Revisiting the movie,”Field of Lost Shoes”… and the portrayal of “Old Judge”

Posted on December 19, 2014 by


It’s no mystery that I cared little for the movie the Field of Lost Shoes. Folks can go to Keith Harris’ online journal, The Americanist Independent (access is free now), to see the review that I wrote. In short, the story of the VMI cadets and their New Market experience deserves thoughtful consideration… and a film worthy of the story… but the movie, Field of Lost Shoes, isn’t it.

Today, Kevin Levin posted a little about the movie himself. Again, while I am no fan of the director’s embellishments (and, yes, there’s a lot)/gross exagerations/artistic license (I hesitate on this as I don’t have high confidence in who issued them this “license”), I don’t necessarily agree with Kevin’s assesment of the character, “Old Judge”. Specifically, I don’t agree with Kevin’s suggestion that what happened at the end of the movie (at the point where “Old Judge” comforts “Sir Rat”) is something that is impossible to imagine. It’s not that I like the embellishment… because I haven’t seen anything that even suggests it happened… I just think Kevin’s position on it isn’t realistic.

What’s important is considering what John Sergeant Wise actually said (in his book, The End of An Era) about “Old Judge”… and it’s nothing that comes across as “far-fetched.”

First, from page 252:

I soon learned where the laundries were, and where the boys skated in cold weather, and what were the different points of interest. Louis led me to th house of an old Irishman who sold cider and cakes to the cadets, and we regaled ourselves. Then we came back by the rear way up the stream called the Nile, which runs behind the Institute grounds, and clambered up the bluffs and stole around to the bakery where old Judge, the baker, gave us a hot loaf just drawn from the oven, it having been cooked for the cadets’ supper. Louis explained that we were out of limits now, as cadets were forbidden to visit the bakery, and, if caught, received five demerits and an extra tour of guard duty. The sensation of disobeying orders was rather pleasant, I confess. Judge was a wonderful old negro; he had been there many years. In appearance, he was a black Sancho Panza, fat and puffing and jolly; he was a darkey of moods. Sometimes his mood was religious, sometimes it was profane; but, whether the one or the other, he was always amusing.

Out of the first introduction grew a long friendship with Judge, and when he confronted St. Peter, the pile of bread stacked up against him in Heaven must have been tremendous; for every cadet who was at Lexington in the thirty years of his stewardship received from him at least ten loaves stolen from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Bless his hot, jolly, fat, black, flour-smirched, roguish memory! His portrait, with his baker’s cap jauntily tipped, now adorns the cadet mess-hall in the company of generals and other distinguished departed.

Then, from page 282-283:

And a great day we had of it [hunting]. As if to compensate us for our tribulations, we struck a flight of pigeons and found numbers of squirrels. In fact, we killed so many that we found it necessary to sling our game upon a pole… Then we secured a permit for private breakfast in the mess-hall Sunday morning, and to visit old Judge at the kitchens to deliver our game…

That’s it… nothing about “Old Judge” standing a chance of being hung… or various other ways in which he was portrayed in the movie. What you see above is the straight scoop… but I’d be particularly interested in seeing that pic of “Old Judge” that once hung in Crozet Hall (hint, hint to my VMI friends).