m Goad Gatsby. I live in Richmond, Virginia. Conveniently located next to all the confederate statues. Used to be I lived two blocks away from the Virginia Fine Arts Museum where a group called the Virginia Flaggers come out once or twice a week with Confederate flags outside of the building. And the winter of 2014, the album Yeezus was out, it was real hot. Kanye West was sporting Confederate imagery on his clothing line. He had a song out called New Slaves. I was like, I’m gonna roll by, and I’m gonna play that album. I was a tricycle with a little speaker on there. They took a picture of me, one person commented that I looked like a kosher hot dog, which is something, I was just like, why you gotta play me like this? Looks like, oh, this is gonna be my thing now. Playing rap music. Sorry, Kanye, what happened to you?
NVDK: So to you the flag represented rebellion against government tyranny?
KC: Resistance to tyranny, yes, exactly. And don’t get me wrong, yes, there are southerners that probably fly it to intimidate, but I think that there’s a small amount of them who are truly racist, but I think most people are good.
GG: The day I stopped trusting them, stopped wanting to talk to them, was when a gentleman came up, expressed that he didn’t like my music, called it fuck music. He was like, “I find your music offensive,” I was like, “Well, I find that flag offensive, so I guess we’re just gonna have to agree to disagree.” So he kicked the amp. And drove off on his motorcycle.
ARCHIVE: He’s got more confederate officers in his family than anybody I’ve met.
GG: Oh, I forgot all about that one. Yes, one way they reacted to me was to disprove all of my points of me being anti-Confederate by showing that I had heritage. And they found twelve different relatives. And they’re trying to discredit my opinion by saying, “Well, you can’t be against the concept of Confederacy if you have family that was in the Confederacy.” And I disagree with that entirely. I feel like I got adopted by hip hop. I feel like all these other things are more a part of me than the Confederacy ever was. Heritage is something that you’re just told. Because you haven’t lived it. It’s someone else’s experience. Hip hop is my heritage, I know what that means because hip hop isn’t a person. Hip hop is an idea.
ARCHIVE: Calling us neo-conservative. Neo-nazis. We’re not racist.
NVDK: When did the cracks start forming with the flaggers?
KC: Well, it was, unfortunately, it was on the Trump election, and it was a Facebook post. One of the founding members of the flaggers didn’t like, you know, that I was supposedly bashing Trump, you know, and he said something very, very nasty. And um.
NVDK: What did he say?
KC: Uhh, ha, I don’t really wanna get into that. Um, but he said something really nasty, and um.
NVDK: Was it, was it like ra, racial, or?
KC: No, I don’t think he meant it that way, somebody could’ve taken it that way, but I don’t think he meant it that way. Um. But, needless to say, it was not nice, and I had to distance myself from them then because I couldn’t go around to events with him near. But it’s not like, I don’t consider myself a coward for not doing what I used to love. I changed. You know, my views changed. I don’t wanna carry a flag anymore. I don’t wanna represent any nationalistic view, I’m all about individuals. It’s all about individuals.
NVDK: Just to kind of give people a sense of where, where we are, would you mind, would you mind describing where, where we are, where are we sitting right here?
KC: We’re sitting here in Hollywood Cemetery, um, right in front of the beautiful James River. You know, so that’s a very beautiful cemetery, Richmond, I love the history of the South, um. And it would be a shame to lose all of that. It really would.
NAR: Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery takes its name from the holly trees on its grounds. It was dedicated in 1849, long before the dream factory in California. The cemetery is 130 acres of rolling, wooded hills, overlooking a stunning view of Belle Isle in the rocky James River. Interred in Hollywood you can find two genuine American presidents—James Monroe and John Tyler—plus one fake president—Jefferson Davis, naturally. William Mayo, the first architect of Richmond, is there. As are numerous Confederate generals, among them George Pickett and J.E.B. Stuart. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Virginius Dabney is there, as is Civil War historian Douglas Southall Freeman. And so too in Hollywood Cemetery lies musician Dave Brockie, better known as GWAR front-man Oderus Urungus–scumdog of the universe.
OU: Hello America! How ya doin out there?
TV Host: You look fantastic. Why is that?
OU: I’m just, I’m perfect, I’m an immortal god from outer space, and I also use Oil of Olay.
TV Host: Well you know, I was gonna ask you that question! My mom, I told my mom you were on, and she was wondering if you were a space beast or an alien monster.
NAR: Among the many monuments, one memorial stands out to Richmonders in the know. The mausoleum of William Wortham Pool and his wife, Alice. It’s set into a grave-spotted hillside, with a relief of slanting stone columns. Pool was a Mason, and therefore into that sort of thing. A stone lamb sits atop the façade. Carved below it is a child, and below that, a rectangle of blank space. Once, it displayed an inscription from Isaiah 11:6. “And a little child shall lead them.” That inscription fell from the tomb and has never been replaced. Without it, the lamb seems almost idolatrous, And maybe it’s this image that does it. Or the site’s rejection of the Bible verse. Or simply the barbed Ws in Pool’s carved name. Whatever the reason, legend states that the Pool this tomb is home to the Hollywood Vampire.
So where did the Hollywood Vampire come from? In one version of the legend, it comes from the collapse of the Church Hill Tunnel on the city’s east side. When the freakish ghoul was seen emerging from the eastern mouth of the tunnel, a mob chased it across daytime Richmond until it sought refuge in the Pool tomb. There it sleeps, leaving each sundown… to feed.
The collapse of the Church Hill Tunnel did in fact involve a horrible spectacle. But the Hollywood Vampire story doesn’t get the details right. As the name implies, the tunnel ran underneath the Church Hill neighborhood, home to St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry famously declared, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
On a rainy day in the fall of 1929, workers with the C&O Railway were deep in the tunnel, when the western end gave way. It fell onto a work train and its ten flat cars. Up above, in the Church Hill neighborhood, the western portion of Jefferson Park collapsed. Train engineer Tom Mason and fireman Benjamin F. Mosby were in the cab of the work locomotive. The falling earth burst the engine’s steam boiler, scalding the men horribly. Mason, pinned in place, died quickly. Mosby managed to tumble out of the cab, get under the flat cars, and make his way east. He emerged from the eastern mouth of the tunnel covered in blood, his skin hanging off of him in sheathes. The cold rain was still falling. “Some of you boys please call my wife and tell her I am not badly hurt,” he said. Then, for some reason, he began to climb Church Hill.
Most of the working men made it out. But as the foreman later recalled:
Hell began to reign in the tunnel. Men passed me screaming and fighting. Some of them yelled they had knives and would cut anybody that got in their way… Others were praying. You never heard such praying. The confusion lasted for a long time, it seemed. There were no lights. No one thought to light a match. Men ran back and forth bewildered. They lost direction in the darkness and did not know where to run. Some of them ran toward where the dirt was falling until warned by the noise. They then quickly headed the other way. Other men butted their heads into sidewalls, fell over the ties and rails, and knocked each other down in a desperate effort to escape death. And to make matters worse, a wave of compressed air from the falling tunnel blew a dozen men off their feet.
A couple weeks later, the Church Hill Tunnel was sealed and abandoned by the C&O. Later generations of spelunkers have found it flooded with groundwater. To this day, the earth continues to settle, and portions of the tunnel collapse. When they do, the ground shifts in Church Hill.
Here is where reality meets legend. The ghoul described emerging from the Church Hill Tunnel after its collapse was the fireman Benjamin F. Mosby, face broken, body scalded, skin sliding off of him. But no one chased him across the city. They retrieved him from his strange climb up Church Hill and took him to the hospital, where he died hours later. He was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. So he’s there, too.
Like so many things about Richmond, the legend of the Hollywood Vampire begins with real human suffering. But we all love a good story. They’re much more fun. Patrick Henry, speaking at St. John’s Church, said, “It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope, We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts.”
VJG: I’m a storyteller cause I can’t do art. I don’t have the patience for it. But I like to describe things.
JF: Where do you tell stories?
VJG: I tell stories right now in North Carolina and Tennessee, and I wanna get over here to do some storytelling and I, and then I do a lot of Appalachian Jack tales and, stuff like that.
JF: What is an Appalachian Jack tale?
VJG: Alright, well, great you should ask. You know, Jack and the Beanstalk. That’s Jack. That’s Jack. I’ve got a lot of stories that, different ages of Jack, up until the time that he was the grandfather and ready to die. And that’s Jack and the Bag of Death. You know, so.
JF: Can you tell me shortly, I know you’re in a hurry, um, the story of Jack and the Bag of Death?
VJG: So Jack, he woke up. And he looked up and he saw that sack in that tree. And he remembered how that sack got there.
Jack was at home one evening, and he was an old, old man. And it was a cold night. He heard a knock at the door, and he answered the door. And there he saw, and there was Death, right there at that door. Now, Jack was southern, so he showed him some hospitality, and he asked him in. And he went over to the cupboard, and he got down some of that fine moonshine and poured ’em each a drink.
Death said, “Jack, you ready to go?”
Jack said, “No, Sir, I’m not.”
Death said, “Well. How about I bet you for it?”
Jack said alright. So they pulled out the cards and started playing some poker. Well, Jack knew he was fixin’ to lose. So the De, so Death said, uh, “Alright, Jack, you ready to go?”
He said, “No.” Jack said, “Death, I bet you can’t get in this sack.”
Death said, “I bet I can.”
Jack said, “Well, wickity wack, get into my sack.”
And in that sack Death jumped. Jack tied that sack up, throwed it over his shoulder, and off he walked, he walked high, and he walked low, and he walked up to the very top of the tallest mountain, and he went to the top of the tallest tree, and he took that sack and he tossed it up there in the tree. And when Jack climbed down, well, he was tired, so he went to sleep.
Jack woke up, and he saw that sack there. Well Jack started walking back down the mountain, back towards his home. And when he got to the town, he saw an old woman. And she was all bent over, she was slumped so far over that her toes was about to touch the ground.
Jack said, “Hey, old lady.”
She said, “Hey there, son.”
Jack said, “How are you doin today?”
She said, “I ain’t faring too well. She said, “I’m old, and I’m tired, and I’m ready to go home.”
Jack said, “Well, why don’t you go on home?”
She said, “Son, you know that’s not what I mean. I’m ready to die, I’m ready to go to heaven.”
Jack said, “Well, why ain’t you been able to die?”
She says, “I’m a hundred and forty-seven years old. She said, don’t you know? Some fool done took Death and put him in a bag and took him up there and throwed him in a tree. And can’t nobody die.”
Well Jack, he thought he’d done himself a real good thing.
She said, “Well son, ain’t nobody died around here for quite some time. Why there’s been wars been fought and won, soldiers, they got hurt, got real bad hurt, they ain’t been able to die, they just lay there and suffer. There’s people with disease, and they just lay there and suffer, and they can’t die, can’t nobody die.”
Jack started to question whether or not he’d done a good thing. So he got down on his knees, and he prayed. And just then, a angel of the lord touched Jack’s shoulder.
Jack said, “I don’t know whether I’ve done a good thing or a bad thing. Old people got to meet their great, great, great grandchildren, but so many people sufferin’ and can’t die.”
That angel said, “Son, I believe you know what you need to do.” That angel said, “Jack, you seen my harp. You seen how the strings on my harp got rusted shut, cause I ain’t been able to play anybody into Heaven. Why there’s folks up there in Heaven, and they got tables spread with all good things to eat for their kinfolk, waiting for them to come home, but ain’t nobody been able to come back home. Jack, I believe you know what you should do.”
Jack said, “Yes sir, I believe I do.” So Jack got up, and he walked far and he walked long, and he walked to the very top of the tallest mountain, and he climbed to the top of that tree and he got that sack down, and he put it on the ground.
Jack said, “Hey Death, you ready to come down? Come on out of that sack?”
Death said, “Jack, you ready to go home?”
Jack said, “Yes sir, I believe I did.” Jack opened up that sack and Death jumped out, and soon as he did, Jack went right up to Heaven, and met, he met is momma and his daddy and his, his brothers Will and Tom, and he met all of them giants he slew. He met all them people. And Jack, he’s the first one went home that day, and there was a lot of souls entered Heaven that day. And they were all real happy to finally be at home. And that’s the story of Jack and the Bag of Death.
JF: Thank you so much. What you don’t know, is that uh, my father’s name is Jack, and died on Friday.
NAR: About a mile south of the fall line of the James, where the river descends from Piedmont Plateau to the Atlantic Coastal Plain, was a large, stone house. It was here, in 1674, that William Byrd II was born to a wealthy family whose fortune was built on tobacco farming and slave trading. After studying in Britain, Byrd came back to Virginia Colony to take over his father’s business, and married a woman named Lucy Parke. Their relationship was tempestuous.
VO: “January 31, 1711. My wife quarreled with me about not sending for Mrs. Dunn when it rained. She threatened to kill herself but had more discretion. It rained again all the morning. I ate some roast shoat for dinner… My wife came into good humor again and we resolved to live for the future in love and peace.”
NAR: Byrd’s secret diary contains a plainspokenness about his marital discord, as well as a great many other topics.
VO: “November 5 1718: I rose about 7 o’clock and read two chapters in Hebrew and some Greek in Lucian. I said my prayers, and had milk for breakfast. The weather was cold and cloudy, the wind southeast. About ten came my milliner, and I rogered her.”
NAR: He was constantly horny.
VO: “July 21 1718 I went to the park where I met Mr. Cooper and then picked up two women and carried them to supper and ate some Scotch collops and then went with one of them to the bagnio and lay with her all night and rogered her three times to her great satisfaction.”
“May 13 1718 I went to my kind Mrs. Smith where I met a fine young woman, with whom I ate some rabbit fricassee and then we went to bed together and I rogered her three times and neglected my prayers.”
“January 29 1718 From thence I went to Mrs. C but she was out so I went to Betty S and drank some wine with her and then went to the bagnio and lay all night and rogered her four times.”
“May 20 1719 I supped with Betty G and then we went to bed and I rogered her two times, very powerfully.”
NAR: He was a man who gave into temptation freely and frequently, and not only to friend’s wives and prostitutes.
VO: “November 30 1719 I rose about 8 o’clock and I made the maid feel my roger. I said my prayers, and had boiled milk for breakfast.”
“December 4 1719 After I was in bed the maid of the house came into my chamber and I felt her and committed uncleanness but did not roger her.”
“October 6 I went to the capital where I sent for the wench to clean my room and when I came I kissed her and felt her, for which God forgive me.”
NAR: Throughout the diary, Byrd is aware of the spiritual peril inherent in his misbehavior, although his fear of the Almighty never stops him from acting on those desires. But he shows no spiritual concern in passages describing his treatment of the enslaved servants:
VO: “December 1, 1709. Eugene was whipped again for pissing in bed and Jenny for concealing it…”
“December 3, 1709. Eugene pissed the bed again for which I made him drink a pint of piss…”
“February 27, 1711. In the evening my wife and little Jenny had a great quarrel in which my wife got the worst but at last by the help of the family Jenny was overcome and soundly whipped. At night I ate some bread and cheese. I said my prayers but had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty.”
NAR: Many Richmond institutions are named for the author of these passages, including Byrd Park and the ornate Byrd Theatre. That’s because Byrd’s legacy includes more than just a licentious diary. He is also the founder of Richmond. It was from his holdings along the fall lines that Richmond took shape. And it was Byrd who gave the city its name. Byrd climbed a hill east of the Falls, at the site of today’s Libby Hill park. He found the sprawling view of the James River reminded him of a similar landscape he’d admired, as a young man studying in London’s Richmond-upon-Thames. And so: Richmond it was.
VO: “Thus we did not build Castles only, he wrote but also Cities in the air.”
ARCHIVE: William Byrd Park, named for the city’s founder, has three lakes for boating, fishing, and a refuge for ducks and swans.
DW: Chris, I’m back in the hospital again, call me Chris, please. Chris, I’m sick again, Chris, call me, please, call me please. Call me Chris, please. I’m set to have a nervous breakdown Chris, call me please. Chris call me, Chris I’m in the hospital, Chris! Call me, please, call me Chris!
C: Twilight zone. Yeah, you’re in the twilight zone, buddy.
NVDK: Hey, did I tell you, we had a possum wander into our house the other night.
C: Ah, no shit. No shit.
NVDK: Just like, in the living room, we were just hanging out.
C: Ah, no, no, how’d you get rid of him?
NVDK: He, oh he got scared, we just, stared at each other.
C: I’m a possum killing machine.
C: Yeah, oh yeah, you don’t know that about me?
NVDK: No, no.
C: [Laugh] Well let me show you something. Let me show you something. Hold that thought.
C: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there we go, there we go! There’s a possum killing machine right here.
We was all drunked up in the back of my house, and somebody says, “What’s that back there?” I said what. He says, “Is that a possum?” Now, he’s just as drunk as I am. “Is that a possum?” I says, “I don’t know what the fuck it is,” and it’s a possum with a shitload of babies all attached to her, and it was out in the mid, it was out in daylight, too.
C: Anyway, so, I grab this, and I hate to say it, I, I just annihilated her, and I was presenting it to my wife and everybody that was sitting at the picnic table in the backyard, and it’s dripping blood and little baby, baby possums on the ground.
NVDK: Oh jesus.
C: And I’m just, “Hey, yeah, yeah! How you like it? How you like it?” you know. Anyway so, I’m doing that stupid shit, and uh, Allan Lamb down here, he says–I, well I slung it out in the alley, after I thought it was completely dead.
C: And all the baby possums came back to it, and Allan came over to me and… “You gotta finish the job.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Look at all the baby possums.” So I said, “Well, okay.” So I just started squishing possums, little baby possums.
NVDK: Oh no.
C: Yeah, and everybody in the whole neighborhood hated me! Everybody in the whole neighborhood hated me for like, I don’t know, it went on for a long time, Alan got a big kick out of it. Uh, I’m glad he had a good time for it.
NVDK: What’d possums ever do to you?
C: Uh, well they came in my house, too.
NVDK: Oh really.
C: Yeah, they come in my house before, too. And I don’t like possums, I’d rather have a, a mouse than a possum. I like killing possums. You got any possums?
NVDK: Just the one that wandered into our house. I didn’t get it.
C: Alright, you did get it, or you didn’t?
NVDK: No, no, it ran away.
C: You, oh, oh, okay. Alright.
NVDK: I was, yeah. I was so shocked cause it was so light. Like all the lights were on and everything.
NVDK: Nah, I’m still working on this one, I’m good, thank you.
NVDK: I got, I’m still working on that, too. Double fisted.
C: Well uh, you know um, possums are very prevalent around here. Very prevalent, and so are groundhogs. Fuckin’, fuckin’ sewer rats. Yeah, you get all that good stuff. All that good stuff.
NAR: Violence has been a part of Richmond since its beginnings. It’s just as a matter of fact. As the city grew, it did so on the backs of multiple crops, goods and industries, none of which were more profitable than the trade in enslaved humans. In the 1600s and 1700s, Richmond was the unloading point for enslaved Africans being moved into the Mid-Atlantic states. And in 1808, when the federal government outlawed the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Richmond got even busier. More than half of the nation’s black population lived in Virginia—both free and enslaved, but the majority enslaved. With African markets no longer available, the flow of human bodies reversed, and Richmond became the departure point for the trip downriver to the rest of the Atlantic world. In almost six decades, nearly 500,000 people were sold southward through Richmond. Families were destroyed, human beings were hunted and manacled and beaten and displayed naked in a marketplace just blocks from the Virginia State Capitol, the one designed by Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “the most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.” But black people were not citizens. The slave trade built Richmond, Virginia. And violence was inherent to that trade. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, violence was booming. Among Richmond’s more despairing spots during the slave trade boom was Shockoe Bottom.
FE: That area was horrible. It had a creek that ran through there called Shockoe Creek. This is the place where they would dump bodies of human beings. The creek would flood, the bodies that were quickly interred there would float around in the city, there were carcasses of animals that had been butchered. These places where people would be sold. There were auction blocks, there were dungeons. It was the absolute worst. And that’s where they sent Gabriel.
Gabriel lived on a plantation called Brookfield Plantation. At that time, though, there were a lot of plantations that had been over farmed. When the ground becomes deplete of the resources necessary in order to grow, they came up with something that they kind of call surplus enslaved people. These black folks would be sent to the city, they’d be hired out. All the money that they would earn within those trades in the city would have to be sent back. And that was one of the situations that happened with Gabriel around the age of fourteen.
He was meant to learn to become a blacksmith. The person he was apprenticing under was French Canadian. Gabriel was exposed to the Haitian Revolution through him. The news of this was coming back and forth through this guy’s visitors to his apprentice shop, and he really ran with a lot of people who believed in black freedom. This man was a liberator of sorts, and he planted seeds in Gabriel’s mind that then took off like wildfire.
While Gabriel was working in the Shockoe Bottom area as a blacksmith, there was a young woman by the name of Nan, or Nanny, beautiful Nanny. She was a laundress, and he decided that, this is a woman that he wants to connect with, this is a woman that has this passion for freedom like him, and he began to trust her. And really that’s all it really took at that time, is like can I trust you, do you want freedom?
Their goal was for her to be bought out of enslavement by Gabriel. Any children that they were to conceive, because the wife was free, then the children would be free. So they were like, alright, boom, he’s the way we’re going to do this. I’ll marry you, I’ll take all the money that I’ve made on my days off from hiring myself out, and by the time I get the money together, we’ll get married like the same week. So he was stackin’, stackin’, stackin’, stackin’, I mean it took a minute, but he got his dough together, and he was planning on buying this woman out and marrying her like the same week. So they planned the wedding.
And there was this general understanding back on the Brook plantation that if you found a livestock that was kinda roaming, and it was your wedding, you could appropriate it for yourself and have a barbecue and everything would be fine. They had this pig that they had um, wrestled to the ground to travel with them to where they were gonna barbecue it on the same day of the wedding. So there’s this overseer that came from England who didn’t really know the inner workings of enslavement culture, and the concessions that were made by the gentry and ruling class out there, so this guy from England is like, “Wait a minute, where you going? Whose pig is that? Is that my pig?” And they were like, no, he was just roaming and that’s how we do it, like this is our wedding day, this is what we’re gonna do. We’ll roast him and, just chill. And the guy was like, I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you.
A scuffle ensues. A real scuffle. The fight lasted, I don’t even know, definitely long enough for Gabriel to have bitten the man’s ear clean off. So here’s this guy bleeding and screaming in the road, white guy, from England, who is just like probably making like the biggest deal about the fact that this black savage has just bit his ear off. Gabriel was then brought up on charges, then they threw him in jail. But the worst part of all this, they took all of the money that he had worked for, he’s unable to marry Nan. “No, you’re not marrying her. Hell, no. You’re not marrying her.” They tell Gabriel that, “You are now required to pay back restitution and you’ll be enslaved for the rest of your life.”
So I think that was like the pivotal moment for Gabriel to just be like, there is no reasoning with these people, they have no concern for our wellbeing, and the only way that they’re going to respond to our push for freedom is for us to take it.
So the plan was that while the militia was out of the city on other business, they would start from the plantation on Brook Road, come about three miles in to where the Governor’s mansion is situated in the center of the city of Richmond, Virginia along the banks of the James river. They had made friends with this old black man who had the keys to the armory, which was inside the Governor’s mansion. He would unlock all the ammunition and all the weapons, cannon balls and guns and everything, and then take the Governor hostage. Their plan was to negotiate the freedom of all black people enslaved in the state, or else they would threaten to kill the Governor. Their vision was to create an insular community right in central Virginia, and the reason being is that they felt like they’d cultivated it for generations. They wanted to be create a respected community that would be like a monarchy, actually, Gabriel was planning to be the king. Their motto was Death or Liberty, it was the reflexive of “Give me liberty or give me death.” We know we’re gonna die, and if we don’t, then we’ll be free. At that point they expected to die.
That night, it rained like nothing anyone had ever seen before. The bridge that you needed to go across to downtown Richmond washed out. So, no one was able to get into the city. People started getting nervous, they didn’t wanna be implicated in what they saw was a thwarted and failed insurrection. That’s when the snitches started. Some people told the night of, by the time the word came out that this was going to happen, the militia turned around, they came back, guarded the city, started rounding people up. And within two weeks, they had already hung twenty-five people. Gabriel disappears, he dips off. Now we’re talking about mass manhunts with the federal government after them and militias from the state, and patrols, and mass hangings, and blood is just running in the creeks and streams. People are being brutally, savagely beaten, and it was on. Eventually, he made it to the tidewater area and hid in the bottom of a ship and was getting ready to go wherever, we don’t even know if–probably somewhere up north like, uh, Philadelphia, that was a place that people have always gone. That was a free space for black folks. However, someone pretty much snitched on him, and said I think we see Gabriel in the bottom of this ship.
They captured him and decided to put him on trial, which was a farce, because as we know, the outcome was already sealed. But Gabriel was like, I’m not saying anything, he already knew what was going to happen, he had his mouth shut the whole time. The only thing he asked for is, “Please just let me be hung at the same time as my brethren. I want us to be able to go into the afterlife together.” Very few of his requests were honored, not even that one. It was almost as though the state was trying to do anything they can to undermine any of his celebrity, and they wanted to make sure that they would bring him down as low as possible. Then he was hung on the city gallows on the tenth of October.
What must’ve been going through his mind at this time is like, “Ya’ll gotta keep on without me. You might have to start again next week, next month, next year, next decade, next century, next lifetime, but let’s just keep moving forward forever, backward never.”
DW: Chris, I’ve got cancer, buddy, I just wanna call you and tell you. They found five polyps in me. Call me back please. Bye, call me back, Chris. Chris call me, you know I’m gonna take a whole bottle of sleeping pills, Chris. Bye.
Happy new year! Happy new year, Chris! Happy new year! I hope you have many more, more, more! I’m drunk Chris, call me, Please. Happy new year, Chris.
Chris. I’m gonna miss you Chris, when I go. I’m gonna miss you, Chris. Buh-bye.
NAR: On the morning of April 2, 1865, Union soldiers broke through Confederate lines surrounding Petersburg. Richmond would be next. Robert E. Lee sent word to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and thus began “Evacuation Sunday.” Davis fled Richmond on the city’s last working railway. Once Davis and his government were gone, and as throngs of citizens fled south across Mayo’s Bridge, the remainder of Richmond went wild.
First, the city council made a particularly unwise choice. They decided to destroy the city’s liquor supply to prevent Richmonders from locating it, getting drunk, and rioting. Emissaries were dispatched throughout the city to round up and demolish liquor stores. These agents of destruction smashed bottles on cobblestones and axed barrels in the street. The work attracted attention. A lot of attention. Soon, the people of Richmond realized what was going on. And what was going on was: free liquor! Dozens of men, women and children dropped to their knees to scoop up the drink from the gutters. They used their hats and their hands. And they got drunk! Then they turned their attention to Richmond’s business district. And guess what? They rioted! They got what they could get!
Confederate courier Moses Handy decided to leave quarters and observe the crowd. He was forced into a haberdashery that was being torn apart. Thieves shoved hats into his hands. One of them looked him in the eye. “It is every man for himself,” the thief said. “And the devil for us all tonight.”
And he was right! There was more to come. Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell positioned men around the city and ordered they set fire to the tobacco warehouses. The idea here was to deny the Union capturing the tobacco. He also ordered his men to burn the city’s two railroad bridges. The idea here was to deny the Union the ability to cross the James. Once these locations were alight, the men also set fire to Mayo’s Bridge. The last remaining bridge. The weather had been calm that day, but as Mayo’s began to burn, a wind rose from the south. The flames spread from the burning bridges and warehouses. To neighboring warehouses. To storefronts along the James. To storefronts the next street over. And onward. To the saloons. To the arsenals. Which of course… [explosion]. To the newspaper offices. To the banks. In the end, almost one thousand buildings were destroyed, nearly one third of the city, over twenty city blocks between Main Street and the river. Observers from Church Hill on the morning of April 3rd saw the rising sun turn red with the smoke of the conflagration.
When the Union Army arrived at the Capitol Building, the city looked like “a giant crater of fire,” as one soldier said. They raised the United States flag, then went down into the streets, found the city’s one remaining fire commander, and set about containing the inferno. It was the Union that saved Richmond from burning entirely to the ground.
Richmond, Virginia. The city that destroyed itself. Even before it caught fire! Richmond journalist Edward Pollard watched the city burn from Capitol Square. He expressed his feelings this way: “And thus, on this thronged theatre, unnaturally illuminated, and in an auditorium of the most unearthly sounds, expired much of the pride, the luxury, the licentiousness and the cruelty of Richmond.”
For Thomas Chester, a black reporter who entered Richmond on April 3rd with the Union Army. He saw fate at work. He wrote, “It was retributive justice upon the aiders and abettors of treason to see their property fired by the rebel chiefs and plundered by the people whom they meant to forever enslave.”
WC: Grandma, would you sing a song with me?
WC: Would you sing a song with me?
AG: Yeah. A spiritual song.
AG: Okay. Yeah!
WC: Do you have a song that you sang a lot growing up? Or that you liked to sing?
AG: Yeah, I liked to sing when I was going to church. But you know I don’t sing that much now. Cause, I get sad now. If I get to singing, too much tears start running. [laughs] Go head on, finish it.
WC: [singing] Amazing grace, how sweet the sound–
AG: You can sing.
AG + WC: [singing together] –that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.
NAR: In the classic film My Dinner With Andre, Richmond pretends to be New York City. A few years later, Richmond would play itself, in the 1985 TV movie Finnegan Begin Again.
Robert Preston plays Michael Finnegan, a newspaperman nearing retirement, who lives in a decaying house in post-white flight Church Hill. His older wife struggles with dementia. Finnegan rides the bus to work every day along Richmond’s Broad Street, where there’s always an Aikido lesson taking place in a storefront window. He speaks to everyone he sees, especially women, which is how he meets Liz, played by Mary Tyler Moore.
F: Hello you sweet thing, my you look lovely today!
NAR: Liz is a dancer and art instructor having an affair with a married undertaker, Paul. She’s unhappy.
F: You’ve been crying. Wanna talk about it?
NAR: Liz and Finnegan first become friends after he’s mugged by a teenage Giancarlo Esposito.
GE: Your wallet–give it to me!
GE: Give it to me!
NAR: And Richmond is everywhere! Liz and Paul eat ice cream at Bamboo Café—which is still there today, but by no means an ice cream parlor. Liz and Finnegan take whiskey shots at Helen’s—which is still there today, and in fact a great place to take shots. The real fun of the film, aside from performances by its leads, is watching a socially diverse and pre-gentrified 1980s Richmond reel along behind the actors. There are porno theaters on Broad Street, even! The good old days! Shabby, rundown, problematic and charming.
Over the course of the film, Liz and Finnegan grow closer. He even lives in her apartment when his wife ends up in the hospital. But their friendship bothers Liz’s married lover, Paul.
L: Paul, don’t get excited, he’s just a friend!
P: What’s he doing in your robe???
L: His clothes were drenched, he would’ve caught pneumonia!
NAR: It all culminates in one terrific scene in Hollywood Cemetery, just a few paces from the Richmond Vampire and WW Pool–From Oderus Urungus and Jefferson Davis.
The scene takes place just after Finnegan’s wife dies. Liz, Paul and Finnegan drive into the cemetery towards the open, empty grave of Finnegan’s wife.
F: I just want to see the spot.
P: It won’t be beautiful. The AstroTurf isn’t even out yet.
F: I don’t give a good damn about your AstroTurf.
L: Michael, you—
F: I’m fine, I’m fine. I just want to see the grave.
L: He just wants to see the grave.
P: And we’re going to show it to him.
NAR: Finnegan and Paul walk downhill to the open grave, with a pile of dirt beside it, covered by a green tarp.
F: It’s not very deep.
Pl: [shrugs] Standard depth.
NAR: Finnegan is standing at the very edge of the grave. Paul takes his arm.
P: Careful now.
NAR: Finnegan takes a step back from the edge. The camera pans down to reveal water and mud in the bottom of the grave.
F: All right.
NAR: Finnegan turns to leave. Paul stops him.
P: This is probably unprofessional, but I need to talk about something. Don’t you think it’s about time you moved out of Liz’s place? I honestly don’t think you’ve got my best interests at heart. In a few days, I’ll be moving in there. I’d appreciate your being gone.
NAR: Finnegan begins to walk away.
P: If I’ve mistaken your motives friend, I apologize.
NAR: Finnegan turns. He pushes Paul into the grave.
P: Ah! Aaaah! (Splash)
NAR: Finnegan starts away. Liz is out of the car, running downhill. In high heels!
L: Oh my god! Oh my god. Oh, Paul!
NAR: Liz can’t decide if she should help Paul or chase after Finnegan. She chases Finnegan.
L: Michael! Michael! You pushed him.
NAR: Finnegan points at the grave.
F: He’s learning empathy for the customer.
L: What’s going on?
F: I’d think twice about that man, Elizabeth…
NAR: Finnegan Begin Again ends on an uplifting note, with Michael Finnegan embracing late-life renewal. In reality, Robert Preston died two years after production. Of lung cancer. But the film Finnegan Begin Again lived on. And lives on still, or does if you can get your hands on a VHS copy. They’re out there.
F: That’s just the way it is. Something ends, and we begin again, and again, and again. It’s about the only thing we can be sure of.
NAR: It’s unlikely Michael Finnegan had the Atlantic sturgeon in mind when he said that. And yet, it is true of them too. The sturgeon are back! They’re back in the James River. You can’t keep a prehistoric wonder down! They’ve been swimming around these parts since before they were parts. And they’re swimming again. In 2004, juvenile sturgeons were captured in the James, just east of the Falls. It was a sight not seen in these waters for more than one hundred years. And then, sturgeons began to be struck and killed by commercial vehicles. A macabre sign, but a sign nonetheless: the Atlantic sturgeon was back! A few years later, nearly two hundred adult sturgeons had been found in the James, and a few years after that, another population appeared in the nearby Pamunkey River, named for the indigenous people whose youth once rode the backs of the giant fish. Five more juveniles were discovered in the James just this October. Little tiny things, but with the potential of long lives ahead. The Atlantic sturgeon! They’re in there now, in the James River. In yeokanta. And they’ll outlast us. The swimmers in the river of time. They’re moving upstream. Such is the way to the stars.
NVDK: That’s it for Love and Radio. This episode featured Vixie Jill Glen.
VJG: Well, wickity wack, get into my sack.
NVDK: Free Egunfemi.
FE: Their motto was Death or Liberty.
NVDK: Karen Cooper.
KC: I should go out there and flag with her.
NVDK: Goad Gatsby.
GG: I was a on a tricycle with a little speaker on there.
NVDK: Arlie Gilford and Wesley Chavis.
WC: Would you sing a song with me?
AG: Yeah, a spiritual song.
C: I’m a possum killing machine.
NVDK: And, Dirtwoman.
DW: Oh, back in ’76 I got arrested for prostitution on the corner. And I poo-poo’d all over the backseat of the car, and… ever since, they’ve been calling me–
BR: So you kind of dirtied up the backseat of a police car.
DW: Yes sir, I sure did.
BR: And that’s how you, was it the police that gave you that name?
NVDK: The episode was produced by Steven Jackson, Rich Griset, Phil Dmochowski, and Julia DeWitt. Andrew Blossom wrote the narration, which was read by Chioke I’Anson. You can find a bibliography on our website, and that’s a thing I never thought I would say on this podcast. Simon Renshaw provided the voice of William Byrd II. The Amazing Grace song you heard is an excerpt of a longer piece called Transition Home, produced by Wesley Chavis. Jack and the Bag of Death was recorded by John Freyer. Special thanks also to Chris Dovi, Leah Lamb, Jason Tongen, Brent Raper, Cynthia Lotze, Eleanor McDowall, and Jerry Williams, whose Dirtwoman documentary Spider Mites of Jesus is out soon. Almost all the music you heard on this episode is from Richmond artists, including Chino Amobi, Agnarkea, Labradford, Pan American, and more. Visit our website for a full track list. Love and Radio is a production of Radiotopia, whose executive producer is Julie Shapiro. Thanks for listening, and thanks for all your love and support, your phone calls, your emails, your tweets, the angry ones, the critical ones, the complimentary ones, over the course of this whole season. I really appreciate it. We will be back at you with brand new episodes in April.
ED: So we are at Sub Rosa Bakery, I’m one of the owners. My name is Evrim Dogu. After we get a drink of coffee, we’re gonna go over to the mixer and we’re gonna mix three batches of croissant dough. Flour, salt, and we’ll also put a little bit more yeast. So now we’re just pouring the milk. Mix it together, let it rest. Mix it again and then, we got our dough. Pretty, pretty simple.
NVDK: Can you tell me the story of how Sub Rosa started? And like where the name’s from?
ED: Yeah. There’s a website called dictionary.com that sends you like words of the day. And a long time ago, they sent me the word sabrosa. When I say word, it’s words, but you know, one phrase, and uh, Sub Rosa means, you know, done in secret or in confidentiality. On the down-low in the parlance of our times.
NVDK: It literally translates to under the–
ED: Under the rose, yeah, because it came from the senatorial chambers in Rome where they would actually paint roses in certain rooms, and the rose was an old, old symbol of secrecy and silence. So, you know the god of silence in Greek mythology has a rose for a mouth. And then also I, we were selling the bread originally, only selling it by subscription and only by word of mouth, and you had to get on an email list, so it really was something that was kind of done under the cover of darkness. This was a secret bread club. But then I liked that, when we opened our doors publicly, when we started to, you know actually look at having a cafe, we thought, well, we still want it to be like a, that feeling of this is something shared among people who know what’s up, you know. Who know, um, where to get the good stuff.
ED: Check one, check two, do you wanna check out in the cafe? Should we check it out? Okay. Come on this, watch your step, alright. Now we’re gonna keep, oh yeah, keep coming this way.
NVDK: Alright. Bit dark.
ED: Yeah, so we are actually in, uh, the Church Hill tunnel in the east end entrance here. Keep coming this way. And uh, this was a tunnel that was an old train tunnel that actually collapsed in 1925, it was built during the reconstruction era. There were, um, a few people trapped inside, um, there are stories that there were more that we don’t know about, but, uh, I’m not a historian there. And yup, yeah so here we are, and this is the cafe, you know, portion.
NVDK: Oh, wow.
ED: Yeah. So.
NVDK: Can you describe what we’re looking, cause the, the, I was surprised, you can see the train.
ED: Yeah, the, of course, yeah we left the train itself, obviously you can’t see the whole thing, it’s um, buried, but, we left the train just as it is, um, we were going for something that is, you know, real, uh, that touches you. Well, you can’t, you don’t wanna touch it, you can actually cut yourself–you, we put the table right there, right, because the train is still there. This is beyond just historic preservation. Okay, this is, this fresh, this is new. I mean of course, we’re kind of deep down underground, but like it’s, the idea is fresh.
NVDK: And it’s still, I mean, and it’s still quite dusty, too.
ED: We, we, yeah, we wanted it to stay this way. And we’re really happy, we’re happy with it.
NVDK: Do you get as many customers down here, cause that’s… it’s a bit hard to find.
ED: Yeah. You know, the profit and loss is a little different down here, we, we got really busy in our first location. Um, to the point where, uh, I would say that it was a little difficult to keep up with some of the demands that our customers had, and so we got to the point where, we though, you know I sat down with my sister, I said, “Listen, what if we had a kind of, you know, it’s like, where we come from in Turkey, you know, you really, you can’t–sometimes you have to go through an alleyway and really find your way to a place. What if we had a place where people really, there’s no sign, it doesn’t even say Sub Rosa, you know, there’s just a, a tunnel, and then you have to keep going through and maybe you’re gonna get a little wet, maybe you’re gonna get a little dirty, but at the end of it, think about how good that’s gonna taste, to sit down in that kind of atmosphere. I mean it’s cool down here, right?
NVDK: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s not like any cafe I’ve–
ED: And so the idea is you’re gonna have to, you know, work a little harder. And then that croissant is gonna taste that much better.
NVDK: And, tell me about the, these like skeletons here.
ED: Those are just the skeletons that were here. Uh, so those are just found, I believe somebody sprayed some you know resin or whatever to help them stay there and not, you know.
NVDK: Do you get any complaints from people who, you know–
ED: It’s the same thing as, as the first shop. Everybody comes in, “Oh, this is too dark,” you know everybody has something that they don’t like, okay, the water is gonna be one thing, there’s gonna be the dust, we’ve only a couple things collapse a little bit more because of the extra commotion in here. I don’t appreciate like people saying this is a dangerous place to eat. It’s obviously not, you know, we’ve had no–well, very few incidents. And so yeah, I think, you’re just always gonna do that, when you do what you wanna do as a business owner, you make those decisions, you have to believe in it, you just go for it. Right. And this is a beautiful place.
NVDK: And so how–like how do you get the croissants down here?
ED: One of the things that we did retrofit into the–here, over here, step–um, we retrofitted this shaft, kind of like a dumbwaiter, if you will. You hear that, so that means that something’s coming down. Um, oh right now, okay. And it looks like we’ve got uh, a chocolate croissant, a plain croissant. Two lattes, perfect. You wanna walk it over with me?
NVDK: Sure. [Laugh].
Writer: Andrew Blossom
Narrator: Chioke I’Anson
Voice of William Byrd II: Simon Renshaw
Amazing Grace excerpt is from Transition Home, by Wesley Chavis.
Jack and the Bag of Death by Vixi Jill Glenn, recorded by John Freyer.
Portions of Goad Gatsby and Karen Coopers interviews are excerpted from the series Battle Flag, produced by Logan Jaffe and Zachary Sigelko.
Free Egunfemi, who told the story of Gabriel, is the founder of UntoldRVA, which organizes loads of tours and talks around town here.
Special thanks: Eleanor McDowall, Mark Holmberg, Chris Dovi, Leah Lamb, Jason Tongen, Brent Raper, Cynthia Lotze, and Jerry Williams (his Dirtwoman documentary is Spider Mites of Jesus).
Benjamin Campbell, Richmond’s Unhealed History, 2012.
Virginius Dabney, Richmond: The Story of a City, 1976.
Bob Deans, The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James, 2009.
Walter S. Griggs, Jr. The Collapse of Richmond’s Church Hill Tunnel, 2012.
James Horn, editor, Captain John Smith: Writings, with Other Narratives of Roanoke, Jamestown, and the First English Settlement of America, 2007.
Nelson Lankford, Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital, 2002.
T. Tyler Potterfield, Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape, 2009.
Selden Richardson, Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, 2011.
Gabriel Archer, “Discourse,” in Captain John Smith: Writings, with Other Narratives.
William Byrd II, The Diary of William Byrd II, 1709-1712, via the National Humanities Center.
Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, 1913, via Project Gutenberg.
John Smith, The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), via Virtual Jamestown.
William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, via Documenting the American South.
The New York Times, “Unexpected Ride on a Sturgeon. It was Dangerous Until the Man Beached the Fish on a Sandbar.” March 23, 1896.
The Richmond Dispatch, “Rock Battles.” March 28, 1862.
The Richmond Sentinel, “Throwing Stones.” June 24, 1864.
The Richmond Whig, “Rock Battle.” September 10, 1861.
Jamie Brunkow, “Rare find on the James River,” via the James River Association, 2018.
The Jefferson Hotel, “History,” via the Jefferson Hotel, 2018.
Joanne Kimberlin, “Prehistoric sturgeon fish making comeback in Va. Rivers,” The Virginian-Pilot, 2015.
Harry Kollatz, Jr. “W.W. Pool: Richmond’s Reputed Nosferatu,” Richmond Magazine, 2013.
Martha McCartney, “The Starving Time,” Encyclopedia Virginia, 2011.
Hunter Reardon, “Out of the Depths,” Richmond Magazine, 2016.
Tom Robbins, “Foreword,” Richmond Noir, 2010.
John Waldman, “Outdoors: The lofty mystery of why sturgeon leap,” The New York Times, 2001.
Finnegan Begin Again, 1985, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, written by Walter Lockwood.
My Dinner with Andre, 1981, directed by Louis Malle, written by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory.
Lobo Marino – Passing like the Setting Sun – The Mulberry House
Agnarkea – Germanic | Tajuu – Cold Feet, Numb Ankles
Agnarkea – Error – Survival
Labradford – El Lago – A Stable Reference
Pan•American – Het Volk – Quiet City
Pan•American – Remapping – Pan•American
Chino Amobi – Blackout – Paradiso
Agnarkea – Solar – Transhumanism
Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – From Here – Between You And The Shapes You Take
Labradford – Wien – Fixed::Context
Patrick Lovelace – High – Awakening Light
Patrick Lovelace – Deviousnesses – Awakening Light
Labradford – And Jonathan Morken. Photo Provided By – E Luxo So
Labradford – Comfort – A Stable Reference
Labradford – Eero – A Stable Reference
Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – Voice Loopsze – Between You And The Shapes You Take
Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – Five (was 5) – Between You And The Shapes You Take
Agnarkea – Third Eye – Transhumanism
Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – Clarinet Assembly – Between You And The Shapes You Take
Agnarkea – Awake (interlude) – Survival
[INTERLUDE] Lobo Marino – The Loon – The Mulberry House
Musicians from Marlboro – Clarinet Quintet in A Major – Mozart
Labradford – Recorded And Mixed At Sound Of Music, Richmond, Va – E Luxo So
Agnarkea – Float – Radical/info.vol6
Yui Onodera & Stephen Vitiello – Quiver #7 – Quiver
Labradford – Phantom Channel Crossing – Labradford
Agnarkea – 28 Days No Vaccine – Survival
Pan•American – Inside Elevation – Quiet City
Chino Amobi – The Floating World pt. 1 – Paradiso
Elzbieta Sikora – Rhapsody For The Death Of The Republic (Excerpt) – Polish Radio Experimental Studio (1957-2003)
Agnarkea – Damned – Cold Feet, Numb Ankles
Labradford – Scenic Recovery – Labradford
Agnarkea – War Games – Psychopomp Surprise
Yui Onodera & Stephen Vitiello – Quiver #3 – Quiver
Pan•American – Lake Supplies – Pan•American
Agnarkea – Vast – Psychopomp Surprise
Aix Em Klemm – 3X2 (Exit) – Aix Em Klemm
Agnarkea – Bloodibloogiwoogi – Radical/info.vol6
Agnarkea – Then Gave Chase – Survival