December 2013

In 1870, an unidentified writer, whom I will refer to as Mr. John Doe, described a train trip he took to Clinch Mountain. The range was about 25 miles south of the Cumberland River and ran nearly parallel with it for many miles, with several breaks and name changes.

John deemed East Tennessee as the “Switzerland of America.” Although it did not have such lofty mountains as those in the Alps, it displayed many stunning mountain ranges with corresponding deep valleys.

In some places, the flatland pulled away from the ridges, leaving a few miles width of valley in which could be found reasonable elbowroom. But soon, the mountain ridges huddled again without any semblance of order, tossed in indiscriminately, dropping off abruptly, abutting one against the other and having various gorges in between.

Around these slender gorges, the road became a creek bed, washing anything that got in its way as it meandered through the mountains in a relentless search for passageway. Doe described a thunderstorm as something sublime, a thing to enjoy, barring the little discomfort of being exposed to it and doubtless getting wet. The lightning hurled its furious bolt down the mountainside over the head of anyone present with thunder tagging along behind it. It crashed with echoing volleys through the passages, producing an appallingly grandeur about it.

According to the writer: “I had the delight of witnessing a storm that was unique and beautiful; it seemed to burst out from the bosom of a cloud as if in a rage. Angry at being so confined, it shot off eastward, hastening along the mountainside with wind and rain, having a breadth of barely a half mile. It swept away, furious and irritated, under the spur of its lightning flashes, uttering defiance in its peal of thunder. It disappeared from view, ten miles distant, through an open door among the mountains, cresting its summit with living flames.”

Having worked his way upon the difficult road to the top of the mountain, John sat on his horse with his face turned southward, savoring the splendor of the view. It was exhilarating beyond description; no words could do it justice. The solid ground seemed so distant below as you look down upon it from your lofty perch.

The country stretched as far as the eye could reach, ridge upon ridge and mountain upon mountain. It appeared that some great heavenly plowshare had furrowed up rocky elevations.

To the southeast, the towering Alleghenies marked the division between South Carolina and Tennessee and extended far down into Georgia. They could be traced until they vanished into the dimness of distance. Their majesty inspired the traveler as he or she observed clouds resting upon their shoulders or clinging to their craggy sides.

Although hasting down the steep side was not so difficult, it was certainly more dangerous than the ascent down the rocky slope and across a bed of rolling stones, each particular one having been washed free from the earth by countless rains. If someone’s horse should slip, that person could plunge blow at the risk of their life.

Doe had yet 15 miles to leave behind before he could rest. After traveling six miles, he finally reached the Clinch River, over which he rode after summonsing a nearby ferryman. He noted that the ferry represented the common style in vogue for crossing streams of water. The flat bottom device measured 8 feet wide and 30 feet long. A rope had been attached to each side of the river. This constituted the entire mechanism. The centerpiece was the ferryman, standing proudly in the front of his craft, drawing hand over hand upon his line, while his propulsion was generated by his steadiness and firmness of footing.

It being nearly sundown, John made haste to complete the final nine miles of his journey. At 8 p.m., he entered the little village he had once so well known long ago where he knew that friendly hands would be eagerly waiting to greet him.

Thanks for the trip, John. I wish we knew your real name.

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The late George Buda once shared with me some ETSC student newspapers, the Tennessee Collegian. George had a heart for Johnson City and, over time, helped me piece together numerous Yesteryear articles. One edition from the November 1947 Collegian should bring back memories for many of my readers. That year, ETSC revived “Rat Week,” the custom of initiating freshmen into the college ranks. It was a tradition that was dropped and almost forgotten because of the anxiety that resulted from our country's involvement in World War II.

Beginning Monday, Oct. 20, the “rats,” as freshmen were called, were required to wear specially designed “rat caps” from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. for an entire week. If they encountered a faculty member, they were required to tip their hats as a courtesy gesture. Also, the sidewalks between the Library and the Administration Building were off limits to freshmen. The restrictive ruling also applied to the main entry doors of these buildings, requiring students to use side or back entrances instead. Failure to do so had its consequences.

“Rats” were required to memorize the school's Alma Mater and sing it upon request of any upperclassman. They were also to learn the context of the Constitution of the United Student Body and be ready to answer questions from students. Further, frosh were required to attend the homecoming football game wearing his or her special headwear. Another important assignment was gathering wood to be used at the bonfire pep meeting on October 25.

Top: One “Rat” Enters Carter Hall Fish Pond While Another Comes Out. Bottom: Lady “Rat” Taking Orders from a Group of Upperclassmen.

The campus grounds and dormitories were cleaned by freshmen on Friday, the 24th in preparation for homecoming festivities. The singing of the Alma Mater was heard frequently across all parts of the campus during “Rat Week.” A few people took involuntary baths in the Carter Hall fish pond while others scoured the Administrative Building using toothbrushes.

The 37th annual homecoming of ETSC began with a buffet supper spread in the Training School (now known as University High) cafeteria for the alumni by the Senior Class. John Burrus and his classmates served as host to over 200 alumni, who ate wieners and all the trimmings to the tune of “Do You Remember When.” The highlight of the supper was the presentation to the alumni of Dean Emeritus, David S. Burleson, who offered tales of the humble beginnings of the college that included when it was known  as a Normal School.

The culmination of “Rat Week” occurred on Saturday night, October 25, when freshmen marched behind their special float in the Homecoming parade heading to Memorial Stadium on E. Main Street.

The largest crowd that had been seen in quite a while witnessed the parade and floats preceding the homecoming football game. The sophomore float, the S.S. Buccaneer, took first honors, while the senior class, a cornucopia in green, orange and yellow with three high spirited ladies energetically pitching fruit to the onlookers, received second place. The Frosh float with their king and queen was decorated in pastel colors.

Top: Group of “Rats” Removing Their Shoes and Hopping Like Rabbits. Middle: Several “Rats” Sing at Orders from an Upperclassman. Bottom: Homecoming King and Queen.

Upon arrival at the stadium, the now-humbled freshmen sat on reserved seats as a group. The King (Elmer Evlin) and Queen (Margaret Kyker) of Homecoming from the freshman class were crowned at halftime. Afterward, the freshmen were instructed to engage in a shoeless “rat race” on the football field, which started at the front (north) end of the stadium. The obedient “rats” raced to the south end and returned.

While the entry-level students were doing this, several upperclassmen engaged in a bit of revelry by scrambling their shoes. One student, upon returning, managed to match his shoes but ruined them when he placed his cold, muddy, bruised feet in them. The consequence of this endeavor was that several students soon developed a sore throat.

The publication noted that the student government, under the able direction of its president, Harrison Taylor (a grandson of former Tennessee governor, Alf Taylor), was the proper organization to take their problems to for resolution. It further said that a “gripe box” would be placed between the Administration Building and the Library. Harrison defeated five other candidates for the 1947-48 Hall of Fame honor of “Best-All-Round-Boy.” Pereda Rice was “Best-All-Round-Girl.” 

Eight campus beauties were selected from a total of 32 candidates: Helen Hawthorne, Ernestine Duke, Joanna Goode, Nancy Kiser, Eleanor Willard, Sara Livesay, Eileen Martin and Mrs. Eleanor Weekley. 

The Tennessee Collegian extended its grateful acknowledgment to (Travis) Kinkade Floral Shop for the beautiful chrysanthemums, which were presented to the homecoming queen and to the Carson Newman cheerleaders.

Like most student publications, the 4-page bi-monthly newspaper contained 10 local advertisements:

Lodge Service Station (corner of Wilson and Lamont, U.S. tires, batteries and road service).

Jay's Confectionery (corner of Buffalo and Tipton, Johnson City's Leading News Stand).

King's (Johnson City's Great 5-Floor Department Store, Where the Smart Bucks Who Know Buy their clothes).

Jug's (Little Metropolis, East Tennessee's Most Complete One-Stop Store, Curb Service, Open 24 Hours a Day).

Dinty Moore's Restaurant (The Home of Good Eats, At 115 E. Market).

Yellow Cab Company (107 E. Market).

Coca-Cola Bottling Works (226-30 E. Market).

Beckner's (Diamonds, Watches. Jewelry, Opposite Majestic Theatre).

R&L Bowling (Daily 12 Noon to 12 Midnight, 8 Modern Lanes, 808 Buffalo).

The Record Shop (113 W. Main, west of the Windsor Hotel. They produced a radio program over WETB at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday known as “Name the Band” that featured Milburn Swanay, Wright Swanay and Brydeor Tolliver).

At the conclusion of “Rat Week,” the Tennessee Collegian had fitting words in an editorial: “'Rat Week' is over and from where we sit, it was a 'howling' success. Taken as a whole spirit was good on the part of the freshman as well as the upperclassmen and apparently it was fun for the majority.

“It is a pleasure to see a group of people work together for a common cause and it certainly seems to us that this was what was done by the frosh all week, as initiation tasks were dispatched in a resigned but competent manner. Again, may we extend a word of appreciation to each of you and welcome you officially into our student family.”   

While most students approached the week with a degree of uncertainty and apprehension and were glad when it came to a finale, they generally realized its value of initiating them into campus life. I wonder how many of those old hats still exist. 

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Without question, my mother's oft-listened to radio program in the late 1950s was the “Joe and Mo Show,” broadcast each weekday morning over WETB-AM 790 on the dial. Her favorite personalities were Joe Goodpasture (Joe) and Merrill Moore (Mo). The smallish cinder-block station was located just outside of Johnson City on the Erwin Highway. Mum was the word at our house when the creative zany pair were “doing their thing” over the airways. In recent years, Joe and Mo became good friends of mine. Mom would be proud.

Today's column offers a wistful glimpse of what it was like during Christmas Day 1957 by examining 21 holiday-themed WETB radio listings. See how many you recognize. Note the sponsors, where the businesses were located and the people who owned or managed them. You older readers will likely recognize many of the names. The schedule signed on at 6:00 a.m., which also included news on the half-hour and signed off at 5:15 p.m. I bet Joe and Mo can relate to some of these offerings.

6:00 a.m. “Christmas Clockwatcher,” Johnson City Tobacco Board of Trade.

7:05 a.m. “The Little Match Girl,” National Farm Loan Association (New Jonesboro Highway).

7:15 a.m. “The Small One,” Cecil's Texaco Service Station (201 W. Main, Cecil E. Rhines).

8:05 a.m. “Ames Brothers,” Taylor Electric Co. (803 W. Walnut, Earl L. Taylor). 

8:35 a.m. “Christmas Favorites,” Orange Crush Bottling Co. (112 W. Jobe, John W. Moulton, Herbert W. Cox).

9:15 a.m. “The Juggler Of Our Lady,” Lodge Service Station (111 Lamont, Smith A. Mast).

9:30 a.m. “Christmas Bells,” S.B. White Co. (331 W. Walnut, J.B. McKinney).

9:45 a.m. “Three Suns' Christmas,” Campbell's TV and Radio Center (151 W. Market, W. Howard Campbell. The trio played a guitar, accordion and organ. Their first big hit was “Twilight Time.”)

10:35 a.m. “That Glorious Night,” Greene's Texaco Service Station (1212 E Unaka, W. Norman Greene).

11:00 a.m. “Return to Christmas Island,” Volunteer Oil Co. (2200 E Fairview, Rex E. DeBord).

11:35 a.m. “God's Blessings on One and All,” Peerless Steak House (Kingsport-Bristol Blvd., Jim Kalogeros).

12:15 p.m. “The Happy Prince,” Grady's Dry Cleaners (1023-27 W. Market, Grady B. Caughron).

12:35 p.m. “Angel with the Cold Nose,” Klopman Mills (2500 W. Walnut, Frank H. Kelly).

1:30 p.m. “Christmas Miracle,” Wallace's Shoe Store (215 E. Main, Mrs. Gertrude Wallace).

2:00 p.m. “Christmas for Eve,” Gulf Distributor (930 W. Walnut, J.B. Thomas, Jr.).

2:35 p.m. “Song of Christmas,” East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (142 Legion, William W. Whisman, Denver B. Marion).

3:30 p.m. “A Christmas Carol,” Empire Furniture Co. (B.C. Vaughn, L.H. Shumate, W. F. Shumate, Mrs. Nancy Shumate, H.B. Mohler).

4:00 p.m. “Happy Holiday,” Williams Grocery (1101 E. Unaka, R. Lee Williams, Myrtle Williams, Mrs. Rosalie Walker).

4:15 p.m. “Christmas Melodies,” Walker Furniture Co. (312-14 E. Main, David H. Walker).

4:35 p.m. “World's Happy Face,” Morris Funeral Home (305 N Roan, Forrest K. Morris).

5:00 p.m. “Christmas Day News,” City Auto Parts (New Jonesboro Highway, William L. Bates).

I hope you have some reflective enjoyment and memories with today's column. I certainly did.

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Today's column is a nostalgic TV Guide excursion back to a simpler Christmas in 1961:

“Westinghouse Presents” – Carol Lawrence and Robert Goulet star in “The Enchanted Nutcracker,” about a little girl who receives a wooden soldier for Christmas. After she places it under her pillow overnight, it comes to life in the morning and takes her on a guided tour of the magic Kingdom of Sweets. This show received top billing that year. 

“The Lawrence Welk Show” – The bubbly band leader, with his characteristic “and-a-one and-a-two,” plays host to the families of his Music Makers for “Jingle Bells” and other holiday songs, including a rendition of “The Night Before Christmas.”

“The Jack Benny Program” – A Christmas party is thrown by skinflint Jack for the regulars on his television show (Don Wilson; Eddie “Rochester” Anderson; Dennis Day; Frank Nelson; and Mel “Bugs Bunny” Blanc, who was recovering from a near-fatal traffic accident).

“Our Miss Brooks” – “A Christmas Carol” is produced at Mrs. Nestor's elementary school. The characters include Miss Brooks (Eve Arden), Walter Denton (Richard Crenna) and Mr. Conklin (Gale Gordon, who became a regular on “The Lucy Show”).

“Art Linkletter's House Party” – Art and his family members show film footage of their trip to the Holy Land the previous year.

“The Millionaire” – A lonely, embittered man takes a very unlikely job as a department-store Santa, unaware that his life is about to get a financial boost from the generous Millionaire (Marvin Miller).

“Make Room for Daddy” – Danny (Thomas) attempts to teach his son,  Rusty (Rusty Hamer), the true spirit of Christmas. The cast includes daughter, Linda (Angela Cartwright) and wife, Kathy (Marjorie Lord).

“The Shari Lewis Show” – The famed puppeteer and her make-believe gang entertain with a Christmas party that includes Mr. Goodfellow and Jump Pup.

“The DuPont Show” – Fred Waring, the popular bandleader who became known as “America's Singing Master” and “The Man Who Taught America How to Sing” and his group, the Pennsylvanians, entertained viewers with an hour of holiday music. 

“Pete and Gladys” – Aunt Kitty is coming for a Christmas visit unless the couple (Harry Morgan of “Mash” fame and Cara Williams) can figure out a way to prevent it. Many of us likely recall when this lady was on the Red Skelton Show in the role of a Raggedy Ann doll. She briefly came to life and danced in the park with a lonely Freddy the Freeloader.

“Leave It to Beaver” – Wally (Tony Dow) wants to ride with Lumpy Rutherford to a country club party, but the Cleavers (Barbara Billingsley and Huge Beaumont) insist that Lumpy is a reckless driver. Jerry Mathers portrays the Beaver.

“NBC Opera” – The annual Christmas presentation of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” featured a poor crippled boy being visited by the three kings on their way to pay homage to the Christ child.

“Bachelor Father” – In “Deck the Halls,” bachelor Bentley (John Forsythe) plans a different kind of Christmas for Kelly (Noreen Corcoran), his young niece.

“Lassie” – While walking thorough a snowy woods on Christmas Eve, Lassie, Timmy and his friend stumble upon an overturned sleigh with an old man pinned beneath it. They are convinced that Santa has had an accident.

“Dennis the Menace” – Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns), much to the delight of Dennis (Jay North), insists that the Mitchell family chop down a 15-foot Christmas tree in the nearby snowy woods. 

“Car 54, Where Are You” – Toody (Joe Ross) and Muldoon (Fred Gwynne, who later became Herman Munster) headed up the committee for the precinct's Christmas party.

“Bonanza” – While the Cartwrights ride home through wintry mountains during the Christmas season, they encounter a young boy wandering alone in the snow.

And finally, “The Gift of the Magi,” a musical adaptation of the O. Henry story about a poor newlywed couple (Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger) who sell their cherished possessions, her hair and his watch, in an attempt to give the other a Christmas gift.

Ah, what pleasurable memories of Christmas 1961. Below is a collage of Christmas advertisements from the 1950s.

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One of my favorite writers, the late Hal Boyle, former Associated Press writer, questioned in a July 1955 column if Davy Crockett was really “King of the Wild Frontier.” “Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier?” he wrote. “Why, man, there are people here in Davy's old home state who’ll tell you he was nothing but a wet-eared boy in an oversized coonskin cap compared to Sam Houston. 

Davy died in the Alamo, but Big Sam, who spent his youth here, was an even greater soldier and statesman and led Texas into the union.”

Sam Houston (left), Davy Crockett

Boyle wondered what Texas would be like today if it hadn't been for Sam Houston (and oil wells, of course). The youthful Sam might have been judged a juvenile delinquent by modern standards. Mrs. Boyd McKenzie, who once taught school in Tennessee, did not consider Davy to be in the same league with Sam as a frontier hero. According to her, Crockett would be almost unheard of had it not been for Walt Disney's popular movies of him in the 1950s. 

“Mrs. McKenzie was the descendant of a family who owned land next to the farm on which Sam Houston’s widowed mother settled in Tennessee. She made the trek here from Virginia with her nine children. She related that young Sam was an avid reader, but disinclined to farm chores. He once tried to run away and live with the Cherokee Indians who named him “The Raven.” According to Mrs. McKenzie, “He was picked up for drunkenness at the age of 18. He walked up and down the streets beating a drum and was charged with disturbing the peace.”

Then things changed. “During the next year he opened a school to pay off debts totaling $100 – a sizable chuck of change in those days, said Mrs. McKenzie. “He amassed the bill by buying presents for his mother and a few Indian maidens.” Although the previous teachers had charged $6 a semester tuition, Sam raised it to $8 and insisted that one-third be paid in cash.” His pupils ranged in age from 6 to 60 years. So many came that he had to turn several away.”

Houston’s teaching career was brief. He ran up more bills, as he himself later admitted, by unruly living. In March 1813, a recruiting officer came to town. He beat on a drum and shouted, “Hear ye; hear; if ye want to join General Jackson's army to fight the savage Indian, come and take a dollar from the drumhead, and this will enroll ye.” Sam, egged on by a friend, stepped up, took his dollar and instantly became a soldier.

Life changed dramatically for Sam Houston. His military and political affiliation put him on a momentous trail. He became a governor of Tennessee. He later commanded the Army of Texas, led the Republic of Texas and served as a United States senator and governor of Texas after it entered the union.

Houston was ousted as governor when he opposed the entrance of Texas into the Confederacy. He died in 1863 at the age of 70, with the fate of national union still unsettled.

During Sam's final years, he was asked what was his life’s greatest pleasure. He responded that it was being a schoolteacher during the rough times of his youth. He reflected blissfully on the simple old schoolhouse, weathered by 161 years of service to its youth that was still standing. He noted that wealthy Texans had tried to purchase it and relocate it to the Lone Star State, but the Volunteer State wasn’t about to get rid of it. 

Boyle offered a final note: “In 1924, a pair of ancient lead knuckles with Sam Houston's name scratched on them was found hidden above the doorway of the school. Perhaps young Sam enforced discipline on his pupils with lead knuckles? That was not likely because he stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds when he was only 18-years-old, big enough to handle even Davy Crockett.”

I personally think Hal was a bit rough on our “King of the Wild Frontier,” but the writer’s work provides a fresh look at Houston. There can be no doubt that both men displayed strong leadership and were a tremendous asset to Tennessee and to our nation. I bet Sam Houston never killed a bear when he was only three. 

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On Friday, May 25, 1894, the Johnson City Institute, a vocational school of sorts, closed another term of its most successful work. In the previous three years, the city had enjoyed having one of among the best institutes of the South. Prof. R. L. Couch initiated the school in the fall of 1891 with a modest beginning, but it soon became a school second to none.

On an early Tuesday morning that spring, the oral examinations had begun, being highly interesting and providing a source of entertainment. Half an hour was spent in reciting select readings, declamations, recitations and singing songs between each one. At the close of the exercises, the examinations proved how meticulous both teacher and student had been in teaching and learning.

Professor Couch, in a very touching and unexpected move, made an announcement that he would not be with them the following school year. This set off an emotional response as students, patrons, friends and teachers wept at the thought of his departing. Without doubt, ties of friendship had been formed with the professor that stood as sweet mementos of them long after their association with him had ended.

On Wednesday evening,  the Crescent Society gave its last entertainment; the address to the Society was provided by Rev. William Couch, which was received with much gratification.

A most delightful entertainment was given on Thursday at 2 p.m. by the Alpha Society, which was highly enjoyed by those in attendance. The address of welcome by the President, H.P. Exum, was a masterpiece of eloquence and showed the effect of hard study. The lecture to the Society was delivered by Rev. W.M. Vines. At 8 p.m. on the same evening, musical entertainment was provided that fully illustrated how well the music teacher had performed her duties.

On Friday evening, an address was given by Professor Browning, editor of the Johnson City Staff newspaper. He was a fine talker and gifted entertainer. On Friday night, the people of Johnson City had the pleasure of listening to a drama performed at Jobe's Opera House, at the corner of Spring and E. Main streets, that was given by the students. It was deemed to be the best school entertainment given in Johnson City in several years.

When the commencement exercises were closed and all teachers and students had parted with the old institute with honor, it was decided to have a reunion and picnic of all the students who had been in attendance at the Institute at any time during the previous terms. The entourage was transferred to Lake Wataussee (later renamed Cox's Lake) by street cars. When they arrived and found quite a large crowd had assembled on the grounds, they were entertained by the Brass Band of the Johnson City Institute.

About 11:30 a.m., lunch was served and several people ate to fulfillment. One student, identified only as J.N.H., ate 27 pieces of chicken in addition to other victuals.

After the meal, the teachers dispensed a treat to all the students that consisted of such items as candies, nuts and bananas. Later in the evening, the crowd, after a delightful day of boat riding, swinging and “sparking,” departed with melancholy hearts as they realized that they probably would never meet in the capacity of a school again.

The teachers departed to return to their respective homes while Prof. Couch headed for Bell Buckle, Tennessee where he took charge of the high school there. The people of Johnson City lost a grand institution and a notable group of teachers. Their work that might have been soon forgotten, became the influence that exerted their youthful minds and went forward in life with them.

To prove the immense popularity of Mr. Couch, just prior to the school's closing, the teachers made a valiant effort to raise money to increase his salary. Although many donated cash, some as much as $100, the effort was too late. The much-admired principal had signed a contract with his new employer; the city had lost a valuable principal. 

I will offer more detail about this largely forgotten institute in an upcoming feature story from a catalog I received from Bernie Gray. 

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