Alumnae believe they were destined to discover Hollins connection in historic Manassas home.
By Beth JoJack ’98
Speiden home image provided by the Manassas Museum System.
The white house with green shutters and matching green roof is a well-known landmark in the city of Manassas, Va. That’s partly because noted architect Albert Speiden designed and lived in the home and partly for another reason.
“People believe the house is haunted,” explains Meaghan Devlin Reddick ’08.
While working on her master’s degree in the history of decorative arts from George Mason University-Smithsonian Associates in 2012, Reddick landed an internship with the Manassas Museum System, which includes the museum located in Old Town Manassas as well as several historical sites.
Curator Mary Helen Dellinger assigned Reddick, whose interest is in clothing and accessories, with organizing the system’s costume and textiles collection. The pieces had recently been moved out of storage to the bedroom of a historic home, which had been bequeathed to the Manassas Museum System by Virginia Speiden Carper, daughter of the architect who designed the home.
Because Virginia Speiden Carper’s spirit is rumored to still reside in the home, visitors are careful to always extend a courteous greeting. “When you go in, you say, ‘Hi’ to Virginia and ‘Goodbye’ to Virginia when you leave,” explained Reddick. “Everybody does that.”
When Reddick would enter the home to catalogue the collection, she always made a point to go straight up to the bedroom where the clothing and textiles were stored. “You’re alone in a big house that people say is haunted,” she says. “It’s a little creepy. I wasn’t going to explore.”
Until, that is, one day when Reddick had a strange compulsion to look around.
“I came in one morning, and I felt. . . you could say called or that I had an inkling to go straight into the kitchen,” she recalls.
From there, Reddick could see the screened-in porch, where she spotted a box of music magazines from the 1930s. “I thought, ‘I need to bring those in,’” she says.
Reddick carried the box to the music room and dropped it in front of a piano. As she straightened up, she noticed a Hollins diploma on the wall. Virginia, it turns out, was a 1930 graduate. Reddick shivered from chills.
“I feel like the world has more order than we give it credit for,” Reddick says. “I just felt close, like I was supposed to be there.”
Reddick believes some force in the universe — maybe Virginia Speiden Carper, maybe not — wanted her to see the diploma, to know she and Virginia were connected by green and gold threads across history. “Since that day, I felt a strong connection to Virginia Speiden Carper, her home, and the costume collection,” Reddick wrote in a January letter to Hollins.
Preservers of history
Carper, who died in 2005 at the age of 96, willed her family home to the city with the intent that the Manassas Museum System would, one day, showcase it as a historic landmark. Some neighbors of the home, however, balked at the idea. Currently, city officials are trying to decide whether to continue keeping up the home or to return it to the descendants to be sold, according to Dellinger.
Whatever happens to the home, Carper already made quite a contribution to Manassas’ historical record. Her obituary lists her as a member of the Manassas Museum Associates, who worked to initially establish the city’s museum. After her father’s death, Carper also donated hundreds of his drawings of buildings and his drafting tools to the museum.
Like Reddick, Carper developed an interest in recording history at a young age. She glued mementos ranging from train tickets to programs from Hollins concerts into two scrapbooks she kept of her college years. Over the course of her long life, Carper carefully safeguarded other Hollins items, including exam blue books, a planner, and her textbooks. Dellinger gifted those items to the archives at Wyndham Robertson Library.
Carper arrived at Hollins from her home in Manassas in the fall of 1926. During her college years, Carper served as a member of the Hollins Choir, the Choral Club, and the Ensemble Club. In 1928, Carper received a letter from Hollins President Matty Cocke, who commended her for her “excellent progress” and offered her a scholarship earmarked for a music student who plans on a teaching career.
After graduating in 1930, Carper returned to Manassas, where she taught piano lessons in the Speiden home to many generations of Manassas youth.
Andy Harrover took piano lessons from Carper, as did his mother. “She was strict,” says Harrover, who happens to be the father of Erin Harrover ’19. “She would not put up with any foolishness.”
Carper didn’t retire from teaching the piano until the age of 90. She served as organist for the Manassas Baptist Church for more than five decades and published several two-piano arrangements, some of which are housed at Hollins.
Throughout Carper’s life, she stayed in touch with Hollins friends and attended all of her reunions. She also remembered Hollins in her estate. A plaque hangs in the Wyndham Robertson Library that credits continuing maintenance of the building to Carper, who gave the gift in honor of her cousin Marian Speiden Bayne ’31, who served as a librarian at Hollins for several years.
A matter of destiny
In the summer of 2016, Dellinger invited Reddick, who had graduated from George Mason with a Master of Arts degree in 2014, to return to the Manassas Museum System as cocurator of an exhibit. “Tailor Made: Vintage Fashions from the Museum’s Collection Unveiled” opened in May and continues through September. The exhibit features textiles from the 1890s to the 1950s.
Last January, Reddick came to the museum for a meeting and met Emily Collins ’19, then a Hollins sophomore who was spending J-Term interning at the museum. Collins would later work with Reddick, setting up display cases of accessories as a “sneak peek” for the upcoming exhibit.
Collins spent the last day of her internship in January working with Reddick in the Speiden home. She’s not convinced that it’s haunted one way or another. “It very well could be,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s as haunted as some of the rooms at Hollins.”
Even so, Collins shares Reddick’s feeling that she was somehow destined to find herself in the Speiden home.
“I was meant to be here,” she says. “I was meant to meet Meaghan. Yeah. . . kind of like fate.”
Beth JoJack is a Roanoke writer who contributes frequently to Hollins magazine.