Humor by Chason Gordon. See below.
Initially I did not intend to go to the Stonewall Jackson house, but the Robert E. Lee chapel was closed and I thought Jackson a fine second. Being a Canadian slightly apathetic about his own country’s history, I find myself knowing a great deal about the civil war, but am no enthusiast, as some have suggested. So upon approaching the house, I didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps a circle of civil war statues keeping warm by an eternal flame, or a raging heap of Confederate flags, swaying in the wind by their contractually obligated oscillating fans. But it was only a quiet little house, on a tiny side street, and I was the only one there, at around 4:30.
I bought a ticket for the tour, the last of the day, and was lead into a room where I watched a short film about Jackson. I guess when they make a movie about you, you know you’ve made it. The film was a primer on the Jackson house, and made me more excited to see it, since it was just in a movie. When the film ended a girl of about eighteen asked me if I had any questions. “Nope,” I responded, which, as it turns out, would often be my answer. We walked up the stairs and started the tour. She mentioned that since I was the only one on the tour, we could have a conversation instead of her just spouting off facts, but since my shyness pays no heed to history, this did not happen. Thus she spouted away.
You should know right off that the house does not contain all the original pieces owned by Jackson. Some have been lost to time and replaced with similar pieces from the era. It is the same with my memory. So if I happen to confuse a Stonewall Jackson fact with a poem by Tennyson, I hope you will forgive me.
His study was the first room we visited. It contained a desk (a desk!), a bookcase, and various sundries. Apparently, it was where he wrote. This made a great deal of sense to me, as the theatre downstairs would have been a bad place to write, especially with a film about you playing 24/7. I was told the room was exactly as Jackson had left it, although I imagine someone cleaned up a little before it became a designated historical building.
As much as I tried to pay attention, I was very distracted by the tour guide. She could not have been more nervous, as evidenced by her cracking voice, her lack of eye contact, and the rapidity of her speech. She reminded me of the first time I did stand up comedy (and the 100th time as well), except with civil war material. I wondered if she was nervous because of the awkwardness of a one on one tour, or if it was just me. We moved on to the next room, but I had not moved on from my self consciousness.
Here was the reception room. It is my understanding that many visits were paid in the 1800s, and thus a room was necessary to receive these people. It contained a few chairs, some fine linens, and a china cabinet. Once the guest had some tea and looked at the china, they were asked to leave. They certainly knew how to do it back then.
What kinds of things did Jackson do in Lexington? He gave lectures, wrote a great deal of correspondence, and tended the garden in the backyard (earning the nickname “Stonewall” for his ruthless control of weeds). A moment of irony occurred when she told me that Jackson worked on his confidence in Lexington, as he was nervous both socially and giving speeches. Did he now? Sounds like history should repeat itself here young lady, if you know what I mean. I lacked the confidence to say this, but she could see it in my eyes.
The tour ended with the gift shop, which I thought, as an installation, was a little arrogant on Jackson’s part. I bought some postcards, and a sliding cardboard device which tells you who won and how many died in every civil war battle. I keep it with me at all times. You never know.
As I walked out of the house, I was glad I missed the Robert E. Lee chapel, because otherwise I never would have met my future wife. I intend to return one day (alive, unlike a certain general), and marry the shyest girl in Lexington, and we will give tours of the house together, creating an awkward 19th century banter this world has never seen. We’ll run that Robert E. Lee chapel right out of town!