War and Murder at Nimrod Hall

This post also appears on the Virginia is for Mysteries blog. Click here to read it and more stories from Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II. 

Virginia is for Mysteries blog
“War and Murder at Nimrod Hall” is part of Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II


In high school, I hated Ohio and American history. I didn’t want to memorize the dates of battles, the names of generals, the placement of Ohio’s 88 counties and their county seats. In college, I avoided taking a history course of any sort. But after graduate school, historical fiction, biographies, and memoirs ignited my interest. I find social history, and the civilian parallels to military history, fascinating. Thus, I am more interested in sex during the Civil War than in mapping troop movements at Gettysburg, what was happening in medicine and sources of corruption than who was in charge of which part of the armies. Thus my story for Virginia Is For Mysteries, “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery” was born, with the amateur detective being Clara, a good-natured prostitute who specialized in serving men with benign fetishes in and around Richmond during the Civil War.


I enjoyed writing Clara, and readers seemed to enjoy the story, so for Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II, I decided to take Clara from Richmond to the West. But why Nimrod Hall? For one thing, it’s historic, the property established as a farm in 1783. For another, I’ve enjoyed summer writing workshops at the modern (but rustic) Nimrod Hall of today for more than 10 years. It still stands near the Cowpasture River, and has the original fieldstone fireplace.
Stone fireplace at Nimrod Hall
Nimrod Hall’s original stone fireplace from 1783
I’m familiar with Bath County, Millboro and Millboro Springs, and Warm Springs. In addition, the Bath County Historical Society is the baby of Richard L. Armstrong, the man who wrote a booklet titled, The Civil War in Bath County, Virginia. He was very helpful and willingly shared his thoughts. If you are ever in Warm Springs, stop by—and then enjoy the waters at what are now called the Jefferson Pools.
ladies baths in Warm Springs, Virginia
The ladies baths in Warm Springs, built in 1836
Ultimately, I was able to weave local war history and the names of its actors with the Civil War railroad system, the history of Nimrod Hall and its public scandals into a story in which Clara arrives at the farm to become enmeshed in murder and intrigue that never happened—but could have!
Nimrod Hall main buildling
Nimrod Hall

Learn more about Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II here. 

Sex in the Civil War

Sometimes things just come together. I’ve had a long-standing interest in graveyards and cemeteries. My all-time favorite is Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The primary picture on my website was taken there! It is the first garden cemetery in the United States, established in 1834.

book cover of Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M.G. Linden
Silent City on a Hill by Blanche M.G. Linden

So, of course, when I moved to the area, I visited Hollywood Cemetery, the third garden cemetery in the United States.

Hollywood Cemetery-With Skyline and River.jpg
“Hollywood Cemetery-With Skyline and River” by Andrew Bain – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

At that time, I lived in the McMurdo house in Ashland, built in 1858. Apparently Stonewall Jackson headquartered there briefly during the battles around Richmond—briefly meaning only a few hours. But it piqued my interest in the Civil War.

After touring the White House of the Confederacy, I visited the gift shop there. After visiting historic sites or museums, I always check the gift shop for off-beat books. In this instance, I found The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War.

Book cover of "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War" by Thomas P. Lowry, M.D.
The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War by Thomas P. Lowry, M.D.

So when the call went out for stories for Virginia Is For Mysteries, it all came together. I wrote “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery.” My amateur detective is Clara, a good natured prostitute who plies her trade with fetishists in Richmond and the surrounding area during the Civil War.

I love it when everything comes together!

Anthology Virginia is for Mysteries - From 14 Sisters in Crime Writers
Virginia is for Mysteries

Day 10 at Nimrod Hall Writers’ Workshop


Day 10

One of my favorite walks up Nimrod Lane passes this tiny graveyard. Three members of the Smith family are buried here–gone and forgotten?–and several mornings each summer, I pay my respects.

graveyard on Nimrod Lane

I’ve always loved graveyards and cemeteries. I have a favorite tree in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA. In fact the main picture on my website was taken there, in the first garden cemetery in the US. And as some of you may know, my story in Virginia Is For Mysteries is “Death Comes To Hollywood Cemetery”— which is in Richmond, VA, and is the third oldest garden cemetery in the US.

But enough, before I get carried away sending pictures of my skull jewelry. BTW, skulls are also a symbol of transformation.

skull rings

My work today had nothing to do with death or cemeteries, though my new novel will have much to do with transformation. I spent the morning trying to apply the structure used for “Brokeback Mountain” (by Annie Proulx, in Close Range: Wyoming Stories) to my novel. In that story, only 30 pp, I saw how a story spanning decades can be compelling while (by?) leaving out a lot.

The two writers “on” today were widely divergent and wonderful.

Foust is a writer, cartoonist, and print maker who lives in Richmond, VA. She is seen here on the Square House side porch with her two new books. Six Of One, Half-Dozen Of The Other is a book of cartoons. Sins of Omission is a collection of stories. Foust specializes in short-shorts, so many of these are only a couple of pages with enormous punch.

Foust, author of Six Of One, Half-Dozen Of The Other and Sins of Omission

Amelia L. Williams is a prize-winning poet from Afton, VA. Her language is both lyrical and gripping. She has done–and is continuing to develop–an amazing installation of in situ art with integrated poems.

Author Amelia L. Williams
Amelia L. Williams

This picture of Amelia was taken shortly before her workshop and reading. Obviously, Nimrod writer weeks are pressure cooker sorts of events.

Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life. The 2015 Writers’ Workshop writers-in-residence are Sheri Reynolds, Cathryn Hankla, and Charlotte G. Morgan


Off to Nimrod Hall 

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9



I have a story in the upcoming collection Virginia is for More Mysteries (Koehler Books, April 2016) titled “War and Murder at Nimrod Hall.” This is a sequel to “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery,” which appears in Virginia Is For Mysteries. It follows Clara as she escapes war-torn Richmond in 1862 only to encounter wounded soldiers and spies in Bath County.

Virginia is for Mysteries and Virginia is for More Mysteries
Look for “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery” in Virginia is for Mysteries, out now from Koehler Books.

You can find Virginia is for Mysteries on IndieBound, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.