A good deal of late-summer desk-clearing work to do:
I hate to get things wrong, and I especially hate reporting that living people are dead. It’s worse when in fact they’re active citizens, and not even feeling poorly.
My feature article about Marie Wilson, the gold-record songwriter, bus driver, and detective who now lives quietly in Powell, got a lot of response, some of it from people who knew her from long ago. But toward the end of the article is an error in a quote I apparently misunderstood. Marie’s younger sister Faye is not at all dead. In fact Faye Wilson Rust lives in Knoxville pretty actively, and is often a big help to Marie. It was Marie and Faye’s still-younger sister Shirley Ann who died some years ago. Faye and Marie are the survivors of a once-large extended family. “All these years, it was me and Faye taking care of everybody,” Marie says.
Maybe to make me feel better, Marie added that I’m the second one who underestimated her sister’s vitality. A while back, she says, the Social Security Administration made the same error.
Attorney, legal writer, and law professor Don Paine got a disappointing verdict from Nashville. Paine had been working for some time on an unusual pro-bono case. After close study of the case of Maurice Mays, the prominent black citizen who was executed in 1922, for the murder of Bertie Lindsey, Paine is convinced that the prominent black citizen was not only poorly tried, but innocent.
Herb Slatery, gubernatorial attorney, declined the plea on Gov. Bill Haslam’s behalf, explaining that absolving Mays would “involve substituting one’s judgment for that of a jury...approximately 90 years later.” But Paine emphasizes that the white juries deliberated for eight minutes and 30 minutes respectively, and with a dearth of material evidence for the prosecution. Historians have been revisiting the strange case for at least 40 years. I’ve never met one who came away convinced that Mays shot Bertie Lindsay in her 8th Avenue home in 1919.
History’s littered with bad trials, but we remember that one because it triggered the worst riot in Knoxville’s history, on Labor Day weekend, 1919. It resulted in a good many more murders that were never tried at all.
A little more than a year ago, I made a promise. “If UT does something architecturally worthy of this building,” I wrote, “I’ll be surprised, and will confess the error of my assumptions in this space.”
When you phrase it like that, you just know you’re going to have to. The subject was the UT Conference Center downtown. A little more than a year ago, UT stripped the building’s shiny modernist blue tiles, dumped them in a pile, and hauled them away, leaving bare cinderblock to face the Knoxville Convention Center. UT’s record with architectural preservation is spotty, to phrase it positively. But lately they’ve sometimes surprised us.
Many remember the 1956 building best as Miller’s Henley Street store, but it was, for its first half-decade, a Rich’s. The Atlanta-based chain recruited internationally noted landscape and industrial artists Garrett Eckbo and Raymond Loewy to design it. This was a late-career project for Loewy, one of the classic designers of the earlier moderne period, whose career included vehicle-design work for both Studebaker and NASA. The building won some national architectural awards in 1957.
In my column, I hoped that my prediction that UT’s treatment of the unusual building would be unworthy of it would prove false. Predictions usually do prove false, of course. But used deftly, false predictions can a very effective way to get an agreeable outcome. The trick is to just predict the opposite of what you want to see happen, and do it in some public, potentially embarrassing way. I recommend it.
For the last few weeks workers have been putting up tiles that look like shiny new versions of the ones they pried off so unceremoniously last summer.
Sorry, UT. I underestimated you. It looks better than it has since I was a kid. Whether you went the extra mile just to prove me wrong doesn’t matter.
Finally, a tardy Happy Birthday to Mr. Gideon Fryer. The Bishop of Fort Sanders bade farewell to his youth on Saturday, with a well-attended party at the Laurel Theater, the place he helped establish as a performing-arts center, almost 40 years ago. The retired social-work professor also co-founded a progressive organization called the East Tennessee Community Design Center, which has made our broader community look, and work, better.
I should have known Gid during the years I lived on Laurel Avenue, and was a frequent visitor to the Theater. But neither he nor I would have been likely to introduce himself. I never knew him until 12 or 14 years ago, when I came back from lunch and found a packet of interesting clippings on my desk, with a note signed “Gideon Fryer.” It sounded like the name of a particularly dangerous character in a Cormac McCarthy novel. Since then he has since been a help on stories about Frank Sinatra’s barely recalled visits in the late ’30s; about the counterculture era of 1970, when Gid was the mentor and patron of hippie hero Peter Kami, the Brazilian pie-fight insurrectionist; and about Gid himself.
By the time you’re 30, you can get the impression that maybe you’re too old for Fort Sanders. By the time you’re 50, you’re developing a morbid interest in your own health, and long-term prospects can start looking pretty discouraging.
But Gid is 90, and lives a bachelor’s life in his Fort Sanders apartment. He walks into town to see what’s going on today, or to have a drink, or to visit with his girlfriend, Georgiana. He hosts weekly parties known as Gid Friday, and they’re sometimes parties you wouldn’t want your mother to know about. Many of us are grateful to know Gid, just as a credible long-term option.