Friday, February 19, 2016

Episode 304 (2-22-16): George Washington, Walter Johnson, and the Rappahannock River

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:50)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 2-18-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of February 22, 2016.

MUSIC - ~ 6 sec

This week, that excerpt of “Rappahannock Running Free” by Bob Gramann of Fredericksburg, Va., opens a repeat episode inspired by George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd, Virginia’s Rappahannock River, and the sport traditionally called America’s national pastime. Have a listen for about 20 seconds to a series of history-mystery sounds, and see if you can guess how the sounds all connect with two Washington legends. And here’s a hint: think fast or you’ll strike out!

SOUNDS - 21 sec

Can you connect George Washington to the Rappahannock, coins, a baseball pitch, and a train? While our first president lived along the Potomac River, and two of his most famous Revolutionary War victories involved the Delaware and York rivers, the Rappahannock River is the site of a famous Washington legend: that of young George throwing a silver dollar across the river. At Fredericksburg on February 22, 1936, a Washington, D.C., sports legend accepted a challenge to prove that throwing feat was at least possible. As several thousand spectators watched and nationwide radio broadcast the event, 48-year-old former Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson—nicknamed “The Big Train” and holder of the second-highest total of pitching wins in Major League Baseball history—tossed a dollar coin across the Rappahannock, estimated at between 270 and 370 feet wide that day. As cheers erupted, The Big Train was no doubt happy and proud, but he might also have been relieved that he didn’t have to try his luck much farther downstream. Below Fredericksburg, the Rappahannock ultimately becomes about four miles wide as it enters the Chesapeake Bay between Lancaster and Middlesex counties.

Thanks to friends in Fredericksburg and Blacksburg for recording the river and baseball pitch sounds, and we close with another short excerpt of Bob Gramann’s “Rappahannock Running Free.”

MUSIC - ~ 15 sec

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463. Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show. In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


Thanks to Marianne Dubinsky for the recording of the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, recorded February 18, 2012; and to Joey Mignone for the baseball pitch call, recorded February 18, 2016.

This episode repeats and updates Episode 149 (2-18-13) and Episode 100 (2-20-12), both of which have been archived.

“Rappahannock Running Free,” from the 1995 album “Mostly True Songs,” is copyright by Bob Gramann, used with permission. Bob Gramann’s Web site is This song was featured in Episode 71 (7-11-11).


The Rappahannock River at U.S. Route 29-Business at Remington, Va. (Fauquier-Culpeper county line), on 12/27/09. Remington is about 33 river miles upstream of Fredericksburg, according to American Whitewater’s Virginia rivers Web pages, accessed at


Used in Audio

Jon M. Bachman, “The Rappahannock River,” in Virginia Explorer, Summer 1999, Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville.

Ted Byrd, “A Pitch for History,” Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 9/28/99, accessed online at,7272557&hl=en.

Brian Cronin, “Did Walter Johnson accomplish a famous George Washington myth?” Los Angeles Times, 9/21/12, online at

National Baseball Hall of Fame, “Walter Johnson,” online at

Henry W. Thomas, Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train, Phenom Press, Washington, D.C., 1995, pp. 330-331.

For More Information about the Rappahannock River
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ “Rappahannock River-Upper," online at; and
“Rappahannock River-Tidal," online at

Friends of the Rappahannock, Web site


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (

The following episodes feature information about the Rappahannock River or its basin:

Episode 71, 7/11/11 – removal of Embrey Dam at Fredericksburg, featuring “Rappahannock Running Free” by Bob Gramann;

Episode 89, 11/21/11 – introduction to the Rappannonck, featuring “Rappahannock Rapids” by Morey Stanton;

Episode 245, 12/22/14 – Virginia bridges, featuring the sound of the Waterloo Bridge over the Rappahannock;

Episode 272, 6/29/15 – 1995 floods in Madison County, in the Rapidan/Rappahannock River basin.


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

Virginia Studies Course
VS.2 – physical geography of Virginia past and present.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – water features important to the early history of the United States.

World Geography Course
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at