November 2015

During last Christmas, I featured some letters of area youngsters who wrote Santa Claus a letter in 1909, telling the jolly ole fellow what they wanted for Christmas from him. Since some of my readers identified a relative in the list, I decided to produce another column this year of letters to Santa. The date for this one is 1908. Only minor editing was done.

George Houston: Please bring me a wagon and a sled and some nuts and a football and some candy and some oranges and some of everything. And please bring me a tricycle and I think that is all I want for this Christmas. I will be asleep when you come. I am in school now. I live at 112 King Street. Good bye. 

Earl Nave: I will write you a few lines to let you know what I want for Christmas. I want you to bring me a little storybook, and I want you to bring me two oranges and some candy, too. Ithink this is all for today. Your little friend. 

Gertrude Candler: I want you to bring me a big doll and a doll carriage, and I want you to bring my little sisters something too. I want some candy and some nuts, oranges and lemons. Bring me a little doll, a little bed and a set of dishes. Please remember my mother and teacher. And, Santa, whatever you do, please see to it that all the poor children get something. I would like have a teddy bear and some clothes for it. I will close for this time. From your little friend.

Lawrence Jones: I will write you a few lines. I want you to bring me an automobile and a football and some oranges. I will be asleep when you come. Your little friend.

Lawrence Brown: I thought I would write you a few lines and let you know what I want Christmas. I want a wagon, some firecrackers, candy, nuts and oranges. Yours truly. 

Edna Campbell: I will write you a letter to let you know what I want you to bring me a big doll and a little bed for her to sleep in, and bring me a whole lot of candy and some apples, nuts, and oranges. And bring me a cradle for my doll. 

Clifton Little: I will write you to tell you what I want for Christmas. I want a wagon and a suit of clothes and some candy and nuts and some oranges and fire crackers and that will be all this time. Good bye. 

1908 Sterchi Furniture Company Advertisement

Frank Carroll: I want you to bring me a bow and arrow that will shoot high up in the sky. And bring me a gun and a box of cartridges. I would also like to have a sled and a wagon. Your friend. 

(No Name, but Santa Knows): I want you to bring me a doll for Christmas and some candy and apples and oranges, a new dress, new ribbon, a handkerchief, a coat, a hat, a ring and some colored pencils. I will close for this time.

Willie Beekelhimer: I thought that I would write you a letter to tell you what I want you to bring me. I want a gold ring and a bracelet and some candies and some oranges and some apples and bring mama some presents. Bring papa something too. Bring little brother something nice for Christmas. Bring me some bananas and bring Miss Sarah Nugent, my teacher, some presents.  

Ruth Williams: Well, the first thing will be a little doll which cost about 10 cents and is 5 inches tall. Another thing I want is a horn and some fruits and candy. Another thing I want is a book of fairy tales, and oh Santa Clause, I want some little dishes to have a little party. Please do it. I will write you again next Christmas. Are you any fatter? Write me. Good bye.

Thelma Houston: Will you bring my teacher a pretty doll, and will you bring me two dolls and please bring me a doll carriage too, and will you bring me a doll bed? Will you bring my mother a new dress and bring my father some shoes? I am in the second grade. Please bring me a ring. My teacher's name is Miss Nugent. Your friend. 

Cyril Coly: I am writing a little letter to tell you what I want. I want a fire engine. That will be all this time. Good night. 

Children are children, but their Christmas wish lists have certainly changed over the years.

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In early 1933, Johnny Roventini, who stood 47 inches tall and weighed a mere 59 pounds, was touted by the New Yorker Hotel, where he worked, as the smallest bellboy in the world. One night, he became acquainted with two advertising agents for the Philip Morris Company, who had conjured up a publicity stunt for a cigarette commercial. They offered Johnny a dollar if he would locate a Mr. Philip Morris in the hotel. In actuality, there was no one there by that name.

Roventini strode through the hotel shouting, “Call for Philip Mor-raaas.'' He exaggerated the second syllable using an exaggerated, drawn out “raaas” instead of a quick “ris.” “I just went around the lobby yelling my head off,” said Johnny, “but I disappointedly couldn't get Philip Morris to answer my call.”

Johnny soon received a lucrative offer from the company, but he was hesitant about accepting it. After all, he had a decent financial contract with the hotel, drawing a salary of $15 a week, plus an additional $10 in tips. He decided to think it over and reportedly told them, “I'll have to ask my mother.” After delaying his decision for several months, Johnny resigned his hotel employment on September 16, 1933 and signed a lifetime contract with the Philip Morris Company.

Thus began a career that landed Roventini a lifetime contract and an annual salary of up to $50,000. Johnny, who always appeared in his short-jacketed bellboy outfit, became Philip Morris Company's “living trademark.'' The little guy once estimated that, over the years, he called out the cigarette slogan more than a million times and shook hands with about the same number of people.

Johnny was first heard on the air on “The Ferde Grofe Show,” who was a composer, arranger and pianist.  Stardom came to him almost overnight and sales success of the Philip Morris brand followed suit as both skyrocketed to fame. Johnny saw the company grow from a single product manufacturer to a multi-brand, highly diversified corporation.

To protect Johnny and the Philip Morris Company, the company's contract forbid him from appearing in public without a bodyguard; riding the subway during rush hours was also forbidden. And for fear of kidnappers, his home address was kept undisclosed. The company was taking no chances. Johnny was indeed a top salesman and a most valuable property. His Cinderella rise to fame led him to appear on Philip Morris radio programs with outstanding orchestras.

The little fellow began playing key roles in many great radio productions: Horace Heidt's “Youth Opportunity Hour,” “It Pays To Be Ignorant,” “Ladies Be Seated,” Johnny Olson's Luncheon Club,” Walter Kiernan's popular “One Man's Opinion,” “Crime Photographer,” “Music You'll Remember,” “The Kate Smith Show,” Johnny Mercer's “Call for Music,” “Break the Bank,” Ralph Edward's “This is Your Life,” “The Mel Torme Show,” “The Rudy Vallee Show,” “Candid Microphone” (forerunner of television's “Candid Camera”) and others.

Every Philip Morris show featuring Johnny became just as famous for its closing line as for its opening: “This is Johnny again, returning now to the thousands of store windows and counters all over America. Look for me. I'll be waiting for you. Come in and, of course, “Call for Phil-ip Mor-rees.”

At the height of his radio career, Johnny was in high demand for major public events such as fairs, conventions, trade shows, club meetings, festivals, military parades and the like. He found it impossible to attend everything, so it was during that period that four look-alike assistants, known as “Johnny Juniors,” were employed to represent him at some of the functions.

No matter where he appeared, he was invariably asked to give his famous call, which he did. To please his worldwide audiences, Johnny learned to deliver the words in French, German, Spanish, Swedish, Italian and Chinese.


People crowded to see him; it was said that when they saw him, their heart began beating a little faster. It wasn't his size or the lack of it, but rather the fact that he made people feel what he was made of – goodness and greatness, as well as the warmth and gentleness that was the little man himself. He was created as a trademark for the Philip Morris Company but became an American legend. For 25 years, he walked among his fans and they became richer for it.

In later years, when Johnny was asked to name some of the memorable ladies with whom he worked, he responded with Barbara Stanwyck, Tallulah Bankhead, Rosalind Russell, Deborah Kerr, Paulette Goddard, Constance Bennett, Dorothy Lamour, and the two incomparable great stars, Madeleine Carroll and Marlene Dietrich?”

After the war, the radio shows began to bow to television, and for a time Johnny introduced early Philip Morris video shows such as “My Little Margie” (Gale Storm), “Tex and Jinx; (Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg), “Candid Camera” (Allen Funt), “I Love Lucy'” (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz), “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “Hazel,” “Hogan's Heroes,” “Thursday Night at the Movies,” “Slattery's People,” “The Loner” and even “The CBS News with Walter Cronkite.”

According to Johnny, “Lucy was my real love; our friendship has been a lasting one and the memories of our having worked together are among my fondest. She not only was a great comedienne but a great lady as well.” Johnny transitioned effectively from the role of a radio and television performer to that of a roving ambassador of good will man for Philip Morris.

When Johnny Roventini died on Dec. 3, 1998, the New York Times commented in his obituary notice: “Johnny's fame as an advertising legend was enhanced by an ever-present smile and outstretched hand that won him friends wherever he went.” On that sad day, the highly recognized “Call for Philip Mor-raaas” went silent forever. In all those years, he never found Mr. Morris, but he found something else – a world of people who greatly loved and adored him.

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A total of 12 Thanksgiving Day Burley Bowl games were played between 1945 and 1956, with the East Tennessee State Buccaneers participating in five of them: 1952 through 1956. They won the first four games but lost the fifth one to Memphis State. This much-anticipated event consisted of a parade held in downtown Johnson City in mid-morning, followed by a football game at Roosevelt (Memorial) Stadium on E. Main Street that afternoon.

The 1953 ETSC annual offered details of the eighth annual game in 1952 between the Emory and Henry Wasps and the Buccaneers:

Buccaneer Squad

“Before a crowd of 10,000, the Bucs rallied from a 3-0 first quarter deficit to almost completely dominate the entire game. The turning point came when Henderson blocked Long’s kick, giving the Bucs possession of the ball on the Emory 17-yard line.

“A pass from Crumley to Morrison fell incomplete, but on the next play, Ford plowed his way to the Wasp 13. Lloyd raced to the five and Saulsbury scored to put the Bucks ahead 6-3. Morrison’s conversion gave the Bucs a 7-3 lead. From this point, the home team made a mockery of the one-touchdown-favored Wasps. Tackle Bryan recovered an Emory fumble on their own 35 to set up another score. Poe crashed over from the six-yard line to give State a 10-point lead.

1945 Burley Bowl Football Game Ticket

DeFillipo pounced on a second Emory fumble on the Wasp 33. Crumley raced to the Wasp 11 and, on the next play, hit Ford for the third touchdown. After a 65-yard drive, Horwatt tossed a pass to Howard in the end zone to cut the Bucs lead to 20-10. At no time did they seem to let up in their determination.

“Poe took the Emory kick-off and rushed from his own 17 yard line to the opponent's 34. Ford dashed to the Emory 29 as followers of the Wasps groaned audible. Lloyd, Crumley and Ford then moved to a first down on the 19. Morrison, on an end-around, got to the 15 and Crumley advanced the ball to the 10. On the next play, Crumley raced to pay dirt. After Morrison’s extra point kick, the Bucs’ 27-10 lead removed any hope Emory might have had.

“The Wasps opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown from the one-foot line to make the score 27-16. Matlock repeatedly kept the Wasps deep in their own territory with his booming toe, which averaged 37 yards. In the final minutes of play, Ford scored from the three yard line after State had taken possession of the ball on the five yard line due to Emory’s illegal receiver down field. Morrison kicked the extra point and ETSC came out of its first Burley Bowl appearance with a resounding victory.”

1953 Buccaneers at Snowy Roosevelt Stadium

The 1954 annual provided specifics of the ninth annual game in 1953 also between Emory and Henry Wasps and the ETSC Buccaneers: “The Bucs’ first touchdown came early when the Wasps’ Long, back to kick on his own 35, received a bad pass from center, decided to run and lost two yards. The Bucks took over at that point. Ford took a pitch-out and swept around right end for the score. Morrison missed the extra point.

“The Buccaneers struck again when Porter recovered an Emory and Henry fumble on the Wasps 24. Pete “The Arm” Wilson tossed a pass to Hal “Glue Fingers” Morrison in the end zone for the second touchdown. Morrison’s kick for the extra point made the score 13-0. In the second period, Wilson, on his 34, handed off to Saulsbury who went all the way to the Wasps’ 12. Several plays later, “The Arm” passed to Foster who went over for the touchdown. Morrison’s extra point made it 20-0.

1953 Buccaneers on the Sidelines

“State’s longest run came in the third period when Foster took a Wasp punt on his own 30 and scampered 70 yards to score. Morrison kicked the extra point through the uprights and East Tennessee State was out front 34-0. The final touchdown was the lengthiest. Emory and Henry’s Bob Haney intercepted an attempted lateral by State on their own 11-yard line and churned off 89 yards for the touchdown. That made the final score read 48-12.

“Standouts in the Buc forward wall were Jim Huddle, Bob Porter and Hal Morrison. Sparkplugs in the Buccaneer backfield were Pete Wilson, Jerry Ford and Buddy Saulsbury.”

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In the fall of 1900, a local newspaper noted that in some countries, a few girls were born to wear crowns, but in America all of them were born queens, but only a relatively few were selected to wear crowns. Johnson City had her quota of uncrowned queens and was called upon to select one to wear the ornamental head covering during the Carnival that had come to town. 

One young lady, Miss Gordon Henderson, was awarded the honor. The selection was of no surprise because she was one of Johnson City's most endearing and popular society young ladies and one of the prettiest girls in the state. Her being chosen reflected much credibility upon the city.

Miss Henderson then selected, as maids of honor, the following young ladies: Misses Eva Carr, Willie Cox, Sanna Biddle, Fannie Bolton, Lizzie Carr, Mae Jones and Nell Rains. These girls were popular among their peers and it was stated that the South could not produce seven more beautiful young ladies than those chosen. Their corresponding outriders were young society men: Messrs Will Johnson, Frank Miller, Andy Spencer, Will Harris, Bob Martin, Horace Miller, Sam Millard and James Summers.

Johnson City's distinguished townsman, the Honorable Alf A. Taylor, was unanimously chosen and consented to crown the Queen. The event took place in Johnson City's Public Square (renamed Fountain Square after a water fountain was installed there) at noon on Tuesday before the parade formed. On Tuesday night, there was a Carnival fancy dress masquerade ball in Jobe's Opera House on Spring Street. Admission was 50 cents and parties desiring to dance had to obtain special tickets to be admitted to the floor. All dancers were masked and no one was admitted without an identification card.

The Greeneville, Tennessee Band was contacted to furnish music for the Fair and readily accepted the request. It was described as being one of the best bands in the state, being comprised of 20 talented musicians. The band also had a superb orchestra, which furnished music for the ball.

With all the positive aspects of the event, one critic, known only as “Spinster” sent a note to the newspaper's editorial page inquiring how the Carnival queen was chosen:

“Please state in this week's paper, for the benefit of an inquiring public, how the queen of Johnson City's Carnival is chosen? If this power is vested in a committee, please publish names of members of this committee. If this is Johnson City's Carnival, should not Johnson City be interested in the choosing of her Queen.”

The newspaper responded without delay: “In reply to Spinster, we want to say that the Queen of the Carnival has been selected by a committee of young men who are to serve as outriders, or escorts, and who are to pay for the float and the decorations. The selection was made in this identical manner the prior year (the subject of a previous column) and it gave general satisfaction to all, and there seemed to be no good reason for not following that precedent this year.

“No other mode for choosing the Queen was suggested by anyone, regardless of how much interest they may have had in the event. Any suggestions would have been gladly received and carefully considered. The manner of selecting the Queen for similar occasions differ in all cities, and there is no custom to follow.

“It seemed to be absolutely fair to allow the young men who were to 'pay the fiddler' to select someone acceptable to themselves, and this has been done. The Queen and escorts have, in a like manner, selected seven maids of honor. We can assure Spinster that it has been the desire of the management of the Carnival, if such a thing exists, to please all and offend none.

“It is not Johnson City's Carnival in the sense that Johnson City pays for it, for there is no fund provided for this purpose. Each merchant or individual pays for his float or decorated vehicle in the parade and the Queen's float is provided by her escorts.”

The paper concluded with these brief words: “The newspaper is pleased to know there is so much interest in the matter and trusts the selections will be as satisfactory as they are well chosen.” 

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The week of Oct. 18, 2015 was melancholic for many residents of Johnson City; a demolition crew felled the Legion Street Recreation Center, joining the ranks of numerous other historical structures. Recently, area folks shared their fond memories of the facility with the Johnson City Press. Today's column provides a brief history of the Center.

Charter members of an effort to build the center were J.M. Carter (president), Robert F. Smith (vice-president), Howard Johnson (secretary-treasurer), Ted Jilton, Roy Feathers, Lawrence Owens, William Whittimore, Kent Neufer, J.J. Jilton, Eric Herrin, Mrs. and Mrs. Jimmy Smyth, Edna Frances, J.R. Jilton, Sells Blevins, Sam Cooper, William Jenkins, Bill Billings, Kathleen Goodin, Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Cowell, Nelson Burris, Roy Well, Joe Walker, Ted Burton and Nathan Thorp.

Inspection of New Recreation Center While Still Under Construction

The group approved a 3-phase campaign to raise funds for the construction of a new sports facility by selling memberships in a recreation club; sponsoring athletic events, carnivals and other money-raising activities; and soliciting financial contributions.

On Jan. 28, 1947, the organizers met with the Park and Recreation Board comprised of C. Howard McCorkle, chairman; P.W. Alexander; W.J. “Dub” Smith; Mrs. H.C. Black; and M.U. Snodderly. They received a “thumbs up” to proceed with the project.

Phase 1 began by netting $5,191 from 919 memberships, several sizable donations and numerous contributions resulting in part from the promotional efforts of Jimmy Smyth of the Press-Chronicle and Eddie Cowell, host of  WJHL radio’s “Sports Parade.”

The New Recreation Center As It Appeared Nearing Completion

Phase 2 was launched with a dance by popular bandleader Tony Pastor on Friday, Mar. 28, 1947. The Junior Chamber of Commerce raffled off an automobile, held a “Buy-A-Brick for One Dollar” campaign and awarded an automobile at a 4-Star Motorcycle Race at Memorial Stadium. As a result, the fund rose to $6,336.

When the endowment reached $15,000, the club decided to break ground for the new building. The plan, drawn up by Bob Woods, called for a 160’ by 80’ building on Legion Street. The Park and Recreation Board maintenance crew, headed by Dewey Stout and supervised by Howard Jenkins, began construction on July 8, 1948.

After footings were poured for the walls, Southern Welding Company erected structural steel. General Shale Corporation graciously donated 10,000 cinderblocks and several suppliers of materials offered substantial discounts. The walls went up block-by-block and work proceeded on installing the roof until funds were exhausted, bringing a temporary halt to the project.

The Junior Service Auxiliary (Mr. William G. Preas, general chairperson) came to the rescue by donating funds from their 1949 “First Annual Johnson City Horse Show.” With $2,663 added to the fund, work quickly resumed.

Phase 3 endeavors to solicit financial contributions to the building were not as promising because three other significant money-raising efforts were already underway.

A Recreation Center Club Meeting Being Held at the Newly Opened Facility

Fortunately, two organizations stepped forward – the National Federation of Employees (through the efforts of Vic Larmer and Charles Roller) and the Model Maniacs (Charles Hawkins and Caroline Muse). Both groups, along with former contributors of the Recreation Club, backed a successful Halloween Festival on Oct. 29-31, generating $991. City Commission hurriedly approved a $10,000 loan to finish the recreation project.

Final work on the building proceeded with pouring of a four-inch concrete floor, laying four by four creosote boards as sub-flooring and installing 16,000 square feet of hardwood flooring attached with 1000 pounds of nails. Allen Harris, Jr., local flooring businessman, commented, “This is one of the most beautiful floors I have ever seen.”

The long-awaited Recreation Building opened to an expectant public on January 5, 1950 with a basketball game by the City Basketball League. In early 1952, balconies to the building were completed bringing total floor space to 24,000 square feet. Early 1953 saw a modern entrance to the building, a skate room, installation of 2,000 seats, glass backboards and steel steps.

The new complex helped this writer graduate from crude roller skating on rough streets to smooth, effortless gliding on a well-maintained wooden floor. The Johnson City Recreation Center, which served our city well, has now faded into yesteryear. 

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Today's column is the first of three dealing with early 1900 Johnson City enterprises; others will appear on the history page over the next few months. I attempted to identify the location of each one, plus provide (in parenthesis) some later recognizable businesses that occupied that identical site.

Unaka National Bank

201-03 E. Main (Anderson Drug Store, Freiberg's). The Unaka National Bank, one of the strongest financial institutions in upper East Tennessee, is growing with every passing year, not only in fact but also in public esteem. It is the outgrowth of a state bank organized in Johnson City in 1896 by John D. Cox of Jonesboro and his associates. S.C. Williams became Vice President.

Although the beginning was a modest one, the bank's future success was assured from the onset by the character and financial standing of its promoters. In 1901, a national banking charter was established and the name, Unaka National Bank, adopted. The intent of management is evident by their building a surplus fund of $10,000 within two years. 

The bank has a corps of officials who give it their best efforts; the active management may be said to have never changed since the bank was launched in 1896. One of the most popular and efficient bankers, Tate L. Earnest, was cashier with Adam Crouch serving as assistant cashier.

Annual deposits for 1897 through 1903 were:

1897- $22,105.24

1898- $51,346.15

1899- $72,936.16

1900- $113,430.24

1901- $140,013.22

1902- $145,834.58

1903- $191,837.49.

M.I. Gump Wholesale Grocery

220 N. Roan Street near the Southern Railway tracks. Without exception, every mercantile, wholesale or industrial house in Johnson City is conducting a lively business. In wholesale circles of East Tennessee and North Carolina, the M.I. Gump Wholesale Grocery is a recognized leader. Mr. Martin Independence Gump established his wholesale house in 1898, and his books show a steady yearly increase.

All goods handled by Mr. Gump are of the highest quality and will be found to be exactly as represented. Large consignments are daily sent from their wholesale house to all parts of the state and North Carolina. The operation is entirely a local one, Mr. Gump being a native of Johnson City and employing three local men in various capacities in his businesses.

Exum Furniture Manufacturing Co.

Located in the vicinity of ET&WNC and CC&O depots. One of the most enterprising industries in our city is that conducted by Mr. E.W. Exum. This concern specializes in the manufacturing of medium and cheap grades of furniture, which is shipped to all parts of the South and especially the State of Tennessee. A large workforce of workers receive liberal wages.

Mr. Exum was a former mayor of Johnson City (1898-1900), a position he held for several terms and proved to be an able officer for the city. He is a firm believer in the welfare of our city and always takes an active interest in city affairs.

Hardy Millinery Co.

237 E. Main Street (Kinkead's Flowers) and Spring Street. Of the many handsome stores which beautify Johnson City's principal streets, one of the most attractive is the elegant millinery emporium of Miss Addie K. Hardy and Miss Mary W. Hardy, Johnson City's fashionable milliners. They reside at 100 Pine Street. The impressive ladies have been conducting a most thriving business for the past two years and their fine taste and execution are well-known and implicitly relied upon by their many customers.

The business's parlors are always well-stocked with seasonable hats, chapeaux and bonnets of most attractive design and a large stock of ribbons, silks, flowers, veils and dainty accessories to the feminine toilet are always on hand. Their trade is drawn from the most select circles of Johnson City and the surrounding country. The two ladies extend a cheerful welcome to visit their shop. 

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