1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


 Phoebe Needles
John McCurdy  ‘08


Below Roanoke, below Rocky Mount, Va., below Ferrum, near the teeny community of Callaway. Deep in the heart of Virginia’s moonshine making County’s, nestled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains, is Phoebe Needles. 

The Episcopal Church, at least until recently, supported a Retreat and Conference Center at the facility. My understanding is, that with the recent decrease in the support of the Members of the Episcopal Church and the furor caused by the Ordination of an openly gay Bishop, the maintenance of the Center was in jeopardy. It is a sad thing if that indeed occurred.  

Phoebe Needles was a little girl, beautiful as only a little girl can be, kind and good-natured always and to everyone. She was the apple of her Daddy and her Mommy’s eye. She was loved by everyone who came to know her.  But within her grew an evil monster, an enemy of little girls and little boys, and a cruel and relentless ugly foe of man.  

Phoebe grew ill, her cheerful demeanor was now forced rather than the spontaneous outpourings of yesterday, she became a shell of the beautiful child of a few months before. Her father was the president of the Norfolk and Western Railways and he consulted the world’s finest physicians, visited the greatest teachers and researchers and universities seeking, searching for anything or anyone who could help. Charlatans and fakers emerged from every dark corner and from every foul place seeking their prey, their reward! It was no avail. What was ordained from the beginning finally occurred, Dear Phoebe died, smiling through pain and tears, kissing her Mother and Father one last time, she died. 

Her heartbroken father tried once to kill himself, then he tried to drink himself to death! At last he went to his hunting cabin near Callaway, and there somehow, he found his darling Phoebe once more.  

In gratitude for the acceptance he had at last found, he had built first, a small chapel, later he had a larger building of stone built by local stone masons, Knowing why they were building and what the reason for it was, they placed a large lintel stone over the front door and on it they carved, in error,  “Phoebe’s Needle”! It wasn’t correct, of course, but the father knew that many men’s hearts had gone into the effort. It remains today as it was carved! Later the building was enlarged, and made into the Retreat with the proceeds from a legacy left in honor of his little girl. 

It has been reported many, many times, that just as dusk turns into dark, just at the time when one would be last unable to distinguish a white thread from a dark thread at arm’s length, a little girl has been seen playing with her doll’s near the chapel entrance. We all know such things don’t really occur, the chapel hadn’t even been built when Phoebe Needles lived, it must be the way the shadows of the trees appear against the ground.  Long-dead little girls don’t play with dolls.


My wife Pearl and I attended a weekend Couple’s Workshop there in the 1970’s. We were setting on the ground in front of the Center one evening after supper gazing across the narrow valley at the Chapel a few hundred feet away, we certainly saw something, perhaps it was shadows, I won’t even guess, but as if by magic a warm autumnal breeze made us cozy and we sat there with arms around one another for several minutes staring out into the gathering darkness.