Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour

Days 100 thru 106, WLBT

Sept. 16 thru Sept. 23


by David Runkel

This is not the week we had planned.  In addition to massive wind and water damage, tragic deaths and interruption in the lives of millions, Hurricane Florence put a crimp in our book promotion plans. That wicked storm made Scone by Scone readings in Charlottesville and Lynchburg, VA; Charlotte, NC; and North Myrtle Beach, SC impossible.

The way opened, however, for a  few new adventures in Washington, DC, and then western Virginia, Tennessee and finally, Birmingham, Alabama.  

Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Jody Olsen, Director of the Peace Corp

Monday night dinner with friends, including current Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen, one Trump appointee we strongly support.  Jody was just back from speaking at the funeral services for a young volunteer in the Michigan Upper Peninsula who was killed in a taxi crash in Togo, West Africa, and getting ready to depart for Senegal for a meeting of African Peace Corps Country directors. We gathered at beloved Dawn Badrick’s for macaroni with cauliflower, ham, salad, macaroons and ice cream.  The next day we fasted.

Tuesday it rained mightily. We struggled through it and terrible Washington DC traffic to get to early morning medical appointments in Bethesda.  The Author, for a check-in on her infected eye, and The Tour Director to obtain drops for his Chronically Crappy Ear (CCE) left ear which has been draining for weeks.  Our evening entertainment was the delightfully funny British movie “Julia, Naked.” Fall down laughing funny, the Author commented.

Happy to leave behind the traffic and humidity of Washington, DC, we headed south through the beautiful Virginia countryside on Wednesday morning.  Large lawns and brown board fences, giving way to white fences as we moved South dominated the landscape.  First stop was Montpelier, Dolley and James Madison’s home and plantation in Orange, VA.  It’s quite a spread!  In the Madison family for two generations before James, Jr., (the nation’s shortest president [NSP] and probably the smartest) and one generation after, much of the 5,000-acre “farm” was planted in tobacco for many years with fields tended by more than 100 workers.  We learned that the proper name for these workers now is “enslaved people.” 

A member of the DuPont family bought the plantation in the early 20th century

Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Montpelier, Dolley and James Madison’s home

and introduced a horse race track before giving it to the National Preservation Trust which operates it today as a museum and library to Madison and his contributions to the establishment of our democracy, and the primary architect of our Constitution.

The hour-long tour of the house, with a very knowledgeable young guide, included not only architectural history, but details on furnishings and art and stories about the importance of Dolley and James to the development of the United States.  Both lived into their 80s, and Dolley reportedly called the first 12 presidents by their first names. At the time of her death, she was the last remaining connection with most of the Founders and her state funeral service has not been matched.  President Zachary Taylor (we took the highway named for him to get to Montpelier) gave the eulogy, calling Dolley the country’s “First Lady,” a name that has stuck.

We skipped Jefferson’s nearby home, Monticello, as we had visited it several times before and instead headed 60 miles west to Staunton, where The Author’s father had gone to high school at the now defunct Staunton Military Academy.   Dinner was with Kara and Tom Crawford, who drove over from Charlottesville. Tom is a former Anne Hathaway’s guest, as were his parents Wendy and Bob Crawford, now close friends in Ashland.

We had intended to stay at the Anne Hathaway’s Bed and Breakfast in Staunton, but discovered it is now operating only a tea room.  Instead we took a room at the Olde Staunton Inn which David Birchall has run for 14 years.  He converted the vacant attic into three large rooms with baths.  Nice rooms, but up 32 steps, 52 if you go from street level to the front door and then up to the third. Old Knees protested.

The American Shakespeare Center offering plays year-round in a 300-seat replica of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars theatre was right down the street. Wednesday night’s offering was Jane Austen’s “Emma” and we declined.

Staunton has two other attractions of interest and early Thursday we drove the six

Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
America First!

blocks to the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Museum.  Wilson was born at the Presbyterian Manse; his father, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, was the minister at First Presbyterian..  He dropped his first name when he became an academic, graduating from Princeton (like Madison), going to law school at Virginia and getting his doctorate in history at Johns Hopkins.  He taught at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan before returning to Princeton where he eventually became the president, before entering politics as a successful reform gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey in 1912 (with the strong support of our friend Ben Orrick’s grandfather, the state’s Democratic boss).  Two years later, Wilson was elected president.

Among the items on display is a 1912 campaign button for Wilson with the bold assertion, “America First.”  Do political slogans ever change?

A couple blocks away on the campus of Mary Baldwin University, hidden down two sets of steps, from a faculty parking lot is the mini-museum of Staunton Military Academy, which closed in the mid-1970s after going bankrupt. By luck, Arlene Nicely, wife of the curator and a volunteer expert on SMA, was on hand.  She produced the 1927 yearbook with a picture of handsome Bill Beeson and then unearthed his academic record for the four years he attended, in which it was noted that he was demoted in his junior year for going off campus without approval.  Six months later he was again a Lieutenant. 

The Tour was off for Lynchburg for lunch with Janet and Chad Snee, Deedie’s first cousin and near twin.  Lots of family talk along with a tour of their house, which was severely damaged by a tornado last spring, but suffered just a minor basement leak from all the Hurricane Florence rain.  Then to Abingdon, home of another respected regional theatre, The Barter Theatre, in far southwestern Virginia.  However, we again declined the opportunity to attend, the bill this week being “Bridges of Madison County” and “Great Expectations.” 

A Tailor’s Lodging was our bed and breakfast inn, hands down the most elegant place we have stayed since leaving Ashland in June. 

Friday morning we headed out for our next stop, Nashville, TN, with plans to visit the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, and hear some country music.  On the way west, a highway sign pointed us to Greeneville, Tennessee where President Andrew Johnson got his political start.  We diverted and at 11 a.m. became the day’s first visitors to the Johnson museum run by the National Park Service.  No entry charge.

Johnson was a poor kid who at an early age was interned with the tailor in North

Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Only photo taken of President Johnson smiling!

Carolina, but got into trouble and fled to Tennessee.  He was encouraged to set up his own tailor shop, which in its totality is now the major exhibit in Johnson’s presidential museum.   In his 20s he was a local office holder, later a state legislator and member of the US Senate who stuck with the Union even after Tennessee deserted in 1861.

The Republicans chose Johnson as Lincoln’s 1864 running mate to attract votes in border states.  He is of course known as the first president to face impeachment.  The issues did not involve sex, or lying about sex, but were of primary importance – the powers granted to the President in the Constitution.  Underlying the impeachment movement was the dispute between Johnson and the Congressional Republicans over southern reconstruction, with Johnson having a more forgiving attitude toward the South.  He survived by one vote in the Senate.

With this history lesson under our belts, we struck out for Nashville where we reconnected with Sarah Jane Nelson, a former Oregon Shakespeare Festival cast member and country and western singer.  She and Rosie, now 13 and a singer on her own, gave us a windshield tour of downtown Nashville and after dinner dropped us in the middle of the honkytonk of Lower Broadway where bars with live music line the streets and happy country western lovers jostle for sidewalk space or a place at the bar.   

There are no cover charges, so we joined the throngs going from bar the bar, listening to a few songs while having an adult beverage.  What fun!   Our best was when we spotted an empty seat for The Author to sit down.  It was in the middle of a family, some from San Diego, others from Chicago, in Nashville for a wedding.  The father of the groom, a retired Chicago cop, put one arm around the Author and the other around a niece.  Surprised he was to find that he didn’t know one of those he was hugging.  If we had stayed for another song or two, a wedding invitation might have been forthcoming. Roseanne, a special ed teacher in San Diego, provided one of the pictures.

Saturday morning we drove 25 minutes out of downtown Nashville to the Hermitage, the 1,000-acre plus cotton plantation of Andrew Jackson for a tour of the house, the garden, the quarters for his enslaved people and a museum retelling the history of his military and political career.  It does not gloss over his Indian wars, or his slave-owning history in glorifying his wartime experiences and his people presidency.

Forty miles south we stopped in Columbia to tour the James Knox Polk home and

Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
President Polk’s Home

museum celebrating Polk’s (pronounced poke as we Pennsylvanians called the town near Franklin where Nana Runkel nursed at the state hospital there) presidency.  During his four years in office the Oregon Territory border dispute with Britain was resolved bringing Washington, Oregon and parts of Montana and Idaho into the country; Texas was annexed, and the huge territory now the states of California, New Mexico and parts of Arizona and Colorado was purchased from Mexico. The United States boundaries were established, as they are to this day. 

Polk implemented all of his campaign promises, including to serve only one term, and may be the country’s most underrated president. Upon his return from Washington, he died at 53. His wife lived another 40 years.

In a terrific rainstorm, we departed for Birmingham, passing up the “pizza and grits” restaurant.

Our B&B owner recommended a James Beard’s award-winning restaurant in the Five Points area nearby.  Food was terrific; the noise level very high.  Even though we sat near the back, we could hear everything those seated at a front table were talking about.  Adding to the cacophony was loud background music.   

Day One Hundred of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

The music and the sermon at 16th Street Baptist Church Sunday morning were rousing and spoke deeply to us.  It’s the church of civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, whose daughter we knew in Philadelphia when she was married to Bulletin colleague Joe Davidson.  The current minister, Rev. Arthur Price, Jr. is from South Philadelphia and he took his message from Matthew 18:15-20.

If this weren’t so long already, we’d paste in the passages, but instead we challenge you all (we’re in the South now) to go to them, and see if they don’t have meaning to all of us.  Clearly, the church (which was only half full), is having some difficulties, albeit not unlike conflicts we all face in our daily life.  Wish we could also plug in Rev. Price’s sermon, but take it from us that he is a dynamic and moving speaker.  Imagine these two Quakers saying, “Amen!”  and testifying by an arm wave to his truths throughout his life-changing sermon. 

After brunch and a nap we visited the Vulcan statute that overlooks Birmingham and celebrates its iron and steel industry. From there, we went to a rooftop bar to see the sunset and on the way home stopped at a BBQ place recommended in today’s New York Times. A great day. A blessed day, as we say here in the South.

Tomorrow, we’re off to LaGrange, GA., for a Tuesday reading and visit with Ann and cousin Ted Beason.

We know this is an oversized post, but don’t want you to miss a thing.