Tag Archives: Lebanon

The Lair of the White Worm and the Night Stalkers

24 Nov

It is a time to write. Alas, what is there to write about? I only know that it feels like a time to write. In other words, it feels right to write.

Last night, I was reminded that there is an awesome movie called The Lair of the White Worm. It came out in 1989 and was a big hit with my running crew. It starred Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe. She was a lot better at her role than he was at his. We watched it a lot of times, but I just found out that it is based on a work of Bram Stoker. I am sure he would be proud of what they did with it.

Here is a funny story. I was dating a young lady and asked if she wanted to watch The Lair of the White Worm. She thought I said Larry the White Worm and assumed it was a porn movie. That was a disastrous moment.

We went to Jamaica a few weeks ago. There is a post about it running through my mind, but I do not have it completely worked out in my mind. I need to write it before it goes stale. Anyway, I mention it because it is a good excuse to use this photograph. img_2134

Last week, I was fortunate enough to tour Fort Campbell, the military base that sits on the Tennessee and Kentucky border. It is home to the 101st Airborne, the unit from which Jimi Hendrix washed out. It is also home to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the Night Stalkers. I made a video of their water training facility. Unfortunately, I cannot upload that video. However, I can offer this photograph.img_2144

Hey, that it two photographs of swimming pools. One is for fun. The other one is definitely not for fun.

The room is turned into a small hurricane, and that mock helicopter is dropped into the water. The people inside have to get out. It was an intense thing to watch.

Oh yeah, Fort Campbell is named for William Bowen Campbell who lived in our little town of Lebanon.

Who was William Bowen Campbell? He was the 14th governor of Tennessee and was the state’s last governor from the Whig Party. He is buried in Lebanon’s Cedar Grove Cemetery.

I need to write more, but I fingers have stopped. My mind is at a roadblock created by more serious musings. When I am ready to bring those to the screen, I will let everyone know.

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats

4 Mar

A few week ago, my wife and I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame, which we like to do when they have an interesting exhibit. This time, they had a couple of exhibits that I wanted to see. The first was about Sam Phillips and Sun Records. The second was about the friendship between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and the effect it had on the Nashville music scene.image-7

Nashville has always been known for Country music, but I have been more fascinated with the story of Nashville’s other music. For example, it has a deep Rhythm and Blues history and is where Jimi Hendrix got his start.

I have read about Dylan’s time in Nashville and was interested to see how the Country Music Hall of Fame would present it. They did better than I could have imagined and introduced me to facts that I did not know.

Obviously, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash were the focus, but that was only the beginning. It covered the artists who were inspired by Dylan’s work in the city and followed him here. It was awesome to see the display on Paul McCartney and his time living in my hometown of Lebanon.image-9

The story of Paul McCartney’s time in town has gone down in local lore, but there were a ton of artists that I never knew recorded here. On the way out, I bought an album of songs that were highlighted in the exhibit, and it provides an example of some of those artists.

Gordon Lightfoot

The Byrds

The Monkees

Leonard Cohen

Country Joe McDonald

Simon and Garfunkel

George Harrison

Ringo Starr

Joan Baez

Neil Young

Derek and the Dominos

Those people are well-known in the history of music. However, this exhibit also highlighted the session musicians who played the music to which those people sang. These are the unsung heroes of Nashville and have become known as the Nashville Cats.

Several people had their own displays, but Jerry Reed was my favorite. Those who only know him as Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit or the football coach in The Waterboy may not realize that he was one of the greatest guitarists to ever play in Nashville. He was the heir apparent to Chet Atkins and had a distinctive style that other players have tried to duplicate.image-8

As always, the Country Music Hall of Fame did a fantastic job with the exhibit. Each time I go to the museum, I learn something new. If you ever make it to Nashville, then you will need to visit the place. Just remember that Country music is not the only music that has come out of this city.

A Local Business Called Cracker Barrel

16 Dec

Yesterday, my wife and I had lunch at Cracker Barrel. Since that chain has over 600 stores in 42 states, thousands of people across the country did the same thing. However, it was a little different for us.

In 1969, Cracker was founded in our town of Lebanon, Tennessee. Dan Evins owned a Shell gas station at one of the interstate exits and hit upon the idea of selling to food attract customers. It was not just any food. It was good old southern food like grits, turnip greens and biscuits.Cracker Barrel

Obviously, the concept proved successful.

I write all of to explain that going to Cracker Barrel in Lebanon is more like going to a locally owned place than a nationwide chain. As soon as we walked in the door, we saw people that we know.

While waiting for a table, we saw my dad’s childhood friend and his wife. They mentioned that they sold one of their farms to one of our county officials, who happened to be standing behind them. That led to a great conversation that people who had gotten off the interstate probably did not understand.

After getting a table, we talked to the corporate pilot for Cracker Barrel, who is also a part-time preacher. In fact, he performed a wedding that turned into a blog post.

Before finishing our meal, the mother of a former girlfriend was seated next to us. She stopped for a few seconds before sitting down with some family from out-of-town.

The corporate headquarters of Cracker Barrel are located in town, and it employs a lot of local people. However, the leadership is no longer local. They all came in from somewhere else, and many of them live in another Nashville suburb. That does not matter. Cracker Barrel remains a Lebanon, Tennessee business.

Years ago, I was in Montana doing historical research. I was driving down the interstate and looking for something to eat. Up ahead, there was a sign for a Cracker Barrel. I pulled in at a strange eating time and was the only customer in the place. The manager came over to talk and asked where I was from. I said that I was from Lebanon, Tennessee and asked if he knew where that was.

He absolutely knew where it was because Cracker Barrel is one of our local businesses.

The Pelican Brief

16 Nov

You may know these lines.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

It is a limerick of some fame. In fact, some consider it one of the best limericks of all time.

Through the years, I have heard several limericks, and some of them have stuck in my mind. There is the one about Nantucket. There is also one I heard in a movie about a young lady from Niger who rode on a tiger.

Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what movie featured that one.

Now, back to the pelican limerick. Most people think it was written by Ogden Nash. Apparently, Nash wrote a bunch of limericks, and, when people do not know who wrote something, they automatically think he did it. Look it up. The name of Ogden Nash is all over The Pelican.

However, here is the thing. Ogden Nash did not write this one. The Pelican was written by Dixon Merritt, who lived in Lebanon, Tennessee.Dixon Merritt

His name is prominent in our town’s history. There is a building at Cedars of Lebanon State Park that bears his name. He also taught at Cumberland University; edited The Lebanon Democrat and The Tennessean newspapers; served as Tennessee State Director of Public Safety; and was an amateur historian.

On top of all that, he was a poet, and most people did not know it.

Searching for Charles Gerhardt

5 Nov

A while back, I was appointed Historian for the City of Lebanon. In that role, I have attempted to learn as much as I can about the town. There are stories that I have heard all of my life, and I am steeped in the lore of the area. However, there are gaps in my knowledge.

Learning about the city requires research. I have gone through documents at the city museum and have spent some time in our county archives. I also get on the computer at home to see what can be found on the Internet.

It was an Internet search that led me to an online copy of Tennessee County History Series: Wilson County by Frank Burns, the man who knew more about the history of this area than anyone else I have known. Through a gradual reading, I made my way to the 1940s and World War II, where I found a passage that drew my interest. It reads:

Charles Gerhardt was the only Wilson County soldier to hold
the rank of major general in World War II. June 6 was more than
D-Day to Charles Hunter Gerhardt. It was his 49th birthday.

He went ashore with his troops, inched up the cliffs and the
high bluff with them, and spent the night of D-Day in a rock quarry
just 300 yards from the beach. It was the luck of the 29th to draw
the sector where the German army had concentrated its heaviest
defenses. One company lost all of its officers but one before its
assault boats ever landed on the beach. Within minutes after an-
other company touched the beach, it was out of action, every man
killed or wounded, huddled weaponless against the base of the
cliff. But it was not to be a day of defeat. Slowly the men edged off
Omaha Beach. By the end of the day the 29th was a mile inland.
Omaha Beach was followed by Isigny. There General Gerhardt
moved among his troops as they advanced on the outskirts of the
town, disregarding land mines, rifle bullets, and machine gun fire.

It caught my eye because I have never heard of Charles Gerhardt and never heard of a Major General from Lebanon leading his troops at the D-Day Invasion. This is an interesting part of our history that has apparently been forgotten, and I was determined to find out more. This led to the search for Charles Gerhardt.Gerhardt

A Google search brought up several links, but Wikipedia was the first stop. I know Wikipedia has issues, but I am not writing a scholarly paper. It is only a blog post. Anyway, I learned that Charles Gerhardt played baseball, polo and football at West Point. In 1916, he quarterbacked the football to a victory of Notre Dame, which was coached by Knute Rockne and led by George Gipp. Some may remember that Gipp was immortalized on film by Ronald Reagan.

The Wikipedia page continues with Gerhardt’s other accomplishments. He served in World War I and was an equestrian judge at the 1932 Olympics. While Frank Burns praises him, this page says that he was a controversial figure who oversaw high casualty rates and opened a brothel for his men after the invasion.

Wikipedia says a lot about Gerhardt, but it does not say where he was born. For that information, I had to click more links. The next stop was the website for Arlington National Cemetery. It contains some of the same information and provides additions to his military record. However, it does not say where he was born.

This is when I began thinking that Frank Burns was wrong. There is no way this man could be from Lebanon. I know of no one who has heard of him, and his birthplace is omitted from every website. That is when I noticed a link to his father, who was also named Charles Gerhardt. The older Gerhardt was also a military man and reached the rank of Brigadier General.

While searching his life, I discovered that “he was detailed to Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee, 1894-1897.” While here, he became Secretary of the Military Wheelmen. Have you ever heard of that? Neither have I. It was an organization that designed bicycles for military use. He also designed a uniform to make them less visible. Yep, he was on the cutting edge of camouflage.

All of that was great to find out. Charles Gerhardt was in Lebanon when his son was born in 1895. However, why was a career military man “detailed to Cumberland University?” It has never been a military school.

To find that, I had to return to the writings of Frank Burns. It turns out that the elder Gerhardt taught military science and tactics at the university.

Through all of that, I learned something new about the history of Lebanon, Tennessee. Major General Charles Gerhardt, who led his men onto the beaches of France, was born here. He also went on the defeat the Gipper and found a whorehouse. Overall, he led an interesting life, and it all started here.

If You Missed the Trial of the Century, Then Wait. There Will Be Another One Soon.

17 Jun

June 17, 1994 – I was at a Bluegrass festival being held at the Ward Ag Center in Lebanon. Porter Wagoner was the emcee, and I have no idea why because he was not a Bluegrass artists. Jim and Jesse performed, but I cannot remember who else was on the docket.

Why remember a long ago Bluegrass festival? Because word filtered through the crowd that O.J. Simpson, whose wife had been brutally murdered with her friend a few days earlier, was leading a low-speed chase through the freeways of Los Angeles. Helicopters were hovering over the white Bronco as O.J. and Al made their way through the city.White Bronco

As millions of people were mesmerized by the chase, I was listening to some of that good old mountain music. Through the years, I have seen the documentaries and the reruns, but the live version went on without me. In those days, you could not even bring it up on your phone. I know that is hard to imagine.

Of course, the events of that week led to a nationwide fascination with the case and the trial that found O.J not guilty. It was known as the Trial of the Century because everyone had an opinion.

This post could be about a lot of things. It could be about collective memory and the notion that everyone can remember where they were when a high event happened. It could be about the verdict and the opinions that followed. However, it is not about those things. It is about the fact that there was more than one Trial of the Century.

Everyone who remembers the O.J. Simpson trial thinks that it is the biggest legal event that ever happened. That know Judge Lance Ito. They know that it was the first time they ever heard the name Kardashian. However, there were earlier trials just as huge and just as fascinating to the general public.

1924 – The Leopold and Loeb Trial

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were students at the University of Chicago School of Law who wanted to commit the perfect crime. Together, they spent months planning the crime and murdered Bobby Franks, a 14 year-old boy. Clarence Darrow was hired to defend them, but his real job was to keep them away from the death penalty.

Loeb was killed in prison, and Leopold was released after serving 33 years.

1925 – The Scopes Monkey Trial

Tennessee outlawed the teaching of Evolution in public schools, and business leaders in Dayton decided to use that to gain some publicity. They “arrested” John Scopes for teaching the theory and sent word that a trial was to be held. It grew into more than they could have imagined with William Jennings Bryan agreed to serve as prosecution and Darrow agreed to be the defense.

The trial was broadcast on radio throughout the nation and became a fight between the forces of religion and the forces of science. Bryan died from the stress of the trial, and Darrow was foiled in his attempt to take the case to the Supreme Court. A technicality overturned the guilty verdict.

1935 – The Lindbergh Baby Trial

Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly a plane non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. This gained him more fame than he could have ever dreamed of. It also brought tragedy. His child, less than 2 years-old, was abducted, and ransom was demanded. There was an attempt to pay the money, but the child’s body was found a few miles from the Lindbergh home.

It seemed that everyone got in on the investigation, and suspicions finally fell on Richard Hauptmann, who was tried, sentenced and executed.

There have been numerous theories about this case. Did Hauptmann do it? Did the real killer get away with it? As the trial was going on, millions of people wanted to know.

Americans are fascinated by crimes. Heck, how many times a week does a crime get solved in an hour on some television show. However, those shows cannot compare to the real thing, and the public latches on to these stories as if they were “made for TV.” I guess those early ones were “made for radio.”

With that curiosity, we can be certain that there will be Trials of This Century just like there were Trials of the Last Century. Actually, we have already had one. I wonder what ever happened to Casey Anthony.

 

Sandy Springs Park – My Personal Field of Dreams

27 May

Maryville, Tennessee sits at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and, within its bounds, there is a park called Sandy Springs.image-27

It is a typical park with walking trails, playgrounds and ball fields. However, those are not just any ball fields. For me and a lot of other people, they are the softball version of the Field of Dreams.image-28

They know that they have hit the pinnacle of the slow pitch softball world when they step between the lines. (For those in the fast pitch game, a field in Oklahoma City is considered the mecca. I have been on that field, as well. Nothing there compares to the feeling of what happens at Sandy Springs.)

Before I explain why this place is important to me, I should explain something else. When most people think of slow pitch softball, they think of weekends of drinking beer and horsing around. They may also think of a local church league. I am not talking about that kind of slow pitch ball. I am talking about elite athletes who travel around the country playing for teams that are sponsored by businesses and bat companies. I am talking about professionals.

As I have written before, my dad used to sponsor one of these teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. I grew up traveling with his players and learning the rules of the road. For that reason, Sandy Springs became a special place in my life.image-29

Traditionally, we played the first tournament of the year at Maryville’s Spring Open. For the players, it was a time to knock off the rust. For me, it was the beginning of a summer of adventure. However, the first big moment at Sandy Springs happened before I could remember.

In 1974, Le-Al-Co and its ten players from Lebanon, Tennessee defeated the top ranked team in the nation to win its first state championship. It took two diving catches in the last inning to clinch the game, and it created stories that I have heard all of my life. There would be more wins, but everyone involved says it was their greatest win.

A few years later, Le-Al-Co won another state championship by beating its arch-rival, Rochelle’s Market. By this time, my dad had expanded to players throughout the state to make up the roster. Many people considered it a Tennessee All-Star team. That did not make the win any less sweeter. In the last inning, Rochelle’s had the tying run on second with one out. A fly ball out near the fence led the runner to advance to first. We appealed the play and said the runner had left base early. The umpire called him out. Ballgame. State champions. The other team went nuts.

Those were great wins, but nothing compares to being at Sandy Springs in July. That is when it hosts the greatest tournament in the nation, the Smoky Mountain Classic. Some say it is bigger than any national championship, and I tend to agree. There is nothing like playing on Saturday night. Thousands of people sit on the hillsides to watch the best teams in the nation. The sounds of Ray Molphy, the Voice of Softball, would boom through the night air. It is electric.

When I was a kid, I refused to go to the room because I did not want to miss anything. They tell the story that we were playing late into the night, and I was worn out. I was standing next to my dad when he looked over to find me asleep. I fell asleep standing up.

We played a lot of games in the Smoky Mountain Classic. We won a bunch and lost a bunch. However, two stand out more than the others.

In 1991, my dad, along with Louisville Slugger, sponsored a team that consisted of players from throughout the country. It was ranked first or second all season. My brother, who did not make many games, showed up that weekend. My dad, my brother, and I watched as the team battled through the loser’s bracket to finish second. It was the highest finish we ever had in the tournament. Two days later, my dad suffered a massive stroke that took him to death’s door.

The next season, I was coaching another team with Larry, who has spent as many nights in Maryville as anyone. It was called Datom Argus and was one of the top ten teams in the country. We found ourselves playing past midnight in the loser’s bracket against the top ranked team, Ritch’s Superior. Despite the lateness, it was a huge game. The winner would get a spot in the national tournament.

I do not remember all of the details of the game, but a few things stick out. The thousands of spectators were gone. Their sponsors and the tournament officials were sitting on the hill watching. Everyone needed and expected the other team to win. One of their best hitters popped up at a crucial time, and Larry taunted him. We were getting under their skin, and they were pressing. Bucky, who put the team together and was one of our best hitters, hit a home run that barely made it over the fence. Their left fielder threw his glove over the fence in disgust.

It was a close game, but we pulled off the upset. We showed up a few hours later to play the next game. Getting to Sunday in the Smoky Mountain Classic is a huge accomplishment, but we were done. Our big game had already been played.

A few months ago, I went to Sandy Springs to take these pictures. The scene was tranquil. People were walking dogs, and children were playing on the fields. However, I could feel something in the air. I could feel the crowd. I could hear the games. I tried to explain it to my wife, but she did not understand. I do not expect those who read this to understand, but Sandy Springs is a special place.