August 2016

In the summer of 1952, an expert hillbilly fiddler from the mountains of Tennessee became a member of the “world's most exclusive club.”

The fiddler was black-haired 44-year-old Albert Gore, Sr. who the previous week won a seat in the sedate U.S. Senate by ousting one of its oldest and most powerful members, Senator Kenneth D. McKellar. 83, chairman of the appropriations committee and speaker pro-tem.

Al Gore, Sr.

Back in 1938, men of politics were reinforcing old fashion oratory in that year's scramble for votes with fresh appeal in “music, message and machinery.” The music (hillbilly bands), the message (old age pensions) and the machinery (motorized loudspeakers) became streamlined versions of salesmanship.

Mountain music was swinging out over the land to charm votes for both Democrats and Republicans, but the marshall airs of military bands still played a campaign counterpoint to those of hotfoot rhythms.

Most spectacular of the hillbilly orators was W. Lee O’Daniel, the singing flour salesman who topped the gubernatorial nomination of the Democrats. His hi-diddle-diddle outfit offered a theme song for the whole mountain music movement. They came to town with their guitars and soon were performing big time. The hillbillies were politicians now, or as the popular song from that era says, “Them Hillbillies Are Mountain Williams now”). They shucked their boots and overalls and even dropped their “howdy you alls.”

For 20-year-old Albert Gore, fiddling and campaigning ran hand-in-hand as he won the nomination for Congress in Tennessee’s fourth district. Gore, former state labor commissioner, had quite a reputation in the state as a fiddler.

The politician began his fiddling interest as a young boy in the Cumberland Mountains of Smith County, TN. His father gave him the instrument, but his mountaineer friends taught him how to play it as a fiddle, as opposed to a violin. The music he learned was that of mountain backwoods folk tunes like “Cotton-Eye Joe” and “Soldier's Boy,” rather than the modern hillbilly tunes associated with western cowboy crooners like Gene Autry, Tex Ridder and Jimmy Wakely.

The fiddle became an important part of Gore's campaign when he first ran for congress in 1938. He served seven terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the senate.) At one rally, the crowd liked a couple of tunes he played so much that they kept demanding encores and delaying the candidate’s speech. Gore finally informed them that if they would vote for him, he would just play his fiddle and cut out all the talking.

Gore once appeared with his fiddle on the “Grand Ole Opry,” which originates in Nashville. He received a standing invitation to return whenever he wished. Two years prior, his fiddling won second prize when he attended a charity benefit with other talented congressmen.

Gore dropped his fiddling dignity when he ran against McKellar. He likely did not have had time to practice because his campaign against McKellar, who had been in congress since 1911, lasted three full years.

Gore commuted between Washington and Tennessee during the three-year period, making more than 1,000 talks, shaking hands and consistently appearing on weekly television and radio programs.

Tennessee State Highway Marker Honoring Senator Al Gore, Sr.

The congressman, who argued that his 14 years in Congress should earn him a promotion, dwelled on McKellar's age and labeled him “the aging senator” and “the architect of our public debt” as chairman of the appropriations committee. Gore worked hard to get promotions, with his first job being a country schoolteacher. By the time he was 26, he served as a school superintendent.

Eventually, Gore decided to become a lawyer and commuted three nights a week from his mountain home to Nashville to attend YMCA law school. In Nashville, he fell in love with and married a waitress, Lafon Pauline Jackson, at the Andrew Jackson Hotel coffee shop. She was attending Vanderbilt University and also became a lawyer.

Is it possible that Gore's career path happened because he took a cue from the fiddlin' Bob and Alf Taylor brothers  of “War of the Roses” fame.

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The evening of May 9, 1947 was an eventful and much-anticipated occurrence for Science Hill High School's ROTC program that was comprised of several young men and eight young ladies who served as sponsors. The required “military appearance,” as specified in the military manual did not just spontaneously occur. It was carefully orchestrated by some rather stiff drill work by the school's training staff.

The military instructors were Lieut. Col. Walter L. Sherfey (Infantry, Professor of Military Science & Tactics); 1st Sgt. Paul H. Hicks (Infantry, Military Instructor), Sgt. William C. Salter (Signal Corps, Military Instructor).

Student officers and (corresponding sponsors) were Cadet Major Gene Arnold (Jo Anderson), Cadet Captain Max Morritt (Jean Chalker), Cadet Captain Hal Youngblood (Amy Winston), Cadet Captain George Johnston (Martha Gene Speed), Cadet 1st Lieut. Frank Larkin (Annette Marshall), Cadet 1st Lieut. Louis Copp (Jane Dance), Cadet 1st. Lieut. John Ryan (Joan Carter), and Cadet 1st Lieut. Jack Sausman (Nancy Jane Kiser).

Those cadets without sponsors included Cadet 1st Lieut. Tommy Vance, Cadet 1st  Lieut. Jack Fulks, Cadet 2nd Lieut. Lee Wallace, Cadet 2nd Lieut. Charles Swain, Sgt. J. Max Scott (National Color Sgt.), Sgt. Bill Rushing (Battalion Color Guard Sgt.), Cpl. Elmer Baine (Color Guard) and Cpl. Freddie Barnes (Color Guard).   

The sponsors that year were anxiously anticipating new uniforms, which was graciously presented to them that same year by the Johnson City Optimist Club.

Identification of those in the collage photo can be determined by moving counter-clockwise from the top left photo. The names of the individuals in each photo are shown left to right.

Photos of Sponsors from the 1947 ROTC Program

Photo 1: Martha Gene Speed, Amy Winston, Jean Chalker and Jo Anderson. They were allegedly discussing the prospects for new uniforms.

Photo 2: Amy Winston and Annette Marshall as they soothe their aching feet after a period of heavy drilling.

Photo 3: The left squad (front to back) shows Jane Dance, Nancy Jane Kiser, Martha Gene Speed and Amy Winston. The right squad discloses Jean Carter, Jean Chalker, Jo Anderson and Annette Marshall.

Photo 4: Nancy Jane Kiser, Jane Dance, Jean Carter and Annette Marshall.

Photo 5: Lt. Col. Walter L. Sherfey (on the right facing the sponsors). As Professor of Military Science and Tactics (PMS&T), he is putting the group through a rigorous inspection.

The photos were supplied by the late Johnson City Press-Chronicle photographer, Jimmy Ellis.


The ROTC Ball Program that May 9, 1947 evening was as follows:

“National Anthem by Drum and Bugle Corps.

“Presentation of the Battalion to the P.M.S.&T. (Entire unit with Cadet Major Arnold in charge).

“Sponsors Drill (Cadet Major Arnold in charge).

“Company A Drill Squad (Cadet 1st Sgt. Fred Booher in charge).

“Company B Drill Squad (Cadet S/Sgt. Bob Fields in charge).

“Company C Drill Squad (Cadet S/Sgt. Gene Gross in charge).

“Awarding of Metals (Lt. Colonel Walter L. Sherfey in charge).

“Exhibition by Drum and Bugle Corps (Cadet 1st Lieut. Jack Fulks in charge.)


“The Grand March (music furnished by The Blue Notes(.

“Dancing until midnight.”

  I hope my readers will recognize someone from their past and share their memories with me.

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The Nov. 4, 1918 Johnson City Staff offered enlightening news about the First World War (July 28, 1914 – Nov. 11, 1918). Here is a slightly paraphrase of the commentary:

face and hands tanned to the shade of his brown khaki, hat string hanging behind his head and an insolent kind of jaunt as he lumbers his way through crowded streets.

We observe something in this fellow that makes us want to take off our hat to him. In the first place, he has passed a strict examination by Uncle Sam. This is something in his favor for our Uncle is no easy man to please in these troubled days.

The rejects are numerous because a man must be a good specimen and be sound in limb, heart, hearing, eyesight and general makeup. Government acceptance of a man is a good certificate of character. He is a well set-up sort of chap and seems to have no trouble looking the world directly in the face.

The soldier has had training, which is displayed in his rhythmic swing as he walks. He can stand up straight and when he stops, he is able to stand as still as a rock, with no lounging, no fumbling with hands, and no fidgeting from one foot to another. He displays self-confidence.

The soldier has himself under control. He stands for his country, for you and me and he knows discipline. He stands ready at quick notice to come, to stay, to go to the end of the earth, when his country calls.

If its to guard a bridge, he's there and digging trenches is all the same to him. If there becomes a need to man the trenches or go on the firing line, he's always ready. He goes where and when he is needed without hesitation. Because he is a disciplined soldier, danger means nothing to him; it's all in a day's work.

The soldier is the world's true optimist; some of the others might not make it back home, but he'll be sure to come back. Perhaps the soldier has a mother, wife or sweetheart. What matters is that he's a soldier with a job to do and he does it.

Staggering as are the totals of killed and wounded on the battlefields of Europe, the fact remains that the hazard of the soldier in France was mathematically far below that faced by a participant in the previous Civil War.

In one month of bombing and trench warfare, France and Great Britain lost 114,000 men killed and wounded, according to authentic reports which was said to make the world throw up its hands in horror.

But when it is remembered that a total of 2 million soldiers were engaged and subject to the same dangers to which their 114,000 comrades fell victim, the percentage of casualties is brought down to less than 6 percent.

However, during the Civil War, after 12 hours of fighting at Antietam, 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded, being 20 percent of the forces engaged. And taking the war as a whole, the degree of hazard of the Civil War soldier was almost four times as great as was that of the soldier in France.

Military experts tell us that if the armies engaged in the greatest of all wars had continued to follow the open warfare methods that marked the early days of the war and characterized the methods employed in the Civil War, the opposing armies long ago would have been annihilated.

It should be remembered that the original army that was sent to France by England at the beginning of the war was practically destroyed during the first six months. That was because they pursued open warfare tactics. But the successors of those unfortunate fellows soon learned to dig themselves in, with the result that the percentage of casualties was greatly decreased.

In summary, the soldier in France stood a far better chance of coming out alive and whole of body than did the soldier of the Civil War. 

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In March 1917, Ms. Geneva Conway, Specialist in Home Economics at the University of Tennessee, penned an article for a Johnson City newspaper titled, “Mrs. Housewife, Have You Tried These?”

“Discarded Safety Razor Blades: They are good for cutting threads when quilting, as they are light, sharp and most people have them.

“A Good Duster: Take equal parts of coal oil and water. Wet and wring out the cloth and hang it up until nearly dry, and use as a dust cloth.

“When Making Fires: Place several corn cobs in a tomato can which contains coal oil and let it bake overnight. The corn cobs added to the wood and paper will insure a quick fire.

“When Washing Flannels: Do not let them lie very long in water and do not rub soap on them. Make suds in the water, wash quickly, press gently, but do not wring out. Shake and place them where they will not stretch and will dry quickly.

“Saving Time on Seams: In making garments, if the raw seam is unsightly, try sewing it up in the smallest hemmer. This makes a very neat finish and is much more quickly done than French felling and saves time in stitching.

“When Laying a Rag Carpet: Tack one edge down to the floor. Get a narrow piece of plank three or four inches wide and seven or eight feet long; drive three or four nails through one end. Catch the nail points near the edge of the carpet and push it to the right place, and tack. This will help in stretching.

“When Laying a Carpet: Use thick layers of newspaper under the carpet for a padding. Papers make a smooth, even surface and will not hurt the carpet as does the rough floor. Also, dust catches on top of them. When the carpet is taken up, if you carry out the papers carefully little, if any dust will remain on the floor. Moths will not cut carpets over newspapers, because they dislike printers' ink.”

In addition to the remarks from Ms. Conway to the ladies came these comments in the same publication directed to farmers:

 “Advise for Feeding Livestock: No matter how well-bred an animal is, he will never make a high-class critter unless he is well-fed from the beginning. A plain-bred animal well nourished, oftentimes develops into something good.

Four Advertisements from March 1917, Same Timeframe as the Article

“However, many young animals are ruined because their owners are more interested in saving feed than developing them.

“All of our lands need manure, more or less, and no farmer can obtain more manure than' he can use.

“Livestock pays dividends. This can be seen on the farms of a nearby state by the following figures secured from 81 farms in one community. They were not selected farms, but instead taken as they lay along the road.

“These farms were divided into three groups according to the number of livestock grazing on it: 1. One-third of the farms were found to have over 20 head of cattle, 2. One-third had between 12 and 20 head each; and 3. One-third had less than 12 head.

“The heavier stocked farms returned a profit for the year of $774 more than those with the small amount of livestock.

“Another community selected at random showed nearly the same  proportion. Live stock furnishes a way to increase the volume of farm business without increasing the farm area. Through livestock, much of the poorer grades of feed may be utilized to better advantage than by selling it.

In fact, much roughage that is ordinarily wasted can be made to give good returns. The manure obtained is essential in maintaining soil fertility.”

The newspaper's parting words were, “The above figures offer farmers some food for thought. If you are thinking of purchasing additional land, consider putting your money into more live stock for the land you already own.”

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In earlier times, some newspapers gave numerous news briefs of small communities from around the East Tennessee area, such as Watauga, Austin's Springs, Flourville, Unaka Springs, Brush Creek, Hampton, Spurgin and numerous others.

According to History of Washington County, Tennessee (Joyce and W. Eugene Cox, The Overmountain Press, 2001), John R. Spurgin was appointed postmaster of the little community of Spurgin on July 24, 1889. The next and last individual to occupy the office was Frederick W. DeVault, who took over it on February 4, 1893. The post office was discontinued and its papers moved to Jonesborough on November 30, 1900. 

A March 7, 1895 newspaper blurb titled “Spurgin”  offered delightful as well as depressing news about the little community:

“Rev. Moore preached at Fordtown last Sunday. Millis Johnson, a local resident about 13 years of age, died Saturday, February 23, and was buried at Buffalo Ridge Cemetery (located on a hill along Hales Chapel Road) on Monday. A brother and sister of this boy are sick and their recovery is rather doubtful.

“William Dillow, a highly respected citizen, died last Friday evening and was buried at Fordtown on Sunday. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Alex Dillow, is also ailing and her death is expected at almost any time.

“Miss Inez Martin, who is attending school at Jonesboro, came home last Friday evening on a visit and to take part in the Demorest Oratorical Contest (research this item) at Hale's Chapel Church. She returned to school Monday. Miss Ina Yoakley and Miss Chase were guests of Miss Ollie DeVault on Monday.

“Despite inclement weather, the contest, which took place at the church last Friday evening, was a complete success. There were eight contestants: Misses Hassie Grisham, Laura Hale, Inez Martin, Oilie DeVault, and Messrs. Charley Gray, E. Crouch, Willie Grisham and Gentry Hodges.

“There was a good sized audience present, and the speakers acquitted themselves with honor. The committee, consisting of Messrs Steele, Murry and Maden, decided that the popular assistant postmaster of Spurgin, Miss Ollie C. DeVault, was entitled to the prize, which consisted of a handsome silver medal, which, after a few well-selected words, was presented to Miss DeVault by S.R. Keebler.

“Monday night, at the residence of M.V. Adams, Joseph W. Dove, Esq. was married to Mrs. Sarah Adams with S.H. Gray, Esq., officiating.

“The wedding came off at a rather late hour, owing to the fact that William Hodges, who went to town after the license, came back on a different road than Squire Dove was expecting. He stood beside the road in the cold for about two hours before Mr. Hodges removed him from his watch and brought him inside to the fireplace to thaw out.

“After this, all went well, and it is to be hoped the joy deferred will be only the better appreciated. That a life of happiness and prosperity may be their lot is the wish of everyone on March 5, 1895.”

This report was prepared by someone using the name,  “Tattler,” which appeared in other similar stories. Another reference to Mr. Spurgin during that same time frame stated:

“John R. Spurgin, our bachelor, still talks optimistically of finding someone to love and care for him when he gets old. It is hoped that Mr. Spurgin will yet leave a memorial of his philanthropy in erecting an observatory on his great hill. That way pleasure seekers may whittle away a few leisure hours watching the mogul engines on the 3-C's railroad (which unfortunately went bankrupt) wind the tortuous track for four miles, drawing trains of trade and travel from and to the great coal fields of Johnson City.

Tattler's concluding words were “Here at Spurgin's Rest, we may behold the majestic eddies of the Holston River and look for the steamboats, which may never come further than the ancient 'burg' of Kingsport.” 

An Old Advertisement from March 1895, Same Date as the Article

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