The Knoxville History Project is proud to showcase this new set of wonderfully (or, as you prefer, magically) illustrated playing cards designed by the talented Tara Guin. (We welcome you to visit her site here)
Tara was inspired to design the cards after reading Knoxville stories by Jack Neely and the Knoxville History Project. We greatly appreciate Tara’s creativity and it was a pleasure to work with her to bring you this sumptuous set!
Playing with these new cards will inspire you to learn a thing or two about some truly interesting, creative, successful, and altogether quirky and unforgettable characters from Knoxville’s past featured on the face cards.
Allow us to introduce them:
ACE of SPADES: The White Mule was a legend that emerged from the mid-19th century, an animal whose untimely death was deemed to curse a block of Gay Street to perpetual ruin. The murky tale began with a rare albino mule, here as the main attraction of a small circus in the postwar 1860s, who unexpectedly died at the fair grounds, which was also the baseball field, on the 400 block of Gay Street. The place where a white mule dies was deemed to be forever cursed, according to a story that came up in 1904 when the city, exasperated by a seemingly endless series of fires on that block, sought the counsel of a “hoodoo woman,” who lived down by the river, to lift the White Mule’s curse.
JACK of SPADES: William Gibbs McAdoo (1863-1941), son of a university professor, was influential in Knoxville history, as the innovator who brought electric streetcars to Knoxville in 1890, before several larger cities offered that amenity. He was arrested in Knoxville in 1897 when his attempt to start a second streetcar line sparked a bizarre riot. His post-Knoxville career was astonishing: as a New York attorney, he organized the first subway tunnel under the Hudson River; he became U.S. Secretary of the Treasury for his father-in-law, Woodrow Wilson, and oversaw the birth of the Federal Reserve Board; he became a U.S. senator from California; he was one of the founders of Hollywood’s United Artists; and he ran twice for the Democratic nomination for president.
QUEEN of SPADES: Mary Utopia Rothrock (1890-1976) was the most influential librarian in Knoxville history. Arriving as administrator of Lawson McGhee Library in 1917, the West Tennessee-raised, New York-trained librarian oversaw the birth of the branch system and the stalwart McClung Collection. She later became nationally famous as the innovative librarian for the progressive new Tennessee Valley Authority. She also wrote school textbooks on Tennessee history, sometimes controversial for their allegedly antiwar bias, and edited the French Broad-Holston Country, which, though it was published in 1946, is still the most recent history of Knox County.
KING of SPADES: William Blount (1749-1800), veteran of the Revolutionary War and signer of the U.S. Constitution, was the first and only governor of the new nation’s Southwestern Territory. He decided to place his capital at James White’s Fort, and named Knoxville for his supervisor, Secretary of War Henry Knox. While living and working with his wife, Mary, out of the region’s first frame house, on Hill Avenue, he negotiated treaties with the Cherokee and in 1796 helped found a new state. Elected one of Tennessee’s first two senators, the restless speculator got into trouble over an outrageous plot to involve England in a war against Spain, and left office rather than face a charge of treason.
JACK of DIAMONDS: Clarence Brown (1890-1987) was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Old North Knoxville, son of a textile-mill manager. He attended Knoxville High and UT, and was well known as a kid for his public recitations. With two engineering degrees from UT, he became fascinated with the new technology of the day, motion pictures, and during the silent era developed a reputation both for tech innovations and for nurturing new talent, from Greta Garbo to Elizabeth Taylor. After retiring from film, he became one of the most generous donors in UT history, notably establishing the theater.
QUEEN of DIAMONDS: Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) was born in England, where she set many of her stories, like The Secret Garden, but she began her professional writing career as a teenager living in Knoxville’s Mechanicsville area, ultimately supporting her impoverished single-parent family. She lived in Knoxville for about seven years, and in nearby New Market for about two, where she met Dr. Burnett, whose name she adopted. Although most of her stories are set elsewhere, she based one now-obscure novel in a thinly disguised Knoxville, and wrote a memoir, The One I Knew the Best of All, that outlines her life here as a sort of fairy tale.
KING of DIAMONDS: Adolph Ochs (1858-1935) was a son of German refugees—his father was Knoxville’s first “lay rabbi”–who began a career in journalism as a kid, first as a paperboy, then as a “printer’s devil” for the old post-Civil War Knoxville Chronicle. He later moved to Chattanooga to buy the Chattanooga Times, and made such a success of it that he invited his family to join him. In 1896, he moved to New York and bought the New York Times, nurturing its reputation as America’s leading daily newspaper and establishing the publishing dynasty that still runs that paper today. The Times’ motto, “All the News that’s Fit to Print,” was Ochs’s idea–as was another promotional idea, a new place called Times Square.
JACK of CLUBS: Hank Williams (1923-1953?) never lived in Knoxville, but he may have died here. The Alabama singer-songwriter was a 29-year-old country star on his way to a concert in Ohio when he checked into Gay Street’s Andrew Johnson Hotel on New Year’s Eve, 1952, where he had a meal and received at least one shot of morphine. Near midnight, his teenage chauffeur, anxious about getting on the road, had Williams carried out to his car; the singer was found to be dead a few hours later, in West Virginia. Multiple conflicting accounts of that evening, some suggesting Williams was already dead when he left the hotel, may never be rectified.
QUEEN of CLUBS: Ida Cox (1896?-1967) was born in Georgia and spent much of her life on the road. By the 1920s, she was making recordings, distinguished herself from some other blues stars for writing her own songs, like “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.” Hailed as the Uncrowned Queen of the Blues, after suffering a stroke around 1945, she moved to Knoxville, where her daughter had a good job as a teacher. She spent her last 20-odd years doing most of her singing at the Patton Street Church of God. In 1961, she made one more recording, a full album called Blues for Rampart Street, with the Coleman Hawkins Quintet.
KING of CLUBS: Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) grew up in Knoxville, respected in his early youth for his extraordinary talent as an artist. He became an apprentice to professional artist Lloyd Branson. Encouraged and funded by both black and white cultural leaders, he left in 1925 to get training as an artist, then settled in New York, where he became known as a portraitist, especially of Harlem Renaissance figures. He later moved to Paris, where he concentrated on abstracts. Today he’s regarded as one of the greatest African-American abstract expressionists of all time.
JACK of HEARTS: Peter Kern (1835-1907) was a German refugee who arrived in Knoxville in 1863, stranded as an accident of war. He married a local German woman, and with another German he started a baking company. By 1876, when he built his landmark building on Market Square, Kern’s was Knoxville’s best-known bakery—but his complex also included a candy factory, soda fountain, toy and fireworks store, and “ice-cream saloon.” Not surprisingly, Kern was so popular he was elected mayor, the last immigrant to earn that distinction.
QUEEN of HEARTS: Lizzie Crozier French (1851-1926) grew up the daughter of a congressman. Widowed early in life, the single mother began working toward educating women. By 1880, she was advocating for women’s suffrage. After 40 years of labor, she lived to see her dream fulfilled, when women finally got the vote, with Tennessee’s decision in that regard tipping the balance for the whole nation. At age 72, she ran unsuccessfully for City Council, but remained active in politics as a lobbyist for women’s issues in Washington.
KING of HEARTS: William P. Sanders (1833-1963) came to know Knoxville both as attacker and defender. In June, 1863, his Union cavalry raid was turned back by artillery. He was a freshly minted brigadier general of 30 when he died facing the Confederate advance along Kingston Pike in November, 1863. Knoxville’s largest Union fort was named in his memory. Born in Kentucky and raised in Mississippi, Sanders has the peculiar distinction of being the only Southern-bred U.S. general to die in the Civil War.
The JOKER: Cas Walker (1902-1998) grew up in Sevier County and worked in the coal fields of Kentucky before coming to Knoxville to open a chain of grocery stores aimed at the common man. He used the new medium of radio to advertise his stores, and became notable for supporting country musicians, notably some early bluegrass groups and the young Dolly Parton. He was so popular he was elected to City Council—re-elected more often than any individual in Knoxville history—with a reputation as an “aginner.” Still, he twice found himself in the mayor’s office. In 1946, after a few chaotic months, he was ejected from office in a special election, but retained his seat in Council. He later became a popular and colorful TV personality.
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