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Deep Into Enemy Territory: Baltimore

Published on February 26, 2013 by

Located a mere 2 1/2 hours from our fair city lies our mortal enemy: Baltimore.

A few points:
1. We’ve already covered how Baltimore stole Richmond native Poe just because he died there. (And I still have my suspicions, Baltimore!)
2. C. F. Sauer has been a Richmond based spice company since 1887. McCormick and Company was founded in 1889 and also sells spices. Our sign is cooler.
3. The “Washington” Redskins (when are they ever in Washington?) will soon be training in RVA. All the more reason to hate the Browns… I mean Ravens. (Naming them after a Poe poem is salt in the wound, man.)

However, if you feel like doing some recon work, Baltimore is a pretty nifty place to visit. The Inner Harbor is what our Canal Walk should be (only ours should be better, of course). And Federal Hill , with its insanely narrow streets and complete lack of parking, is a really interesting place to explore.

I forgot my camera, but I was able to get some good shots with my phone. As you will see, the National Aquarium was clearly my favorite spot. But first, I travelled 150 miles… I’m going to Poe’s grave.

Curse you Baltimore!  And your padlocks, too!

Curse you Baltimore! And your padlocks, too!

And of course, it’s locked. You know what? Screw you, Baltimore! Who locks down a church graveyard, let alone in a Sunday! Sigh… I was able to perch atop the spiked fence and see it. We then went to Baltimore’s version of The Poe Musuem…

And kept driving. That is a rough looking neighborhood.

Fort McHenry is infinitely more interesting than Fort Lee. I highly recommend the video at the beginning. It was actually very well done.

Oh say, can you see?

Oh say, can you see?

It was SO cold, but really cool.  And I was glad to use my National Park Pass!

It was SO cold, but really cool. And I was glad to use my National Park Pass!

And then there’s The National Aquarium. It’s not cheap, but I think it was definitely worth it.

If it lands on your dish, but it's not quite a fish... that's a moray!

If it lands on your dish, but it’s not quite a fish… that’s a moray!

He tried to touch me with his noodly appendage!

He tried to touch me with his noodly appendage!

 

Actually, he appears to be asleep.

Actually, he appears to be asleep.

OMG, puffins!

OMG, puffins!

 

I would normally consider this a bad photo, I was waiting for him to get all the way into the frame.  He yawned (do sharks yawn?) so I had to take the picture quick!

I would normally consider this a bad photo, I was waiting for him to get all the way into the frame. He yawned (do sharks yawn?) so I had to take the picture quick!

And then there was the ridiculously photogenic jellyfish exhibit...

And then there was the ridiculously photogenic jellyfish exhibit…

 

The lady who let us into the exhibit was telling us about the jellybeans inside.

The lady who let us into the exhibit was telling us about the jellybeans inside.

Not a jellybean.

Not a jellybean.

 

Jellyfish rampant on an azure background.  Never fly the flag upside down, unless the apartment is in danger.

Jellyfish rampant on an azure background. Never fly the flag upside down, unless the apartment is in danger.

The photo ops were astounding!

The photo ops were astounding!  I felt like I was in Metroid!

 

Beautiful, but NOPE!  I'm never going into the ocean again.

Beautiful, but NOPE! I’m never going into the ocean again.

All in all Baltimordor is an interesting place.  You definitely get the feel that it is a more northern city than Richmond, which is surprising because it is so close.  The people (they call themselves Baltimorians, not Baltimorons) definitely do not have the same southern hospitality that really starts in Richmond and gets stronger the further south you go.  NIce place to visit, but I think I’ll stay in RVA!

 
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The Byrd Theatre: Richmond’s Grand Movie Palace

Published on February 25, 2013 by

Well, the Oscars are over.  Boy, wasn’t that a hoot?  Remember when that one lady did that one thing?  And can you believe that THAT guy won instead of that other guy for best person who did acting?  Man, that was an emotional roller coaster!  And did you see what she was wearing?  And I totally cannot believe that speech was so long!  They should have started playing the music MUCH earlier.

Ok… I might have spent yesterday watching The Walking Dead and not the Academy Awards… but I did SEE some of the movies!  And, personally, I think a better way to celebrate cinema is by going back to a time when people built theatres instead of theaters.  A time when people dressed in suits to go see a moving picture show, and thought that talkies were a fad.  Fortunately for RVA residents there is a place where we can do just that…

Not just a theatre, but a palace!

Not just a theatre, a palace!

For just $1.99 you can experience all the wonders that Hollywood has to offer AND be treated to the amazingly ornate Byrd Theater.  (For some reference, tickets at one time were only 44 cents.  This was back in the 40’s, so if you adjust for inflation that is almost $8 a ticket!)

And it will be a better love story than Twilight!

My love for The Byrd is a better love story than Twilight!

Built in 1928 for the staggering price of $900,000 (that’s over $11,000,000 in today’s dollars!) the Byrd is just another example of a time when we really paid attention to details.  I still remember the first time I went to the Byrd, which is not something I can really say about any other movie theater.  It is so ornate that they had to remove things to make way for the modern movie-going experience, like the water feature and aquarium that used to occupy the space where the concession stand is now.  (I am ok with this.  They have the best popcorn in the city!)

And Goobers!

And Goobers!

The Byrd was the first movie theater in Virginia to have sound.  Back then people thought that being able to hear your movies was just a fad, kind of like 3D movies today.  The first movie played at the Byrd was Waterfront, a silent movie with sound (music and sound effects) added through the Vitaphone system that would eventually be replaced by a Dolby Sound System donated by Ray Dolby himself.  For those movies that did not have sound, the Byrd had The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.  Every Saturday and Sunday night The Mighty Wurlitzer rises from the orchestra pit.  From it’s controls the organist can play not only the organ but the piano located in the stage right alcove, a 6 foot xylophone, a marimba hidden under the stage left alcove, drums, horns, bells and other effects.  The harp though is ornamental.

View from the balcony.

View from the balcony.

Another fairly amazing feature is the cantilevered balcony.  When sitting underneath the balcony your view will not be obstructed by supports because… there are none!  The balcony is supported through the back wall of the theater and the front.

The most impressive feature (to me) is probably the 18 foot, two-and-half-ton mass of Czechoslovakian crystal that makes up the main chandelier.  Over 5,000 crystals and 500 red, blue, green, and amber lights were used to make the beautifully ornate piece.  This is something that I would expect in a grand opera house, not somewhere where Ben Affleck is on the screen.  (Congrats to Argo, winner of Best Movie in Spite of Having Ben Affleck involved.)

Behold!  She is singing to bring down the chandelier!

Behold! She is singing to bring down the chandelier!

I did not see Jennifer Lawrence winning in my crystal ball, but I would not have minded.

I did not see Jennifer Lawrence winning in my crystal ball, but I would not have minded.

I could easily spend 3 1/2 hours just gawking at all of the small details that make the Byrd what it is… I probably would have done that if I had been forced to watch Titanic there.

They even thought to put in fax wax dripping from the electric lighting!

They even thought to put in fake wax dripping from the electric lighting!

As far as I can tell, this alcove (like the many others) serves no purpose except to look awesome.

As far as I can tell, this alcove (like the many others) serves no purpose except to look awesome.

Stained glass windows.  It's like a temple of cinema!

Stained glass windows. It’s like a temple of cinema!

The main lobby chandelier, because having just ONE chandelier was just not enough.

The main lobby chandelier, because having just ONE chandelier was just not enough.  Also note the elaborate ceiling.

If you’re looking for a great date night, or just someplace to go and catch a flick (hell, if you just want an excuse to have popcorn for dinner!) I encourage you to put on a suit, a fedora (no skinny jeans), and head out to The Byrd!  The show must go on.

The Stage

The Byrd Theatre
2908 W Cary St
Richmond, VA 23221

Special thanks go out to Todd A. Schall-Vess and The Byrd Theatre Foundation.  Check them out online for show times and some pretty great historic pictures and more information at http://byrdtheatre.com/.  While there, consider donating!  I would certainly not complain to see them replace the seating!

 

 
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Heron Project 2013: An Introduction to Pipeline

Published on February 1, 2013 by

Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, brunch and mimosas, just about anything and wine… It’s always a pleasure to combine things that I love.  That’s what makes Pipeline Rapids such a special place for me.  It combines the James River with birds.  Birds, you say?

I thought that everybody'd heard about the birds...

I thought that everybody’d heard about the birds…

For those of you who have not been, Pipeline Rapids is a series of Class IV rapids that stretch for an eighth of a mile on the fall-line of the James.  The Pipeline walkway is probably the easiest way to get to these rapids, but you will probably see paddlers in just about all types of weather looking to test themselves on the challenging rapids.  The real treat (for me at least) is the active heronry located on nearby Bailey’s Island.

Fun Fact #1:  A heronry is a rookery for herons.  A rookery is a colony of breeding birds, but the term can actually be used more specifically for a colony of breeding rooks.  (Think a crow, only in Europe and parts of Asia.)  Heronry is the specific term for a colony of breeding herons.

Fun Fact #2:  A group of herons is known as a siege.

Fun Fact #3:  Myself, and many others, have described the heronry as being on Vauxhall Island.  Heck, even Ralph White described the island as such on his Heronry Tours.  However, according to the Richmond Parcel Mapper Vauxhall Island is one island east of Bailey’s Island, which is listed as being owned by the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation.  Vauxhall is located underneath the railroad spur that crosses the river, and is currently home to a small tent-city.  Vauxhall has it’s own history that I’ll talk about at another time.

Things are just getting started at the heronry.  I was there on January 22nd (happy birthday to me!) and there was nothing to report.  I saw one heron, but he wasn’t nesting… he was generally just being scared.  I came back the following week and suddenly there are at least 27 birds in the trees!  I heard reports on Saturday January 26 of at least 21 birds, so within less than a week the gathering started!

How many did you count?

How many did you count?

Every year since at least 2011 the herons have been camping out here.  It is rare to have such a large congregation of these birds within sight of a major city, as they usually prefer to be alone.  The abundance of fish in the area, especially when the shad are running, is one of the reasons they seem to tolerate us.  By the end of the season there will most likely be anywhere from 80 – 100 birds on the island, and perhaps some Egrets as well.

This guy (or gal) is still single! Meet other like-minded heron on PhotoRVA.com!

This guy (or gal) is still single! Meet other like-minded heron on PhotoRVA.com!

They are easy to spot now, but come spring those trees will fill in. Now is the perfect time to check it out!

They are easy to spot now, but come spring those trees will fill in. Now is the perfect time to check it out!

 

Check out Pipeline Rapids and the Walkway by going to the end of 12th Street where the Canal Walk begins.  You will see a large cross statue.  (I’ll talk about all these things, too!)  Head to the left (east) and the entrance will be on the right with a brand new sign courtesy of Phil Riggan!  (The word heronry is not on that sign!)

I will be posting weekly updates (in addition to exploring the rest of RVA, I promise) which will include numbers, pairings, nesting behaviors, and anything else that strike my fancy!  I’ll also (of course) have pictures.  This week we had 27 birds, mainly in the trees.  No sign of nest repairs/making.  There were at least 3 pairs, one of which was engaging in courtship rituals (we’ll talk about that next week), and one pair was engaging in… more amorous activities.  (We will not be talking about that one.)


View Great Blue Heronry in a larger map

 
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A Tale of Two City Halls, Part Two: Downtown Abbey

Published on January 11, 2013 by

Sure, it doesn’t have a retinue of colorful servants who serve a rich upper-class trying to adjust to the changing times and society as the world shifts around them.  However, in a city named after the English homeland, in a state named after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, on the banks of King James’ River one should not be surprised to find our own Downton Abbey located in Downtown.  Richmond has its own turn-of-the-century Victorian Gothic castle.

I talked last week about the monstrosity that is the current iteration of City Hall.  Let’s rewind a bit and take a look at what came before.  As with a lot of stories coming out of Richmond right now during this General Assembly session, our tale begins at the Capitol Building.

Look, ma!  No wings!  Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Look, ma! No wings! Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

It’s April 1870.  The Civil War has only recently ended; Richmond has only been out from under military rule for a few months.  We’re just starting in on Reconstruction.  Unlike modern times, there is a heated fight for the position of Mayor of the former capital of the CSA.  The argument is taken to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which was then housed on the second floor of Richmond’s Capital Building.  A substantial crowd gathers to hear the argument.  The weight of the crowd proves too much for the balcony and the entire thing comes crashing down onto the floor of the court, which then in turn goes crashing down to the floor of the House of Delegates located on the first floor.  The injured crawled, limped, or were carried to the Capitol lawn.  In total, 62 people were killed and 251 were wounded.

So, what does this have to do with City Hall?  After the collapse of 1870 Richmond there was a movement to tear down the Capitol.  The City couldn’t bring itself to tear down the Roman inspired building that Jefferson himself had designed to sit atop Shockoe Hill.  The City Hall building, on the other hand…

First City Hall, looking all Greek.  Image courtesy of Vintage Designs.

First City Hall, looking all Greek. Image courtesy of Vintage Designs.

The original Richmond City Hall, or First City Hall as we will call it, was built in 1816.  It was based off of classical Greek architecture complete with columns and symmetrical dome.  It was designed by Robert Mills, the same guy who designed the Washington Monument.  Unfortunately, Mr. Mills had never been President and so his building did not have the same sense of veneration.  In the hysteria regarding old building it was decided that it should be torn down.

Plans for the original City Hall.  Richmond huffed and puffed...  Image courtesy of The Library of Virginia.

Plans for the original City Hall. Richmond huffed and puffed… Image courtesy of The Library of Virginia.

Side note:  Actually, the building had been slated for demolition in the early 1850s.  City leaders had deemed it to be about to fall over due to lack of upkeep.  Ironically, the actual demolition in 1874 found the building to be quite solid and difficult to tear down…  but they went ahead and did it anyway.   Richmond City politics and wise decision making go WAY back.

It took City Hall a few (9) years, but they eventually decided on a new design for a building.  Actually, they had rejected the design first submitted by Elijah E. Myers, who won the design competition in 1884, after they couldn’t anyone to build it within the $300,000 budget.  (That’s almost 7.4 million in today’s money!)    Another competition was held and a Boston company won, so in August of 1886 the city began work on Elijah E. Myers’ plan… wait, what?  If you’re looking for a good explanation, you are not going to find it here.

How very Gothic!  Only thing missing are gargoyles and a bat cave.

How very Gothic! Only thing missing are gargoyles and a bat cave.

If I had to guess, I would say that it had something to do with our favorite City of Richmond Engineer, Colonel Wilfred E. Cutshaw.  It should not strike you as odd that the designer of the New Pump House just a couple years earlier was heavily involved in the construction of Old City Hall (which was new at the time…), since they both share similar design elements and look like a good place for Batman to hang out.  The project was completed in 1894, a mere 8 years later, with a final cost of $1,318,349.19 (that’s $33.7 million in today’s dollars!) or about 400% over budget.  Some of this was due to Col. Cutshaw hiring day laborers, but another significant cost has been designated as graft: Practices, esp. bribery, used to secure illicit gains in politics or business; corruption.  Again, Richmond politics run deep.

Granite was mined from near the James River in Petersburg and brought by railroad up Broad Street to the location.  The design features four asymmetrical towers.  My personal favorite is the clock tower (the clocks were installed in 1890 and originally featured wooden hands), which unfortunately was not struck by a bolt of lightning on November 12, 1955 at exactly 10:04 PM.

My favorite tower always knows the time.

My favorite tower always knows the time.

Again, an aside:  The main tower stands at 195 feet above the pavement.  This fact played into the curious case of one Colonel James Monroe Winstead.  (Turn of the century Richmond was just teeming with Colonels.)  Col. Winstead was a 70 year old bank president in Greensborough, NC.  He came to Richmond, checked into a hotel, had breakfast and the next day went to Old City Hall, climbed to an observation deck 94 feet up the clock tower, discarded shoes and cane and jumped to his death.  He was impaled upon the iron fence below and removed “with much difficulty”.  It was also reported that every bone in his body was broken save for his skull.  There has been speculation about whether this was actually suicide, something more sinister, or (as his family maintained) he was just trying to catch his hat which had been blown off.  (The Shockoe Examiner had a good article on this in 2010.)

Um... ouch!

Um… ouch!

Old City Hall served as City Hall from 1894 – 1970 when it was replaced with the current ugly building.  There were at least two big pushes to completely demolish Old City Hall (as it was no known), with a lot of people deriding it for being an eyesore.  Keep in mind that this was coming from people who invented such things as large rectangle buildings and shag carpeting.  It was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of concerned citizens and is being repurposed into private offices.  The first floor is open to the public during regular business hours.

As you can see, the inside is also quite ornate!

As you can see, the inside is also quite ornate!

Much of what was there when it was built has been preserved.  The inside is a testament to the many new skills that Richmond had to learn on the fly.  Working with granite, cast iron, and glass the inside is a beautiful representation of Richmond in the Guilded Age.

The colors have been mostly kept to what you would have originally found.

The colors have been mostly kept to what you would have originally found.

Most of the lighting is original to the building as well.

Most of the lighting is original to the building as well.

The floor of the first level is glass, which is mirrored in the glass ceiling.

The floor of the first level is glass, which is mirrored in the glass ceiling.

The amount of detail in the floor alone is probably another reason why this building took 8 years and 400% of the budget!

The amount of detail in the floor alone is probably another reason why this building took 8 years and 400% of the budget!

The view upwards to the fourth floor and glass ceiling is somewhat staggering.

The view upwards to the fourth floor and glass ceiling is somewhat staggering.

The history of the three City Halls is a great representation of the struggles that Richmond has with its past.  We create these ornate pieces of architectural history and the moment the style falls out of favor it seems like we clamor to tear it down to put up whatever is next in style.  Personally, I find Old City Hall to be much statelier and awe inspiring than the current iteration, and am doubly saddened that First City Hall is no more.   I am thoroughly relieved that Old City Hall is still standing, but I am aghast that anyone in their right mind would want to tear it down.  Sometimes, Richmond… you confuse me.

 
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A Tale of Two City Halls: Part One, Bringing in the New

Published on January 4, 2013 by

It was the best of times,

It was the worst of times.

It was Hardywood craft beer,

It was a 40 of PBR.

Welcome to 2013, everybody!  We survived a Mayan Apocalypse, a Fiscal Cliff, and another ad filled election season.  Bully on us!  With the changing of the calendar year comes a changing of the political guard.  While Washington is still looking generally the same, here in RVA we are welcoming three new additions to our City Council.  (Read the RVANews article, here.  This is as deep into current politics as we’re going to get.)

I thought now might be a good time to take a look at City Hall: The Structure, which changes only slightly less than City Hall: The People.  RVA has had three City Halls in its history, and perhaps no buildings in Richmond better personify Richmond’s struggle to stay modern while being steeped in its history.

When someone refers to City Hall they are usually referring to the building which currently houses the City of Richmond Government and its employees.  Since we will be moving through time, this won’t always work.  For clarity’s sake I will refer to the buildings as such: “New City Hall” is the building which currently (January 4, 2013) contains some 800 government employees.  It was built in 1970 and is at 900 East Broad Street.  “Old City Hall” was built in 1894 and is located at 1001 East Broad Street.  “First City Hall” was built in 1816 and was eventually demolished.  (More on that later.)  First City Hall stood about where New City Hall now sits, bringing everything back in a circle of life kind of way.

Let’s talk New City Hall First.

Hey, guys!  Let's build a box!  Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries.

Hey, guys! Let’s build a box! Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries.

Built in 1970 to replace the oft hated working conditions of Old City Hall, the original design for New City Hall was described as, “a straightforward, uniform structure,” in an article for Architectural Record by Sara Hart.  Translation: that building was ugly.

Seriously, look at that thing! Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries.

Seriously, look at that thing! Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries.

Marshall Street looked much different back then!  Photo courtesy of (you guessed it) VCU Libraries.

Marshall Street looked much different back then! Photo courtesy of (you guessed it) VCU Libraries.

When originally built, New City Hall was a Georgia marble-clad box with deeply recessed windows.  Not only was it ugly, but it also became quickly structurally unsound.  The thin marble veneer that just made the box look so lovely was cracking and pulling away from the rest of the building.  Enter SMBW. (Scribner, Messer, Brady & Wade Architects and not fans of the Oxford comma.)  They recommended the removal of a majority of the granite and instead opted for aluminum.  The removed the edges of the box and created the structure that we see today.  (One could call this “Newest City Hall”, but things are complicated enough as it is.)  While I personally would still not call the structure attractive… it is still a vast improvement over the monstrosity of design from the folks who brought you The BeeJees and Saturday Night Fever.

Look less bad, Richmond!  Photo courtesy of me.

Look less bad, Richmond! The cars aren’t quite as interesting, though.  Photo courtesy of me.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh.  I mean, yeah… I think it’s pretty ugly (but not as ugly as before!)… but the view.  As the fifth tallest building in the City of Richmond, New City Hall stands at 19 stories, or 315 feet.  (96 meters, Britain.  Cheerio!)  On top of that (literally!), the top floor is home to a glass encased observatory that is open to the public during regular business hours.  From the top of this not-quite-as-ugly-but-still-rather-ugly rectangle you can see Richmond spreading out in front of you.  The James River, I-95 running into the distance… it’s all there.  It gives a whole new perspective on the city.

That's something I could stare at for some time.  There are picnic tables that make for a great place to eat lunch.

That’s something I could stare at for some time. There are picnic tables that make for a great place to eat lunch.

 

In the background is the tallest building in Richmond, The Monroe Building.  Also shown is...

In the background is the tallest building in Richmond, The Monroe Building. Also shown is…

As you may also have noticed, there is a rather ornate building that is clearly visible from the observation deck of New City Hall.  That, my friends, would be Old City Hall.  It stands there, a prime example of Gothic Revival.  With a number of granite towers equal to the number of times the building has been slated for demolition.  (That would be 2.)  One even has a clock tower, which always gets me in the mood to perform weather experiments involving a bolt of lightning. (Great Scott!)  Its ornate-itude stands in sharp contrast to the big box I’m currently standing on top of.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…  tune in next week for The New Adventures of Old City Hall!

 
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One of the Many Facets of Maymont

Published on December 21, 2012 by

The Capital of Virginia has many jewels in its crown.  Some of them, like the James River, are rough cut and remind us of the wild that existed before civilization popped up around it.  Some of them, like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, are cultured and completely change appearance depending on the light.   I like to think of Maymont Park as a highly facetted diamond, if you look at it long enough one of the facets will catch your eye.

Maymont is many things.  It is a historical mansion constructed in the 1890’s at the request of “Major” James H. Dooley (Aside:  While Mr. Dooley did in fact serve in the Confederate Army like every other good Richmond gentleman of his time, he never actually obtained the rank of Major.  In fact, he never attained any rank in the CSA!  The Major is an honorific title, so I must insist on the quotation marks.) and named for his wife Sallie May.  The house itself is now a museum with costumed staff leading tours and walking the grounds, especially around Christmas.  Think of Downton Abbey without the accents.  It is also a sprawling 100 acre park set pretty much in the geographical middle of RVA and is an extremely popular site for family picnics overlooking the James.  It is also a horticulturalists dream with Italian and Japanese Gardens and a plethora of plant life.  My favorite though, is that Maymont is a sort-of-kind-of zoo within the actual city limits.

More specifically Maymont is a Nature Center, Petting Zone, and refuge for animals that have been injured and cannot return to the wild.  Maymont is home to… (deep breath) goats, cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, peacocks, peahens (female peacocks, not a separate creature but it’s so fun they have their own name!), Sitka deer, a bobcat (supposedly… I’ve never actually seen it and am convinced that someone laughs hysterically anytime someone comes to that exhibit), gray foxes, ducks, turtles, bald eagles, vultures, hawks, owls, bison (!), otters, and bears… oh my.  (Breathing in.)  Here are some photos focusing on the wildlife of Maymont.  As you will see, my favorite section is obviously the raptors.

A bison, or buffalo if you will.  I hadn't seen one of these since Yellowstone!

A bison, or buffalo if you will. I hadn’t seen one of these since Yellowstone!

If you ever needed a visual representation of a happy goat, it would be this one!

If you ever needed a visual representation of a happy goat, it would be this one!

Bambi is all grown up!

Bambi is all grown up!

Bear with me a moment here... This is where I always see this guy, it must be right around lunch time.

Bear with me a moment here… This is where I always see this guy, it must be right around lunch time.

The Gray Fox is perhaps the cutest of the non-avian Maymont animals!

The Gray Fox is perhaps the cutest of the non-avian Maymont animals!

The "king" of the Virginian birds.  Maymont has two Bald Eagles.

The “king” of the Virginian birds. Maymont has two Bald Eagles.

Personally I prefer hawks like this Red Shouldered one.  Eagles are awesome, but they seem much more aware of it.

Personally I prefer hawks like this Red Shouldered one. Eagles are awesome, but they seem much more aware of it.

Give me the quiet and humble awesomeness of a Cooper's Hawk any day.

Give me the quiet and humble awesomeness of a Cooper’s Hawk any day.

Or the elusive wonder of seeing a Great Horned Owl.

Or the elusive wonder of seeing a Great Horned Owl.

And you know what?  Vultures get a bad rap.  They are just as awesome, and they have a very important part in the food chain!

And you know what? Vultures get a bad rap. They are just as awesome, and they have a very important part in the food chain!

My favorite shot of the day was of this Red Shouldered Hawk (I think...) in his own personal rehab area.

My favorite shot of the day was of this Red Shouldered Hawk (I think…) in his own personal rehab area.

 

I hope you enjoyed this brief little tour of some of Maymont’s animals!  It’s worth mentioning that they are all native to the Commonwealth of Virginia, so keep your eyes open for them in the wild.  I didn’t have time to visit the Nature Center, but $3 to spend a day staring at river otters is an awesome deal!

I hope each and every one of you has a wonderful holiday season, a merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year!

 
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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

Published on December 5, 2012 by

‘Tis the season, RVA!  I find from time to time that I have stuff to share but don’t have a whole story to write up.  So excuse me if, from time to time, the site resembles a Tumblr!

You may have noticed that RVA has gotten itself into the seasonal mood and decked itself out.  Here are a series of pictures from the Grand Illumination, the Manchester Floodwall at night, and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s always awesome Dominion Gardenfest of Lights!

Happy holidays!

First, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

The theme this year is East meets West.

2,780 cranes make for an awesome chandelier.

Enter the dragon…

Over 500,00 lights! I ain’t lion!

It was a starry, starry night.

One shot could not contain this whole tree. This is about 5 different photos.

It’s fun going year after year as you see familiar faces in new locations, like this peacock!

On nights when it is not 70 degrees out there is a fire for warming up and for toasting marshmallows. This is the view from said fire.

Ooooh, bokeh!

It wouldn’t be a garden without some vegetables.

And ‘shrooms. One makes you bigger, the other gives you an extra life.

Hey, listen!

I’m not giving you tree fiddy!

These little guys were on sale in the gift shop. They are so cute! I would not be against someone sending me a few of these!

Moving Downtown we have The Grand Illumination. Insanely crowded, but fun!

White reindeer pack the area near the James Center. With a countdown and a flick of a switch we have a winter wonderland!

But you have to cross the water for the REAL show. This is under the Manchester Bridge. No trolls.

The Suntrust Building on the south-side were reflecting a gorgeous sunset.

And here you have it. Richmond as night approaches. We have lights, we have river, we have the sunset reflecting on the BB&T buildings. Richmond is beautiful in the winter.

 

 
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A Bit Personal

Published on November 28, 2012 by

Hello, everyone!

I refuse to be one of those blogs that just kind of disappears.  I know it’s been a bit since my last update, I’m going to try and be more consistent I swear!

I wanted to make a post about something that is a bit more personal, and a bit less RVA.  If that’s not your thing, that’s cool… but you might want to stop reading now.  I’ll be back very shortly with another thrilling adventure, I swear.

If you’ve read my tagline, you see that I mention that I’m exploring this city with my camera and my dog.  He even made an appearance in my foray to the Church Hill Tunnel.

Look familiar?

Sadly, I have to change that tagline now.  His name was Walken, and he was the coolest dog ever.  Unfortunately, he isn’t with us anymore, but I wanted to post something about him because he was a big part of our life and I miss him dearly.

This is Walken.

This is Walken.   He was ten, but this is him when he was still young and his color hadn’t faded.  Walken was a happy dog, and loved to run and jump.  We were always impressed with how high he could jump.  It was quite entertaining, except when he would use this talent to jump over fences and run around the neighborhood.  He became less of an escape artist after the age of two, but he was never the kind of dog that you could trust off leash.  He is the only dog I know that liked to climb trees.  I went into the backyard one day and couldn’t find him.  He had jumped into a large oak and was looking down at me.

Walken was a bum.

Walken was a bum.  If there was food, he was there.  He would sit and stare at you just waiting for you to succumb to his puppy dog eyes.  He loved to be in the kitchen when you were cooking, hence the flour on his head.  I’ve never known a dog so motivated by food.

Walken loved the mountains.

Walken loved the mountains.  He was part mountain goat.  Scrambling up rocks and sniffing out deer was his idea of a fantastic time!  He also LOVED the car rides to get there.  It is weird to be able to say the words “car ride” now and not hear him start to freak out with excitement.

Walken loved the beach.

Walken loved the beach.  More to the point, Walken loved the things that live on the beach.  He was always excited to head down to the sand to run after crabs and the occasional piece of sea foam.  He also enjoyed digging holes.  It was fun to call him over and paw at the ground a bit, he would inevitably start digging and shove his head into the hole as far as it would go.  He would come up with a snout full of sand and huff and puff for a bit.  He would then run to the next potential spot and repeat the process.  However…

Walken did NOT like the water.

Walken did NOT like the water.  An inch, a foot, a river, an ocean, or a bath… Walken did not care for water.  He would stand in it looking dejected and start drinking it.  It was like he was saying, “I’m only here because I’m thirsty.  I do not enjoy this.”

Walken loved snow.

Walken loved snow.  And yes, he had a rain coat and a sweater.  He tolerated both, but he loved the snow.  He would bound through drifts of snow bigger than him.  He did not enjoy sitting on my lap as we went sledding in Bryan Park, but he did seem to enjoy jumping off about halfway through.  Watching him tumble and race after me was good times for me, my wife, and the hundreds of little kids who got to see it.

Walken was a hunter.  If you have never heard a beagle on the trail of a deer, you would be surprised.  One beagle sounds about as loud as ten.  The first time we ever witnessed this was when he broke his collar in a state park during a hike.  (I HIGHLY recommend a good harness!)  He ran off into the woods and we followed him for a good 15-30 minutes.  We thought we had lost him (this was the first time he had ever escaped!) when all of a sudden we heard what sounded like a pack of 20 dogs.  Next thing you know, three big gray deer come running right towards us with Walken in hot pursuit.

Walken loved bunnies, too.

Walken loved bunnies.  This guy hangs out near our house.  I promise to chase him for you, Walken.  Walken also enjoyed hunting deer (we’ve covered that already), really big deer (cows), and really, really big deer that people like to ride.  (Horses)  An opossums, raccoons, snakes, and frogs.  He was a bit odd like that.  He once brought me the body of a snake.  I never found the head.  He loved to chase frogs, but never did anything with them once he got to them.

Walken was tireless.

Walken was tireless.  He loved to be at the front of the pack, leading the way.  One time, through poor planning and a series of wrong turns, we found ourselves unexpectedly on an 11 mile hike near dusk.  We were struggling at the end, but Walken was ALWAYS up front looking back wondering what was taking us two-legged folk so long.

I take it back, Walken was often tired.

Sleeping was another one of Walken’s hobbies.  He would often sleep under the blankets with us or, if we were not around, he would jump into bed and sleep on my wife’s pillow or in a nest of blankets he crafted for himself.  It was also not unheard of for him to go into the dirty clothes and retrieve articles of clothing to sleep with.  I caught him once when he thought I wasn’t home coming downstairs with a pair of my jeans in his mouth.  It is weird knowing where all my clothes are and not discovering a pair of underwear downstairs on the couch.  Walken also liked to watch TV with us, sitting on the top of the back of the couch in his own special location.

He was a righteous dude…

All in all, he was one super cool little guy.  My wife and I both loved him very much, and having to take care of him in his final minutes was one of the hardest things we have ever had to do.  He was a big part of our lives, and we miss him terribly.  It’s sad to come home and not have him there freaking out and showering us with affection.  I take comfort in knowing that he had a great time with us, and he was one of the happiest dogs I’ve ever known.

Walken, I love you and I wish you could have been with us longer.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have some dust in my eye or something…  I’ll be back shortly with further RVA exploits.

PS:  If you are in Richmond and ever find yourself experiencing a veterinary medical emergency during times when your local vet is not open, I cannot recommend the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center highly enough.  We have, unfortunately, had occasion to use the one on Cary Street a few times.  They are kind, caring, and thorough.

VESC Carytown
3312 West Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23221
(p) 804.353.9000  (f) 804.353.9271

http://animal-emergency.com/

 
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RePOEsessing RVA

Published on November 7, 2012 by

“Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence…”

“TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” – Edgar Allan Poe

The cardinal is the official bird of Virginia.  The dogwood is the official flower.  Milk is the official beverage.  (Really?)  The Foxhound is the official dog.  The Virginia Big-Eared Bat is the official bat.  The brook trout is the official fish, and “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” the official song.  Who, then, is the official author?  Well, there isn’t one.  And that’s a shame.  Despite a nomination in 1992 , there does not seem to be an official historical poet for Virginia.  I would like to make the case to renominate one Edgar Allan Poe!  Not only for the Commonwealth, but for RVA in particular.

But, wait, you say!  Isn’t Poe from Baltimore?  Ask a Baltimoritorian (I know that’s not right, but it SHOULD be!) and they would most likely say yes.  They would point out their stupid NFL team, they would point out their preserved Poe house, and probably most central to their case is the fact that he’s buried there.  (We will learn why that is a bunch of nonsense.) Poe is also claimed by other such unworthy cities as Boston, Philadelphia, and even New York. Let’s break down Poe’s short life and get our statistics on…

You can’t argue with data, Baltimore.

The bottom line is, Poe was a wanderer.  Even Boston, the city of his birth, was only a stop on a touring schedule by his actor parents David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe.  When his father ran away and his mother died, where did they send him?  To Richmond, Virginia of course.  Poe spent his formative years living with his adoptive (actually never really adoptive, and frankly not even that nice) family of John and Frances Allan, hence the Allan in Poe.

A picture of Capital Hill during Poe’s time. It was a silly place. It’s only a model.

Poe swam the James, went to St. John’s Church, and met his first love Sarah Elmira Royster as he wandered the streets of Church Hill.  He would only leave to go to the newly created school of Tom Jefferson’s in Charlottesville.  From that point forward, Poe was a wanderer.  He went where the money was.  Yes, he lived in Baltimore.  Yes, he lived in Philadelphia.  Yes, he even lived in New York and Boston.  However, as we saw, a full third of his life was spent (both as a child and later as an adult) living and working in the city of Richmond.  His career really began as he was editor of the Southern Literary Messenger right here on the corner of 15th and Main Streets.  Poe even brought his 13 year old  wife/cousin VIRGINIA back to live with him in Richmond and had the official ceremony right here and then honeymooned in Petersburg.  (Wow, there is so much weird in that last sentence.)  Once his wife, whom he affectionately nicknamed Sissy, passed and became a subject to Poe’s dark musings Poe eventually returned to RVA and was getting ready to move back to supposedly marry his childhood love Sara Elmira Royster who was also now single.  And thus begins the strange tale of the death of Poe and his subsequent theft by Baltimore.

The beginning of a dark tale…

On September 27, 1849 Edgar Allan Poe set forth from Richmond on a ship to Baltimore where he was supposed to be heading back to New York to gather his mother-in-law/Aunt to bring back to Richmond.  He stopped at the home of one Dr. Carter on the corner of 7th and Broad and ate across the street at Saddler’s Restaurant.  (Now either The National and Gibson’s Grill, the new U.S. District Court, a parking lot , or some other non-historical building.)  He ran into some friends who described him as being jovial and boasting of his eventual return to Richmond.  They escorted him to the boat.

Poe mistakenly left his walking stick behind in Richmond, and is now on display at the Poe Museum.

Many consider Poe the father of the mystery novel, so it is somewhat fitting that his final days are well… mysterious.  Edgar was found in Baltimore at a tavern/polling place (voting used to be a lot more fun!) on the local election day of October 3rd wearing clothes that were not his own, and in a state of utter delirium.  Poe spent the next four days locked in a Baltimore hospital with barred windows and refused any visitors.  On October 7th Poe is said to have uttered the words, “Lord, help my poor soul,” and then died.  He was rather unceremoniously buried the next day at 4:00 PM in a cheap coffin and an unmarked grave.  The Reverend didn’t even deliver a service, deeming it unnecessary for such a small turn out.

Poe died here (Baltimore) and we kinda-sorta buried him here! Welcome to Poe-Town!

We’re not talking about some penniless loafer here, either.  Edgar Allan Poe was arguably at the height of his career.  He is said to have had $1,500 on his person when he left Richmond, an unheard of sum for the time.  (This was perhaps an exaggeration, but the man was not shabby.)  There are various theories as to his death, most of them tainted by the fact that the only person who was there changed his story several times over the course of his life and had refused to let anyone else in on his captive Poe.  Also, his literary estate was immediately handled by one Rufus Wilmot Grimwold, who immediately painted a picture of a drunkard and ne’er-do-well.  Grimwold painted a picture of Poe that remains to this day, clearly out of hate.  Poe was later reburied (1875) and an actual tombstone was provided.

But how did I die?

That’s a fantastic question.  Just how did Poe find himself in front of a tavern wearing shabby clothes that were so out of his character that everyone immediately realized that they were not his?  There are plenty of speculations: rabies, syphilis, alcoholism… My favorite, though is Cooping, and is especially relevant with our own recent election.

We think of our political campaigns today as being dirty and extremely partisan, but we got nothing on the 1800s.  A somewhat common practice in the 1800s was called cooping.  Let’s say you really wanted your candidate to win.  One of the best ways to get votes was to force people to vote for your candidate.  Instead of knocking on people’s doors and talking about the candidate like they do today, or those annoying robo-calls and tv ads gangs of political activists would kidnap people, coop them up in a room, load them up with drugs and whiskey to ensure that they were incoherent and could not resist, and then take them to various polling locations and force them to vote for your candidate.  Sometimes they would even take you back to the same polling location and… make you wear different clothes in disguise.  I like this story, mainly because it wraps everything up rather nicely… much like a modern day detective model.

So, what’s my point?

My point here is this… RVA should do a better job of celebrating Poe.  As far as I am concerned (and Poe even agreed!) Poe was a Virginian, not a Marylandite.  Just because Poe had the misfortune of dying in Baltimore (some might even argue that Baltimore killed Poe… just sayin’) doesn’t give them the right to steal away one of our famous sons. We have the Poe Museum, which was EXTREMELY helpful in putting together this blog, and Poe pops up in a few other places as well… but, I think we could do more.  For too long Poe’s legacy has been smeared by the misinformed.  Did you know there was originally supposed to be a statue of Poe on Monument Avenue?  Plans were rejected because Poe was deemed, “a disreputable figure”.

Disreputable figure? Put the statue in Capital Square then! That’s where most of the disreputable people go anyway…

For far too long we have not given Poe the respect he deserves.  We have allowed others to claim him, and besmirch his legacy.  Sure, dude was a little weird.  Yes, he married his really young cousin.  But he was OUR slightly weird, totally dark, kind of twisted author and we should celebrate him!  For a city that relishes in it’s Civil War history, we have done very little to remember one of the true fathers of modern day fiction.

I challenge my readers, and those who just look at the pretty (I hope) pictures to share how they have seen Poe in the River City!  Send me pictures of Poe about town, send me the Masque of the Red Death costume you wore for Halloween, send me the mp3 of your local band setting The Raven and Annabel Lee to some phat hip-hop beats!  I’ll share them on a special section of the site and together we can help rePOEsess Richmond!  (Screw you, Baltimore!)*

*I actually don’t have anything against Baltimore, but it’s kind of fun to encourage some rivalry here.  Hey, we don’t have a sports team to speak of… what else can we really do?

Are there any other RVA natives who have been given the raw deal? Anyone else I should be RAVEN about?  Leave a comment or email me at nick@photorva.com!  And don’t forget to email your pictures, art, dirty sock mosaics, sound files, WHATEVER relating to Poe in Richmond to be shared with 10s of viewers here!

I’ll start! Elizabeth Allan Poe is buried in the St. John’s Church Cemetery. You may have Poe, you Baltimaniacs, but we have his mother!

Special thanks to:
The Poe Musuem
http://www.poemuseum.org
1914-16 E. Main St.
Richmond, VA 23223
1-888-21E-APOE
Go there. Seriously.

 
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BRAINS!

Published on October 23, 2012 by

BRRRRRAAAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNNNNSSSSSSS!!!!!!!

Seriously, though, I’m heading up to the mountains this week.  That means that I am going to miss one of my favorite RVA activities, the Carytown Zombie Walk.  Think of it as a parade of the undead, minus the actual biting.  It’s like living an episode of The Walking Dead, only without that annoying <insert your least favorite character here>.  If you have the time you should definitely head out Saturday, October 27th at 2:00.  Great views of the shambling hoard all up and down Cary Street.  http://richmondzombiewalk.com/ for more info!

Here are some selected photos from previous years!  Enjoy, and BRAINS!

Smurf!… I mean… Braaaaains…

Girl Scout brains?

100% organic hippie brains!

The pack descends…

2010 brains…

Ring the bell, she dares you.

Brains?

What a big brain you have!

Creepy award runner up.

That’s it. You win. Game over, man. Creepiest zombie… EVER.

I’ll be back next week with a well research and thought out article, just in time for Halloween!  Until then, brains!  And as always, feel free to drop me a line at nick@photorva.com if you’d like to make a recommendation or just pick my brain.  One more time, brains!

 

 
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