You know you’re in the South when… First light broke over Staunton, VA, one morning in early March of 2011. And there I was, with my partner at the time and my favorite exploring buddy (amyheiden) in one of the long wards in the Wheary Building, stripped of its low partitions, but staring out of a window - the bottom frame askance - at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. The Wheary Building was the ward for patients at Western State Hospital that were on suicide watch; very little privacy was accorded, due to the previously high rate of self-harm at this asylum. When it was converted into a prison, the partitions were removed altogether. Guard booths were installed, and it became a common dorm - ironically enough, for the least troublesome prisoners.
The Stonewall Jackson Hotel would appear in my life just a little over a year later. NBC was pitching a show where three people - myself included - would go into abandoned buildings. But instead of pretending to find ghosts, we would talk about history! Brilliant, right? A VP of development over there asked me if I knew any hotels in town worth staying in. Boy, did this photograph pop back into my head! For two nights, we stayed in the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, filming a teaser pilot for a show that interested exactly no networks. Apparently, a bunch of young people with sexy haircuts pretending to be afraid of creaking pipes sells better than serious historians, anthropologists, and sociologists poking around old buildings and talking about things that actually exist. But man, did we enjoy some wonderful steak there!
I’ve seen the Stonewall Jackson Hotel once since then; a little over a year later, I walked beside a beautiful woman (hi raynetupelo) down the streets of Staunton after a day shooting inside of one of them. We stopped inside a wonderful Southern antique store, where I procured an old medicine box with some delicious type set on the front. We ate at one of the few restaurants open that day - a nice little Mexican joint with some vegan options and a rockin’ tortilla soup. Sadly, we didn’t make our way to the lobby of the Stonewall Jackson, though - we didn’t have time to check out its motley collection of relics from the Civil War, and its rather silly homages to a brilliant military commander done in by his own troops. We headed back home, the Stonewall Jackson fading into pleasant memory, as the asylum it looked upon has faded into the collective memory as it has been slowly converted into condominiums.
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