Thursday night, David Spriggs and I gave our first talk on Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost Town.
While preparing our powerpoint presentation, I learned two things I had not known before:
1) Sometime in 1917 or 1918, a German sub made its way to the York River, in a bid to blow up Penniman.
2) Women who did the shell loading were known as “The Canary Girls,” because the exposure to the TNT and other chemicals turned their skin, hair and nails a bright, canary yellow. Many died as a result of this poisoning.
Below, you’ll find a VERY condensed version of our powerpoint presentation, which shows a mere 10 of the 100 historical photos we’ve unearthed during our research.
To read more about Penniman, click here.
While doing research for this book, I learned that many of these shell loaders died terrible deaths as a result of their exposure to the powerful chemicals and explosives. The information above comes from an extremely rare document, chronicling day-to-day life at Penniman.
In the mid-1910s, a skin cream was developed - just for women shell loaders - to help them cope with the yellowing of their skin, nails and hair. Brunette women saw their hair turn green. Many women lost their hair completely. As one woman said, "No amount of washing would take that yellow away." Sadly, no one knows how many women died from this work, but it's said that their numbers were significant. Image is from Wikipedia.
A British officer credited DuPont with helping them win the war. At a time when chemistry was greatly needed, DuPont did a lot to gear up for the war, and obviously, made a huge difference.
In addition to the dangers of chemical poisoning and explosions at Penniman, Mr. Kelley states that the Germans were hoping to launch an attack on Penniman. Hiland Kelley was a superintendent at the plant.
Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didn't want them there.
From the Morecock Family Papers.
I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere. The image above shows one of our "Ethel Bungalows" in Penniman. The image below is from the 1948 City Assessor. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)
We've counted 18 "Ethels" in this vintage photo of Penniman. There may be more out of frame. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)
To continue reading about Penniman, click here.
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