April 18, St. Petersburg, Fla. – After spending the past few days writing as if I were Kerouac jacked up on greenies while we holed up in Treasure Island at a sweet little one-bedroom apartment perched on the south end of the Johns Pass drawbridge, I’m back in our tawdry home away from home.
We’re at the McDonald’s at the intersection of 4th Street North and 38th Avenue North. As these places go, and they go-go-go-go-go with the kaleidoscopic ka-ching of a thousand cash registers on automatic pilot, this one is quite suited to our needs. Playplace and plug-ins, what else you need? And the “dining room” is open 24 hours. I might be here till 4 a.m. tomorrow. Maybe by then the squealing chorus of sugarcane-saturated kids will have stopped ringing in my ears.
We spent a few desultory hours here last night, then camped at a nearby branch of the Walton Family General Store. We got ourselves turned around on the return trip this morning and drove right past the space-age structure they call Tropicana Field. I asked Becky if she knew which wondrous event took place in part at Tropicana Field.
She guessed correctly. The first two games of the 2008 World Series were played here. It ended in Philadelphia in a Game 5 that lasted three days. We watched the resumption of the rain-interrupted finale at Chez Via in Gig Harbor. The Vias were so sweet and loving about the whole thing. They pretended to root for the Phillies. And they celebrated with me after Brad Lidge fanned Eric Hinkse to give the Team of Ten Thousand Losses their second world championship.
Seems like ancient times now. A lot of things have changed. The Tampa Bay team has exorcised the Devil from its nickname. The core of that Phillies team is still around, which explains a bit about current events. They’re ancient, too. Well, we’ll always have 2008.
As we drove entered I-175 and drove past the welcome to Tropicana Field sign, Becky got a confused look on her face, “Wait. We’re in Tampa?” I explained that we’re in the Tampa Bay region, and that Tropicana Field is in St. Petersburg.
Funny when one nostalgic wave washes over another. My mind tumbled backward to those glorious nights on the sports desk of The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash. The reason I know the Tampa Bay Rays play in St. Petersburg and not Tampa owes everything to those nights, because it startled me the first time I encountered the dateline while assembling the baseball page and dropping in a summary and boxscore for a home Devil Rays game: ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.
I did the same sort of doubletake.
So, a good bit of personal history comes together here in St. Pete. My sister was born here in 1959. Our parents flew here to adopt her. The rest is shrouded in mystery.
We met a cute family here. 5-month old Greta and older brother, 3-year-old Remy, and their mother, Alexis. I’m shocked Max didn’t ask pretty Alexis to be his friend. Maybe he’s hitting a new phase.
They’re gone now, and we’re on our own in the ephemeral community of the golden arches.
We’re back in the behemoth, at least for a few days, though we’ve vowed not to move from this area until I catch up. I am nowhere close.
Yesterday we visited Sunset Beach, a subset of Treasure Island, in the afternoon after checking out. As we applied sunscreen and gathered our stuff for the short walk to the beach, Max opened the bottom drawer of our little plastic cabinet and pulled out a batch of papers that had been stapled together in the upper-left corner.
“You need this, Daddy?” he said.
I grunted and responded with the customary benign neglect. Then I looked to see what he was on about. The top page featured a photocopied picture of an old mountain scene under this headline: “The Taking of Via Mountain.”
Immediately I knew some clarification would be required.
Just last night I asked Becky, “Didn’t Shelley (Via Smulsky) give us some additional material? Whatever happened to that stuff?”
I muttered something about us being utterly incapable of keeping track of our crap.
She responded: “We are?”
Point taken. And at least we have a 5-year-old smart-aleck equipped with a full complement of brain cells to aid the cause.
I shoved Robert Yingst’s story into my pocket, and we hit the beach.
The problem with churning out a lot of stuff in a brief period of time is you run the risk of trivializing a story or at the very least glossing over significant details.
Which brings us to Yingst’s piece, a fascinating case study of the shameless way the state of Virginia conspired with the federal government and hucksters like George Freeman Pollock to push mountain people off their ancestral lands in order to clear the way for Shenandoah National Park. The beginning of the end for communities like Sugar Hollow came Feb. 24, 1924, when Congress authorized a volunteer Southern Appalachian National Park Committee. Those positioned to benefit personally from a national park in northern Virginia launched a coordinated campaign to marginalize the mountain people they planned to displace. They denigrated the people of the hills and hollows as backward, ignorant and virtually unable to care for themselves. They were aliens to modernity.
Contrary to what I wrote recently, Robert Via, the boss of Sugar Hollow, did not live in Sugar Hollow when they came to seize his land. His home and business headquarters were in nearby Grottoes. The apple orchard, distillery and sawmill that constituted the heart of the Via operation remained in Sugar Hollow. His mom, known as Aunt Lindy to the people of Sugar Hollow, lived there still.
It’s a small error, but an error nonetheless. I also was hazy on the timeline, so I tried to write around my confusion. A good editor will tell you this is never a good plan.
The timeline, according to Yingst’s invaluable research, goes like this:
Via’s business and land officially were taken on Dec. 14, 1933, when the state issued him a check for $3,230. That represented the entirety of the “just compensation” he received for his 152-acre spread, which included a thriving apple orchard, a sawmill and a distillery.
Justifiably insulted, Via never cashed the check.
Nearly a year later, Via, who had lived a dual existence since 1928 when he hedged his bets and rented a farm in central Pennsylvania, filed suit to stop Virginia from taking his land via eminent domain. On Jan . 10, 1935, the three-judge panel considering Robert H. Via vs. The State Commission on Conservation and Development of the State of Virginia Equity No. 91-N.C. ruled in favor of the state.
Bob Vi wasn’t done fighting. The case reached the Supreme Court before the end of the year. When the top court in the land ruled against him, too, he knew the game was up. Not coincidentally, Shenandoah National Park officially was born on the day after Christmas, 1935.
Bob Vi was born June in Sugar Hollow on June 27, 1883. He died in Hershey, Pa., on Jan. 17, 1958, at age 74. Yingst’s portrayal infuses additional color into Bob Vi.
It opens with a terrible tale from 1901, his 11-year-old sister got trapped in a brush fire. He couldn’t save her. He was left with gnarled and disfigured hands that would serve as a constant reminder of this heartbreaking episode.
Rosie was buried in the family graveyard atop old Via Mountain along with her dad, Christopher Columbus Via, who would join her there in five years. We will return to this graveyard soon.
Christopher Columbus Via married Malinda Marshall on Aug. 29, 1872. They built their sprawling home place at the headwaters of Moormans River.
“Aunt Lindy” bore Christopher Via 15 children, but he never recovered from the tragic death of his darling Rosie. Worse yet, the fire had been ignited intentionally to clear out brush, and it was Christopher Columbus Via himself who had asked Rosie to deliver water and food to her brothers tending the blaze.
Big, strapping Bob Via was, Yingst wrote, “a study in contradictions.” Often portrayed as a ruthless and shrewd business operator, family members recalled his genial and generous nature. “Have you had your breakfast yet?” was the daily good morning he used to greet people who passed by his house.
Which reminds me, I haven’t had my breakfast yet. And it’s nearly 3 p.m. here in St. Petersburg. Who knows where the time goes? Who knows more cliches than me?
I’ll return sooner or later with Part 2 of the Vias of the Shenandoah Valley, which promises to take us from the home place in Harriston and up and over Skyline Drive to the Via Mountain for a good, old-fashioned grave robbery.
Take is away, Sandy: