I realized later that I forgot to ask the lady her name. Perhaps I was distracted by the photos she pulled from her notebook during a recent book signing at the Culpeper County Library.
She had two black-and-white pictures, one of a man in an overcoat and hat, and the other of the same man, smiling beside a smiling woman. “That’s W.W. Pearson,” the lady said.
I knew immediately who she was talking about. W.W. Pearson plays a key role in The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. This was the first time I had seen a picture of him.
Pearson was the deputy sheriff in Fauquier County in September 1932, Sheriff Stanley Woolf’s only deputy. If I correctly understood the lady who stood before me, Pearson also was her great grandfather.
Pearson was one of the first officials to arrive after the discovery of Shedrick Thompson’s body, hanging from an apple tree on Rattlesnake Mountain. He was there when the mob set fire to the body, destroying all but the skull and shoes. He told his family later that he tried to put out the flames by swatting at them with his new hat, but someone stuck a pistol in his ribs and said, “Let it burn.” Pearson stepped away and let the body burn, with only a scorched hat to show for his effort.
The lady confirmed a postscript to that story that I had heard but not included in the book: Pearson gave the hat to an acquaintance, but when the man learned how it had been damaged, he didn’t want it and gave it back.
PS: I’ll be at the annual Local Authors Reception, sponsored by my favorite library, the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. The event is tonight, Nov. 15, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Porter Branch, 2001 Parkway Blvd., North Stafford. Hope to see you there.