This week's post is the start of what I hope will be a series of posts relating to the same subject - Berryville Politics at the turn of the 20th century. I know that sounds incredibly boring, but hear me out.
The following poem was penned anonymously sometime around 1910:
The Worm Turns
The town council came together like thieves in the night,
And they schemed and they plotted with all of their might,
How they could patch together the few mistakes of some lives,
And run those poor ones to the cities lowest dives,
First comes our Mayor who tries all of his cases,
Behind people’s back and not to their faces,
A man of great learning a man of the church,
No smear on his character no is any smirch,
He has, so ‘tlo said by common report,
No open, no visible means of support
So nobly not arrest him and make him account,
For the clothes he wears, the old Catimount? [catamount]
Then comes our “Doctor”, the roller of pills,
A good fellow too, a tender of ills,
His mind is not little, his ideas not small,
But he will let “others,” tell him his all.
And our nice “J.T.D,” a man of renown,
Who run during the riot, plumb out of town,
He run when the “Cop” was knocked in the head.
And left him lay there as though he were dead.
A brave brave man, “Townsman” don’t you think,
To dictate to us “morals” himself on the “brink”?
But it’s even the way through life as we go,
It’s the man of “big talk” who runs the “show,”
And “Johnnie” and “Emmet” the little fellows so bright,
Who have gotten our money and are holding it tight.
They are so very small, (except in their minds),
That I am putting the “two” in just four lives.
Then the pretty “red-head,” the “frankie” of the noose,
Who will clear his throat when he tells us his woes,
The man of great learning who runs the machine
Of Thomas S? Martin, so crook-ed, so keen,
And “old Jeso” and the “Cop”, together they run,
And two bigger crooks have never had fun.
“Old Jeso” is so sneaking, so quiet and so creeping,
out putting his liquor in his stable for keeping.
There comes “Hugh-sie” so much like a snake,
Who strikes from behind, who strikes in the wake.
He writes of the women like a cowardly cur,
When they have gone, then he casts his slur.
Now you men of religion, yo men of renown,
Who compose the council, the council of the Town.
Get together your ideas then stop to think,
Of the lives you are ruining, driving o’re the brink.
And may the God reward you as you do deserve,
For this your dirty work that requires no reserve,
And may you regret the very day that you were born,
And die un-hallowed, un-shriven, and un-shourn.
This poem really puts the "mystery" in "Mystery in the Archive." Political corruption aside, there's so much to unpack and explore. Who are the people mentioned or alluded to? Who wrote it? Why was the author so upset at the Berryville Town Council?
As it so happens, we already have, or have speculated, a few of those answers:
Thomas Staples Martin was a Virginia Senator from 1895 to 1919, and was accused of bribery and corruption by his critics. You can follow the link to read more about him and his political life.
The "Mayor" is Doras H. Jones, Mayor of Berryville from 1898 to 1922. He served 24 years as Mayor, and was the longest serving Mayor as of 1980 (and quite possibly to date). Beginning on November 1, 1871, the Mayor and Councilmembers had to be elected into office. The previous Mayor only served 1 year, and his successor served 6.
The "Doctor" is possibly Dr. Gordon Hardesty.
"Johnnie" and "Emmett" are potentially John B. Neill, the treasurer of the Bank of Clarke County in 1910, and Emmett Coiner, co-owner of Coyner and Coiner department store.
After some basic preliminary research, it appears all these people mentioned above were either Councilmembers together or in Office around in 1910. As absolutely nothing is known about the author, or when the poem was initially written, there is much detective work still to be done to uncover the identities and events mentioned.
Do YOU have any leads? Any insights into 1910s politics in Berryville? Let us know! Perhaps you have the key to solving the mystery!
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.