July 2014

Many people likely recall the 1952 polio epidemic that spread throughout the nation, paralyzing individuals and putting many in “iron lungs,” large machines used to control breathing. Several folks cancelled travel plans for fear of contracting the dreaded disease. Several vaccine tests, developed by Jonas Salk, were administered around the country with encouraging results.

On April 15, 1954, Washington County rolled out its trial vaccine program for city and county schools. To better inform the public, Dr. Emmett Byrd, director of the effort, prepared 25 questions and answers for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. Here is a paraphrase of them:

Johnson City Press Chronicle Newspaper Clipping about the Polio Epidemic

1. What is the trial polio  vaccine? A watery solution containing killed polio virus, which, hopefully, will stimulate the body to produce adequate antibodies in the blood to protect against paralytic polio.

2. Who will receive it? All second grade children in Washington County schools, city and county.

3. Why were these children selected? This group is more susceptible to getting polio.

4. Will any other children receive the trial vaccine? No.

5. What are the “control” groups? Children in the first and third grades from whom blood samples will be collected and compared with those who receive the vaccine.

6. Who will give the trial vaccine? Local physicians volunteering through the county in cooperation with local health authorities.

7. Where will the trial vaccine be given? At seventeen centers: seven in the county and ten in the city.

8. How many doses will be given each child? Three.

9. Can a child in a grade that is being tested take if he or she already has had polio. Yes, three types of polio virus are definitely known and immunity to one type does not protect the individual against the others.

10. Will a child receive the first dose if he or she is absent on the designated day? No. It is imperative to receive the first dose on the scheduled day.

11. What happens if a child misses school on the days that the second or third dose is given? It will be rescheduled at a later date.

12. What is the period between doses? One week between the first two and four weeks between the second and third. The last one is known as the booster shot.

13. Why are three separate doses necessary? The first two doses stimulate the body to produce antibodies while the third one boosts antibodies to a high level.

14. How much trial vaccine does each child receive? One cubic centimeter at each dose. Three shots collectively amount to 45 drops.

15. Where on the body is the trial vaccine administered? In the arm muscle.

16. Will it leave a scar or produce aftereffects? So far, none have been observed.

17. How can parents be certain the vaccine is safe? All lots of vaccine have been thoroughly tested by all means known to medical science.

18. Has the trial vaccine been used on human beings before? Yes, for over a year.

19. Will the child's family be charged for the trial? No.   

20. Will all participating children be volunteers. Yes.  

21. How will the parent of an eligible child request participation? By returning a signed request form to the school.

22. How will we know if the trial vaccine has protected the children? Late in 1955, results will be made known.

23. How long will the vaccine be effective? That information is not known at this time.

24. Will volunteer workers be needed for the vaccine trials? Yes, a great many for multiple non-medical tasks.

25. How many children in Washington county will be eligible to receive the trial vaccine? 592 second graders in city schools and 349 in county ones, a total of 941.

I was in the fifth grade at Henry Johnson School in the spring of 1954 and too old to participate in the program. By 1961, progress, which by then included Albert Sabin's oral polio vaccine, reduced the cases of the disease in the United State to 161. Doctors Salk and Sabin became household names. If you participated in the program, drop me a note.

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In January, 2010, I wrote an article about the collapse of White Rock Summit on Buffalo Mountain that occurred Jan. 25, 1882. A few newspapers from around the country and one from Mexico began to slowly report the news.

An Old Newspaper Reports the Collapse of White Rock on Buffalo Mountain

Roughly 750 Johnson City residents experienced something that afternoon that left them helpless and reeling with fright. A powerful crash and terrifying rumbling noise that could be heard 30 miles away came from the mountain, caused by a major rockslide that occurred on the southeast terminus of the mountain.

Panic-stricken inhabitants living in close proximity to the mountain fled from their dwellings seeking protection, fearing that an earthquake was besieging the East Tennessee countryside. A number of folks gathered together to pray for deliverance from the falling mountaintop.

White Rock on Buffalo Mountain As It Appears Today

Recently, I located another and more detailed source dealing with the 1882 collapse. The crash occurred at 3 p.m. on that Wednesday. When news reached the Knoxville Chronicle that a section of Buffalo Mountain, located in upper East Tennessee, had crumbled to the valley, a reporter was immediately dispatched to Johnson City, the closest town to the scene of the devastation. Upon arriving, he learned that White Rock Peak (referred to as White Rock Summit in other publications) had succumbed to geological agencies, namely continuous rains, spreading debris over a large mountainous track of country.

Procuring a guide and two good horses, the riders apprehensively began their trek up the mountain. Snow was falling in the valley and as they made their ascent to the peak, the drifts became deeper and deeper. By the time they reached the summit, using a circuitous route, the accumulation was 18 inches.

Prior to the huge structure of quartz crystals falling prey to natural forces, the mass could be seen from afar, appearing as a specter standing guard over the towns and valleys beneath it. The rock was nicknamed “Lone Sentinel” by some residents. It was, by far, the highest peak on Buffalo Mountain.

Amazingly, the end of the mountain which formed the massive rock was about 1500 feet above the surrounding countryside and was almost a perpendicular cliff'. The rest of the mountain, excluding the rock, was covered with a heavy growth of timber, prominent among which was oak and chestnut trees. The brow of the mountain was estimated to be a half mile or more across and composed for the most part of white sandstone.

When the newspaper team arrived at the top of the mountain, they gazed in wonder and astonishment. There in front of them, now partially covered with snow, they witnessed debris strewn for a mile down the mountain side, the result of the stupendous crash.

Rocks as big as houses had been hurled into the valley with a terrible force, uprooting trees and cutting down everything in its path.

The track of the rocks in their terrible downward departure was perceptible for a mile or more. A boulder weighing several tons, which had somehow diverged from its course, was lodged against a single tree, but most of the rocks of all sizes had fallen to occupy the valley below.

Trees several feet in diameter were cut completely in half, some as high up as 40 feet, clearly showing what a powerful force must have urged the rocks to ascend to a lower position. They could but stand in mute admiration of the slow yet steady and powerful forces of nature which had moved the end of the mountain to the mountain ridges to the west.

After the rumble ceased, solid rock composed of white sandstone glittered in the now bright noonday sun, the radiance of whose rays could be seen for miles by onlookers. Because of its white appearance, the rock had acquired its name, which reportedly was on record several places in written history.

The two men conversed with several area persons in regard to the cause of the great fall of rock. Some were of the opinion that the crash was caused by a movement in the earth's crust, like an earthquake. Others were of the convinced that it was the result of what geologists term “aqueous agencies.”

Those residents who wanted to know what happened were vividly aware that since Christmas 1881, the area had undergone a continuous deluge of rain. Water managed to infiltrate the rock in the frigid climate and then freeze, causing it to expand and split the rock, ultimately to a depth of a hundred feet or more. It was generally speculated that this destructive force had been at work causing the big rock to fall into the valley below.

My new source offered an interesting historical note to the property beneath the rock. It was frequently spoken of in history books of Tennessee as the spot where Governor John Sevier and his friends and Colonel John B. Tipton and his allies met in a bloody and fatal scuffle just 94 years prior (1788).

While this portion of the state was still a part of North Carolina, it seceded and set up a state government of its own in 1784, calling itself “Franklin.” Governor Sevier, was elected chief magistrate and commander of the militia. North Carolina, still claiming this territory, appointed her officials, thereby causing a conflict.

Colonel John B. Tipton was chosen County Court Clerk of Washington County. He lived at the foot of White Rock and Governor Sevier, followed by 150 men, proceeded to the house of Tipton to divest him of the official papers. Colonel Tipton, backed by a strong force, routed the Sevier allies. Several men were killed and wounded during the day on account of this engagement.

Although White Rock has often been referred to in the histories of Tennessee with pride, now that it passed through such a transcending ordeal, its name will shine even brighter in the archives of yesteryear.

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In March, 1954, the Press-Chronicle launched its sixth annual “Johnson City Cardinals (Appalachian League) Batboy Contest.” Four judges, Ralph Cox, Tom Lyons, Bill Miller and Jimmy Smyth, selected six boys as finalists: Joe Ward Booth, Sammy Broyles, Bill Dyer, Dana Lyon, Ronnie Rickman and Richard Teaster.

The Six Semifinalists of the 1954 Johnson City Cardinals Batboy Contest

Each youngster was asked to identify his favorite baseball player. The final score was Stan Musial 3, Yogi Berra 2. Johnson City's own Billy Joe Bowman received the sixth vote. 

The Cardinals management through president, Carl A. Jones, and business manager, Ralph Cox, issued a statement praising the boys who submitted applications and essays. It acknowledged the many fine entries and regretted that they couldn't use a couple dozen more batboys.

After that, it was time for the public to pick a winner by filling out a ballot that was printed in the newspaper and mailing it to the Press-Chronicle office.  The paper urged its readers to get their ballot back to them before the April 9 noon deadline. The winner was to be announced in the paper the next day. Below are abbreviated excerpts from the essays of the six finalists:

Joe Ward Booth: “I would like to be batboy for the Cardinals because I would like to become a Cardinal baseball player when I finish school. A batboy has a wonderful opportunity of developing himself, morally, physically, mentally and socially. This would be a step toward being a professional baseball player.”

Sammy Broyles: “Baseball is my favorite sport. I have played baseball for the Little League for three years and liked it very much. If I am chosen as batboy, it would give me a better chance to learn more about baseball and to learn all of the rules and regulations.”

Bill Dyer: “I would like to be the batboy for the Johnson City Cardinals this year because I like baseball. I would like to learn all I can about baseball. I am also interested in becoming a professional ball player someday. I am 15 years old and always like to go to the ball games.”

Dana Lyon: “I wish to learn more about baseball and know the players better. Besides wanting to know more about professional baseball, I would use the money I receive to buy school clothes and books for next year. Being batboy would be more than a job to me. It would be responsibility, which I would work hard at trying to do my very best.”

Ronnie Rickman: “My greatest ambition is to play baseball in the Cardinals organization. I have played baseball in both the Little and Little Bigger leagues and feel that being the Cardinals batboy would help me in my playing. I have a great love of baseball and keep up with all the Cardinals games. I would consider it an honor to be chosen.”

Richard Teaster: “I would like to be the Red Birds' batboy because it would teach me to become a good sport and sportsmanship is very essential to an athlete.  I would like to learn about fielding, pitching and batting. I would like to have the proud feeling of beating a top team, someone hitting a home run, a pitcher pitching a shutout or a no-hitter. I would like to share their every thrill.”

All six finalists were awarded prizes. First prize was, of course, to be batboy for one year. Second prize was a season ticket to all games plus an autographed baseball and bat. The third winner received a ticket to the opening game, a hat, a ball and an autographed picture of the 1953 Cardinals. Fourth, fifth and six accolades consisted of an opening day ticket, an autographed baseball and a picture of the 1953 Cardinals. 

Thanks to several of my readers who correctly identified the winner of the batboy contest as Joe Ward Booth.

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On Sept. 17, 1890, a Memphis journalist, known only as Mr. J and who was a cousin of Johnson City's mayor, Ike T. Jobe, took a train ride to our city, first on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and then over the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. 

The writer noted that until a year or so prior, the area was unworthy to be called a city because it was nothing more than a railroad station with a few diminutive stores and residences scattered about. Nevertheless, older inhabitants always had an abiding faith that something much better was in store for them. 

In about 1888, the town began to take on a new image. Northern capital began finding its way to our area. As a result, new railroad lines were surveyed and constructed; manufacturing facilities were built in record number; and the surrounding hills and mountains disgorged its hidden treasures of iron and coal.

Almost overnight, Johnson City's modest village became a municipality of about 5,000 inhabitants. A 125-ton capacity blast furnace was among the substantial improvements of the newly formed Carnegie Land and Impartment Company.

Suburban lands were summarily subdivided into town lots, streets graded and scores of new residences and businesses houses constructed. One of the most beautiful one was a $100,000 lodge named Carnegie Hotel after the famed industrialist. The city acquired the distinction of being the seat of the largest tannery (The Horton and Yokum Co.) in the United States.

The Comet Newspaper Advertises Jobe's Livery Stable on E. Main Street

Upon arrival at Johnson City, the journalist became the guest of Ike T. Jobe, who, that same week, took him on an excursion over the narrow gauge East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad that spanned a distance of 32 miles to Elk Park, N.C., just over the Tennessee line. As the train made its serpentine journey across the wild and rugged mountains, the vehicle passed through five tunnels in just four miles. The journalist described the area as being “a most beautiful and picturesque mountain region.” 

Mr. J visited Elk Park, a small town built up in the mountains, having an elevation of 3,250 feet above sea level with climate rarely exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The reporter was informed that only a few mile away was the celebrated Roan Mountain, renowned for being the highest elevation for many miles around. From its cloud-capped pinnacle could be seen portions of five States.

Two miles east of Elk Park, Mr. J. encountered the mining village of Cranberry, where the finest iron ore to be found in the country was obtained in copious quantities. The blast furnace and the mines furnished abundant employment to many workers. He described it as a very busy and prosperous community.

During Jobe's cousin's abbreviated stay at Elk Park, he was the guest of another cousin, Mrs. Hattie Taylor and her husband, Nat W., brother to the Honorable Robert L, Taylor, Governor of Tennessee, described as “a most amiable gentleman.” 

After departing, the train made a stop at Elizabethton. This town, the county seat of Carter county, was a small place but, according to the reporter, delightfully situated. Surrounded on all sides by lofty hills, the town was built at the convergence of the Doe and Watauga rivers.

Mr. Jobe explained to his relative that “Watauga” was an Indian name, signifying “beautiful river.” No one who viewed it and the lovely valley which stretched away to the west of Elizabethton, could refrain from agreeing with Landon Carter Haynes when he succinctly said, “It is beautiful indeed.” When viewed from one of the lofty hilltops nearby, it became a scene perfect for both artist and poet.

Ike explained to his cousin that nearby lived an uncle, Dr. A. Jobe, whom he had not seen since his boyhood days. He resided there for many years and played a conspicuous role in the history of East Tennessee.

After the writer made a hesitant adieu to Elizabethton, he made short stops at Johnson City and Cleveland, Tennessee, before heading home, bringing to a finale a passage that he would not soon forget.

Thank you Mr. J, whoever you are, for sharing another history nugget about our area.

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Between 1950 and 1957, my family lived on Johnson Avenue, directly behind the playground of Henry Johnson School and within sight of the west end of Kiwanis Park. The view of Buffalo Mountain from our house was always there to enjoy.

An even better observation of the noble mountain came from the kitchen on the backside of the house of my grandparent's, Earl and Neva Cox, that was located on Peachtree Street, four streets behind us.

Even as a child, I appreciated its ever-changing appearance as the seasons evolved from spring to summer to autumn to winter and back to spring. We always knew when snow was about to arrive in Johnson City because the mountain would slowly turn color as the pretty white stuff fell.

My father, Robert Earl Cox, often told me stories about day-long hikes to White Rock on the mountain along the south end of the city. Several of my readers shared their fond memories of the popular hike there for my column.

Buffalo Mountain is a part of the Cherokee National Forest within the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from Johnson City east to west for about seven miles to Jonesborough.

I always thought the mountain acquired its name from the humps on it that resemble a buffalo. Actually, most mountains have humps. According to my research from the Tipton Haynes Historical Association, buffalo herds used the base of this mountain as a gathering spot as they made a twice-a-year pilgrimage to the salt licks of Saltville, Virginia. As the buffalo herds moved along, they cleared out five-foot wide trails that became so hard they appeared to be paved. These paths later became some of the first roads in the area.

Buffalo Mountain Article Title & Subtitles From The Comet In 1892

Recently, I located an interesting November 1892 clipping from The Comet. The article suggested that Johnson City would be an ideal location for a summer resort or a large sanitarium for the treatment of pulmonary diseases. Reputable physicians from across the country recommended the climate of East Tennessee for such ailments. Many persons had already traveled here and had greatly benefited from the refreshing excursion.

The trekkers looked like skeletons when they arrived in the city but gained several pounds in a relatively short time. In instances where they remained here for extended amounts of times, they were completely and permanently cured. The word spread.

The Comet felt that there could be no better place to locate a hotel or sanitarium than atop Buffalo Mountain, which then was then located three miles south of the city. 

Standing on top of the magnificent mountain, with an elevation of several hundred feet, one gets an elegant and entertaining view of the surrounding country, which is only equaled by the famous Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga.

Standing at a point on the top of the mountain, one can peer into three additional states: Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. At night, the electric lights of Morristown, Greeneville and Bristol are in plain view.

The Comet suggested that a large hotel on top of the mountain and the broad gauge of an incline railway to transport passengers to the top was highly practical. This would allow Johnson City to reap some of the many benefits enjoyed by Tate Springs (Bean Station), Chattanooga, Roan Mountain and many other noted places.

“This is a scheme that has been in contemplation for some time,” said the newspaper, “and no doubt will be carried out at no distant day, as several capitalists have examined the location with a view of purchasing it and carrying out the above mentioned plans. Should this ever be done, which is more than probable that it will, it would bring thousands of dollars into this city annually, to say nothing of the many noted visitors and pleasure seekers.”

Situated as we are, right in the midst of this beautiful and healthful East Tennessee, the publication could not fail to see immediately the benefits to be derived from such a place as mentioned. 

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