Plaster repair unveils Civil War graffiti in Clarke County couple's home

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BERRYVILLE, Virginia — There's an old saying: "If walls could talk."

In the case of the house known as Glen Owen, located east of Berryville in Clarke County, architectural historian Maral Kalbian noted, "They really are."

In September, owners William "Biff" and Barbara Genda discovered Civil War-era graffiti on the wall in a stairwell when they removed paint from the area.

"It's wonderful that they found it," Kalbian added.

Peeling paint in the hallway, which separates the original part of Glen Owen from the 20th century addition, led the Gendas to try and remove it.

"We thought we had a plaster problem," said Barbara Genda.

However, as the paint came off, her husband said the problem was that someone had stripped off old wallpaper but had not removed the sizing from the wall before painting it over.

In removing the sizing, they found the penciled graffiti along one section of the wall.

Some words they haven't been able to decipher, but much of what was written can still be read despite the paint and paper overlays of years past.

There are names, like William, and Billie Jordan, and "Mr. Willie," who appears to be from Berryville.

Another writer, Virginia resident Nicholas K. Criser — who noted he was a member of Rosser's Brigade, 12th Virginia Cavalry — added a boast.

He was "A Rebel that has given you a many sound thrashings," he wrote to what he expected to be, apparently, a Union audience.

There is even a sketch of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis President Jefferson Davis in a kepi hat.

The date of 1863 is also scratched on one part of the wall.

But, what may be most interesting, Kalbian noted, are three lines — one that seems to be a taunt to the rebels, answered by two, written by one or two Confederates, tossing the taunt back.

One line says, "Rebels, if you can hear we will whip you (undecipherable) shore."

Then comes, "If you do, it will be the first time you impedent (sic) scoundrels"

The next line reads, "You are cowards nothing but a thief the robbers of millions of women and children you good for nothing skunk."

Civil War graffiti isn't unusual in the Valley, Kalbian pointed out.

Frederick County's old courthouse, now the Old Court House Civil War Museum on the Loudoun Street Mall, is famous for the graffiti penned by both Union and Confederate soldiers held there when it was used either as a hospital or a prison.

Marking buildings goes back even further in time.

Kalbian noted that the Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood, built in the late 18th century, has graffiti, and caricatures, dating almost to colonial times.

However, she added, Glen Owen's graffiti is most interesting because it represents comments from both sides, in a private home.

Barbara Genda noted that, when she and her husband found the graffiti, they decided to remove the paint from all the walls in the stairway leading to the second floor, but found nothing anywhere else.

Kalbian said Glen Owen was apparently owned during the Civil War by Edward McCormick, who lived at nearby Clermont.

However, McCormick was named Quartermaster for the Confederacy, and stationed in Lynchburg from 1861 to the close of the war.

Glen Owen may have been a Stribling property that came into McCormick's hands through marriage, she said. But, she had no information on who might have lived there during the conflict.

The farm was damaged during the war, according to land records she's examined, which deducted more than $400 from its worth. That may have been from out buildings being destroyed, Kalbian said, as all the farm buildings date from after the conflict while the original section of the house was built in the Federal style of the 1830s.

Meanwhile, the hall painting project is on hold, Biff Genda explained.

Barbara Genda said she's trying to find some way to preserve the graffiti so that it can be seen by visitors, before refinishing the bare plaster walls in the stairwell.

"I don't want little fingers patting it," she said, with a nod to the five of the Gendas' 12 children still at home. Her special favorite item is "the picture of Jefferson Davis with the little Civil War cap."

Kalbian said it was "profound" that the graffiti came to light during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

It shows, she said, that, "no matter how much we know, there is always more to learn."

People with houses that were standing in the Valley during those four years might just want to peel off some wallpaper and take a look, she said.


Information from: The Winchester Star, http://www.winchesterstar.com

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