Suffolk, Virginia – Mr. Peanut, Cedar Hill and Small City Charm

Being back aboard reminded us of our plan to see as much of Virginia as possible while here. Yes, there are chores to do and we intend to do them, but, hey, ordered boat parts are at the chandlery and it’s closed and besides, here we are and there’s stuff to see. With our $9.99/day Enterprise rental car for the weekend, we headed to Suffolk, Virginia … within our allowable mileage radius, but just far enough away to experience someplace new. My research indicated it was a charming, small city and besides, Suffolk is the home of Mr. Peanut!

A half-hour drive and we were strolling past the Mr. Peanut statue into the Suffolk Visitor’s Center, formerly the Nansemond Country Courthouse (c. 1839), admiring the grand columnar entrance to this Colonial Revival style building. “Virginia is for lovers” is the state’s motto and the LOVE sign is frequently seen in public places.

Suffolk, Virginia Visitors Center used to be the Nansemond County Courthouse.

Suffolk, Virginia Visitors Center used to be the Nansemond County Courthouse.

A little Mr. Peanut trivia … just because

  • Antonio Gentile, a 14-year-old boy from Suffolk, VA is credited with the original design of the peanut industry’s most famous logo.

  • Gentile's sketch of "Mr. P. Nut" netted him $5 as the winner of a local logo contest sponsored by Planters Nut and Chocolate Company.

  • A commercial artist provided Mr. Peanut’s sophisticated look, adding top hat, monocle, cane and spats.

  • Mr. Peanut has a formal name … Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe Peanut

  • Mr. Peanut celebrated his 100th birthday in 2016 in Suffolk.

  • There’s a Mr. Peanut/Planter’s Peanut Center shop in town, but it’s closed on Sundays … bummer!

  • Mr. Peanut even has his own fan club with an annual convention.

A century of Mr. Peanut!

A century of Mr. Peanut!

After collecting more than our share of Suffolk brochures, we used the city map to drive through the downtown historic district admiring the older houses on narrow, tree-lined streets in old, established neighborhoods. It seems to be a lovely city with its share of culture, restaurants, local events and friendly people.

The Visitors Center abounded in descriptive literature about Suffolk and surrounding areas and provided information about the nearby Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge. The recent rains and high waters, however, dissuaded us from visiting the Swamp. Something I had read about Suffolk plus a brochure we picked up at the Visitors Center described a walking tour in the town’s Cedar Hill Cemetery. We enjoy exploring cemeteries and headed through the gates of Cedar Hill. We found out that the town even has an app to locate the graves!

True to its name, Cedar Hill public cemetery is hilly and lush with cedar trees. As we wandered around on foot, we found old gravestones dating from the early 19th century to the present. The older part interested us the most and a cemetery map pointed us in the direction of some impressive, unusual markers.

There was even a Sears & Roebuck tombstone typical of those advertised in their 1902 Tombstones & Monuments catalog.

Sears & Roebuck catalog Tombstone

Sears & Roebuck catalog Tombstone

As we wandered, we kept noticing a particular plaque engraved “Woodmen of the World” (WOW) on several of the tombstones. Were there that many lumbermen in Suffolk? Later research revealed that Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska as “a not-for-profit fraternal benefit society … that operates a large privately held insurance company for its members. An enduring physical legacy of the organization is distinctive headstones in the shape of a tree stump. This was an early benefit of Woodmen of the World membership, and they are found in cemeteries nationwide. This program was abandoned in the late 1920s as it was too costly.” To this day, “Woodmen of the World is one of the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States. The organization provides not only insurance, but also investment, bonds, real estate and mortgage loans to its members.” Its 2014 financial performance included gross revenues of $1.745 billion. Did I mention their abbreviation is WOW!

The most elaborate woodmen of america gravestone was Peter Spivey's ... a tree trunk with carved hatchet, mallet and wedge with wow motto engraved on a tree branch plus a dove atop the stone trunk. Even the name spivey is done in a tree branch motif. And of course, the finishing touch ... the woodmen of america official emblem.

The most elaborate woodmen of america gravestone was Peter Spivey's ... a tree trunk with carved hatchet, mallet and wedge with wow motto engraved on a tree branch plus a dove atop the stone trunk. Even the name spivey is done in a tree branch motif. And of course, the finishing touch ... the woodmen of america official emblem.

The most impressive Woodmen marker was the one that marked the grave of Peter Spivey. The marker also bears the WOW motto Dum Tacet Clamet ... Latin for “Though silent, he speaks”.

The day was waning. After a bit more wandering in the peace and quiet of the cemetery, we noshed on Granny Smith apples, then reluctantly headed back home. There are lists to make and things to prepare. Boat chores can only wait so long.