Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Old Virginia Home

"Come on, come on down sweet Virginia...Come on, come on down, you got it in you..."
- Rolling Stones, "Sweet Virginia"

(November 25, 2012) - On Sunday, my older brother Billy Jr. (pictured below, left) and I toured the Warner ancestral homelands down in Loudoun County, Virginia with my 90-year-old dad, William Stone Warner (aka "The Duke," pictured below right).

The Warner Boys: Billy Jr. (64), Tommy (55) and patriarch William S. Warner (90)

You see, my father's family once owned an antebellum property in Lincoln, VA called Evergreen Farm.

Vintage retouched photo of Evergreen Farm in Lincoln, VA

Both my father and, later, my brother played there as children and had fond memories of the house and multi-acre estate, which included a pond, well spring, farm animals, farm staff, and lush flora and garden (as shown below).

The lush greenery of Evergreen Farm

Though Evergreen Farm was sold before I was born (to Catherine Marshall, wife of former U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall and best-selling author of inspirational works, including the biography A Man Called Peter), I do have foggy childhood memories of playing at a nearby Lincoln property, Windy Hollow, which was owned by my dad's mother's brother, "Uncle Bill" (William Fussaball Stone). (Go figure: both sides of my dad's family - the Warners and the Stones - owned Lincoln properties a stone's throw from one another! At one point, my dad almost bought Windy Hollow from Uncle Bill, but that's a story for another day...)

Loudoun County, Virginia

My dad and brother had originally planned a much longer trip earlier in the year - specifically, to Edinburgh, Scotland, way yonder across the pond. But my dad came down with pneumonia back in the Spring, and that put the kabosh to that plan. So this was the "Think Globally, Travel  Locally" Plan B trip to make up for that change in plans. So there you have it: the preamble and backstory to our little road trip down South...

My brother Billy, a seasoned (and battle-weary) Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware "Road Warrior" made the two-hour trek down from Yardley, PA to Baltimore to pick us up and then drove another two hours plus up I-70 and over the Potomac via Brunswick into Purcellville and Lincoln in Loudon County, VA. (Amazingly, Billy doesn't drink coffee - all his energy is generated by Diet Coke, who should seriously consider sponsoring his commutes.).

It was an amusing ride, with only intermittent outbursts of "road rage" (e.g., "Jeezus, look at this jackass in the BMW!" and "Get over, you $@*#! dirtbag!") - admittedly a genetic trait handed down to all Warner men. But my stick-shift savvy brother's seen it all, living near the city of Brotherly Love, home to "the worst drivers in the world." I was the backseat backup navigator, punching in coordinates in my cell phone GPS app while my dad worked the route mainly from memory. I was really impressed that he knew all the little backroads like Natty Bumppo the pathfinder; and,when in doubt, this former Navy pilot could pull out a map and figure out our route like he was planning a air reconnaissance mission.

OK, a little more backstory...Our dad's parents - Dr. Howard Warner ("Rah") and Ruth Stone Warner (aka "Muddy" or "Nan") - once owned Evergreen Farm in Lincoln, VA (between Purcellville and Leesburg), which was a big Quaker settlement back in the day. (My dad, brother and I all share the same middle name, "Stone," in homage to the matriarchal branch of our family tree.) The Warner side of the family was Quaker; the Stone side, decidedly not.

Evergreen Farm in Lincoln, VA. Dr. Howard Warner is standing in background.

Before that, Evergreen Farm was owned by Uncle Howard and Aunt Sarah Hoge (nee Sarah Smith). Howard Hoge later sold the farm to Dr. Howard Hoge Warner, my dad's dad and my - and Billy Jr.'s - grandfather.

Howard and Sarah Hoge send greetings from Evergreen Home

Sarah Smith Hoge was actively involved in the Women's Temperance movement and was renowned for having kept Loudoun County dry for decades. The Quaker distaste for drinking and smoking was not shared by dad (nor by his mother!) - nor the pacifism, as he served his country as a Navy pilot during WWII.

The trip was originally inspired by my dad researching Evergreen Farm and coming across an historic walking tour map called the "Lincoln Loop."

The Historic Lincoln Loop

The map and tour were created by Andrea Gaines, President of the Lincoln Preservation Foundation (LPF). The Lincoln Preservation Foundation is a non-profit corporation founded in 1999 by residents concerned about the fate of the Goose Creek Historic District, a 10,000 acre tract of rural farmland, historic sites, and wildlife habitat in western Loudoun County, which includes the Quaker village of Lincoln. The LPF’s main objective is protection and preservation of the structures, environment, and rural character of the Goose Creek area.

My dad contacted Andrea (a self-described "Jill of all trades") and told her about our family connection to the area. She agreed to meet us at the Lincoln Post Office and give us a personally guided tour of the Loop.

William Stone Warner Sr and William Stone Warner Jr. waiting outside the Lincoln Post Office

While waiting for Andrea, we met her associate Ed Liggette, a Lincoln resident who opened up the Goose Creek Friends Meeting House (located next door to the Post Office) to let us look inside.

Goose Creek Friends meeting house, long view
Goose Creek Meeting of Friends house, side view

Goose Creek Friends meeting house sign. We arrived too late for the 9:45 a.m. service.
Goose Creek Friends meeting house plaque in Lincoln, Virginia

The Goose Creek Friends meeting house was built between 1817 and 1819. Originally a two-story building, it was reconstructed from 1948 to 1949 after a severe wind storm in 1943. (My dad has a photo of what the two-story building looked like before the storm. There was a side porch, as well, in this photo.)

The view of the pews inside the Goose Creek Friends meeting house

We chatted briefly with our affable host Ed while enjoying the warmth of the meeting house (it was bone-chillingly cold outside!).

Small World Department: When my brother told Ed he lived in Yardley, up in Bucks County, PA, Ed revealed that he attended the George School as a youth. The George School is a private Quaker boarding school in Bucks County near Newtown Township, PA, not far from my brother's place in Yardley, PA.  My brother added that its Quaker ties are not as strong today as in yesteryear, as the current student body is predominantly Asian and Jewish.

Andrea Gaines arrived a few minutes later, and we exchanged greetings in the Friends meeting house library, as shown below.

Ed Liggette and LPF President Andrea Gaines  pose with William S. Warner Jr. and William S. Warner Sr., in the Goose Creek Friends meeting house's library

Ed later offered to drive us around the Lincoln Loop in his 4-wheel drive SUV. As we gathered in the parking lot around his car, my brother and dad grabbed the family album pictures they brought with them and shared them with Andrea.

"You've made my year," LPF President Andrea Gaines tells my dad, as he and brother Billy show her historical Warner Family Album photos of Evergreen Farm and Lincoln, VA

Andrea Gaines grabs her tour notes as we prepare to go Loop-de-Loop in Lincoln, VA

"You made my year!" Andrea told my father. She was glad to add another chapter to her ongoing preservation of Lincoln's history.

Soon after, we traversed the bumpy-but-scenic and historic Lincoln Loop. Ed proved to be a sure-handed driver, ably taking us over hill and dale and gravely trail on the "Lincoln Loop" Tour, while Andrea Gaines gave a running commentary and pointed out points of interest.


During the trip, we also met - by total happenstance - the current owners of Evergreen Farm, Jeff and Nancy LeSourd. (Jeffrey LeSourd is the son of Catherine Marshall and her second husband, Leonard LeSourd; Catherine and Leonard LeSourd founded the inspiration book imprint "Chosen Books.")

We had pulled into the driveway of the property just as the current owners were saying farewell to their college-bound children.

Evergreen Farm today. That's my dad on the porch and my brother's Honda in the driveway (note the Mr. Boh sticker on the trunk!)

When the couple approached us, my dad rolled down the window and explained who we were. But my brother, realizing that a picture is worth a thousand words (a cliche that rings just as true in today's digital PhotoShop world as ever!), quickly pulled out and flashed a vintage photo of our Warner and Hoge ancestors at Evergreen Farm that immediately resounded with the LeSourds.

"Oh my God!" Nancy LeSourd exclaimed. "You used to own Evergreen! We want to hear all about it!"

Nancy and Jeff LeSourd flank my dad, William S. Warner

The William Warners pose with the LeSourds

The full Warner clan pose with Jeff LeSourd. I'm the good-looking one second from right. (Photo by Nancy LeSourd)

The LeSourds graciously invited us inside and gave us a tour of the house, excited to learn more about the farm's history. They had undertaken major renovations to preserve Evergreen Farm and wanted to hear about its past.

The Prodigal Son returns: William S. Warner stands on the porch of his father's former farm

The Warners and the LeSourds shared their accounts of the history of Evergreen Farm

As we sat down to share memories and stories with each other, we learned that Jeff LeSourd is Marketing Manager for Evergreen Marketing Solutions, LLC while lawyer-author-teacher-historian Nancy LeSourd has written four books of juvenile fiction in Zonderkidz's "Liberty Letters" series. (See her author profile here.) This series introduces fictional female characters "whose courage, ingenuity, and faith shaped events in U.S. history. Each story reveals how God works through ordinary teens in extraordinary times." 

Nancy gave us copies of her books: ATTACK AT PEARL HARBOR, SECRETS OF CIVIL WAR SPIES, ADVENTURES IN JAMESTOWN, and ESCAPE ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (pictured at left). In the latter story, some of the events actually take place in the Goose Creek/Lincoln area of Loudoun County.

In addition to doing a lot of research about their antebellum home, the LeSourds have undertaken major renovations to try to preserve its legacy. They were excited to show it off to us, with Nancy adding that she thought the house itself was grateful. It certainly is a survivor; my dad recalled that during the Civil War, it was overun by Union Troops who were ready to torch the place until they were talked out of it. They compromised by settling on a barn burning!

My dad had started to tell Nancy LeSourd about how he came to inherit the antique cupboard from Evergreen Farm, while the grandfather clock was bequeathed to his brother Howard.

"Wait! I have something to show you," Nancy exclaimed, and led my father out into the hallway. "Here's your clock!"

Time flies but dad and his clock are still ticking!

My dad was stunned to see this when Nancy LeSourd showed it to him. It was like the "Rosebud" moment in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane.

At one time this clock belonged to the Warner family at Evergreen Farm. My dad recalled that it was supposed to have been left to his older brother Howard (with Dad getting the cupboard - which he still has), but instead ended up with another family until current Evergreen Farm owners Jeffrey and Nancy LeSourd purchased it from Lella Russell Smith and restored it to its rightful home.

That other family was the Smiths - Howard Hoge was married to Sarah Smith and Lella Smith must be a relation from that family line who acquired it at some point from MY Uncle Howard (my dad's brother).

After asking her husband to fetch a flashlight, Nancy opened the grandfather clock to show us something inside.

"You have to see this," she said excitedly.

Yardley Taylor's Clock

Inside, the name "Yardley Taylor" was inscribed on the clock.

The Warners are somehow related to Yardley Taylor (don't ask me how - I'd have to consult the Taylor Family Tree that my dad and brother have copies of!; additionally, my brother lives in Yardley, PA and my niece's middle name is Taylor), a famous local surveyor whose historic map of Loudoun County (shown below) is in the Library of Congress archives.

Yardley Taylor's historic map of Loudoun County, Virginia

My dad has an original of Taylor's historic map of Loudoun County. Even the Leesburg Tourist Information center only has a (smaller) copy of this richly detailed map.

My dad also has a detailed Civil War battle map of Loudoun County that was custom-made by Waterford historian (he writes a column for the Washington Post) and mapmaker extraordinaire Eugene Scheel, whom the Virginia Historical Society has called "a modern-day Jed Hotchkiss" for his richly detailed, hand-drawn maps. The Washington Post observed that "his hand-drawn works of cartographic art are treasured as pictures of history" and he's an essential stop for anyone attending the Waterford Fair. (Click here to see historical maps and publications by Eugene Scheel; click here to see a Ray Linville's interview with him in Backlights magazine.)

A sample Gene Scheel map is shown below:

If it's a Scheel, it appeals!

Hence our itinerary for Monday was a visit to nearby Waterford to try and catch Mr. Scheel, an "old-school" artist who eschews e-mail (you can only contact him by mail or phone at Eugene M. Scheel, PO Box 257, Waterford, Virginia 20197; (540) 882-3428).

But first, we checked in at our hotel in Leesburg, Virginia.


Our overnight accommodations were researched by my sister-in-law Candy and booked by Billy Jr. - a winning combo, because Homewood Suites by Hilton in Leesburg was swank! They had everything from a a complimenrary breakfast buffet to suites with refrigerators, microwaves, toaster ovens, WiFi, and HD TV with HBO!

I'm Not Worthy!: My luxury suite at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Leesburg, VA

"I'm not helping you with that bagel," a stuffed Billy says. "You're on your own!" (Note my two depleted coffee cups. The coffee was great!)

Dad digs the ample buffet at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Leesburg, VA


On Monday, we stopped at the quaint nearby hamlet of Waterford to try and meet with mapmaker extraordinaire Eugene Scheel, who naturally has drawn a map of his home turf, as shown below:

Eugene Scheel map of Waterford, VA

Unfortunately, Mr. Scheel had not yet returned from his West Coast trip to San Francisco for the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe next time...

Billy Jr. and Dad head to the corner store to look for Eugene Scheel

This wooden Indian advised my brother not to take any wooden nickels

Needless to say, Waterford's football fans root for the Redskins

The Pink House inn in Waterford, VA

Pink House street view. The parked car's vanity license plate said "XTC"!

We found Mr. Scheel's P.O. box at the Waterford Post Office, but not him!

Other points of interest on our trip included seeing the old Hoge family abode and the old Warner family ancestral home in the greater Lincoln vicinity, as shown below:

Ye Olde Hoge Abode

The Ancestral Home: Warner's Bottom at Warner's Crossing

We couldn't replicate our LeSourd visit to pop in on the current residents of Warner's Bottom at Warner Crossing - there was a big "Beware of Dog" sign that deterred us from getting out of the car, much less knocking on the door. We've all had far too many medical misadventures this year to test our luck!

Oh, forgot to mention that on our way in, we stopped for lunch in Purcellville, VA, which is very commercialized compared to Lincoln. 


Purcellville Station

Andrea Gaines had recommended Magnolia's at the Mill as a  good restaurant to try in Purcellville, so we heeded her advice and were not disappointed (good call, Andrea!).

Magnolia's at the Mill in Purcellville, VA

My dad outside of Magnolia's at the Mill restaurant in Purcellville, VA

It was a great recommendation and our waitress was even British.

"Where from?" I asked her upon hearing a Cockney accent.

"Oh, London," she replied.

"What's your footy team?" I asked, curious.

"Chelsea!" she responded with enthusiasm.

"Me too!" I cried.

The restaurant was inside an old, refurbished mill, with beautiful decor and an impressive menu. All three of us ordered the asparagus and mozzarella omelette (which was delish!) and Billy and Dad ordered wine, the perfect tonic to a long drive down!

Billy Jr. and Dad dining at Magnolia's at the Mill


On our way home, we crossed the Potomac at White's Ferry (a steal at only $5 a car) at the end of Route 655 near the Ball's Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery, VA (declared a national historic landmark in 1984) and at the beginning of White's Ferry Road near Poolsville, MD.

Balls Bluff is near, if not very dear, to the Warner heart because of The Battle of Ball's Bluff. It was there that Union Brig. General Charles P. Stone (allegedly a distant relation of my grandmother's side of the family) was blamed for a massacre at the hands of the Confederates when troops under his command attempted to scale this hill in October of 1861. Stone was basically made the scapegoat for the political outcry that followed the death of a U.S. Senator in the battle. His judgement was considered so suspect that the Union suspected him of being a Confederate spy, and imprisoned him for treason (though he was never tried). He was later exonerated, but his military career was dubious, at best.

Interestingly, future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. took part in this battle (surviving a near-fatal wound), which was subsequently commemorated in Herman Melville's poem "Ball's Bluff - A Reverie" (1866).

The General Jubal A. Early, White's Ferry, Maryland

Billy and Dad work the Social Network on White's Ferry

"I don't have the $5 for the ferry," Billy laughs. "We'll have to make a run for it!"

"My God, the car's slipping into the river! No wait, I just tilted the camera by mistake!"

And that was our Warner mini-tour of Loudoun County!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My 2012 Rehoboth Beach Film Festival Journal

2012 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
November 7-11, 2012

2012 Country Spotlight: Italy

2012 Audience Award Winners:
Come as You Are
(click here)
Best Feature
Time to Spare
(click here)
 Best Debut Feature
Searching for Sugarman
(click here)
Best Documentary
(click here)
Best Short


Thank you Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival - thanks for helping me get my film groove back!

After a summer of assorted medical maladies that included suffering some vision loss (a long story), I realized that I had stopped watching movies. This had never happened to me before, because I was the "film guy." Captain Video. The Tom in ATOMIC TV! Since my eyes were so bad, I didn't want to frustrate myself straining to watch fuzzy things, and had started reading instead (knocking off 10 of Andrea Camilleri's "Inspector Montalbano" mysteries in October alone!). (Oh irony of ironies, here I was a card-carrying librarian - a man surrounded by books every day - who finally rediscovered the joys of reading the printed word!)

The Crosswinds Motel
But the RBIFF has become an annual vacation getaway tradition for me and my long-suffering girlfriend Amy, one we look forward to - especially since we stay right next door to the Dogfish Head Brewpub at the Crosswinds Motel. (This year, the entire motel was booked for a wedding next door at the Dogfish Head Brewpub during the festival - except for our room, which beautiful-and-charming Crosswinds manager Rita Norwood had saved in advance for us; this is why we, and Trip Advisor - which awarded the motel its highest recommendation - love Rita and Crosswinds!)

After carefully prepping for our drive to Rehoboth - which, in years past, had always been plagued by some serendipitous mishap (a Nor'easter, a dead car battery, leaving my suitcase behind, leaving my front door open, etc., etc.) - we were pleasantly surprised to have a sunny day with which to enjoy our commute to the beach. We even outfoxed our GPS so that it directed us up-and-over on I-95 instead of going over the Bay Bridge and through the bucolic-but-boring long drive through the Eastern Shore.

Day 1: Thursday, November 8

Amy and I always skip the opening day of the festival and shoot for Thursday through Sunday screenings, so for us Day 1 is actually the second day of the festival.

Written and directed by Carlos Sorin
(Argentina, 2011, 90 minutes)

Did curiosity kill the cat? Or someone?

Our first film of the festival was this stylish psychological drama by Argentine writer-director Carlos Sorin that was billed in the festival guide as a "Hitchcockian thriller." Now that's an almost cliche term these days for any thriller that makes viewers think instead of just queuing up endless car chases and explosions on the big screen for the open-mouthed enjoyment of the audience, but it was enough to hook us and fairly accurate - specifically referencing the psychologically playful Hitchcock of Spellbound and Suspicion. I had never heard of the director, but it turns out my local library has three of his earlier works (Bombon: El Perro, Intimate Stories and The Window), which I plan to watch now because...well, this story of a lost cat is a real cinematic find. (I subsequently saw Bombon: El Perro - a dog's tale with legs - and am now an official Carlos Sorin fan!)

The cat, named Donatello (yes, just like the Italian Renaissance painter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle), is a mere "MacGuffin" (once again Hitch's name is invoked, for this was Hitchcock's term for any convenient plot device that piques an audience's interest and moves a film along - even if they forget what it was by film's end!) for what is basically a story of paranoia and mistrust. Luis (Luis Luque) is a middle-aged university professor who has just been released the hospital after having violently assaulted a colleague he thought was stealing his research. His wife Beatriz (Beatriz Spelzini) cautiously hopes for the best but still has her doubts that Luis is fully recovered.
Watch the trailer for "The Cat Vanishes."

This film has cinematic style written all over it, from the playfully melodramatic 1950s soundtrack (probably a nod to Douglas Sirk's Hollywood films and used to great comic/ironic effect during idyllic interludes such as Beatriz getting her hair done or planning a holiday getaway) by the director's son Nicolas Sorin to the claustrophobic close-ups (you can almost see up the actors' nostrils!) and noirish night scenes that add dramatic tension to a film already walking the tightrope of mounting anxiety. (And I'm pretty sure that was a real blood-covered giant rat in Beatriz's nightmare - it certainly jolted me out of my seat with sudden memories of Coffin Joe movies!) The film was beautifully photographed by veteran cinematographer Julian Apezteguia (Carancho, Bolivia), who worked with Sorin on 2008's The Window and the upcoming Gone Fishing (slated for a December 26, 2012 release).

Something smells fishy: "Here, kitty kitty! I made sushi!"

As I researched the director, I found a revealing profile at that suggested The Cat Vanishes was a thematic change of focus for Sorin, who had previously concentrated on making films about economically challenged Argentines - people who might be called society's "losers."
“I couldn’t make a film about a successful man with a charming family, a prosperous business, and who plays tennis on the weekend. Within the losers the unemployed are the best of all. Because aside from the theme of economic urgency and survival, there is a much greater conflict – feeling detached from the world.” - Carlos Sorin
This certainly was his perspective in Bombon: El Perro, the story of an unemployed Patagonian mechanic (non-professional actor Juan Villegas) trying to make ends meet until he is given a Dogo Argentino dog (a beautiful hunting animal strikingly similar to a pitbull or mastiff) as payment for a good deed and subsequently tries his hand at dog training; he ends up finding a soulmate in the canine.

Best in Show: "Bombon El Perro"

But in The Cat Vanishes, Sorin turns his attention away from economy to psychology in the comfortable setting of a successful middle-class family in Buenos Aires. But the loss of dignity - in this case, a respected professional in the midst of a mid-life identity crisis, is still a concern. As's review continues:

And where that uncertainty and sense of loss of dignity and identity play out is on the human face in Sorin’s films. He considers the face the landscape of the soul. “My characters are not characterized by memorable dialogue but by their faces, gestures, even silences.”

This makes for deceptively simple films. And yet the perceptive audience member will have to work. “I want to create films which require the viewer to determine what is happening to the characters without being given that information explicitly. I am interested in those human dramas which are expressed through filmic moments, through images and not words. People often express themselves more clearly through what they don’t say. In real life most people don’t go around saying clever things; they talk about banal things, but those banalities enclose and hide certain important things that transpire within the person.” 

What's the matter, Beatriz? Cat got your tongue?

We certainly see this in the face of Beatriz, as Sorin playfully calls the wife's sanity into question, as well. Is Luis truly unhinged or are Beatriz's fears merely her own paranoia and psychological breakdown? For his part, Luis looks alternately batty and calm - though the way he cooly brandishes a sharp blade while preparing sushi makes us wonder if his palatte extends to feline dishes. And did Donatello disappear because he recognized not his master but a stranger in the house? Hmmmmm...the director plays it straight, right up until the end (Sorin even opens with a pre-film title card asking the audience not to give away the ending to their friends!).

Variety accurately described the film as playing with '40s-era Hitchcock "as a cat toys with a mouse." And after being toyed with for 90 minutes, we were pleasantly satisfied by this cat-and-mouse style thriller's climax. We think most audiences will be, too.

Now, having seen Sorin's canine and feline tales, we're set to check out his other movies.

Related Links:
My 2012 Rehoboth Beach Film Festival Journal, Part 2 (Coming soon!)
The Cat Vanishes (IMDB)

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