Month: June 2015

R.I.P. Fort Nashboro

It is with a tear that Nashville bids farewell to Fort Nashborough today.  The Fort, which may or may not have any historical significance whatsoever, was scheduled to be torn down and then re-built as a part of the $100 million Flood Wall project proposed by the Mayor.

The project lost backing by Metro Council, but the demolition of Fort Nashborough was never cancelled.

Now, I’m not here to argue the fort’s place in history, but to eulogize a place that was special to me as a child through adulthood. I recall field trips to Fort Nashborough, and although I have no memory of what they told us, I just remember being enchanted by the place.  I would fantasize about living there and having a riverfront view.

Even last week I walked the Germantown Greenway onto Gay Street and stopped at Fort Nashborough to keep my childhood dream alive of one day prancing around in a robe with a bowl of popcorn, standing in the center of the fort laughing at the outside world.

Please share your memories in the comments below. I have the feeling that this one is gone forever…

Picture stolen from some guy who stole it from his friend on the East Nashville Facebook page

Picture stolen from some guy who stole it from his friend on the East Nashville Facebook page

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Who Invented the Radio?

Gugleimo Marconi is credited with inventing the radio, but my grandmother says otherwise.  Grandma’s seen better days but can still tell you history of her family, the Stubblefields, and that her great-great something ‘er other’s patents lead to what we now call “radio.” And people all over Murray will tell you the same that the town is the “Birthplace of Radio.”

His name was Nathan Beverly Stubblefield, and according to Grandma, he was known around town as an “eccentric” tinkerer who liked the hooch. A LOT. He was also a paranoid crazy who liked to set booby traps and alarms all over his farm so he could hear anyone “sneaking up on him.”

The fascinating and well-researched published story by Bob Lochte is that our family came to Murray, KY to claim a land grant that was given after the Revolutionary War (although the story that I have heard is they came over as indentured servants). Nathan was born in 1860 to a wealthy attorney. He becomes a melon farmer but is also well known around town for his patents.

He created telephone system which enjoyed moderate success until Bell Telephone put him out of business.  The published story is that he lost too many customers to Bell, although the story I have heard is that Bell Telephone stopped him.

In 1892 he created a wireless telephone that sent signals through the ground, and two years later Marconi does a similar, but wholly more successful invention of sending signals through space. Nathan’s “wireless telephone” would have never seen enough power to broadcast great distances.

Nathan wasn’t trying to create a radio, but instead exactly what he did invent – the wireless telephone.  It confuses me still why people still argue that he created the radio when a) he didn’t and b) he wasn’t working on.

Nathan gained national attention for his wireless telephone, but when he was called upon to demonstrate it in New York City, the connection failed.  He returned home to Murray ashamed, and became a recluse for the remainder of his life. He was found starved to death in 1892. Of course, the story I’ve heard is that he drunkenly blabbed about his inventions he was working on, they were stolen and he drank himself to death – which I guess is an even more sad starvation than lack of food.

From Wikipedia:

Stubblefield’s inventions did not lead directly to radio as the technology works today, but the public demonstrations in 1902 and the press coverage in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, the Louisville Courier-Journal, Scientific American, and elsewhere helped to spur public interest in the possibilities of wireless transmission of voice and music. Most other inventors of the era sought to provide point-to-point messaging, to compete with telephone and telegraph companies.

Stubblefield in the 1902 was in a sense the “Father of Broadcasting”, in that he said to the St. Louis Post Dispatch reporter in 1902, “..it is capable of sending simultaneous messages from a central distributing station over a very wide territory. For instance, anyone having a receiving instrument, which would consist merely of a telephone receiver and a signalling gong, could, upon being signalled by a transmitting station in Washington, or nearer, if advisable, be informed of weather news. My apparatus is capable of sending out a gong signal, as well as voice messages. Eventually, it will be used for the general transmission of news of every description”.

The Parlow’s of Alamo, TN

This photo is the only evidence of this mystery clock that I can find anywhere.  Has anyone heard of this clock before?

Partlow clockWhile trying to find out more about the clock and the Parlows I came across this obituary for N.W.’s son Oscar. I had someone special pass away just days ago and the deceased’s step daughter-in-law and I discussed how the obituary, while lovely and concise, was missing a certain poetry.

This obituary embodies exactly this lost art; the refined elegance of a legacy in words that tells a (his)story all it’s own. How noble this young man sounds:

IN MEMORY OF OSCAR PARLOW: That death selects a shining mark, was verified last Sunday afternoon, June 23rd, 1912, when the Angel of Death entered the home of N. W. Parlow and called his son, Oscar, to his reward in heaven. He was the youngest child of Mr. and Mrs. Parlow, and was just budding into manhood when the summons came. Oscar possessed many virtues of the highest type, and was truly a man of courage, meeting every obligation of life bravely, and when the death summons came, he said, “I am asleep.” He was a loving, tender and devoted son, brother and friend. O, how hard to give up one so young and precious as was Oscar to us all. We see his grief-stricken parents traveling along this rugged path of life without the trong arms of affection of Oscar. He was always cheerful, had a kind word for everyone, especially father and mother. During his month of illness, not one word of complaint was he heard to murmur. How we miss the smiling face. There is a vacant chair that no one can ever fill and broken hearts that only God can mend. We no longer can hear his voice on earth. He was always ready to speak, a comforting word to the lonely ones. We would say, weep not as those who have no hopes, but live to honor God’s word that you may be worthily accounted of the crown that Oscar is wearing now. Only time can make us understand that he is now enjoying his rich reward for a life of service for the Master. A peaceful life with work well done is his. May the Lord bless the bereaved ones and save us all in heaven.

The Blue Fugates

If you’re a Southerner, I am sure that you have at least been made fun of once in your life for being inbred.  If you’re from one of the other directions, then I’d be willing to bet that it has been you who have made this ‘hilarious’ joke a time or two.

While most of us are not barefoot and pregnant with our uncle cousin’s baby, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  My mother, a proud Kentuckian and scientist, would always joke that inbreeding isn’t a problem; unless you’ve got bad genes…

One fascinating case of genetics are the Blue Fugates of eastern Kentucky.  Benji Stacy, pictured below, was born in 1975 “blue as Lake Louise.”  The doctors were in a panic and Benji was rushed to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for a transfusion, when his relatives remembered that his great-grandmother Luna had the same blue skin.

Blue-Fugates-Kentucky-Family

Martin Fugate settled with his family in the 1820’s on the remote banks of Troublesome Creek, near Hazard, KY. At the time, there were very few families established there and intermarriage was common. Fugate’s wife, Elizabeth, was the carrier of the recessive methemoglobinemia gene. The Fugates intermarried with Fugate cousins with the last names of Combs, Smith, Richie and Stacy; producing more and more blue children carrying the gene.

As the world developed and people began to “marry” people other than their cousins, there were less and less blue Fugate descendants.  Benji was the last known blue person born in 1975.

Prehistoric Tennessee

I know I talk a lot of bullshit on this page, but here’s something that is absolutely true: During the Paleozoic period, Tennessee was covered by a warm shallow sea.  The sea was home to my favorite pre-dinosaur – the trilobite, along with corals and more sea creatures that today is mind blowing to think about living in the Volunteer State.

You may have collected Indian Money as a kid (I still do). To me, they are even more special to find than a shark’s tooth while combing the mud or the sand because Indian money is actually a 245-750 million year old fossil of a crinoid.

indian money

Crinoids are echnoderms (think sea urchins, star fish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, etc.). Also known as sea lilies, they look a bit more like plants than animals.  The Paleozoic crinoids that lived in Tennessee thrived in shallow waters and tide pools. Although you will not find crinoids living in the murky, warm waters of Old Hickory lake, they are not extinct. Crinoids of today live in deep sea but rarely wash ashore.

The next time you’re out by the Harpeth River dig your toes into the mud and see what comes up. You just might find a piece of history.

Wizard Tree

In a time not so long ago, in a land not so far away lived two teenaged adventurers.  One; yours truly, and the other – my partner in crime.  After an afternoon of skateboarding at the old Donelson Hospital, we decided to drive down Old Hickory Boulevard, past the Hermitage and arrive in the then incorporated town of Lakewood, known mostly for it’s speed trap by Nashvillians.

But we had heard another story.  One of mystery and intrigue.  About halfway down Debow Street stood the large, carved tree, locally referred to as the Wizard Tree.  Under the cover of darkness, those brave enough to face it arrived to soak in it’s power.  The legend was that a man accidentally drove head first into the tree, and upon impact, had a vision of God speaking to him.

Now, you know that the holy ghost just loves to appear to people as chips, bananas and as cinnamon buns, but the wizard tree was something else all together.  The man who saw the vision deemed it his responsibility to carve the tree up, to bear witness to the face he saw.

A funnier story is that the man on the tree manifested himself after losing a pie eating contest with the devil and would play telephone with people who came to visit him from hell.

The tree was known around town to have powers, and the man on the tree looked much like a wizard, dubbing it the appropriate “wizard tree.”  Now friends, those were the days before cell phone cameras when we used our minds for memories so I do not have, nor do I know anyone that has a picture of this tree (if you do please add it to the comments!).  But I can tell you one thing: it did exist.

There’s a nice marina bar now over in the neighborhood and I drive by Debow sometimes just to see what’s happening.  The tree is no longer there and the street feels different.  My adult mind also wonders how a man could have possibly crashed into the tree on such a narrow, small road.

But those thoughts are no fun.  I think I’ll just sit on Old Hickory Lake and remember things the way they were.