Thursday, May 25, 2023

HGB Ep. 488 - The Graffiti House

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Moment in Oddity - Cave Homes

Have you ever wished the climate of your home would be consistently cool in the summer and warm in the winter without the fees associated with air conditioning and forced heat? If so, then possibly cave living is for you. One location that cave homes can be found in, is Northern China in the Loess Plateau and although many of the cave dwellings here are now tourist attractions, some of the 'cave homes' called dikengyuan in Mandarin, still have full time residents. The homes have a sunken courtyard entrance while the remainder of the home is completely underground. "They are considered a type of folk house adaptation to the natural terrain in this part of China", according Lim Tai Wei, an adjunct senior researcher at the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore. The topography here ensures a naturally warm home during the winter and cool home temperatures in the summer. According to historical records the creation of these homes began 7,000 years ago. The soil of the area has lent itself to the unusual success of this style of home. It is soft enough to easily excavate while still being firm enough to hold steady without additional support within the walls of the cave homes. According to Lim, "Some scholars outside China consider the dwellings to be a natural adaptation to the climatic patterns in the region, with harsh and lengthy winters, and extremely burning summer heat". Clearly this style of home suits the occupants weather dependent needs well, however having your home completely subterranean, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - Birth of Arabella Mansfield

In the month of May, on the 23rd, in 1846, Arabella Manfield was born in Des Moines County, Iowa. Her birth name was Belle Aurelia Babb and she became the first female lawyer in the United States in 1869. During the Civil War universities began accepting more women into their schools and Arabella attended Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, however, her study of the law was independent from this. At the time, the bar exam was restricted to males at least 21 years old. Although Arabella did not attend law school, she had worked as an apprentice in the brother's law firm. She applied to take the exam and was accepted. Mansfield passed the bar with high scores. Once she accomplished that, Arabella challenged Iowa's state law excluding women from practicing law and she won. Due to her efforts, Iowa became the first state to allow women to practice law. From there, Arabella Mansfield began Iowa's Women's Suffrage Society and she worked with Susan B. Anthony to continue advancing the rights of all women.

The Graffiti House (Suggested by: Margaret Ward and Mike Streibel)

The Graffiti House is owned by the Brandy Station Foundation and served as a hospital during the Civil War. Soldiers left behind their marks on the walls of the second floor, which is the inspiration behind the house's name. These soldiers may have left behind their spirits as well, not only because some of them were injured and died, but because the Battle of Brandy Station took place here. Join us for the history and hauntings of the Graffiti House.

One cannot talk about the Graffiti House without talking about the Battle of Brandy Station. Brandy Station is in the state of Virginia. It was originally named just Brandy. The Battle of Brandy Station would be fought on June 9, 1863. This was the largest cavalry battle ever fought in North American and launched the greater Battle of Gettysburg, which would be fought in less than a month. The Confederates had a plan to move onto the Shenandoah Valley as they made their way to Pennsylvania. Major General J.E.B. Stuart had brought his 9,500-man Confederate cavalry to Brandy Station where they camped along the Rappahannock River. They were exhausted and certainly not expecting a fight. The day before, Stuart had asked General Robert E. Lee to do a full field review of the cavalry. Most of the men complained that this would just feed Stuart's ego and tire out the horses. 

As the sun rose on that 9th day of June, Union officer General Major Alfred Pleasonton launched a surprise attack on the Confederates at Brandy Station. Pleasonton had split his ranks in two, one under Brig. Gen. John Buford and the other under Brig. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg. Buford's group crossed the river at Beverly's Ford and Gregg's crossed downstream at Kelly's Ford. This left the Confederates surrounded. One thing on the side of Stuart is that he had five brigades, which was much larger than the Union forces had expected. A Confederate brigade was awakened by the sound of gunfire and rode towards the battle on bareback, partially dressed. The Confederates killed a Union Colonel and pushed back the Union forces. The Confederates formed a line while the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry attacked the Confederate artillery at St. James Church. This was a bad move and this regiment would suffer the greatest casualties. Although many Confederates fighting at the church would later refer to this as a "brilliant and glorious" charge. Some say it was the greatest of the war. Typically the cavalry would dismount and conduct hand-to-hand battle like the infantry when they got to the area of engagement, but the 6th Pennsylvania conducted a completely mounted fight.

The Southern artillery was blocking the direct route to Brandy Station, so General Buford decided to advance near an area called Yew Ridge. This was higher ground, but was already occupied by Confederate Brigadier General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee and Buford sustained heavy losses before managing to take a stone wall in front of the ridge. Then the Confederates pulled back from the ridge.  Buford wasn't sure why, but then he was informed that General Gregg had finally shown up with his men. They had managed to find a back way that was unguarded that led all the way into Brandy Station. Between where Gregg was located and the skirmish between Buford and Stuart was Fleetwood Hill. Stuart had used the hill for his headquarters, but now all that was there was a  6-pounder howitzer and it didn't have reliable ammunition. Both sides would now enter into a series of confusing charges and countercharges across Fleetwood Hill. The fighting was fierce before the Confederates were able to clear the hill for the final time. Pleasonton called for a general withdrawal and this ended the battle. The Union surprise attack had failed and Stuart retained the field. Part of what worked against the Federals was the terrain. This was a very hilly area and taxing on the horses. Buford knew his men and their mounts couldn't take much more and the Confederates got some late back-up Colonel Thomas Munford, which solidified his decision to leave the field to the Confederates.

The battle lasted around ten hours. This had been the largest cavalry engagement in America. Union casualties were 907 and Confederate casualties were 523. Despite the win, the Confederate cavalry's superiority was now gone. There was a house nearby that was used as a field hospital. That house is today known as the Graffiti House. The house was strategically located near the train depot for the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. The house was owned by lawyer James Barbour who was the brother of the railroad's president, John S. Barbour Jr. It was built in 1858 and stands two stories. Barbour served on the staff of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell until January 1863. Barbour also owned a house up on a hill near the battlefield that is called Beauregard Farm in honor of the Confederate General. It still stands today. This served as headquarters for J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate cavalry division. General Robert E. Lee visited Beauregard during the battle to scan the fighting on the nearby Fleetwood Hill.

The Graffiti House was also used by General Stuart as a headquarters. The house also probably served as a field hospital after the Battle of First Bull Run or First Manassas and there is some graffiti in the house that dates to the Second Manassas Campaign in August 1862. During the winter of 1863 into 1864, the Union set up camp in Culpeper County and they occupied the Graffiti House. The house was headquarters to Brigadier General Henry Prince while the Union army was in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia after its retreat from the Battle of Gettysburg.

So the Graffiti House played host to both sides during the Civil War. The people who stayed here left behind their marks on the walls. On the second floor, the plaster walls are covered with drawings, doodles and words made with pencil and charcoal. Some of the words are basically autographs with soldiers writing their names on the walls. One of those autographs belongs to General J.E.B. Stuart. There are also the names of Lieutenant William J. Marshall, Colonel John Egbert Farnum, and Sergeant Henry Thomas. They would make inscriptions commemorating their units and their battles. After the war, other people would move into the house and they covered over the graffiti with wallpaper and paint. In 1993, a big renovation project was started, but it was quickly halted because the graffiti was discovered. Unfortunately, some of it had already been removed before the project was started. But much still remains thanks to the efforts of expert architectural conservator Christopher Mills. The non-profit organization The Brandy Station Foundation purchased the house in 2002 and they are the ones who continue to preserve the house and offer tours. There is a museum here and this is the visitor center for the Brandy Station Battlefield. One of the items on display had been taken away from the home as part of a private collection of Civil War artifacts, but it was returned in 2004. This is called The Maryland Scroll  and features an unfurling piece of parchment with a list of names of men who would later fight at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford. 

There are three rooms on the second floor. One is named the Marshall Room in honor of Lieutenant James Marshall, a Confederate officer. He was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. The best piece in this room is a sketch of a downcast looking Confederate soldier. Another room is the Bowman Room named for Sergeant Allen Bowman of the 12th Virginia Cavalry. In this room one can find a charcoal drawing called the “Dancing Lady.” The final room is the Stuart Room named for General J.E.B. Stuart and it is in here where his name is written on the wall. There also is an example of a clash between the North and the South. A Confederate wrote "Yanks caught hell" and over that is written "United States of America." 

Here coming up in June of 2023, the Battle of Brandy Station will commemorate its 160th anniversary. The house features tours when volunteers are available to host them. In October, the house showcases its haunts. The whole area has spirits hanging out because of the battle. The Brandy Station Battlefield has two haunted locations: Fleetwood Hill and the ruins of the St. James Church. The St. James Church stood during the battle, but was torn down six months later by Union soldiers, so they could build a winter camp for themselves. The church saw part of the battle. The phantom sounds of battle and disembodied voices are heard at the church ruins and on Fleetwood Hill.

The Fleetwood Church in Brandy Station is also haunted. The church was built over the town's cemetery where many soldiers killed in the battle were buried. The church was used from 1881-1974. Today it is being refurbished, but is in a state of disrepair. Steve is the man who bought the church and is working on it. He claims that the spirit of a little girl that is usually at the Graffiti House has come to the church sometimes and moves things and her disembodied singing has been heard. Investigators have captured EVPs of hymns being sung in the church. Pictures of figures in the windows have been taken. Ryan Martinez, who produces "The Witching Hour" TV show and investigates with Argos Paranormal investigated The Fleetwood Church in 2020. Martinez said, "We were hearing a lot of disembodied growls with our own ears and these were growls that did not sound like they were coming from an animal. And whenever we would hear these growls, we would go ‘if that was you that just growled at us, can you go ahead and turn on the mini Maglite that we have on the floor.’ And spontaneously the light would turn on.”

Unexplained activity has been occurring at the Graffiti House for decades. The house embraces this fact by hosting Ghosthunting 101 classes, offering psychic readings and hosting ghosts hunts with Culpeper Paranormal. One of the volunteers at the house named Della Edrington invited the Virginia Paranormal Institute to come to the house in 2007 to investigate. The house did not disappoint. One of the investigators named Jackie Hicks felt something grab her firmly by the wrist. A journalist that was with them named Donnie Johnston watched as a picture frame moved on its own. The ghost hunting equipment all registered activity that the group described as "off the chart." One of the more popular ghost stories told is about two young girls who were living in the house in the 1930s. They had just finished decorating their Christmas tree in an upstairs room when something very paranormal occurred. Some decorative balls began to swirl on their own in a counter clockwise movement and this wasn't caused by any normal force like wind or a heating vent.

Culpeper Paranormal Investigations posted a picture captured from their SLS camera in June of 2022 and wrote, "This figure/anomaly appeared directly at the top of the stairs. We also have the full video of this occurrence as well. It only manifested for a few seconds before disappearing, and was not picked up at any other time during the night. Could it be a passing through spirit of a soldier who once resided in the location? We’re left unsure." Culpeper has investigated here many times. In the J.E.B. Stuart Room they captured the EMF going off on video. They asked if whoever they were talking to wore a gray uniform or a blue uniform and they captured an EVP saying "blue." They asked if there was a Miranda there or a Melinda and an EVP said "Melinda." And as a double verification, the group asked if there was a man or woman speaking with them and an EVP said "woman." In another room they had a REM Pod set up and used some whiskey as a trigger item. One of the investigators said that she was going to pour the whiskey and she did pour some into a shot glass and the REM Pod started going off. Then she asked if they wanted to play cards with her and it lit up two of the lights on the REM pod. She decided to run a test to verify that nothing else was setting off the REM Pod and she said she was going to count to three. Once she said the number three, the REM Pod and a Mel-Meter next to it went off simultaneously. A group asked if there was a soldier with them and the REM Pod went nuts with three lights going off. They then asked if he was at the Battle of Fleet Hill and an EVP answered "yes." The entity also used the REM Pod to indicate that he had been one of Stuart's men.

On another investigation in 2017 the group asked if John Bowman was there and an EVP answered "Doctor John." During a spirit box session they asked if the spirit lived in the house and they got a male saying "no" and then a female saying "I do." They asked if JEB Stuart was there and the box said "JEB Stuart." They asked something that they thought was the doctor if he was only a doctor during the war between the states and they just said they got an EVP anomaly, but it sounded like "I don't think so" to Diane. In 2015, they caught a really weird light anomaly that bounced around the room. It did look ghostly and was definitely see-thru. You could see the door frame through it. In the Bowman Room on another investigation, they asked how old the spirit was and the EVP said "seventy-six." They asked if the officers stayed in the house and an EVP said "yea." And this was funny. A couple of investigators were in the bathroom doing an EVP session and they asked if there was anyone in there with them and an EVP asked, "Who are you hiding from?"

The Graffiti House is very unique in that it captures a part of Civil War history that is not very common. What was it about the house that enticed the soldiers to write on the walls and leave their marks for us to find in the future? It seems as though some of those soldiers have decided to stay in the afterlife. Is The Graffiti House haunted? That is for you to decide!

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