Way back last June, as 4th of July was approaching, I told Mr. History Tourist that I wanted to go away for the weekend of the 4th. I wanted to go somewhere that was “small town America,” with a 4th of July parade that featured the local high school marching band and World War II veterans. And fireworks. I had to have fireworks.
We chose Luray, Virginia, partly because it’s the 4th of July town-of-choice for History Touring companion Patricia and her boyfriend. They go almost every year and she assured me that there were fireworks. We also wanted to do some hiking in Shenandoah National Park. Luray is about 10 miles from the Thornton Gap entrance to the park.
Luray is a small town in the Shenandoah Valley, an area sandwiched between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian Mountains to the west. Founded in 1812, Luray became a boom town, of sorts, in 1881, when the Shenandoah Railroad built a line through town, bringing with it tourists and industry. There’s no longer passenger train service to Luray, but the old train station — the Luray Norfolk and Western Passenger Station, built in 1906 — is now the Luray visitor center. And it contains a small museum of train history: the Page Country Train Museum.
The objects I found most interesting in the train museum: several letters from army officials to railroad officials concerning prisoners of war being transported by train. During World War II, Italian and German prisoners of war were kept at several sites in Virginia and apparently they were moved about the country on special railroad cars. “When such are handled in regular trains, they should be placed on the rear of such trains, so that the general public will not have occasion to enter same.”
Across the street from the railroad station visitor center is one of two Confederate monuments in town. While Luray is in the Shenandoah Valley and was, therefore, in the path of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign, nothing of significance happened in Luray during the Civil War. Nonetheless, it has the requisite Confederate monument. Or two.
The first one, called the Confederate Heroes Monument, was dedicated in 1898. Apparently locals didn’t like it because (the story goes, though who really knows) it didn’t make any specific reference to local Confederate soldiers. It was, they felt, too generic. So in 1918, another Confederate monument was dedicated. It’s this newer one that is across the street from the visitor center.
The plan was to have the names of all of the local Confederate soldiers carved on it. But then they hit a snag. Apparently the town had produced more than its share of deserters and a battle ensued between those who wanted everyone’s names on the monument (i.e. the families of the deserters), and those who wanted to leave off the names of the deserters. It reminded me of the Downton Abbey story arc, when Mrs. Patmore’s (the Downton cook) nephew, who had been shot for desertion during WWI, was excluded from his home village’s war memorial.
Ultimately, in Luray, no names were added, so this monument is no more “local” than the first. The official excuse for not including the names was that WWI intervened and they didn’t have the resources to do more. On the show, Mrs. Patmore’s kind-hearted employer puts up a separate plaque, just for her nephew, at Downton.