WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University students are helping tell the story of Winchester’s history by contributing essays to an artifacts-based book in commemoration of the city’s 275th anniversary this year.
The book is set to be published on Oct. 17 by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, which reached out to SU earlier this year about possibly collaborating on a project marking the milestone.
Jonathan Noyalas, director of the university’s McCormick Civil War Institute and co-editor of the book, said SU wanted to create something that could be left behind.
“If we could take 50 really cool artifacts that tell a very broad story about Winchester’s demographically diverse population, it would be really good to leave here for the next generation,” Noyalas said. “Artifacts are unique, because artifacts ... are a tangible connection to the past. Time marches on, people die, people are born, but those artifacts they stay and they tell such a powerful story.”
A photo of each artifact will be accompanied by an essay. About half of the essays will be written by SU students. The rest will be written by historical society members, Museum of the Shenandoah Valley officials and former SU history students.
The artifacts that will be featured range from a lock of George Washington’s hair to a Purple Heart and Silver Star awarded to the first combat casualty from Winchester during World War II.
No one knows how George Washington’s Office Museum in Winchester came to possess a lock of Washington’s hair, said Kim Oliveto, 53, a history major at SU who is writing about the artifact. The lock of hair was initially given to the Secretary of Treasury’s wife at a time when it was customary to get a personal item from someone who was famous or admired.
The Purple Heart and Silver Star were awarded to Charles Loring Hoover who died at the age of 22 fighting in WWII in Tunisia in the North African campaign.
Before Hoover went to war, he worked as a photographer and advertiser, said Steven Stabeler, 19, a history and political science major at SU, noting that Hoover’s headstone in Mount Hebron Cemetery says “the brave die young.”
Through the book project, Stabeler said he’s come to value the stories of lesser known people from Winchester. He also is writing about artifacts related to famed explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who hailed from Winchester.
Bailey Jones, 21, an SU history major, is writing about a crepe paper dress that was worn during a Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival pageant performed on the steps of Handley High School in the 1920s. Teachers made dresses for students for the springtime performance, Jones said. When they ran out of materials, they used crepe paper.
Jones, who is from Fairfax, said she has learned a lot about the history of Winchester while working on the project. She called being able to write for a history book “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”