June 2010

Recently I chatted with Mrs. Carsie Lodter about the time her late husband, Prof. Edward Lodter, played the Majestic Theatre’s Wurlitzer organ after it was relocated to Milligan College for a weekly WJHL radio broadcast.

Mrs. Lodter said the organ was constructed in 1926 in North Tonawanda, NY with two manual keyboards and 511 tubes (seven racks with each containing from 61 to 97 individual pipes). The unit arrived in the city from Cincinnati on a Southern Railway train. Company technicians placed the pipes in concrete lined chambers that were bored into the walls of the theatre. 

“The Majestic once provided a regular offering of silent films,” said Mrs. Lodter. “The new organ provided background music to supplement the action being shown on the screen. It produced numerous special effect sounds such as a train whistle, airplane, ocean surf, sirens, bells and horses hoofs. When ‘talkies’ began to appear in 1927, the need for the organ diminished. It was then used for patriotic sing-alongs, organ concerts and recitals.

“About that time, theatre owner, Mrs. George W. Keys, a faithful patron of Milligan College, became interested in cultural pursuits and sought to establish a memorial for her late husband. She donated the idle organ to the college where it was installed in Derthick Hall auditorium.”

The “George W. Keys Memorial Organ” became a welcomed addition to the cultural dimension of the college community. Edward G. Lodter, professor of foreign languages and an accomplished organist, contributed his talents by playing the organ for daily chapel services, special recitals and as accompaniment for vocalists, musical groups and instrumentalists at the school.

When WJHL opened a radio station on S. Roan Street in 1938, Mrs. Lodter’s father, Sam Hyder, a math professor at Milligan, was instrumental in getting a live broadcast aired from the college as a gift to the community. “The Milligan College Hour of the Air” was likely the first regular on-site remote broadcast from the new station.

Each Sunday afternoon while school was in session, the auditorium became a makeshift broadcast studio. A WJHL technician and Professor Hyder worked jointly to ensure that the necessary equipment was in place before each live program. Hyder kept a notebook of the contents of the 72 programs broadcast from Dec. 18, 1938 until Dec. 8, 1940. No programs were aired during summer months.

Eddie Cowell, a young budding announcer, became the program’s master of ceremonies. He discussed current events that were taking place on the campus and occasionally turned the mike over to college president, Henry J. Derthick or other campus administrators. However, the main program was a vesper service of organ music rendered by Professor Lodter. He chose as his theme song the very beautiful “Traemerii, Opus 15, No. 7” by Robert Schumann.

Selections were primarily classical, but also included familiar hymns, popular songs and spirituals. The professor occasionally invited talented music students and alumni to join him on the air. WJHL offered listeners the opportunity to request a selection or ask for an encore.

After the program went off the air, the organ remained essentially idle until it was restored by the college and used in chapel. In 1972, it was sold to Roy Davis, owner of the Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee for home use. Sadly, his house and contents were destroyed by fire in 1998. 

Mrs. Lodter hopes that this column will bring back pleasant memories from some of the area’s oldest music lovers who remember “The Milligan College Hour of the Air.” 

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Science Hill High School’s classes of 1959-60-61 will celebrate a joint reunion on July 9-10. During the three senior years from a half-century ago, the city proposed, approved and constructed a new high school building along John Exum Parkway.

The old name was retained, although the new sprawling complex was not located on a hill. On June 2, the class of 1961 became the first to graduate from the new facility, having relocated there just three months prior. Three Hilltop newspapers from that era offer a nostalgic peek of school life. Sadly, several mentioned alumni are now deceased.

          1958-59: James White, Editor 

Through a school-wide election, seniors Roy Chatman and Carol Carr became the first “Mr. and Miss Science Hill High School.” He was chosen as the most athletic boy of the Senior Class and she was captain of the cheerleading squad and sweetheart of the Key Club.

The junior/senior prom held in the gym carried the theme, “Treasure Island,” with the local Joe Henley Band providing music. Guest dates had to be approved by a special board comprised of faculty and students. Mrs. Ruth McPherson was designated sponsor.

Under “Fads ‘n Fashions,” Lou Ann Siler reported seeing Jud Mast wearing bright orange pants and a shirt to match, Smitty Mast adorning a cinnamon colored shirt and pants, Betsy Harmon in a cute plaid vest and Nancy Gregg decked out in a Valentine’s Day red blouse. 

The Hilltop made several popular song dedications to students and staff: “Tragedy,” Brenda Greene; “Hurtin’ Inside,” Lana Sharp; “Alvin’s Harmonica,” Mr. Weddle and the SHHS Band; “South of the Border,” Jean Arthur Woods and her Girl Scout Troop; and “Please Love Me Forever,” Jimmy Snyder.

The “Boy and Girl of the Month” picks were Eddie Washburn and Joann Crowe: Eddie enjoyed sports especially football, while Joann favored basketball. Seniors on the baseball team were Sammy Broyles, Bob Bryan, Delbert Carroll, Bobby Little and Jim Phipps.

Larry Carroll penned a poignant four-stanza poem titled “Some Things Remembered.” The first one read, “Some things remembered, From childhood to old, The spring with its flowers, And Winters so Cold.”

Several T&I (Trade & Industrial) Education Club members extolled the organization: Gordon Jenkins, Brenda Greene, Pat Dempsey, Charlotte Bowers, Martha Richardson, Wayne Dyer, Carol Ann Whitlock, John Webb, Robert Johnson, Bonnie Hicks, Patsy Goode and Marie Morgan. 

1959-60: Ann Scott, Editor 

Senior class members and faculty chose Diane Burkhalter to receive the 1960 DAR award, based on her leadership, scholarship and citizenship qualities.

The seniors presented a talent show, “The Click Dart Show” that was derived from the hit television program, “The Dick Clark Show.” It was written by Brenda Greene and sponsored by Beechnut baby foods. David Newell and Mackey Therrell received honorable mention.

The Key Club had a banner year with regard to fund raising and social and service projects. The group celebrated at Betty Gayle Young’s cabin on Boone Lake for an evening capped off with stunning fireworks. The Jr. Civitan Club’s annual fruitcake sale was a huge success with 2500 pounds of the sweet delicacy sold.

ROTC sponsors were Lt. Colonel Judy McKinney; Major Janice Taylor; Captains Joan Haire, Ann Scott, Mary Charles Williams, Pat Muse and Carol Alexander; Lieutenants Harriet Baker, Carol Montgomery, Frances Wood and Betty Miles.

The Topper’s beat Kingsport in basketball by a score of 55 to 51, giving Coach Bill Wilkins his first win over the D.B. Indians in six years. Players mentioned were Steve Wilson, Graham Spurrier, Gary Scheuerman, Bob France, Finley Cook, Larry Miller and Al Ferguson.

A section titled, “Tonto Says” offered several clever musings: “Eddie no bakes, Eddie no fries, Eddie Broyles. Patsy no ancient, Patsy no old, Patsy Young. Walter no bear, Walter no rabbit, Walter Beaver. Calvin no snap, Calvin no pop, Calvin Click. Fulton no few, Fulton no less, Fulton Moore.”

Mrs. W. Shumate thoughtfully dedicated a book, “The Story Behind Popular Songs” by Elizabeth Montgomery, to the school library in memory of classmate Eddie Moore.  

1960-61: Monty Shoun, Editor

 Dr. William S. Steele, pastor of Munsey Memorial Church, conducted the Baccalaureate service on Sunday, May 28 at the new school gym. Graduation followed on Friday night, June 2.

Seniors receiving awards were Graham Norman, Manhood; Betsy Harmon, DAR; Carolyn Ledford, First Honors; Tommy Grogg, Second Honors; Booney Vance, Athletic; Lorna Hampton, Spanish; Kathy Golden, Business; Sharon Hite, T&I; Janice Loudy, Intramural; and Rosalie Berry, Latin.

The “Senior Alphabet” identified 26 students such as A-dorable, Jean Senter; C-ute, Carol Bolton; D-elightful, Mary Perkins; H-andsome, Kip Carr; I-deal, Buddy Talley; O-bedient, Dan Mahoney; and Z-estful, Judy Spiro.

The Roving Reporter asked students what they will miss about their high school years: “being in the senior play, Tom Wilkerson; fussing and fighting with my friends, Nancy Smalling; going to ballgames and yelling my head off, Carolyn Wishon; and getting up at the crack of dawn, Marianne Hale.”

Another section, “Lend an Ear” offered advice from seniors to juniors: “Study hard and don’t put off until the last minute, Marcia Lawson; Have fun and don’t study too hard, Sarah Hagood; Place the things of real importance first, Susan Shields; and keep cool but do not freeze, Booney Vance (quoting from a mayonnaise jar).

Five drill squads, one from each company, practiced from about 6:30 to 8:00 each weekday morning in preparation for competition at the ROTC Ball. Leaders (and squads) were Freddie Sharpe (Drum and Bugle Corps), David Allen (“A”), Jud Mast (“B”), Bill Wood (“C”) and John Price (“D”).

Several students shared their most exciting moments in high school: “named Key Club Sweetheart, Carol Ann Greene; first date with a Yankee, Nancy Lee Worley; tying Kingsport in football, Jerry Jones; graduation, Judy Leach; and running an intercepted pass back 75 yards for a touchdown against Bristol, Fred Deneen.”

Many students likely recall the friendly, jovial school custodian, affectionately known as “Willie.” Graham Spurrier identified his last name as Muston.

(Note: Bob Cox is an alumni of SHHS’s class of 1961.) 

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Bob Tate sent me a clipping through Charles Marshall that was from a1967 Johnson City Press-Chronicle newspaper article, written by Paul Smith. It pertained to the early growth of industry in the city.

Information came from a Southern Railway promotional brochure titled, “Johnson City, Tennessee – Its Commerce, Finance and Industries, prepared by the company’s traffic department about 1909 and owned by J.E. Rumbley, retired employee of the company. 

The first business noted was Harris Manufacturing (Allen and W.P. Harris, proprietors). Established in 1898, the hardwood center became one of the most important factors in Johnson City’s growth and prosperity. Among its many diverse products were plow and cantilever handles, trunk slats and dimension stock. Sells Lumber and Manufacturing Company (Sam Sells, president) was a wholesale and retail dealer that employed 28 workers. It dealt in interior finish, sash and doors, mantels, grates, tile, plaster and cement. 

The brochure included scenic views of mountain railroad tracks, architects’ drawing of the projected $100,000 post office (later became Ash Street Courthouse), view of W. Watauga showing two streetcars at a passing point, the Bee-Hive Department Store, the first railroad station erected in the city that burned in 1891, the huge Cranberry Furnace in the Carnegie section, wholesale grocery of A.P. Henderson and Sons, a block structure in the 700 block of South Roan, the new Johnson City Laundry, Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Hotel Carnegie (large three-story structure on the site of the future Empire Furniture Company) and Soldiers Home that opened in 1903.

Also pictured was the reservoir of Watauga Water Company whose spring, owned by W.E. Burbage, supplied water to the city’s 75 fire hydrants. The old Watauga Electric Co., headed by W.P. Brownlow, served 525 customers charging 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for domestic use.

The city’s mercantile community boasted of “one of the largest, best equipped and most heavily stocked wholesale dry goods and notions houses between Knoxville and Lynchburg” known as Love-Thomas Co. Another photo in the brochure showed the three-story building opposite the courthouse, which once housed the general offices of Clinchfield Railroad before the headquarters was moved to Erwin.

The booklet also stated that Johnson City wanted more factories, became the gateway to the greatest attractions in the country, had acquired more important wholesale institutions and its manufacturing plants distributed their products to all parts of the world. Blue limestone was said to underline the surface of almost the whole of the community. It was used because it was especially adaptable, having been used for numerous building operations such as railway ballast and macadam.

The proximity of cheap fuel was a significant reason for local factories locating in the city. Johnson City was ideally situated adjacent to the great coalfields. Between 1902 and 1909, it experienced a 100% population growth. It also bragged of a thoroughly up-to-date electric street railway (streetcar) system with plans in the works to extend the present line for additional loops that included a terminus at Soldiers Home.

Another plus was the city’s telephone system with ample connections through long distance lines to almost any part of the United States.

The highly informative brochure concluded with the promise of new industries coming to Johnson City that included a $100,000 flourmill to be named Model Mill (later the Red Band unit of General Mills). 

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In 2008, I wrote two columns about “The Adventures of Princess Pet,” an early Saturday morning children’s radio program that I listened to as a child. It aired on WJHL from 1951 to 1953. I received four responses from readers who also recalled the series.

Recently, Stephen Wright sent me a surprising note that said, “Lower the drawbridge; Pet Brown Bear is alive and well.” Wright played the role of Brown Bear on the show, which occurred when he was between the ages of 14 and 16. He was the youngest cast member.

Princess Pet was the brainchild of Jane Dalton, who became known as “the first lady of radio.” She produced the series at WSPA radio in Spartanburg, S.C. The syndicated adventure show garnered a radio distribution along the Eastern seaboard. It was taped on Wednesday nights and reproduced on long playing breakable discs, similar to 78-rpm records. The characters (and actors) on the show were Princess Pet (Roberta Snow), Pet Brown Mule (Fred Myers), Pet Brown Bear (Stephen Wright), Hagar the Witch (Jane Dalton), the Wicked Duke of the Black Forest (Ed McGrath), Alowadin the Sorcerer (Al Willis) and Vashti the Sorceress (Peg Stanton). 

Stephen recalled that a young man played the studio organ for the opening and closing themes as well as background music during action scenes. A station worker added appropriate sound effects throughout the taping. The studio used what was referred to as a filter mike that gave the illusion of the dialog being deep inside a dark cave. In spite of the short quarter-hour duration of the episodes, most ended with a completed story; very few were continued to the following week. At the end of each adventure, good guys always prevailed over evil ones. Princess Pet’s faithful youthful listeners demanded it. 

No studio audience was present at the taping, unlike some shows during that period of time. Everyone read previously rehearsed scripts that were written by Dalton. Wright said that his character was constantly getting lost or in trouble on the show. He had to be rescued numerous times. Radio producers, unlike those on television, were not concerned about the age or appearance of an actor as long as his or her voice was suitable for the part.

Stephen said the show had its share of slip-ups that created moments of merriment for the cast. Examples included reading a line incorrectly; getting out of sequence in the script; producing a sound effect at the wrong time; and sneezing, hiccupping, belching or similar distraction. When that happened, Jane abruptly shouted, “cut.” The tape was stopped and the scene re-recorded. Mr. Wright said they essentially had no knowledge of the sponsor and its products. He was unaware that Brown Mules and Brown Bears were frozen treats on a stick, the mule consisting of vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate and the bear being chocolate ice cream.

The show ended in 1953, a victim of emerging television. Today, recordings of “The Adventures of Princess Pet” are rare because, according to Stephen, a fire at the WSPA studio several years ago destroyed the master tapes. The now retired Manhattan resident went on to have a stellar acting career in Little Theatre, Broadway, off Broadway, national tours and numerous TV commercials.

After almost three years of wholesome fantasy on WJHL radio, the fair princess and her devoted imaginary radio gang drifted off the syndicated airways into the frozen confectionary haven known as the “Land of the Frozen Star,” where you can still magically buy a Brown Mule or a Brown Bear treat for a nickel. 

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My August 14, 2006 column dealt with a vicious storm that smacked Johnson City around 1913, causing significant damage to the surrounding area including the Lee Hotel on Spring Street.

Quoting from the article: “The front door transom was blown out striking manager, Mr. W.I. Ray, in the head causing ‘an ugly wound, which though painful, is not serious.’”

I received a note from John Doe (who asked not to be identified) sharing added information about the largely forgotten hostelry of yesteryear. We compared notes and pieced together today’s column. According to John: “Captain William C. Lee, CSA veteran for whom the hotel was named, married Unicoi native Mary Ellen Anderson Ray in 1889. She was previously married to Captain John Henry Ray, a USA Veteran. After John died in 1887, Mary Ellen wedded Captain Lee. Four years later, William, his wife and her one surviving son, William I. Ray, took up residency in Johnson City. Lee became owner of the Lee Hotel in 1894.”

Other businesses along Spring Street during the turn-of-the-century were Summers-Parrott Hardware, Johnson City Water Co., Congress Shaving Parlor, City Grocery & Feed Co., C.W. Seaver Harness Co. and The Staff (newspaper).

John indicated that, while he was never in the hotel, he acquired some little-known information about it from William Ray prior to his death in 1962: “The hotel was a two-story brick structure, which may have had a partial third story in the rear. The backside had a wooden porch covered with vines that also spread across the adjacent wall. The entrance was rather plain with a small porch over the door. Radiators heated the building with steam supplied from a coal-fired furnace. A sign on the second floor advertised ‘Steam Heat.’ In addition to about 20 hotel guest rooms, the building provided accommodations for the Lees and Rays. Later, the Ray family moved adjacent to the hotel at 204 W. Walnut and then to nearby 506 W. Pine.”  

Ray, who became hotel manager, met his wife-to-be, Mabel Essensa, when she and her father roomed at the inn. The couple married in 1910. Ray held the job until 1917 when he accepted employment with the ET&WNC Railroad.

When Captain Lee died on April 4, 1914, Mrs. Lee assumed ownership of the business. By then, she was receiving a $12 per month Union Army widow's pension resulting from her first husband. John did not believe that Ray at any time owned the hotel. He was fairly certain that Mrs. Lee possessed it during the three years between her husband’s death and her son’s departure. She possibly owned it until her death in 1924, perhaps hiring a new manager to replace William. Records show that Hugh L. Boring became the hotel’s new owner. The Lees were interred in Oak Hill Cemetery.

City directories confusingly list the Lee Hotel between 1909 and 1923 as being located at 113 Buffalo; Spring and Walnut; and 904, 310 and 704 Spring. The five addresses likely identify the same property since streets and house numbers were occasionally renamed. Frank Tannewitz once told me that he made deliveries to the Lee Hotel on numerous occasions and stated emphatically that it was located in the northwest intersection of Spring and Walnut.

Directories list the hotel between 1909 (the city’s first one) and 1937. No mention is made of it in 1939, but it reappears in 1941 as the Travellers Inn. It retains the name until 1950 when it disappears from the record. By 1953, the Salvation Army had occupied the former hotel site.

Mr. Doe and I hope readers will respond with ancillary information including photos and advertisements.  

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