Nashville

Hank Williams Wuz Here

Hank Williams is the South’s very own George Washington who slept, ate, and even died all over the place. The night of his death is still a much disputed bar game where everyone likes to argue what they think really happened.  People will tell you that he ate his last meal in Bristol, VA at a place called Burger Bar but others think that he wouldn’t have wanted to eat after being shot up with morphine by a Doctor in Knoxville (after the chloral hydrate and all the booze he had already had), and that his last words really may have been that he did not want anything. It’s more probable that his chauffeur was eating a burger from Burger Bar as Williams died. And actually, there may (?) not have even been a Burger Bar at that time.

And where did he die? We know for sure that it was somewhere between Knoxville, TN and Oak Hill, WV but the exact location is impossible to know. Was it the morphine, the combo, or just bad luck? His reported cause of death “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart” but he could have just been done.

Nevertheless; he died the modern day seafarer’s death which has a beauty all its own – on the road.

What is certain is that his life was in decline as he started down his own lost highway to Canton, OH. It was New Years Eve, 1952 (heading into 1953): An ice storm caused his show in Charleston, WV to cancel so Charles Carr began driving Williams to his next show at the Windsor Theater in Canton. They stopped in Knoxville at the Andrew Johnson hotel to get Dr. Morphine, then at Burger Bar in Bristol (113 miles from Knoxville), and then again at a gas station in Oak Hill, WV (157 miles) where Carr discovered Williams was dead.

And perhaps it was his traveling spirit that keeps him around.  There are more stories than I can count of people who have seen his ghost either as him or a white mist at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  He is also active in the alley behind the Lower Broadway Honky Tonks in Nashville that back up to the Ryman’s backstage exit, thehallways in the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, the Tyree Funeral Home where his body was autopsied, and homes and honky tonks all over the South.

Have YOU seen him?

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Come for the Heroin, Stay for the Polar Bears

 

Polar Bears (6)

I posted this image on Instagram the other day and got one of two responses. Some were intrigued and wanted to know more about where and what it was, but the people who already know where it was, they wanted to know what the hell I was doing there.

One PM went like this:

Friend – “Are you getting drugs?”

Me – “No, do you need some?”

Friend – “OMG Why are you in Edgehill Angela? You should stay out of there”

Me – “I just stopped to take a picture.  I swear I went right back to my safe little village of East Nashville just after.”

Bordering the likes of the Belmont Mansion, the Condos at 2600 Culture Wipe Pike,  and Music Row; Edgehill is the last real holdout of gentrification anywhere around it. In 2013, it “won” one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the U.S., but Nashvillians know it better for the six foot tall, 800 pound polar bear statues.

snow dome

So, why are there polar bears in Nashville, TN, the very  home of the snow dome? The answer is custard.

A man by the name of Gio Vacchino of the Mattei Plaster Relief Ornamental Company created the bears for the Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops on Gallatin Road and West End Avenue (in Nashville.  No one knows for sure how many more he created for shops all over the Southeast).  Custard wasn’t quite the craze everyone thought it would be I guess, so after WWII, the shops closed and the bears were bought by Reverend Zima Hill for his front yard at 1408 Edgehill Avenue.  He also placed two in front of the local funeral home.

The two at the funeral home were sold (one lives next door to the famous meat and three Monell’s in Germantown; the other is broken and in a backyard down the street) and the other two ended up as property of the city once the home at 1408 Edgehill was sold (1408 Edgehill is currently a halfway house called Oxford House- Polar Bear).

Students from Tennessee State University were a part of the team to restore the crumbling polar bears, and in 2004, MDHA created the Polar Bear Plaza at the corner of Edgehill Avenue and 12th Avenue South.

In the winter make sure to drive by and see them all dressed up for Christmas with garland, just waiting for the snow that will never come.

 

 

 

The Brass Stables – Nashville’s Only Exotic Dance Club

Nashville’s got plenty of strip clubs, just ask Pac Man Jones (never forget!) –

But it only has one “exotic” dance club which has been grandfathered in to have different regulations than the other strip clubs in town (i.e. their dancers do not have to follow the “three feet” rule because the building is so narrow, they literally cannot be three feet away from their clients).  It is not only the oldest “exotic” club in town, but it is also the one with the richest history.  The Brass Stables began as a fancy pants restaurant called the Brass Rail Stables and Lounge.  The restaurant was located on the second floor of the building, and the stables were below.  Today you can still see the original wood from the stables on the wall in the Brass Stables.

Andrew Jackson, then Governor of Tennessee and founder of the modern Democratic Party himself, kept his horse boarded there.  At the time, the restaurant and ‘lounge’ was really more of a brothel, which was where Andrew Jackson’s three week journey (read: wild party and celebration) to Washington began after he found out that he had won the Presidential Election.  Now, in case you missed that, Jackson’s presidency in theory started at what is now the Brass Stables in Nashville, TN.  Jackson was inaugurated on March 4, 1829 and his reception was so drunk and rowdy that Jackson climbed out of the window of the White House and went to a hotel.  The crowd refused to leave until bowls of liquor and spiked punch were put out around the White House lawn and eventually everyone got extra drunk. It took three months to restore the White House to the condition it was in before the Jackson inauguration party, all of which *technically* began at the Brass Stables.

Thornton Prince; Nashville’s Royalty

Hot chicken is everywhere these days, even in Brooklyn.  But there’s one thing that hipsters around the country can’t take away from us, and that’s that hot chicken unquestionably belongs to Nashville forever.

Local lore is that hot chicken – the hot chicken – was created in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood on the outskirts of East Nashville.  Thornton Prince, the founder of Prince’s Chicken Shack, was quite the looker and had a wild streak in him as Tennessee men are want to have.  With that, he was also a well known womanizer. One time, Thornton had stayed out all night doing god knows what and his girlfriend spiked his breakfast with extra cayenne pepper as revenge.

Luckily, her plan backfired, and Thornton liked the chicken so much that he and his brothers opened Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in the 1930’s.

Prince’s keeps it in the family, where now Thornton’s grand niece, Andre Prince Jeffries, runs the show.  They no longer serve the chicken for breakfast, but it has become a staple of late-night cheap eats (open till 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays).

 

 

The Springwater Supper Club & Lounge

Day drinking on the back porch at one of Nashville’s oldest (and diviest) bars, the Springwater, isn’t for the timid. You will almost certainly be sexually harassed by beloved eccentric Dave Cloud (even if you’re male), catch a contact buzz, and possibly contract “insert popular STD here” from the toilet. Half jokes aside, the one fact about the Springwater is that everyone – everyone – loves to talk.

Springwater

Last Sunday was a particularly beautiful day and the old folks were out. I met a man who described himself as a local historian and we started talking about the many legends of the Springwater. I think everyone in town has heard that Al Capone would hide out there when things got too hot up north, but there’s never much more to the story.

I asked Mr. Local Historian to tell me more about the history of the property where the Springwater stands and I could make a damn Buzzfeed that could read ’10 Things You Won’t Believe About Your Hometown’ and most of them would be about 115 27th Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37203.

To start, the front entrance was the original building. The music room was added later, and of course the porch much later. In 1779 it stood as a house, which was surrounded by natural, freshwater springs (hence the tip of the hat with the current name). It was the last freshwater stop before getting to the Cumberland River, so it became an trading post around 1780-1801. In the original structure, where the benches on the side of the pool table are, stood a fireplace. You can still see where it has been bricked up.

In the year 1887, the establishment began serving liquor (which the don’t actually sell now – beer only). The place served as a trading post, library, and brothel, before a group of Nashville judges got their hands on it during prohibition where it became a speakeasy. If you’ve ever walked in the front doors of the Springwater, you will notice the big swinging doors you walk past. They were installed around the time of the prohibition to keep the cops out, until one day the cops decided they would bust up the place for illegal alcohol sales. The got a battering ram and tried to run through those doors when who do they see sitting at the bar but Nashville’s finest judges. Needless to say, they tipped their hats and were on their way. Even today, the cops still keep a mindful distance…

Everyone’s pretty sure Al Capone partied there, and that Hoffa gambled there in the 60’s is well known. And everyone from Hank Williams, Sr. to the Black Keys have paid their respects to the golden god at beer church there.

The Springwater itself was incorporated as a business in 1978, but the property has played a huge role in the lives of Tennesseeans for well over 200 years. May it live on for 200 more.

To read more about the area around The Springwater, visit my other blog here.

 

Brad Baker

Nashville has always allowed quirky characters to thrive.  From dueling President “Old Hickory” Andrew Jackson, to George Jones getting DUI’s on his lawnmower, and Miley Cyrus’ tongue; there is never a dull moment in the town’s history.

My favorite local legend passed away almost two years ago after months of complications.  Brad Baker, 58, was the very grumpy, longtime sound man at The End.  Most musicians in town that played The End had a love/hate relationship with Brad, who would almost always come over the monitors and say, “you suck,” (or worse) to even the better bands in town.

Brad had an affinity for the booze and loved to drink and tell wild stories about his past; the truths of which are still drunkenly debated today in his absence (pour one out).

Fact: Brad managed Third Encore Studios in Los Angeles.

Legend: Brad was working when Nirvana was rehearsing to record Nevermind. He, of course, told them they sucked the entire time.

Fact: Brad was the guitar tech for REO Speedwagon and in their crew band Hotel Bill and The Incidentals and penned cult classic Wasted Rock Ranger.

Legend: Brad continuously claimed he came up with the Guns and Roses song “Night Train” after they had taken a break from being in the studio all day and someone drove by and yelled out the window, “I’m on the Night Train.”

Fact: Created and promoted the Itchycoo Park Festival in Nashville (now known as Bonnaroo).

Legend: Brad was out with cheap trick and he claimed he was credited as “porque” on live at budoken.

Whatever the truth, his legacy lives on; for no one is truly dead until their name is whispered for the last time. RIP Brad.

 

The Gift Box Bomber

gift box

Some people are just plain evil. And with Travis Tate, known as the Gift Box Bomber, you could see it in his eyes.

On June 2, 1960, nine days after the birth of his daughter, Tate mailed an explosive jewelry box to his then ex-wife who was living in the Inglewood neighborhood of Nashville.  When she opened the package, the blast blew off her hands and left her blinded.  Miraculously, the newborn was unharmed but Mrs. Tate’s two children from a previous marriage were seriously injured.

June 11, 1960 Kansas City Times:

“Tate told authorities he rigged the bomb because he was tired of hearing people ask when ’“Frances” was coming home. The couple is divorced. “I guess 1 just went crazy,* Kerkeles quoted Tate as saying. Butler said the break came after a restaurant cook told sheriff’s investigators that he saw Tate in a restaurant 25 miles south of Nashville at 2:30 a. m. June 2. Tate had maintained that he did not leave his home near Fayetteville until 3 a. m. on the day of the bombing.”

Strangely, his name changes by source; either known as Willie Levoy Tate or Travis Tate, but the story remains the same.  He was sentenced to 21 years in prison.