Two years ago, Mrs. Joann Conner sent me a copy of an invitation that was mailed to her grandfather, Dave Oliver, on March 28, 1928. It came from the Elizabethton Hunt Club, inviting him to a special foxhunt on April 13 to honor 80-year-old former Tennessee governor Alf Taylor.
Tomorrow is the 82ndanniversary of the storied event. Research reveals that 750 guests were invited to Bogart Knob (highest point between Buffalo and Unaka mountains) at the famous camp owned by the Taylor family. Local passenger trains brought in scores of people, including a Pullman carload from Nashville on Southern Railway train No. 26.
Preparation for the occasion included grading and surfacing the dirt road leading to the knob, erecting a large circus tent capable of holding 1000 guests, piping in water, installing electric lights, stringing telephone lines and delivering a piano. One newspaper article proclaimed, “Bogart Knob will be the center of the world on Friday.”
The hunt was strictly a stag affair. One group of disappointed ladies toured the camp the day before and humorously informed officials that they planned to don breeches and a moustache and sneak in the next day. Pre-festivities kicked off at 10 a.m. that day when several guests took part in a program for Elizabethton schools. Two hours later, event organizer, Alex Shell, hosted a luncheon for other notables.
At three p.m., a number of non-political speeches were delivered from the likes of Governor Horton of Tennessee, Hon. Ben H. Taylor (son of “Uncle Alf”), Hill McAlister (former state treasurer and future governor of Tennessee) and Judge W.R. Allen of Elizabethton (former judge of Tennessee courts).
Afterward, a program described as “pure Southern merriment” was held with four songs about Uncle Alf performed by the Ole Limber Quartet (often spelled “Quartette,” the same male group that made his race for governor in 1920 so memorable); the John Sevier Bell Hop Quartet;the Dixie Serenaders; Sydney M. Rowe (famous entertainer of Chuckey River, Tennessee); R.D. Wood’s String Band; and several others.
At six p.m., waiters who were decked out in spotless white uniforms, carrying plates to delight the hearts and stomachs of the most fastidious southerner, served the long awaited meal. It consisted of Tennessee Spring Lamb (proclaimed to be the tastiest dish in Dixie) with corn sticks, barbecued pork and other delightful southern dishes. The banquet consumed 10 sheep, 10 pigs and 500 pounds of beef barbecued in traditional Southern style and consumed with a truckload of fresh bread. It was the feast of feasts.
The much-anticipated fox chase began at nightfall. Although many “blooded” foxhounds (having ancestors of good blood) were present, only about 100 of them participated in the actual chase. Packs of about 20 dogs were released every few minutes until all them were active in the hunt. Old Limber, the now 12-year-old famed hound of Gov. Taylor, reportedly assumed his customary lead.
While the pursuit was in progress, movie cameras clicked off hunt scenes and telegraph wires carried the event to every part of the nation. All the while, Uncle Alf sat placidly in a camp chair with friends who tracked the general location of the foxes by listening to the music of the melodious baying hounds. He delighted his guests by musing over his favorite past foxhunts. The famed occasion continued unrelentingly all night until the first rays of sunlight appeared on the following morning, giving the much-fatigued dogs (and foxes) some needed rest.
“The South’s Greatest Foxhunt” was a fitting tribute to the man who had given so much of himself to his beloved volunteer state. He would depart this life 3.5 years later.