Richmond In Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder
Harry Kollatz, Jr.
Foreword by Anne Thomas Soffee
says something about Richmond as a city—and if you are a Richmonder, it
says something you already know too well—that if you boil Richmond in
Ragtime down to its essence and examine what is there, you’ll see just
how precious little this city has changed in the last hundred years.
After all, that’s the way we like it here in the River City. The good,
the bad and the ugly—as long as it doesn’t change, we’ll take it. Then
we’ll swell with pride when we tell you how hard we fought to keep
things from changing, laying down in front of the bulldozers, railing
at city council meetings against new construction and referring to
everything by names that were officially retired decades ago—and Harry
Kollatz will be there with pen in hand to hear us reminisce.
As a lifelong Richmond resident, I have been an ardent fan of Harry’s
“Flashback” column in Richmond Magazine since its inception, because
like most Richmonders, I am pathologically nostalgic, but also because
most of the Richmond institutions on which Harry flashes back were
previously known to me only through family stories, handed down, quite
possibly embellished and definitely transformed a little or a lot
through generations of retelling. Harry’s painstakingly researched
Triptiks through Richmond history have allowed me to separate the
fiction from the fact, put dates and occasionally faces on the yarns
that have been spun and have finally convinced me that yes, there was a
psychic horse that resided on Jefferson Davis Highway, by God, my
parents were not just screwing with me to see what I’d believe.
This latest jaunt through Richmond’s lesser-known alleys and avenues
takes place in a tightly concentrated chunk of time and an even tighter
amount of space—a Richmond where Roseneath Road was the edge of town
and Woodland Heights and Highland Park were suburbia’s farthest
outposts, promising freedom from city life and granolithic sidewalks to
boot. The names will be mostly unfamiliar to all but the most dedicated
Richmond historian, but the places remain the same, as do an uncanny
number of the events making news. From bars getting busted for serving
to minors to faulty sewer lines, gang violence, suburbs that seem to
pop up—and populate—overnight and girls hanging out of the windows
around Grace Street exposing their breasts “below the danger line”
(seriously, does that ever get old?), Richmond is Richmond no matter
the century. Add a murder trial involving old money and a young lady,
some socialite suffragettes and a banjo-strumming pharmacist intent on
remaking slavery’s image and by gum, you have a story—replete with a
reform-minded muckraker to thread all of the elements together. That
story is Richmond in Ragtime and I’m sure you will enjoy it.
And, as a footnote to my theory that the Richmond of today is
essentially the Richmond of a hundred years ago, as I finished typing
this foreword to Harry’s tale of Richmond in ragtime, the
Times-Dispatch online edition graciously informed me that absinthe is
now available in the commonwealth. Get the Buick and pass me my feather
turban; I’m headed out to the Park Hotel.
Anne Thomas Soffee
July 21, 2008 Anne is the writer of memoirs, Snake Hips and Nerd Girl.