She may be slight and more soft-spoken with her age, but pay no mind Midge Wang’s appearance when it comes to her stature as the City’s longest-tenured historian. Wang’s full of factoids about Falls Church and knows the trends that shaped the City into what it is today. That’s why you pay your respects to the Godmother of Falls Church, just as the entire City will on Monday when she serves as Grand Marshal for the annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival.
While Wang will be donning her finest bourgeoisie (or bougie, as the kids like to say) attire on Memorial Day with an elaborate gown and hat oozing of high society, that belies the humble nature she stems from. A City resident since 1963, Wang has been a roll-up-your-sleeves advocate of Falls Church’s historical heritage, whether she’s educating residents through living history demonstrations or in practice as she lives in one of 90 remaining Victorian Era homes that are peppered throughout the City.
It’s the nexus between the City’s modern profile and the Victorian Era (1837-1901) that spurred Wang to action in helping found the Victorian Society at Falls Church in 1995. She’s known for other ventures — establishing the Friends of the Cherry Hill Farmhouse as well as helping bring knowledge of the Civil War and its effects on the City through accompanying reenactments. However, enlightening residents about the story behind the Falls Church they know and love through an emphasis of the Victorian Era allows them to see the significance of the cultural lineage it’s grown out of.
“The Village Improvement Society came in [following the Civil War]. The reason they needed it was because the war needed troops in the City for almost five years to protect Washington, D.C. While staying here, soldiers cut down all the trees for firewood and used farmers’ crops and livestocks for food, along with using the [Falls Church] Episcopal Church as a stable. The City was very stripped,” Wang said. “A Union soldier from Falls Church used his ties with the federal government to restore the church, and from there it gradually became a community for government workers who left the swamp of D.C.”
Essentially, the Victorian Era encapsulated the City’s rebirth to prominence. And as Wang notes, while other cities rebounded thanks to one rich resident bringing a business there that was later at the mercy of highway developments, Falls Church stayed strong and continued to grow thanks to its proximity to the nation’s capital.
Wang’s affinity for the era is always detectable, though never in-your-face. It’s very Victorian of her.
She chats politely but proudly about how it was Falls Church that celebrated Virginia’s first Arbor Day during the period. And she remarks with a tamed glee about how much fun it is for her, fellow society members and friends to dress in the garb and portray the events as prosperous characters with the graciousness that defined the time.
But even when she’s not using her imagination to bring an old soul to life, Wang civilly demurs her status as some kind of distinguished figure worthy enough to be celebrated as the leader of a parade (and, much to my chagrin, she’s not too fond of my “Godmother” label either. Sorry Midge, but I’m gonna make it stick!).
“It came as a total surprise [being named Grand Marshal],” Wang continued, adding that her children won’t be able to attend since the announcement came so late that trips to Alaska and France had already been planned (though her grandchild will be in attendance). “There’s lots of other people that are equally influential and do wonderful things, that’s why I’m appalled to be selected.”
While Wang will have to cool her simmering dismay for the City’s selection of her as Grand Marshal, there’s one topic that causes her to purse her lips: the City’s growing disenchantment toward the Victorian era homes. Other concerns, such as younger generations’ disinterest in history, also puts Wang on alert, but the City’s inhabitable monuments to one of its proudest times deserves more justice in her eyes.
“The City’s interest in getting money for the schools [causes it to be] very lenient about giving people the right to tear down a house and rebuild it twice as big, and then it will sell for over a million dollars and they will get more tax money,” Wang said. “You have that culture in the City that I think many of them don’t respect the historical aspect of it.”
Wang concedes that Victorian homes lack 21st century necessities from central air to garages, but she feels the homes can’t be discarded so casually for the sake of a quick buck.
But that’s a problem for another time. In the here and now, Wang is embracing this moment as Grand Marshal, no matter how little she believes it’s rightfully hers. And you can expect some enthusiastic (but not too enthusiastic) waves to be directed your way once you see her on Memorial Day.