While the Historic Triangle is typically steeped in revolutionary history, a new tour is bringing World War II to the Colonial Capital.
Shades of Our Past, a local tour company, has started a new tour that takes guests through local World World II history, from segregated United Service Organization camps in Merchants Square to Swan’s Tavern in Yorktown where air raid wardens met.
Lee Ann Rose, who operates the company with her husband Bill Rose, said the idea partially came due to the coronavirus pandemic. The company typically books a variety of performances and tours in conjunction with local museums and festivals. But thanks to the pandemic, these opportunities became limited.
“All the indoor stuff is gone, all the festivals were canceled,” Rose said. “So it was either, do we fold up the business and get other jobs or do we try to find ways that we can follow the rules [of pandemic restrictions].”
Rose said her husband wanted to look at World War II history because he was a part of a Construction Battalion in the Navy and wanted to learn more about its role in that time. She said there were two Construction Battalions for the Navy during WWII in the area, one being at Camp Peary, and there never seems to be much history presented about them.
They had also started researching Dorothy Tully, a woman from California who came to Williamsburg to become the entertainment director for the local USO.
The pair already did a WWII Radio Show performance as well, so they had background experience in researching that time period.
With those historical aspects combined, it seemed appropriate to start a WWII-themed tour.
Rose said the company started doing the WWII tours back in April and only allowed nine guests plus a tour guide. Since then she said the tours have really taken off especially because there aren’t a lot of WWII history experiences in the area.
“It’s starting to gain interest, because there’s still a generation that remembers it,” she said. “We’ve always felt that Williamsburg and Yorktown have a wonderful World War II history. Even though our company does everything from the 18th century on, we found that World War II history just isn’t talked about.”
When the pair first started looking into the tours, they reached out to the Historic Triangle community for local narratives from that time period. People told them about sleeping against the wall for fear of bombs or their parents singing to soldiers.
But there weren’t many stories that came in.
“The narrative collection hasn’t gone as well as we wanted,” she said. “There are small stories coming in, but I wish we could have more because I would hate to lose the chance to hear these people before they pass away.”
Even with the lack of local stories collected, Rose said there has been enough research from William & Mary and other organizations to help the company compile an engaging and exciting tour.
Shades of Our Past offers a variety of five different tours now, depending on what the guests wish to experience. The tours range from an experiential tour, where guests meet more than one interpretation actor along the way, to a Women on the Homefront tour, where guests get to learn about the roles of women.
The tours focus on Yorktown and Williamsburg. Tours in Yorktown typically start at the Yorktown Victory Monument and make their way through town, highlighting various locations with World War II history, such as the Ranger’s Office which used to be a fire station during the war.
Tours in Williamsburg start at Merchants Square, where guests learn about the segregated USO camps and can still see the holes on the wall of the building where the USO sign was placed. Then depending on the tour, guests will walk down Duke of Gloucester Street to Rockefeller’s Basset Hall or to Bruton Parish Church, where they can learn about first aid courses that had been taught there.
Rose said it’s also important to provide diversity in experiences at those locations. The company has hired an African American interpreter, Joseph Feaster, and a Native American interpreter, Talon Silverhorn, from Eastern Shawnee Tribe who help teach about various cultures and experiences during the war.
Rose said the company plans to continue the tours and hopes to be able to offer more performance experiences as the state begins to reopen.
“It’s important to tell these stories,” she said. “There’s so much history here.”
To learn more, visit Shades of Our Past online.
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