I received several written correspondences from Frank Santore, a former resident of Bristol, with strong memories of several WCYB-TV personalities of the 1960s.

Frank first mentioned the “Looney Tunes” broadcast that was aired at 4:30 pm on Channel 5. He wonders if any Press readers remember this show. “Ed Spiegel was the host of the program,” said Frank, “which had a rotating crew of sponsors that included Foremost Milk. He would have a bunch of kids on live and would interview them in a peanut gallery like studio in between Popeye cartoons.”

The former Bristol resident recalled his late father taking him to the old WCYB studios on Cumberland Street in Bristol on Nov. 9, 1965 to appear on the program on his 6th birthday. This event coincided with the memorable New York City blackout.

Frank remembered a joke he told on live television: “Knock, Knock. Who's there? Dwayne. Dwyane Who? Dwyane the bathtub, I'm dwouning.”

Santore continued: “I remember that this program ran for many years and one of the people who contributed to one of your articles, Don Sluder, took over from Ed Speigel.”

Frank said his six-year-old eyes couldn’t believe seeing Evelyn Booher, WCYB newswoman in person that day. After the show, his father took him to one of (Jack) Trayer's Restaurants in Bristol to eat.

Somehow, I just knew that Frank would mention the legendary Eddie Cowell and he did: “Eddie Cowell hosted Klub Kwiz on Monday nights at 7 pm on Channel 5.

“Ed Spiegel had Klassroom Kwiz on Wednesdays at the same time and Art Countiss emceed Kiddie Kollege on Fridays. Art was the only guy I know who grew more hair as he got older.”

Frank further mentioned Jack Mallon on Channel 5, and Don Bagwell, Don Garland and others on Channel 11. He also noted some television programs such as “Nick Carter's Furniture Time,” “The Kathryn Willis Show” and “Memo from Ilo.” 

Santore was delighted to read Dr. Herb Howard's feature story in the Press. He took some graduate courses in Communications under the former WJHL-TV news and weather announcer at UT and became well acquainted with him.

“I wonder if anyone could recount in detail the history of Walter Crockett?” Ed inquired. “As youngsters, we always used to run around doing our Walter Crockett impressions in a gravelly voice, importuning viewers to place their litter in waste baskets, and other ‘scintillating’ subjects.

“Mr. (Berlin) Benfield (“Pecos Ben”) had left Channel 11 in Johnson City by the time I was born. Merrill Moore knew my father and, I think, my grandfather, John Armstrong. He was an attorney here for many years and had a penchant for colorful dress such as fire engine red suits with bow ties. 

“John Thomas may have been WCYB’s first ever full-time sportscaster. He was on ETSU radio after Dick Ellis and for years was the play-by-play voice of the Tennessee High Vikings on WOPI. A salesman, Tom Gentry, worked for WCYB Radio for a year in the mid-60s.  He is now general manager of WMQX-FM in Charlotte and a family of associated AM stations in the Charlotte area.”

I can imagine that Frank has spurred some remembrances from area readers by mentioning the names of so many WCYB television personalities. I welcome your comments. Next week, I will extend this discussion by featuring comments from WCYB’s news anchor, Johnny Wood, who provided additional remembrances after reading Frank’s letter.  

Read more

Each April between about 1928 and 1949, an eagerly awaited event transpired in Johnson City; the J.J. Page Carnival had come to town. This popular mobile enterprise of exciting rides, exotic sideshows, tasty food and enticing games generated masses of people, as the show migrated to towns and communities throughout nine southern states.

In 1923, John Page married Minnie Miller, daughter of Johnson City alderman and building contractor, Albert S. Miller. Thus began this family’s affiliation with our city. When the future entrepreneur’s sideshow later became a reality, Mrs. Page convinced her husband to choose Johnson City as its five-month winter headquarters. The first quarters were located in warehouses on West Main Street until land and buildings were purchased at the corner of Watauga and Love Street adjacent to the railroad tracks. It remained here for its approximately 21-year run.

The carnival operated at two separate locations over the years. The first one was the entire block opposite Memorial Stadium where the Municipal Building is now located. The other site was a large field farther east on E. Main and southeast of the intersection with Broadway. Page owned all rides and shows but leased space to food venders to peddle their gastronomic delights at the heavily attended event. The carnival’s presence contributed significantly to the local economy with purchases of food, clothing, lumber, paint, hardware and sundry other supplies. Since there were essentially no amusement parks in those pre-1950 years, the carnival’s sojourn at “Johnson’s Depot” was a divertive occasion for one and all. 

I attended the Page Circus with my parents several times in its waning years of the late 1940s. I recall the powerful spotlight that circled the skies at night over the city, announcing the carnival’s presence in town. The powerful beam came from one of two large luminary devices located along the east end of the grounds.

As a youngster, I found the musical merry-go-round, or hobbyhorses as we called them, to be my ride of choice. At each stop, youngsters scurried on board for a chance to occupy an outside horse. Once the ride was in motion, the outside riders leaned out and attempted to snatch a ring that had been suspended there by the attendant. The winner was later awarded a prize. Only those riding outside steeds had the opportunity to win.

The carnival had a drab almost primitive look compared to today’s colorful fairs and theme parks. The dozen or so rides they operated were plain and simple. Everyone’s favorite was the Ferris wheel. Over time, sideshows became the main focal emphases for management because they attracted more patrons.

Former Press correspondent John Moss once recalled the Page Carnival in an article titled “Traveling Fantasyland.” He wrote: “No fewer than nine shows rounded out the midway. These included a large sideshow featuring about 10 acts, a minstrel show, a burlesque revue and an illusion show. A motor dome thrilled crowds as they watched daredevils ride motorcycles around a vertical wall. The athletic show, usually referred to simply as the ‘at show,’ featured wrestlers who challenged local men to stay in the ring with them for a specified length of time. The few who succeeded were awarded cash prizes. Another attraction titled “Congo” featured a wild man who frightened spectators as he presided over a pit of snakes and chickens.”

I recall attending one “freak show,” billed as a horrendous looking “bearded lady.” This “physical oddity” turned out to be a rather normal looking woman with slightly more than a hint of facial hair. For this, I wasted my entire weekly allowance of a dime. A 1948 photo from our family album shows three Page Carnival attractions: “Circus Sideshow,” “Electra” and “Punch and Judy Family.” The latter was a puppet program. The Page traveling show eventually grew in size to employ over 200 people, with about 40 of them returning in late fall to refurbish ride equipment during the winter break. During 1947, a tornado ripped through the city, damaging rides and slashing tent canvas. Since this malady occurred before the gates opened, there were no reported injuries.

The J.J. Page chronicle began in 1889 in rural southeast Virginia. After running away from home at age 12 and joining a traveling circus, John later switched to a carnival, which he believed offered a more diverse offering of attractions. The carnival came into existence around the turn of the century when performers became convinced that an agglomerate of simultaneous sideshow acts would be more profitable than one continuous show with entertainers waiting their turn. Page worked his way up through the ranks until 1925 when he and a partner formed the Page and Wilson Shows, traveling by rail across the Southeast.

After serving an apprenticeship for two years, the businessman formed his own show that he appropriately named the J.J. Page Shows and Exposition. The new aggregation traveled by truck and initially wintered in Augusta and Rome, Georgia. After J.J. Page died in 1945, his widow ran the carnival four more years, until she leased and eventually sold most of the rides to other carnivals and amusement parks. The carnival’s “first lady” died in 1975. The Pages fondness for Johnson City and its people is borne out in the fact that they chose Monte Vista Cemetery as their final resting place.

The giant barn and smaller buildings that once housed the carnival equipment during its winter retreat stood for several years as an aide-memoire of that cherished annual event of yesteryear.  

Read more

After 50 years, I finally read the 260-page 1957 bestseller “Bridge to the Sun” (The University of North Carolina Press) by Johnson City native Gwen Terasaki.

In 1961, MGM turned the writer’s memoirs into a movie starring “Baby Doll” actress Carroll Baker as Gwen Terasaki and “Flower Drum Song” actor James Shegeta depicting Hidenari “Terry” Terasaki. August 16 ushered in the world premier of the motion picture at the Majestic Theatre, bringing international attention to the city.

My cousin, the late Lanny Bowman, was chosen to be Baker’s escort during the gala festivities and viewing of the much-anticipated film. Also present were Mrs. Terasaki, Mayor May Ross McDowell and City Manager David Burkhalter. The mayor proclaimed August 16 to be “Gwen Terasaki Day.”

The book’s jacket notes offered this brief synopsis of the literary work: “‘Bridge to the Sun’ is a beautiful, tender and moving love story – the true report of an international and inter-racial marriage of a Japanese diplomat and an American girl from the mountains of Tennessee.”

Gwen Harold met ambassador Terasaki while she was vacationing in Washington DC in 1930. The two soon married against family objections. After the attach on Pearl Harbor, Gwen, Terry and daughter Mariko were sent to Japan in exchange for American diplomats stationed there. Terry’s long-standing antagonism to the war caused him to be placed under the watchful eye of the Japanese secret police. Gwen became torn between allegiance to her native country and affection for her new home.

In the book, Mrs. Terasaki quoted Kipling: “To Terry – Two things greater than all things are, The first is Love, and the second War. And since we know not how War may prove, Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!”

In spite of concerns related to language and loneliness plus her constant struggles to find food and other critical supplies, Gwen remarkably displayed no bitterness. At the conclusion of the war, Terry served as a liaison between Emperor Hirohito and General MacArthur and was instrumental in re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

A sampling of reader comments regarding the book shows a postwar public’s fascination with the subject: “Gwen Terasaki is a remarkable woman and her story allows us to experience life as she knew it during some of the most tumultuous times in the recent past.” “As literature, this book is not the best; as a historical first-hand document that recounts a personal, interesting, and very unique story, this is superb.” “Terasaki puts a human face on the Japanese war experience by emphasizing the heroic actions of her husband.” “The book is a rare chronicle of an outsider's experience in Japan during a time when outsiders were most unwelcome.”

The years took a heavy toll on Hidenari; he eventually suffered a series of debilitating strokes causing a significant lifestyle change. At Terry’s insistence, mother and daughter agonizingly left him behind and returned to the states to enroll Mariko in college. Mrs. Terasaki abruptly ends the book with some surprisingly stoic words: “A Western Union boy knocked at the door and handed me a cable gram. Terry was dead.” Gwen passed away in December 1990.

I hope my readers will visit the Johnson City Public Library and engage in this highly absorbing story of a courageous lady’s … “Bridge to the Sun.”  

Read more

Mack Houston, “Trail Boss” of The Tennessee Western Film Club, is proud of his group’s recent accomplishment – celebrating its 34thanniversary on Feb. 16, 2007.

Mack said the recent meeting was devoted to deceased members: Howard Ferguson, Carl Oliver, Chester Hand, Richard Arrowood, Ray Hall and Clyde Livingston. “Clyde and Carl were original members of the club. We are appreciative of the efforts of Joe Fair during his presidency. Joe furnished 16mm films for many years from his own collection or borrowed from collectors.”

The meeting featured a lively agenda: 7:00 – Marshal of Reno (Republic, 1944) with Wild Bill Elliott (Red Ryder) and Bobby Blake (Little Beaver), 7:45 – Intermission and snack break, 8:45 – The News Parade of the Year – 1942 and 9:00 – The Ivory-Handled Gun (Universal, 1935) with Buck Jones. The club developed a top ten list of its favorite B-western flicks of all time:

1. The Rider of Death Valley (Tom Mix, 1932), 2. Bells of San Angelo (Roy Rogers, 1947), 3. The Sundown Rider (Buck Jones, 1933), 4. Sante Fe Saddlemates (Sunset Carson, 1945), 5. The Marshall of Mesa City (George O’Brien, 1939), 6. Hop-A-Long Cassidy (William “Hoppy” Boyd, 1935), 7. Overland Mail Robbery (Bill Elliott, 1949), 8. End of the Trail (Tim McCoy, 1932), 9. The Strawberry Roan (Gene Autry, 1948) and 10. My Pal Trigger (Roy Rogers, 1946).

The club was formed in Mack’s Elizabethton home on Feb. 8, 1973. After initially meeting at the Senior Citizen Center and the Emergency Rescue Squad Building, it eventually moved to Mountain Home Theatre in Johnson City. In 1991, Mack invited the group to gather at his Piney Flats residence, where the organization remains to this day. The films have utilized three formats over the years – 16mm, VHS and DVD.

Since its inception, the club has supported B-western film festivals in Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, Atlanta, Knoxville, Asheville and Williamsburg. A large number of B-western stars were regular attendees including: Bob Steele, Charles Starrett, Ray Corrigan, Kirby Grant (Sky King), George O’Brien, Fred Scott, Ray Whitley, Lash LaRue, Sunset Carson, Bob Allen, Rex Allen, Smith Ballew, Don Barry, Rod Cameron, Harry Carey, Jr., Michael Chapin, Buster Crabbe, Eddie Dean, Jimmy Ellison, Dick Foran, Monte Hale, Russell Hayden, John Kimbrough, Robert Livingston, Jock Mahoney, George Montgomery, Max Terhune, Tex Ritter, Reb Russell, Jimmy Wakely and James Warren.

Other special guests were leading ladies, villains and stuntmen. Over time, television western stars began to be attracted to the annual events. Sadly, Monte Hale is the only B-western hero living today. (Update: Hale died on March 29, 2009).

Mack recalled attending four B-western films in Feb. 1936 at Johnson City’s Liberty Theatre: Gallant Defender (Charles Starrett), The Ivory-Handled Gun (Buck Jones), Bulldog Courage (Tim McCoy) and Western Courage (Ken Maynard). The group’s attendance dwindled from 150 members in 1972 to fewer than a dozen in 2007, one explanation being that some fans acquired their own collections.

Mack concluded by saying, “We are not sure how long the club will continue; our members are getting older. Most of our western heroes are long gone, but we still thrill at the sight of seeing them ride across the screen. We travel back to the days of childhood when we attended the local theatres and watched our heroes ride their horses and catch the bad guys. They were the “'good old days.'” 

Read more

I received a letter from Lynn Williams, former radio engineer at radio stations WETB and WBEJ, concerning my Berlin “Pecos Ben” Benfield article.

Lynn alleged: “I began my radio career at WBEJ in Elizabethton on April 23, 1948 as transmitter engineer-operator. Berlin came to the station about that same time. Unlike WETB where the studio and transmitter were together, WBEJ’s transmitter was a mile from the studio. My contact with Berlin was mostly via telephone when we would contact each other at station sign-on or sign-off. In addition to our duties, we engineers did a small amount of radio repairs for friends.”

Lynn recalls a humorous event that occurred after Berlin brought a defective console radio to the transmitter for Lynn to examine to see if it was worth fixing. Benfield flipped his microphone switch off and called Lynn at the transmitter to get a prognosis on the repair. The engineer turned the monitor speaker volume down low so the two of them could converse. What both individuals failed to realize was that Berlin’s microphone switch had stuck in the “on” position, allowing their personal chit chat to be broadcast all over Elizabethton and surrounding area.

Mr. Williams continued: “After Berlin went to WJHL-TV with his Pecos Ben show, I seldom saw or heard him except when I would be passing the television on my way to or from work.” Lynn remembers coming home one day and telling his family that he had run into Pecos Ben. His 4-year-old son, Condon, ran up to his dad and asked, “Did he have his horse?”

“Another memory of Berlin,” said Lynn, “is when Vice-President Nixon came to Carter County and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival. WBEJ and WETB each broadcast the event by delayed tape recording. I was elected to take both stations’ recording equipment to the mountaintop, along with a P.A. system belonging to the Elizabethton Star newspaper. '”Curley’ White (WBEJ) and I went on the mountain trip the evening before and spent the night sleeping on an air mattress in my 1953 station wagon.

“The next morning, newsmen Berney Burleson (WETB) and Mack Morriss (WBEJ) came up to do the announcing and recording. A large crowd assembled by mid-morning. I had the equipment connected and feeding the P.A. set with WBEJ’s signal when Nixon’s entourage came through Elizabethton headed for Roan Mountain. Bill Hale (WBEJ) had set up two broadcast points along the route as well as at the studio proper. As he was manning one of the remote broadcast points, (he spotted) none other than Berlin Benfield, who had been gone from the station for five or six years. Berlin’s familiar sonorous tones and sharp wit echoed forth far and wide from atop Roan Mountain, as he gave a very good description of the activity back in Elizabethton.

“Years later, my boyhood next-door neighbor, Bradie Vanhuss, moved to Atlanta and on one of his visits back to the old stomping ground, I learned that he knew and worked with Berlin Benfield. Bradie had been a carrier for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle in 1940. I accompanied him with both of us riding bicycles.”

 Lynn concluded his letter by saying that it was through Brady that he was able to re-connect with Ray Moore, with whom he and Merrill Moore worked at WETB. The former radio engineer blissfully described those bygone days as … “when the air was so pure and the water was so blue.”  


Read more

Between 1858 and 1920, stereoscopes and an assortment of views were commonplace in middle and upper class parlors across America.

Wannabe travelers could sit in the comfort of their favorite soft chairs and explore unfamiliar foreign and domestic lands in three dimensions, unlike those in two dimensional books and magazines. I fondly recall a late 1940s playtime activity from my early childhood that occurred during visits to my Grandmother Cox’s house. I often removed a shoebox full of photo cards from her living room closet and viewed them in 3D by means of a wooden device known as a stereoscope.

Sir Charles Whetstone developed the technology in 1833, but it was not until the arrival of photography that it became commercialized. Prior to 1850, the viewers were bulky with thick glass plates. In 1859, renowned physician, poet and humorist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Joseph Bates perfected a practical and inexpensive compact viewer that quickly became the standard for the industry.

Each card had what appeared to be two identical photographs positioned side-by-side horizontally. In reality, they were shot 2.5 inches apart (the approximate distance between the eyes) using a special camera with duel lenses and shutters. The stereoscope allowed the images to be combined into one picture, giving the illusion of 3D. It was quite impressive for its time and became exceedingly popular with the masses.

The unique gadget consisted of a folding handle, enclosed viewfinder and sliding cardholder. The instructions were straightforward: “1- Place a view card between the metal clips on the side. 2- Hold the stereoscope by the handle. 3- Look into the viewer with your free hand and slowly move the slide containing the view card backward or forward until the view comes into focus.”

 A 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. (“Cheapest Supply House on Earth, Chicago”) catalog listed an assortment of scopes, ranging in price from 24 cents for a cherry frame model with medium sized lenses to $1.87 for a polished rosewood one having pure white glass lenses and nickel-plated trimmings. The cost of a dozen views was 54 cents for colored, 36 cents for black and white, and 95 cents for higher quality images. Slide subjects ranged from travelogues to natural disasters to entertainment events.

One mixed box of slides might present the pyramids and tombs of Egypt; Yellowstone Park; hunting, fishing and camping life; building of the Panama Canal, the San Francisco Earthquake, the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair, the Spanish-American War and even some comedic or pun ones.

Johnson City became the subject of at least one stereoscopic view. The card photos show a west-to-east scene of a crowd of bystanders along the railroad track on Main Street. The picture was likely a promotional product since the city at that time boasted of a foundry and machine works, ice factory, two insulator pin factories, a steam flouring mill, a 125-ton capacity furnace and one cannery.

Over the years, many of the millions of stereoscopic views that were manufactured were destroyed, discarded or recycled at paper drives during both World Wars. Those remaining are frequently soiled and faded with age. Fortunately, many were preserved in pristine form.

The prized shoebox containing my grandmother’s viewer and 3D cards disappeared over a half-century ago without any family member recalling what happened to them.  

Read more

Today’s TV viewers remotely turn on their wide-screen surround-sound flat-screen high-definition color television sets to an endless array of local, cable and satellite channels, offering a multiplicity of programming for round-the-clock viewing.

A look-back to Tuesday, July 7, 1953 would find a vastly different scenario – viewers sitting in a darkened room in front of their small screen black-and-white TVs watching a diminutive choice of programs from WBTV, Channel 3, Charlotte, NC. 

Young’s Supply Company sponsored the following WBTV program guide in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle for that summer day: 8:30 Test Pattern, 8:45 Morning News, 9:00 Arthur Godfrey, 10:00 Guiding Light, 10:15 Feminine Touch, 10:30 Strike It Rich, 11:00 Bride & Groom, 11:15 Love of Life, 11:30 Search for Tomorrow, 11:45 Carolina Cookery, 12:30 Garry Moore, 1:00 Freedom Rings, 1:30 Art Linkletter, 2:00 Arthur Godfrey – Talent Scouts, 2:30 Welcome Travelers, 3:00 Betty Freezor, 3:30 Ladies Choice, 4:00 Documentary Theatre, 4:30 Howdy Doody, 5:00 Cartoon Carnival, 5:15 Story Painter, 5:30 Gene Autry, 6:00 Betty Furness, 6:30 Esso Reporter, 6:45 Weatherman, 6:50 Vespers, 7:00 Cavalcade of America, 7:30 I Am the Law, 8:00 Mr. & Mrs. North, 8:30 Arthur Smith, 9:00 Danger, 9:30 The Unexpected, 10:00 (To be announced), 10:15 News & Sports, 10:30 Big Town, 11:00 Robert Montgomery and 12:00 Sign Off.

Daily programming began with a 15-minute continuous “test pattern” that allowed tube watchers to adjust the picture quality on their receivers. Clyde “Cloudy” McLean followed with his weekday five-minute weather broadcast, giving the basics of the local Charlotte climate. Arthur Godfrey, a carryover from radio and known for his dry wit, laid-back mannerisms and folksy personality, had two shows Monday through Friday. An hour-long variety show, “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends,” was shown at 9:00 am followed by a 30-minute variety show, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” at 2:00 pm.

Couples actually exchanged wedding vows and received prizes on “Bride and Groom,” hosted by Bob Paige and Frank Parker.  Two long-running soap operas, “Love of Life, and Search for Tomorrow” followed that program. “Big Town,” a carryover from radio, depicted a crusading tough-as-nails newspaper editor and his never-ending battle against the perpetrators of crime. The Betty Freezor Show, featuring food recipes by the hostess, was the first TV program to be videotaped in color and shown just two hours after it was recorded, greatly reducing delays in broadcasting.

Warren Hull’s popular “Strike It Rich” program rewarded contestants for their over-the-air tales of personal woe and sacrifice. Sympathetic viewers could make contributions via the show’s philanthropic “heart line.” Art Linkletter’s “House Party” became an overnight success after the likeable host featured guests, games and interviews, including one segment devoted to small children. Art later compiled the youngsters’ witty unpredictable sayings in a best selling book, Kids Say The Darndest Things. Without question, my three favorite offerings from that era were Arthur Smith, Howdy Doody and Gene Autry.

WJHL-TV joined the airwaves in the fall of 1953, ushering in vast improvements in reception quality and introducing a new fangled gadget known as “rabbit ears.” TV was steadily making its climb up the ladder of progress. 

Read more

Cockfighting is a centuries old combative and often deadly blood sport between two specially bred roosters known as gamecocks, held inside an arena referred to as a cockpit.

The event once flourished openly across the nation, usually being played out on a Saturday night. This contentious activity is now illegal in Tennessee and 47 other states; the interdict also extends to those attending such events. Proponents view it as a long-established pleasurable sporting event; opponents see it as an atrocious form of animal cruelty.

While I certainly do not advocate or attempt to glamorize this long-banned vindictive activity, I do find the local history behind it interesting. The animals’ claws were frequently replaced with razor sharp steel blades. Some birds received drug injections to increase their aggressiveness and stamina during the fast paced grueling matches. Spectators often made wagers on their favorite fowls and cheered them toward victory, hoping for a monetary reward.

Bob Taylor, a former Johnson City native and one of the best-known governors in Tennessee history, and a local city businessman, P.H. Wofford, once became involved with the now prohibited sport. Wofford published an 8-page advertising brochure with a Johnson City address that featured game fowl for sale. Information inside it dates the publication to about 1899. The ad gave a short description of four popular strains being sold – Round Head, Red Quills, Dr. Morrow and Wofford’s Private Strain. Prices included cocks $5.00, stags $3.00, hens $2.00, pullets $1.25, one cock and two hens $7.00, one stag and two pullets $5.00 and 15 eggs for hatching $2.00. 

The turn-of-the-century advertiser stressed the fact that pure bloodlines were critical in breeding superior fighting specimens, referring to them as “feathered gladiators.” The eye-catching item in the pamphlet was Dr. Morrow, a gamecock that had been presented to Governor Bob Taylor by a Tennessee state representative from Middle Tennessee. The celebrated fowl was said to be of perfect symmetry and beauty, having been a three-time winner and was what game fanciers called “a model broad cock.”

In 1897, Governor Taylor’s official business summoned him to Nashville. He brought Dr. Morrow and three of his favorite hens with him and loaned them to Wofford. The breeder kept them for two years, during which time he raised some high quality fowls. The brochure gave no indication that either Governor Taylor or Mr. Wofford actually participated in the ring matches.

Dr. Morrow’s offspring – aggressive, fast and vicious fighters – became highly sought-after. They were described as being representative of “southern blood.” The demand for the birds quickly exceeded the supply, as orders were received from customers all across the country, Canada and Mexico. The small booklet contained 10 testimonials from the many thousands of happy customer responses received by the breeder. Over time, old age caught up with the now celebrated “doctor,” eventually depriving him of what he did best. The elderly bird was summarily chloroformed, mounted and placed in Bob Taylor’s personal library. 

The final entry in the small booklet was an ad for curing Roup, a dreadful respiratory disease that especially targeted game fowl. The remedy, Rupe Cure, sold postpaid for 60 cents a   bottle or $1.50 per dozen. 

Read more

“Winky Dink and you, Winky Dink and me, Always have a lot of fun together. Winky Dink and you, Winky Dink and me, We are pals in fair or stormy weather.” Saturday mornings at 10:00 were reserved for a unique interactive children’s television program, Winky Dink and You.

The popular series made its debut on CBS on October 10, 1953. Jack Berry hosted it for those youngsters whose families were fortunate enough to own a television set or had access to one. Unlike previous television shows that we simply watched on the small screen, this one required us to be an active participant. We were told that our assistance was desperately needed.

The youthful Winky was an unusual looking lad with hair in the shape of a five-pointed star, one point hanging over his right eye. He possessed oversized eyes with equally large pupils. Mr. Dink wore a star around his neck that matched his hair. His playsuit appeared to be multicolored, but we couldn’t be sure since we did not have color televisions. If we had listened closely to Winky’s voice, we would have heard Popeye’s Olive Oyl and Betty Boop from the versatile Mae Questel.

The whole premise of the show was for youngsters to help Winky and his little dog, Woofer, out of frequent precarious situations, usually involving the evil characters, Harem Scarem or Foxey Maxey. To participate on the show, we had to mail the company fifty-cents for a Winky Dink Magic Kit, containing a green plastic “magic” shield to cover the TV screen, four “magic” crayons (red, yellow, blue and green) and a “magic” cotton cleanup towel. Everything was “magic.”

At the beginning of each program, Jack Berry instructed us to carefully place the shield over the television screen and rub it firmly with the towel. It was “magically” held on the TV by static electricity. The host further warned his youthful fans to make sure the shield covered the entire screen before marking on it and to use only the specially designed crayons supplied in the kit. A typical story line involved a heinous villain dynamiting a section of train track. The train, on which Winky was riding, was chugging along toward certain disaster. We were told to quickly repair the track damage using a designated colored crayon to connect a series of consecutive small numbers. Miraculously, we accomplished our important task only seconds before the train arrived.

Some mischievous kids purposely did nothing to help Winky only to find that nothing bad happened, adding doubt to the value of marking on the protective shield.

Each show contained an important secret message that was revealed by connecting the numbers in some alphabetic letters. A typical one was “Eat your vegetables.” Old Wink was ahead of his time; the shield had a small logo of the lad embedded at the bottom center, characteristic of today’s television networks.

The show left the air on April 27, 1957, after a successful three and a half year run. It ran in syndication from 1969 to 1973 and was revived again in the 1990s as digitized cartoons. By this time, poor old Wink had lost his “magic.” The shield and crayons were summarily retired and the once unique popular show went into the television history books.  

Read more

In 1884, there could be no mistake as to the identity of the business on the second floor at the southwest corner of Main and Spring streets.

“Jobe’s Opera House” appeared in large letters across the upper north side of the edifice, denoting Johnson City’s first public entertainment venue. Ike T. Jobe built and managed the upstairs establishment; M.E. Gump was assistant manager, being the owner of Gump Clothing Store located below it.

The successful enterprise was proclaimed by a travel agent of McElreth’s Dramatic Troop to be the “largest and best hall between Lynchburg, Virginia and Knoxville, Tennessee.” A flyer from 1888 proclaimed: “full sets scenery,” “first-class show town,” “play companies only on shares,” with an added suggestion for patrons to “Stop at Piedmont House.”

The enterprise offered cultural refinement from a variety of choices – operas, plays, lectures, humorists and music productions. Entrance to the theatre was gained by climbing doublewide stairs through two doors into the massive 900-seat auditorium. The lecture hall’s use included sporting activities and even once served as a courtroom for chancery court sessions. In its formative years, the facility was used by such notables as Johnson City’s Bob Taylor, delivering lectures as part of his highly popular “The Fiddle & the Bow” series.

According to the late Dorothy Hamill, the opera house occasionally opened its doors for high school graduations. Graduating seniors, dressed in long white frocks or black suits, marched from the Hill on Roan Street to the auditorium where they received their long awaited diplomas.

Over time, numerous first-rate productions graced the opera stage, as often reported by The Comet: “Jesse James,” 1885, a production denoting the life of the infamous outlaw, “complete in every detail.”

“Olde Folkes Concerte,” 1906,” by Mrs. L.W. McCown, with humorous dialog – “ye young men and maidens will be suffered to sit together in ye congregations, but worldie young men and women are desired not to hold conversations to ye distraction of others while ye tunes are being sung. … All ye congregation who have goode lungs may stand and singe ye last songs.”

Bertram & Willard’s Realistic American Comedy Drama, “The Midnight Fire,” 1900, an ironic title for a fundraiser aimed at helping the Johnson City Fire Department acquire new uniforms. …

Mary Prescott in “Ingomar” (1887), Louise Balfe in “Dogmar” and The Meyer Thorne Company’s presentations of “A Woman’s Divotions,” “Stricken Blind” and “Rip Van Winkle,” …

The Haworth’s Specialty Comedy Company; Bristol Colored Jubilee Company; Ralph Bingham, boy orator, humorist, and violinist; and Professor A.H. Merrill of Vanderbilt University.

The latter’s appearance was sponsored by the Longfellow Literary Circle and S.B. McElreth, a Johnson City comedian. This society was organized at the residence of Sallie Faw. Cargilles frequently sponsored such events, declaring to be “the cheapest store in existence” and claiming to “outsell every other concern in the trade.” Around the turn of the century, the opera management pioneered some brief action packed silent motion pictures using a new invention – a hand-operated projectoscope.

The new medium of motion pictures was looming on the horizon and, by about 1907, would bring to an abrupt halt the once impressive Jobe’s Opera House. 

Read more