Author: Angela

I love storytelling, offbeat history and locations, travel and food. Obsessive researcher. Message me if you have a great story to share.

Because Somebody Blundered

In 1918, what is still considered to be the worst railway accident in U.S. history occurred right here in Nashville. Sitting unassumingly in on White Bridge Road in between the Greenway and the Hospital is a memorial.

File Dec 15, 10 23 15

Photo by Angela Schmidt

Two trains collided head on, resulting in 101 people killed and 171 injured. One train was heading to Memphis, and the other from Memphis to Old Hickory when “somebody blundered” according to the Nashville Tennesseean paper, and the engineer gave the wrong signal to the approaching trains.

Rounding the Dutchman’s Curve bend of the track, the trains collided around 7:15 am. 80% of the passengers were African-Americans heading to work at the Dupont Factory, which is still operating in a suburb of Nashville – Lakewood, TN (see also Wizard Tree).

The scene is described a little too gruesomely for me, but you can read the original newspaper story reprinted here. I prefer the old way of storytellin’ best – through music.

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Hootenany

Well, my heart’s just broken. A word that sounds like it should have traveled on the tongues of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in KY and TN is undoubtedly a Midwest word.

If’n you’ve never heard the word before, today it’s used for a wild party that is thrown together. It has an element of not being exactly planned, where one and all might “raise a ruckus” through hootin’ and hollerin’ all night long.

Here’s a timeline, although no one is quite sure when the word came into use regionally:

1906 – The earliest written use was in a historical novel by Richard T. Wiley set in the 1790’s. The book, Slim Greene: A Narrative of the Whiskey Insurrection, used all sorts of colorful language that is unclear if these are words he thought  people used in the 1790’s, or if he thought these words were ridiculous and that’s what people sounded like back then. All signs point to “hootenany” being a “thing” that you don’t really know the word for.

Some other fun examples of “a thing” he uses are:

  • Conniplicon
  • Majigger
  • Kerdoodlement

“When I got thar,” he said, “she wuz lookin’ hotter’n her oven, an’ wuz a-shakin’ that conniplicon at the lummix, an’—”
“Shaking what?” interrupted Colonel Bayard.
“That hootenanny that she shovels her bread with — that long-handled majigger, you know.”
“Oh, the oven-peel?” asked the Colonel, as if a light had just dawned on him.
“Yes, I guess that’s what they call it. I’ve allus been ust to Dutch-oven bakin’, an’ don’t know much abaout these new-fangled kerdoodlements.”

1940 – A man from Indiana by the name of Terry Pettis moved to Seattle and was working on a fundraiser for the Democratic convention. They needed a name for a party and Terry suggested a name from from home, “hootenany.” Wingding was also in the running.

1941 – The party was a hit and became an annual event. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie got invited to play the Second Annual event with their band the Almanac Singers. After the party, they brought the word around on tour with them all the way home to New York City where they began to call their parties “hootenanies.”

1946 – Over the next five years, Guthrie’s career explodes. In an interview with Time Magazine the interviewer asked where he got the word “hootenany.” Loving a good tall tale, Guthrie replied with an outright lie.

He said, “We was playin’ for the Lumber Workers’ Union. We was singin’ around in the shingle mills. There was a lady out West out there in the lumber camp and her name was Annie and so every time they’d have a songfest Annie would outshout all of them. So people got to call her Hootin’ Annie but the name got spread all over and so out there when they are going to have a shindig they call it Hootenanny.”

And that, according to Time Magazine, is when hootenannies began.

To hear the full, hilarious, podcast Lexicon Valley put together on the origins of hootenany, click here.

 

 

 

 

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

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.