You can open any history book and learn about all of the daring feats, world-changing politics, and rich culture of Virginia. And that’s great — but sometimes, it’s nice to lighten things up a little. So we’ve done a little research and have come up with a few of the…well…more “interesting” things that Virginians have gotten up to over the years. At least no one can ever accuse of us of being boring!
1. Hank the Cat comes in 3rd in the 2012 U.S. Senate race
When the people demanded a better candidate, Hank the Cat answered. In what started as a joke, but also a statement about frustrating politics, Springfield kitty owners, Matthew O'Leary and Anthony Roberts, put their adopted cat, Hank, into the Virginia State Senate race. After losing the state race, Hank made a run for the U.S. Senate where he held his own against 2 major candidates – and gained quite a bit of media attention. You can even see one of the “attack ads” against him below. While he didn’t win, he did make a point about conventional politics and raised $60,000 for animal charities. Sadly, Hank passed away last year – but his legacy lives on. RIP, good sir.
2. “Will Vote For Booze” – or at least that’s how the Colonists rolled.
Speaking of politics…back in the day, instead of hosting fundraisers, Virginia politicians just had a big party on election day. And just like the cool kids in high school, often the winners were the ones who gave out the most free food and drinks. When a young, naïve, 23-year old George Washington first ran for a Virginia House of Burgesses seat, he kept his election day campaign dry – and he lost. An older, wiser Washington came back three years later in 1758, and doled out nearly ½ gallon of booze per voter. After voters consumed vast amounts of beer, rum punch, wine, cider, and brandy, Washington won the election – but unless they had better hangover cures back then, I’m guessing it was a few days before he could really enjoy it.
3. A “Cow” steals milk from Wal-Mart in North Stafford
Ok, it wasn’t really a cow, rather a man dressed as a cow...and crawling on all fours. In 2011, an 18-year old North Stafford man crawled into the local Walmart in full cow costume. After putting 26 gallons of milk in his cart and sauntering out of the store, on 2 legs by this time (does that make it LESS weird?), he ditched the costume but was later apprehended from video surveillance. Sigh. Only in Virginia.
4. Zebulon Miller buries himself with his fortune in Lynchburg– who says you can’t take it with you?
Some people just like to be right. So when Zebulon Miller of Lynchburg was told “you can’t take it with you,” he made his point, even after death. When Miller died in 1885, he was buried in a concrete mausoleum with 3-foot-thick walls that he had built 5 years earlier. He had also hired a Swiss agent to make sure that $2.3 million in gold and silver coins were safely installed along with his body. A $1 million trust ensured upkeep – and armed guards – for the tomb. Many years later, a high-tech security system was installed and the treasure remains intact to this day. Of course, thanks to the security, no one has proven that the money is there…so tell me what you think. Fact or fiction?
5. Spiderman takes on villainous potholes in Virginia Beach
In June 2014, Virginia Beach resident, Scott Love, decided to make a point about the web of potholes (sorry, couldn’t help it) in and around Virginia Beach roads. Dressed as the wall-crawling superhero, he held up protest signs reading, “Good beaches, great food, awesome potholes,” and “Say no to potholes.” He got his point across and the city responded. Who says we don’t need superheroes? See the full story in the video below.
6. Alexandria’s “Black Widow” eats nearly 37 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
We all have that one little party trick that we pull out for special occasions. For Alexandria native Sonya Thomas (a.k.a., the Black Widow), it just so happens to be competitive eating. In 2013, she won the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition for the 3rd consecutive year. Surprisingly, Thomas doesn’t hold the hot dog record, but she does hold records for crab cakes (46 in ten minutes), soft-shell lobster (44 in twelve minutes), hard-boiled eggs (65 in six minutes, 40 seconds), and pickled jalapenos (250.5 in nine minutes). I have to wonder, at what point and under what circumstances did she figure out that she had this talent?
7. General “Stonewall” Jackson’s Arm is given a proper burial at Ellwood Plantation in Wilderness
When General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally shot by his own troops during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his left arm was so severely damaged that it had to be amputated. A visiting chaplain saw the amputated arm on a pile, and as Jackson’s arm was far too superior to go in just ANY pile of body parts, he took it his brother’s estate and gave it a proper Christian burial and a headstone. When Jackson died a week later, the rest of his parts were buried in Lexington.
8. A Petersburg house is built…entirely of tombstones.
Oswald Young built the “Tombstone House” in 1934 using 2,200 tombstones of Union soldiers buried in the nearby Poplar Grove Cemetery. Young is thought to have bought the stones from the cemetery when they were pulled up in favor of lower-maintenance markers. Some say he turned the names and inscription inward and plastered over them, but it’s more likely he used the bases of the stones only. A bit macabre, to be sure, but I suppose this still counts as using local materials – an early example of eco-construction perhaps?
9. Dinosaurs invade Glasgow.
On April 1, 2003, the residents of the small town of Glasgow awoke to find that life-sized dinosaurs had invaded overnight. As part of a rather involved April Fool’s prank, fiberglass artist and practical joke master, Mark Cline, created the dinosaurs for fun, but also as a way to bring some positive publicity to local businesses. Turns out, it worked. Business boomed and the Glasgow dinos took their place in Cline’s history of fabulous April Fools’, which also includes flying saucers in Lexington and Foamhenge in Natural Bridge.
10. Runaway Emu joins a Virginia Beach man for a jog…wait. What?
In December 2012, a Virginia Beach resident was running in the Highgate Green neighborhood when an emu suddenly began following him. Turns out, the bird had escaped from his home and was just out for a jog. Perhaps they were on to something – emus as running partners? At least you won’t have to worry about them talking to you while you’re trying to save your breath.
11. A Roanoke couple build a mini-Graceland in their front yard. Long live the King!
In the 1980s, Don and Kim Epperly of Roanoke decided to immortalize their love of Elvis with a miniature Graceland in their own front yard. Complete with replica buildings and a bronze statue of The King himself, the tribute was open to the public. Thanks to the Salem Garden Club and the Epperlys’ son, Mike, visitors can still catch a site of Graceland in all of its (miniature) glory.
Gotta love some weird Virginia! I’m sure there are many of you out there that can add some equally fun and bizarre facts and stories to the mix. For example, I know there’s a place out there called “Midgetville,” but I keep hitting dead-ends for photos and information. Anyone know more? Tell me your craziest Virginia story in the comments below…who knows, it might just make a future article!