These examples of graffiti were found during plaster repair on the fourth floor of the Sims-Mitchell House, 242 Whittle Street SW, Chatham, Virginia. (The house was occupied by the Warren Training School, predecessor to Chatham's Hargrave Military Academy, during the 1908-1909 school year.) The graffiti had been drawn by pencil onto the plaster surface, and at some later date the plaster had been covered with a water-based “distemper” paint. The images were discovered during 2000-2001 when Henry, Sarah, David, and Jonathan Mitchell patched and sanded the plaster in preparation for repainting.
In several of the photographs, round stainless steel plaster buttons, used to anchor loose plaster before the surface was sanded, are visible.
The detailed names and identifications seem to indicate that the graffiti was intended as a record to be later discovered, rather than as merely prankster scribbling. One could speculate that the recorders may have known that the plaster was soon to be painted with a rather impermanent type of wash, likely to be removed at some point in the future, thus to reveal their time-capsule-in-pencil. They could not have known that their written record would sleep for over ninety years (four and a half times Rip Van Winkle's legendary hiatus)!
Written graffiti includes the Warren Training School and its location, individuals, sports team rosters and scores, and a dramatic production. The baseball effort seems to have enjoyed much attention from the students, as three different rosters are posted for the same team.
“Chatham - WTS - Warren Training School”
“Foot Ball Team 1908
“Foot Ball 1908
Won 2, lost 1, Per Cent 66.6 2/3”
“WTS Base Ball Team 1909
Note: Charles Warren, headmaster of the Warren Training School, was second baseman on the team he coached, a situation which seems unusual today but was typical of that period. Warren was highly-reputed as a baseball player. He and at least two members of his 1909 team are found among the highly-reputed 1912 Countyseat Giants team.
Third baseman Max G. Patterson later served as Commandant of Cadets at Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia. Lt. Col. Patterson's biographical sketch in the academy's 1928 Taps yearbook reads, “Graduated from Warren Training School, Chatham, Virginia, 1909; graduated Virginia Military Institute, 1913, with B.S. Degree in Civil Engineering Department; Instructor and Commandant, Fishburne Military School, 1913 to 1917; received appointment to Second Officers Training Camp, Fort Myer, Virginia, and was commissioned Captain, Infantry, November 1917; promoted to Major, Infantry, October 1918; received discharge from service, December, 1919; Commissioned Major, Infantry Section, Reserve Corps, February, 1924; Commandant of Cadets and Instructor in Mathematics, Fishburne Military School since January, 1920.” (Research assistance is provided by Darrel Frazee, Manager, Sisters of Mercy Thrift Store, Inc., Asheville, North Carolina.)
“Base Ball Team 1909
“WTS Baseball Team 1909
“[First Baseball] - WON [?] Lost 1 so far
“Clarence T. Waggoner, Lynchburg, Tenn”
Clarence Taylor Waggoner's name is the best-represented in graffiti from the Warren Training School students. His association with Lynchburg, Tennessee is unknown.
“[Clarence T.] Waggoner, Lynchburg, Tenn - Football team 1908 - Baseball team 1909”
“Clarence Waggoner Lynchburg Tenn”
"Bill - Bill B"
The Warren Training School students apparently performed a play or minstrel, Down on the Farm, on Friday night, February 19, 1909. (See also a photo of WTS students on Main Street, possibly advertising the play.)
The pictorial items seem mainly to illustrate Vaudeville or minstrel-type characters of the students' experience, or fanciful sketches. The sketches were physically separated from the Down on the Farm notice seen above, so it is not evident whether any related to the February 19, 1909 production.
Three figures together. Is it possible that they are a cowboy, cowgirl, and a third villanous figure in a black hat?
Cowboy, with fringed pants?
Cowgirl, with fringed skirt?
Villain, with black hat and hooked nose?
A minstrel blackface?
A profile. (It seems to have the same technique as the face of the figure immediately below.)
Figure with short arms.
Figure with big feet.
Unlabeled figure with feather in cap.
A mysterious and unlabeled creature.
Figure with big smile and big ears.
After operating in an old tobacco factory behind the Episcopal Church, Warren Training School moved into the Sims house in 1908, after Chatham Episcopal Insitute moved out of the building to their newly-constructed facilities (a 1906 fire had destroyed CEI's original buildings). After the 1908-1909 session in the Sims house, Warren Training School was purchased by a group of local businessmen, led by J. Hunt Hargrave. Headmaster Charles R. Warren went to law school, and his former academy took up residence in Ingleside, under the new name Chatham Training School. Within a few years, the school moved to its present location and eventually became Hargrave Military Academy.
Henry and Patricia Mitchell stand at the northeast end of the space where the graffiti was found. They are in front of a window and between two chimneys, on the fourth floor of the house. The chimney on the right was replaced during the 1980's, after it had collapsed internally. It is speculated that this area may have been used as a sort of locker room / athletic equipment storage area by Warren Training School.
Jonathan Mitchell opens the hatch to the roof. Arch Overbey, former Warren Training School student, told Henry and Patricia Mitchell in 1976 that he had escaped Prof. Charles Warren's disciplinary wrath on several occasions by climbing through the hatch and hiding between the two nearby chimneys. He said that on those occasions he spent the rest of the day in that reclusive spot, throwing pebbles at deliverymen arriving below.
The lower doorway was added in 2000 during plaster repair, and leads to a crawl space under the eaves. (In that space was found an empty gallon whiskey jug with corncob stopper. It is assumed that the jug is an artifact left by the original construction crew in 1875, rather than Warren Training School students in 1908-1909, or others!)
Sarah Mitchell points to the wall area where most of the athletic scores were found.
Sarah Mitchell stands at the ramp formed by the access stairwell cover, along with Dandylion, who finds it difficult to stand on the slippery slope.
Former Warren Training School student Arch Overbey told Henry and Patricia Mitchell that on rainy days sliding down the ramp was a favorite activity of the boys.
Sassyfras and camouflaged Marshmellow (at the top of the steps) guard the staircase to the fourth-floor area where the various items of graffiti were found.
This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.
Copyright © 2002–2006 Patricia B. Mitchell.