Interview with Todd Null (continued)
Unlike many of the homes available in OSW, the original interior was largely intact. I fell in love and it was the only house I looked at. I immediately made arrangements to move in and have called it home since the summer of 2011. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
• What sparked your interest in the Victorian Era?
I don’t remember making a conscious choice to pursue history; I think it chose me, it’s in my blood.
I was brought up in Tazewell County in Southwest Virginia. Due in large part to my grandparents, I was taught to have a deep appreciation of history. My people first settled in the frontier of the southern Appalachian Mountains when Virginia was still a colony and I grew up hearing about their lives and learning about the “old ways”. For reasons I can’t fully explain, and for as long as I can remember, I felt more at home in the era of my great-great grandparents than I did in the “modern” world. I often joke that I was born a century too late and should have been born in 1875 rather than 1975.
As a teenager, I collected anything “old”. Beyond just the surface beauty, I am also attracted to the strength of the materials, the quality of the craftsmanship, and the attention to form as well as function. There’s something about sitting in a chair that’s been around for 150 years. I can almost sense the energy of the many people who used and lovingly preserved it.
The furnishings I’ve collected over the years are not exceptionally rare or particularly unique or valuable, but they have a beauty and a comfort that I am particularly drawn to and enjoy having in my life. I think I am particularly attracted to the “Victorian Era” for two reasons.
• First, it was aesthetically beautiful. The buildings, fashions and decorative styles were over the top. They definitely knew how to gild the lily, which appeals to my personality.
• And secondly because, more than any previous time period, it was an era of tremendous cultural growth and technological advancement. The Second Industrial Revolution brought about tremendous change, prosperity and hope even in the face of poverty and inequality. Slavery had been abolished, women were fighting for suffrage, and education and opportunity were within the grasp of more people than ever before in history. The last decades of the 19th Century ushered in the birth of cities like Roanoke and neighborhoods like Old Southwest. Almost every cultural, political, medical or social advance of the past 150 years can trace their origins to this time period.
I began the journey toward “living old” (what some people call “time warping”) about four years ago. I gradually started incorporating as much of the late 19th Century lifestyle into my daily life as is reasonably possible.
The people of that time period worked hard and had legitimate struggles, but they also knew how to relax and have fun. They weren’t bothered with the many distractions that our “modern conveniences” bring. Without radio, television, computers, cell phones, etc. they actually spent time cultivating hobbies and relationships. They visited over tea, wrote flowery letters, lounged on the front porch, and enjoyed books, music and games. They also lived closer to the earth. They rode horses, grew their food, made their clothing and attended to their friends and families. And of course, it was an era of gentility; respect, etiquette, and civility were highly admired.
I think in many ways they actually had a higher quality of life than we do because they took the time to enjoy it, and each other. So, I try to bring as much of the Victorian philosophy into my daily life as I can. And if I can get dressed up in a frock coat and top hat while doing so, all the better.
• You have begun organizing the Victorian Society of the Roanoke Valley. Can you tell us more about it?
The idea of organizing the Victorian Society of the Roanoke Valley dawned upon me slowly. I have a dear friend who lives in a restored 1890s gothic revival row house in Richmond. When we visit one another, we often dress in Victorian costume and engage in era-appropriate entertainments. I have enjoyed doing that so much that I wanted the opportunity to do it more often. So I began looking for Victorian-themed organizations and social events to participate in. While there are a few throughout the county, there are none within our region. The closest one I have found is in the D.C. area.
I found out that a coworker of mine who lives in Charlotte makes her own Victorian-era garments and dresses with a group of friends. As we were talking one day, I asked her how she found out about events to attend “in frock”. Her response was, “You have to make them.” So I decided to do just that. That conversation inspired me to begin the Victorian Society of the Roanoke Valley. I feel certain there are other residents of our region who have similar interests and who would be happy to participate in this kind of organization.
I see the VSRV as an organization that fosters an enthusiastic interest in preserving and cultivating 19th Century architecture, decorative arts, culture, and social history – particularly as it relates to the greater Roanoke Valley, but also in general. My initial intention is to connect with a group of individuals who will commit to being charter members. I would love to schedule an inaugural meeting in the near future and hold our first event in the early fall.
I believe that the VSRV can contribute to the historical, cultural, and civic wealth of our region while also bringing in additional visitors to our communities through special events and programs. It will also be a lot of fun!
• What kinds of events and activities could potential members of a Victorian Society expect to see?
I envision the group participating in both educational and social events throughout the year. Of course, our focus will ultimately evolve based on the interests of the membership but I would like to see us plan a number of events throughout the year.
I envision the VSRV holding one meeting per month with a minimum of 4 events per year, perhaps more as the organization grows and evolves.
• How can people reach you if they want to get involved?
I have created a Facebook page facebook.com/victoriansocietyoftheroanokevalley to serve as a virtual meeting place for new members. I am also compiling a contact list. Interested individuals are also welcome to contact me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.