In a way, the Baxley story is local folklore now. A lot of things that happened — they’re folktales. One of the things that makes this fascinating is no one knows for sure.
— Tom Davenport, filmmaker
• What: “The Other Side of Eden: Stories of a Virginia Lynching.”
• Subject: July 1932 rape of a Northern Fauquier white woman by a black farmhand, who later got hanged by a lynch mob.
• Filmmaker: Tom Davenport, who lives near Delaplane.
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 13.
• Where: Rice Theater, Highland School, at 597 Broadview Ave. in Warrenton.
• Admission: Free
The Delaplane filmmaker had known about the 1932 rape and lynching in Northern Fauquier for decades before he considered turning it into a movie.
But, work on “The Other Side of Eden: Stories of a Virginia Lynching” began “in earnest” only about five years ago, said Tom Davenport.
A free screening of the hour-long film will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at Highland School’s Rice Theater in Warrenton. Discussion and audience questions will follow the screening, Mr. Davenport said.
> Movie trailer at bottom of story
On July 17, 1932, Shedrick Thompson, a black laborer abducted, beat and raped Mamie Baxley, 35, a prominent, white woman who lived near Hume.
That night, Mr. Thompson attacked Mrs. Baxley and her husband, Henry Baxley Sr., as they slept in their home on Leeds Manor Road. Their 2-year-old son, Henry Jr., slept in the next room.
The attack led to a massive manhunt for Mr. Thompson.
Two months later, a farmhand inspecting fences found Mr. Thompson’s decaying body hanging from an apple tree at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain, just a few miles from the Baxleys’ home near Hume.
“That was a common story in Markham,” Mr. Davenport said of the assault and aftermath, but one he initially never set out to tell.
“I started gathering interviews in the 1990s, when these cheap camcorders came out,” the 77-year old filmmaker said. “I was actually just trying to gather stuff and experiment with these cameras, gathering sort of the folklore of Markham.”
But, stories of Mrs. Baxley’s rape and Mr. Thompson’s hanging repeatedly “would come up when I would interview” people who lived near Markham.
Mr. Davenport concentrated more on producing a film about those incidents around the time he learned of former Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reporter Jim Hall’s plan to write a book on the subject.
The author and the filmmaker met about five years ago, Mr. Davenport said.
“That was the turning point (for the film), because Jim had all this research that he’d done” for a master’s thesis on how newspapers reported the lynching of blacks, said Mr. Davenport, who has made about 20 movies — many of them based on folklore and fairy tales.
Speculation varied about what might have inspired the attack:
• Did the Baxleys owe Mr. Thompson back wages?
• Did the attack represent “payback for the indignities Thompson (a World War I veteran) experienced during and after the war?” wrote Mr. Hall, who will attend Saturday’s screening. “Were the Baxleys surrogates for those who treated him unfairly?”
• “Was this some sort of drunken payback for something (Mr. Thompson) thought (Mrs. Baxley) had done?” Mr. Hall wrote. “Was (Mr. Thompson) angry at her husband?”
• Did Mr. Thompson attack Mrs. Baxley because he believed she encouraged his wife, whom he allegedly beat, to leave him? Ruth Thompson served as the Baxleys’ cook.
“In a way, the Baxley story is local folklore now,” Mr. Davenport said. “A lot of things that happened — they’re folktales. One of the things that makes this fascinating is no one knows for sure.”
Mr. Hall and Mr. Davenport interviewed Henry Baxley Jr. and his wife, Ursula.
While the Baxleys initially cooperated with the author and filmmaker, the couple regrets doing so.
“I don’t have anything to say about it,” Mrs. Baxley said in a phone interview last October for a FauquierNow story about the book. “Neither of us want to comment on it. It’s a book that should never have been published.”
Mr. Davenport recently sent a copy of the movie to Mr. Baxley, who replied with a one-page, hand-written letter.
In part, it reads: “You have done your usual expert job of presentation. I’m just not interested in perpetuating these memories.”
This is one of those stories that should have been left "to the ghosts". What good is it to dredge up the past now when there are so many unanswered questions that were taken to the grave. Let the dead rest in peace!