The governor and road striping

May 24, 2010

The New York Times reports that there is a shortage of the specialized yellow and white paint that adorns highways. A lack of methyl methacrylate, an evidently vital ingredient in the paint, is the culprit.

This brings to mind a story I’ve heard about Frank G. Clement, governor of Tennessee from 1953-1959 and 1963-1967. Seems that Governor Clement, who championed road-building, had a political crony who had bought too much of the costly road-striping paint and was whining about what to do with it. The governor, according to the tale, grew tired of the complaining and said something to the effect of “Hell, paint lines down the outer edge of the lanes!”

This was done all over the state, and soon Federal authorities noticed a sharp decline in single-vehicle accidents on Tennessee highways. This, according the story, is why most highways now have stripes on their outer edges.

Governor Clement is better remembered for a histrionic speech he gave at the 1956 Democratic Convention, which prompted a young Red Smith of the Times to write a wonderful lead: “The young governor of Tennessee, Frank G. Clement, slew the Republican party with the jawbone of an ass here last night . . . .”

But that’s another story.

Sgt. York artifacts to tour USA

March 4, 2009

This just in from Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Mastriano; the Sgt. Alvin York artifacts that he discovered have been moved to the US.  I just have one question:  When will they come to Tennessee?


In February 2009, the actual artifacts recovered from where Sergeant York earned the Medal of Honor on 8 October 1918, were transferred to the Center of Military History (CMH). This included roughly 1,000 of the most important items, encompassing some 30 different types of American and 70 different types of German items, personal effects, equipment pieces, etc. The items included German and American bullets, cartridges, canteens, pieces of belts, buttons, combs, brushes, mirrors, whistles, bottles, bayonets, watches, first aid kits, entrenching tools, coins, gas masks, horse shoes, harmonicas, mess kits, straps, hooks, etc.

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Fort Negley visitor center opens

December 14, 2007

According to the Tennessean, the long overdue visitors center for Nashville’s Fort Negley opens on Saturday. Located south of downtown–Map of 534 Chestnut St Nashville, TN 37203-4803, US–and the largest Civil War site in the city, the name Fort Negley might as well be short for Fort Neglected.


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Boll weevils near eradication in fields but live on in songs

November 7, 2007

The Memphis Commercial Appeal is running a dandy series of articles on the 100-year, $100 billion effort to kill off these snout-nosed parasites of the cotton plant. Boll weevils came to this country from Mexico in 1892 and began laying their eggs in cotton plants, thus preventing the boll of cotton from developing.

In the days before living better through chemistry, the only way to reduce the effect of these insects was to not plant cotton for a season. Farmers looked to other crops for income and King Cotton thus became dethroned across the South.


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Highlander reaches 75th anniversary

September 3, 2007

Many moons ago, before NPR’s Morning Edition existed, Bob Edwards was the co-host of All Things Considered. When the East Tennessee chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists needed a speaker for a banquet, we invited him to come, offering to pay all expenses and, as I recall, a painfully small honorarium. To our surprise and delight, Edwards accepted, and in making the arrangements, he commented that he wanted to come to Tennessee to visit the Highlander Research and Education Center. Highlander is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend, and NPR–sans Edwards–did a piece on Sunday’s Weekend Edition.


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Battle of Knoxville exhibit opens at McClung Museum

August 6, 2007

As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Knoxville wasn’t one of the big ones, but, not counting clashes in Chattanooga, it was the largest one in East Tennessee. The McClung Museum on the University of Tennessee campus is about to open a new permanent exhibit on what is known locally as the Battle of Fort Sanders.


Photo courtesy of McClung Museum

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Fabled Andrew Johnson Hotel for sale

June 6, 2007

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that the mayor of Knoxville wants to sell the Andrew Johnson Hotel. Built in 1930, its 18 stories made it the tallest hotel in East Tennessee, and it hosted all manner of luminaries.

Local historian and author Jack Neely claims that it is the only building in the world that housed–not at the same time–Jean-Paul Sartre, Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, Tony Perkins, Liberace, and Sergey Rachmaninoff, who gave the last performance of his life in Knoxville. The top floor was once the home of radio station WNOX’s Midday Merry-Go-Round, a live show famous for launching the careers of country music stars.

The hotel is also famous for being one of the last places that Hank Williams saw the light.


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Scopes Trial on Broadway while original set crumbles

April 13, 2007

Today’s New York Times has a review of Inherit the Wind, the play that has, for many people, become the truth about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton. The part of Matthew Harrison Brady, modeled on William Jennings Bryan, is played by Brian Dennehy, a wonderful and expressive actor who, according to the reviewer, does not prove a foemen worthy of the steel of the Clarence Darrow character.

The odds were stacked against the Bryan character when the play was written in 1955, for he symbolized the evils of McCarthyism. Today, most viewers of the play or its 1960 film adaptation wouldn’t know Senator McCarthy from Charlie McCarthy, so all that is lost on them. Residents of Dayton, most specifically the faculty of Bryan College, created and named for “The Great Commoner,” mightily resent the fictional depiction of their town and their hero.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel comes an article reporting that the historic Rhea County courthouse, where the Scopes Trial took place, is showing its age. Historian Richard Cornelius, chairman of the Scopes Trial Museum Committee and former professor at Bryan College, states that problems include “birds nesting in the attic and the potential for disease that brings. Cornelius also said the third floor is settling unevenly because of the weight of books stored there and that there are cracks in the building’s brickwork.”

The courtroom on the second floor of the building, where Darrow and Bryan made history, is the scene of an annual reenactment of the trial based on the actual testimony.


Knoxville’s World’s Fair: A quarter century perspective

April 5, 2007

Metro Pulse has several articles on the Knoxville World’s Fair of 1982. While the Fair was generally judged to be a failure, it left Knoxville a better place to visit. The Sunsphere remains the most distinctive building in the state, and today’s visitors can also enjoy the renovated L & N train station. The Fair site, formerly an industrial valley of despair, is now a pleasant park connecting downtown Knoxville to the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

Jack Neely, who wrote the lead piece in Metro Pulse, made a perceptive comment about the Fair’s impact: “Some Knoxville businessmen noticed that just after the Fair, national news reports on NPR and the TV networks referred to Knoxville as “Knoxville”–and not “Knoxville, Tennessee,” which implies folks might not know where Knoxville was, or get us mixed up with the one in Iowa.”

Of the four main cities in Tennessee, Knoxville was the last one to get this distinction.


William Jennings Bryan

March 19, 2007

Today is the birthday of William Jennings Bryan, who, had he not participated in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, would have been remembered in a far better light. Bryan was a progressive’s progressive. He favored women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, and corporate income tax. He was a three-time Democratic candidate for the presidency. Then came Dayton, where in the final days of his life he took on Clarence Darrow amid a perfect storm of 1920s iconoclasm and new media. This remarkable man is now remembered as a befuddled fundamentalist in one of the more embarrassing episodes of Tennessee history. A new biography, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan has just come out in paperback.


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