Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Love Miniature Golf? You can thank a Tennessean.

Animation by Web Weaver
  Did you know that a Tennessean is considered to be one of the fathers of miniature golf, or minigolf as the World Minigolf Sport Federation prefers to term it?

An article by Roland Gray, which appeared in a 1931 edition of Modern Mechanix, notes, "Midget golf, which burst on the country last summer, is moe than a fad, more than a game.  It's a gigantic new amusement industry which is coining millions of dollars for the men back of it."

The article poses this question, "Who started driving the country goofy over golf?"  

"And here's the answer," Gray writes.  "Down in Chattanooga, Tenn., Garnet Carter, as genial a host as ever epitomized the hospitality of the South, began fancying a system whereby the guests at his Lookout Mountain hotel might get a little compact diversion."

Carter was born in Sweetwater, Tennessee in February of 1883.  He became a wealthy entrepreneur, an inventor, and an expert at promotion.  Your probably know his work best as the mind behind the "See Rock City" signs painted on barns and birdhouses.  He put Lookout Mountain on the map as a must-see vacation stop for American families.  While he did not invent miniature golf, he was the first to patent it and was instrumental in commercializing it.  His 1927 patent referred to the game as "Tom Thumb" golf. The game's popularity added to his considerable fortune, even despite the depression which came soon after its inception.

Carter developed his version of minigolf in a roundabout way.  He operated a hotel on top of Lookout Mountain, and he also ran the Fairyland Golf Club in conjunction with it.  He had a little extra space next to the golf course which he turned into an area for practicing putting.  He noticed that his clubhouse guests lingered a long time at this pitch and putt area, and he jokingly referred to it as his "Tom Thumb" golf course. He started charging  for the use of this tiny green, which continued to grow in popularity.

Garnet started a company to build and sell his little golf courses, and he worked with other developers to help distribute his minigolf empire around the country.

For further reading:

Garnet Carter
Modern Mechanix
Miniature Golf History
History of Miniature Golf 


Friday, January 24, 2014

Freezing and Sweating in Tennessee...

So far, winter of 2014 has been the season of the polar vortex.  This has sent the weather topsy-turvy.  While Tennessee and other parts of the South are experiencing incredible lows, Alaska is having a warm spell. Something's off when -- as I now write -- Anchorage is at 40 degrees while Nashville is at 17 degrees.  

Well, if there's one thing you can say about Tennessee weather, it's always unpredictable and exciting. During our winters, one day will be rainy and cool; the next, cold and dry, and the next, as balmy as spring.

The National Weather Service  posts records for local weather going back to 1871. According to overall Tennessee records, the highest recorded temperature was a Death-Valley-like 113.  This was in Perryville on August 9, 1930.  Whew!  Just reading this makes me crave sweet tea!

The lowest temperature was -32 (Brrrrrrrr!) in Mountain City on December 30, 1917.  I suppose I'll have to be ok with our current temps, which have slid down to single digits.  At least that's a plus and not a minus sign in front of them.

Does it seem like warm days are few and far between this winter?  Take heart.  This isn't the longest string of chilly days, at least not so far.  In fact, the most consecutive days that the state has gone with maximum temperatures below 60 degrees was from November 12, 1872 to January 13, 1873. 

We in Tennessee are used to long, long summers that go right into October.  Did you know, though, that the earliest measurable snowfall occurred on October 30, 1925.  On that day before Halloween, at least one place in Tennessee had one inch of snow.

On the other end of the cold season, the latest spring freeze was April 25, 1910.  This is almost three weeks after our average last freeze, which is April 6th.  The safe planting date in much of Tennessee is considered to be April 15.  Some springs, I rush my flowers into the ground a little early.  The statistics would indicate that I should use more caution.

Here's a fact that boggles my mind:  There have been a few spells persistently cold enough to freeze the Cumberland River.   The last one occurred from January 25-29 of 1940.  

Stay warm!


Monday, December 30, 2013

"Rutherfraud", Florida, and election results....

In the 1870's, the country's tenuously restored unity frayed, and the voting public was closely divided.  On the morning after the election of  1876, Tennesseans and other Americans awoke to find that the results were in dispute.  The candidate of the Democratic Party, Tilden, had won 184 electoral votes, or so it seemed.  This was one short of the majority needed to carry the election.

The Republican Candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, appeared to have 166 electoral votes.  So, Hayes was the clear winner, was he not?  You might think so, but the election results from three states were in doubt, and this called the electoral college's vote into question.  The disputed states were Louisiana, South Carolina, and', in an eerie forerunner to the election of 2000, Florida.  Coincidentally or not, these were the three states in which Federal troops remained and which were still operating under Reconstruction governments.

Both Democrats and Republicans claimed victory in these states and, thus, in the overall election. They also argued over who had the right to settle the disputed results, and, this led to the appointment of a bipartisan commission to arbitrate.

By this time, the American voters growing weary of the Civil War's aftermath, including the goals of Reconstruction.  Even when it came to protecting the rights of the new black voters, the public's attention was elsewhere.  One matter which occupied center stage was the tumultuous, ongoing settlement of the west.  Another consuming issue was whether and, if so, how to regulate the burgeoning business sector.

Since the Republicans were the party associated with the Union Cause and Reconstruction, they were no longer seen as being as progressive as northern Democrats were.  At the same time, Southern Democrats were reviving in power.  These two components of the Democratic Party were forming a solid voting block.  They were similar in many points, though the Southern Democrats were pushing back against the gains that black voters had so recently won.

The Inauguration quickly approached, and, still, the election had not been settled through official channels.  Only through some backroom maneuvering did things finally come to a conclusion.  The Democrats agreed to withdraw their claim that Tilden had won the election.  In return, the Republicans agreed to withdraw all remaining Federal troops from the three contested states.  This compromise would mean the end of Reconstruction and also of direct military protection of black voters.  Long story short, this compromise played into a filibuster, which ended by the commission deciding that Rutherford B. Hayes had won the election.

Ironically, Hayes who was a supporter of both Reconstruction and the protection of all voters, regardless of race or ethnicity, followed through by ending Reconstruction and withdrawing the 3,000 or so remaining Union soldiers in the South.

Many, black and white, were incensed by this compromise, and they voiced their indignation loudly.  One tactic was to twist President Rutherford B. Hayes' name into President Rutherfraud.

To black leaders and black voters, this compromise was the ultimate betrayal.  Without even a symbolic Federal presence in the South, white supremacists among the Southern Democrats were emboldened to enact the harsh Jim Crow regime.  Sadly, this pushed the struggle for equality back one hundred years, until the Civil Rights movement turned things around.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The War of the Roses....

Mention the War of the Roses to a historian, and he or she will most likely think of the long, medieval battle between the Houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England.  Tennessee had its own version, though, happily, with no bloodshed.

On August 20, 1920, after weeks of debate, the Tennessee State Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment by one vote.  Of course, this is the amendment giving women the right to vote.  In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Hermitage Hotel served as headquarters for supporters of both factions:  pro-ratification supporters, who wore yellow roses, and anti-suffrage supporters, who wore red roses.  Thus, the debate was dubbed the War of the Roses.

The one vote that broke the tie between pro-amendment and anti-amendment was dramatic indeed.  The very young legislator, Harry T. Burn, had gone about wearing a red rose, indicating his anti-suffrage feelings.  Yet, in his pocket, he also carried a letter from his mother, who urged him to "Hurrah and vote for suffrage!"  She told him she had been anxiously waiting to see what he would do.  After much thought, Harry decided that he should obey his mother and vote for suffrage, after all. This caused an outcry among the people who had counted on him to vote against the amendment. Harry, who was born in Niota, Tennessee, lived from 1895-1977.         

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tell you what, the thing is, here's the deal, I'm here to tell you....

The other day, I wanted to use the expression, "I'm here to tell you..." in a piece of writing.  The more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure how widespread that expression is.  I associate it with Alabama, but maybe it's said in Tennessee, too.

I googled it and found nothing about that expression.  I did come across a site where a Russian is attempting to teach American expressions to other non-native English speakers.  He had been reading a book in which a sentence started with "Tell you what".  He made a fairly good guess as to its meaning, but I thought he might have missed some regional subtleties.  Others had commented on this, including one person who wanted to know the difference between "The thing is..." and Tell you what..."

Urban dictionary informed me that "I tell you what" is a southern expression.  I am frequently surprised when I hear that words I commonly use are "southern".  Having lived in the South all of my life, I hear and use expressions that I assume are common to the whole U.S.  I must admit, though, that we southerners do come up with lots of ways to add emphasis to our sentences, and all of the phrases I've mentioned are intended to do just that.

Anyhow, this Russian speaker was pulling 50 American idioms from a work of fiction and was going to learn them and teach them. Seeing English through his eyes and the eyes of his readers made me realize just how rich our language is. As we all know, English is a hybrid of several different old languages, and new phrases borrowed from various ethnic groups are being added all of the time.  Not only that, but we do use a lot of slang and idioms and regional variations which gives a lot of color to our speech.

We all recognize a phenomenal amount of phrases.  When hard pressed to define the subtleties among them, I'm not sure that I would always be able to come up with a perfect explanation. But, I do understand the distinctions when I hear them and use them when speaking.

How would you explain the following expressions to a non-native speaker?  Here's my attempt.  Let me hear your comments about your understanding of these phrases.

"Tell you what." I normally would use this to introduce a compromise in a discussion or to volunteer a way to help someone out of a dilemma.

Sister #1.  My friend just invited me to go to the movie.  I really want to go.

Sister #2.  Why don't you?  You've finished your homework.  I think mom would say yes if you ask.
Sister #1   The thing is, I promised her that I would clean my room tonight.
Sister #2   Tell you what.  I'll clean your room for you tonight, if you'll clean mine on Friday.
Sister #1.  Thanks.

I know that "I tell you what" can be used just as a means of emphasis, either at the beginning or the end of a sentence.  Supposedly it is used this way most often in Texas.  I lived in Texas for a short time and don't particularly remember that it was used there more than in Tennessee.  Perhaps, it was, and I just brought it back to the southeast with me.  Anyhow, I think we'd all know what someone means if they say, "I tell you what; that test was hard."   I've also heard people say, "Man, I tell you, that test was hard.  I'm afraid that I flunked it."

To me, "I'm here to tell you..." begins a sentence in which you want to add emphasis.  For example:
"I'm here to tell you that you ought to clean your room before you go to the movie."

"The thing is..." introduces a new fact or opinion to a conversation.  Usually, I would use this when explaining why someone should change their mind about something or when I need to bring up a point that someone hasn't considered.  Sometimes, it's my real reason for objecting to something. In my example of the sisters, one sister uses it to explain the obstacle in her way of going to the movies.  Here's another way I might use this phrase in a conversation.

Friend #1.  My car is in the shop.  Would you drive me to my cousin's house tonight?
Friend #2.  You mean right now?  I don't see well at night.  I don't feel comfortable driving across town.
Friend #1.  Oh, you'll be all right.  Let's go.
Friend#2.  The thing is, I'm nearly out of gas, and the stations are closed.  So, you see that I can't drive you tonight.  I will be glad to take you in the morning as soon as the stations open and when I can see well enough to drive.

 I'd use "The deal is..." or "Here's the deal..." in the same way.

Here's another way it might be used.  Suppose two friends in New York meet and they talk about a third friend.

Friend #1:  Why is Anne upset with me?"
Friend#2:  You told that joke that put down Tennessee football."
Friend#1:  So, I didn't mean anything by it.
Friend#2:  The thing is, Anne is from Knoxville.  She moved up here from Tennessee, and she's a diehard Vols fan.
Friend#1.  Oh, I see.  I'll apologize to her tomorrow

"Tell me about it," is a phrase that I associate with the north, though I and nearly every other southerner I know uses it now.   I would say it in response to an emphatic opinion with which I agreed.

Someone might say to me.  "It's hot today.  A real scorcher."
"Tell me about it," I might say, as I wiped the sweat from my brow.
I don't literally mean that I want them to tell me anything.  I am agreeing with the statement they just made.

I applaud the Russian speaker for tackling the complexities of American idioms!

What say you?  How do you use these and similar expressions?   Are some particular to Tennessee and the South, or are they common throughout the U.S.?




Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's Raining Snakes!

I'm glad that I was born too late for this event:  In January of 1877, thousands of living black snakes, ranging in size from a foot to a foot and a half, rained down on south Memphis.  This was according to several reports.  Scientific American theorized at the time that the snakes had been lifted by a hurricane from somewhere else and deposited in a rainstorm on the streets of that Tennessee city.

There is an alternate and, perhaps, more believable explanation.  There was, indeed, a torrential downpour, and, after, the citizens of south Memphis truly did find thousands of black snakes on the ground in at least a two-block area around Vance Street.  This was a newly constructed area at the time. There is some thought that the snakes crawled up from the ground, rather than rained down in the deluge. 

There were so many snakes that some were twisted around each other like threads.  According to Unnatural Phenomena by Jerome Clark, one local man scooped up some of the creatures and put them in a jar, which he carried to a local paper -- The Weekly Public Ledger.   The Ledger put the story on the newswires, attracting the interest of other publications, such as the New York Times and Scientific American. Unnatural Phenomena also states that Sargent McElroy of the U.S. Signal Corps also gathered specimens and sent them to Washington.  If so, those these specimens and the records of them have been lost to time. 

According to the book, McElroy's description of the creatures' movements implies that they might not have really been snakes, but a type of parasitic worm that can be mistaken for snakes.  There are some problems with this theory, especially that the appearance of such worms does not exactly match eye-witness detailings of the creatures.  A modern researcher has suggested that the animals were actually leeches carried in by a waterspout in the Mississippi. Again, this explanation does not fully fit with eye-witness accounts from the day.  Both theories do have some plausible aspects, though.  

Whether it was snakes or some other creatures, and whether they came up from the ground or down from the sky, it was definitely a creepy-crawly happening!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Trail of Tears in Tennessee...

In 1906, my great-grandfather recalled the removal of native Americans in 1837.   Large groups of dispossessed tribes camped at Chappell's Ford and on Love's Branch in Maury County.  A great many local citizens went to see the people and were surprised to find that some of the Indians, as they were called, were prosperous.  Some even rode in fine carriages and carried slaves with them. 

Wealthy or not, those who were moved from or through Tennessee were anguished to leave the land where their nations had lived for thousands of years. The "Indian Removal Act", signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, caused much suffering for those who were forced to follow a "trail of tears" to unfamiliar lands in the west.   

Famous French author Alexis de Tocqueville was in Memphis, Tennessee, as Choctaws were being dispossessed and moved from the surrounding region.  He wrote the following in Demoracy in America:
 In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn't watch without feeling one's heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. "To be free," he answered, could never get any other reason out of him. We ... watch the expulsion ... of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.