by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
“The Tapestry of Life”
At the opening of this series, we warned you that human lives are like tapestries. Through the years the warp and weft threads weave back and forth, but it often much later when we can see the full images created. Such was the case in 1991. At the time, I thought I had entered the Twilight Zone, but after in 1993, when several of my experiences became plots for the X-Files, I began more and more to glimpse the extraordinary events that were swirling around me.
* Note that the fence and tree lines on the 1864 sketch were exactly in the same location in 1992, when I made this photo.
Readers, accustomed to the relatively short reports on archeological sites and Native American culture, are perhaps overwhelmed by the book-size chapters and complex, inter-dependent plots, but that was how it was at the time. The plot will become even more complex.
In a nutshell, as they say, this is what was going on. During the last term of President Ronald Reagan and the four years of the George H. Bush Administration billions of dollars of illicit drug money poured into the United States via flights and cargo ships, protected by high-ranking officers of the US Air Force, US Coast Guard, CIA, US Dept. of Justice, state law enforcement officers and local law enforcement officers. Each time an airplane, loaded with cocaine approached the Florida Coast, the Air Force general, in charge of the radar system protecting the Southeastern Coast, would order the radar units cut off! Small cargo jets belonging to the Air Force and CIA would land at the Basaye Airport in Shenandoah County, VA then the drugs would be distributed to the Northeastern United States. Organizations, such as the Mafia, functioned as distributors. In 1992 and 1993, I would play a role in the secret Justice Department investigation that uncovered this grotesque act of treason.
In 1990, individual capos and dons of the Mafia decided that they wanted to use some of their ill-gotten profits to buy up the gourmet food industry. When my new goat cheese operation began getting lots of national publicity, what seemed like a blessing to our young company turned into a curse.
I had moved to Virginia, pursuing the American Dream. I inaccurately believed that smart business decisions, hard work and fertile soil would cause us to prosper permanently. Indeed those were the golden years of my architecture practice and cheese creamery. Also, my wife had been screaming for a nice house. She got the 1990 national residential historic preservation project of the year . . . then immediately started screaming that she wanted to cash out on the marriage and move elsewhere.
What I did not realize that already our society had already so degenerated that it was possible in several regions for the rich and the powerful to seize any man’s property and commit any crime then get away with it. Very soon in 1991, the lessons taught me by two recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, a Marine Colonel and a Navy SEALS Lt. Commander, became the most important classes, I ever took in college.
In July 1987, our North Carolina farm had sold and I was frantically looking for an appropriate farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Real estate was more expensive in the Valley, so that was a problem. While driving along the Old Back Road, a route dating back to the 1750s, I spied a herd of at least two dozen deer grazing in a pasture on the left. I stopped at the entrance to the driveway to photograph them then noticed an ancient, abandoned house off at a distance (center of photo). It intrigued me and ultimately became my new home.
On the same day, a beautiful, 24 year old French lady was giving a free concert on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institute as part of its recognition of Bastille Day – the French equivalent of July the Fourth. Most of her songs were those of the French Revolution and folk music. She also sang her only hit in the USA . . . a remake of the winner of the 1973 Eurovision Music Awards – “Eres Tu.” Three years and five months later, she would be standing before me in a red negligee singing that same song in what had been the slave quarters of an Alexandria, VA mansion.
Vivi became absolutely the only woman in my life, who ever stood with me when the going got tough. She saved my life as I had earlier saved hers. On December 19, 1990 she would be baptized a Christian by the waters of Toms Brook. A modern Mary Magdalene, her prior life would have gotten her stoned to death in ancient times or the Middle East today. Nevertheless, her soul became as pure as her beautiful voice.
On December 15, 1990, I was at a party where I first met Vivi, first met Roger Kennedy and where Roger first met Vivi. Roger would become the only reason why I survived the first six months of being homeless, exactly 20 years later.
On July 14, 1996, I was making repairs to the house that were requested by our realtor. When finished, I would drive away from this house for the last time, in order to pick up my girlfriend, Julie, at the Dulles Airport. My new job was Principal Planner of Cobb County, GA. Its responsibilities included protection of Cobb’s Civil War battlefields and historic sites.
About a week before driving up to Virginia, I had stumbled upon the Civil War service records of my Creek ancestors, who served in Cobb’s Legion – the famous Georgia unit that was featured in both “Gods and Generals” and “Gettysburg.” (My grandmother Mahala’s father had lost part of his leg, while fighting in the Devil’s Den.) One of my gg-grandfathers had been captured on November 8, 1864, while on picket duty at the exact spot where my truck is parked above!
On July 15, 1996 Julie and I drove to the offices of the National Park Service, where I had an appointment with its Director, Roger Kennedy. Cobb County was a very weird place back then. It was the center of power for the right wing of the Republican Party. Within the county lived the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and the chairman of the Clinton Impeachment Committee, Bob Barr. When my application for assistance in preserving Civil War fortifications in Cobb County received the largest Battlefield Protection Program grant, the stupid chairman of the County Commissioners, Bill Burns, immediately assumed that it was a Librul Plot to embarrass him and that I was a Democratic spy. Actually both Roger and I were Independents at that time and I was a former member of the American Battlefield Protection Program Council.
Earlier, in the year, film producer Michael Moore had filmed a TV documentary on Cobb County and its Byzantine politics. While Newt Gingrich to this day rails against federal spending, in 1996, Cobb County had the second highest level of per capita federal funds of any county in the nation! Burns assumed that the grant was a “trick” when actually it was non-political and based on the professionality of my grant application. By the way, Cobb County now has an all Democratic, all female County Commission.
At any rate, Burns gave me two weeks to persuade the federal government to take back the grant or I would be fired. My bosses refused to give me travel money so I had to drive to Virginia on unpaid time to meet with Roger. Of course, none of the stupid toads in Cobb ever considered the fact that I was a much more important entity in Virginia and knew the National Park Service Director personally.
When I walked in to Roger’s office, the first thing he said was, “Richard did you ever marry that French goddess. She was crazy in love with you.” I learned that Vivi had visited Roger’s office in late April 1993, trying to find me. He said that she was crying most of the time, because she knew that two federal agents, I had worked with, had been recently been murdered. She also knew that I was in line for a fairly important position in the National Park Service.
Yes, indeed, I found out at that moment in 1996 that in 1993, I was to be nominated to be Architect of the National Capitol! However, no one could find me. My estranged wife lied and told them that she didn’t know where I was and that I was not interested in a position with the National Park Service. Bob and Sara Danby had also called him on several occasions, trying to find me. They also feared for my life.
If Julie had not been downstairs in the NPS lobby, waiting on me, I might have driven over to Bob and Sara’s house to find out where Vivi was. However, at the time Julie and mine’s relationship seemed headed toward marriage as soon as she received her Masters Degree in Music. I assumed that such a beautiful woman as Vivi would have long moved on with her life. I certainly didn’t dream that in 1996, she had a handsome three year old son, named Richard, or that for years, she mourned the anonymous death of the love of her life.
Now you know!
This photo of Vivi singing “Eres Tu” (It Is You) to me is actually a frame from Vivi’s mini-movie, Renaissance. The room here is actually my architecture office at the Toms Brook farm, which was very similar to the Guest Quarters at the Danby House in Alexandria. Here again is the song that Vivi sang in 1987 on Bastille Day and during that enchanted evening so long ago.