Historic Knoxville News podcast

Historica Knoxville News

Based on readings from old Knoxville newspapers


The catastrophic explosion of Fraterville mine in Coal Creek, TN killed 184 men and boys. Robby Griffith and Craig Smith read the May 20, 1902 front-page coverage, and Derek Washington sings a song based on some letters written by miners trapped without hope of rescue. Steve Cotham discusses the importance and dangers of coal mining.

This episode is based on three articles telling of violent events between Union and Confederate sympathizers during and just after the Civil War, both involving the prominent Baker family whose home is now known as the Baker Peters House. The first event is the shooting death of Dr. Harvey Baker in his home, and the second is the lynching of his son in downtown Knoxville. Steve Cotham follows the readings with some comments about the Baker family and tensions between neighbors during this period.

In 1910 the city of Knoxville prepared to receive half a million visitors (so it was hoped) to the Appalachian Exposition. How would the crowds be transported to the grounds? What would they see? Would they show up? The selected reading anticipates a successful exposition with details about railway preparations and buildings.

In August of 1932 a party of nine members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club made what they believed to be the first continuous hike from one end of what would become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the other. Among the company was Harvey Broome—for whom the local chapter of the Sierra Club is named—and Carlos Campbell, who chronicled the adventure in his memoir, Memories of Old Smoky. By the kind permission of the Campbell family, we read an abridged version of his tale of the journey.

John Sevier died on September 24, 1815, while on a mission in the territory of Alabama. In 1889 his remains were removed from an Alabama cotton field and brought to Knoxville for burial on the courthouse lawn. The newspaper articles for this episode describe in detail the excavation of the grave, the pageantry of Sevier Day, the gathering of dignitaries, and the pride of Knoxvillians in discharging "a duty incumbent upon her citizens."

On a rainy October day in 1882, a shotgun blast ripped across Gay Street showering bystanders with stray shot and bringing instant death to the intended target, General Joseph A. Mabry. A volley of shots followed. After their echos faded, the gathered crowd was shocked to find three corpses in the street, several men and a horse wounded, and two men under arrest. One corpse was that of a prominent banker, Major Thomas O'Conner—the very man who had fired the first shot.

For three days in October of 1890, Knoxville hosted an enormous reunion of Confederate and Union soldiers near the site of Fort Sanders. The visitors nearly doubled the city's population, and they all needed places to sleep, and food. How did Knoxville step up to the challenge? What did the veterans do at the reunion?

In 1922, Knoxville Aero Corporation was the proud owner of the first privately-owned aeroplane in the city, christened Airship Knoxville. We read an article about one of the corporation's efforts to find a commercial application for their cutting-edge investment—that of running charter flights into the Smokies.

We read news of a Wild West-style shootout in Knoxville with an actual Wild West bandit. Kid Curry was one of the most wanted criminals, a cohort of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After participating in the Great Northern Train Robbery, he hid out in Knoxville until one evening he got into fisticuffs in a Bowery pool hall. Police arrived on the scene, and in the exchange of gunfire the bandit—whose real name was Harvey Logan—escaped from the police he wounded. Logan’s wounds led to his identification and capture two days later.

This podcast episode tells the strange and sad story of how an elephant came to be executed in Erwin, TN in 1916 for killing her handler. The reading is an abridgment of an article entitled “The hanging of Mary, a circus elephant,” by Thomas Burton published in Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, volume 37, number 1, March 1971 (used by permission; all rights reserved). The full article is available at the Calvin M. McClung Collection.


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