A trip down memory lane

By Frank Robinson
  Come with me down Memory Lane. There are some memories that come and go, but there are some that last a lifetime. They just never seem to leave us.
  Some of my most memorable moments are connected with the newspaper; others, when I was a boy, hawking newspapers on the streets of Elizabethton. I was only eight or nine years old when I began selling the STAR for three cents a paper. My big sales were on Sunday, when the paper cost only a nickel. Often I would also get a nickel for weekday papers I sold inside the jail.
   I wasn't allowed to go down to the rayon plants inside the gate to sell the paper, so I usually stayed uptown. I made sales to the workers when the plant taxis and buses would stop at Hale's Drug Store at the corner of Elk Avenue and Sycamore Street. Usually, the workers would get off and go inside, and I would catch them as they got off the bus.
  As a paperboy, I remember when there were beer joints on every downtown corner. It wasn't unusual to see a drunk urinating on the street or men fighting. "Jakeleg," a condition that appeared in the 1930s from drinking bad whiskey, was pretty common, and many of its victims with their crippled legs could be seen on the street.
  One of the most striking images from my paperboy days was when I walked into the old jail one day and saw Church Lester dead, hanging in his cell. Lester was tried and convicted for the murder of three little Gouge girls, killed when their Hampton home was dynamited. During the trial, I sold newspapers at the jail. Lester, along with White Tollett, was found guilty and given the death sentence. Just a few days after the verdict was handed down, Lester hanged himself in the county jail. Tollett was later electrocuted at the state prison in Nashville.
  I also remember selling newspapers to passengers who rode Tweetsie. Although I never rode Tweetsie, I do remember going swimming in the Tweetsie water tower located across from the Bemberg plant.
   I was just a teenager when World War II broke out, and I remember going downtown and watching the soldiers leave on the train. My twin brother, Fred, and I were drafted into the military ten days after we turned 18 and were still in high school.
  Later, in my adult life, when I first became publisher of the STAR in October, 1955, I remember segregation and the beginning of integration in Elizabethton. Malone Harrell managed the bus station in town, which had a restaurant. One day a bus pulled into the station, and on it were a group of both white and black preachers who had come to town to "help" with the integration effort in the South.
  Malone, like most people in the South at that time, didn't understand integration, and he threatened them with a hammer. Not wanting any trouble and not really knowing what they had in mind, the police chief intervened by taking Malone for a ride while the Mayor and I and a couple of other people met with the group. We offered to buy their lunch, which they refused, saying they had eaten earlier in Greeneville. We then offered to buy them coffee, which they accepted.
  During our talks, I shared with them that we were not going to run any publicity on them unless someone was killed. They left town on the next bus, and there weren't any problems.
  Later, when it became law that our city schools had to be integrated, a group of us met at the newspaper office with the principal of Douglas School, the only black school in Carter County. I was stunned with his reply when the subject of integrating the schools was brought up. He said, "You aren't going to send that white trash up to our school are you?"
  We never had any problems in Elizabethton with integration. There was an occasion or two when a cross was burned in someone's yard, but we never ran a picture of it nor did we give the incident any coverage. Also, there was one occasion when some black students walked out at the high school, and we chose not to give any coverage to that incident. It was the best thing to do at the time.
  I remember when Joe Smithdeal and Ernest Anderson had such low food prices they ran Kroger and A&P out of business here in Elizabethton
  I remember when Bemberg was a beautiful place with flowers planted around it. Evergreens grew out front, and at Christmas time, colorful lights were strung on the trees and lit. I also remember when the rayon plants sponsored activities such as boxing matches, ballgames and other activities for the employees.
  I remember when there were three theaters in town, and you had to wait in line to get in. Tickets were ten cents.
  Finally, one of the funniest incidents in my newspaper career occurred at the Christmas parade. The newspaper had a Santa Claus outfit and we provided the Santa for the parade. Bill Hale and I were in charge of Santa Claus. Bill had contacted some fellow to play the part. It was almost time for the parade, and Santa Claus hadn't shown. I was beginning to get worried, but Bill assured me he would be here.
  At the very last minute, he did show up ... but drunk. "Oh no," I said to Bill, "this isn't going to work."
  "Yes, it will. Just help me get him on the fire truck," he said. Somehow, we got him up on the fire truck, and Bill and I walked on either side of the fire truck down Elk Avenue just in case he fell off. It turned out that he was the greatest Santa Claus we ever had. He was so drunk and so happy, that all along the parade route he hoo-hooed and he hoo-hooed. The kids loved him.
  I have so many memories ... these are just a few. In a later column, I will share more with you.
  Yes, it's good to look back once in a while, to reflect on those events and people that have made for some serious moments in life, as well as times we have laughed. Happy Thanksgiving!