Richmond In Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder
Harry Kollatz, Jr.

Foreword by Anne Thomas Soffee

It 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.