By Cindy Rinker
Shenandoah County-made carpetbags appearing in the movies, on TV and stage.
You may have seen them on TV or on the silver screen or even on Broadway. They do not play lead roles; they are authentic accents that assist in telling the story being performed.
They are handmade reproduction carpetbags fashioned in the style of the luggage that was made in the mid to late 1800s. With the expansion of the railroad, people were more mobile and needed inexpensive luggage. Saddle makers began offering bags made from unworn pieces of Persian carpet framed into luggage with straps or handles.
In Woodstock, Virginia, there is a woman who makes authentic replicas of these Civil War era bags. Beth Lindamood has owned a shoe repair and leatherworks business on West Court Street in Woodstock since 1986. The shop is in a historic building and is mere steps away from the historic Shenandoah County Courthouse – the oldest in continuous use west of the Blue Ridge.
She is best known as the owner of LB’s Shoe Repair. The LB stands for Lodema Beth which is the shoemaker’s given name. It is an old-fashioned name befitting a woman who also works on her family farm and does not own a cell phone.
In 2005, she purchased The Carpetbagger, a business that had been owned by Bob Porter for 18 years.
“He had poor health and was getting older and was looking to sell his business,” Beth recalls. “I went to see whether it was something I could do and I saw it was. I prayed about it and asked my parents what they thought. Mom was hesitant, but Daddy said ‘Go for it! I talked to Bob and we worked out a deal and he helped me get the business off the ground.”
Instead of being made from carpet, the bags are now made from heavy upholstery fabric in a variety of patterns and colors. She still makes the standard bags Bob made – purses, knitting bags, haversacks, garment bags and satchels, and has added doctor bags which are slightly smaller than the regular carpetbag.
Beth traveled to re-enactments and craft shows to sell her bags, but it was very time-consuming. She still makes her way to some events, but she discovered that a very basic website brings in orders from every state and at least 13 foreign countries. That is how she came to make bags for some pretty famous customers.
Her bags have appeared on the TV shows “Hell on Wheels,” “Last Man Standing,” the long-running soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful,” the live televised version of “Sound of Music” on NBC and “The Love Letter,” a Hallmark movie.
Beth’s bags also have been in period movies and westerns like: “The Lone Ranger,” “Tombstone,” “Gettysburg,” “Amistad,” “Queen” and “Bewitched (remember Aunt Clara who usually entered the set down the chimney with her bag?)
Beth also made several bags for stage productions of “Mary Poppins.” She usually has to make two identical bags. “They need one for her to carry and one with no bottom so that she could pull all those crazy things out of it,” she said.
Angela Lansbury carried Beth’s purse in “A Little Night Music” on Broadway as did Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly!” And she is working on bags now for an Amazon Prime feature movie on the Underground Railroad along with a Canadian film called “CJ Walker.”.
People who know Beth probably know little about these exciting sales because she is not one to brag – as they say. She is humble and genuinely seems puzzled (but pleased) by the popularity of her hard work.
The beautiful color of the fabric is the first thing that draws you to the bags. The fabrics range from eye-popping to whimsical (think chickens) to more subdued prints and colors. “There are so many fabrics out there it’s hard to choose which one to buy,” she said.
The authentic replica bags have leather rope handles; The modern carpetbags also have a detachable fabric shoulder strap in addition to the rope handles. They have a brass locking mechanism with a key and feet on the bottom to keep the fabric from touching the floor.
The Carpetbagger has been steadily growing and Beth is working on ways to get her carpetbags in front of more people. “People like things that are unique, personal to them. That is what my work is about.”
She encourages visitors to drop in at LB’s Shoe Repair or check out www.thecarpetbagger.com to learn more about her businesses in downtown Woodstock, in the very heart of the Shenandoah Valley.