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Stix Near the River Cumberland

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Photo by Angela Schmidt “While Definitely Not Driving”

A lot of people don’t like it. It’s a whole bunch of seemingly random big sticks in the middle of the newest roundabout that no one in Nashville can navigate.

Nashville traditionally doesn’t like new things. It’s in the midst of a personality crisis right now as throngs of ‘youths’ from California, New York and all points in between rush into our previously ‘big small town.’

Spending money on things like roundabouts and public art is not what old Nashville is about. In fact, there are still a group of Puritans who occasionally put clothes on the “Musica” statues they put in the middle of the old roundabout by Music Row. But the times, they are a changin.’

“Stix” is now Music City’s tallest (and most expensive) piece of public art. It is also our most interesting. The actual work was not done by an artist, but unconventionally by a power pole company, Rains Electric Company, based in Madison, TN.  The German artist Christian Mueller created only the concept.

Mueller wanted the piece to pay homage to the Native American tribes who first walked and hunted the land on which we now each day wreck – literally. He relies on painted wood and natural colors like the Native tribes would have used in their art. There are native wild grasses that will grow underneath and the whole things glows at night. Mueller imagined the piece as arrows that had fallen from the sky, in a kind of dreamy battle of past and present.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Tale of the Wampus Cat

Monsters in America

It all started with “chest of drawers.” My particularly accented East Tennessee friend threw her head back at brunch and giggled that she used to think that a dresser (pronounced “chester-dra-wers”) was named after a man named Chester, and she always wondered who this Chester was and why he had so many drawers.

I just wondered why in the hell my family didn’t just call it a dresser?  We talked and talked until we got to “catawampus” and not a one of us could confidently define it, only what we had heard it in relation to. Of course, the first dispute was what the actual word was, and according to Wikipedia there is quite a range:

  • catawamptious
  • catawampous
  • cattywampus
  • cattywampous
  • caliwampus
  • caliwampous
  • cankywampus
  • kittywampus
  • gittywampus
  • skiwampus

For a ridiculous word, why the variation? What’s up with the cats? Was there a cat? Can wampus be a verb? It sent me in a downward spiral which in truth, does not lead to a very interesting etymology (probably old Norse or Scandanavian for crooked).

However, it did lead to some interesting Tennessee lore about the Wampus Cat…

In the hills of Tennessee skulks a creature – half mountain cat, half woman who walks on two legs and howls in the night. The woman was once the most beautiful Cherokee in all the land named Running Deer.  Running Deer’s husband, Great Fellow, went hunting one night to slay the evil spirit Ewah. He came back wild and half crazy, leaving Running Deer to angrily confront Ewah.  She wore the mask of a wildcat on her face for protection and fought viciously and bravely.  Due to her courage, she assumed the role of guardian against all evil spirits on the land. Running Deer is still believed by the Cherokee to protect the sacred hunting ground surrounding her home in East Tennessee, and spark fear in the hearts of white men across the Smoky Mountains.

Many believe that Running Deer is the Wampus Cat, whose legend spans all of East Tennessee.  Everyone’s got some drunk uncle or ex-boyfriend’s mom who has seen The Wampus Cat over there – although the tale of the Wampus Cat is slightly different.  The Wampus Cat was still a Cherokee woman, but she became so as punishment.  She snuck out to her husband’s hunting trip disguised in skins of a wildcat and overheard stories of magic that were only reserved for men.  The medicine man fused the skins to the woman and she was forced to live as an outcast.

Always in the dead of night, the Wampus Cat appears screeching and howling with giant yellow glowing eyes and huge wildcat paws. The Wampus Cat is also known as a harbinger of death for once one hears her cry, someone will die within the next three days.

Have you seen or heard the Wampus Cat?