History

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.

 

 

 

 

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The Knoxville Girl

I was living in New York City a few years back and was staying the weekend at a community farm outside of New Paltz. For anarcho/hippie dinner one night, I was eating mashed potatoes loaded with nutritional yeast when a huge chunk of my tooth just fell out. When I finally got back to the City, my regular dentist was on vacation so I had to go to his fill-in guy.  I walk into the office and I see the stereotypical hunting dog pictures and UT orange that you would see in any doctor/dentist office in Tennessee.  It was so familiar, in fact, that I forgot where I was for a second.

I met the dentist and we began to talk about what happened/family history, etc. and I mentioned I was from Tennessee.  He told me that he too was from Tennessee and went to UT Knoxville before becoming a military dentist (as if the orange sea wasn’t already an indicator).  He shot me up with Novocaine and as the sweet, metallic taste of blood was still dripping from my gums he began to hum the Louvin Brother’s Murder Ballad I hadn’t heard in years:

Knoxville Girl – 

I met a little girl in Knoxville
A town we all know well
And every Sunday evening
Out in her home I’d dwell

We went to take an evening walk
About a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground
And knocked that fair girl down

She fell down on her bended knees
For mercy she did cry
Oh, Willie dear, don’t kill me here
I’m unprepared to die

She never spoke another word
I only beat her more
Until the ground around me
Within her blood did flow

I took her by her golden curls
And I drug her ’round and ’round
Throwing her into the river
That flows through Knoxville town

Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
With the dark and roving eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
You can never be my bride

I started back to Knoxville
Got there about midnight
My mother she was worried
And woke up in a fright

Saying, “Dear son, what have you done
To bloody your clothes so?”
I told my anxious mother
I was bleeding at my nose

I called for me a candle
To light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief
To bind my aching head

Rolled and tumbled the whole night through
As troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed
And in my eyes could see

They carried me down to Knoxville
And put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out
But none could go my bail

I’m here to waste my life away
Down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl
The girl I loved so well

Dark, right?  And that’s not even the most tragic in the murder ballad tradition. The song Knoxville Girl musically came from the traditional English and Irish ‘The Oxford Girl’ and ‘The Wexford Girl,’ moving the location from Europe to Tennessee.

But who was the Knoxville Girl?  Do the ballads come from real history?  In her case, yes.

Her name was Mary Lula Noel from Pineville, MO. In 1892 she was murdered by a man she had been dating named William (Oh Willie Dear don’t kill me here/I’m unprepared to die) Simmons of Joplin, MO.  She was missing for one week and then found floating in the Cowskin Creek with bruises around her neck.  She had no water in her lungs and had been thrown in after her death, like a careless afterthought.  Simmons never disclosed his motive, and was charged with murder by blunt force object and strangulation.

While Mary was from Missouri, the song Knoxville Girl was unquestionably about her. And though her life was cut short in beautiful youth, her memory still haunts the hills and hollers from Appalachia all the way to dentist offices in NYC.

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.

Spring is Here!

This winter was a tough one for everyone in North America.  In the year of the Polar Vortex, many of my plants didn’t make it through the deep freezes, and I spent all weekend replacing them with heirloom squash and zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and flowers.  In a farewell to the coldest winter in my lifetime, I wanted to share a picture I stumbled across of the Winter of 1940 in Nashville.  Yes, it may have gotten cold this winter, but in January of 1940, the Cumberland River froze over so thick that people could walk over it.  So adieu winter, and here’s to short shorts and tall drinks; bring on summer!

cumberland

Historic Renraw – East Nashville

Driving down Gallatin Road today, you are faced with row after row of sketchy corner markets, fast food restaurants, check advance places, and don’t get me started on how many Hair Worlds there are.  If I needed to sum it up in one word, the only one suitable would be “unattractive.” Though, at one time, it was the beautiful “summer” home of one of Nashville’s wealthiest men – Percy Warner.

The Warner Brothers are best known for their namesake parks on the west side of the city – Edwin and Percy Warner Parks.  However, I was unaware that Percy might have been ultra-hip East Nashville’s first hipster with his daddy’s money (James Warner was co-founder of Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad; later sole owner of Warner Iron Company) and quirky pet choices (he kept a beloved crane named Rufus, among other exotic animals, on the grounds of the home).

Warner named the Estate “Renraw,” (Warner spelled backwards) which is now the site of the Nashville Auto Diesel College.  There is a plaque proclaiming that you are entering “Historic Renraw” as you turn down Cahal Avenue, legitimizing the surrounding sprawl with a small note on what was once an “escape” from city life.

It is unclear to me why someone would have a country home nowhere near a natural water source before the days of indoor plumbing, but there may have been a spring somewhere on the property.  My old neighbors in Renraw told me that there are limestone springs all over underneath the ground here but I have been unable to find any information about this.  If anyone knows anything about springs in East Nashville, please let me know!