Monday, May 19, 2008

Graduation Weekend

Tom and I could not have enjoyed more our visit with Jack Holt (above). If he looks familiar, perhaps it's his movie star dad you recall--Tim Holt. Jack really does bear a striking resemblance to his father, co-star of the classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Jack's grandfather, also Jack, attended Virginia Military Institute and became somewhat of a legend in rebellion.

Jack was in Lawrence over the weekend for KU's graduation. His girlfriend, Laura, has a son who just earned a film degree. We met at Starbucks and Jack regaled us with stories of the Holt Clan (we have common Virginia roots). Tom and Jack nearly were derailed while swapping tales of adolescent idiocy, which lasted WAY beyond adolescence for each of them. Today, Jack and Laura headed back to Washington where Jack is the Pentagon's "new media specialist." Watch the blog as I share more from our interview.

A great day on the radio today with Steve Foreman, and have gotten so many email comments. Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

On Saturday, Tom and I scouted the itinerary for our wine tour. I just want to share one of those photos with you, just for the sake of temptation. . . .

Happy people sampling wine in a church converted to winery. Come worship the grape with us!

Turn On, Tune In. . .

. . . on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as I guest host the morning talk show on KMAJ (1440 AM). If you're not in the listening area, listen online at:

Yes, I have hit the bigtime, as the opening act for Rush Limbaugh!

Such a great weekend I don't even know where to start. We did the reconnoiter for the upcoming wine tour and I'm more excited than ever after visiting the sites; we had coffee with the Pentagon's internet guru, Jack Holt (and talked about his film family), and then ended with dinner at the Row House with our smart friends. (It was the grand prize for a trivia tournament benefitting blind athletes. Team Turner won and we were royally rewarded!)

Stay tuned for details.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spirits, More Spirits

Lunch today with ghost hunter, Beth Cooper. Monday night, she invited me to join her and her spirit sleuths for an investigation of the Free State Capitol. It was interesting. I showed up at dusk and we congregated in the overgrown grassy area behind the territorial landmark. I joined Devin, Beth's daughter, and Nick, who is originally from North Carolina. The crew had already situated sound and motion recorders throughout the building. As it grew darker, we scrambled to the back of the basement (I could stand but the others had to double over to move). We seated ourselves comfortably on the rocky earth -- I was fortunate to find a foot square of concrete. Then, we turned out the lights, put the energy detector on the ground, and waited.

Nick introduced us to whoever or whatever might have been listening. I was pretty self-conscious honestly. To speak to these "spirits" in front of other people was just a little embarrassing. After a while, of course, I got over it, and addressed the darkness. I called for Franklin Crane (below), Pennsylvania dentist, one of Topeka's founders, father of Topeka Cemetery, Jayhawker, spiritualist:

"Mr. Crane, if you're here, I would like to talk to you. I wrote a book about your cemetery. I take people there and share what you did. My friend Don Lambert is researching your life and is portraying you."

The response was strong and immediate on the energy sensor. I asked other questions, mostly historic ones, and there was little if any response. "Did you know Isaac Cody? Did you know Col. Sumner?"

Nothing. But when I was specific about other things, things in his life, the response was strong. "I know, Mr. Crane, that you were too old for the army but you believed so strongly that you joined anyway" --a quick, definitive response.

The others asked some questions, attempted to reach other spirits. It irked me when Nick referred to Mr. Crane as Franklin. I thought it inappropriate. But Nick is a sweet guy and meant no disrespect. Mr. Crane didn't say anything. Then I thought about Franklin Crane as if he were standing before me, and addressed him again, "Mr. Crane, did you become interested in spiritualism when your wife died?"

The response was immediate.

"When you were alive, were you able to contact her after she passed?"

Again, the response was immediate. I pondered those things and didn't ask much else. Did I really have a conversation with Franklin Crane? I don't know. I just don't know.

(Join Beth and Cathy for one of their fascinating tours and decide for yourself if the spirits are really there.

Wine Tour May 31, June 1

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Great Gal

From Andy Obermueller, Austin, Texas:

It's the birthday of actress Katharine Hepburn, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1907). She became a Hollywood star by not doing anything that Hollywood stars were supposed to do. Her looks were unconventional: she had red hair and freckles and sharp cheekbones. She didn't wear make-up or dresses, she didn't cooperate with the media, and she had a habit of insulting other people in the business. She played smart, sexy, independent women who were always able to get the guy in the end.

She won her first Oscar for her role in Morning Glory (1933).

After that she hand-picked each of her movies, and she often had a say in who the other actors in the movie would be. Sometimes she rewrote her own lines, something almost no other actress would have dared to do at the time.

In 1991, Hepburn published her autobiography, titled Me, and it was a best-seller. She wrote about her twenty-seven-year affair with Spencer Tracy, her career, and life in her brownstone in the middle of Manhattan, where she lived for more than sixty years.

Katharine Hepburn said, "If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun."

Now there's a motto I can live by. (Top photo: Miss Hepburn with John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn)


For those who don't recall their cinematic or Civil War Trivia, Rooster Cogburn lost his eye at the Battle of Lone Jack, Missouri, and his cat was named for Confederate General Sterling Price.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Smoking Hot Jeb

My, but May was a tough month in the Confederacy. As I wrote on yesterday's blog, Stonewall Jackson passed away May 10, 1863; Jefferson Davis was captured May 10, 1865; William Clarke Quantrill was captured and wounded May 10, 1865. It just gets worse. On this day in 1864, Cavalry Commander J. E. B. Stuart was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern, near Richmond, Virginia. He would die the next day.

The colorful Cavalier was a main character in Kirke Mechem's opera, John Brown, which I had the pleasure of attending with friends this week. I instantly recognized Jeb with his plumed hat and yellow sash, though I'm not sure that's what he would have been wearing while serving in the federal army in Territorial Kansas. What I did not recognize was the cigarette he smoked.

A cigarette??

We had just re-watched Ron Maxwell's Gods and Generals (I know, I know, but it has some great scenes!) Have I said how much I despise the portrayal, or perhaps the direction, of J. E. B. Stuart? Anyhow, in the movie when he meets General Jackson, Old Jack asked Jeb if he used tobacco and Jeb replied, "no, not in any form." My expert and Jeb biographer, Tom Perry, thinks this was based on a conversation the two had concerning alcohol, not tobacco. Even so, Tom said he had found a couple of references to Jeb's enjoying a pipe now and then, but certainly never a cigarette, and there was no indication of regular use of tobacco "in any form."

A cigarette is just about a total anachronism in the 1850s. Tobacco was primarily chewed or smoked in pipes, which were much more common than is portrayed in film. Likewise, cigars were gaining in popularity.

So why did Kirke Mechem have Jeb smoking? Literary license, I guess. In the opera, Jeb's character stood in for all things Southern, a "self-appointed Cavalier" in contrast to Brown's "Puritanical" and "Cromwellian" roots. Perhaps it was as if slavery wasn't enough, but it was necessary also to portray the sin of raising tobacco. I don't know.

I thought the opera was wonderful, though. John Brown's life lends itself to such dramatic portrayal. The music was incredible; the staging was just nearly perfect. The history, well, this is drama, not documentary, if only people can remind themselves of the difference.

I just wish Jeb could lose the cigarette.
Icy's Scrapbooks
Icy Bowman Brown was my Grandpa's cousin, and she and her husband, Sug, owned Laurel Hill where Jeb Stuart was born. Icy reveled in the history of her home, and saved every newspaper clipping, photograph, event program--anything related to the history of this site. When I was a kid, I would go over and go through her scrapbooks with her. She even let me take them home one time! I still can't believe that. I was 15 and writing a regular column for The Enterprise in Stuart. Icy's scrapbooks were the first historic documents I ever used.

Tom Perry tells me he is concerned that they are not being properly cared for and suggested to the Patrick County Historical Society that they go to Virginia Tech with the other papers Tom donated. I think that's a great idea. It's difficult for local history groups to preserve items properly. Think of this when you're making your will or donating items. Who has the ability to care for your items and who will make it available to future researchers?

Here's a photo of Icy and her son, Bowman Brown. What a beautiful image. She had a tremendous heart, and such class. Read more on Tom's blog at the

Friday, May 9, 2008


Keith Whitley (statue above, and below right) passed away in his sleep on May 9, 1989. He was 34 and died of alcohol poisoning. He had a beautiful wife and children, was at the top of his music career, was good-looking, lovable, talented.

I came across some of his performances on YouTube while searching for Jimmy Arnold videos. Jimmy (left) was a brilliantly talented musician from Fries, Virginia, the same little town my Grandma Coalson was from. (She actually lived in Iron Town for you locals.) Our friend Rob Hodge knew Jimmy, too, and gave me a copy of an article about Jimmy that appeared in a Washington, D. C., newspaper a decade ago. I hadn't thought about him in a long time. When he was just a teenager, I believe, he and Wes Golding had a band together. Wes was another phenomenal talent from Lambsburg, Virginia, who was later a part of "Boone Creek" along with Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Terry Baucom. (One of the best songs I have ever heard is Wes's "Raining in L. A." Some big star will have the brains to record it one day and it will be a smash.) Anyhow, I was thinking about how Jimmy and Keith came from the same culture; how God had gifted them so generously; how they self-destructed; how they were so loved and yet had such a hard time accepting the love, or believing they deserved it.

I have struggled with depression, with ups and downs, most of my life. Possessed of a creative mind and spirit, fitting in to the world is sometimes difficult. You in turns embrace and reject it, as the world, in turns, embraces and rejects you. I am so grateful for the culture, the heritage that shaped me. It's like the rich, rich forest floor--sometimes so full of life it seems to burst with fullness. Other times, it is frozen hard and impenetrable.

When you have a minute, peruse YouTube and enjoy the art created for us by Keith Whitley and Jimmy Arnold.
Confederate Memorial Day

This is Confederate Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) in North Carolina. A dark day for the Confederacy--Stonewall Jackson died on this day in 1863, Jefferson Davis and his family were captured on this day in 1865, and William Quantrill was shot and captured in 1865 (he would die about a month later). Other states celebrate the 4th Monday in April, corresponding with Gen. Joe Johnston's surrender to "Cump" Sherman. Others celebrate June 3, which is Jefferson Davis's birthday. Virginia celebrates the last Monday in May, just like the Yankee nation. The Confederates couldn't agree on anything.

Grizzly News
Tanya Foubert , Canwest News Service
Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2008

CALGARY - It's a good thing Davy Crockett didn't grow up in Alberta. A hunter who claims he shot a grizzly bear in self-defence has been charged by the Alberta government. Joe Lucas, from the Carstairs, Alta., area north of Calgary, has been charged with five counts under the Parks Act and the Wildlife Act.

"The reasoning behind the charges is it has been shown the bear may not have been shot in self-defence," Alberta Parks spokeswoman Erin Mikaluk said."It is something we take seriously, and there is a lot of education on what to do and what not to do and how to avoid encounters with bears."

Lucas was part of a hunting party in the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park in southwestern Alberta's Kananaskis Country when he shot the four- to five-year-old female grizzly on Oct. 21, 2007.

He claimed the bear came too close to the campsite occupied by himself and his son. Mikaluk said the investigation took more than six months because there was a large quantity of evidence to collect and analyze.

"The bear, in this case, was a lot of evidence itself," she said. Lucas will appear in provincial court this summer. He is charged with unlawfully hunting wildlife, unlawfully possessing wildlife, unlawful discharge of a firearm, failing to ensure a firearm in a wildland provincial park is unloaded and fully encased and unlawfully destroying a bear. Each charge carries a fine of up to $100,000. Mikaluk said the majority of grizzly bear deaths are the result of human activity, and with only 50 in Kananaskis Country, their protection is taken seriously. The executive director of Defenders of Wildlife Canada applauded the decision to lay charges, saying he is encouraged to see the province doing its due diligence to protect the species.

"It seems . . . this person could of taken a number of alternate actions to protect his safety and shooting the bear was unnecessary," Jim Pissot said."We likely have fewer than 320 bears in the province outside of parks. Every single bear is critical at this point."

The provincial government suspended the spring grizzly bear hunt for three years in 2006 when experts warned the animal's numbers might be much lower than the 1,000 previously estimated. Earlier this year, it was announced the suspension will continue into 2009.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . . .

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hunks and Legends

Today is the birthday of Varina Howell Davis, Frank James (Gary) Cooper, and George (Gabby) Hayes. What a variety of personalities and experiences. (Some day, I will write a book on the lives of folks named for Frank and Jesse James. Somehow, they're always interesting.)

Varina Howell (left) was the oldest of a bunch of a kids. The oldest girl of many siblings is a character-forming experience and it defined her personality forevermore. I admire her so much. She was a whole woman--bright, loving, giving, petty, funny, sensitive. While her husband, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was too ill to attend to his affairs, she decided who would see him, what bills or letters would be signed, what orders would be issued. I would like to have known her.
Gary Cooper (top). What a hunk. Born in Montana in 1901 (though his parents were British), he was at one time the highest paid person, not just actor, in the United States. One of my favorite "Coop" movies is Along Came Jones. The scene where he's walking down the street eating canned peaches is a priceless slice of history, and just so real. He won two Academy Awards, one for High Noon the other for Sergeant York. He was awarded a special Academy Award in 1961 "for his many memorable screen performances and for the international recognition he, as an individual, has gained for the film industry." He asked Jimmy Stewart to accept the award for him because he was too ill. He died shortly after.

"Yer durn tootin'!" Gabby Hayes (right) was born in New York in 1885. NEW YORK?? No kidding. An erudite, educated, well-groomed gentleman, he was consistently listed as one of the top ten Western stars, right along with Gene and Roy. It's ironic, really, because Gary Cooper was just being himself and George Hayes was being someone entirely different.

Happy Birthday to these legends one and all. What a rich and wonderful country we have.
John Brown as Opera

I'm off to the Lyric Opera in Kansas City to see Kirke Mechem's John Brown. There have been articles in the newspaper, interviews on Kansas Public Radio, and much hype among the hysterians we know. I'm really looking forward to this. Terry Hobbs is driving. Life is good.

Norman Marshall

. . . portrayer of John Brown, was in town recently and lo, I was gone. But Norman did a splendid performance at the Kansas Museum of History and sent me this photo of himself and Annie Brown's great-great-granddaughter, Alice Mecoy. (Annie was john Brown's daughter.) This was taken at the gala just prior to the opera's premier in Kansas City.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Forward, Lads!

No matter how much Andy Waski, left, and John Sirlin, right, urge them on, the Yankees still can't whoop Stonewall!

"At Pennsylvania's Neshaminy Park, we recreated 'Actions at Chancellorsville, VA,' May 3, 1863, as a 145th Anniversary event. We were portraying units of the 3rd Division, II Corps," said Andy. This was the 19th Annual Civil War History Reenactment, held on April 26-27.

They look so nice in their blue uniforms. It's a shame they lost :)
Clinton in Mount Airy

I was not able to attend Bill Clinton's speech at the Mount Airy Middle School (left, compliments The Surry Messenger) a few days ago (and I don't think Freddy got his sign ready in time), but my on-the-spot reporter, Tom Perry, was there in my stead.

"We did not wait for hours to see Clinton," reported Tom, "and we were some of the last to get into what I estimated was a crowd of about 600, not thousands as the media reported." Read the rest of Tom's account at:

A Sad Story From Home

Pfc. Adam Marion (right) was laid to rest in Surry County, North Carolina, today. He was killed in Iraq a few days ago. Our prayers are with his family. He was a beautiful boy.

From Angela Schmoll in The Surry Messenger:

DOBSON — Jack and Tanna Wermes had never met Adam Marion, yet they stood with dozens of other people along the route that lined his return to Surry County Saturday morning.

Pfc. Marion, 26, of Turner Mountain Road, Mount Airy, died last Monday while serving with the Army National Guard in Iraq.

“We just got through grocery shopping,” said Tanna Wermes. “We didn’t know he was coming home today, but we saw all the fire trucks at the intersections and I thought, ‘It could be that boy that died.’ When we found out it was, we decided to wait.”

The Surry County Sheriff’s Office escorted Marion’s parents, Donnie and Pam Marion, to Greensboro early Saturday to meet the plane bringing their son home. There they were met by Guilford County deputies and joined by representatives of the other Surry County law enforcement agencies and the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group, which rides with U.S. flags and yellow banners.

“Every jurisdiction we passed through they had blocked exits and some traveled with us for awhile,” Sheriff Graham Atkinson, who drove one of the escort vehicles, said Sunday. “We saw the first people waiting for him on I-40 behind the concrete barrier. All along the way there were people pulled over and standing outside their cars, some were spontaneous and some had obviously been waiting.”

The numbers increased after the procession reached U.S. 52 and intensified more when the vehicles reached Surry County. “They were on the overpasses with flags, standing with their hands over their hearts, and a group of veterans saluting at the [Pilot Mountain] state park exit,” he said.

The numbers grew as the group neared Mount Airy. Every intersection was blocked with an emergency vehicle or personnel, and some joined the procession as it traveled across the county.“I think all the businesses on 601 [in Mount Airy] must have shut their doors,” Atkinson said. “There were employees and people lining the street.”

Where the procession exited U.S. 601 at E. Atkins Street, small flags lined the side of the road near Lowes where Marion worked as a teenager. Residents from across the county, including Lowes’ employees, stood among the flags. Deputy clerks, who work with his mother, who is clerk of Superior Court, held a large yellow sign that read, “We love you Adam.”

“I remember that red hair and that smile,” said Laura Wright, who worked with Marion and recalled him with a smile. “He had the greatest personality and never met a stranger. My heart goes out to his sister, his mom and dad and his niece and nephew. I’m keeping them in my prayers. I wish they would send all the soldiers home.”

C.J. Karcanes, who waited with his motorcycle adorned with flags at the top of the exit ramp, said he felt Marion needed to be honored with more than people showing up. He’d been waiting more than an hour for the procession to arrive. “He’s a fallen hero and he deserves every bit of recognition we can give him,” he said. “I wish there could have been a parade with a brass band and him coming home alive.”

The groups of residents lined the route all the way to Moody-Davis Funeral Home on Kapp Street, where emergency and military personnel formed a double line. Marion’s family received friends Sunday evening at Piney Grove Baptist Church with hundreds of people turning out to pay their respects.

The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to The Children’s Center of Surry, P.O. Box 692. Dobson, N.C. 27017. Online condolences may be made at

Post Script

Of course, though Chancellorsville was a Confederate victory, General Thomas J. Jackson was mortally wounded. On this day in 1863, he lay dying. On May 10, he would utter his last immortal words, "Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees."


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Touring Topeka

While Sandy and Betty Barnard were visiting us last week, I gave them the nickel tour of Topeka. The first stop was the Ritchie House, 1116 SE Madison. Lo and behold, who should be walking by on his lunch hour, but our good bud and history afficianado Terry King (above left, with Betty and Sandy).

I was just in the middle of relating the story of Ritchie and his family, including the fact that John Brown spent the night in the house, when up drove Bill Wagnon. Bill, my former history professor and potentate of this project. He gave us the grand tour and we had a grand visit. (Bill, far left, describes the construction of the historic house.)

From there, we headed to Topeka Cemetery. Rest assured, folks, if you come to Topeka, I will take you to the cemetery. Fortunately, most of the hysterians we know are as appreciative of the dead as I, so they enjoy it. The Barnards were no exception. From our home, Sandy was headed to the Washita Battlefield in Oklahoma, and our own General/Governor Sam Crawford commanded the 19th Kansas, serving in that area. He was thrilled to get photos of Crawford's grave. I have to admit, Crawford is one of my favorite characters. . . . I'll share more on him later, but in the meantime visit:


My friend Freddy Badgett, Mount Airy, was disappointed that he didn't have time to prepare for Bill Clinton's visit to the "Granite City." Clinton's venue, Mount Airy Middle School, is 1500 feet from Freddy & Barbara's front door. Freddy wanted to erect a sign that read, "Welcome Monica's Boyfriend!"

Freddy also sent me the link to news of his boys' racing exploits: This is what folks back home do for a good time. Aren't you jealous?