By Phil James
According to editors of several Virginia newspapers in 1910, it was said to have been the “most extraordinary combination of beast and bird ever seen in these parts.”
“These parts” being referenced were near the village of Hightown on U.S. Route 250 west of Staunton and close to the West Virginia line. That was where David Freeze was reported to have been surprised by a strange creature passing through the sky above him. The thing he described “had a head like a horse, feet and legs like a mule, and soared along on great red wings.” Everyone who heard about it knew that it had to be one of those infamous “Jersey devils,” interloping below the Mason-Dixon.
Now, before you stop reading and turn the page, you need to know that a year earlier, the Alexandria Gazette reported that John Edgerton, the village blacksmith, and Charles Robbins had been “paralyzed with fear” by the sight of a similar creature landing and then taking flight in a field not 40 yards from them. That same beast was reportedly seen again some distance away by other eyewitnesses.
If you haven’t run to check on the children and are still reading, then you may as well hear that the Daily Press in Newport News reported, nine months after the Alexandria sighting, that another one—they, too, said it was a Jersey devil—had been found dead in the woods near Burlington, NJ. Hundreds had seen and photographed the carcass.
Apparently the report of the extraordinary sighting in Hightown created too much of a stir over in Monterey, because a week later the Highland Recorder tried to debunk the whole affair by blasting the Staunton news authorities for writing it up in the first place. But, hey, if you read it in the newspaper….
Changing gears, now, if you can: newspapers have been referred to as the first draft of history. Others have opined that the daily news media present more of a first rough draft of history; the story, and subsequently, history, become refined as more facts and reliable eye-witnesses accounts are added to the big picture.
For those who seek out family and community histories, newspaper archives provide a vital portal to the past. Down through centuries, editors, reporters and advertising agents have assembled and published their best profile of the day’s events and personalities. Within the recorded local and world events, mentions are made regularly of the everyday rhythms of a community.
The weather was noted in earlier days not so much for the planning of leisure, but within the context of farming. Then, as now, when the poor farmer suffered—when Ma’s Victory Garden wilted—everyone felt it, city and countryside alike.
The city editors needed to sell papers outside of the downtown crowd, so they looked to those cognizant of their neighbors in the outlying precincts and villages. For pennies per column-inch of news, school teachers, merchants, postal workers and general gadabouts reported back what they heard.
And who doesn’t want to stay up on their neighbors’ business! So papers got sold, community was enriched (only occasionally at the expense of someone’s privacy), and a rich harvest of names and activities awaited future researchers.
July 1884: The Charlottesville Jeffersonian reported on ruffians who had threatened and alarmed passengers riding on the C&O train between Charlottesville and Staunton. When told by the train’s staff to refrain, they refused. Armed with a “billet of wood,” the chief conductor and a porter confronted the rowdies and ejected them from the train alongside the tracks between Mechum’s River and Crozet, whereupon the culprits proceeded to stone the train as it pulled away.
February 1892: Mr. D. McGregor, of Avon, will ship a large lot of lumber to the “Old Country” this month.
April 1901: A boiler explosion at a sassafras mill near Gilbert’s Station (north of Charlottesville) threw engine parts 150 yards, seriously injuring four workers. The mill’s owner, J.H. Riney, was “found senseless” and not expected to recover.
February 1901: William M. Lafferty and Sarah E. Owens, of Crozet, were married at noon at the residence of the bride’s father… The wedding breakfast served at 11 o’clock was sumptuous.
September 1902: The handsome carriage, runabout and spirited horses belonging to C.D. Langhorne of Mirador may be seen each evening on the splendid roads in and around the village of Hillsboro.
September 1903: Bishop Gibson left Richmond for a tour of his charges around the State. On the 30th he will inspect Mission Home at the foot of Lost Mountain. That evening he will hold a service at the schoolhouse on Lost Mountain.
April 1906: Mr. Joseph F. Wood of Sugar Hollow, a teamster of skill and experience, has, since last summer, brought over the mountain to Crimora more than a half million manufactured shingles.
June 1906: Albemarle Sweet Cider by barrel or carload; also, superior snow white corn meal. Write for prices. Greenwood Grist and Cider Mills. Greenwood Depot, VA.
January 1913: The death of Miss Lottie Moon, age 73, next to the oldest in service of Baptist missionaries in China, occurred at Kobe, Japan, while she was being brought to America for treatment. She is a native of Albemarle County.
May 1916: Little Viola, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S.H. Jones of Free Union, is out again after a very severe attack of diphtheria.
March 1919: Private Ernest Louis Hicks of Decca arrived back stateside in Newport News. The J.T. Hicks family rejoiced along with their friends for his safe return from The War.
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