Sep 5, 2020 – Three Women of Tennessee

Before bringing our 21-ft truck into the city, we research the parking options. We found this one pictured here on Google Earth and picked out the one spot we thought would give us a fighting chance to get in and out. It’s the one with the little red car. We figured on a Saturday morning, the lot would be empty (which it was) and backing into the sight would be easy enough. And by the way, this wide-angle image makes the parking lot look way bigger than it actually is!

Thank you Hurricane Laura for changing our travel itinerary. Because of you, we spent a day in Nashville before getting back on track. We love visiting cities but held back during COVID. Finally, armed with masks, we could not pass up a day of visiting one of the most interesting cities in the country. There are a lot of things that strike me about Nashville, not the least of which is the music. And no doubt, the music or really, the history of the music took precedence while visiting the Music City. But buried among the nostalgia of the Grand Old Opry and the many entertainers associated with it, were three stories of three women that stood out for me – three women who, in some way changed the face of Nashville and even the entire country.

Early Saturday morning in downtown Nashville before the crowds. I can’t remember which southern biscuit sandwich we had for breakfast, but I am sure it was low calorie.

After a filling breakfast from Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken, we walked the uncluttered downtown streets and found ourselves standing in front of the iconic Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 and while it was designed as a house of worship, it was often leased out for nonreligious entertainment events to stay afloat. In 1904, along came an enterprising widow and mother who was working as a stenographer, had recently finished business school and relocated to the fast-growing city of Nashville. To make ends meet, Lula C. Naff began helping a colleague book speaking engagements, concerts, etc. at the newly named Ryman Auditorium. Ahead of her time in 1914, Naff made event booking her fulltime job and in 1920, she became the Ryman’s official manager.

A National Historic Landmark, the Ryman Auditorium is still a venue for concerts and events, and tours are given as well. Unfortunately when we were there, it was closed.

To avoid initial prejudices as a female executive in a male-dominated industry, Lula C. Naff used the name L.C. Naff professionally. Naff gained a reputation for battling local censorship groups who threatened to ban many performances deemed too risqué. She had the ability to book shows with world-renowned entertainers including W.C, Fields, Charlie Chaplin and Doris Day. The Ryman was Nashville’s largest indoor gathering place and Naff managed to keep it in the forefront of the city’s awareness. Not only did Naff stand up against censorship, but she also snubbed Jim Crow and provided a diverse range of entertainment that sometimes was enjoyed by integrated audiences in a period of “Whites Only”.

In 1943, Naff saw a good thing and arranged for the Grand Ole Opry to begin broadcasting from the Ryman on June 5, 1943. And there, it originated every week for almost 31 years thereafter with every show sold out. Lula Naff was named Manager Emeritus upon her retirement in 1955 and passed away at the age of 90 five years later. Given the nickname, “The Mother Church of Country Music”, the Ryman Auditorium became a National Historic Landmark in 2001 for its influential role in country music.

Enjoy this slideshow of downtown Nashville, taken during our guided walking tour that included Printers Alley and the Woolworths, site of the lunch counter sit-ins of the 60s.

During the same year that Naff passed away, Hattie Louise ‘Tootsie’ Bess purchased a bar called Mom’s. The old honky tonk shared an alley way with the Ryman Auditorium and was notorious for the Ryman entertainers who snuck away for a drink before, during and/or after a show.

The alleyway between the Ryman Auditorium (on the left) and Tootsies. In between sets at the Ryman, Willie Nelson would sneak over to Tootsies for a drink or two, or three, saying “it’s 17 steps to Tootsie’s, and 34 steps back”.

One day, Bess hired a painter to give the 3-story bar a fresh look. Later, she came back and was surprised to see the building painted orchid purple. Instead of demanding the bar be repainted more appropriately, Bess instead renamed it to ‘Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge’ which to this day is orchid purple.

Tootsie’s in all her Orchid glory, 422 Broadway in the heart of Nashville’s entertainment district.

Many a songwriter including Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams played at Tootsie’s to get their work in front of other performers. And many luckless writers and pickers were graced by Tootsie’s generosity in the form of $5 or $10 bills slipped into a pocket. Apparently, Tootsie had a cigar box behind the counter full of IOUs from hungry artists. Opry performers got together at the end of each year to pay Tootsie. In 1978 after Tootsie’s passing, she was buried in an orchid gown and placed in an orchid-colored casket. On November 8, 2009, Hattie Louise ‘Tootsie’ Bess (herself a singer and comedian) was inducted in the Music City’s Walk of Fame.

Standing in line outside of Tootsies with other masked tourists, we waited for two people to come out of the bar, prompting the doorman to let us in. Tootsies is three stories, each with a stage for live music. We removed the masks, and enjoyed a beer while listening to a local picker play his songs on the second floor.

Enjoy this slideshow from our walk down Broadway’s music district.

But of all the influential women of Tennessee, there was one the stood out more than all the others. This fact came to light as we stood in front of the Hermitage Hotel, built in Beaux-arts style in 1910. The hotel is yet another National Historic Landmark, designated so about one week before our visit. This time, not for its influence on country music, but rather on the right of women to vote. In 1920, as one of Nashville’s leading hotels and a block away from the capitol, the Hermitage became the focal point for the nation.

It was here that both suffragists and anti-suffragists lobbied legislators for several weeks leading up to the Tennessee Senate and House votes.

By the summer of 1920, 35 of the necessary 36 states had ratified the amendment and Tennessee became the Suffragists last, best hope for ratification before the 1920 presidential election. Tennessee’s governor called a special session of the General Assembly on August 9 to consider the issue. Pro- and anti-suffrage activists (the Suffs and the Antis) descended upon Nashville with intent to influence the legislature. For six weeks, the Hermitage Hotel was filled beyond capacity with Suffs, Antis and journalists. All eyes were on Nashville.

The resolution passed easily in Tennessee’s State Senate, while both sides lobbied desperately for the House of Representatives votes. It became known as the ‘War of the Roses’, where legislators favoring the ratification wore yellow (handed out by the Suffs) and those opposed wore red (handed out by the Antis). The intense lobbying worked on both sides because twice, the Tennessee House members voted 48 to 48 to table the motion to concur with the Senate action ratification decision.

As it were, we visited Nashville around the time of the centennial celebration.

On August 18, 1920, a call for a third vote on the original motion was made, assuming it would again be defeated by the same tie vote. The House’s youngest legislator at the age of 24 was Harry T. Burn from a little town called Niota. Burn came into the votes with a red rose on his lapel and voted ‘Nay’ twice to table the motion prior to the third vote.  Originally, Burns supported the suffragists but was pressured by his party leaders and constituents telling him his district was overwhelmingly against woman suffrage. Burns began the voting process siding with them.

A third roll call commenced and five votes later, landed on Harry T. Burn. Tucked away in Harry’s suit jacket pocket under the red rose was a letter delivered that morning from Pheobe ‘Febb’ Burn, his mother. Among a few stories from her farm, Febb wrote the following,

“Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt.

With lots of love, Mama”

Knowing very well what he had to do, Burns said ‘Aye’ and pulled off his red rose. The suffrage vote had passed the Tennessee House 49-47 and Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment which became law ensuring the right to vote could not be denied based on sex.

In the case of Harry T. Burn, the significance of a mother’s influence on her son cannot be overstated. Since 1848, women had organized and fought for suffrage at the national level. It was an extremely difficult battle fought by thousands of women who literally put their lives on the line by enduring violence and incarceration. So it is amazing to think that the amendment’s passage came down to one mother’s gentle but forthright nudge toward her son that made all the difference in the world.

Thank you Lula Naff, Tootie Bess and Febb Burn.

One last note, we also visited the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum for a walk down nostalgia lane. Here are a few photos from that visit.

There must have been a couple dozen drum sets on display at the museum, including this one from Santana’s drummer Michael Shrieve. His stunning Woodstock performance of the song “Soul Sacrifice” is forever burned in many people’s memories.
Only a few musicians are honored with a full room exhibition at the museum. Jimi Hendrix is one of them.
Cosmo’s Factory – my first album purchased with my own money! I still like to hear “Doo doo doo, lookin’ out my back door”.
There is a museum in Nashville devoted to Johnny Cash, but the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum did him justice.

Aug 26, 2020 – Running from Laura

Our tour through Arkansas included four stops, each of which would give us lots of time on the water. It began in the Ozark Mountains and was to end at the Mississippi River.

Sometimes intentions are just that. Vivian and I had every intention of spending quality time in Arkansas this year, mostly because we didn’t get to do it as planned last year. Last year, Vivian broke her ankle while fly fishing the White River on the first day of our month-long Arkansas adventure. Consequently, reservations got cancelled as we hobbled out of Arkansas feeling defeated.

It is now 2020, Vivian has fully recovered and we’re back in Arkansas to slay our demons. To ensure we didn’t miss anything, I booked four Arkansas campgrounds giving us almost one month to explore its backwoods country. And it all began in the tiny town of Gilbert on the beautiful Buffalo National River.

At the Gilbert RV campground, we could open our door to view the steam rising from the Buffalo River each morning.
Gilbert, population 33, is a one-road town and that road dead ends at the Buffalo River. The most activity is at the campground seen here or down the road a bit at the outfitter/general store.
During the early 1920s, Reverend John Battenfield and his followers migrated into Gilbert and aspired to create a self-sufficient community to survive the return of the Messiah. Gilbert Cemetery was created for those who didn’t make it for the anticipated Rapture.
We camped five nights in Gilbert which gave us time to explore the area and paddle the infamous Buffalo National River.
Established in 1972, Buffalo National River flows freely for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states.

Next on our whirlwind tour of Arkansas was Lake Dardenelle State Park where we secured a coveted full hookup site on the water. The campground was quite generous with its real estate as we enjoyed a full view of the water from the RV. From the RV we could walk halfway down to the water to our own patio large enough for a couple of chairs and table.

From our campsite, we had prime real estate overlooking Lake Dardenelle. The lake is a major reservoir on the Arkansas River and covers over 40,000 acres.
While Vivian fished Lake Dardenelle, I photographed it.
From the state park’s pier, Arkansas Nuclear One is in clear view. The lake was created in 1968 upon the completion of the Dardenelle Dam. Although the lake itself offers beauty and a prolific fishery, there are always reminders of the strong hand of man.
We spent a day hiking some of the trails at nearby Petit Jean State Park, one of Arkansas’s best, located between the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark Plateaus.
A pioneer cabin nestled in the Ouachita Mountains was where five children were born over a hundred and fifty years ago. You can visit it at Petit Jean State Park.
Sandstone and iron oxide create interesting patterns and textures as seen on the Bear Cave Trail in Petit Jean State Park.
Lake Dardenelle supports a habitat for macro-invertebrates such as the mayfly nymphs. After spending the day exploring the area, we came home to this, the RV covered in mayflies. To me, mayflies are beautiful, so I commenced to photograph them. Enjoy the slide show below.

Our next stop was Lake Oauchita (pronounced WAH-shi-tah) where we had six days at Denby Point, an Army Corp campground.

Our campsite on Lake Ouachita. Unfortunately, we did not get to stay as long as we intended.
With the time we did have, we stayed put at the campground so Vivian could fish every morning while I explored the shoreline.

As always, we keep a wary eye on the weather. When we arrived at Denby Point, forewarnings of tropical disturbances was vaguely on our radar screen; that is until Laura came along. No doubt, being hundreds of miles from a coastline makes one cavalier toward tropical storms, but not this time. Tropical storm Laura was heading toward Arkansas and Denby Point was in the middle of it.

Laura was big and bad enough to make us leave and head north.

So we left. For the second time, I cancelled reservations at Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas’s newest. It was not meant to be. Instead, we left the southern mountains and drove north to Illinois, barely out of Laura’s cone of certainty. Laura approached the Louisiana coastline as a category 4 hurricane on August 27 and became the tenth-strongest U.S. hurricane landfall by windspeed. Louisiana was devastated – Texas and Arkansas were struck hard. Laura entered Arkansas as a tropical storm and generated eight tornadoes, the largest tornado outbreak recorded in the state during the month of August. Widespread flash flood warnings were issued throughout the state, along with 57 mph wind gusts.

Friendly campground chickens visited our campsite at Whittington Woods Campground outside of Benton, Illinois. We really enjoyed this campground and the owners were generous enough to share a dozen fresh eggs, complements of the friendly chickens.

Nimble with our 33-ft fifth wheel in tow, we were safe in Benton, Illinois. Never heard of the little town before, but dang if it didn’t turn out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Not because George Harrison visited it (the first U.S. visit by a Beatle) or because it was the site of the last public hanging in Illinois, or where John Malkovich grew up. No, instead, Benton, Illinois will always be in our memory because, through happenstance, we got to spend quality time with good friends and fellow fulltime RV’ers who were camped nearby.

While we were running north away from a hurricane, our friends Lorraine & Spencer were making a beeline across the country from Oregon to South Carolina attempting to get there in time for a wedding. As luck would have it, our paths intersected in Benton, Illinois. Didn’t seem like it, but it had been two years since we saw them last in Indiana. So with our friends, we toured Benton and had a blast.

This picture is the result of gawking tourists driving by. So what’s the story here? In September 1963, George Harrison and his brother came to Benton to visit their sister Louise who lived in this house with her husband. At that time, the U.S. had not yet caught on to the Beatles. But that would happen soon after many folks in Benton met the skinny younger brother of Louise. He had funny hair, but people found him to be respectful and charming.
The “George Comes to Benton – 1963” mural created by California artist John Cerney welcomes you to Benton, Illinois. While George visited Benton, a neighbor of Louise drove him to a music shop in nearby Mt Vernon where he purchased a Rickenbacker 425 guitar. It was fire red, but George had it refinished in black. The guitar, which he used when the Beatles recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand” a month later, sold at auction in 2014 for $657,000.
Beatles memorabilia can be bought at an antique shop in downtown Benton. During his visit, many people of Benton became acquainted with the younger brother of Louise. One Sunday in early February 1964, the people of Benton turned on their television sets along with a record-breaking 73 million other viewers to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show.” George’s second trip to America was proving to be very different from his first.

Were we disappointed that our Arkansas plans were once again foiled? Absolutely not! But to Arkansas, our nemesis, I say “We’ll be back!”

Spencer, Vivian, Lorraine and Connie. One of the perks of traveling in an RV is meeting others who do the same. Our friends also travel in a Grand Design Reflection and through regular correspondence, we share our adventures and learn from theirs.

Aug 3, 2020 – Bleeding Kansas

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Visiting it gave us a chance to enjoy some of the outdoor markets.
City markets can wake up your senses! Most of our travels are spent in rural areas. So spending some time in a vibrant city is refreshing to us.

Our interest in American history continually evolves with our travels. Learning the unique history of a place enriches our travel experiences, gives us a deeper understanding, and shapes our itineraries. It opens our eyes to the lives of so many people of the past whose actions, intellect, drive, bravery, love or hatred still reverberates through time. So with that, we heeded our friends (fulltime RV travelers) Lorraine and Spencer’s advice and visited the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City.

How the Arabia Steamboat Museum came to be is an extraordinary story. The sidewheel steamboat sank in the Missouri River near what is today Kansas City, on September 5, 1856. In 1987, Bob Hawley and his sons, Greg and David, set out to find the Arabia. They used old maps and a proton magnetometer to locate it, and finally discovered it under 45 ft of silt and topsoil.

We didn’t realize coming into the museum how much it would contribute to our Civil War history lessons. The museum is full of preserved artifacts that were saved from the sunken ship that was loaded with immigrants as well as goods being delivered to the western territories, including Kansas. It is an extraordinary time capsule of a most fascinating period in U.S. history. Many patents were being created and with so many people immigrating to western territories, a large supply of new-fangled products for home building and farming, guns, clothing, housewares, food and medicines were being shipped along with them.

The only casuality of the sinking of the Arabia.

What makes this even more fascinating is that everything contained on the Arabia was well preserved within the mud (devoid of oxygen and light) of the Missouri River for over a century. Check out this slide show to see some of the remarkable displays, including the preservation lab.

It was the museum and then later, a visit to Lawrence, Kansas that enlightened us to the civil war that had been going on years before THE Civil War began. And this pre-civil war conflict began in Lawrence, Kansas in 1855. Indeed, it was these words from Senator Atchison of Missouri who wrote in September 1855 to his southern friends, “the Kansas contest is one of life and death, and it will be so with you and your institution if we fail…the stake the “border ruffians” are playing for is a mighty one… in a word, the prosperity or the ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle”.

Among the many goods carried by the Arabia were Sharps Rifles, These were brought in primarily from the New England Emigrant Aid Company out of New England to supply Kansas abolitionists that were at war with pro-slavery opponents from Missouri.

It is clear from this letter that the institution of slavery was under attack and Kansas played a big role in determining whether slavery would survive or not. A few months earlier, Horace Greeley (editor of the New York Tribune) wrote a celebrated editorial predicting the great battle between Freedom and Slavery was at hand and that the little cloud hovering over a handful of people in the far West foreshadowed the coming storm.

So how did Kansas get drawn into the fight? The short of it is, organization of western territories was in demand and this required railroads. Since 1820, the country was divided by the 36th parallel – above it, free states; below it, slave states. Realizing the importance of a transcontinental railway for taking hold of the western territories, southern slaveholders wanted it to run below the 36th parallel and this included Kansas.

A violent conflict exploded between slave-state Missouri and the Kansas territory which was increasingly populated with abolitionists transported from New England. Much of the violence occurred in and around Lawrence, Kansas. Both sides shipped immigrants and armaments to the region. This is where the Arabia Steamboat comes into the story as it was a common means of transporting immigrants and guns to Kansas. Among supplies and goods shipped to western territories were the Sharps Rifle that were later known as “Beecher Bibles”. These rifled designed and patented in 1848 were known for their long-range accuracy and became icons of the American West. A leading abolitionist and part of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, Henry Ward Beecher believed the Sharps Rifle was a “truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles.” His sister, by the way was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the famous anti-slavery novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

After years of violent conflict, Kansas was admitted as a free state on January 29, 1861, and this was only because enough southern Senators had departed during the secession crisis that led to the Civil War. Our lessons into the tragic events leading up to the Civil War culminated at the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas. The college town ambience made us feel at home, and from its museum, we came to appreciate its contributions to civil rights activism, including a recent Black Lives Matter protest.

The Watkins Museum of History walks you through Lawrence’s civil rights history that continues to this day. Since 1855, we have come a long way, but their are always reminders that the journey continues.
Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas advertises youthful whimsy in every store window.
And showed us a witty sense of humor in the time of COVID.
Having been in rural western Kansas and Nebraska for weeks prior, the overt welcoming signs were a delightful shock.
Practical and effective advice provided with humor – a nice alternative to the “no masks required” signs we were use to seeing through much of the great plains.

We spent two full days in the area of Kansas City & Lawrence while camped in Topeka. The stark yet refreshing contrast from our western Kansas experience did not go unnoticed while visiting a vibrant city market and an eclectic college town. But that’s not what we came for. No, we wanted to go to Wamego. Why Wamego? To see the Wizard, of course! And with that, we leave the great plains and head south.

Downtown Wamego.
It isn’t always history that leads us to some unknown town, like Wamego, Kansas home of the Oz Museum
Even in Oz, some do and some don’t.