Deep Secrets


She was bound to a tree, beaten, and worse. Court records call her an “old Baptist colored woman.” Though we don’t know her name or much more about her, archaeologist Lauren McMillan ’08 believes it isn’t too late to learn. “Not everyone leaves a written record, but everyone leaves trash,” said McMillan, who led a recent dig at Sherwood Forest in Stafford County. “One thing we’re trying to do out here is give a voice to the voiceless. We’re digging up these people’s trash, and we’re going to tell their stories.” Hunkered down with trowels and dustpans, McMillan and her Field Methods in Archaeology students at the University of Mary Washington look like kids in a sandbox. But every clank of a tool against debris in the dirt is serious business. Each bit of broken glass, each rusty nail and battered button, could shed light on lives that played out in the shadows. One 5-by-5 square at a time. One careful layer after another. It’s tedious work, and it’s a race against time. … [Read more...]

Hands-On History


It almost sounds like a Nike commercial – if you want to do it, just do it. And that’s exactly how five University of Mary Washington students ended up conducting preservation work on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria, under the supervision of alumna Audra Medve. “You can learn terminology in the classroom,” said Medve. “But if you want to learn how to take care of buildings, then you need to actually take care of buildings.” As the preservation manager for the Pope-Leighey House, Medve invited Michael Spencer, director of UMW’s Center for Historic Preservation, and his students to help with the first part of a three-step process that would remove buildup from the exterior walls of the house and protect and stain the wood. Dressed head-to-toe in white chemical protection suits, UMW students spent two days preserving the wood by first spraying it with a biological chemical cleaner to remove the debris and then rinsing it down. “It’s not every day … [Read more...]

Cataloging Clues


Paul Murphy spends his days discovering clues to America’s past. Surrounded by a magnifying glass, latex gloves and a hand-held dusting brush, the University of Mary Washington historic preservation major sorts through a box of seemingly innocuous objects to identify and catalog bits of history. He spies a small sherd of ceramic, perhaps part of a bowl or plate once used by Native Americans; a triangular chipped rock, probably a prehistoric spear or an arrow; and a smooth piece of stone, likely used by hunters to skin animals. “It’s not like being a historian where you read what somebody else wrote and then write your ideas about it,” said Murphy. “It’s something new. You’ve found it, you’ve excavated it, and you interpret it to study how other people lived.” Murphy is one of 11 veterans working at The Veterans Curation Program in Alexandria – an employment and training program for wounded, disabled and recently separated veterans who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan … [Read more...]

Chronicles of Courage


Seven years have passed since Retired Marine Sergeant Kenny Lyon sat down with CBS’s Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes.” With a wire holding his jaw together, Lyon vowed that he would fight to regain everything back that he lost in a mortar attack on May 1, 2006, while serving in Iraq. Today, Lyon is well on his way. He loves to entertain friends, race cars and is in his first year of classes at the University of Mary Washington. Thanks to his classmates at UMW, his miraculous story of recovery will become a part of American history through the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project. The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center, a research center of the Library of Congress, collects and preserves personal stories from veterans so future generations can learn about the realities of war. Lyon is one of 24 veterans who were interviewed by UMW students to have their personal stories of service recorded in history. Every fall since the creation of the project … [Read more...]

Pursuing Preservation

Michael Spencer demonstrates use of the borescope to Jen Sustar, Krysha Snyder, Linda Eckley and Victoria Leonard.

Aaron Caine has a new appreciation for the old white clapboard cottage a stone’s throw from the stately Belmont mansion in Stafford County. “I can’t believe I never noticed this house,” said Caine, a senior historic preservation major at the University of Mary Washington who grew up in the area.  “I’ve driven by here many times and never realized that it was here.” Assistant Professor Michael Spencer understands the oversight. The tenant house is dwarfed by Belmont, the impressive Georgian estate on the hillside once owned by 19th century artist Gari Melchers. Very little archival information is available about the Falmouth cottage referred to in historical documents only as “the house across the road.” The building, which is part of the Melchers estate administered by UMW, makes an ideal study for Caine and the seven students in Spencer’s “building forensics” class who have spent the semester building on previous research and documentation skills, honing old and new … [Read more...]