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Odds, Ends, and More Ends

A few epilogues to recent stories

by Jack Neely

It's a new year, and there's no better time to get some old-year business off my chest.

* Last month I heard from Dominique Miermont, the Paris translator and biographer I quoted in my story on Swiss author Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whose essay about Knoxville in 1937, "Auf der Schattenseite Von Knoxville" has been recently republished in Switzerland. The biographer is interested in several aspects of Knoxville and pleased to hear there's a good deal of interest in Schwarzenbach here. Her only complaint was my use of the word "erotic" to describe Schwarzenbach's earlier novels. Miermont has translated Schwarzenbach's novels from the original German to French. Though they're very much concerned with the idea of love, she says, the word erotic is misleading.

I got that impression from some of the few English-language references I'd seen to AS's work at the library. Since the novels themselves aren't available in English, I'll have to defer to Mme. Miermont's judgment. She prefers the word elegiac. Which, I have to admit, is a fairly different notion from erotic.

* I learned when I wrote about UT's dramatic 1970 demonstrations that writing about hippies is a dangerous business. In 30 years, memories have diverged into several fortified camps; you favor any one memory at your own peril. I wasn't there, and have learned to defer to the nearest hippie elder.

Some errors, though, are clearer. In my column about the new book, Younger Than That Now, which, in part, details UT and Knoxville in the tumultuous early '70s, I misinterpreted co-author Ruth Williams' description of the "White House," the Victorian place in Fort Sanders that was home to several counterculture types of the hippie era. Williams says the White House was next door to the Epworth Church—as it apparently was, if not next door to the Epworth Church I remember.

When I lived in Fort Sanders in the late '70s, the "Epworth Church" I knew was the building later known as Laurel Theater. However, in 1970, the building best known as the Epworth Church was a block over on Highland; I knew it as the Jubilee Center. The White House was next door to that church, facing 16th Street. It was torn down around 1974. For more, see Rich Kirby's interesting letter to the editor in this issue.

* I called it the Sphinx of Jackson Avenue. It's better known by those who found it as Pigman. When we published the photograph of the peculiar icon found in the cinders of a basement ash pit of an ancient Jackson Avenue warehouse, I hoped there might be somebody out there who would recognize the creature's face. Assuming it dates from the Whitie's Novelty House era—roughly the late '30s to the late '50s—there ought to be folks still around who remember whatever unfortunate public figure was being lampooned in the image, which combines a man's bald head with a thick four-legged body.

If I didn't get any answers, I did get some very interesting guesses. One reader commented on the head's resemblance to Louis Brownlow, the controversial city planner who in the late '20s was already trying to stop Knoxville sprawl and give the city something like a plan. A few of his proposals eventually saw fruition (among them the Henley Bridge) but his unsuccessful attempts to raise taxes angered many and might have rendered him a popular subject for caricature. The main problem is that Brownlow had quit his job and fled about a decade before Whitie's Novelty House opened, and had likely cooled as an object of ridicule.

Some thought the sphinx might well be Cas Walker, which is plausible. He was both bald and very prominent during the Whitie's era and, through both his groceries and his politics, had intimate associations with pork. My own guess was that it might be George Dempster, the dumpster magnate who was mayor of Knoxville in the early '50s.

However, none of those are quite as provocative as this guess that came from a reader: the image, she said, is that of maverick Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. She cited references to sphinx iconography in some of Jung's work, which was indeed available during the Whitie's era. Coincidentally or not, Whitie and Jung were, roughly, contemporaries. I suspect that Whitie's novelties might well have interested Jung the iconologist, but I don't know whether the folks who hung around Jackson Avenue in the '40s and '50s would have been sufficiently interested in that likelihood to mass-produce caricatures of the Swiss intellectual. Still, you can't deny it does sorta look like him.

* Last spring, I wrote a column about the DeArmond House, in Fort Sanders at Clinch and 15th (now James Agee Street). The striking 1894 house was in excellent shape, by most accounts; some call it the best-preserved wood-frame Victorian around. Its fault is that it sits on prime parking spaces.

Things were looking up for the DeArmond house last summer when NC-1 zoning was passed for the whole neighborhood, forbidding demolitions without approval. But on Dec. 21, just after UT let out and potential protesters were on their ways home for Christmas, crews cut down all the big old trees in its corner lot. Then the house's chimney vanished. What happens next is unclear, but word is that the owner's lawyer, Arthur Seymour, Jr.—of the venerable law firm of Frantz, McConnell, and Seymour—apparently found a loophole. NC-1 zoning doesn't say anything about moving a historic house somewhere else.

One of the house's longest-term occupants, who kept the house up so well for decades, was attorney W. Cecil Anderson, who died here in 1978. Whether you can call it ironic or not, Anderson was for many years an associate partner in the firm of Frantz, McConnell, and Seymour.

January 4, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 1
© 2001 Metro Pulse