Grandma Gatewood documentary premiers May 29

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 27, 2015

bettePlease welcome guest author Bette Lou Higgins. Higgins is a founder and current Artistic Director of Eden Valley Enterprises, where she helps spread the “Ohio Gospel” through an assortment of living history programs. These programs, designed to make the history of Ohio meaningful and alive for adults and children of all ages, have been created for such Ohio organizations as the Steamship William G. Mather Museum, Western Reserve Historical Society, The Tuscarawas Historical Society and the Great Lakes Historical Society.


When I first wrote about Eden Valley’s Grandma Gatewood project for Appalachian History in 2013, we were at the half-way point of our trail to tell her life story. Essentially it was the equivalent of hiking from Georgia to the AT museum in Gardner’s, PA. Unlike hikers who reach that point, we didn’t know we were half-way there!

Anne McEvoy as Emma (filming session July, 2014)

Anne McEvoy as Emma (filming session July, 2014)


But now, in just a couple of months, we’ll be premiering our Grandma Gatewood Documentary, TRAIL MAGIC, on May 29, 2015 at TrueNorth Cultural Arts in Sheffield Village, Ohio. The premier festivities will begin on Thursday, May 28 at 7p.m. with a special presentation of our storytelling program, GRANDMA GATEWOOD: OHIO’S HISTORIC HIKER, sponsored by the National Storytelling Network and Parkhurst Brothers, Inc. The red carpet goes out Friday at 7 p.m. with a showing of the documentary (sponsored by the Ohio History Fund), a meet and greet and a wine & cheese fundraising reception. I hope you can join us!

In the last two years A LOT has happened!

1. Our one-act play about Emma, TRAIL MAGIC, premiered at TrueNorth and then a new production of the play was produced at Wandering Aesthetics in Akron in November, 2014. Like the TrueNorth production, it ran to sold-out houses and garnered much praise!
2. Ruth Brown of the Buckeye Trail Association saw the Akron production and lobbied for a smaller version to be presented at their TrailFest on May 15, 2015. Grandma Gatewood was one of the founders of the Buckeye Trail, so this will truly be a special presentation. On May 16, I’ll be talking to the group about how this project developed since 2009. I hope you can join us there!
3. Of course, we’ve had a number of presentations of our storytelling program, GRANDMA GATEWOOD: OHIO’S LEGENDARY HIKER over the last few years and several more are coming up.
4. We’ve continued our campaign to raise funds to create the documentary. As of this writing we have met about 50% of our goal.
5. Most importantly, we’ve continued to film the documentary with Anne McEvoy playing Emma and adding more interviews of family, friends, historians and others connected with the Trail.

The film crew from filming at Lyme Village, July, 2014: left - right:  Anne McEvoy (Emma), Peter Huston (Director/videographer), Tom Whaley, (camera man), Kaleb Grine (seated -- intern), Ray Parker (Lyme Village Site Director)

The film crew from filming at Lyme Village, July, 2014. Left – right: Anne McEvoy (Emma), Peter Huston (Director/videographer), Tom Whaley, (camera man), Kaleb Grine (seated — intern), Ray Parker (Lyme Village Site Director)


This May will mark the 60th anniversary of Emma’s record-setting hike. Our documentary will come out just in time to begin the celebration and hopefully introduce this feisty female to a larger audience! In the meantime – let’s all take a hike in Grandma Gatewood’s honor!

You can find complete information about Emma and our project on our website.

Both the storytelling program and the one-act play are available for presentation for other groups. The play is also available for other theatres to present. You may contact me for information about bringing this program to your group.



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Mrs. Weatherly served as Librarian, Janitor and Handyman

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 26, 2015

A Fort Payne, AL city library had been established during the 1889-1891 boom and located on a second floor in the Opera House block. But during the mid-1890s depression years there was no money available for library service. Although various women volunteered their services as librarian during these years, no new books were purchased. Old books were lost or destroyed and interest waned.

Finally, through the efforts of a very remarkable Fort Payne woman, a library was again established in 1930. Mrs. Mary C. Weatherly, wife of C. I. Weatherly, president of the First National Bank, scoured the county for books and, with 400 volumes donated by interested citizens, started the Fort Payne Library on October 1 that year. This date marked the beginning of 40 years of library service to the citizens of DeKalb County by Mrs. Weatherly, a period during which she neither received nor desired any compensation.

Mary C. Weatherly (1890-1976)

Mary C. Weatherly (1890-1976). Courtesy Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame

The city council having agreed to pay the $5.00 per month rent for the upstairs room of the Masonic Building, F. E. Ladd donated coal for the open grate which heated the room. The initial supplies were purchased from a $100 loan made by Mrs. Georgia McFarlane, who was reimbursed in money from small charges collected for the rental of books. Every day of the week Mrs. Weatherly ascended the stairs to the library carrying her infant son in her arms, and proceeded to build and tend the fire and to serve as librarian, janitor and handyman.

By 1940 the little room was not large enough to hold the 4,000 volumes Mrs. Weatherly had accumulated through donations and careful buying. Fortunately the WPA was at this time providing funds for small libraries, and $11,000 thus obtained was matched by the state and county. But as federal and state money could be used for county libraries only, the name was changed to DeKalb County Library, whence it came to be moved to the basement of the new City Hall.



Ft.+Payne+AL libraries appalachia appalachian+history appalachia+history Mary+C.+Weatherly

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The origins of Old Harp singing, part 2 of 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 25, 2015

Liner notes for 1951 Folkways record ‘Old Harp Singing,’ featuring the Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee, by Sidney Robertson Cowell—

continued from yesterday…

The anthem section frequently includes fuguing tunes (sometimes spelled, and often pronounced, “fudging tunes”). Almost all of these books were printed in one or another of the various systems of shaped-notes, and they were distributed by traveling singing school masters who were often also the editors and arrangers.

The idea of giving each note a shape, a square, a diamond, a triangle and so on, to indicate its position in relation to the tonic, was an American invention long credited to Andrew Law, but which now appears to have been used earlier by Messrs. Smith and Little, in a volume that was printed in Philadelphia in 1798.  The notes are place on the five-line staff as we ‘round noters’ are accustomed to see them, the various shapes hollow or filled, with flags on the stems, to indicate metric values in the usual way.

George Pullen Jackson, one of the foremost musicologists of American folk songs, leads singers at the Liberty Church in Lawrence County, TN, December 7, 1941.

George Pullen Jackson, one of the foremost musicologists of American folk songs, leads singers at the Liberty Church in Lawrence County, TN, December 7, 1941.

The variety of shapes simply takes the place of a key signature, directing attention to a few simple interval patterns that are often repeated, instead of worrying singers with the 24 keys and their signatures, which have no bearing on the way the melody outlines sound anyway.  As a device for facilitating reading music at sight, the ‘new patent notes’ were an immediate and immense success.  Incredible as it may seem, hundreds of thousands of copies of shaped-note collections of religious songs were put into circulation between 1800 and the end of the Civil War.  And some of them are still being printed.

The harmonic settings in the shaped-note collections have a rather rough and ready air on paper, full of what were at one time considered to be mistakes in harmony: parallel and direct fifths and octaves, incomplete chords (omitting the third degree) and so on.  This very unconventionality, however, stemmed from a fine feeling for the sound of massed voices that has given us a vigorous and original choral tradition.

The actual singing has an astonishing intense resonance, unsuspected by the eye, because the custom is for both men and women to sing all the parts, producing so broad and full an octave doubling that the frequently omitted thirds of certain chords are never missed.  You simply choose the part you like best and sing it ‘up’ if you’re a woman, ‘down’ if you’re a man.

The melody, under this system of free enterprise, may win out in numbers and so be reasonably audible, or it may not; the treble, and sometimes even the bass may attract more singers than the other parts.  As individual singers like to sing one part today and another next week, there is nothing fixed about the ‘orchestration.’

The fuguing tunes were real compositions in the more usual sense, although traditional fragments sometimes crept into them too.  The name of William Billings seems inextricably attached to the fuguing tune, but other American ‘primitive’ composers were writing such pieces at about the same time.  The enthusiasm evoked by the contrapuntal music of Bach and above all Handel, whose oratorios were given by local singing societies in most of the larger American towns by the end of the 18th century, was probably responsible for the idea.

The fuguing tune retains from the classic fugue form only the successive entrance of independent voices, and their triumphant combination at the end.  The form is incredibly condensed: all four voices are ordinarily set going with four measures, and the whole piece may be no more than 24 measures in all.

'The Sacred Harp' frontispiece, 1844 edition.

‘The Sacred Harp’ frontispiece, 1844 edition.

Today none of this music in its older religious form seems to be current in New England, so far as we know.  It turns up occasionally in New York and New Jersey.  Farther south, however, and in the middle and far west, thousands of shape-note books are still in use today.

The pamphlet collections of hymns used by many revivalist sects (Holiness, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and so on) are still printed in shaped notes.

The songs are partly old camp meeting songs, partly of a newer vintage, and the pace of the singing has been speeded up considerably.  There is often a syncopated piano accompaniment with ‘breaks’ between phrases of the song, and the music as a whole sounds like a cross between barbershop harmony and ragtime of about 1910.

It is written in ‘quartette’ form (as distinct from the older shaped-note music with the melody in the tenor). The tune has moved into the upper part and the women sing it alone.

Full text of liner notes can be found here.

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The origins of Old Harp singing, part 1 of 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 24, 2015

Liner notes for 1951 Folkways record ‘Old Harp Singing,’ featuring the Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee, by Sidney Robertson Cowell—

‘Singers in the Harp’ number many thousands of people through the South and West who sing religious folksongs and fuguing tunes.  They are accustomed to meet on one or two Sunday afternoons a month, to sing from one of the many collections of religious songs that were printed in shaped notes around the middle of the nineteenth century.

Such meetings are announced at church services of several denominations around the countryside, and they bring together anywhere from 25 to 200 people, toddlers to great grandparents in their 80s, in a kind of musical prayer meeting.  Once or twice a year, singing conventions, or ‘big singings,’ combine all the singers from a larger area, two or three counties, perhaps, and smaller family groups may meet on an occasional weekday evening in private homes.

Old Harp singers are numerous along the western slope of the Appalachians in eastern Tennessee, in the country around the larger towns and in rural lowlands too, and their religious denomination —Methodist, Baptist, Christian, etc.— is various. They all use one of the most famous of shape note collections of spiritual songs: “The Harp of Columbia,” by W.H. & M.L. Swan.  It was first published in Knoxville in 1848, and is still reprinted there by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  The groups using this book all call themselves Old Harp singers, although the edition most commonly found is a revision made in 1867 which appeared as “The New Harp of Columbia.”

Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee, from record cover of ‘Old Harp Singing,’Folkways Records FA 2356

Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee, from record cover of ‘Old Harp Singing,’Folkways Records FA 2356, 1951. The seventeen singers featured on this album hailed from the valleys of eastern Tennessee around Sevierville and Maryville, where they sang songs from the famous shape note collection The Harp of Columbia, which was first published in 1848.

The music of the shaped-note singers has preserved, or reverted to (we cannot always be sure which) many aspects of 17th and 18th century music: not only the uninflected instrumental tone quality and the bare harmonies, but also many actual folk tunes.  When Martin Luther remarked that it was a pity the Devil should have all the good tunes, the way was opened for the adoption of secular tunes with changed texts for religious use, and Luther himself bult up the wonderful body of German chorales that were the first music of the Reformation in just this way.

When John Wesley, founder of British Methodism, took over this idea, he missed the real point, however, for he circulated Luther’s German folk tunes among the British under the impression that church music was thus solidly anchored in the ‘music of the people.’  This became the basis for the music of city churches in the United States, of whatever Protestant denomination.

Meanwhile various groups of dissenters in Wales and England, the rebels against entrenched Protestantism in any form, had begun to circulate religious words for use with familiar British folk tunes.  It seems to have been during the religious revival of the 18th century, the ‘New Awakening’ that was preached across the United States by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, that this music was established in America from England.

Most of the tunes, or variants of them, were already here, circulating with secular words.  They can still be found attached to British folk ballads and love songs; some of them are even current as dance tunes.  As folk hymnody, this music was carried by the Calvinist revival fires first to New England, then south to Virginia and South Carolina, and west to Tennesse and Kentucky.  A little later the singing schools and their printed collections of the same folk music were to travel the same route.

sample of shape-note notation

Many singers nowadays feel their way into this music just by joining their family or neighborhood groups and standing next to a good singer on their chosen part.  With a little help from the initiated it is not too hard to fit one’s self into a few songs in this way. The real preservers and perpetuators of the tradition, however, are the singing schools, which seem to have begun in New England around 1770 and to have used tavern sitting rooms for their meetings.  They were conducted by itinerant singing masters, in sessions that used to last 3 hours every evening for a month.

Singing schools are now rare, but still to be met with, though the sessions are now usually no more than two weeks.  Whole families attend together year after year—parents, children and grandchildren—for a fee (at least until recently) of one dollar per session per head.

The long narrow books of religious songs used in the singing schools bore names like “Christian Harmony,” “Kentucky Harmony,” “Hesperian Harp,” “Sacred Harp,” “Southern Harmony,” “Harp of Columbia,” and so on.  They begin with a few pages of the rudiments of music, with sometimes a round or a couple of exercises for practice. The songs are all religious, and are divided into 3 groups: church music, singing-school music, and anthems.

continues tomorrow…

Full text of liner notes can be found here.

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A town once meant as many things as there were people in it

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 23, 2015

A town once meant as many things as there were people in it.  For instance, there are noises of the early 1900s that you are not likely to hear again—

A fire engine, belching smoke, and drawn by three horses abreast, racing to a fire; sleigh bells on a wintry evening; the rattle of a doctor’s buggy on the uneven brick street in the dead of night, with only one light in an upstairs window on a dark street to guide it; the roar of a blast furnace coming up like rolling thunder from the south end of town; the soft thud of horses’ feet on new-fallen snow; the tinkle of the scissors grinder’s pushcart; a mandolin player far off playing “Nita, Juanita, ask thy soul if we should part;” the mournful whistle of a steam locomotive echoing through the hills, rumbling across a bridge, and finally evaporating into silence; the band from Barnum & Bailey’s Circus rounding the corner at Fourth and Market, making the blood pound in your ears as it filled the air with the “Stars and Stripes Forever;” a tired voice coming down stairs, with its sleeves rolled up, and saying “It’s another girl;” the rustle of dry leaves on a fall afternoon; a steamboat whistle way up the river: the beat of a toy drum on Christmas morning; a mother’s voice commanding, “Whatever you’re doing, stop it.”

A town was a conglomeration of sensations and smells— the sulphur stench from the Hartje Paper Mill; the overpowering sweetness at a funeral; the acrid odor of a kerosene lamp which lit up the stereopticon pictures of Old Faithful or Niagara Falls; the scent of hay; manure and leather harness and a horse chomping oats; the spicy fragrance of home-made cinnamon rolls; the slippery feel of castor oil, horse-hair sofas, and your father’s well-worn razor strop; the smell of chalk, soggy sponges and the edgy scrape of a slate pencil; the perfume of lilacs after rain.

A town was so many little things you have long forgotten— putting a pan of fudge out in the snow to cool; the itch of measles; the glow of pink candles on a birthday cake; the warm gooey taste of corn meal mush on a frosty morning; the sting of cold blisters, chapped hands, and arnica on a skinned knee.

It was being allowed to stay up late to watch election returns enlarged by a magic lantern on a sheet across the street from a newspaper office; it was being happy, sad, elated, bored and depressed all in one day.  It was going in your bare feet the day school let out, and ice cream sliding down your parched throat on a hot July night.  It was feeling pious and unafraid of the dark when there was a death in the family.  It was the heavenly smell of apple butter being stirred in a huge kettle in your grandmother’s back yard, while your job was to keep the fire burning.

Adding them all up, such vagrant thoughts are like saving string, all the accumulated sounds, sights and smells you picked up along the way, piece by piece, bit by bit, some bright and smooth, some you wanted to save and some you’d just as soon forget, but all irrevocably tied together in an untidy growing ball and stored away in the back of your mind.


“Through a Rear View Mirror,” by an ex-child of the city of Steubenville, OH, George A. Mosel, publ Hamilton I. Newell, Inc, Amherst, MA, 1964; full text online at

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