Tag Archives: History

The Jesse James’ of the World

16 Oct

I was watching an NFL game and heard the announcer say something about a player named Jesse James. Obviously, this made me think about the famous outlaw, and I began to wonder something. How many people have this name?

In addition to the football player, there is the television reality star who was once married to Sandra Bullock. He made to it television as an customizer of motorcycles.

A professional wrestler also used Jesse James as a ring name. Of course, character names tend of change in professional wrestling, and he has also wrestled as Road Dogg and a few other things.

Locally, there is a country music singer named Jessie James. I do not know what she sings, but I know she is married to Eric Decker, who plays for the Tennessee Titans.

The list goes on and on, but you get the point. A lot of people are named Jesse James. This begs a question – why are people named for this criminal?

It is a question that has a few answers. In fact, I cover a few of them in class.

First, we tend to think of Old West outlaws as heroes. This could be because they represent independence and the ability to do as they please. It could also be because dime novels and movies convinced Americans that they lived a romantic lifestyle. This definitely happened with the original Jesse James.

However, there is one problem. I am not certain that Jesse James is an Old West outlaw. Some of his most famous robberies took place in Missouri, Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota. Heck, he lived for a couple of years in Nashville. I am not sure those are places people have in mind when they think of the Old West.

Second, Jesse James is a cool name. It is alliterative and roles of the tongue. When people refer to Jesse James, they never say Jesse or James. They always say his entire name. Consider the brother of Jesse James. Frank James was involved in the robberies, but his name does not live on as a football player, motorcycle customizer, wrestler or country singer. The name does not draw the proper attention.

Yes, people are named Jesse James because of the original’s hero status and because it sounds cool. Heck, if the football player was named Frank James I would not even had heard it. I would not be writing this post, and you would not be reading it.

It sort of makes me sad for Frank James. Of course, Jesse was killed because he was the famous one, and Frank lived to a ripe old age. Frank James may be the cooler name after all.

Advertisements

The Amazing Journey of an Almost Forgotten Fountain

9 Oct

In 1925, the Margaret Gaston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution donated a fountain to honor the pioneers who settled our city. The fountain was placed in the northwest corner of the square where, at one time, people gathered to collect water. From its day of dedication, the fountain has had an interesting journey. Yes, it has been on the move.

The fountain remained in place for a couple of decades. I can imagine people in the 1930s gathering around it and discussing the hard economic times. They could have walked by while talking about the new president Franklin Roosevelt and wondering if he could do anything about it. During World War II, it was probably a backdrop for gatherings to sell war bonds or to see sons off to fight. It definitely survived the Tennessee Maneuvers, which were headquartered in our town. I wonder how close it came to being knocked down by a tank.

The fountain sat on the square through all of that, but it could not survive construction. The city was doing major repairs on the northwest corner of the square when Joe Graves, who served as county sheriff, saw the fountain on the back of a truck. When he learned that it was headed for the trash dump, he took it to his home on West End Heights and turned it into what must have been the nicest bird bath in town.

In 1967, Mr. Graves passed away. A year later, his widow sold the house, and the fountain was relocated to the home of their daughter Pam Tomlinson. The fountain that started on the town square was now a fixture in the Centerville community.

In the 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Lawlor contacted Pam about the fountain and asked if she would be willing to return it to the Daughters of the American Revolution. She happily gave it back for it restored to a place of prominence. In 1976, it was rededicated and placed in front of City Hall on College Street, which was only a few blocks from its original location. A plaque commemorating the event was placed on its base, and it was transformed into a drinking fountain.

Finally, the fountain that had a home on the square and a home on West End Heights and a home in Centerville had a permanent home. Except, it did not. City Hall was moved to the former campus of Castle Heights Military Academy, and the fountain did not make the transition. Pam, like her father decades earlier, became concerned about the fountain. She asked several city officials and employees about their plans. After months of inquiries, she found it behind the city’s Public Works building with a pile of trash headed for the dump. She asked a city employee to deliver it to her house. Once again, the fountain was saved.

That was a couple of decades ago. The fountain faded from the memory of most, and those who remembered thought it was gone for good. Then, I received a call from my friend Larry, Pam’s husband. He had an offer I could not refuse. I had been appointed City Historian, and he was sitting on one of our city’s great mysteries – the Missing Daughters of the American Revolution Fountain. He told me that they wanted to give it back and for me to tell everyone that I knew where it was located.

At the next meeting of Historic Lebanon, I made the announcement that I had talked to the person who was in possession of the fountain. Mary-Margaret, member of Historic Lebanon and the Daughters of the American Revolution, immediately wanted the details. I told her that the location had to remain secret, but they could have it when a good location was chosen to display the fountain permanently.

Last week, the Margaret Gaston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution held a ceremony to once again rededicate the fountain.

It now sits in front of the Fite-Fessenden House, which is home to the Wilson County Museum. The fountain is a few hundred yards from its original location. After 92 years, we all hope that the fountain has finally found a permanent home. If not, then, hopefully, someone in the Graves family tree will come to the rescue.

 

 

Walking in a Field of Stone

6 Aug

Last Saturday, the weather was beautiful. Humidity disappeared for a day, and that is a big deal in these parts. It was a day that was meant for being outside. For a lot of people, that means activities like golfing, boating, jogging or working in the yard. However, I feel the pull of something else. I went for a walk through our city cemetery.

Much can be learned in a cemetery. You can learn about the lives of individuals and families. You can learn about the history of an entire community. There are even times when you can learn about the history of our nation.

As I walked, I visited the graves of my great-grandparents, who made it through life the best way they could. I stopped at the grave of my aunt, the first woman regional solicitor for the Department of Labor. Then, I visited the grave of my uncle, who passed away a few years ago.

Along the way, I passed markers that date to the early 1800s. Some of them honored congressmen who are buried there. Across the field, there were small Confederate flags at the monument for those killed in the Civil War. I saw last names that were once prominent in our town. Names that we no longer hear. These were people who owned successful businesses and held public office. People who altered the direction of our community in many ways.

The markers had different designs. Some were tall obelisks, and some barely existed at all. The words were faded to a point to where they could not be read. More recent grave markers were engraved with the hobbies of the deceased, but one was just a metal nameplate. It belongs to a prominent Nashville lawyer and former gubernatorial candidate who was born in our city. Now, he has no stone.

As I walked through the cemetery, I realized something. All monuments fade. Even the new ones will become unreadable at some point. Names that were once known by everyone will be forgotten as the generations pass. We cannot count on being remembered by a marker in a field of stone. We can only count on the deeds of our daily lives. We can count on ourselves to make an impact on our world. That impact may be great or may be small. It may or may not be remembered. However, we can make sure that it is positive.

 

From Huntingdon to Huntington

17 Jul

Last week, we made a short trip Pennsylvania. My wife has family in Huntingdon, a small town in the central part of the state, and they invited us to stay at their home for a few days. We used that time to explore and a great tour of a small college. Here are the highlights.

On the first day, we drove through five states – Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was a long drive through Appalachia, but we saw some beautiful landscapes. When we left the interstate around Altoona, we did not realize that we would not be on the interstate for a few more days. Instead, we would be taking back roads through farmland.

On the second day, we passed through some of that farmland on the way to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hersheypark was our destination. The girls rode a ton of rides while my wife and I rode a few. I must be getting old because the monorail was my favorite because it took us by part of the old Hershey factory.

One of these days, I am going to get back there and check out the history of chocolate.

Oh yeah, we had a slight surprise when we got back to Huntingdon. We went to a local restaurant for dinner, and my wife order a salad with grilled chicken. She received a salad topped with grilled chicken and french fries. She was, in a word, appalled. We later learned that french fries on salad is a central Pennsylvania thing. I guess it is like grits is a southern thing. Although, I can handle french fries on a salad better than I can handle grits.

On the third day, we got educational. Huntingdon is home to Juniata College, and the family we were visiting used to be the president and first lady of the liberal arts institution.

It is a beautiful campus with a great quad for student to gather. I think my stepdaughter liked it until she saw the dorm room. We had to explain that what she saw is pretty typical for dorm rooms.

After that, we drove a short distance to State College to the campus of Penn State. This was not an official visit. I simply wanted to see the football stadium. Of course, I had to wear the colors of my team behind enemy lines.

I was also told to go to the Creamery. It was a great suggestion. The ice cream was awesome.

On the fourth day, we headed west to two sites that my wife and I really wanted to visit. This was a day to show my stepdaughter and her friend something about our past. After a bit of a drive through the countryside, we arrived at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

On September 11, 2001, the flight was hijacked, and the passengers learned of the other hijackings through calls to their loved ones. At some point, the passengers decided to attack the terrorists. As they struggled, the plane crashed into a field.

It is a sobering place to visit. For those of us who remember, it brings back memories of that terrible day. For those of us who do not remember, it brings questions of what happened. For all of us, it provides a true example of heroism.

As I walked through the museum and over the grounds, I kept wondering what the passengers were thinking. Did they know they were going to crash somewhere and wanted to make sure it was not another building? Did they think they could take over and have a chance at landing the plane? All we know is that they prevented the plane from hitting something in Washington, D.C., which was only 20 minutes away. Investigators think the plane was heading for Capitol Hill.

After visiting the memorial, we drove through more countryside. This time we really hit some back roads and passed farm after farm. Finally, we made it to Fallingwater, the home famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. My wife and I visited another of his designs earlier in the year, but this is the iconic one that I have always wanted to see.

He designed the home for the Kaufmann family, who wanted a view of the waterfall on their land. Instead, Wright built it on the waterfall.

Amazingly, the house was built during the midst of the Great Depression.

When we left Fallingwater, we headed toward home but could not make it all the way. We stopped in Huntington, West Virginia for the night. The girls stayed at the hotel and watched Netflix while we went to dinner. We found a great place near downtown called Savannah’s and took a table on their patio. Our waitress was a local student who was majoring in History and Anthropology. Now, she has the right idea.

 

A Few Students of Castle Heights Military Academy

9 Jun

From 1902 to 1986, our city was home to Castle Heights Military Academy, a school that attracted students from all over the world. Those of us who have been around for a while have heard a bunch of stories about the school. The rivalry between the cadets and the local guys. The great athletic teams. The people who received a great education within its halls. One day, I will write about those stories. However, this is story is about a few students who made an impact.

Many of the Castle Heights cadets went on the great success, and a few of them went on to a level of fame.

Pete Rademacher won the heavyweight boxing gold medal at the 1956 Olympics. He made his professional debut by fighting Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title. As far as I know, it is the only time that someone had a shot at the belt in their first fight.

General Wesley Clark, who ran for president in 2004, also attended the school.

Danny Evins, the founder of Cracker Barrel, went to Castle Heights and was one of its major benefactors for many years.

Heck, Benito Mussolini even sent some young men to Castle Heights before the outbreak of World War II. I have seen a photograph of the Rotary dinner that was held in their honor.

However, two brothers who attended Castle Heights rose to greater fame than any of those. They altered the course of music history and, as a result, became iconic figures. One of them passed away in 1971 at the height of his fame. The other passed away just a few days ago.

It is difficult to imagine them wearing the uniforms of Castle Heights cadets, but Duane and Gregg Allman did just that. Up above is a picture of Gregg as proof.

Our Week With Eric Church, Carole King, the Bandit and the Nashville Predators

30 May

It has been an eventful week in the SBI World, and we have spent a lot of time in the city 30 miles to the west. For those not up on local geography, that city is Nashville.

On Monday night, we had tickets for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in the National Hockey League. The Nashville Predators have been on a magical run through the playoffs and have taken over the city. Long time Predator fans are not happy with the bandwagon people, but we felt that Game 6 was a must-see event. They clinched the championship, and I got to High Five the country music star who sat in front of us. I have no idea who he was, but my wife was not happy that I got to touch him and she did not.

On Tuesday night, I was back in Nashville for a fundraiser. Cumberland University, where I work, is the home of the Martin Van Buren Papers, and a Nashville attorney hosted an event to assist with that project. He has an amazing collection of historic artifacts and opened his office for tours. People paid to see documents signed by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Davy Crockett, King George III and various other people. It was interesting to see everything and to hear the stories of how the collection came together.

On Wednesday night, I went with my brother and my nephews to a truly cultural event. We went to the theater to see the 40th Anniversary screening of Smokey and the Bandit, a movie that I have seen a million times.

It was great to see the Bandit, Snowman and Buford T. Justice on the big screen, but it was also great to see people with their t-shirts. As bandit tells Snowman when they get to the warehouse full of Coors beer, it was “redneck heaven.” After it was over, I wanted to get a diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper.

On Friday night, it was back to Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators. However, we were not there for a hockey game. We were there to see Eric Church in concert.

I do not know much about the singer, but we had already seen him at a Kris Kristofferson tribute concert. This one was more rocking and raucous. Eric Church is known for wearing sunglasses, and it was funny to see all of the guys in the crowd wearing sunglasses. I reckon that thought some female would mistake them for the performer.

On Sunday night, we went to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. It was a great show about the life of a prolific songwriter who also creating on of the great albums of all time. Through professional success and personal tribulation, she wrote songs that became part of the soundtrack for a generation. Now, we have to see the real person in concert.

At some point, I made the statement that I was not going to go into the city for a while. However, I will it will happen because there is too much cool stuff there to do. This week was just a small sample of that.

The Rocket Scientist Next Door

8 May

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Charlie Bradshaw, a man who lives down the street. This is what I wrote about him.

Charlie Bradshaw walked into his professor’s office without knowing what to expect. He had enlisted in the Navy and entered the V-12 program for training, which was why he was taking Calculus at Sewanee and was facing the uncertainty of this meeting.

The professor began by going over the details of Charlie’s C average but quickly put his grade book aside. This was not a meeting of condemnation. Rather, it was a meeting of encouragement. He saw Charlie’s talent and encouraged him to think about Mathematics as a career. About this meeting, Charlie said, “I didn’t know how important it was to concentrate on what you’re good at.” With that, a lifelong love of Mathematics began.

Charlie finished the V-12 program and was shipped to the Pacific Theater of World War II to prepare for the invasion of Japan. He saw action at Okinawa but, like thousands of America’s enlisted men, was spared the dangers of invasion when President Harry Truman ordered the use of two atomic bombs. Six weeks later, Charlie found himself walking through Hiroshima, the first city hit with an atomic bomb. When asked what he thought as he took pictures of the carnage, Charlie stated that “we can’t have another war with these weapons.”

After the war, Charlie completed school; joined the faculty at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute; and settled his family in Cookeville. In 1951, a new opportunity arose when he heard about recruiters at a local hotel interviewing people for positions at a new government facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Charlie got a new job but had to delay his departure for two weeks. His wife was about to have a baby. Charlie said, “I always knew I didn’t want to spend a career in teaching, in the classroom, but I loved Cookeville. It had good fishing, and I sort of didn’t want to leave, but it was such a big opportunity.”

That opportunity took Charlie into the world of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who surrendered to American forces at the end of World War II. While von Braun and his German colleagues built rockets, Charlie’s team calculated their flight times and trajectories with a “slide rule and desk calculator.” Each second of the flight had to be computed, which took two weeks and numerous chalkboards. To complete this job, women were hired. Charlie said:

We eventually hired math aides who were women. They were better at it than men. They were more patient. But, Washington didn’t have a civil service classification for them. We had to get Washington to figure out what to call the job, and they decided on Computers.

In 1953, they launched Redstone, America’s first guided missile, and it followed the path that Charlie’s team had calculated. However, the days of the “slide rule and desk calculator” were coming to an end. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory received the first computer in the South, and Charlie transferred to east Tennessee to oversee its installation. This meant that he was the resident expert on computers – the nonhuman kind.

In 1955, Charlie returned to Huntsville as the Deputy Director of Computation and installed the first computer at that location. By this time, there was an international competition to put something into orbit. Charlie remembered:

We had the capability to put the Redstone in orbit, but Eisenhower didn’t want to use a military missile. That’s when they started Vanguard, and it was a tremendous failure. Vanguard never made it. The Russians beat us. Then 85 days later, we were in orbit. Redstone was ready, and the calculations were all done. We could have beaten them, but we weren’t allowed to.

With a string of successful launches, the Mercury program was established to take people into space. Now, Charlie’s calculations did more than determine the trajectory of a rocket. They determined where to have ships waiting to pick up returning astronauts.

In 1962, the stakes were raised when John F. Kennedy announced the goal of putting a person on the moon. According to Charlie, this had always been von Braun’s goal, but concerns remained. Charlie explained, “We always knew sending people to space would happen, but we still had questions about whether man could survive on the moon.”

At one point, President Kennedy toured the Huntsville facility and met the administrative staff. He was introduced to von Braun and other German scientists. After meeting a line of people with German names, he was introduced to someone named Charlie Bradshaw. The president immediately responded, “How did you get in here?” Charlie remembered, “I thought since he was president I better not laugh, but everyone else did.”

Charlie got in there by being one of the best mathematicians in the nation and stayed through the Apollo 11 mission that put the first men on the moon. Looking back at that event, Charlie could not help but think about the president who set the goal and the tragedy that befell him. In Charlie’s mind, the assassination of President Kennedy inspired the space community to make his dream a reality. Charlie reflected, “John F. Kennedy’s death made it happen.”

In 1970, Charlie left the space program to direct the installation of the first computer at Vanderbilt University and oversee its operation. He immediately had trouble with the faculty. Charlie stated:

Physics got into the nuclear business, and they thought they owned the computers. That was one of the big battles we had. They didn’t think computers ought to be used for other things. But then the divinity school started using it and eventually they let students use them to do their theses. But at one point, the Faculty Senate prohibited computers on the campus from being used for word processing.

Charlie remained at Vanderbilt until his retirement, then he taught classes at Cumberland University. Looking back on his career, Charlie said that sending rockets into space made him more interested in the universe, and that interest led him to become a stronger believer in God. In fact, he stated, “I become more of a believer the more I learn.” Without a doubt, Charlie has learned a great deal.