The bench where Lorraine Musselman sat to wave to friends and passersby on Commerce Street in Occoquan is now covered with flowers and photos and farewell notes. Musselman, Occoquan's longest continual resident, died on Jan. 2 at 82. She leaves behind a brother in the Woodbridge area.
A fixture of the town, Musselman served as a council member and a member of the architectural review board. She was a member of the Occoquan Historical Society Board of Directors when she passed away. Musselman volunteered at the craft show and worked at the museum and the post office.
She moved to the town when she was only nine months, and lived in the same house for her entire life in Occoquan.
Musselman was one of the first Occoquan residents that Mayor Earnie Porta met when he and his wife visited the town, before he was elected mayor.
"We had a wonderful, long conversation, and she told us a number of stories about Occoquan, and that's the kind of thing that makes you want to move to a place like Occoquan," Porta said.
Porta counted Musselman as a personal friend, and recalled an incident in his first term as mayor in which Musselman stood up for him. Porta was picking up his mail at the town post office, and someone else started saying negative things about the town and Porta's mayoral work.
"Lorraine was there, and she jumped to my defense immediately and fearlessly," he said. "It certainly meant a lot to me."
When Musselman's bench became old, worn out and splintery, Porta and the town replaced the bench.
"She will be missed by everybody who knew her," Porta said.
Musselman's longtime friend Bobbie Frank moved to Occoquan in 1991 and met Musselman the same year. They became friends while volunteering at the same town events.
"We visited in the afternoons as often as we could," Frank said, referring to both Musselman and Brenda Seefeldt, another of Musselman's close friends. "I mean, six, seven days a week sometimes. In the summer, in the nice weather, we visited, the three of us, on that bench across the street."
"She was The Lady on the Bench," Frank added.
In the last several months of her life, Musselman suffered from dementia and a loss of balance. But before that, she delighted in making new friends, feeding animals, and studying the history of Occoquan. In addition to giving regular treats to her friends' dogs, Musselman also kept a cat her entire life, and fed an outdoor feral cat, as well as a lame vulture that she named Vinny.
"Vinny the Vulture would sit on her rail," said Seefeldt.
"She would want to feed the vulture, so she would stand next to the vulture," Frank said. Those passing by would often stop their vehicles to stare at the odd sight.
"It was an animal, and she was not going to harm it," Seefeldt said.
Frank's and Seefeldt's favorite memories of Musselman are sitting for hours on that bench and talking.
"The cars would just come by. All these people would wave, and we would wave back, and we didn't know who we were waving to, and she loved it," Frank said. As the town changed, the majority of the shops moved from Commerce Street to Mill Street, and Musselman hated the change.
"The shops brought the people, and she liked to people watch," Frank said. "Every day she would say, 'It's too quiet. It's just too quiet. Bobbie, don't you think it's too quiet?'"
Musselman shared many of her memories with her friends. She remembered swimming in the Occoquan River, near the site of the current dam. In the winters, the river would freeze, and they would ice skate. And once, after a particularly bad storm several decades ago, a local funeral home was flooded, and the coffins floated down the river.
One of Musselman's favorite childhood pranks also involved the local funeral home.
"She would play hide-and-seek, and she would hide in the coffins, and then none of the other kids could find her," Seefeldt said.
"She loved being a child in Occoquan because she had so much freedom," Frank said.
Musselman treasured Occoquan's history and hated change. She pored much of her time into researching local history, and she called every new townhouse a "disgrace."
"Where I lived was a disgrace until I moved there, and then it became OK," Frank said.
"She worked at the museum until they literally took away her key," Seefeldt said. "People would come in and she would just tell them stories."
But no matter the changes she saw, Occoquan remained her favorite place to live.
"She loved it," Frank said. "It was home. Capital, uppercase letters, HOME."