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Two suicides this week of people who seemingly “had it all”



Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain.

Two suicides this week of people who seemingly “had it all”. Money. Fame. Success.

But something was broken. Something within. And now two are gone forever and family and friends are reeling. It’s a passing of pain from a person’s soul to a group of many left wondering what they could have done to stop it. To make that difference. To help.

I’ve had people in my life who have succumbed to their sadness and left this earth by their own hand. It has been devastating to experience their loss. To know that they had such desperation in their lives that they felt leaving this world was their only chance at peace.

Suicide is 100% preventable.

Life is hard. At times it seems unbearable. You feel alone. You feel you’re too complicated to be understood. You feel mental and physical pain. You feel like if you go, you’ll find the peace that eludes you.

All of those feelings are not forever. They are moments. And maybe they are long periods of time. And they may seem insurmountable when it’s all consuming. But those thoughts and feelings do not have to be permanent and they do not have to make you give up.

Storms don’t last forever.

You have a purpose on this earth. You may not even know the impact that you have in everyone’s lives. But you matter. To so many. This world is a better place with you in it. With all that you have to offer. You are invaluable. You touch lives. You give joy to others.

All things are difficult before they are easy.

If you hate your life, if it feels all wrong, change your way of living. You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out. To family, friends, professionals. I can guarantee that if you ask for help, you will find care and compassion. Because YOU are worthy of it all.

Suicide can be prevented.

Text 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.

Call 1-800-273-8255.

Suicide should not be your final choice, because what if…

Submitted by Lori Vaughn Bassler, Winchester

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Don’t just ask about us



The Examiner’s decision to scrutinize the cost of police presence at Front Royal Unites’ recent racial justice events begs the question: Why now, and why not for any other rallies or parades? And, more importantly, why aren’t we talking instead about the costs white supremacy has inflicted upon our Black friends and neighbors?

One of those costs is life itself. Law enforcement, in theory, was designed in large part to protect our first amendment rights, including both life and peaceful assembly. George Floyd’s birthday observance this week was held in remembrance of a man whose first amendment right to life was stolen from him because of the color of his skin by law enforcement—the very institution we all agree has a duty to protect that right.

And what about the costs to Black citizens, like former NAACP President Suetta Freeman, who was locked out of school during Massive Resistance in 1958 and who spent her entire career in auditing and finance commuting to Northern Virginia because she was unable to secure equal and fair employment here in our town? Let’s consider the costs to Black families like hers, and to our community for silently accepting the exodus of diversity and talent that has come with our institutional inequities.

Citizens should expect that some police funding will be allotted protect our first amendment right to peaceful assembly, just as they, and apparently the Examiner, are willing to accept the thousands of dollars accrued by police staffing at various celebrations and rallies for other causes, like the Back the Blue rally on September 1, without question. At least these figures might have been researched to provide more balanced reporting.

No one is asking for police to shut down a lane of traffic to celebrate Little Joe’s sixth birthday—but for a much-needed reflection on our history of oppression. It seems that much of Front Royal is uncomfortable when public resources are used to uplift voices other than those in their own echo chambers. Good, let’s be uncomfortable. Let’s talk about our white fragility, and let’s do better.

Laura Lee Cascada
Front Royal, Virginia

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Front Royal Unites (FRU) birthday celebration for George Floyd



I conducted a one-man counter-demonstration to that event on the bridge on October 14, 2020, and have received criticism for it.  I rained on their 34 participant parade, so to speak because someone needed to.  They had signs presenting Mr. Floyd as a father, an athlete, a friend, and other titles, and my sign said, “celebrate good people not criminals” and “all lives matter”. Their idea represented bad judgment, in my opinion, in that while Mr. Floyd’s killing was tragic, Front Royal Unites (FRU), BLM and many Dems have been making him out to be a celebrity and upstanding citizen. The truth is he was just a victim with a controversial past and was under arrest for allegedly passing counterfeit money at the time of his death. Everyone has the right to demonstrate anything, but it has consequences.

Substantial law enforcement resources were wasted because they had to be prepared for the worst-case scenario where outside agitators might show up, as has happened elsewhere, and we all know how that could have turned out. Fear was injected in our community that there could be traffic disruptions and mayhem that we’ve seen in other places throughout the country. As for one citizen commenting on running over people, demonstrators have no right to impede the lawful travel of the general public. Demonstrators in the street have caused damage and threatened drivers so running them over is a logical and warranted reaction if it came to that. The concept of  ‘do stupid things, win stupid prizes’ applies I think.

Months ago, after Mr. Floyd was killed, there was virtually universal support for police reform.  FRU was created and sponsored a march in support of that concept, but they couldn’t just leave it at that, and Mr. Porter hijacked the situation to claim white supremacy and racism that is not a significant element in our fine community, and that’s how I became involved initially.

I attended the first march, but advertised that I felt Mr. Porter’s allegations were exaggerated, and even addressed it in a Royal Examiner ‘Letter to the Editor’, but it didn’t end there. Mr. Porter told others his group was not interested in the courthouse statue memorializing locals who had fallen in the Civil War but then proceeded to support an effort to have the statue removed, which many saw as a lack of integrity. That issue has been placed on the upcoming ballot and will eventually be resolved but has caused unneeded divisiveness in our community, in contradiction with his group’s name.

Then Mr. Porter came up with the idea that by running for Mayor he might gain a greater platform to press his agenda on the Town.  However, he did not take the opportunity to qualify in a conventional manner so is having to run a write-in campaign because he couldn’t meet the application deadline. Mr. Porter seems to be an educated and capable young man with good advertised intention, and I appreciate his prior service to the country, but his youth and relative inexperience suggest he’s just not ready for prime-time yet, in my opinion. In September, he endorsed the McCool candidacy, but now that has understandably been abandoned.

The FRU group is seen as a BLM supporter, a Marxist group, whose mission is to transform America into a socialist society which is one of the central themes in our upcoming national election, even though socialism has proved to be a failed system and occurs at the expense of individual freedom which is the central tenant of our country.  I couldn’t be more opposed to socialism, and that contributes to why I have spoken against and used my resources to oppose FRU and its leadership.

While I encourage Mr. Porter and others to work to improve our community, it seems their efforts to-date have done more to divide than unify. I hope that he and other FRU supporters will evaluate their strategy to see if better results can be achieved. I’ll continue to observe the happenings in our Town and County and contribute where I can to keep this one of the best places to live, in our beautiful state, in the best country on the planet.

Gary Kushner
Bentonville, Virginia

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Response to recent Letter to the Editor regarding Valley Health and Anthem



I would like to comment on Anne Boyd Earle’s Letter to the Editor from October 12th.

Back in 2018, Anthem Healthkeepers left Warren County high-n-dry. People had to scramble to get a health provider if you had Healthkeepers.

Wasn’t Cigna the only insurance being accepted at that time?

I’m not knocking Anthem, but you remember things like this when it happens to you.  There are other good healthcare insurance programs that tie-in with Valley Health; Optima and Humana are a few.

Competition is furious out there, yes, we need to be aware of what is going on with health insurance and hospitals, but back to the table sometimes is not an option.

Tenia Smith
Front Royal, Virginia

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Valley Health and Anthem should be brought back to the table



Valley Health just announced that it’s severing ties with Anthem BCBS effective January 1, 2021. If you live in the northern Shenandoah Valley you should be protesting to every governmental agency/person you know. This announced split is UNACCEPTABLE and puts the lives, health care, and financial well-being of residents in our region seriously at risk.

Do you really want to go to Harrisonburg, Gainesville, or even farther for your medical needs? Open season is upon us and Valley Health advises us to seek other insurance – options which potentially will cost us much more out-of-pocket, assuming there are even other options available to us!

Local, state, and federal government agencies coupled with individuals (including doctors) need to push back and demand that these two entities come to an agreement NOW.

Leaving us all high and dry should not be allowed and sets a dangerous health-care precedent for our communities. What good is a fancy new hospital in Front Royal if our insurance doesn’t cover services provided there? Shame on Valley Health and Anthem BCBS for endangering us all.

Anne Boyd Earle
Front Royal, Virginia

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Shenandoah’s natural transportation highway



Before commerce was first introduced to the railroad phenomena and before the macadamized turnpike stretched from Winchester to Harrisonburg, our great valley had a natural transportation highway. It would take a number of enterprising partnerships, strategic planning and long term labor intensive efforts to deliver the physical improvements necessary to access a narrow, twisting and shallow river.

In colonial times travel by land was done by old-fashioned stagecoach, on horseback, or on foot. The roads were in a habitually deplorable condition. Many of the towns were thoroughly without roads, only connected with their neighboring towns by Indian trails. Great quantities of hemp, grain and other farm products were often brought to town from the remote settlements on pack horses.

Wagon transport was not an essential factor in Shenandoah Valley trade until the 1760s, when the shipping requirements of the hemp industry provided the first major demand for wagon teams. A warehouse for hemp was established in Frederick County and freight wagons necessary to conduct trade first became a priority.

Wagons in general were expensive to construct and demand for wheelwrights and other skilled craftsmen were greater than the supply. The local and legendary Newtown wagons had not yet been developed to haul hemp and farm produce from the river valleys and mountain slopes over the Blue Ridge to busy city warehouses. Overland transportation using wagons was always an option, but costly and dependent on good weather. Wagon routes were often a treacherous option due to heavy spring and summer rains.

Beginning in 1790, the Shenandoah Valley produced a surplus of flour for export and the developing requirement for passage to eastern markets in Alexandria, Richmond and Fredericksburg grew more intense. Farmers searched for other avenues of conveyance and the solution appeared to be in a natural, but potentially unnavigable transportation highway. Written records reflect that in the 1790s, pig iron and flour were first loaded onto primitive rafts in the North River at what would become Bridgewater and sent down the Shenandoah during high water seasons.

Historical Society Museum – Bridgewater, VA located on the banks of the North River, has been a center of commerce for over 175 years. Its history began with a quiet little settlement previously known as Magill’s Ford, Dinkletown and Bridgeport. Photos / Nancy Gunderman

Around that time George Washington became actively involved in efforts to establish an organization whose objective was to develop water routes between the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers employing a series of canals and locks. Washington led the way in chartering the Potomac Company by first seeking interstate cooperation between Virginia and Maryland in developing the Potomac River. Both states passed legislation in early 1785.

Washington had also called for the establishment of a U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry, located at the mouth of the Shenandoah River. By 1799, as work commenced on the armory, improvement of the Shenandoah River was a requirement to channel up-river lumber and iron into Harpers Ferry as material resources to support site construction and later for forging muskets, rifles and pistols.

The Virginia legislature unsuccessfully attempted to establish an independent company for developing the Shenandoah River to handle substantial boat navigation. In 1803 it granted a charter to the Potomac Company. In 1805, after obtaining the necessary start-up loans, the company hired a boat crew to inspect the Shenandoah from Harpers Ferry to Port Republic on the South Fork. The Potomac Company concentrated efforts toward managing the most difficult river rapids by building a series of canals and locks on the lower seven miles of navigation above Harpers Ferry. These milestones were completed in 1806.

Potomac Company crews continued to hammer away, black powder blasting rock and dredging the river bed and by 1807 established a navigable passage for trade between Harpers Ferry and Port Republic, then the head of navigation on the Shenandoah. In especially shallow areas, funnel-shaped wing dams made of stone were built with an opening in the center to form a higher flowing passageway for boat traffic.

Historical evidence accounts for an unsophisticated cargo carrying boat, called a Gundalow, to become a mainstay of valley commerce and transportation from roughly the turn of the nineteenth century until after the Civil War. These whitewater river crafts were heavy, with square bows and sterns, flat bottoms, pine hull/floor boards and measuring as much as 9 ½ feet wide by 76 to 90 feet long. The side planks were two inches thick and fourteen or more inches wide.

The yellow pine scale model of a wooden gundalow flat bottom river boat built by George Erdman is on display at the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum at the Edinburg Mill.

The Gundalow was a short-lived boat built for quick inexpensive shipment of bulk commodities (8-12 tons) down river. The boats were most often loaded with flour, lumber and pig iron. Other diverse items such as pork, beef, tobacco, ginseng, copper, manganese, wheat, whiskey, furs, tanned leather and occasionally herds of turkeys were pre-staged on site while boat captains waited for high waters in order to make the trip downriver to Harper’s Ferry or continue on the Potomac to Georgetown.

The crafts were mostly built by local sawmills near Port Republic. A gundalow was usually manned by six crew, four pole men and two oarsmen, one for each tiller. Boatmen manipulated the craft through manmade and natural chutes, rapids and constant choppy waters, docking at river stations to discharge or take on cargo. At their destinations, gundalows were disassembled and sold as inexpensive lumber to frugal builders who then used the recycled material for wall, ceiling and floor construction in houses.

Once landed and unloaded, the boatmen received good paying wages and returned to their point of departure on foot. Front Royal was often a popular place to rest on the return trip. A man could buy new clothes, or get a room, bath, meal, bottle and perhaps some female companionship here. These river sailors were both boisterous and unruly and locals claimed they carried a readily combustible powder keg in their hearts. Boatmen mingling with horse and cattle wranglers, wagon drivers and trainmen created an atmosphere for ferocious nightly saloon brawls giving the village of Riverton on the northern edge of Front Royal, the unflattering nickname of “Helltown.”

The Potomac Company was never able to generate enough funding to fully support navigation improvements to the upper stretches of the Shenandoah River. In 1816, the company sold its Shenandoah works and permissions to the New Shenandoah Company. The new company’s first objective was the physical improvement of the Shenandoah River between Port Republic and Harpers Ferry. Countless wing dams, cut through and tow paths had to be constructed, but by 1825, a continuous and improved waterway extended from Port Republic to the river’s confluence with the Potomac at Harpers Ferry.

By 1829, valley farmers believed that river transport was a cheap, safe and viable alternative to any wagon route east. Therefore, prior to valley rail and turnpike service, upland farmers and iron masters turned to the Shenandoah River whose waters were made navigable by the very spring thaws and ice melts that mired wagon routes and they did so with great zeal. Later channels were sufficiently cleared to navigate gundalows on the North River as far as Mt. Crawford and Bridgewater, on the South River at Grottoes and the Middle River, as far as Mt. Meridian.

Port Republic, founded in 1802 and located at the convergence of the North and South River, established an authentic harbor as docks lined the riverbanks in order to oblige increasing river traffic. The prospect of shipping and boat building propelling immense river trade slowly transformed the newly chartered town into a center for local commerce and agriculture. The nearby Massanutten Mountain ridge provided the tall, limbless long-leaf yellow pines that fueled boat building and other lumber dependent industries. Methodist and Presbyterian churches, mercantile stores, grist mills, leather tanneries, blacksmiths, saw mills, a tilt hammer shop as well as hat makers, shoe factories, wood workers, coopers and tailor shops eventually lined both Main and Water Streets.

Port Republic Museum – Port Republic, VA was founded in 1802 because land speculators were quick to recognize the vast industrial potential of the area, valuing the rivers as a source of power for driving machinery and as waterways for transporting articles of trade.

The New Shenandoah Company began upgrading the North Fork in 1825 for boats measuring a minimum of 66 feet long and 8 feet in width. Contractors not only cleared the river segments congested by trees and other debris, but also built works including dams and chutes. Records of the company indicate that the contract called for river navigation enhancements up to Tumbling Run, halfway between Strasburg and Toms Brook, but continued improvements were extended up to the dam at Pennybackers Mill, near New Market by May, 1832. This site was known as the head of navigation and may also have been a boat yard with docking capabilities for loading cargo similar to Port Republic, however on a much smaller scale. In 1845, accounts reflect that the North Fork was navigable at high water for large boats up to Plains Mill near Timberville.

The macadamized Valley Turnpike, completed in 1841, connected the western valley to the Winchester and Potomac Railroad and gradually reduced the gundalow traffic on the North Branch to almost non-existent status by 1850. The Manassas Gap Railroad arrived in Front Royal in 1854. Gundalows that once floated down the forks of the Shenandoah River to Harpers Ferry and beyond, now were unloading their cargo on to trains at Front Royal which transported them to market points east.

During the Civil War Valley Campaign in 1862, Stonewall Jackson swept the Valley burning bridges to slow Union troops, rendering wagon transport all but impossible. The destruction of bridges briefly revitalized gundalow traffic on the Shenandoah. After the war, gondolas continued to be used to move product to Front Royal until the bridges could be rebuilt and the Manassas Gap rail lines extended to Harrisonburg in 1868. The Shenandoah Valley Railroad connected the south fork communities with Hagerstown MD and Waynesboro, VA in 1881.

Some farmers, out of respect for southern tradition, continued to use this river system friendly to the “sons of the valley” as late as 1880. Despite sporadic business from loyal farmers, millers and timbermen; destructive winter weather, floods, railroads and modern turnpikes pushed the river captains, sailors and gundalows into the dust bin of history. Only recent scholarship has brought them all back to life again. Perhaps someone will soon uncover a nineteenth century gundalow buried under river silt somewhere in the Harpers Ferry basin?

Note: An outstanding source of information on the Shenandoah River is The Shenandoah River Atlas, prepared by W. E. Trout, III and Friends of the Shenandoah River.

Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia

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Breonna Taylor



historically speaking

The death of Breonna Taylor is tragic. The argument has been made for many of the recent shootings that if the victims had not broken the law or had not resisted arrest they would not have been shot. That issue is for each to decide. However, Taylor was asleep in her home and had done nothing wrong. Her boyfriend did shoot, but he owned a legal gun, as the Second Amendment allows, and he protected his home from an invasion.

Here is where it gets difficult. As of now, a grand jury has ruled not to indict the police officers involved. As expected, this news was not well received by those wanting justice for Taylor. However, unless wrongdoing is shown in the grand jury, while there would be no justice for Taylor, arresting the officers involved to satisfy the protesters would not be justice either.

History offers a similar example. On March 5, 1770, a crowd grew in front of the customs house in Boston, an early version of an IRS office, protesting what they saw as tyrannical taxation. As a small body of soldiers came to the aid of those inside the office, the growing mob began throwing insults at first, but eventually snowballs at the soldiers. All the while, the crowd taunted the solders with the command to shoot, yelling “fire, fire, fire.” After a few minutes the snowballs started to turn into ice and clubs and one club struck a soldier. As he recovered, and amongst the confusion, the soldier fired at the clubber, causing some of the troops to follow suit. In the end, eleven colonists were shot and eventually five died. The soldiers were arrested for murder.

In the months before the trial, the Sons of Liberty continued to build emotion around the case. Paul Revere carved his famous picture which he entitled “The Boston Massacre.” It showed peaceful Bostonians being attacked by vicious soldiers. The Sons also published pamphlets showing the attack as a coordinated violation of their rights. It was going to be difficult to find a lawyer in Boston to defend the troops; luckily for them they had John Adams.

Adams knew taking the case might hurt his career, but the soldiers needed a defense. He knew It was going to be even more difficult to find an impartial jury. Bostonians had been in a shouting war with their government back in England over things like the Sugar Act, the Currency Act, and most importantly the Stamp Act. In Boston, the colonists felt they were being oppressed and, now that their people were being shot down in the streets, they felt their lives no longer mattered. The people were angry and rightfully so. They wanted revenge.

The trial came down to self-defense and whether the officer in charge was standing in front of his troops, as he insisted, or behind. If in fact he was in front, he would not have given the order to fire without endangering himself. Adams gave proof of Captain Preston’s position, the officer in charge, and made a strong case for self-defense. In his closing arguments, Adams stated, “[I] submit it to you: Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

The law is the law even when we don’t like it. Charges were dismissed for six of the soldiers and the two known to have fired were convicted of manslaughter. Bostonians were in shock: the troops would not be punished. It is easy to understand the anger of the colonists, but from a modern perspective hanging the soldiers would not have been justice.

Back to Breonna Taylor. It is difficult to see no one held accountable for Taylor’s death. However, it is also difficult to punish the police, if they were following the law. The record of the grand jury is currently under review. The police had obtained a no-knock warrant and claimed they announced themselves when they took the door and were fired upon and fired back. I understand the anger. Taylor did nothing wrong and her boyfriend had the right to protect himself and Taylor.

The police are the easiest to direct that anger towards, yet maybe the anger needs to be at the one who signed the warrant, or gave the evidence, or maybe the very idea of a no-knock warrant itself. I understand that human nature wants someone to be accountable. Yet the symbol of justice is a blindfolded woman holding scales. The image is meant to convey the idea that justice is blind and only weighs the evidence without emotion.

There has been no justice for the unnecessary killing of Breonna Taylor. If the review of the grand jury finds errors in the proceeding and the police are convicted, the police need to answer for their crimes.  However, if no legal wrongs are found and the grand jury is overturned to satisfy political pressure or the protesters, then, as with the Boston soldiers in 1770, their punishment would not bring justice, just a compounding of tragedy.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at

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