Monday, May 25, 2015

Escape the Ordinary: Superheroes in Comics

This year’s adult summer reading program theme is Escape the Ordinary, and superheroes are coming to Massanutten Regional Library! (Find out more about signing up to read and win prizes here.) The Main branch in downtown Harrisonburg will be featuring Super Screenings of popular, modern superhero movies all summer long. (Click here for times and titles.)

Personally, I’ve always been a big Batman fan. I’m dating myself here, but I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). My brother and I must have watched its accompanying full-length movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), a dozen times. However, I’ve never been a big comic reader, largely because I’m the kind of person who would want to read every panel from beginning to end, and I find the sheer volume of issues and story arcs of Batman’s last seven decades a bit daunting, to say the least—and that’s just the caped crusader.

The history of the comic industry is as complex as the stories it generates and the characters almost as numerous. From executives to artists and writers, dozens of people may influence every issue published. Entire books about industry giants such as publisher Martin Goodman and artists Stan Lee and Bob Kane, among others, are available in the library’s collection. This brief and general history of superhero comics probably won’t offer anything new for the established fan, but it should provide a sufficient overview for the uninitiated. 

The Golden Age (1938-1954) 

All DC Comics characters and the
distinctive likeness(es) thereof
are Trademarks & Copyright
© 1939 DC Comics, Inc.
The comic book as we know it today was born in the late 1930s from two popular forms of the 1920s and ’30s—the funny pages and the pulps. (Pulps were short stories—from westerns and adventures to romances and melodramas—accompanied by illustrations and mass-produced on cheap pulp paper.) The first comic series with exclusively new material, New Fun #1, was published in 1935; Detective Comics #1 (the eponymous “DC” of today’s  DC Comics) was published in March 1937. “Comic books were the perfect entertainment form for the Great Depression audiences: their heroic, larger-than-life characters stirred the demoralized masses, and the very format of the magazines themselves—usually sixty-four pages of original material for a mere dime—was a bargain during those times of economic hardship” (Misiroglu 3).

The dawn of today’s superhero coincided closely with the genesis of the comic book. The widely accepted definition of a superhero is “a heroic character with an altruistic mission, who possesses superpowers, wears a defining costume, and functions in the ‘real world’ in his or her alter ego” (Misiroglu 2). Arguably the first superhero according to this definition, Superman debuted in June 1938 in Action Comics #1. He was a natural successor to 1930s heroes of pulp, radio, and other mediums, including Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Phantom, the Spider, and Zorro. With the Nazi threat looming in Europe, Americans were in need of a hero, and the appearance of the red and blue-clad Superman was well-timed. By 1941, “he was on the radio, syndicated across the funny pages of every major US newspaper, and selling stamps, greeting cards, coloring books, bubble gum, board games, and war bonds” (Morrison 11).

All DC Comics characters and
the distinctive likeness(es) thereof
are Trademarks & Copyright
© 1939 DC Comics, Inc.
Batman followed closely on Superman’s heels in Detective Comics #27 of May 1939. He was created as a hero of the night in direct contrast to Superman, with visual inspiration coming from many film and literary sources, including da Vinci’s ornithopter sketches. Both Superman and Batman, then published under the imprint of National Comics, were cornerstones for the future DC Comics. One of many shell companies started specifically to latch onto the hero fad, Timely Comics publishing Marvel Comics in October 1939. The Human Torch and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner were the first residents of the future Marvel Universe. Hero after hero emerged in this Golden Age of comics. In the 1940s, there “was a superhero or villain for every profession, every class, every walk of life,” from lawyers to military men to scientists to taxi drivers to doctors to flower shop proprietors (Morrison 48). (I must interject that, as far as I know, there were no librarian heroes until Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, came out of the cave in 1967!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Battle of New Market and its Re-enactment

 Although the flag they died to save
Floats not o'er any land or sea,
Throughout eternal years shall wave
The banner of their chivalry.
                                                         (John Wayland, 1926)

     May brings the smell of musket fire and the volley of cannons across the Valley.  Civil War
Book available at Library!
re-enactment camps spring up in the fields from Lexington to Winchester.  The most memorable and the oldest annual re-enactment held on its original 1864 ground is the Battle of New Market, or, the "Field of Lost Shoes" as it is commonly known because of the participation of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets.
     The first ceremonial remembrance of the battle was held at VMI in 1866 and continues every year on May 15th.  All of VMI turns out at the graves of six fallen cadets to hear the roll call of all ten cadets who lost their lives on that fateful day.  Their graves are marked by the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, who also was a cadet who fought on that same battlefield and who read the bible through the night to his fatally wounded friend and fellow cadet, Thomas G. Jefferson.[1]   Eighty miles away, on June 15th, New Market held its first memorial service and the following year, the Women's Memorial Society was formed.
            On May 21st, 1914, the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of New Market, the wheat field saw its first re-enactment of VMI cadets.  Under the leadership of Commandant Col. Wise, son of former New Market cadet John Wise, 327 cadets re-enacted their charge across the orchard and up the hill. [2]
            On Sept. 20th, 1923 Brigadier General Smedley Butler brought about 3,500 real U.S. Marines to New Market to represent Gen. Seigel’s Union troops.  This is considered the first “modern” re-enactment and “the VMI cadets were there.”[3]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Climate Change

Meteorologists and emergency managers from the high Plains to the Appalachians are on alert as the U.S. has the year’s first widespread bout of severe weather. The key message:  Have a Plan.            (Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2015)

The Climate Change Discussion

After the winter’s snows, residents of the Northeast might disagree with the “first” bout of severe weather in 2015!  And, with regard to the bulletin above, climate scientists warn us to not confuse weather (a single episode) with climate change (observed facts over the long-term).   Perhaps Noah or those who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy might be reluctant to accept this distinction as both weather events re-arranged the environment.  The increasing frequency of severe weather occurrences, observers say, are the result of trapped warm air above us caused by human activities.  The change in weather patterns is part of the climate change that is modifying our landscape. 
Change should not be a surprise; the climate and environment are ever changing.  Five hundred million years ago receding oceans left the serrated ridges we see on the massive rock formations along our roads.   Fifty million years ago Mole Hill stopped erupting and polluting the air with gases and dust.  Five thousand years ago man began devising written languages that allowed him to describe his environment and to observe and report on changes.  The newest force affecting environment is man with the capability and intelligence to do well or to do harm.  People who distrust scientific discourse and people who deny existing change are often described as mentally lazy, politically angry, or economically beholden to a special interest.  Those on the opposite side are deemed doomsday, hand-wringers and may also be guilty of the same traits as the deniers. Most people are somewhere in the middle between the deniers and the doomsayers. Opinions on what action to take on climate change is far from unanimous.  
   Efforts to solve our environmental problems need to include personal, local, state, national and even international action.  Given recent political debates, it may come as a surprise to Virginians that its State Constitution (Article XI, Section 1) promises “the commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, land and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the commonwealth.”  The documentation of climate history (often reduced to a plethora of graphs) and a discussion of climate change in Virginia illustrate some of the issues.  From the existing records Virginia once had a generally stable, predictable climate but the long-term historical data show recent trends to be otherwise.   The trend lines provide insight into what may be happening in the future.  These transitional changes in climate affect our ecosystems   Flora and fauna changes are climbing mountains, like at Mt. Rogers, so where a flower that once bloomed only at the base of the mountain is now found 1,000 feet higher.  A flower that a few years ago bloomed in Danville in April and in Leesburg in May is now seen in bloom in Danville in March and in Leesburg in April.  These changes are being followed by the invasive stinkbugs and kudzu entering our neighborhoods.  Virginia’s occurring environmental changes are not bound by jurisdictional borders. The State border is not a barrier to coal dust and acid rain carried on winds from the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.   The “outside” factors as well as local factors are causing deforestation affecting the canopy of our trees that moderate temperatures and cleanse our air.  Regional and national programs are needed to address the problems.
vertically and horizontally.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Women in Blue and Gray

Women in Blue and Gray: Female Soldiers of the Civil War

Loreta Janeta Velázquez aka Henry T. Buford, CSA

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about the Marine training program to test women’s ability for combat duty. Next week, April 9 will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Naturally, from these two tidbits I got to thinking about the history of female combatants. From Boudica to Tomoe Gozen to Sgt. Kelly Brown (one of the Marines in combat training), there have been many visible woman warriors through time. However, others had to disguise themselves as men to enlist, such as Continental soldier Deborah Sampson and other Revolutionary War female fighters who contributed to the folkloric figure of Molly Pitcher. For today, I want to focus on the women who disguised themselves in the Blue and the Gray across five Aprils 150 years ago.

Frances Clayton
aka Jack Williams, U.S.A.

Women served both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. How did they hide in plain sight? By cutting their hair, binding their breasts, and putting on loose uniforms, they disappeared into the ranks. If they didn’t shave, they were likely taken as young teenage boys lying about their age, a problem that was often overlooked due to desperation for soldiers to fill the lines. They were able to hide their bodies more easily than they could in the modern military—the army’s medical examinations didn’t require clothing removal, soldiers rarely changed clothes or bathed, and filthy latrines were avoided in favor of private visits to the woods. As for their menses, which could give the soldier away easily, the physical stress of army life was likely to lead to amenorrhea. While enduring the stress of hiding their true identities, women also fought the same battles, suffered the same injuries and illnesses, performed the same duties, and struggled through the same hardships as their male counterparts.

It seems that most women were discovered eventually, often due to wounds or illness and hospital stays. Other women were discovered through their actions, dressing in a feminine manner or possessing an “unmanly” laugh. Practicing manly behavior and habits was vital to the success of their subterfuges. When Minnesota private Frances Clayton was discovered and discharged, the newspaper reported, “While in the army, the better to conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew and swear with the best, or worst, of the soldiers” (Hall 28). As one would expect, physical attributes, such as small hands or fair skin, also exposed the deception. In some cases, simply being recognized by an acquaintance could end the ruse. One of my favorite exposé tales involves Sarah Bradbury and Ella Reno, who got drunk on applejack brandy, fell into a river, and were exposed by their rescuers!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Shape-note Singing

Valley Tradition: Shape-Note Singing

            In a recent Monday Lyceum lecture on music tradition in the Valley, the subject of shape note singing was mentioned.  The audience, many of whom are transplants to our area, was unfamiliar with this type of singing which is an important part of Valley traditions.  The following briefly describes shape-note singing and its association with the area.
            The illustration below shows the shapes and syllables with which the notes of a C major scale are sung. 

            A system similar to scheme dates back to the 11th century Italian monk, Guido d’Arezzo.  Over time, many reiterations of the notations, particularly the seven-syllable system, were developed but the image shown above is still the basic and most familiar one. The system facilitated sight reading of music, which given the illiteracy of then and many centuries to follow, allowed for a robust participatory religious musical experience.  English and German colonist in the 17th century carried a singing tradition to America, particularly in New England and Pennsylvania.
            The Shenandoah area was settled by Brethren, Mennonites, Methodists, and Lutherans each of whom have music central to their worship experience.  Dr. John Wayland reported in 1912: “Most of the people of the county are church-goers, and nearly every member of the congregation sings.  Singing is a common pastime in many homes, and singing classes are frequently conducted in churches as a well as in the schools.  All-day singings at churches are not uncommon.” [HofRC p.339]  The person most people associate with this tradition in the Valley is Joseph Funk who was originally from Pennsylvania.  In 1832, he published A Compilation of Genuine Church Music (later changed in 1851 to Harmonia Sacra), which is a shape-note Mennonite hymn book and tune book and was used in singing schools including Funk’s own at Singer’s Glen.  Over the years, many editions incorporated different shape-note systems. The book in the current 26th edition provides tunes in both four and seven shape-notes.      
            Other people contributed to the local musical heritage – many of whom were related to Joseph Funk.  His son, Timothy, taught music classes throughout the Valley.  A.S. Keiffer, a grandson, and J.H. Kieffer, a great grandson, established a well known publishing house, Ruebush-Kieffer Company in Dayton that published many music books.  Brothers A.J. and J.H. Showalter, the former head of a music publishing company and the later writer of songs and compiler of music books, were the grandsons of Joseph Funk’s sister Elizabeth. 
From Jean Schaeffer's Raised on Songs and Stories.
            After the Civil War shape-note singing was mostly found in the south.  Today, local “Hamonia Sacra Singers” activities can be found on Facebook.  Sam Showalter organizes ten annual singings (held on the first Sunday of the month) in the Valley – some of them all day events.  Since 1902 the Weavers Mennonite Church has held singing on January 1.  
By Diane Rafuse

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Geology of Rockingham

Rocks of Rockingham

                 Without being too technical, this article focuses on the geology and geography of Rockingham County with specific detail on natural features found in the western portion of the County.  We hope you will be encouraged to take a new look at your neighborhood.  History, economy, recreational activities, and even governmental decisions are profoundly affected by our landscape.
                We know that Rockingham County was named to honor the Marquis of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, who opposed the suppression of the American colonies.  However, anyone who has put a spade in the soil around here knows the “rock” in Rockingham for another reason.   We pity the early settlers who had to move boulders and rocks to build the County and its roads.  In the early history of byways in the County, the policy on infrastructure upkeep was that residents along a road were responsible for getting out their sledge hammers to break-up the stones to keep the roads repaired![i]
Rocks present obstacles and define activities, but one should take a moment to look closely at the rocks.  In this place, in one hand you can hold a small rock that is more than 300 million years old.  In the other hand you can hold a pen that has been recording the history of the area for only about 300 years.  Three hundred million years ago, in the Paleozoic Era fishes were evolving as were land plants, and more important for the stratigraphy and structural features of our landscape, it was the era of sandstone and coal deposits and the folding of the Appalachian Mountains.  (The evolution of dinosaurs and their extinction was a couple of millions years in the future.)  Three hundred years ago Governor Alexander Spotswood and his party of explorers crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and viewed the Shenandoah Valley.  In an account of this first crossing a member of this exploration remarked that Spotswood “could not grave anything” to mark their arrival because the “stones were so hard.”  Another member of the expedition noted that the party was provided with “horseshoes (things seldom used in the lower parts of the country, where there are few stones).” [ii]

 In this time span of more than three million years, and even before, geological events shaped the landscape.  The results of these events provided much of the economic basis for activity in the area, which included mining, water and distillery bottling, pottery, and hospitality.  Rock outcroppings, mountain clines, and water courses defined boundaries and provide recreational activity.  The geological formations provided the source for legends and for artistic imagination and endeavors, as well as scientific curiosity.  Fortunately human intrusion has been mostly respectful of the natural environment.  Humans have been content, if at times inconvenienced, to leave changes to natural forces.
Some 400 to 300 million years ago during the Devonian, Mississippian, and Pennsylvanian periods in the Paleozoic Era, sandstone was deposited by meandering rivers in the Shenandoah region.  Sandstone is cemented sand containing predominantly quartz and is the most abundant, durable mineral on the earth’s surface.  Sandstone color variations can be attributed to the mineral content, degrees of oxidation, ferrous content, and shale.  The following illustration is the stratigraphic scheme of the ground beneath our feet from Little North Mountain to the top of Shenandoah Mountain. 
The next time you pick-up a sandstone rock, note the colors and then imagine the land upheavals that brought this particular rock to the surface for you to hold in your hand.  Also contemplate how far below your feet is a lot more of this sandstone.  Without having to dig, you can drive west on Route 33 toward the West Virginia border and see in the road cuts the two top formations: Pocono and Hampshire.
The accompanying table explains the map symbols and the character of the layers.  Mostly the focus is on Devonian division in Paleozoic Era.
Notes on Western Rockingham County Geology

From the Paleozoic Era



in feet


Appalachian Mtn Fold



Coal and Sandstone

Pocono formation
Massive white-grey sandstone with

some dark shale

Upper Devonian Period - Sandstone and Shale

Hampshire Formation
Chiefly red sandstone, some flag-

stone, shales, and mudrock

Chemung formation
Grey to greensih silty sandstone and

brown to grey shale, fossiliferous

Brallier Shale
Greenish brown stiff micaceous

shale and fine grained thin bedded

 greenish sandstone

Source: William B. Brent.  Geology and Mineral Resources of Rockingham County.  1960.  p.10

               Keith Frye.  Roadside Geology of Virginia.1986. p.8

Structural Features
Geologists assume that the structural faults and folds took place during the building of the Appalachian Mountains near the end of the Paleozoic Era.  In western Rockingham County are two of the County’s four northeast-trending fault areas.  The first fault, noted on the stratigraphic map, is the Little North Mountain Fault.  The Little North Mountain Fault zone extends 27 miles in a northeast and southwest direction across the County. The Fault crosses US Route 33 about 2.5 miles west of Hinton.  The second fault structure area is between Little North Mountain and the Shenandoah Mountain crest at the western boundary of Rockingham County. 
In the area of Rawley Springs and in the area west of it are two structural folds.  These major folds also cross Rockingham County southwest to northeast.  The first fold is the overturned and southeast dipping West Mountain syncline which forms the prominent ridge of Narrow Back Mountain and which forms the southeastern boundary of the former Rawley Springs resort area.  The overturning was a result of the drag from movements along the Little North Mountain Fault where there Little North Mountain is absent. [iii]
The second northeast-trending folding structure, farther to the west and barely crossing the Riven Rock Mountain, is the Bergton-Crab Run anticline.  Here the rocks are sloping downward in opposite directions on both sides of the mountain.  The fold axis roughly parallels the axis of the West Mountain syncline.  Relating these structures to the strata, the age of the rocks in the faults is of Devonian and the age of rocks involved in the folding is Mississippian. [iv]
Seeing the Geological Features
Since the 1800’s, the rock formations named Juliet’s Tower and Lovers’ Leap along the Rawley Aretes have made the Rawley Springs a favorite for rock scramblers.  Other intimate and challenging encounters with rocks can be made nearby on the north side of Route 33 on Second Mountain and Dictum Ridge.  In 1992, modern climbers re-discovered a formation that resembles the profile of George Washington on Lovers’ Leap, which was a favorite of the old resort visitors.  It was thought to have been dynamited by vandals many years ago.[v]   In winter it can be seen from Route 33.  One notable feature of the rocks is their tortured, massiveness that without climbing can be seen on casual strolls and drives or while taking in a dip in the Dry River.
Water Resources
Dry River
One of the most prominent physical features and one that served as a frequent point of reference for western Rockingham County is the Dry River.  The River begins as a network of small streams (Runs) on the east slope of Shenandoah Mountain and flows through a gap at Rawley Springs and then across the Little North Mountain fault to the North River at Bridgewater.  The Dry River often appears to live up to its name, but the large boulders resting in the river’s path attest to power of the stream during periods of high water and long ago upheavals.
As early as 1807, Dr. Peachy Harrison noted in a scientific paper for the Philadelphia Medical Museum that “this district (Rockingham County)...abounds with perennial springs.  The water they yield holds so much lime…or to use a common phrase, is so hard to require breaking before it is fit to be used in washing clothes...”[vi]  In 1891, much to the delight of the residents of Harrisonburg whose well water was very hard, the Dry River became the City’s primary source of water.  The water of the Dry River is soft.  From this River at Rawley Springs, Harrisonburg received its water by gravity flow by way of a 10 inch cast iron pipeline laid by using a pick and shovel.  By the 1930’s, Harrisonburg’s growing population and the reduced water flow from the River during the summer months caused water shortages.  Allen B. McDaniel, a consulting engineer from Washington, DC, discovered a unique solution to Harrisonburg’s water problem.  He discovered about 15 feet below the River bed a subterranean constant flowing stream running over limestone bedrock.  The underground water source, trapped by an underground dam where the two mountains meet at Rawley Springs, again provided a reliable water source for Harrisonburg. 
There are many well-known springs in Rockingham County.  The springs are the result of a natural flow of ground water to the surface.  They are characterized by a variety of conditions, such as rock type, rock structure, and source of water supply.  At Rawley Springs, three small springs, which issue from a syncline in the Pocono sandstone, are chalybeate, so named because of the peculiar taste due to presence of iron in the water. [vii]  The significance of springs in the history of Rockingham County is another topic for exploration.
 Mineral Resources
Cement, of which limestone is the chief ingredient, is common to the area.  An old lime kiln about two and a half miles southeast of Rawley Springs on the Dry River and many other similar structures around the County are evidence of limestone’s significance in the economy of the area. 
Also, known since at least 1834, a coal-field crop lies on the northwest slope of Narrow Back Mountain that runs from Stokesville in Augusta County to Rawley.[viii]  One of the three County coal locations was near Rawley Springs and was noted on several of its metes and bounds descriptions.  The coal pit was near Union Springs Road. 
            Technical matters aside, collecting rocks is an enjoyable and educational hobby.  On February 23rd at 1:00 at the Main Library, geologist and lapidarist Stuart Mercer of Elk Run Mining will show patrons the gems that await in our county.  
by Diane Rafuse

[i]  In the Courthouse are the Road Books, an invaluable resource that records by mile marker from the Courthouse the person or persons responsible for a portion of the road.
[ii] John W. Wayland.  History of Rockingham County.  C.J. Carrier Company, Harrisonburg VA. 1996.  Originally published 1912. 426-7.
[iii] William B. Brent. Geology and Mineral Resources of Rockingham County. Virginia Division of Mineral Resources. 102.
[iv] Brent. 102.
[v] Zook. 17.
[vi] John W. Wayland. A History of Rockingham County Virginia.  430.
[vii] Brent. 157.
[viii] Brent. 142.