May 2011

My aunt, Doris Anderson, gave me a cache of old letters dating between December 1911 and June 1949 that were written to her mother (my grandmother), Mrs. Neva Cox. They came from her husband, Earl; mother, Molly; and others. While much of the wording would be appropriate today, an occasional entry in the letters dates them (buying eggs for three cents each in 1915 and working for the American Cigar Box Lumber Company on Cherry Street for 33.3 cents/hr. in 1920).

Other interesting comments spoke of family members sharing magazines and newspapers with one another. A family would buy a copy, read it and pass it on to others. It was never casually discarded. One letter wanted to know if my grandmother knew who had the latest “Ladies’ Home Journal.” Two others mentioned the “Johnson City Staff-News” and “Happy Hours.” I located a February 1916 “Happy Hours” magazine that contained nine articles: The Editor’s Desk; Twisted Oaks; Eileen’s Housekeeping; The Spirit of the Day; Marion’s Fortune; Flowers – What to Plant and When to Plant Them; Home Helps; Popular and Old-Time Ballads; and Latest Paris and New York Fashions.

A small 24-page advertisement booklet titled, “Season of 1927-1928, Bargains in Magazines,” offered magazine subscriptions. A unique feature was the use of money-saving prices on “clubs” of leading magazines. For each item, two prices were offered – full price (one subscription) and club (reduced) price (more than one subscription). Three full pages contained 72 suggested “clubs,” each containing a list of from 5-15 magazines. In addition, subscribers could develop their own “clubs” from a catalog of 138 magazines located at the end of the booklet. Most prices were for one year, could be new or renewal and allowed shipping to different addresses. The ad further provided enhanced descriptions for six popular magazines.

The Mentor ($4/yr., 12 issues): “Real Romance”; authentic pirates; little-known stories of well-known people; places you always wanted to visit; romance made real; and the world of yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Cosmopolitan ($3/yr., 12 issues): “The World’s Greatest Fiction Magazine”: most alert, vigorous and far-seeing magazine in America; bringing the best talent of the world to entertain and inform the reader; twice as many novels, stories and features by star writers as any other magazine.

Good Housekeeping ($3/yr., 12 issues): “Supreme in Service to the Homemaker”; shortening a woman’s workdays; saving 10% on living costs; tasty recipes, menus, smart fashions; useful suggestions on home dressmaking, health, childcare, decoration, entertainment, housekeeping.

Collier’s ($2/yr., 52 issues): “The National Weekly”; novels of thrilling interest; complete stories; politics, sports, and special features; clever pictures; written by popular authors, all in the most-quoted American weekly.

 Woman’s Home Companion ($1/yr., 12 issues): the year’s best novels; short stories; from movies to psychology, from travel to music; helpful, practical department service that includes fashions, cooking, good looks, better babies, interior design, good citizenship, entertaining, handicrafts, gardening, home planting and others.

American Magazine ($2.50/yr., 12 issues): Thrills from the experience of those who conquer life in spite of tremendous odds; people who offer individual recipes for success, famous writers like Zane Grey, detailing the glorious west and providing tales of adventure, mystery, humor and romance.

Thanks to old letters and vintage ads, we are provided with another glimpse into the nostalgic world of yesteryear. 

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Ray and Norma Henry, former area residents, recently recalled when the peaceful early morning hours of July 10, 1950 suddenly turned into a ghastly scene of carnage that claimed the lives of three local people.

Ray picked up his sweetheart and future wife, Norma Murr, at Telford in his solid black 1938 Chevrolet 2-door sedan and drove to Johnson City to take in a movie at the Sevier Theatre (113 Spring Street). Being Sunday, the business was not permitted to open until 9 p.m. Norma remembered standing in a long ticket line outside the theatre that stretched back toward Main Street. When the movie ended at about 11 p.m., the couple drove to Nave Drive-In (200 Delaware at W. Market) for a snack.

Afterward, Ray headed back to Telford on 11-E to take Norma home. At about 12:45 a.m., just minutes after the couple passed the interception of Highway 81 to Erwin and the American Legion Club (formerly Woodland Lake) on the right, they spotted a bright light flashing across the sky behind them. Simultaneously, they heard what sounded like a motorcycle revving its engine. Believing a biker had run off the road, Ray turned the car around to investigate.

As they approached the Club, they spotted Joe Fleenor, the custodian who lived there, running back from the wreck to call for help. He hurriedly told them that there had been a horrific bus and car collision there. Ray and Norma drove to the wreck scene and parked along the side of the road. Since it was pitch dark, the couple took a flashlight from their car and crossed over a damaged barbwire fence by using a wooden sty that had been built there. 

The bus, a Tennessee Coach express en route to Birmingham, was heading to Knoxville. The other vehicle, a 1948 five-passenger Ford coupe, was reportedly traveling to Cosby. When Ray and Norma reached the bus, they observed the driver, Jimmy Lowery, helping his 38 passengers exit the vehicle. Surprisingly, no one appeared to be injured or overly alarmed. After the bus was emptied, the passengers huddled together until another coach could be dispatched. 

Lowery indicated that the Ford had attempted to pass him on a straight stretch of highway but briefly ran off the left side of the road and immediately swerved back along the left front of the bus. Jimmy tried to avoid hitting the car, but their bumpers suddenly locked together, sending both vehicles through the fence, down a 6-foot embankment and skidding 100 yards in a field before coming to rest. Fortunately, they missed several trees and Barkley Branch Creek or the circumstances would likely have been much graver. The bus landed upright on its wheels directly over the car that was upside down and barely visible.

About that time, Joe Fleenor returned saying that help from the Sheriff’s Department, Highway Patrol and Rescue Squad was on the way. Lighting was installed to illuminate the wreckage area. Dillow-Taylor Funeral Home provided two hearses that also served as ambulances. Three wreckers arrived. Two drove down the embankment to the wreck site while the third one stayed on the road to later pull the first two back onto the highway. 

Over the next agonizing minutes, one wrecker slowly pulled the bus forward while the other one partially dragged the car from under the bus. At first, it was impossible to determine how many people were in the car or who was driving. One person was still alive and in obvious pain.

Initially, it appeared that there were two occupants. Then Norma spotted another body in the back seat of the wreckage. All that could be seen was her red hair. In order to free her, workers had to carefully pull the coupe farther away from the bus. It was quickly confirmed that the woman was deceased.

Ray described the wreck as gruesome, saying it was the most sickening one he had ever witnessed. There was virtually no means to help the car occupants because they were literally compressed in a heap of metal and flesh.

The Johnson City-Press Chronicle’s Monday evening edition provided additional facts about the crash. The passengers were identified as Carl “Cocky” Cox, 45; John Monday, 35; and Nettie Patterson, 26. Monday’s body was removed first because he was still alive, but he passed away at Appalachian Hospital (300 N. Boone Street) in Johnson City at 3:30 a.m. One item of interest found in the car was a blood-soaked small brown bag containing $2700 in bills.

Cox’s lifeless body was next removed from the wreckage. Ray recognized Carl’s face, removed his wallet and handed it to a patrolman. His driver’s license confirmed his identity – Carl Vernon Cox, Limestone, Tennessee. The investigating patrolmen speculated that Monday was the driver. Sergeant Jim L. Seehorn of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said the vehicle was crushed like an accordion, having an astonishing vertical height of 18 inches.

Cox, a well-known, colorful businessman of that era, operated nightclubs in the surrounding areas at various times in his career. In September 1947, he was arrested after the Highway Patrol raided the Mott-O Club that was located on the west side of the Kingsport Highway not far from the Kingsport/Bristol intersection, seizing liquor and gambling equipment. Cocky received a 6-month jail sentence and was fined an undisclosed amount of money. A large number of Johnson Citians rallied behind Cox and partitioned Governor Gordon Browning. They convinced him that politics figured heavily in the raid and that Carl deserved to be excused. Consequently, the state’s chief executive issued a pardon after Cox had served only two days.

Monday, a World War II veteran, had been a driver for Diamond Cab Company (116 Buffalo) for about 10 years. Mrs. Patterson, the mother of three children, was a waitress at Central Bar-B-Q (701 S. Roan).

Appalachian Funeral Home (101 E. Unaka) handled arrangements for all three families. Funeral services for Peterson, Cox and Monday were held respectively at Highland Christian Church, Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church and Temple Baptist Church.

Although 60 years have come and gone, there are still senior citizens around who remember that dreadful early morning event of summer 1950. Ray and Norma Henry are two of them.

 (Note: Carl “Cocky” Cox was Bob Cox’s second cousin.) 

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Two novels by Maristan Chapman titled, The Happy Mountain (1928) and Homeplace (1929), offer insights into the manners and mores of southern mountaineers who struggled against approaching change in their secluded land. She lived in the southwestern portion of the Cumberland Mountains just over the Tennessee state line.

Chapman's objective in writing the books was to educate outsiders about her people whose remote existence was widely misunderstood. Almost overnight she became an authentic interpreter and historian of southern mountaineer culture. She told her story in fictional novels that was historically accurate, making them both entertaining and educational. The Literary Guild of America was so duly impressed with The Happy Mountain that they endorsed it.

To the average “outlander,” a designation used by mountain country folks to describe city dwellers, the diet of the hill people was believed to consist only of fundamental and bland food that was as unvarying as the hills and mountains themselves. But according to Maristan, mountain people not only enjoyed plenty of first-rate food, they also knew how to make it palatable – both wholesome and mouth-watering.

“Most of the food that is consumed is raised by the people themselves,” said Mrs. Chapman. “They have as unreasoning a horror of canned foods as they have of various labor saving devices that hail from the outlanders. They eat as people do who have hard work to accomplish, for earning a living means to earn it through a constant battle with the soil itself. Food is never really eaten in very large quantities. The meals are simple, nutritious and appetizing.”

Breakfast consisted of cereal, fried eggs, some cold bread left over from supper the night before, coffee and preserves. Fruit was never eaten for breakfast; instead, it was eaten between meals as snacks.

Dinner generally consisted of a variety of meat, fried eggs, tomatoes, beans and potatoes. Tomatoes were frequently fried with bacon or stewed with rice. Preserves or fruit butters were almost always present at the table. It was eaten with hot bread and butter; no meal was considered complete without them. 

Supper was somewhat of an extension of dinner. Whatever was left over from the midday meal was served again in the evening along with hot bread and buttermilk. Usually, a homemade pie was added to the menu “to sweeten the stomach.” Staple bread was made of cornmeal in a variety of forms such as from the humble pone of meal and water that was baked crisp in hot ashes of an open hearth. Another delight was the fluffy and succulent Sally Lunn, a type of yeast bread lightly scented with lemon that originated in England. It was traditionally sliced horizontally, spread with butter or whipped or clotted cream and reassembled for the meal.

Biscuits were made with sour milk and soda. The mountaineers never used baking powder because they believed it was tainted “fetched-on stuff” supplied from the towns. Their biscuits were large and distinctly browned, each one resembling a small loaf of bread.

Bread products were eaten piping hot. They were covered with white unsalted butter that was similar to clotted cream or consumed with one of the many preserves or fruit butters on hand. Sometimes the biscuits were eaten cold, made into sandwiches containing a slice of cold meat or overstuffed after butter has been spread within them.

According to Mrs. Chapman, southern mountain folks worked hard and were rewarded handsomely with appetizing food on their rustic dinner tables. I ordered both books and am currently reading them.  

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March 15, 1934 marked a special event for the Kings Mountain Post of the American Legion; it celebrated 15 years of service. Congress chartered the association in 1919 as a patriotic, mutual-help, and wartime veterans’ organization. While my source did not reveal the location of the Legion in that year, it later resided at 503 E. Main Street adjacent to the Central Fire Station.

The first order of business at the anniversary commemoration was a review of its history by the membership. More than 200 members, visitors and honored guests were on hand for what was described as a “bean feed” coupled with an elaborate program, an initiation ceremony for six new members and a gala party.

Past commanders, who were introduced in the sequential order of their terms, spoke briefly concerning their experience as heads of the local Legion and further elaborated on progress made since its early beginning. Mrs. Cleve B. Coe presented the American Legion Auxiliary officials who reviewed the work of both the Legion and the Auxiliary.

A huge birthday cake, appropriately topped with 15 candles occupied the center of the stage. Each commander lighted a designated candle before addressing the large audience and introducing guests.

Dr. H.M. Cass, chapter member and leader during the first year of the organization, lighted the first candle. Other unit heads in order of their service were scheduled to speak, although not all were able to attend: Lee B. Harr, twice commander, (1920-1921), R.F. Farrell (1922, absent), Adam Bowman (1923), Belmont Collette (1924 and 1928), Sam H. Colie (1925, absent), Harry Smith, 1926), Joe Summers (1927), W. Lewis Smith (1929), W.T. Watkins (1930), C.B. Coe (1931, absent), C.C. Rice (1932, absent) and Fred M. Lewis (1933).

Members of the Auxiliary lighted candles for the absent former commanders and presented them to the audience. When Frank Gaut, the 1934 commander, was introduced, he lighted a “half candle” commenting that the present Legion year only deserved one that size.

The commanders said they were highly pleased with the Legion’s accomplishments. The subject of relief to families of needy ex-service men and the bonus became the principal topic for their brief discussion.

Mr. C.B. Coe introduced the past commanders of the Auxiliary as follows: Mrs. Mary Lyle, Miss Ethel Barton, Mrs. Louise St. John Taylor, Mrs. Ray Greenway; Mrs. George Hyder, Mrs. Hubert Johnson, Mrs. (?) Scott, Mrs. John Herrin. State officers – Mrs. H.L. Moore, Miss Belle Miller and Miss Louise Summers – were also introduced.

Following an appeal by Miss Edith Barton, it was unanimously decided by Legion and Auxillary members present to start operation of the Crippled Children’s Survey in Johnson City immediately.

Next came an impressive initiation ceremony for six new members. Following this was a program of addresses, both formal and impromptu. Commander Galt, who presided throughout the meeting, outlined a plan designed to increase club membership by reviewing the various impressive objectives of the organization.

Next on the agenda was the main event, a party that took weeks of planning and preparation.  Many were present from out of town posts as well as the Lester Harris Post of Mountain Home. Several past commanders were unable to be present but sent their congratulations.

The cake “cutting” was a surprising finale to the gathering. A $15 prize was offered to the past commander who could cut a piece of the mammoth pastry. No one won the money because the cake was actually fabricated of tin boxes that were revealed when the icing was penetrated.  

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Paul Gill, a frequent responder to my history articles, has conducted a tremendous amount of research on several local families that include Weaver, Sherfey and Feathers. He put me in contact with Sandy Mills for a column about her grandfather, Arlie Anderson Weaver.

Sandy and her siblings, Jeanne and Marta, fondly remember Arlie as a gentle, soft-spoken man who never raised his voice. He was born in 1887 in Bristol, Tennessee and died in 1961. He married Ira Beatrice Crumley with whom he raised four children, three girls and a boy.

Soon after the death of Arlie’s father, Jacob Emanuel Weaver, in 1919, the couple acquired the old Frederick Weaver home where Arlie was born. The house, reportedly built around 1770 by the Beeler family, resided in the Weaver clan for 162 years until it was sold in 1982 shortly after the passing of Ira.

The stately old home still stands but has been renovated over the years. It was located on Weaver Pike across from Weaver School, Weaver Church and Rader Store, which was once owned by Arlie’s father. Sandy attended the school until the mid-8th grade.

Ms. Mills obviously possessed a passion for the old home place as evidenced by her detailed description of its exterior and interior features. It had a huge chimney and fireplace made of stone. The front steps were very wide and also constructed of stone. A swing hung on the front porch.

Sandy meticulously described the interior of the house with its beautiful fixtures and spacious rooms: “Inside was a large living room with a standing radio, a short-wave radio and a piano. The latter had a seat cover that slipped when I sat down on it. On a large wooden desk sat a very old typewriter with glass keys on it. A bedroom was located to the left, though I suspect it was once a parlor or perhaps a second living room. The telephone was in this room. My grandfather kept frequently used phone numbers written on the wallpaper beside the telephone. He had no need for a Rolodex.”

Sandy recalled that the dining room was back of the living room: “My grandmother served Sunday dinner there on pink depression glass dishes. In the corner was a curved glass cabinet, which held special pieces and a set of dishes that Glenn Weaver, my uncle, brought back from the Korean War. 

“Next was the kitchen with a cabinet, which had a flour mill inside one door. A built-in cupboard occupied the back corner and a table was in the middle. On it was always pear butter or similar food item in a covered dish. My grandfather ate there, at least when I was present. There was a closed-in back porch beyond the kitchen. This is where he always marked our height on the doorframe, labeling the name of the child and the date. Thus, he could show us how much we grew from visit to visit.”

The granddaughter said that access to the upstairs was achieved using a stairwell that was opened from the downstairs bedroom. Climbing the steps revealed three bedrooms. The one her grandfather slept in had a feather bed that was never made. He logically reasoned that it was foolish to make the bed and then mess it up again at bedtime. Each bed upstairs had a light hanging on the headboard and the closet areas were curtained. Sandy recalled that her grandfather’s Mason sword always hung on one bedroom wall.

Sandy concluded her note: “There was a cellar accessible from outside, which held canned foods that were ‘put up’ during the summer months to be enjoyed until the next season. My grandparents ran a dairy farm. The barn was down a little way from the house with a large spring in between. My cousin and I played in the barn frequently in the summer.”   

Paul Gill sent me a photo dated May 1904 of the Tip Top Restaurant that once operated in Johnson City. He believes it was near Fountain Square. Visibly noted are unpaved streets and wooden sidewalks. Paul said the man in the apron is his cousin and storeowner, George R. Brown. Standing beside him on the right is his wife. Their son, Melvin, and daughter, Phoebe, are in front of them. Several advertisements can be read: G.R. Brown, Tip Top Restaurant, Ice Cream, Lodging 25 Cents and Fresh Oysters. Paul said that when autos became plentiful, George opened a service station in town. He would like to know if anyone could provide additional facts to share. An old City Directory identifies George’s wife’s name as Sallie and their residence on Boone Street at W. Watauga Avenue.  

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