This is the Funny Names Blog. We celebrate names that sound funny. It’s pretty simple. But there is another condition one must fill to be included in one of our occasionally partially amusing tributes to those who have carried these fine names. That is, to have accomplished something significant, been the child of someone significant, or at least been mentioned in the Kalamazoo Times or something. Really, we’ll take any excuse.
However, Whitmell Pugh Tunstall‘s inclusion in the vast canon of funny names needs no excuses. He was a man who for more than a decade battled against special interest groups, lawsuits, and various opposition forces to realize his goal – the building of some railroads.
Whitmell was born in beautifully named Pittsylvania County, Virginia in 1810. He went into law and started practicing (funny how no matter how good they get, lawyers never stop practicing! Or maybe it’s not funny at all on second thought) in Danville, Virginia in 1835 and soon decided that he really, really wanted to see trains going round and round in the area. Trains in 1835 were just about the latest thing, (kinda like thing X is now, X being whatever the latest thing is – I’ll let you cool kids fill me in on that one) and nobody trusted those then-newfangled transportation systems.
Tunstall served in the Virginia General Assembly from 1836 to 1848, during which time the building of the railroad was the hot button issue in those parts. He introduced a bill in his third year as a delegate to charter the Richmond & Danville Railroad, but it wasn’t about to be as simple as that.
The idea of building railroads faced stiff opposition from people operating river transport businesses along the Roanoke River at the time. This is what we’d presently call “special interests” getting involved. Good thing this kind of thing is long gone from politics we no longer have any companies or individuals striving to protect their own incomes while working against the best interests of society at large. Nope, not at all.
Anyways, Mr. Tunstall was just the type of principled man to slap down that kind of tomfoolery. He faced opposition from just about everyone who could have cared to oppose to this crazy idea of carrying people and things from place to place faster. Finally, dozens of passionate speeches, fights against his colleagues, opponents and general complacency later, his dream came true – the charter passed in 1847 and the railroad would be built. He was instantly named as the head of the newly created Richmond & Danville Railroad company, which would later expand into the larger Southern railway system.
Unfortunately fate, as it often is, was cruel on ol’ Whitmell. Just as the railroad project was finally approaching completion, he died of Typhoid at the age of 43 and never got to see his life’s work. He did live to see the day when more than a decade’s worth of work came to fruition in the passing of the bill, and wrote home :
Tis the proudest day of my life, and I think I may now say that I have not lived in vain.”
If only we could all have such days. Writing about Whitmell Pugh Tunstall comes close to that feeling, but I do hope that there’s something even better coming.