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Diaries

Sarah Evelyn (Baylor) Blackford diaryDo you remember the first time you swam in the ocean? What about the first movie you watched? In June 1895, eleven-year-old Sarah Evelyn Baylor and her family journeyed from Halifax County, Virginia, to Princess Anne, Virginia Beach, Virginia. This visit marked the second time young Sarah saw the ocean, but its beauty had not diminished. In her diary entry for June 11, 1895, she remarked, "It is beautiful to see the great waves come roaring up and then fall back in the great, great ocean. I think it is heavenly." While at the beach with her family, Miss Baylor and her younger brother and sister, shared in their first delights in swimming. After ten days of swimming, playing in the sand, and doing "nothing else especially" Sarah delighted in making her first bathing suit. "It is grey with white dots in it and trimed [sic] with white. It is very pretty."

For the next couple of years Miss Baylor faithfully recounted her daily activities in her diary. Most days were consumed with her lessons, reading, sewing, baking, and visiting family and friends. But even these entries are amusing to read. Through Miss Baylor’s keen eye and descriptive accounts she breaths life into her diary. Some of her observations are laced with the neighborhood gossip, such as when two Mormons visited the area (13 July 1895) and others are touching tributes to her younger siblings.

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

Perhaps her later entries from the beginning of 1897 rival the excitement of the beach excursion. In 1897, Miss Baylor and her family stayed with relatives on an extended visit to Washington, D.C. Among the charms of the city were the collections of the Smithsonian, the cable car, and the Washington zoo. Perhaps the most exciting event occurred on February 13, 1897, when Sarah and her father saw a splendid machine that "shows you pictures life size [sic] and moving." As Sarah recounted, "The whole hall would be darkened, and then you would hear a click clack, and the picture would appear on the sheet.” One of the "splendid pictures" was of a train. "You see it coming in the distance, and then it turns before it gets to you. It goes at 80 miles an hour.”

Sarah Evelyn (Baylor) Blackford diary Enter Fullscreen More information
Sarah Evelyn (Baylor) Blackford diary
"The whole hall would be darkened, and then you would hear a click clack, and the picture would appear on the sheet." Sarah Evelyn (Baylor) Blackford diary entry dated, February 13, 1897. (VHS call number: Mss1 B5645 b 14)
Diary of John Stevens and Buckner Randolph Enter Fullscreen More information
Diary of John Stevens and Buckner Randolph
August 29, 1862 -- "Started in the morning and went to Centerville and then to the old field of Bull Run." - John Stevens, 6th New Hampshire Infantry, U.S.A. / August 30, 1862 -- "Fought battle of Manassas, wasn’t much engaged. This book taken from a Yankee on yesterday." - Buckner Randolph, 49th Virginia Infantry, C.S.A. Divided in opinion, their words are bound together. This diary is written in both a Union and Confederate hand. John Stevens came to Virginia attached to the 6th New Hampshire. His diary recounted his activities ("driled [sic] in the morning" and "male [sic] from home"), his travels, "left Hattras [sic] Inlet at noon and went a board [sic] the steam boat," and the weather, "snowed about a ninch [sic] and a half." His last entry was written on August 29, 1862. John Stevens's life ended on the battlefield of Second Bull Run, but his journal took on a new life. Buckner Randolph of the 49th Virginia Infantry picked up the journal and recorded his daily events in the months that followed. His entries are somewhat lengthier and both his handwriting and spelling suggest he received more education than Stevens. (VHS call number: Mss1 R1586 b 162)
Diary of Raphael Semmes chronicling his itinerary in Europe in 1864 Enter Fullscreen More information
Diary of Raphael Semmes chronicling his itinerary in Europe, summer 1864
"Did the Rigi [mountain in Swiss Alps]. Sunrise a humbug." / "Paris, where we remained a week and did the city." / "19 of Sep. and on at Home Sweet Home." Captain of the CSS Alabama, Raphael Semmes suffered a tremendous loss in June of 1864 when the USS Kearsage sank his ship off the coast of Cherbourg, France. Wounded in the battle, Semmes and forty-one of his crew were rescued by a British yacht and returned to England to recover. Despite losing the Alabama, Semmes was regaled as a hero. During the summer of 1864, he left London with a party of five and journeyed through Europe. In a diary no larger than a house key and made of ivory, Semmes penciled brief notations of his travels. This diary was then presented to Louisa Tremlett, a member of his traveling party. (VHS call number: Mss1 Se535 a 167)
Bradford Wasserman diary entry dated August 20, 1933, Berlin Enter Fullscreen More information
"A band of Nazi’s just we[nt] by singing." Bradford Wasserman diary entry dated August 20, 1933, Berlin
July 17, 1933 (Aboard the SS Georgic, White Star Line) -- “We have to wear blue neckerchiefs through Germany because that big sissy Hitler doesn’t allow red to be worn. He is utsna. [nuts in pig Latin]" / July 23, 1933 (Aboard the SS Georgic) -- "The interpiter thinks it is awful that my father came from Russia and I can’t talk Jewish. He is crazy." / July 30, 1933 (Munich) -- "I saw some small boys in the Nazi uniform." This is perhaps the only diary in the VHS collections with words written in pig Latin. In the summer of 1933, fifteen-year-old Bradford Wasserman left Richmond, Virginia, and traveled to the International Boy Scout Jamboree in Godollo, Hungary. He spent much of his time at the jamboree visiting camps from the different nationalities (frequently visiting those from Palestine, Egypt, and Australia) and trading for badges. On his way to and from Hungary, Wasserman, who was Jewish, traveled through Nazi Germany. (VHS call number: Mss5:1 W2848:1)
Sarah Evelyn (Baylor) Blackford diary
Sarah Evelyn (Baylor) Blackford diary
Diary of John Stevens and Buckner Randolph
Diary of John Stevens and Buckner Randolph
Diary of Raphael Semmes chronicling his itinerary in Europe in 1864
Diary of Raphael Semmes chronicling his it
Bradford Wasserman diary entry dated August 20, 1933, Berlin
"A band of Nazi’s just we[nt] by sing

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