A few weeks ago I wrote a column inspired by a 1967 Harper's feature about the melancholy Knoxville Smokies, which were, arguably, the very saddest team in the '67 minor leagues. On the Smokies starting lineup that year was one player a local sportswriter called "hopeless:" third baseman Bernie Carbo.
With the corrected vision of hindsight, I observed that Carbo surprised us when he went on to become a star hitter for the Cincinnati Reds. I implied that that 1970 season that Carbo batted .310 for the Reds was the pinnacle of his career, but reader Andrew Bryenton disagrees. Bryenton, who happens to be principal cellist for the KSO, says the former Smoky's "finest hour" came five years later, when he was playing for the Boston Red Sox against his former teammates, the Reds, in the 1975 World Series. Bryenton writes, "Carbo is the man who in the 8th inning of game 6...when the Red Sox looked like whipped pups, hit a three-run homer to tie the game at 6-6, without which Carlton Fisk's famous 'remote control' homer in the 12th inning would not have been necessary or possible."
The Red Sox won that game, but lost the series 4-3. Still, it's moments like that, not batting averages, that make heroes.
In a column about the dueling historical interpretations of the Indian Mound on Cherokee Boulevard a few weeks ago, I mentioned, unnecessarily, that the Cherokee intellectual Sequoyah died "out west in the 1820s." Sequoyah did die out west, all right, but not that early, as one reader observed. Sequoyah was actually pretty busy in the 1820s, which is when he was developing the Cherokee alphabet. He didn't die until 1843. Considering that I've mentioned Sequoyah's death in other articles before, I don't know if that error was a typo or a braino.
In other correct-death-date related news, for my St. Patrick's Day column I described Martin Condon, the "Irish-American Statesman" who in 1888 became Knoxville's (and apparently Tennessee's) first Catholic mayor. That was pretty early for any American city to elect a Catholic to high office, but the funny thing is, I couldn't find any evidence that his faith was ever an issue during the bitterly fought race.
Condon's portrait hangs in the city's development office breakroom, but his name is listed in the mayor's office with a question mark for a death date: it says (1858-?) That sort of a figure makes anyone automatically interesting, even if they weren't the first anything.
Anyway, I wasn't able to fill that date in from local sources, and that seemed very odd to me. If you become mayor of Knoxville, you don't necessarily expect immortality, but you'd like to think your old constituents would at least keep track of your mortality. Condon moved to Memphis later in life, but even family members were uncertain exactly when he died. We could only guess that he did finally get around to it.
However, Mrs. Teresa Dewine, who's a member of Condon's old church, Immaculate Conception, got some help from a nun at St. Mary's and did a little research for us through the state archives. She discovered that Condon died at the age of 81 in February, 1940; he's buried at the Calvary Cemetery in Memphis.
I got a few responses to the column in which I pondered the mystery of why the only city mentioned in the oft-recorded classic, "Tennessee Central Number 9" was a city that was not on that line's route. That city was, of course, this peculiar one that we share. I speculated that the song might have been a promotional jingle because, about 100 years ago, there was a well-publicized effort to bring the Tennessee Central all the way into Knoxville, rather than stopping at Harriman, as it always did in most folks' memories. However, some readers found old schedules indicating that, sometime before World War I, the TC did feature no-switch service to Knoxville—although the TC cars switched trains and came into Knoxville technically as part of a Southern train. The TC maintained that service as late as the 1940s, but only for the swanky Pullman coaches.
In my column about Kingston Pike Center, I considered whether a strip mall can ever be "historic" and worth the affection we have for other antique buildings. I mentioned my passing acquaintance with a garrulous bird at Paul Parrott's shoe store in the '60s. I thought it was clever that the place was called Paul Parrott's and it had a resident parrot. Only, as reader Kathy Changas, now of Brentwood, pointed out, it wasn't a parrot. It was a mynah bird named Cookie. There must have been hundreds of kids on a first-name basis with that bird, but some of us didn't know its species.
Finally, on a subject I should have written about, but didn't: I'm relieved that City Council finally got a clue and banned new billboards. We billboard haters have waited a good long while for that decision. I don't know exactly how long, but I've got a document on my desk that may be one of the first proposals to ban billboards. Condemning the city's proliferation of billboards as "extremely unattractive," the City Planning Commission recommended going much further, that is, banning them altogether. "The eventual elimination of these nuisances will add to property values and enhance the appearance of the city," the CPC advised.
This document was presented to City Council in September, 1929.
Everybody knows City Council moves slowly and cautiously about such radical proposals. Don't be surprised if it takes them another 72 years to enact some of the CPC's other 1929 recommendations.