The Commercial Appeal conjures up a story of a Memphis-based ghost hunter who, with a bag of technology, came to the remains of Fort Pillow to investigate stories of ghostly Union soldiers who still haunt the battlefield. Late in the war, Fort Pillow was manned by many black soldiers, who were infamously massacred by troops led by Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The results? Don Kopcial claims he recorded spectral voices holding this revealing conversation:
“Are you ready?”
“We need to go.”
If anyone wishes to do ghost busting here, it would be the latter day defenders of the Lost Cause, who wish they could exorcise this blot from the record of the Wizard of the Saddle.
A 189-year-old apparition known as the Bell Witch poses no threat to the Christian beliefs of residents of Adams, where “Kate” has bedeviled residents and ghostbusting visitors, most famously Andrew Jackson, since 1817.
The Tennessean constructs a Halloween story around a Baylor University study that revealed some Christians possess a combination of faith coupled with a belief in haunted houses. In the South, according to the article, fewer people believe in most paranormal phenomena–astrology, Bigfoot, Ouija boards, and the like–than the rest of the country. Southerners do, however, believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts or demons. According to the article, 23 percent of Southerners say they have visited or lived in a place that is haunted.
Locals in Springfield and Robertson Counties stress that the presence of a ghost fits in with their Biblical beliefs–the Bible has several accounts of demons. And besides, Kate–whether you believe in her or not–is great for tourism.
Johnson City’s Carroll Reece Museum, on the campus of East Tennessee State University, has opened its doors to new exhibit space and spiffed-up exhibits.
The Museum focuses on art and Appalachian culture. It has the best collection of musical instruments on this end of the state. The Reece Museum, along with the Mountain Home Museum, the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance museum, and the upcoming Gray Fossil Museum, will force museum-goers to spend several days on this end of the state to see them all.
Marijohn Wilkin, who wrote the classic “Long Black Veil,” died at the age of 86. She also wrote “One Day at a Time” and co-wrote “Waterloo.”
“Long Black Veil” tells an interesting story from a very unusual point of view. The story is about two lovers who were having a tryst while someone was killed “neath the town hall light.” The man is tried for the murder and asked if he has an alibi. He does, but doing so would reveal that his paramour is his best friend’s wife, so the accused goes to his death on the scaffold without giving up their secret. His lover wears a long black veil and visits his grave “while the night winds wail.” See the complete lyrics at the link below.
It’s a chilling story, all the more so because the song is sung from the point of view of the deceased. “Long Black Veil” has leaped the bounds of country music and has been recorded by artists as diverse as Joan Baez, Barry White, Johnny Cash, and the Kingston Trio. My favorite version is by Mick Jagger backed by the Chieftans.
Cocke County, the rooster fightin’, corn squeezin’ capital of Tennessee, was featured, if one can call it that, in the Los Angeles Times. The article is reprinted today in the News-Sentinel.
I had one of my weirder Tennessee restaurant experiences in Cocke County years ago at a culinary center called The Grease Rack. The parking lot was full of cars, but when I tried to open the restaurant door, it was locked. I rang the bell, and someone peered out a peephole, then opened the door. My younger son was with me, and we stepped into a bar where, it seemed, all conversation stopped as everyone looked us over.
Apparently passing the test, we were invited back into the capacious restaurant, where we enjoyed a good, down home meal. Why the peephole? As the waitress explained, “Well, sometimes there’s people out there that we don’t want in here.”
Every good eatery has its standards, I suppose.
The Washington Post takes a look at lawn jockeys, those small statues that still guard the entrance to suburban and rural homes. In my youth, these figures were uniformly African American, but now they are almost all white. I cannot recall seeing a black one for years.
For anyone growing in East Tennessee, Cas Walker was an inescapable presence. He owned a chain of grocery stores bearing his name–“shop at the sign of the shears” was his motto for cutting prices–and the income from these stores propelled him into a career as a politician, media figure, and regional embarrassment.Today’s News Sentinel tells of a new film about this singular individual. Born Orton Caswell Walker in 1903, he was universally known as “Cas,” pronounced as if his name rhymed with “razz.”
As a politician, Cas was a contrarian who opposed more things than he championed. Foreshadowing demagogues such as Rush Limbaugh, Cas rallied poor blacks and whites who were led to believe that he was on their side by being “agin” threats such as a unified Knox County and Knoxville city government.
Cas was adept in his use of media. Ignoring what we now call “mainstream media,” he got his message out through his own television show and a self-published newspaper in which he railed at his political enemies.
Monday through Friday beginning at 6:00 AM, Cas held forth on his Farm and Home Hour, where he read his own ads with poster-sized placards placed on an easel. He had guests who discussed the issues of the day–almost always people who shared his point of view.
No one wants to listen to just talk, so Cas featured country music on his show. He was the first person to put a pre-teen Dolly Parton and the Everly Brothers on the air. A longtime presence on the show was Honey Wilds, a large man who played comic songs on a ukulele. In an earlier incarnation, Honey had been one of country music’s most famous blackface acts. In Nashville’s original Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a poster of Wilds and a partner, billed as Jam-Up and Honey, was just about the only depiction of African Americans in the whole place. You can read more about Honey Wilds here: No Depression: Back Issues.
Overall, however, Cas was an embarrassment. A photo of his fisticuffs with a fellow member of the Knoxville City Council landed him on the cover of Life Magazine. He once gave a contribution or did some favor for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and required them to play an orchestral version of “Turkey in the Straw” in return. Worst of all were some of his grocery store ads. I remember billboards and TV ads in the 1970s depicting young black boys grinning and eating slices of watermelon that looked to be three feet wide. “Thumpin‘ good” ran the ditty that accompanied the television versions. I remember cringing at the impression of Knoxville that those billboards along I-40 must have conveyed to millions of travelers passing through.
Cas lived a long life, finally dying at age 96 in 1998. Most of his sins have been forgiven, and he now seems to be remembered as a colorful character who remained true to his populist beliefs.
No one has yet written the definitive book on Cas Walker. Given his influence on politics and music, it could be a most fascinating volume.
The Zippin Pippin became one of the more famous roller coasters in America, not for the ride itslf, but because of its most famous rider, Elvis Presley. Elvis would rent Libertyland, where the Zippin Pippin resided, for private parties, and was said to love the 1923 vintage ride.
According to the Commercial Appeal, the roller coaster is bound for Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina to be installed in “a project, called Carolina Crossroads, similar to Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., with music and high-end shopping themes.” Dollywood considered buying the ZP, but realized it would cost to much money to fit the 3,000-foot ride into the existing space.
After spending more than 1,000 hours on a quest, Lt. Col. Douglas Mastriano, an American military intelligence officer working for NATO, claims to have identified the exact site where Tennessee’s most famous war hero won his fame. Sgt. Alvin York, a pacifist who only reluctantly entered World War II, became famous for capturing 132 Germans after his unit came under attack. A 1941 film, in which York was portrayed by Gary Cooper, cemented his fame to a new generation of Americans.
For more on York, go to the Tennessee Guy link below.
While in Tennessee last week I got a chance to tour the Museum at Mountain Home, the name locals still use for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Johnson City. Located in a strikingly beautiful 1902 building with a tower, the Museum occupies some 9,000 square feet of what used to be the dining hall for 1,000 residents. I know of no other medical museum in the state of this size or having as large a collection.
The Museum has an ambitious goal: to illuminate the medical heritage of the Southern Appalachians. Exhibits range from Native American herbs up through Civil War and other military medicine and on to more modern displays. While signage, lighting, and other enhancements still need work, the Museum is off to a great start, and already attracts a stream of visitors. More will come when the Museum expands its hours, currently Tuesday 9 a.m. – 11 a.m, Wednesday 1:30 p.m. – 3:30, and Thursday 9 A.M – 11 a.m. Admission is free.
The Museum has been a long time coming, and is largely due to the efforts of an extraordinary woman. Martha Whaley has gathered the Museum’s collections, worked with an enthusiastic group of volunteers, and coordinated fundraising efforts–yet the Museum is not her main job. She is an associate professor, technical services coordinator, and history of medicine librarian at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.
Martha and her supporters deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the Museum, which takes its place as the focal point of anyone’s visit to Mountain Home.