A Conversation with Howard Claiborne, Life-long Bearden Resident on Friday, September 14, 2018
(Transcribed and edited by Paul James for the Knoxville History Project)
Present: Howard Claiborne, Jack Neely, and Paul James
Paul James: Mr. Claiborne, you’ve lived in Knoxville your whole life?
Howard Claiborne: I was born right there in the heart of Bearden and never lived more than a mile…before I was born, I lived in 13 different houses in the heart of Bearden. I never lived more than a mile from where I was born ‘til I moved in here (off Northshore at River Sound) with my granddaughter. I lost my wife two years ago.
Jack Neely and James: I’m sorry to hear that (both)
James: What was your wife’s name?
Claiborne: Vera. Vera Claiborne. She was catholic and I left Erin (Presbyterian) and I thought family should go to church as a group. So I joined a catholic church. And biggest mistake I ever made in my life.
Neely: Is that right, why?
Claiborne: Oh god. I got out immediately as soon as she died. I can’t take the molesting of those children. That’s…oh, man. I’m a spiritual person. I’m studying the mysteries. I’m Rosicrucian. I studied the mysteries for 70 years. I read every book in that case over there…reincarnation, everything you can imagine, the other religions, and I just couldn’t take (the molestation)…however, all of my first cousins were Catholic, my mother married my a Catholic in New York and all my first cousins were Catholic so I’ve been exposed to the Catholic…whatever you want to call it for years…but I just couldn’t take that…
Neely: Well, just to give us context, what year were you born?
Neely: And were you born in Bearden?
Claiborne: Yes, I was born right across from the Depot, I was born right there, right behind where Central Baptist Church is now. Alright, I was born right behind Central Baptist Church, on the railroad. At that time the front yards went down to the railroad and the trains were almost, you know, 50 feet from our front door.
Bearden Station/The Depot
Neely: Tell me about the Depot. There was a passenger station right there?
Claiborne: Oh yeah. There was a Depot right across the street.
Neely: Southern, right?
Claiborne: Southern Railroad Depot, and the headmaster, the guy, head of the depot, was a real good friend of ours and he walked through our yard every day to get to the depot.
Neely: Do you remember his name?
Claiborne: Webster. Mr. Webster. He lived on Kingston Pike right there on Deane Hill Drive. He was a very good friend of our family, my grandfather and all, and so growing up I more or less had to run the depot. I could come and go anytime I want…
Neely: Tell me, this something surprising to people who don’t remember it. How big was the depot? What did it look like?
Claiborne: Oh, it was big, it was 50 feet long. It was a huge shipping center. Farnham Brother’s Garage, it had a garage there on what they called “The Corner”. That’s where Kingston Pike crosses Northshore Drive. Now that was called “The Corner”. No, that was Bearden. That was the heart of Bearden. And like I said, I knew everybody within a three mile radius of that area. Knew every family. And didn’t only know them but were good friends. And half of us were related.
James: There’s a Mortuary there now, right?
Claiborne: Oh yeah. We sold that to Mann’s Mortuary. That was the Erin church.
Neely: But the Depot was…which side…
Claiborne: It was on the opposite side of the railroad.
Claiborne: Opposite side? I’m sorry…?
Claiborne: There’s Erin Church, the original church,
Neely: If we’re at Northshore and Kingston Pike, was it on the north…
Claiborne: South, it was across the railroad.
Neely: Was it near the trestle that’s there now I guess? The trestle over Northshore?
Claiborne: Oh yeah, it was right next to it.
Neely: On the east or west side?
Claiborne: West side. Where the brick company is now. There’s a brick company there. It was a big shipping center, Farnham Brothers Garage would get a car load of tires and they would bring them…people would come in, from Concord, with horse and buggies and Eastern State Hospital had patients then that…they had coal, everything was coal fire back then. Everybody in Bearden had a coal stove. There was no electricity. We couldn’t have had electricity if we wanted to.
Claiborne: I remember when they put the telephone poles in Bearden. I remember when building was concrete Kingston Pike and Weisgarber Road was blacktop but every other street was gravel. Gravel road.
Neely: Back to the train. To get a train…would people take trains short distances in those days?
Claiborne: Oh yeah.
Neely: Would you go to Knoxville on a train?
Claiborne: Oh yeah. I remember my parents talking, Ms. Thomas lived next door to us, she said, “Will you have lunch with us tomorrow.” We said “No, we’re going to Knoxville tomorrow.”
Neely: And they’d get on the train?
Claiborne: So they’d go down to the train, and get on a train, and go to Knoxville.
James: This would be the late ‘20s, early ‘30s?
Claiborne: Yeah, ‘30s.
Neely: Do you remember when they closed it, when they tore it down?
Claiborne: I don’t remember dates. I had a stroke. And I don’t remember dates.
Neely: About what age were you when it stopped running?
Claiborne: It was well after the war. They didn’t close it until ’50 I think. But ’41 and ’42 was the fast trains that went through there and when I was a little boy the post office, you had to go the Post Office to get your mail. Miss B, bless her, a sweet old lady…everybody has a Miss B, she was the post mistress and she was a good friend of ours, a family friend. She went to Erin church. She dies and left all her property to Erin Church and when trains came through…they had an arm on the side of the train that was hinged and it come out and they had a rack built right there out… a few yards down from the depot and the guy inside, he would pull that handle down and that rack would come up and it would catch that mail sack and at the same time and he would kick our mail that was coming in out.
Neely: Tell me about businesses that around there….early groceries or drug stores that you remember?
Claiborne: Oh, yeah. Bruce Anderson. P.A. Anderson owned the grocery store where the Krispy Crème doughnut store is now. And he owned it for years. And he had money. And he built all these houses in Bearden and rented them. Like I said, my grandfather was a carpenter and you could stand on Bearden Hill and count 100 houses that my grandfather built in Bearden. He built Cherokee Country Club. He had two brothers who…one of them built the Farragut Hotel. My grandfather’s brother built the Farragut Hotel. So Bruce Anderson’s father, P.A Anderson, did a lot of finance and rent. He rented the 3 or 4 of the houses we lived in. He rented them. Rent was 8 and 10 dollars a month. The biggest building, what they called the corner, was Farnham Brothers Garage. It was a Texico station right there, where Erin church, where the doughnut shop is now. That new doughnut shop (Duck Doughnuts). P.A. Anderson built one building there, nice brick building. They called it the corner. There was Le Hardy Drug store, the barber shop, the White Store that moved in much later after the White Stores came in. Then George Bearden run a café/restaurant there and the Farnham Brothers Garage. And above it was the Lodge Hall. Cherokee Lodge Hall. I delivered groceries on a bicycle.
Neely: Was that a Masonic Lodge?
Claiborne: Yes. I was a member. My Daddy was a member. My father-in-law, my brother-in-law.
Neely: Is it the same one that’s still there now?
Claiborne: They moved, they sold that to the bank. They had to move, and they moved across the street.
Neely: Tell me about some of these individual places like Le Hardy’s, but I don’t know anything about it.
Well, Le Hardy…there wasn’t many phones in Bearden. There wasn’t 10 phones in Bearden. But he had a phone. And Deal’s Barbershop was right next door.
Neely: Is that D-E-A-L?
Claiborne: D-E-A-L, yes. He cut my hair all my life. I never will forget when I was about 4 years old and my cousin came in from Newport and he spent the night with us and of course we didn’t have inside plumbing. Nobody had inside plumbing and he needed to shave and he wanted to…he called me Buddy…I need to go down to the Barbershop to get a shave.” Do you want to come with me?” And I said ”Yeah, I’ll go.” Well, I’d never been in a barbershop. My mother always cut my hair. I had Buster Brown and so we went in the barbershop…fooled around some…he pulled a lever and pulled him down horizontally, you know, and he took this steamed towel, put this steamed towel on his face and took this razor and started sharpening it. God, I was scared to death! I thought he was gonna operate on him.
James: Sounds like Sweeney Todd!
Claiborne: Man, I scattered out of there and ran home.
Neely: My first haircut was at, I think it was called the Bearden Barbershop….on Northshore, not far from Kingston Pike.
Claiborne: Jake….Jake (seems not remember last name)
Neely: Jake? Is that right?
Neely: That wasn’t kin to Deal’s Barbershop?
Claiborne: No, no. Mr. Deal, finally he died. He was there all of my lifetime until I went to the army, to the Air Corps.
Neely: Well, tell me, back up to Mr. Anderson ‘s grocery store. What would you get there? Just basic…
Neely: Anything? Almost anything?
Claiborne: Yeah. Horse collar. Harness. All the staple groceries. Flour. A lot of people got flour in a 50 pound sack, flour and lard, everything. Then went he built a new one for his son across the street. He tore the old store down and built a new store and built a new building and called it Tourist Court. He had Tourist Court for years on that corner.
Neely: And, let’s see, you mentioned a café of some kind…
Claiborne: The little café there in between, squeezed in between them, had about a dozen counters and three or four stools. It was really nice. George Bearden ran it for a while. Several people ran it for a while.
Neely: Anything in particular they specialized in?
Claiborne: Hamburgers, French fries, and plate lunches. You could get a plate lunch there. That was a treat to get a plate lunch. People couldn’t afford it.
Neely: All right. You mentioned Tourist Court. Tell me, I guess you grew up with people from all over the country driving down Kingston Pike all the time.
Claiborne: Oh, yeah.
Neely: Tell me what that was like.
Claiborne: You used to go down and watch the cars go by, and name the cars. Back then I knew every car that was on the road.
Neely: There were lots of businesses that catered to the tourists. One time there were lots of tourist courts.
Claiborne: Yeah. Alhambra was the big tourist court. Mr. Fooshee came in from McMinnville I believe. He built Alhambra Tourist Court, a beautiful big house and I remember I mowed the yard. His yard run from Kingston Pike to Sutherland Avenue. Right there where Highland Memorial Cemetery is. I mowed that whole yard with a push mower for a quarter. And I drank four Pepsi Cola’s while I was doing it and ended up with a nickel. Then his son, LeRoy Fooshee, He was my Scout master at Erin Church when we had a Boy Scout….I was a charter member of the boy scout troop when I got 12 years old. Then built two or three or four little cottages in the big front yard and when he died and his son’s took it over and it sort of went down, and it sort of lost its prestige.
Neely: I remember it seeing it. It must have been after the tourist time.
Claiborne. And LeRoy married Estes Kefauver’s sister.
Claiborne: Well, she wasn’t all there and then they had two children, a girl and a boy. And the boy, George Fouche, he…I don’t know what was wrong with him. But he never did get a haircut. I used to see him at the S&S Cafeteria and just 20 years. I don’t know why they let him come in. But now his brother, he had a twin, twin brothers, Leon and LeRoy, Leon was sharp as a tack. He was in the Air Corps and he was a navigator like me, I was a navigator on a B17, B29. He took his money, when Fooshee died, he took his share of the money and moved to Bearden Hill and built Terrace View Motel. It was a top grade motel and it was one of the main ones in Bearden for years. And it was right there…
Neely: Was that the great big square one that was up there, built in the 1960s?
Claiborne: Yes. Then they built another one next to it, McKee’s Motel. Then they built two or three more on the low Kingston Pike around Walker Springs. But then there were two that were there for years, that were up what we called “Forks of the Road,” Camp Delight and I don’t remember what the other one was but they were there til just a few years ago.
James: Where would Forks of the Road be?
Claiborne: Lyons View. Lyons View split off (Kingston Pike) that was called the Forks. There was Sonors (?) Drugstore and A&P there. Two buildings. I worked at the White Store there in Bearden and then in High School I transferred and went to the other White Store, was where Parker Brothers garage is. I went to City school and had to pay tuition and had to pay my way through school at the White Store there on Kingston Pike right across from OP Andrew’s Box Company.
Neely: Which School did you go to?
Claiborne: I went to Stair Tech.
Neely: Yeah, I’ve head of that.
Claiborne: I went to Bearden until they ran out, see…I went to Bearden Grammar School. And when I was in the 8th grade, that thing was growing, they built a new school. The old school was where Food City is (Bearden Shopping Center, 5941 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919). They built a new school up there, it was a Junior High. They added the 9th grade. And then things were growing quite a bit and then the net year they added the 10th grade. Then the next year they were going to add the 11th. Well, they didn’t have any facilities. They were on the tail end of everything you know. Back then there was a lot of politics in schools, and Hop Bailey saw that Central got everything.
Neely: I’ve heard people refer to it (Stair Tech) but not where it was.
Claiborne: it was right where City Hall is. I went to classrooms in the old City Hall building.
Neely: The one that’s now LMU Law School downtown?
Claiborne: I don’t know what it is now. Back then it used to be a hospital. It was a hospital during the civil war. I went to school in the three-story buildings, and a real nice building, but it was old. I went two years there and graduated before going to the Air Corps.
Neely: That would have been in the late ‘30s?
Claiborne: I left in ’43.
Neely: What was downtown like then?
Claiborne: Oh, god, I loved downtown, man. I hated to see downtown go.
Neely: What did you like best?
Claiborne: National Shirt Shop. Blue Circle. And, of course, what’s the famous hamburger, Krystal Hamburger. You’d get a Krystal Hamburger for a nickel. I ate breakfast every morning at Krystal on Gay Street and get doughnuts and chocolate milk. When we went to a movie or something, we’d end up at Krystal. Krystals were a nickel.
Neely: What do remember about the movies? I’ve heard a lot about the movie theatres in those days.
Claiborne: The Tennessee was built the year I was born. God it was beautiful. They had the organ there. Billy Barnes played the organ. They would have sing-alongs. They had the bouncing ball you know. When I grew up, when I dated, that’s where we would go. Go to the Tennessee. I’d park in Pryor Brown Garage, on Gay Street, down a block.
Neely: They had a deal with the Tennessee one time. I think if you went to the Tennessee you could get cheaper parking. Something like that. The Riviera….did you ever go there?
Claiborne: Oh, yeah. I’ve been to the Riveria many times. The Strand was my favorite up on the corner because they showed Westerns and they would have a “Late Owl Show” that didn’t start ‘til 11 O’clock. And when I worked for the White Store, we closed, and they had to make a report every night. They had to take it in to the office on the Broadway Viaduct up there. So every Saturday night, me, two or three of my friends (who worked at the grocery store with me) would ride up and we’d go to the “Late Owl Show” and then we would walk to Bearden. I remember, one might we ran every step of the way.
Neely: About an hour and a half walk I bet?
Claiborne: We saw Frankenstein (laughter!) and I’ve never been so scared in my life. We started walking, me and Walter Warren, my cousin, started walking…this was back when Kingston Pike had little street lights and they were about a quarter of a mile away. And you come down Kingston Pike and when you run out of light it was inky until you got to the next light. And, man, I could just feel him behind me. And we just ran, I mean we ran every step of the way from Gay Street…
Neely: How old were you then?
Claiborne: Oh, was, I guess 15…14, 15, something like that.
James: You saw Dracula as well?!
Claiborne: No, I never did see Dracula, just Frankenstein. I’ve never been so scared.
MUSIC/CHET ATKINS/ARCHIE CAMPBELL
Neely: Did you ever see any music, folks like Chet Atkins was around when you were a teenager?
Claiborne: Oh, I knew Chet Atkins well.
Neely: Oh, did you? Seriously?
Claiborne: Lowell Blanchard as well….I was ashamed of it. Back then it was Hillbilly. All Knoxville was ashamed of it. Lowell Blanchard was the Head Ned (?).
Neely: But he was from Chicago.
Claiborne: I don’t know where he was from. He was famous…he was a promoter. They would go on personal appearances like La Follette, Clinton, and they went up one night to Maynardsville, or somewhere…and Chet Atkins was a fiddler…he played the fiddle. They called it the fiddle because of the style he played it. And Chet Atkins was picking the guitar and he got half way to Knoxville and he said…Lowell said, “Chet, you’re a damn fool.” He said “You need to throw that damn fiddle away. You’re too good on that guitar.” So he did. He discarded the fiddle and played the guitar. He’s from Luttrell, and the reason I know so well, I had a cousin that came down, Homer Harris, and Grand Pappy…Archie Campbell…was a good friend of Homer Harris. Well my mother, was Homer Harris’ Aunt and raised him. She carried him on her hip and raise Homer Harris. Like I said, this is right in the middle of the Depression. Homer Harris and Grand Pappy…my mother, every Sunday, cooked a big Sunday dinner. She was a very religious person and she’d cook it. A lot of times she’d have her Sunday dinner ready to go on the table before dark on Saturday night. But she had turkey and dressing, candied sweet potatoes. Oh man. They were two bachelors, and Archie Campbell and Homer Harris would come and eat dinner with us every Sunday.
Neely: How about that.
Claiborne: Archie Campbell could shoot, I tell you. He was amazing. My Daddy had a .22 rile and Sunday afternoon, we didn’t have anything to do, and he’d (Campbell) take that rifle, and we’d have an oak tree down there and…I don’t know, it was several yards away…he’d say. “Bud, take this penny down there and put it on this oak tree. Well, I took the penny down there and put it on that oak tree, and he said, “now what do you want me to hit?” Said Old Abe…you want me to clip his chin, or want me to clip his beard?” (laughter) I said, “Well, clip his beard.” (Mimics gun shot.) And I’d run down there and get that penny and I’d be damned if it wasn’t…(undecipherable)
James: Did you nail it to the tree?
Claiborne: No, I just put it in the bark, you see…under the bark.
Neely: I’ve never heard that about Archie Campbell.
Claiborne: Oh, he was a marksman, but he didn’t have a hair on his head. Bald headed. But he ate Sunday dinner at our house for years. They were just barely making a living, but back then they had the Midday Merry-Go-Round…
Neely: Did you go to that?
Claiborne: No, I never did. You know, I said, I was ashamed of it ‘cos it was Country, Hillbilly, They had Homer and Jethro, Rector…Red Rector…a lot of…..Hot Shot Elmer…it was corny, you know….I was a teenager then, it was just didn’t hit me right.
Neely: Did you know Chet Atkins personally though?
Claiborne: Oh yeah. I knew Chet Atkins personally. They would go down and have the Merry-Go-Round and then when the Merry-Go-Round closed at 12 o’clock, or 1 o’clock, they would stay and have jam sessions. Then I would go to some of those. See, I knew Homer, but Homer and Chet Atkins were good friends…Homer, Chet Atkins…back then it was Jerry Collins, was a pianist…and a Italian name, I think..
Neely: A couple of them…Jerry Musco..
Neely: There was a guy, Tony Cianciolo… or something like that, that was….
Claiborne: Half of Knoxville was glad when they went to Nashville. But Knoxville could have been…
Neely: It’s interesting that Jerry Collins was a bandleader here later…
Claiborne: Yeah. He was here for years. He had a dance band after that. You see, they changed it from Hillbilly to Country and they raise the prestige and then it went into Hee Haw.
Neely: But Chet was interested into jazz even early on…Django Reinhardt, that sort of thing, he was interested in when he was here …I don’t know if he talked about that to you at the time. It’s interesting how he started out as a good guitarist from Union County but then started doing different things when he was here in Knoxville and started to sound more jazzy or something…
Claiborne: If it hadn’t been for Lowell Blanchard he’d still been a fiddler.
Neely: You’re probably right!
Claiborne: Homer Harris didn’t quite make it.
Neely: You hear his name occasionally.
Claiborne: He knew Gene Autry…he was from Cocke County…he was from Hartford. He was good looking. Oh man, he looked like Robert Taylor. He went to Hollywood and had screen tests. He knew Gene Autry well. He and Gene Autry were good friends. He had a screen test but his voice was too high pitched. If it hadn’t have been for that he would have been a movie star.
Neely: No kidding.
Claiborne: But I remember one time they were there. They were out in the desert and had a herd of cattle. They were trying their best to get them to stampede. And couldn’t get ‘em to stampede you know. Homer said, “I’ll get ‘em to stampede.” Fire crackers come in a great big packet, they’re about a foot long. He got a package of firecrackers and went in the middle of them and they got a signal to light it on the tail of one of those cattle. Well, they lit and couldn’t stop the stampede. It went over to the next county. But if his voice wouldn’t have been high pitched he’d have made a movie star. So he came back here and ended up going to school. He had a horse…it wasn’t named trigger… I don’t know what it was but it was an educated horse. It would count. You would say” What’s two and two” and it would stamp his foot four times. He’d go to schools in the whole area.
Neely: How about that. There’s a billion things I’d like to ask you about but you mentioned movie stars and that made me think about Barbara Fulton and later Gentry who was in the Fulton family on Lyons View.
WESTON FULTON/FULTON MANSION/LYONS VIEW PIKE
Claiborne: I lived next door, after I got married, I lived next door….on Lyons View Pike for 37 years. I knew Mr. Fulton personally. I knew Barbara. My father-in-law had a grocery store on the corner and my mother went to work for Mr. Fulton. My mother and Daddy met at Fulton Sylphon Company during the war. And my mother was a personal friend of Mr. Fulton. He taught her how to roll those bellows (?) that go in the thermostat. And she was one of his favorite employees. And she worked the whole time. When Fulton retired… well, because he was working on a smokeless furnace when he died. His right hand man was Sydney and they would come down and come to the grocery store and come in and eat sardines. Sit on a stool in the back, in the stock room, and eat sardines. You wouldn’t know who he was…
Neely: He wasn’t a pretentious guy…
Claiborne: Yeah…unless you knew him. And he developed…when diesel came in and the streamlined trains came through, they did away with coal, and he lost out on it. But I knew Mr. Fulton well.
Neely: So he did badly because of diesel? I don’t understand?
Claiborne: See, just before he developed this smokeless furnace they came out with the diesel trains and all and they put a quietus on coal. They converted to gas and oil, you see. Instead of getting a coal furnace, they got an oil furnace, you see. When Fulton built that house on the hill he bought the right of way to the river for a sewer. This was before they had City sewers. And my father-in-law’s aunt lived there on a house on Lyons View Pike right behind Dalton Store and Fulton bought a right of way from there to the lake. My uncle was smart, he said “well, now, I’ll sell it to you on one condition, you put me in some plugs in here and let me connect my property when the time comes on to the sewer line, you see. Fulton said it was no big deal. So back when I built my house on Lyons View Pike, I hooked on to this same sewer line. And he had a son who was a motor boat enthusiast, Robert, (the younger son?). He loved motor boats and he built great big stucco house for motor boats and filled it full of water. He took the gutters and piped them all into the thing so when it rained it would keep it full of water. I remember the big chute that went down to the river…it was a river then, not a lake…I played on it many a time and he had one that had an airplane engine in it, and I would climb up there on that thing, site there and just look at it. Because I was interested in aviation too you know. And he died in a car wreck…they were coming down Kingston Pike from Cumberland Avenue, sitting in the back seat with his other date…he double dating…and they were going real fast and right in front of Tyson school Kingston Pike narrowed and there was a concrete post sitting there. Well, he hit that damned post and it killed Robert Fulton instantly. This was right about the time I was born. And Mr. (Weston) Fulton built the thing up there (the mansion) had a spotlight shining down on his crypt there at Highland memorial Cemetery. And Mr. Fulton built that building on the corner of Lyons View Pike for his children and insurance…I forget what the name of the insurance company was, but it was for Barbara. Barbara was sophisticated. Jean was normal. Miss Fulton was a beautiful person. You would never know who she was. But Barbara went to New York. She married Fenton Gentry in New York. I knew him real well. They built that building there and opened up an insurance company.
Neely: Which building are you talking about?
Claiborne: On the corner of Lyons view Pike and Harley Road. He stucco’d ok and it matches the décor and they operated it for years. Several of our friends worked there. Miss Knott, my mother-in-law, that had the grocery store next door, she opened up, after they had moved in across the street, a tea room there and served lunch and half of the crew came over and had lunch.
LYONS VIEW STREET CAR
Neely: That was right at the end of the street car line?
Claiborne: Yes, the bus terminus. You see the bus coming and went around that store. I lived on that loop I built a house and lived there for 37 years.
Neely: How about that. Did that stop when they stopped the street cars in ’47 or so?
Neely: It kept going?
Claiborne: No, it kept going. I remember when it was on rails. I had a BB gun when I was a boy. I walked to Dalton’s Store to get BBs. I remember walking on…
Neely: This is something that people argue about – whether there were rails or not. And you’re saying there were definitively rails down Lyons View?
Claiborne: It was rails. I walked them. I remember walking on them. Then it converted to the trolley. It was the only trolley in town. It was electric, it had the wires and he’d get out and have to….but I remember walking across years ago. I was just big enough to walk ‘em. It came down and circled around that store.
Neely: Mr. Fulton…did you know him well in his later years.
Claiborne: I knew him after he was retired.
Neely: I recently learned something about him that I didn’t k now and that he killed himself. Did you ever hear that?
Claiborne: I never heard that, no.
Neely: It’s on his death certificate that he overdosed.
Claiborne: No, I’ve never heard that.
Neely: But Barbara, she was involved in theatre at UT, started Carousel and things like that.
Claiborne: People didn’t like Barbara too much…she was too sophisticated. But Jean, her sister was…
Neely: Was she the one that married Bob Talley?
Claiborne: I don’t remember that. I remember her brother, Robert – he lived in West Moreland for years. You may have known him…Robert Fulton?
Neely: I think I might have met him. I knew the Talley’s a little bit,. I must have known Jean Talley.
Claiborne: They were nice people.
AVIATION/GRIFFITH’S HILL/BEARDEN HILL
Neely: You said you were interested in aviation. Did you know the Holloway family up on Bearden Hill? Bruce Holloway? It might have been right before your time. He may have been 10 years older than you but he was…he grew up in the old house on Bearden Hill and later became an Air Force General. He was a Flying Tiger. He was a fighter pilot during World War II.
Claiborne: No, no. Now, when I was a boy, 3 and 4 years old, a lot of these things, I remember just like yesterday. But I’ve got a cell phone and I can’t remember my number. But there was nothing on Bearden Hill. Absolutely nothing. DeArmond had a tourist court at Dead Man’s Curve and the next house was Ed McNew, a brick house, and there was nothing, it was a beautiful grass field. And Mr. Griffith had a WWII Jenny airplane…called Griffith’s Hill… and he owned a coal mine in Kentucky and on pretty days he would fly that airplane to Kentucky and when I heard it come in I would scat out and there. I would run along the side of it and then he’d park it, and I’d run over and touch it.
Neely: You said WW II Jenny. You mean WWI?
Claiborne: Yeah, it was open cockpit. I had an uncle…my Daddy was the oldest…and my uncle was born on the tail end and so that put him just a few years ahead of me, you see. He took my uncle up and he was afraid to take me up because I was too little. I didn’t fit the harness. And he was afraid I would get too excited and fall out. So I didn’t get to go up. He took my uncle up and flew all over Bearden. But I’ve seen that plan land there a thousand times.
Neely: Your memory goes back to the days there was an airport on Sutherland Avenue?
Claiborne: Yeah…I used to go there to air shows. Then I ended up flying models there…on it after it moved too. I seen Tri-motors land there. Seen all kinds of air shows.
Neely: You don’t remember when a famous female barnstormer crashed and someone was killed, do you? In the early ‘30s I think.
Claiborne: What else?
Neely: I’m trying to remember the woman’s name but she was a barnstormer who was in town for a few days and she took a reporter, a young cub reporter up, then she crashed at what’s now Kingston Pike and Forest Park…
Claiborne: Forest Hills?
Neely: Near there and the boy was killed.
Claiborne: I don’t remember that. I remember the Lindbergh kidnapping. I remember it well.
Neely: You just remembered a guy called Ed McNew. Do you remember his connection with the Lindbergh kidnapping?
Claiborne: No. He was a bondsman.
Neely: There’s a crazy story about him…
Claiborne: He had a daughter, Blondell McNew, she drove a blue convertible blue Buick and she was a rounder. She dated my uncle a time or too. I think he was afraid of her.
Neely: He got around. He was in the news all the time for getting into trouble, going back to 1900 or so. But he got in the news in the ‘30s. There was a kid that found in East Tennessee and for a few days they thought he was the missing Lindbergh baby then they found the real one and they said obviously that we don’t know who this baby is. And he adopted the baby. Ed McNew did. Or tried to adopt the baby and got more news about that and why he wanted to adopt the baby and he ended firing shots at a photographer with the Knoxville Journal and was…
Claiborne: Seems like I vaguely remember something like a shooting.
Neely: That’s right.
James: What year was that in…the Lindbergh trial?
Neely: The Lindbergh trial was in 1932, ’33.
Claiborne: It was right before Roosevelt was elected. I remember Roosevelt. I remember the speech…
Neely: When he was here?
Claiborne: I remember the speech he gave when he said ”The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (in adopted voice). I thought he sure talks funny. (laughter). Be he enunciated words I’d never heard before. I grew up in the south and used a lot of slang you know.
James: You heard him on the radio?
Neely: Did you ever see him when he was in town?
Claiborne: Oh Yeah. I saw him when he came to dedicate the Smoky Mountains.
Neely: 1940s was that?
James: Were you in the Park or on Gay Street?
Claiborne: No, I was on the way to Cades Cove…fishing with my Daddy. My Daddy went fishing in Cades Cove every Saturday and Sunday. And we had to pull over and wait for him to pass.
Neely: Wow. How about that.
Claiborne: I remember the Hindenburg burning. And I remember those zeppelins. They were big. Oh God, they were big.
(Missing audio here)
Howard Claiborne: Oh yeah….The bootlegger?
Jack Neely: Yes…What do you …do you know anything about that Robert Mitchum, they think…
Claiborne: No, that was a little bit after I had grown up.
Neely: Yes, I thought I’d give it a shot. I’ve heard so many stories, claimants exactly, telling a fact that Robert Mitchum wrote the song and movie, and it was based on something that really happened.
Claiborne: Yeah…it was bootleggers near Harlem, Kentucky, that come down from near Harlem, Kentucky.
Neely: One thing I hear people talk about the Brickyard, and I want to find out as much about the Brickyard as I can.
Claiborne: Well, most people don’t know where the boundary of the Brickyard was. There was Bearden, and the marker for Bearden was right there where Ferguson Plumbing Company (6422 Deane Hill Dr, Knoxville, TN 37919) is right now. That was a sign, “Bearden Unincorporated,” because I remember asking my daddy, when they put the sign up. I said “What does that mean, daddy, unincorporated?” “Well” he said, “they’re not big enough to be a city.” And the other one was right across from Naples Restaurant. That was Bearden. Well, from Naples on up was called the Brickyard.
Neely: Naples up….in which direction from Naples?
Claiborne: Towards town.
Claiborne: That was called the Brickyard. And then the Brickyard run on up, and when it stopped, at Forest Hills, and then Forest Hills was there for just a few blocks, and then it was called slaty (?) That’s where they got, they dug up the dirt for the brick, to make the bricks. Because they would dig these big holes, and they left them, and I used to swim in them when I was a kid growing up. The sun would warm it, you know, and man, it was just like a heated pool.
Neely: Tell me exactly where that was, Slaty??
Claiborne: It was between Sutherland Avenue and Lyons View Pike on the railroad. And, they graded out a place for the brick, and they ended up building a drive-in theatre there, where they graded it out.
Neely: Ok, yeah.
Claiborne: They graded it out there. And I never have known anybody who knew exactly where the brick factory was, but I think it was right about where Knox Plaza is (4841 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919). But, you didn’t walk through the Brickyard at night. You ran. (laughter).
I heard this, I know it’s bound to be a joke, but this guy was walking through the Brickyard, and this colored, it was a colored section, and they drank a lot, and so he, let’s see, how does it go? He’s walking through the Brickyard and a guy pulled out a knife, some way, and he had a gravel voice, and he recognized his voice. So, he sued the guy, and took him to court. And, half of this may not be true, I don’t know. But it’s hear-say.
I heard the story, but when he pulled out that, when he held that gun on him, and he robbed him, and he said that he started running, and the guy shot at him.”
And the judge ask the colored man, said “Don’t you know you shouldn’t have robbed him.” He said “didn’t you hear that, didn’t you hear him shooting at you?” And he said, “didn’t you hear that shot?”
And he said, “Yes sir, I heard it twice.”
He said, “now wait a minute”, he said, “how many shots were fired?”
He said, “well, just one.”
He said, “and you heard it twice?”
He said, “well you’re gonna have to explain that to me.”
He said, “Well, Sir, I heard it once when the bullet passed me, and I heard it again when I passed the bullet.” (Laughter)
I don’t know if there’s any truth in that or not … (laughter)
I’ll tell you another little story that happened to me, back, I just barely remember it, but…
Back then, everybody had an ice box. This was before, like I said, before TVA, before refrigeration. Everybody had an ice box. And, my mother had an ice box. And on a hot day, like the weather has been, it would get up to the 90’s. I would have to go to the ice house.
Mr. Bearden, George Bearden (I was named after George Bearden’s grandson, and he sorta favored me, somehow, I don’t know how), but, anyway, my mother would give me a nickel to go get us a block of ice. And I’d take a little, I had a little red wagon, and I’d take that red wagon down to the ice house And Mr. Bearden would let us go in there and cool off, when we were boys. And like I said, he favored me.
And he gave me this block of ice, and I said, “Mr. Bearden, that’s too big, can you cut that in two?” I said, “I can’t lift that.”
“Oh” he said, “you can lift it.” He said, “You know Tommy King, don’t you?”
I said, “yeah, I pass his house going home.”
He said, “Well, stop there at Tommy King’s and shoot a game or two of marbles.”
And he said, “By the time you get home, you can lift that out”
Well I studied, how in the world?
So, I did, I stop at Tommy King’s and shoot marbles. And I said how in the world can me stop/ shooting a game of marbles make me get strength enough to lift that block of ice out of there.
Well, Tommy King, we’re playing for keeps. Tommy King is a better shot than me, and we played two or three games, and he’s winning. And I thought, “damn, I better get out of this. So, I quit and I got my marble and went home. And, like I said, it was about 90 degrees. And by the time I got home, I lifted that block of ice right out of there.
And I thought, golly, I bet if I played two or three games of marbles, I could lift 50 pounds. (laughter)
It didn’t dawn on me that the ice melted (laughter) to where I could lift it.
THE ROAD OF REMEMBRANCE/KINGSTON PIKE
Neely: I ask this at one of the meetings, and I just want to see if you have any memory of the old Memorial Road. And there were some big marble posts on either side of the Pike.
Neely: You do remember?
Claiborne: Oh yeah, I’ve got a picture of it. I couldn’t find it right off.
Neely: But, do you remember where they were?
Claiborne: Yeah, I remember where they were. They were right there where Fisher Tire Company is, at the city limits. That was the City limits. I’ve got a picture there of Elsie Arnold. She was a family friend of ours, and I’ve got a picture of Elsie Arnold there.
Paul James: By Carr Street?
Neely: Yeah, near there
Claiborne: But I’d have to find it. I don’t have any idea.
Neely: Do you remember anything about the trees that were supposed to be along Memorial Road?
They vanished, I think, when you were probably a child. But I’ve always….I never heard about this until a couple of years ago.
It was a very big deal. Sargent York, everybody came there in 1925 to dedicate the Memorial Road, and that just all disappeared. Do you remember what happened to the posts? Were they just taken down when they widened the road or something?
Claiborne: Yeah, when they four-laned it. See, they were too close.
Neely: Yea, that makes sense.
Claiborne: See, I remember Kingston Pike when it went up by Naples, and went from Naples straight up and crossed at a hellacious angle. The angle was about like that. And when you come up Kingston Pike, there was a colored man had a big ole two-story building there. I remember, it was made out of sheet metal and it was all rusty, and you couldn’t see. You couldn’t see the track. You had to get out on the track before you could see if a train was coming. And, this was a few years before I was born that they decided to curve it over and come up through the Brickyard and go straight across the railroad and then back to Kingston Pike.
Neely: Yeah, it was crooked for a little while, wasn’t it? Yeah, where Highland Grill is.
Claiborne: Highland Grill, yeah.
EASTERN STATE MENTAL INSTITUTION
Neely: (reviewing notes) Well…Gosh, there are so many things. Did you have any reason to deal with or any memory of the mental institution, there?
Claiborne: Of what?
Neely: The mental institution, whatever they called it, Eastern State.
Claiborne: Oh yeah, my daddy used to work there, I grew up there.
Neely: Oh really? No kidding.
Claiborne: Oh yeah, man I played over every inch of that, Eastern State. Oh, I played over every inch of it. And, I went to school with five children there, that had doctors, the doctors lived on the… Oh, it used to be a miniature city in itself. My daddy was a carpenter, and he was a maintenance carpenter there for years. And they had, uh, and of course he was an avid fisherman, we went fishing off there. Walked from Bearden over there down to the river. Like I said there was a river, to fish. And they had their own cannery, they had their own dairy, they raised hogs. And I remember the store keeper, Charlie…I’ve forgotten his last name. Charlie was the store keeper. I think everybody in Bearden at one time worked at Eastern State Hospital. It covered all of where it is today, you know where the cemetery is, it was all of that, there was about seven houses in there. That’s where the doctors lived in those houses. And then it went down to, across the creek there and went up Northshore Drive, up to where Creswell Street is now. And back, meadow, they had a pump house there. They pumped their own water. They had a dam down there, Donaldson’s, right at Donaldson’s house. And the mill raced, meandered down through the meadow, had cattle all in the meadow, and pump house. And I remember the pump house, it run day and night. And a good friend of ours, my mother, we’d go down there for lunch, Hunt Smith was his name. And he ran the pump house. And then it went then on down to the lake. But, oh man, it was a huge place. And, of course, I lived next door for 37 years.
Let me tell you a little story about that that just happened, I mean just recently. They had all of the patients there, and they would bring them outside for special, well, you know, and my children, when they got up 10 or 12 years old, they were playing Hide-N-Seek. And there was about four of them, four children, four or five of them there. And they were playing Hide-N-Seek. Well they had a hole in the fence over there, over there somewhere, they cut a hole. And so Wayne McTeer, he was, his daddy, when St. Mary’s bought Fulton estate, his daddy took care of the lawn and all. And they lived in the gatehouse. And so they’d come down Lyons View Pike and play, and so they played there. And so one day they were playing Hide-N-Seek, and Wayne went over and went through this hole and went up to this group of patients, about 20 patients were out. And he just went over and sat down with them. Well, they looked everywhere, they couldn’t find Wayne McTeer anywhere, so finally they give up… well, the time come and the two attendants said, “Okay, let’s go back in.” And so they started on in, and he started, and, “Hey, where you think you’re goin’?” “Oh” he said, “I’m not a patient, I live in that big house up there.” “Sure you do, sure you do. Come on.” And he tried his best to argue with them, and of course nobody could tell, you know, and so they took him in, and oh the kids panicked. Oh, so they ran home, ran just as fast as they could to tell Mrs. McTeer. “Hey, what happened?” Said “They took Wayne, they got Wayne.” Well, she was sort of a joker, too. She was a bigger kid than any of them. But she just laughed and laughed. And they said “Aren’t you gonna go get him?” Said, “Oh let him sweat awhile,” and she waited until after dark. Well, dark came and, sure enough, they couldn’t find a bed for him. They begun to wonder, you know, what (laughter), you know. And so his mother and daddy went in and explained to them. They teased him about that for years. (laughter). “Yeah” he said, “I live in that big house up there.” “Sure you do”. See all the patients, they’re not crazy, the people on the outside are.
The story goes that there was, they got iron bars, and, like I said, they let them out all of the time. And they were down there on the iron bars, and old Henry Johnson went down somewhere, Rocky Hill or somewhere, and got a load of horse manure. He was coming up Lyons View Pike with this load of horse manure and it was hot, like right in the middle of summer, you know. And so he pulled his mule over to give it a rest and there was a patient there. They’d come down and start talking, said “What you got on the wagon?” He said “I’ve got some horse manure.” Said, “horse manure” said” what are you gonna do with it?” He said “I’m gonna spread it on my strawberries. Spread it on your strawberries” he said, “my God we put sugar and cream on ours and they got us behind bars.” (laughter) Now I don’t know whether that’s true or not (laughter) but I’ve always
I knew a slave, his (Henry’s) daddy Hiram Johnson was a slave that used to come to Bearden School and give us lectures on slavery. I’ve known him (Henry) for years.
Neely: No kiddin. Lectures about slavery. Do you remember anything about what he said or…
Claiborne: No, it was just about, how some of ’em were so cruel and some of ’em were not. I think his biggest “crawl” was that it was against the law to teach ’em A B C’s, and there was a lot of people wanted to teach ’em how to read and write. And I think that was the biggest, biggest concern.
Neely: So the guy who talked to you was not a slave, but the son of a slave. Or was he? He actually was a slave?
Claiborne: No, the guy that talked, his daddy was a slave. I knew the slave. He came to school and gave the Civics class lectures.
Neely: But Hiram was the slave, Henry…
Claiborne: Hiram was the slave. Henry was the son. I knew Henry for years. As a matter of fact, my father-in-law bought that…Henry Johnson built that grocery store on Lyons View Pike that my father-in-law inherited.
Neely: Well, that’s something, that’s a memory that you’ve got that very few people have, is knowing a slave. I’m glad you mentioned that.
Claiborne: Boy, he looked it too. Have you seen these slaves that, I mean, you could look at ’em and tell they’re a slave. He looked it.
Neely: You don’t remember anything about a sign in Bearden that said something about “the first freed slave lived here” or something like that?
Claiborne: No, I don’t remember.
Neely: Alright, anything else about Eastern State, any incidents, or do you remember anybody who worked there that stands out in your mind? You never knew the administrator, or anyone like that, did you?
Claiborne: Oh yea. Oh yea. I knew a lot of ’em….?… My daughter went to school with the son of Dr. Peterson. As a matter of fact, my son went to school with Dr. Peterson’s children.
Neely: Can you describe him, or did you know him?
Claiborne: No, I didn’t know him, see. I didn’t know him. I mean, it was a big place, oh man, there was a lot of money. But they had a lot of change-overs because it was in politics. I never will forget that my daddy, like I said my daddy worked there, he had a good job. His job before, it depended on the weather. If it rained or come a hard freeze, he couldn’t work. He was outta work a lot. It was right at Christmas time, all the time, and this was steady work. Well, he came in one day and brought his tool box. Said “why’d you bring your tool box?” And he said, “well, lost my job” Said “they fired me.” And he said something about a political machine, Ed Crump, and a political machine in Memphis. Well, like I said, I was just a kid, and I thought what the hell, a political machine. I thought of it as a machine with gears, you know. But, what it was, the Republicans lose election to the Democrats, or the Democrat factions. There’s factions in the Democrat party, and they’re bigger enemies than Republicans. And so they would clean house. They would just fire everybody, you know. So that’s what happened. He lost his job.
Neely: I see. Well…
Claiborne: But I remember the guy that was head of there, Cas Blaire, he ended up janitor of Bearden School. He was in charge of the dairy, run the dairy for years. Hunt Smith run the pump house. Tom Lonas run the general maintenance. He was in charge of the heating systems and the steam plant. And, when I was a boy, living on the railroad, they hauled coal. They had their own trucks, and they had great big trucks, and they would all come to the coal yards there and haul coal. And I remember one time they came to haul coal. And while they were gone, me and my friend got up on there. And they had a big shovel and so he was on that side of the pile of coal and I was on this, and I said “throw me that shovel.” And he threw me that shovel and it came and stuck up right there, and it came right down this way, and hit me right in the mouth. And it knocked the corner, broke the corner of my tooth off. And I didn’t realize it until I took a drink of water and golleah…but some of ’em would get away and they’d run and they’d go back. And that’s when Bob Toole was in politics, and he worked politics around someway where they changed…it’s so easy to change politics.
My father-in-law was a politician and he would get inside….
I remember E.B.Bowles. I remember with Superintendent of Schools, Mildred Doyle. I was sittin’ in the living room one day and this car pulled up outside and come in and he said “Bob this is my daughter Mildred.” Said “she wants to run for Superintendent of Schools.” Said, “could you vote for her?” “Why, yes sir.” Charter, Charter Doyle was the name, “Why sure, I could vote for her.” So he voted for her and all, and so they nominated her for City Schools and voted for her and they voted her right in. Well, she did a good job, did a hell-of-a job, and she built up her own following of Principals and all. And then she realized it was so easy to get this job and I could lose it just as easy. So, they got E.B.Bowles to change it back again to where it was elected by popular vote. And I thought, boy…it’s funny how politics work, but it’s true, it’s true when you can see it like that.
Neely: Yeah. Do you remember anything about when Eastern State had the farm, was it over here?
Claiborne: Post Oak Island? My daddy would go down there and work. Post Oak Island. That’s where the controversy is now (proposed residential developments there in 2018 causing concern about traffic at Tooles Bend and Northshore Drive among other concerns – PJ). That’s where … Tooles Bend.
Neely: OK, alright, yeah. I didn’t make that connection there.
James: Controversy being over building new houses?
Claiborne: Yea, they’re gonna put so many in there.
James: I saw the sign, yeah (on Northshore Drive).
Neely: Tell me about….when did they, am I right in that they stopped using that one and then built another place way on the East side near the Forks of the River and….
Claiborne: Up the Forks, Asbury, yeah.
Neely: Yeah. Do you know about when that happened, when they made that transition from…?
Claiborne: No, not right off hand. But I’ll tell you a little funny about it. My daddy went down there and worked, they were building a new barn or something. My daddy went down there and worked, and these patients were there and they didn’t realize that that was an island. They just… they had a corn field over there. And so they would, you could wade across the river there on this side, it was real shallow, you could wade across it. Because I remember my daddy gettin’, like I said, he went to Calderwood every Saturday. And he’d go down there and he took a rake with him, and he would rake the rocks and he’d stir up crawfish and all and catch ’em in a net. Well, these two guys, they went down there about dark and waded across the river and thought they were free. They went all the way around that island, and come back, and the next morning at daylight they were right back where they started from.
James: This is again at Tooles Bend?
Claiborne: So they waded across the river and went up to breakfast just as if nothing had happened.
Neely: People caught crawfish to eat? Were they big enough to eat? The Crawfish?
Claiborne: Oh yea. But daddy used ’em for bait.
Neely: Ok, I see…I never heard, okay, yeah…I know about Louisiana crawfish and know they eat those a lot, but I never heard people tried to catch ’em a lot here, but for bait, I guess, makes sense.
Claiborne: I have waded Fourth Creek from Dowell Springs to the river, and not get out of the water. There are thirteen springs from Dowell Springs to the river. And I drank water from every single one of them.
Neely: Was that just a feat to do it, or were you doing something else while you were doing that?
Claiborne: Well I was sanin’ (?) for minners for my daddy, and, of course, the middle of summer you get hot and Dowell Springs will eventually dry up. It’ll eventually dry up and it will be no more. Because all the building they’re doin’, they’re catching all that water in storm sewers now and it’s going through….there will be no more Fourth Creek, in time. It’s just a trickle now to what it was when I was a boy.
Neely: How deep….can you quantify that and somehow tell me how much more there was to it when you were young?
Claiborne: No, it wasn’t … how…many deeper holes, because you had to make a dam to dam it up. Now, our favorite swimming hole was right there where the Waffle House is, right there behind it where that bridge crosses over. And I swam there every day, nude, we didn’t have bathing suits, well, we couldn’t afford ’em anyway. A bathing suit cost 35-40 cents. There wasn’t three cars a day that passed there, anyway.
Neely: I’m trying to think of the Waffle House, where was…
Claiborne: On Papermill, on the corner of Papermill Road. Our swimming hole was about two blocks back from it, where those motels are, where the bridge is. Well, I’ve got a first cousin, my age, I’m nine months older than him, and he loves to swim. Well, they had a meadow over in, around behind where I lived. I lived on Bearden Drive, and it was up in that meadow there between Bearden Drive and Westwood.
By the way, I remember Westwood when they built Kingston Pike Heights. You could have bought, they had a special sale. We went to look at the houses…$2500 for a three-room stucco house, a four-room stucco house.
So, a beautiful meadow there and so we built a dam in that meadow, and backed it up. And oh man, it was a beautiful swimming hole, where you could dive. My cousin loved to dive. Oh man, he loved to dive. So, we built it, carried rocks all the rocks we could find, you know. And it was, oh man, it was a perfect swimming hole. Well, that night it came a damn cloud burst and I saw my cousin and told, said, “Oh we’ve got the swimming hole now. You need to come and, you could really dive in it.” Well he come over the next day. Well, it was still muddy, you couldn’t see the bottom of it. Well, unbeknownst to me, that cloud burst filled it up with silt, just like gravy, you know, just almost solid. And I, you couldn’t see…it was still muddy. Of course, I didn’t want to go in. It was too muddy. Oh, he wanted to go in, he wanted to go in, yea. He got out, and got all ready to dive, he’d back up and he got back there a little further and he ran out there and (clap) and run out there and dove … and he’s stuck. ! I never will forget it long as I live, his feet were just sticking up. And oh my God, (laughter) and I realized what happened. Well I went down there and pulled him out. And to this day he thinks that I did it on purpose. But I thought he’d drown before we could get him out of there. But it would change every time it come a heavy rain. It changed.
I tell you another little story that I’ve heard all my life, too. I remember Herbert Hoover. There was a family in Bearden named Hoover. They went to Marion Church (?). Mrs. Hoover. They had two sons, Herbert Hoover and Brevard Hoover. And then come to find out, Herbert Hoover got elected President. Well, Herbert Hoover was a flamboyant guy, he was, I think, I don’t know all of the details but I think he was President of the Civics Class at Bearden. Bearden was a school then. And so they were going to Nashville on a field trip and they got to Crossville and stopped at a restaurant and they went in to have lunch and they told them where they was going. And a guy in the restaurant said “Well, you got a reservation?” Said, “I think you have to have a reservation to get…you may not be able to get in.” Well, they hadn’t thought about that. So, he went to the, said “you got a phone here?” So he went to call on the phone, and he called the Speaker of the House. Well, back then it was a long distance call from Crossville to Nashville…it was long distance. So the operator… to the Speaker of the House, said “Got a long distance call here for the Speaker of the House. So he picked up the phone, “This is Herbert Hoover speaking” said “I’ve got a bus load of students here to come down for a class” said “Can you make room”. Said, “Oh yea.” Well, hell, it threw the legislature in turmoil. Unannounced Herbert Hoover coming. Well, they got to Nashville, and I think, I don’t know what all they did, but they went all….rolled out the band, the carpet, and everything, you know. I think they cancelled the rest of the day. And the school bus pulled in, and said “Hey, I’m Herbert Hoover. I’ve got a class here…” (laughter) I’ve heard that story all my life.
James: Do you have any old photographs, Mr. Claiborne.
Claiborne: No, because the people couldn’t afford the film and the people couldn’t afford to have them developed. That’s why I don’t have any. But I’ve got a few, but I don’t have any good ones. I’ve got one of the school. See, that was right in the middle of the depression, man.
James: Or even later, yes. I’d love to see any you have.
Claiborne: People didn’t … I’ve seen people almost on starvation. Man, they…I remember a big ole colored guy one time, I was in Bearden, and he come by and he had a big ole turtle, and I don’t know what you’d do with a turtle. But anyway, he was takin’…and I said “What are you gonna do with it?” He said “do with it” he said “that’s my supper.” And if it hadn’t been for watercress and turnip greens and polk, a lot of people would have gone hungry.
Neely: One thing getting back to businesses. We haven’t talked a lot about the beer places and that sort of thing around Bearden and it was kinda known for that, and I’m not real sure why. Maybe just the tourist trade or…
Claiborne: Well it was a main highway. There was the Spanish Garden and the Wayside Inn, was the two most notorious, and I knew both of them well. Clarence Drummond run the Spanish Garden. My daddy drank beer. He was there quite a bit. And I knew Bob Green, run the Wayside Inn. The Wayside Inn had dances every Saturday night, they had a big dance, and there would be, oh there would be a hundred people there every Saturday night. And, of course, I think they bootlegged under the table…
Neely: Yeah. When they had dances, what kind of music did they have?
Claiborne: Just juke box music.
Neely: Juke box music…pop music of the day?
Claiborne: Yea, pop music of the day
Neely: The Spanish Garden, I’ve heard people talk about that, often with a wink in their eye, or something. I’ve never known exactly what it was like. Could you describe it?
Claiborne: It was down below, it was right across the street from, there’s a shopping center there now, you know where, right up from Free Service Tire Company, it was down below the grade, you had to go down below grade.
Neely: Not where McClellan’s is, is it, or it wasn’t that far out?
Claiborne: There’s a shopping center there, now. Do you know there’s a bank there across from where the Krystal used to be? Just right straight across the street. And the way I remember it so well, that I was waiting for my friend. He was shooting dice. I never did know how to shoot dice. And he was shooting dice and there was a little filing station there. And he was shooting dice in that filling station when it came over the radio that they had bombed Pearl Harbor. And “Who…what the hell is Pearl Harbor?” We’d never heard the name, we didn’t know what it was, where it was. Or anything about it. And Bob Green, he was a nice fellow, he walked with a limp, and knew his wife well. They lived in the back of the Way Side Inn, or next door to it. I guess it was really next door to it. But it was a nice respectable place. But they bootlegged. But I never learned to dance. My mother was a staunch Christian, Baptist, she was Southern Baptist, and playing cards and drinking and dancing was all sin. And, so I never learned to dance. Of course, I never cared about drinking. I have played some poker.
Neely: Yeah. Spanish Garden, what was it like to walk in there? What would you find when you went?
Claiborne: Well, I never did see anything out of line. I never did see ’em drinking. It was just a tavern. Just a nice tavern. They had the best hamburger. I remember my daddy, we would run out of groceries every Friday, and coming home my daddy would stop by the Spanish Garden and bring a sack of hamburgers. Clarence Drummond and his wife run it and they were nice respectable people.
Neely: Well, alright. We appreciate your time.
James: Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us today.
Claiborne: I could tell you that much more.
Neely: We might ask you to do that sometime.