editorial (2007-51)

Christmastime in the City


A few notes on the season

Sometimes when we walk outdoors in the early dark during this holiday season, downtownâ’s like a Frank Capra scene.

A horsedrawn carriage clops by. Teenage boys roam, in a pack, toward the Riviera; another pack of teenage girls approaches from the other direction. A couple of bicycle cops donâ’t notice the young couple sneaking inside the giant phony Christmas tree in Krutch Park. Nearby, the exotic man who plays aimless harmonies on his flute on the sidewalk and always greets you, without request, as you walk by.

The beatific bearded man carries his bunch of carefully assorted flowers like a baby, as clusters of old people, maybe mature versions of those teenage gangs, walk together and argue about where something used to be.

Beggars plead for money, less artfully than they used to, back when they knew that all the people theyâ’d encounter had heard their stories before. Downtowners are happy to offer directions to the shelters. Now, though, newcomers whoâ’ve never encountered a mendicant in their lives except in the pages of the Bible listen, with sincere attention, to a story about being stranded and needing to get a bus. Even a quaint line like â“Help a man buy a sandwich?â” asked at a time of night when the only sandwiches available downtown are served by waiters, works now. Itâ’s easier to get a free buck in downtown Knoxville now than it ever has been.

The shops, including most improbably, the department store Mastâ"five years ago, even the looniest downtown optimist would admit the department-store era was overâ"often seem as busy as any shops at the mall. Skaters squeal on Market Square, while the man with the white dog plays folk songs on his guitar. A jolly woman concealed by an almost Islamic scarf passes a young man in oversized basketball togs, seemingly oblivious to the weather. Middle-aged men look self-conscious, like maybe theyâ’re not used to wearing hats, and there they are, wearing a cowboy hat, or a newsboyâ’s cap, or a Greek fishermanâ’s cap, or a wool cossack hat, right out in public and starting to think maybe a hatâ’s a clever thing after all.

Itâ’s a fun time to be in Knoxville; some of us are glad we lived to see it.

Support the Library

With so much going on, everybody needs a 2008 calendar just to keep up, and if you havenâ’t gotten one yet, Knox County Public Library is selling its Knoxville Remembered historical calendar for $10. All proceeds go to the library.

Itâ’s an especially interesting collection of photography from various sources, with some timely shots that could be seen as visual editorials.

January is a shot of the once-promising McClung Warehouses, doomed to fire early this year, as they stood in 1937, with passenger trains in the foreground. March shows the original Hope Brothers jewelry store with a few natty be-derbied fellows out front, ca. 1900; also visible in the foreground is the broad, distinctive pedestal of the lamented Hope Clock, removed from Gay Street by its legal owner after a century amidst the downtown crowds, now succeeded if not quite replaced by a handsome new urban timepiece. May is a shot of the interior of Liggettâ’s Soda Fountain, which looks like the Edward Hopperâ’s â“Nighthawksâ” would have if those people had just cheered up a little.

Thereâ’s the famous shot of the grand, hard-to-believe-it-was-ever-there Main Exhibit Building at Chilhowee Park, lit up at night during the 1913 Conservation Exposition, a 1927 elephant parade down Gay Street, McGhee Tyson Airport in 1939 when it looked more or less like a junior-high school, and three shots representing Knoxvilleâ’s generally underrepresented black community, one of which shows an assemblage of black policemen, uniformed attendants, and a few dignitaries in front of the old Gulf station on East Vine in 1929, a neighborhood often described but rarely photographed.

The cover shot, of Clinch Avenue, shows the Holston, the Burwell, and the old Custom House in their original context, surrounded by dark-brick buildings bursting with tailors, druggists, eateries, and Marine recruiters. The Victorian Imperial Hotel, destroyed by a lightning fire in 1916, is visible in the rear.

Everybody needs a cool calendar, and until Knox County taxpayers get more generous, the library, facing a financial bind next year, badly needs the help. Pick one or two up at your local branch.


All content © 2007 Metropulse .