Alexandria Spies and Secrets from PBS’ Mercy Street

In the season two premier of PBS’ Mercy Street, the action picks up right where it left off in Alexandria, with Frank Stringfellow narrowly deciding to ditch his plan to blow up the Mansion House during a visit from President Lincoln. Even though Frank doesn’t follow through with his plan, he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve and isn’t done spying in Alexandria. Keep reading to learn more about the real Frank Stringfellow and other Civil War spy tales along with Mercy Street-inspired spy experiences in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC.

The Real Frank Stringfellow

MS_106_AP_0601A-_082_720x497_72_RGBCourtesy of Antony Platt/PBS

Frank Stringfellow was a real Confederate spy who fell in love with and married Emma Green. Stringfellow was eager to join the efforts of the war after being turned down from several Virginia troops, but eventually served as a scout and spy who quickly worked his way up in the ranks through his wit—sometimes even dressing as a woman to gather Union information or, according to his own tales, hiding under a woman’s large hoop skirt to avoid being caught. And as we see in Mercy Street, the real Frank Stringfellow really did pose as a dentist to gather intel.

Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria

In one of his Civil War spy tales in Alexandria, towards the beginning of the war as the Union soldiers were beginning to occupy the Mansion House, legend has it the real Frank Stringfellow snuck in to visit his love, Emma, while on a mission. Belinda, who was a real enslaved woman working for the Green family, helped let him in. The mission was too risky for Frank, so Emma set off with Belinda to complete it for him. Of course, in Mercy Street, the character of Emma Green is not as sympathetic to Frank’s spying ways, but her sister Alice takes on some secret missions of her own. Read more about Frank on PBS’ website.

Knights of the Golden Circle

Mercy StreetCourtesy of Antony Platt/PBS

In the series, Alice joins the secret society the Knights of the Golden Circle and works with Frank to aid the Confederate cause through discrete assignments in Alexandria. In real life, Alice Green died before the war and it was actually Emma who assisted Frank as a spy, though none of the Greens joined the Knights of the Golden Circle—a secret society that aimed to create “a prosperous, slave-holding Southern Empire extending in the shape of a circle” from the southern United States all the way through Central America and did include women in its group. A real badge from an Alexandria woman who was part of the Knights of the Golden Circle can be viewed today at a Mercy Street-inspired exhibit at the Barrett Branch Alexandria Library on Queen Street.

 

Watch: Hannah James on Spying in Season 2

We had a chance to catch up with Hannah James and chat with her about season two. Check out the video to see what she says about the spy work Frank and Alice do and how it impacts their relationships!

 

Visitor Experiences

Fans of PBS’ Mercy Street can dive deeper into the stories about Frank Stringfellow and the fascinating history of spying and undercover activities during the Civil War at various events and exhibits in Alexandria, Virginia.

IMG_0619_720x480_72_RGBImage Credit: C. Mouledoux for Visit Alexandria

Mercy Mystery: Spy Scavenger Hunt
Ongoing throughout Alexandria

Be a spy for a day! Inspired by PBS’ Mercy Street, this new scavenger hunt will take you around Old Town Alexandria, learning about espionage and undercover activities during the Civil War. Follow the clues and post your photos on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #MercyMystery. We’ll feature your photos on our website! Download the clues here and be sure to check each museum’s website for hours of operation and any admission fees.

Who These Wounded Are: The Extraordinary Stories of the Mansion House Hospital Exhibit
Continuing through 2017
Carlyle House Historic Park, 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Come see the real Mansion House from Mercy Street where the Green family lived. This exhibit upstairs features stories from Carlyle House that relate to Mercy Street including Frank Stringfellow. The field case he would have used on his spying adventures is on display upstairs, along with some of his other belongings with interpretive panels. You can also view a “smuggler’s skirt” like the one Frank Stringfellow may have hidden under during one of his spying escapades.

Espionage Tea at Carlyle House
June 25, 2017 from 2:30-4 p.m.
Carlyle House Historic Park, 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Discover your inner spy at a special Espionage Tea. Are you as clever and talented as Frank Stringfellow? Find out at this special Carlyle House event.

For more on Mercy Street-inspired experiences in Alexandria, click here. Stay tuned for more Mercy Street Monday blog posts on Extra Alex.

 

Header Image Courtesy of Antony Platt/PBS