National Geographic : 1949 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine "I'm supposed to guess who they are." The custom is similar to beggars' night, before Halloween, because handouts are ex pected. Later I found the word is derived from German Palatinate dialect, Belshnickle, or Belsh Nickel, meaning Santa Claus. These people have words of their own. Diapers are "hippons" and a chipmunk is a "faerydiddle." When a child doesn't grow, in these moun tains, you measure him with a string, then put the string in a rut in the road. When a car runs over the string the evil spell will be broken and the child will start growing. Staunton: Roller-coaster Town Staunton, like Rome, is built on seven hills. Legend has it that present steep streets fol lowed Indian trails. On one hill is the gleam ing white-brick house in which President Woodrow Wilson was born. This roller-coaster town pioneered the council-manager plan of government in 1908. By the close of 1948, more than 800 cities, towns, and counties in the United States had adopted this form of government. Staunton's identifying landmark is the twin peaks, Betsey Bell and Mary Gray. In old Trinity Church the Virginia Assembly took refuge during the Revolution. Riding back roads, John Jouett, Paul Revere's Vir ginia counterpart, warned the Virginia Assem bly at Charlottesville and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello that the British were coming. At Waynesboro, Virginia, is Fairfax Hall Junior College, girls' school, named ironically for the woman-hating Lord Fairfax (page 17). In the 1920's the village awoke one morn ing, rubbed its sleepy eyes, and found Industry sitting on its doorstep (page 21). Today, with a population of 10,000, the town retains the charm and leisurely appearance of a rural Southern village. Outstanding visual finger print of industry is the bald scar in the moun tainside above the town, caused by steam shovels digging gravel for Chesapeake and Ohio Railway roadbeds. On the Valley Pike between Staunton and Lexington roadside markers point the way to the birthplace of Sam Houston, winner of Texas independence, and to the little black smith shop where Cyrus McCormick perfected the reaper. At Lexington, seat of Rockbridge County, two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, are buried. The mellow colonial buildings of Washing ton and Lee University stand beside the castellated barracks of Virginia Military In- stitute. I stopped outside VMI barracks to watch gray-clad cadets salute the statue of Jackson, which stands guard over the parade ground (page 6). On this field once drilled the former Secre tary of State, George C. Marshall. Within these barracks once taught Matthew Fontaine Maury, oceanographer, whose wind and current chart of the North Atlantic revo lutionized the science of navigation. Today, every pilot chart issued by the Hydrographic Office of the United States Navy carries a note that it is founded upon Maury's researches. Another man who became a VMI professor, John Mercer Brooke, invented a deep-sea sounding apparatus. He and Maury, working together in earlier years at the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D. C., made prac ticable the laying of the first Atlantic cable. Rockbridge, southernmost of our counties, was named for the Natural Bridge of Virginia. water-carved limestone block which arches 90 feet across a gorge. Everywhere I had trav eled in the Valley it seemed that George Wash ington had been there before me. Natural Bridge of Virginia was no exception. The initials "G.W." on the southeast wall are supposed to have been carved by Washington when he surveyed the bridge. Thomas Jefferson paid George III of Eng land 20 shillings for the bridge and 157 acres of land less than a year before the first shots were exchanged between Americans and Brit ish in the Revolution. From a sound-reproducing device at the top of the bridge a musical program is presented each night. Strolling toward the bridge, I heard the glorious opening notes of the Pil grims' Chorus from Tannhiduser. The rich. swelling tones of a mighty organ, caught under the arch of the bridge, echoed through out the glen until the whole night was filled with music. It seemed a fitting climax to my journey. I imagined I could hear the marching feet of those who had been there before me-Washington, Jefferson, and all the countless others who, from the Valley's moun tainsides, let freedom ring. The next day, leaving the Valley, I stopped for gasoline at a small combination country store and gas station. Out hobbled a little old man, his face lined with wrinkles. "See you been a lot of places in this hyar country," he said, looking at the sticker covered bumpers. "Whatcher think of it?" "I like this part of the country so much I'm going to write a story about it," I replied. He winked. "Oh, sure, ma'am. So am I some day!" Perhaps he'll believe me now.