Friday, February 26, 2021

Marguerite Du Pont Lee and Virginia Ghosts in a D.C. Cemetery


Currently on eBay, there is a copy of Virginia Ghosts and Others by Marguerite Du Pont Lee. This is the William Byrd Press original 1932 version. It’s $125 and I keep toying with the idea of purchasing it, not that I need another book in my possession but this one is part of our Virginia history-- our history of ghost stories. 

If you’re around my age and from the area, you’re probably familiar with the author L. B. Taylor, Jr. of Williamsburg, Virginia. Taylor was an author of 50 non-fiction books, including 25 books on Virginia ghosts.Taylor wasn’t someone that others would consider a typical ghost story writer. After all, he had a degree in journalism even worked as a writer for NASA. Taylor published his first volume on Virginia ghosts in 1983, which some scholars argue is the reason regional ghost tours in the Commonwealth are so popular today. But Taylor also wasn’t the first writer to focus on the topic. He was following in the tradition of documenting Virginia folklore from writers such as Marguerite DuPont Lee.   

And, well, Marguerite DuPont Lee certainly wasn’t someone we would think of as a ghost story writer. She was born into the wealthy DuPont family and married into the Lee family (by marrying her cousin, which wasn't so unusual) to become part of the elite society of Washington, D.C. 

From her obituary, one would not gleam what an interesting life she had, only that she was surrounded by family.

The Baltimore Sun Nov 3, 1936

Perhaps from other newspaper articles, including this one that includes a quote just months before her death, readers can intuit a bit of her personality.

The Selma Times Journal May 25,1936

When her husband died, Marguerite DuPont Lee proved that she was not going to follow society’s standards and she certainly was not going to do what was expected. She somewhat snubbed society folks, she sold her home, and she moved to Georgetown, which at the time was not at all elite. 

There, she started a settlement house that provided educational opportunities for the poor in the city. Marguerite DuPont Lee involved herself in the local women’s suffrage movement and marched in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. She was deeply engaged in the cause of women's rights and the rights of those from various socioeconomic groups.

Marguerite DuPont Lee was also a Spiritualist, which was not so uncommon at that time period. But, she was fascinated with the supernatural and spent a good amount of time collecting regional ghost stories that she compiled in one of Virginia’s first books of ghost stories. Marguerite DuPont Lee knew that she was compiling legends but her belief system supported life after death and the belief in the spirit world.

Today, readers still reach for her stories, which were republished after her death.  She is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. along with several other Spiritualists.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Death of a Famous Beauty

Maud Coleman Woods was declared the most beautiful blonde in America in 1901 and is considered the first Miss America.

Considered a scandal during her time, Woods’ photos were submitted to a contest without her knowing. The contest winner would serve as a model on the logo for the World’s Fair. She won! 

Embarrassed by the attention, Woods went to a family estate on the James River. There, she contracted typhoid and died. She died one day after her 24th birthday.

She is buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia. 


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Author of history and love stories


Sally Berkeley Nelson Robins was an author, historian, and novelist. She was also the great-granddaughter of Thomas Nelson, signor of the Declaration of Independence.

Robins was known as a serious writer of history and published a book on Gloucester, Virginia. However, after the death of her husband, she became a novelist, which brought in a decent income and enabled her to travel internationally.

Her most popular book was published in 1923, Love Stories of Famous Virginians, which includes the love stories of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, John Marshall, John Randolph, Alexander Spotswood, William Byrd, Cyrus Griffin, and John Custis.

Robins died just ten days before Valentine’s day, on February 4, 1925. She is buried at the Ware Episcopal Church Cemetery in Gloucester, Virginia.

Love Stories of Famous Virginians (1923) can be read online for free here.

Ware Episcopal Church Cemetery in Gloucester, Virginia