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By Nelson Harris. The History Press. 128 pages. $19.99
Thursday, October 3, 2013
In a small volume in his series of local histories, Nelson Harris has gone to newspapers, magazines and early books to pull out 15 “hidden” stories old and new. His biggest job was finding them. After that, he summarized the works.
Features of the book are the follow-ups, telling what happened to the principals of the stories. For example, in the account of the 1949 Lee Scott murder trial, remembered by many oldtimers today, Harris reports that Scott was paroled after 20 years in a penitentiary, moved west and died in the mid-1990s. The Roanoke Commercial Club, beset by two scandals in the 1890s, was a forerunner to Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. Researching and reporting the outcome of the stories is valuable information.
Of the 15 tales, three stories widely reported in recent memory were the launching of the Roanoke star on Mill Mountain, the unusual double identity of Bill Cobb who had families in Roanoke County and North Carolina and the Lee Scott murder case.
For this varied collection, Harris’s research took many turns — from the library’s Virginia Room to interviews to a Library of Congress posting to books on black baseball players and the Shenandoah Life Insurance Co. Stories about the 1918 influenza epidemic, a Roanoker aboard the Titanic, a former Roanoker who shot John Lennon and the local reaction to Prohibition have been on the shelf for years, but no one noticed until Harris started digging.
The author, a Baptist minister and former Roanoke mayor, has a curiosity about the Roanoke of yesteryear. He’s done his homework well. He said he’s wondered, as many of us have, “what life was like in my hometown.”
This “compilation of narratives” is intended “to remind us that Roanoke’s story is a very human one.”
Many other stories are out there, Harris said. Maybe he will pull more off the shelf.
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