I belong to a Facebook group that is dedicated to us old fogies who went to Longwood University when it was still Longwood College. I love nostalgia groups. I have a really long memory for obscure details and I like to share them with people who can add to them or are amazed by them. Yesterday, I really got on a roll and started three threads in that group.
The first thread was about the Tea Room at Longwood. It was basically a “fancy” restaurant for students. For five bucks, you could have a steak dinner… or something like that. I only got to eat there once. I didn’t know it existed for most of my time there. I was in a music fraternity for women (Sigma Alpha Iota) and a regional representative came to visit our chapter. We took her to dinner at the Tea Room. I remember enjoying the experience.
Sadly, a few years after I graduated, the building the Tea Room was in caught on fire. They rebuilt the Rotunda, but I don’t think the Tea Room survived. A bunch of people had memories of it, though… and lots of people like me didn’t know it existed. I’m glad I had my one chance to try it. Longwood actually had good food in the 90s, though.
The second thread was about French Pool. In my day, French was a dormitory, but I guess at one time, it was a gym, and I believe right now, it’s a computer lab. When I was at Longwood, French had racquetball courts and a pool. Other people said that it also had a basketball court, but I don’t remember ever seeing that. I do remember swimming in French Pool one time. It was an indoor pool, but there were garage doors that opened so that you could get some outdoor weather. The pool at the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center was also like that, back in the day. And, just like the pool at Natural Bridge, they also closed the French Pool.
When I was at Longwood, the French Pool was kind of on its last legs. It was often closed. However, it was a really pretty pool– very old school, and kind of small. I read that Longwood got rid of its other pool, which was in what was known as Lancer Hall when I was a student, but is now called Willett Hall. I remember swimming in the pool at Lancer Hall when I was a freshman. A friend of mine was a lifeguard there. We used to go in the evenings and I remember doing flips off of the diving board (which I figured out how to do quite by accident). That pool also had a natatorium, which allowed people to watch swimmers from a window under the water surface.
I guess the pool has been drained because it looks like the college is going to open a new convocation and events center and the old pool is obsolete, having been opened in 1980. Hopefully, they will include a pool, since I doubt people want to have to go to nearby Hampden-Sydney, a private men’s college, to use their pool, or rent an apartment off campus to have pool access. Especially since the “Hamsters” can be a bit snobby about Longwood. The funny thing is, when I was at Longwood, you had to pass a swimming test in order to graduate or take a swimming class and pass it. Now they don’t have a pool? WTF!
And finally, there was more talk about Erin McCay George, whom I have written about a few times on this blog. Erin George, author of the book A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women, was editor of the school newspaper when I was at Longwood. She abruptly left school before graduating. Word on the street was that she left because she was caught embezzling money intended for the newspaper to fund a trip to England to meet her boyfriend, James George. She met James George on the Internet when it was still in its infancy.
I posted about how Erin had run a couple of really controversial stories in the paper that had the whole campus outraged. I wrote about that in this post, which includes links to two posts I wrote for my original blog about how I came to realize that Erin had written a book about prison life that is now being used in a lot of criminal justice classes. Anyway… after reminiscing with people who were at Longwood at the time and knew Erin, I’m beginning to think that the spicy newspaper stories from 1992 that so upset people on campus were, in part, intended to be a distraction from what she was doing with money that she had allegedly stolen from the student newspaper.
Longwood had, and probably still has, a strict honor code. Lying, cheating, and stealing were not tolerated. Since she was evidently creatively using college funds to enhance and advance her relationship with her British boyfriend, it could be that the scandalous news stories were intended to shift focus from her alleged illicit activities to the content of the newspaper. Or maybe it wasn’t…
Erin went on to marry her boyfriend and then, just six years later, shot him in the head at point blank range for $700,000 in insurance money. She was eventually sentenced to 603 years in prison. Of course, she won’t serve that many years because it’s impossible, but I think it was mainly passed down to ensure that she is never released. Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, although some convicted felons can be released from prison early if they meet certain requirements and if they committed their crimes when parole still existed. Erin committed her crimes after parole was abolished.
Anyway, it’s clear that a lot of people didn’t remember the newspaper scandal in the 1990s and even fewer knew that Erin was in prison and had written a book. I reconnected with someone who was at Longwood when I was and knew Erin, explaining that Erin had a friend in one of the few eccentric English professors at Longwood during that time, a man named William Woods. I had Mr. Woods for a couple of classes. He was a lot of fun. I seem to remember that in the early 1990s, when this was going on, Mr. Woods was obsessed with Madonna’s Sex book, an expensive “coffee table” book that was full of erotic images. At the time, it was considered very risque.
I remember Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) was popular then, and Madonna had dated him. I think some of their sexy pictures were in that book and Vanilla Ice broke up with her over it. According to a Huffington Post article about their relationship, Vanilla Ice said of Madonna to the British tabloid, News of the World,
“She was older than me and a great lover… But I broke up with her after she printed that book because I was hurt to be an unwitting part of this slutty package. It was disgusting and cheap. We were in a relationship yet it looked like she was screwing all these other people.”
Since Mr. Woods was supposedly Erin’s ally, and he was so fascinated with Madonna’s Sex book (as well as the Price Club), I wonder if maybe he influenced her to dedicate an issue of the Rotunda to “safe sex”, which included the free distribution of condoms in the paper. Of course, at that time, one of the fraternities at Longwood also used to have an annual “safe sex” party, which included t-shirts one could buy. I believe that fraternity was eventually kicked off campus for hazing. That’s just speculation from yours truly. I really don’t know where the truth lies. Still, so many years after all of that happened, I kind of wonder if the prosecutors who worked to bring Erin to justice ever looked at her time at Longwood, which led up to her relationship with her victim and his ultimate untimely demise. Looking back on that time, it’s clear that trouble was brewing years before it culminated in murder.
I read a couple of old news articles about Erin George’s case and they implied that she confessed to the murder, claiming that George would not give her a divorce. According to those articles, one of her former cellmates said that Erin told her that her husband, James George, “had it coming”. But looking at the evidence– George was buying insurance but backed out because he was a smoker and it would cost too much– and two days later, Erin falsified his signature on paperwork and paid the premiums with a secret account she had… and then claiming that it was “normal” for her to sign his name on stuff since she “handled the business in their relationship”, I can’t help but think of Bill’s ex wife. Bill’s ex, a narcissist who abused him, also “handled the business” in their relationship, to disastrous results.
I doubt very much that James George refused to give Erin a divorce. I think the issue was, she simply didn’t want to have to deal with him anymore and murdering him for insurance money was the easiest way, in her mind, to make sure he was out of the picture for good. She clearly wanted to split from him, but she wanted to make sure she got paid handsomely without incurring the high cost and personal risk of divorce… and would never have to deal with custody issues, his influence regarding their three children, or the children having a stepmother. But again– just my speculation, having been married to a man whose ex wife was also very destructive (though thankfully not yet murderous– that I know of, anyway) and similarly narcissistic. I will admit that I don’t know anything more about this case than what I’ve read and deduced on my own, based on my own dealings with this type of person. I could be wrong, and I doubt we’ll ever know the real story.
Sometimes, I wonder if I missed my calling as a true crime writer. On the other hand, looking back at Erin George, I wonder if, had she been slightly less narcissistic and antisocial, she might have had a great career as a provocateur or paparazzo. She clearly had little fear of publishing things that would upset people. Longwood, in the 1990s, was a pretty conservative place– though not as conservative as Liberty University, just down the road in Lynchburg, was– and still is.
Posting the link to Erin’s book for those who are interested. As an Amazon Associate, I get small commissions from Amazon when sales are made through my site.