Thursday, March 31, 2016


Driving from Chicago to Florida, we passed through flyover country in Kentucky and Tennessee.  Over the years we've developed an appreciation for the rural areas of America, meeting the local people and experiencing the local lore of those areas which is the history of America.  With the guidance of the AAA books, we were made aware of sites which are often forgotten but interesting in learning about history.  Here is our latest tour of the Southeast. 


Close to Louisville, Fort Knox is a military installation and photos are not allowed, but I took a couple anyway.   Fort Knox is best known for the U.S. Bullion Depository which is actually operated by the Treasury Department.  Although it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,   you can't visit it.  It is fenced off and you can't even get near it, although many people have tried.  The thick walls of the vault are lined with granite and the blast-proof door weighs 25 tons. 

Inside, the vault holds over 4000 metric tons of gold which is worth almost $200 billion which won't make much of a dent in the National Debt.   As one would expect, the security is tight.  It is protected by layers of physical security, alarms, video cameras, microphones, mine fields, barbed razor wire, electric fences, heavily armed guards, and the Army units based there with access to Apache helicopter gunships.   Did I forget anything?   If you try to sneak in, you probably won't have a good result.  If you were accidentally locked in, there is an escape tunnel in the basement.  You probably don't want to call and ask where it is.

The only time they allowed visitors was in 1974 when a Washington attorney spread a rumor that Fort Knox, like Al Capone's vault, was actually empty.  The gold allegedly had been secretly removed by elites, according to tabloid newspapers and on the radio.   Geraldo was ready with his news crew.  To dispel the rumor, the government allowed the news media and several Congressmen to make an inspection, led by then Director of the Mint, Mary Brooks.  The gold was still there.

If you find a treasure map, like Abbott & Costello did in the film Comin' Round the Mountain, and you find gold, you'd better be careful.  A & C followed the map, found themselves in the middle of Fort Knox and got arrested. 


Thomas and the expectant Nancy Lincoln purchased the Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, KY in December 1808.   They moved there with their infant daughter Sarah.  The paid a total of $200 for the 300 acre farm on Nolin Creek.  Thomas was a carpenter and apparently good enough at it to save money for the purchase. 

He built a one room log cabin 18' X 16' with a dirt floor, one window, one door and a fireplace.   The cabin at the site is not the original, but rather a symbolic cabin.  It is located inside the Memorial Building in the Greek Revival style of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  There are other log cabins of the same period in the park site.    Soon after the move, Mrs. Lincoln had a baby whom they named Abraham, in memory of his grandfather who was killed in an Indian raid.   He was born on February 12, 1809, the same day as Charles Darwin, but of course nobody took notice of that at the time. 


We drove a hundred or so miles out of our way to visit the Sanders Café in Corbin, KY., the site of Col. Sanders' first KFC restaurant.  It is now a museum to recreate the 1950's ambiance, but they do serve chicken there.  We ate lunch there--fried chicken!   The restaurant has original style wooden tables, the original kitchen, the Colonel's office and old place settings, with real silverware.

Col. Sanders wasn't a military man although he did serve in the U.S. Army for less than a year and was honorably discharged.  He apparently never rose above the rank of private.  He held a variety of jobs over the years.  He ran a successful ferry boat between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana.  He sold insurance and got fired by Prudential for insubordination.  He even sold tires for Michelin but lost his job when the plant closed. 

In 1930, he opened a Shell service station in Corbin, KY where he began serving meals--fried chicken, country ham and steaks.  He lived in the back of the station.  It was on the main road to the Smoky Mountains.  He expanded the restaurant and built a motel as the popularity grew, and by 1940, he had developed his "secret recipe" for frying chicken in a pressure fryer. 

During World War II, he took a job as a cafeteria manager for the government in a defense plant.  His mistress, later his wife, ran the restaurant and motel.  He franchised "Kentucky Fried Chicken" in 1952 to Pete Harman, a Salt Lake City restaurant owner who tripled his sales the first year mostly from fried chicken.  In Utah, "Kentucky Fried" evoked images of Southern hospitality.   Don Anderson, a sign painter hired by Harman, came up with the name.

In 1955, Sanders sold his restaurant when Interstate 75 bypassed the town.  He was 65 and collecting $105 per month in Social Security.  He decided to get serious about franchising the concept and traveled the country seeking suitable restaurants    He was a gifted salesman, visiting restaurants and offering to cook the chicken himself.  If they liked it, he negotiated the franchise rights.  Nine years later, he sold the company to a young investment banker, John Y. Brown for $2 million.  Brown later because Governor of Kentucky.  Sanders continued to cook for the company as a brand ambassador. 

In his later years, he became embroiled in litigation with the owners of the company.  He would drop in to KFC restaurants and denounce the food as "God-damned slop" and describe the gravy as "wallpaper paste".  The owners made a corporate decision to use a cartoon character instead of the real Colonel.


The designation "Kentucky colonel" is an honorary one, awarded by the Governor of Kentucky to an individual "in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation."  Before 1932, about 1000 individuals received commissions as Kentucky colonels.  Between 1932 and 1935, Governor Ruby Laffoon began handing them out to almost everyone who asked for them(for a fee), including Col. Sanders in 1935.   Although his "accomplishments" at that time might be questioned, he easily became the most famous Kentucky colonel.  Later governors limited the commission to people who fit the "noteworthy accomplishments" definition.  These have included various celebrities, artists, writers, athletes, business people, politicians and even members of foreign royal families with no obvious connection to Kentucky.  The selection process is intended to identify those with high moral standards and "good works" accomplishments. 


To pay tribute to one of our less esteemed presidents, we drove even farther out of our way to visit Greeneville, Tennessee, about 100 miles east of Knoxville in the eastern corner of the state.  .   Downtown Greeneville pays tribute to Andrew Johnson, the only president to be impeached until Bill Clinton came along.  I posed in the town square next to a statue of President Johnson.  He had been elected Vice President in 1864 in an unusual election--Lincoln was a Republican and Johnson a Democrat, but they ran on the same ticket.  That couldn't happen today.

Johnson considered himself a man of principle and believed in a strict view of the Constitution.  He was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act which Congress passed over his veto.  He felt the law was unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court vindicated him--about 60 years later.  Under that law, a president could not remove a cabinet officer without the advice and consent of the Senate, which in those days only met for several weeks out of the year.  Johnson removed Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.  The Radicals of that era who controlled Congress were looking for a reason to get rid of Johnson, a Democrat, and that was it.  They needed a 2/3 majority to convict and remove him from office.   They got most Senators to vote for conviction, but 6 Republicans voted with the Democrats to acquit.  The deciding vote would be the Republican  Edmund G. Ross, the Junior Senator from Kansas.

Despite John F. Kennedy's glowing account of Ross's pure and honorable motives in Profiles in Courage, Ross voted the right way for the wrong reasons.    This wasn't a case  of "if the glove don't fit, you must acquit".  According to David O. Stewart's book about the Johnson impeachment, there is significant evidence that Ross was actually bribed to cast the vote against conviction.   Among other things, Ross feared that Johnson's replacement would take away certain perks of office that Ross enjoyed.    The new prospective president was close to Pomeroy, the Senior Senator from Kansas who might be favored in apportioning job appointments. In those days, before Civil Service, Senators and Congressmen padded their incomes by handing out plum Federal jobs to their friends and relatives.  You want to be Postmaster or Supervisor of Indian Affairs--I get a share of your income. 

After Johnson was acquitted, Ross wasted no time in pressing the President to appoint his cronies to Federal jobs.  He wasn't shy about it.  "Remember the impeachment trial, Mr. President, I need another favor."    Ross was vilified for his vote, and for the rest of his life (he died in 1907), he wrote articles defending his decision.  He was defeated for re-election two years after the trial.  As for the Tenure of Office Act, it was greatly amended in 1869, repealed in 1887, and, in an unrelated case, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1926.

Dianne and I walked around Greeneville on a frigid day and stopped for lunch in a small café, the Tannery, across from the courthouse.  The cream of potato soup was to die for.  We also had a delicious chicken salad on honey wheat bread, with alfalfa sprouts, cucumber and mayo.

Greeneville is proud of its Johnson heritage, and there are quite a few touristy sites in that regard.  We visited the two story Andrew Johnson Home on Main Street.  Two blocks away on College Street is the Visitor Center, and across from that, Johnson's early home.  He was a tailor by trade and made suits in his living room.  On the other corner is a replica of Johnson's birthplace.  He was actually born in Raleigh, North Carolina.  A few blocks away is the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.  I suppose they should have named the town Johnson City, but, wait, there is a Johnson City a few miles farther down the road.


About 20 miles east of Greeneville is the Crockett homestead next to the Nolichucky River.  It is now a state park.   Davy Crockett was born there in 1786 when the area was still in North Carolina.  Actually, it was in the Lost State of Franklin, and more on that later. The log cabin on the site is a replica of one in which Crockett would have lived.  It looks just like Abe Lincoln's log cabin. 

By the way, it's not on a mountaintop, despite the song, The Ballad of Davy Crockett by Bill Hayes, and it wasn't in Tennessee at the time.  Also, he probably didn't kill a bear when he was only 3. 

Nevertheless Crockett was an extraordinary guy.  He had virtually no formal education, but through his oratory and persistence, he worked his way up to become a U.S. Congressman.  To his credit, as a Congressman, he opposed the 1830 Indian Removal Act which infuriated President Andrew Jackson.  Crockett was the only member of the Tennessee delegation to vote against it.  Jackson helped get him defeated for re-election but the Cherokee Indians honored him.

In Congress, he often swam against the tide.  He introduced a bill to abolish the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, arguing that it used public money to benefit the sons of the wealthy.   Does that sound familiar?  He was out of Congress for two years but got elected again.  In his final term, he commissioned his own autobiography which was co-written by another Congressman and self promoted by Crockett.  Much of what was attributed to him comes from that book.  In his parting shot after being defeated again for re-election he was quoted, "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done, but if not they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas." 

He moved to Texas where the Mexican government was giving away land virtually free to attract American settlers.  So many Americans came that the outnumbered native born Mexicans began complaining to their Congressmen.   The complaints sounded familiar--Americans didn't assimilate, they didn't learn the language, and they started trouble by complaining about Mexican policies.  Eventually the Americans started a revolt, and the Mexican General Santa Anna led a 2000 man army to put them down.  Crockett, along with Jim Bowie and Col. William Travis and approximately 200 others made their last stand in San Antonio at the Alamo where they were killed.  In the movie, Crockett was played by John Wayne. 


Greeneville is historic for another reason--it was the capital of the Lost State of Franklin.  The area was technically in North Carolina, but in 1784, N.C. had ceded it to Congress to help pay off debts relating to the Revolutionary War.  It covered 8 counties in Northeast Tennessee, and for about 5 years, it functioned as the 14th state.  It had a legislature, a court system, a constitution and it levied taxes.  It even made peace treaties with the Indian tribes in the area, although not all of them.   It applied for statehood in 1785 under the proposed name of Frankland.  Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress needed a 2/3 majority to add an additional state, and the vote failed.

In an effort to promote their cause, they approached the aging Benjamin Franklin to support their cause.  The leaders of the state delegation voted to change the official name to Franklin.  Ben Franklin was on an extended vacation in Europe, and he declined, asserting that he didn't know enough about the facts and circumstances. 

After that, things went downhill quickly.  North Carolina offered to waive back taxes if the state would reunite with N.C.   The offer was rejected, and in 1787, North Carolina moved in with troops and re-established its own court system and government at Jonesborough.  The two administrations competed side by side until 1789 with mutual animosity.  To complicate matters, hostile Indian tribes began attacking settlements in the area.   In early 1788, a North Carolina sheriff attempted to seize Governor John Sevier's property including several slaves, to settle tax debts.  A skirmish erupted with about 100 men on each side, and several were captured or wounded, and three men killed.   Sevier and his force withdrew and later made an attempt to  place the state under Spanish rule.  That was the last straw for North Carolina officials, who arrested him.     His supporters freed him, but in 1789, he turned himself in to North Carolina authorities and swore allegiance to them.

It ended happily for Sevier.  When the State of Tennessee was formed in 1794, Sevier became its first governor. 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home