April 2009

The “Tri-Cities Shopping News and TV-Guide,” a 16-page weekly publication, was published every Thursday and sold for a nickel. The staff included M.S. Lusk (co-owner), Harlan P. Milhorn (co-owner/general manager) and Douglas J. Ingells (editor/publisher).

The bold headline for April 7, 1960 boldly proclaimed, “City Granted Charter 75 Years Ago.” The diamond anniversary article titled “A Day to Remember, comprised two pages and referred to Mar. 25, 1885.

Although Johnson City received its first charter on Dec. 1, 1869, it was later rescinded only to have another one granted in early 1885. The diamond anniversary referred to the second charter. The city elected a mayor, four aldermen and a magistrate, which was accomplished on the fourth Wednesday in March of that year. Henry Johnson became the first mayor.

The remainder of the newspaper contained numerous advertisements, a TV guide, a crossword puzzle and a column titled “Norton’s Notions,” written by area businessman, J. Norton Arney, offering a unique and hilarious glimpse of the automobile trade in the 1920s. I will feature it in next week’s column.

Five television station schedules were listed: WJHL-11 (Johnson City), WCYB-5 (Bristol), WBTV-3 (Charlotte), WLOS-13 (Asheville) and WATE-6 (Knoxville). The programming for WJHL brought back many memories for me. The “Little Rascals” came on at 5:00 followed by “Rocky and His Friends (Tue. & Thur.), “Rin Tin Tin” (Mon. & Fri.) and “My Friend Flicka (Wed.).

The lonely housewives had their fair share of soap operas to weep over: “Love of Life,” “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” “Young Doctor Malone,” “Brighter Day,” “Secret Storm” and “The Edge of Night.”

My favorite program from that era was Arthur Smith and His Crackerjacks that came on over WBTV each Thursday at 7:00. It featured a half-hour of homespun country/western, bluegrass and gospel music at its best. The Crossroads Quartet always concluded each show.

The local movie theatres offered their fare – Sevier: “Suddenly Last Summer” (Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Katherine Hepburn), Majestic: “Home from the Hills” (Robert Mitchum and Eleanor Parker), Tennessee: “The Young Land” (Patrick Wayne and Yvonne Craig) and The Skyline Drive-In: “For the First Time” (Mario Lanzo and Zsa Zsa Gabor).

The Sutz-U Food Market at the corner of Maple and Buffalo Street purchased a half-page ad with several items listed: Hormel Can Hams, $2.69 for a 3-lb. size; fresh lean loin end pork chops, $.43/lb.; Armour’s Oleo, seven lbs.; half-gallon ice milk for $.49 (with coupon); and two loaves of Baker’s Bread for a quarter. 

Other advertisement included the Restaurant Village of the John Sevier Hotel, Fields Department Store (104-06 E. Main),” Mullins (Jonesborough Highway), Leach Motor Company (111 Ash, Willys Jeep), Harrison’s Jewelers (203 E. Main), Nance Lanes (401 E. Main), Market Street Furniture Co. (130 W. Market), Huntsman Television Cable Co. (407 W. Walnut offering five stations for $25 and your old antenna) Scarlett Lincoln/Mercury Sales (Kingsport-Bristol Blvd.), Doyle Tire Service (502 W. Market), Carder Hardware (132 W. Market) and Anderson Realty Co. (100 W. Holston at Roan).

The most humorous ad in the Shopping News was by Johnson City Beauty Shop (101.5 Buffalo) proclaiming, “Ladies, Our Hair Color Specialists Invite You to Come in and Get a New Hair Color to Match Your Easter Outfit.”  

Read more

In 1985, former Press writer Tom Hodge wrote about a restaurant that he occasionally patronized. Located in Unicoi, it was Clarence’s Drive-In, owned and operated by Clarence Tapp who opened the popular eatery in 1969. It is still going strong 40 years later.

The signature meal, according to current owners, Jerry and Teresa Collins, is the biscuits and gravy plate, which is served anytime. The thing that intrigued Tom about Clarence’s, aside from its tasty victuals, was its reputation for producing some of the most outlandish tall tales imaginable. I located several of the writer’s columns that dealt with the trendy restaurant. I am repeating my favorite yarns along with the names of the perpetrators.

Lawrence Hahn said that he and Briscoe Edwards once were driving in Erwin when they spotted a dog chasing a cat from a yard into an alley. After the dog apprehended the cat, a fierce fight ensued. The feline not only whipped the canine, but moments later, the latter ran out of the alley with the cat behind in hot pursuit.

Bill Honeycutt, while working on a Clinchfield Railroad crew repairing a bridge, once observed a man with a shotgun and a dog coming through a field. They passed in front of a house where a second man was standing in the doorway. About that time, a large rabbit came hopping across the front yard. The dog spotted the animal and took chase. The man with the shotgun hollered to the man at the door, “If my dog kills your rabbit, I’ll pay you for it.”

When the dog caught the rabbit, the rodent-like creature unexpectedly kicked the dog three feet into the air. Every time the mutt got up, the hare belted him again. Seeing what was transpiring, the man at the door shouted to the man in the field, “If my rabbit kills your dog, I’ll pay you for it.”

Carl Jones related that when they wanted to go hunting, they’d make an appointment with Smith and Ike Nelson because they had the best dogs in the country. He went with them several times and noticed something unusual. The dogs would bark for a while, suddenly become quiet, and soon afterward resume yelping again. One night he inquired why the animals so frequently lose the scent and stop barking. It was explained to him that the dogs were trained to cease barking anytime they passed through posted land.

Bill McInturff’s dog, Tige (same name as the Buster Brown Shoes canine) weighted maybe five pounds soaking wet. He noted that the animal once saved his life. It seems he was out in his pasture working when one of his cows went berserk and chased him into the middle of his pond. Even worse, the bovine started in after him. Tige, seeing what was happening, immediately came to his owner’s rescue by nipping at the cow’s heels until it turned and chased the dog back onto dry land.

And finally my favorite … Bucky Church owned a dog that every evening would faithfully go into the pasture and bring all 22 cows home. The dog showed up back at the farm at precisely the same time with the herd. One day, Bucky sold one of the animals to a neighbor. When his dog went to the pasture to acquire the cows that evening, he found only 21 of them, realizing one was missing.

The dog eventually located the animal in a nearby neighbor’s pasture and ushered it back to the herd, bringing the number back to 22. Bucky returned the cow to its rightful owner, but the dog retrieved it again the next day. This went on until Church figured out how to solve the dilemma. He obtained the cancelled check from his neighbor and showed it to his dog. The canine promptly adjusted his cow count from 22 to 21 and the problem was resolved. 

Read more

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 was a heartrending day for this writer. The old apartment building, originally known as the Gardner Apartments, at 319-321 W. Watauga where I lived during the first eight years of my life (1942-1950) burned and collapsed into a mountain of molten rubble.


The Gardner Apartments as It Looked Before, During and After the Devastating Fire 

The structure was one of six rental complexes built in that general area, the others being Larchmont, DeLeacon, Montclair, Holston and Lafayette. The 20-unit L-shaped edifice was constructed in 1921 and surrounded by three streets – Watauga to the west, Market along the south and (later) King on the north.

A 1919 reference to that property identifies a Garden Flats Apartment. Further research suggests that the likely owner was James Robert Gardner, a prominent attorney whose practice was located in the Armbrust Smith Building and later relocated to the second floor of the Arcade Building Annex. T.H. Mouries was president and Gardner was vice president of Watauga Realty, which carried the identical address as the apartments.

Andrew Mickle eventually became manager of the Gardner and Holston apartments. Gardner also owned the nearby Watauga Swimming Pool (renamed Sur Joi and then Carver). Isaac Garland owned the apartment during my family’s stay there in the 1940s in unit 10 facing Watauga at King.

Leon-Ferenbach Inc. was for years situated on the east side with City Fire Department No. 4 farther east on Market and the Police Department directly behind it on King. The constant roar from the silk mill machines was frequently augmented with shrill sirens from emergency vehicles. Like most things, we got used to it. The apartment offered more than just a place to eat and sleep as evidenced by some vivid memories from my youth depicting life there and in the surrounding neighborhood:

Proudly walking to Howard Stewart’s Red Store by myself with a list of needed groceries for Mom; occasionally shopping at Luther Pardue’s Grocery Store; taking a bath in the impressive-looking old bathtub that stood on four feet; waking up each winter morning to the clanging of steam radiators; chatting with the firemen at the fire station and occasionally seeing a young Clarence Eades (future fire chief) there; …

Going with Ernest Green, the maintenance man who lived in Apt. 4, into the dark, cool basement and being advised to watch out for rats; patronizing Prator-Wilson Pharmacy, being greeted by Guy Wilson, eating ice cream in the summer and hot tamales in the winter at the soda fountain and reading comic books from the store’s display rack; getting an adult haircut at Bill Garland’s Barber Shop; anxiously decorating a modest pine tree during the Christmas season; feeding a stray cat on our back porch; …

Going “swimming” by carrying a pot of warm water to the narrow sidewalk behind the apartments, sitting in it and using a metal cup to refreshingly pour water over my head; watching a barrage of helium-filled balloons drift overhead that had been released from the Press-Chronicle, offering a prize to the fortunate person who found one and returned it; enduring a life-threatening bout of rheumatic fever that required me to be quarantined, kept inactive and off my feet for a year; …

Walking to West Side School by taking a “shortcut” through the Larchmont Apartments; becoming acquainted with the Buda family (John, Ethel, Anna and George) who owned John’s Sandwich Shop on Buffalo; walking with Mom to 536 W. Market each month to pay our $20 rent bill; eating a delicious hamburger at Bill Lawson’s Sandwich Shop soon after having my tonsils removed at Jones’ Hospital; and watching a snow shower in winter slowly paint the neighborhood white. What memories!

The aging 86-year-old Gardner Apartments daringly and dramatically absconded into the annals of yesteryear earlier this week, but my reminiscences of the years of my residency there are brilliantly stuffed in my bank of memories.  

Read more

The Sept. 20, 1915 edition of the Comet newspaper included a section titled, “Soldiers Home News Notes,” containing a page with numerous comments about residents of the Johnson City military facility:


Soldiers' Home Musicians

“Major W.P. Jackson, Uncle Sam’s inspector general of the army, arrived suddenly on payday, and commenced operations by inspecting barracks at one p.m. sharp. He introduced a new wrinkly by having us all lined up out of doors for a thorough inspection of uniforms. The major is a pleasant gentleman, not overloaded with unnecessary red tape and we now hope he will call again when not so busy.”

Another one offers this tidbit: “If a veteran could read his own biography, it would probably surprise him more than anyone else. But such is human nature and it is always well not to speak ill of the dead. Uncle Sam furnishes grave stones for all of us, he is fair and square with all, tells no lies, gives rank and service but nothing else.”

The most revealing item on the page was a poem, titled “The Brownlow Soldiers Home,” providing a poignant reflection of one soldier’s assessment of the Johnson City military facility. Professor W. F. Willard of Company G, 45th Pennsylvania Infantry, wrote the poet:

“I’ve traveled this country over fifty years or more. I’ve been from the Atlantic to the Pacific shore. And many hardships I’ve had as long as I did roam. But at last my lot is cast in the Brownlow Soldiers Home. There’s plenty here to eat and drink and soldier’s clothes to wear. And officers whose duty is to see that I get my share. Of everything a soldier needs and I hope I’ll never roam. If you want to work or if you have a trade. You’ll be enumerated so don’t be afraid. The work is by no means hard – it will never make you roam. But simply occupy your mind in the Brownlow Soldiers Home.

“Should sickness overtake you and bind you in your chains. There are women there to care for you and oft times ease your pain. They will rub you with their lotions and oft times cease your moans. And will always change your notions of the Brownlow Soldiers Home. There are chaplains there to visit you and they will pray at your bedside. They will speak to you consoling words (until) you are satisfied. And if you don’t desire them and you wish to be alone. You can ease your mind and go it blind in the Brownlow Soldiers Home.

“When then breath it does leave you and you have no more to say. Your comrades there most tenderly will bear your corpse away. There’s very little weeping and you seldom hear a moan. At any of the funerals in the Brownlow Soldiers Home. Now the battle of life is over and he is lowered in his grave. His comrades fire a last salute for the soldier true and brave. With the stars and stripes half-mast and great respect is shown. To every vet that meets his death in the Brownlow Soldiers Home.

“Long wave the sentry banner, the emblem of the free. Beneath its fold those warriors bold did gain sweet liberty. For our country ‘tis most grateful which on these grounds have shown. The blessings and the comforts of the Brownlow Soldiers Home.”

This interesting rhyme is a fitting tribute to the dedicated efforts of Walter Brownlow, a Tennessee U.S. representative from 1896 to 1910, for getting the Home approved for Johnson City. The beloved congressman died on July 8, 1910. 

Read more

In the spring of 1930, the Johnson City Chronicle and Staff-News conducted a “Birthday Contest” for local residents who were born in 1885. The rationale was to glean from locals what the city was like in the 45 years since they were born.

The newspaper focused on people who had lived the longest in Johnson City and on those with the best stories about early city life. Six people were subsequently interviewed for the newspaper; four received a $10 or $25 cash prize.

1. Mr. Ollie White, 607 Franklin Street ($25):  “I was born on Mar. 30, just five days after the (second) birth of Johnson City, which has been operating continually under a series of charters. I lived in a house on what is now King Street that was just inside the city limits of the village. I have never been out of town except for a visit of a few weeks. My mother also lived in Johnson City for more than 70 years, coming here when she was a young girl. I attended school in the old Jobe residence on what is now Tipton Street. I currently am employed at Harris Manufacturing Company. About 1900, I was caught in a windstorm one Sunday morning while on Main Street. The wind blew the front out of the post office that was just across the street from the church. It also tore the roof off Pardue’s store. Some of my relatives and friends came to town from Buffalo, New York to attend my funeral (laughing) after hearing that I had been killed in the storm.”

2. Mrs. Fannie Johnson Merritt, 207 Lamont Street ($25): “I was born in what was known as the Whiteside House on Holston Avenue. It has since been torn away. I am a cousin of Henry Johnson, founder of our city, and have lived here all my life. My total time outside the city amounts to only about six months. I am a widow with two children now in school. My father, Marshall H. Johnson, was a Civil War veteran and first cousin of Henry Johnson. He was a carpenter and surveyor, having surveyed most of the first streets in Johnson City. I remember when there were only planks for sidewalks here and the two principal stores were the Bee Hive and the New York Racket Store.”

3. Arthur W. Callaway ($10): “Although born in Jefferson, NC, I have lived in Johnson City for 35 years and this is home to me. I was a 10-year-old boy when we moved here. I remember that the old water tank of the Southern Railway stood near Fountain Square. Ward and Friberg ran the Bee Hive department store. “William H. Taft, President of the United States, spoke in the old skating rink that stood on W. Main Street, near the present location the White City Laundry. George Campbell was chief of police in 1905 and I.M. Wilson was No. 1 policeman. David Netherly, Sr., now the oldest man on the force, was working at the Johnson City Foundry. Johnson City was only a village then, quite different from the city of today. The post office was on Main Street in a building near where the walkway now goes from Main to Market. There were no paved streets in Johnson City when I first came to town. Brick was laid on Main and Market streets in the fall of 1908.

“The Foundry stood near the present location of the Clinchfield station on Cherry Street. The Southern Railway and ET&WNC railroad depots were combined in the building now used as the bus terminal (on Buffalo). Mr. Lee ran a hotel on Buffalo Street and Wilson Pardue opened a grocery store on Main Street. I believe he started free delivery of groceries in town. I remember attending a revival meeting in the little white frame Baptist Church on Main Street near the current location of Frank Miller’s store. There were no buildings from there to where the H.P. King building now stands. Gump’s clothing store was where the Tennessee National Bank now stands. The fire hall was on Market Street near Roan. Fire equipment consisted of a wagon and a few feet of hose, drawn by one black horse and one gray horse. Bill Owens was fire chief and the others were John Perkins, Berry Wilson and some volunteer fire boys. W.E. Burbage owned the city water system.”

4. Mrs. J.F. Puckett ($10). “In 1908, I was here to visit an uncle who lived on North Baxter Street. The mud was so deep our old Ford could hardly pull through it. Now, I live in the same block on a nice paved street. When I was 10 years old, I came to the village of Johnson City. I saw an automobile for the first time and it was probably the first that ever came to Johnson City. What interested me most was the fire wagon, pulled by two big black horses that raced along the streets with bells ringing. I will never forget the thrill of watching them. Now, the saddest thing in my life is the lonesome peal of the bells, the ghostly clang of the bells on the roaring, racing engine, shrieking, then tolling, then silent. Just a year ago, they guided my son to eternity.” (Note: Mrs. Puckett’s son was a fireman who tragically lost his life responding to a false alarm fire.)

5. Clyde Walker, 800 W. Maple: I have lived here all my life. I recall the old village of 40 years ago (1890) when the Piedmont Hotel was the leading hostelry. My father had a blacksmith shop on what is now the corner of Buffalo and Tipton streets. He is now head of an ice and coal company.”

6. Mrs. V.L. Rowe, 1100 Montgomery: “I am highly impressed with the steady growth of the city during the past 40 years.” One unidentified man spoke of helping build the original Science Hill Male and Female Institute.

The news article concluded by saying, “Wonder what those born here this year will remember in 1975, just 45 years from now.” That future date would have been 34 years ago. 

Read more

Bob Gardner, a math professor at ETSU, wrote to say that he is a zealous Three Stooges fan. He developed a website for his favorite merry madcaps: www.etsu.edu/math/gardner/stooges/stooges.htm. The professor shared with me a newspaper ad from the Johnson City-Press Chronicle showing that the tumultuous trio made a personal appearance on Saturday, Oct. 25, 1947 on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre (146 W. Main).

Bob further referenced a photo in Sonya Haskins’ book, Johnson City, TN, Images of America (Arcadia Publishing, 2005) showing Weldon Nelson of Boones Creek posing with the teasing threesome.

In 1947, the Stooges were comprised of Moe Howard (Moses Horwitz), Shemp Howard (Samuel Horwitz, an original Stooge who left the act but returned when his brother Curly (Jerome Horwitz) who replaced him suffered a major stroke) and Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg).

The hilarious humorists gave five performances in Johnson City: 12:50, 3:00, 5:00, 7:10 and 9:15. The flyer shows “The Three Stooges in Their Own Hollywood Fun Review”; a Johnny Mack Brown western flick titled, “The Rogue of the Range”; Chapter 5 of the 12-episode serial, “Crimson Ghost”; The Rodeo Ramblers, Top O’ the West’s Music Stars of Juke Box Fame”; and a cartoon. The cost was $.30 for children and $.60 for adults.   

Dr. Gardner put me in contact with William Brown, a person who attended the Stooge performance that day and offered his remembrances: “The presentation lasted about an hour. To me, the boys were funnier in person than on film, probably because I felt I was part of the scene. No Stooge impressed me any more than the others; I viewed them as a unit.

“My favorite has always been Curly, but he wasn’t in this performance. It didn't cross my mind that they would still be revered decades later. I went backstage after the performance where they were taking pictures, but I didn't have the money to buy a photo.”

Brown recalled the Stooges’ unforgettable zany verbal scenarios – Moe’s ripping off part of Larry Fine’s hair, forehand slap, double cheek slap, triple slap, backhand slap, nose tweak and poke in the eyes. Who could forget the lovable lunatics?

The titles of the Stooge “shorts” were equally amusing: “Brideless Groom,” “Goof on the Roof,” “Restless Knights,” “Half-Shot Shooters,” “Disorder in the Court,” “Sing a Song of Six Pants” and “Squareheads of the Round Table.”

The Stooges incorporated many unique expressions and sounds into their acts – Moe: “I’ll murder you”; “Remind me to kill you later”; and “You bone head.” Curly: “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk”; “Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo,…”; “Hi, Che, Che, Che, Che, Che”; “Soitenly” (certainly); and “I’m trying to think, but nothing happens.” Shemp: “Hee, Bee, Bee, Bee, Bee, Bee” and “Ah, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha.” Larry: “Hey, what’s the big idea” and “I’m Sorry, Moe. It was an accident.”

The boys often spoke in pig Latin to communicate with each other and keep others from understanding what they were saying, such as Curley saying, “Moe, Larry, it’s the opca, it’s the opca,” meaning, “it’s the cop, it’s the cop.”

And finally … Robert “Moe-Bob” Gardner and Robert “Puddin' Head” Davidson cunningly designed an introductory probability and statistics” course that integrates The Three Stooge films as data: www.etsu.edu/math/gardner/stooges/stooges-statistics.htm.

What great memories, guys. “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.” 

Read more