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November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving is the least commercialized of all of our holiday celebrations.  The fourth Thursday of November, for most of us, is a day to pause before the Friday identified as the busiest shopping day of the year.  The brief respite is a time for reflection, for gratitude, even for nostalgia.  One of my most important Thanksgiving memories is a Kentucky Thanksgiving with Bobby.

Bobby was fourteen years old, large for his age, but shy and withdrawn.  His severe acne, unkempt hair, broken front tooth, smudged glasses, and distant stare were external evidence of a troubled mind and a broken heart.

Bobby was a patient in the adolescent unit at Central State Hospital, a mental hospital in La Grange, Kentucky, where I worked as a chaplain.  Though Bobby was diagnosed as chronically depressed and borderline schizophrenic, he had moments when his intellectual functioning exceeded that of the hospital staff.  Bobby was one of the patients who prompted the comment, “The main difference between the staff and the patients in this hospital is that the patients get better.” Read more…



November 12, 2017

The name Hub City has popped up everywhere in our fair city. Many of us are familiar with Hub City Co-op, Hub City Farmers’ Market, and Hub City Writers Project. But there are many other enterprises that carry the name. Hub City Chicken and More, Hub City Delivery, Hub City Art and Design, Hub City Marketing, Hub City Tap House, Hub City Runners, Hub City Auto Glass, and Hub City Construction to name a few. But where did the name originate? I was recently reminded of the story behind the name.

Last Sunday afternoon, just after 2:00 P. M. a brightly painted train rumbled past our house. I had never before seen a train like this one. An internet search revealed that this was the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

Norfolk Southern’s Operation Awareness and Response program was launched in 2015 in order to enhance working partnerships with local first responders by delivering classroom, web-based, and field training sessions to better equip them to deal with incidents involving hazardous materials and rail operations.

The Norfolk Southern Hazmat Safety Train is driven by a red, white, and black 2,000-horsepower, 273-ton locomotive in livery sporting the insignia of police, fire, and emergency services. It has two blue and red boxcars that have been converted into classrooms with a capacity for 30 people each, four yellow, red, and green tank cars to train first responders in various valves and fittings, and two 89-foot flatcars which transport intermodal containers.

Seeing this brightly painted train moving down the tracks behind our home was quite a Sunday afternoon sight. Our grandson Ben and I were very excited by the unusual train.

I have always been intrigued by the railroad. I can remember the Christmas when I got my first Lionel train set.  Several years later, my dad built an elaborate HO gauge model railroad layout in our basement. My greater interest, however, has always been in real locomotives pulling long lines of freight cars along the steel rails that crisscross our country.

I came by my fascination with trains honestly. My great-grandfather died in an accident while working as a flagman on the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad. On a curve on a mountain grade, he was thrown from the gondola on top of the caboose to the tracks below. The incident is shrouded in mystery.

After the Great Depression, my grandfather bought a strip of land that bordered on the Southern Railway Line from Spartanburg to Columbia. He built a lumber shed on one end of the land. On the other end he built a home for his family of nine children. In those days, a lumberyard required a railroad siding, since most building materials were transported by rail.

As a boy, I often visited my grandparents’ home; the very same house Clare and I live in now. The home had a screened sleeping porch. Before air conditioning, sleeping on the porch in the summer was cooler than sleeping inside the house. Often I chose to spend the night on the porch. Several trains, pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives, passed on the tracks behind the house during the night. In the morning, my grandmother would come to the porch with a washcloth and a bowl of warm soapy water. She scrubed the soot from my face and hands.

The lumberyard closed at 12:00 on Saturday. After our dinner was served at high noon, if my grandfather and I didn’t go fishing, Dad and I would go uptown, get a treat at Bluebird Ice Cream, and arrive at the Magnolia Street Depot a little before 2:00 P.M. That was the time when four passenger trains stopped in Spartanburg. It was a locomotive traffic jam.

The two Carolina Special trains, one from Cincinnati and the other from Charleston, met each other at 2:00 P.M. The two Piedmont Limited trains, one from New York and the other from New Orleans, met at the same hour. Four of the five available tracks were in use at the same time.  Many travelers made connections in Spartanburg. My dad and I just went to see the trains. Watching four steam-powered engines with passenger cars in tow arriving and departing within a matter of minutes was quite a show!

Spartanburg County has long been a locus of intersections. Several old Indian trails crossed the area east and west, north and south. Both the Catawba and the Cherokee tribes hunted this land.

Later those same trails became wagon roads traveled by pioneers. Near Roebuck, the intersection of Blackstock Road and the Old Georgia Road was a main crossroad.

United States Highways 176 and 29, and, more recently, Interstate 26 and Interstate 85 parallel those ancient Indian trails. Our area has long been a hub. However, it was the railroads that gave our town the nickname Hub City.

Spartanburg’s rail service began with a train from Union and Columbia in 1859.  In 1873 came the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line, now the main line of the Norfolk Southern from Washington to Atlanta and points west.   With the completion of the Saluda Grade in 1885, Spartanburg was connected with Asheville. This route became the Southern Railway Line from Cincinnati via Spartanburg to Charleston.  Also in 1885, the Charleston & Western Carolina, which ran from Port Royal to Augusta, came to Spartanburg.

The Clinchfield Railroad is an engineering marvel. The rail runs from Elkhorn City, Kentucky, to Spartanburg, passing through more than 450 miles of mountains and fifty-four tunnels along the way.  In 1909, it reached its southern terminus of Spartanburg. The Clinchfield, primarily a coal-carrying line, had one passenger train daily from Elkhorn City. Because Spartanburg was the end of the line, it turned around at Drayton Avenue and backed all the way into the Magnolia Street station.

An electric railroad, the Piedmont & Northern, also came to Spartanburg in the winter of 1913-1914 from Greenwood, Anderson, and Greenville.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, much of Spartanburg’s activity centered around the Southern Station, built in 1904 at Magnolia Street.  The hub connections were completed with the construction of a railway tunnel along Memorial Drive. The tunnel goes under North Church Street, the Southern tracks, and Magnolia Street.

Some have reported that almost 90 trains stopped or passed through Spartanburg daily. The late Dr. Lewis P. Jones, a retired Professor in the History Department at Wofford College and an avid railroad buff, said, “People exaggerated the number of trains that came through Spartanburg.  Some folk counted one train as it arrived, and counted it again as another train when it departed ten minutes later.”

The Magnolia Street Depot fell into disrepair, and much of it was demolished in 1971.  The west end of the structure survived and now has been refurbished. It serves as a center of cultural activity and continues to be used as a railroad station.   Two Amtrak trains, still called the Southern Crescent, stop each day. Now, most rail traffic through Spartanburg is freight, carried by two railroads formed by multiple mergers, the Norfolk Southern line and CSX.

The Hub City nickname for Spartanburg took hold because of the trains.

Since the South Carolina Inland Port opened in Greer, South Carolina, in 2013, as many as eighteen trains and local shifters rumble down the rails by our house each day. Clare and I enjoy living by the tracks in the home built by my grandfather. Our grandchildren take delight in the trains as much as I do. I am glad to report that Hub City is alive and well.

This is a video of the old Southern 4501 steam engine.


November 5, 2017

This afternoon, just after 2:00 PM a brightly painted train rumbled past our house. I had never before seen a train like this one. An internet search revealed that this was the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

Norfolk Southern’s Operation Awareness and Response program was launched in 2015 in order to enhance working partnerships with local first responders by delivering classroom, web-based, and field training sessions to better equip them to deal with incidents involving hazardous materials and rail operations.

The Norfolk Southern hazmat safety train is a 2,000-horsepower, 273-ton locomotive in livery sporting the insignia of police, fire, and emergency services. It has two boxcars which have been converted into classrooms with a capacity for 30 people, four styles of tank cars (DOT-105, DOT-111, DOT-112, and DOT-1) to train first responders in various car valves and fittings, and two 89-foot flatcars which transport intermodal containers.

Seeing this train moving down the tracks behind our home was quite a Sunday afternoon sight. Here is a brief video for those who missed it coming through Spartanburg.



November 5, 2017

Marvin Joe Curry was a Native American; a member of the Seneca Nation’s Snipe Clan. In 1950 he left high school to enlist in the Navy, and he served two tours of duty during the Korean War. He entered the Naval Officer Candidate School in 1966 and graduated as a chief warrant officer. He then went on to serve in the Vietnam War. During his active duty in the Navy, he served on eight warships, including the U. S. S. Little Rock. Joe was a skilled deep-sea rescue diver. He received numerous honors and retired from the Navy in 1997.

The Marvin Joe Curry Veterans Powwow is an annual event held by the Seneca tribe in honor of all United States veterans. It has been my privilege to attend numerous Native American powwows from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Sisseton, South Dakota. Without exception, the American flag and veterans of military service are honored. In the grand entry a veteran followed by other veterans carries the Stars and Stripes into the dance circle.  Next weekend, November 11 and 12, 2017, Veterans Day Powwows will be held in Austin, Texas, in Richmond, Virginia, and in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Read more…


October 28, 2017

When I was a boy, back in the days before the Grinch stole Halloween, October 31 was one of the most anticipated evenings of the year. My friends and I looked forward to the carnival at the elementary school we attended. Halloween was second only to Christmas Eve when excitement, for kids, permeated the night air. No sooner had the sun gone down, than costumed kids of every age flooded the streets of the neighborhood, knocking on doors and shouting, “Trick-or-treat!”

Parents escorting their children stood a few yards away, guardian angels watching over small gremlins and goblins. The trick-or-treaters carried pillow cases or paper bags to collect their bounty.

My friend Rusty always dressed as a pirate, carrying a large pillowcase in which to stash his booty. He stuffed a second pillowcase into his pocket, just in case the first one reached capacity. Rusty’s Halloween range was far greater than mine. He worked his neighborhood of Ben Avon before dark and then came to my street about the time I walked out of my house dressed as a hobo.

We ventured from one house to the next collecting treats. Rusty carried a spray can of whipping cream as he made his rounds. If the treat he received at a home was particularly generous, Rusty marked the driveway with a whipped cream star. A full-sized candy bar – Hershey, Snickers, Milky Way, or Three Musketeers – merited a star. Those were the houses he returned to later in the evening.

Occasionally, we would have meetings with other trick-or-treaters to discuss which houses gave out the best goodies. Rusty was like a crafty angler, concealing his best fishing hole.

Sometimes Rusty would trade treats with other consultants. He always came out on the better end of the deal. I saw him trade three packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for a Hershey Chocolate Almond bar and a pack of Topps Baseball cards. The pack had both a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays card inside.

I am not sure when the innocence of the holiday was lost, but, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, the Grinch tried to steal Halloween. Due to the general malice of some people, trick-or-treating turned violent. Vandalism replaced tricks. Some treats even became serious threats. Needles and razor blades were hidden in candy and in apples.

Halloween fireworks took their toll. One of my sisters was burned when someone rolled a cherry bomb beneath her toddler feet. A friend lost sight in one eye following a firecracker accident. The reputation of a playful holiday was sullied.

Movies added to the rising sense of terror. “Nightmare on Elm Street” and its numerous sequels made Freddy Krueger a frightening legend. Chainsaw horrors and slasher films, including no less than ten “Halloween” movies, contributed to the hijacking of a kid’s delight.

Long ago on October 31 and November 1, the Celts celebrated the end of the summer with the harvest festival known as Samhain. They believed it was a time when the dead could visit the living by passing through the thin veil separating this world from the next. They believed that during these few days, they could be reunited with loved ones who were deceased. Bonfires were lit to ward off any menacing spirits that might also return.

Pope Gregory III moved the Christian feast known as All Saints’ Day to November 1 to give Samhain a Christian interpretation. The term Halloween is derived from All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. The Christian church recognized October 31 as the day before a holy day, so Halloween became a holiday of sorts.

Five hundred years ago, in 1517, the leader of what became known as the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, chose All Hallows’ Eve as the day to nail to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the Ninety-Five Theses or points of disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church. In those days the church door was like the town kiosk, a place to post public notices. Luther chose the day because he knew many people would attend church on All Saints’ Day.

Luther hoped to raise awareness and prompt discussion in order to bring about needed church reforms. Instead, his plan created such a stir that the church eventually suffered a series of divisions. Many Protestants regard Luther as a hero of the faith. To many Catholics he is considered to be an incendiary rabble rouser. Many Protestant Christians celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. Luther triumphal hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” is a part of the event.

In recent years, conservative Christians, alarmed by the vandalism and violence associated with Halloween, have renewed the battle to end its observance. The conflict has produced charges from both sides that are unfair and untrue. While conservative Christians want to eliminate Halloween altogether; others prefer to reinterpret it as a holy day.

The celebration of Halloween is as varied as the opinions about the day and its meaning. Many churches have replaced Halloween festivals with Noah’s Ark parties. A dedicated preschool director said to me last year, “We encourage the children to dress up like animals. We always get a Batman or a Spiderman in the mix. I guess bats and spiders are considered animals even in their superhero form.”

The church I served until my retirement celebrated with a Fall Family Festival, one of the happiest events of the entire year. Children and adults dressed up in crazy costumes. The event featured games similar to the ones that were a part of Halloween carnivals when I was a boy. Trunk-or-Treat replaced Trick-or-Treat. Families decorated the trunk of their cars or the bed of their pickup trucks. The vehicles were arranged along both sides of a long parking area. Children and their parents moved car-to-car rather than door-to-door, gathering goodies from friendly adults they knew very well.

Present-day families have numerous options. Some omit Halloween altogether. Others celebrate it as a traditional holiday. Still others try to find some middle ground. Even within extended families, there may not be agreement.

An eleven-year-old boy was looking forward to Halloween. His parents had always allowed him to dress up and go trick-or-treating. That year his mom and dad were out of town, and his aunt was staying with him.

“There will be no celebrating of Halloween while I’m in charge!” his aunt declared. “You can go to the party at church, but if you want to wear a costume, it must be something from the Bible.”

The boy retired to his room to ponder his dilemma. He devised a brilliant solution. He dressed himself in assorted sports equipment. With his Scout hatchet in one hand and a garbage can lid in the other, he reported to his stern aunt.

The sight of her nephew startled the aunt. “Young man, I told you that your costume had to be something from the Bible. Please explain this garb.”

“Look in Ephesians, Chapter 6,” the lad directed. “I have put on the whole armor of God. My karate sash is the belt of truth. My soccer shin guards and cleats mean that I am shod with the gospel of peace. My catcher’s chest protector is the breastplate of righteousness. My football headgear is the helmet of salvation. And the garbage can lid is the shield of faith.”

His aunt knew the Scripture well, but still not convinced, she quizzed, “And what about the Scout hatchet?”

“I didn’t have anything to use as the sword of the Spirit, so this is the ax of the apostles.”

The Grinch was outwitted again!


October 21, 2017

I recently found a list of famous authors from North and South Carolina.  As I scanned the list I saw names that I expected to be included.

American Book Award winning author Allison Hedge Coke, whose works often focused on working class issues in Western North Carolina, was mentioned.

Pat Conroy, whose novels were set in the South Carolina Lowcountry, spent his teen years in Beaufort.

Charles Frazier, author of the bestseller Cold Mountain, hails from Asheville.

Peggy Parish, creator of the children’s series Amelia Bedelia was from Manning, South Carolina.

William Sydney Porter, a prolific short story writer from Greensboro, used the pen name O. Henry.

Tom Robbins from Blowing Rock and Nicholas Sparks from New Bern are popular novelists.

Timothy Tyson, historian at Duke University is author of the bestselling Blood Done Sign My Name.

Thomas Wolfe, author of the classics Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again, was a native of Asheville.

I was surprised that no poets were included on the list. Sidney Lanier who lived in Tryon and Maya Angelou who taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, were not mentioned.

How could any list of Carolina authors not include Archibald Rutledge?

Born in McClellanville, South Carolina, in October, 1883, Archibald Rutledge’s parents were Colonel Henry Middleton and Margaret Seabrook Rutledge.  His ancestors included a governor of South Carolina, a chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Young Rutledge enjoyed hunting and fishing on his family’s estate, historic Hampton Plantation on the banks of Wambaw Creek near the Lower Santee River. During the Revolutionary War, Francis Marion used the house as a hideout.  George Washington spent one night there.  It was an inspiring place for Archibald to grow up.

He loved the out-of-doors, and early on it was clear that he had a gift for writing.  At three years of age, he composed his first piece of poetry.

I saw a little rattle snake

too young to make his rattle shake.

Being chased by a wicked bull named Abel and being circled by a shark in Tyger Creek were among the adventures, about which he would later write.

Archibald Rutledge attended Porter Military Academy, now known as the distinguished Porter-Gaud School in Charleston.  He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York.  There he was editor of the college newspaper and the class poet.  After graduating at the top of his class in 1904, he became the head of the English department at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania.  For 37 years, he lived away from South Carolina.

During his time in Pennsylvania, he became one of America’s best loved outdoor writers.  His stories appeared in Outdoor Life and Field and Stream.  He wrote more than 50 books, including An American Hunter, Old Plantation Days, and Wildlife of the South.  His stories revealed the behavior of fox, deer, eagles, crows, and snakes.

Archibald Rutledge’s poems were widely published in magazines and books.  South Carolina Governor Ibra Blackwood was impressed with the writings of Rutledge. Though the author was living in Pennsylvania, the governor regarded him as a true South Carolina native.  In 1934, Archibald Rutledge became the first Poet Laureate of South Carolina.

Rutledge returned to South Carolina in the summertime with his three sons to hunt and fish.  He not only visited Hampton Plantation, but also made trips to the Appalachian Mountains.  From the ocean to the hills, he loved our state.

When he retired, he returned to Hampton Plantation and spent the remainder of his nearly 90 years, restoring his home.

I recently found an autographed copy of his collection of poems, Deep River. It was published in 1960 and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His poems cover a wide range of subjects, from simple observations to profound thought. Many derive from his Lowcountry roots.

Spanish Moss

In Spanish moss there’s a mystery:

It veils the southern coast;

It shrouds the oaks and cypresses;

In it the little birds are lost.

It makes each wood a haunted place,

And every tree a ghost.


Other examples of his verse reveal a deep regard for people.


Permanent Wave

As my train sped through Lula,

A tiny Georgia town,

Dreaming amid the quiet hills,

Unknown to earth’s renown,

A little girl stood waving

At my proud heedless train;

I had just time to wave to her,

And see her wave again

When she was lost forever

Behind a low green hill,

But I shall always see her there,

Smiling and waving still.


In 1959, Grace Freeman, who would later become poet laureate of South Carolina, paid a visit to Rutledge at Hampton plantation. While she was there, a yellow school bus, full of elementary school students, came to visit. Dressed in hunting clothes, the weathered poet greeted the children.

One youngster exclaimed, “Why he is just an old backwoodsman!” The nature-loving writer would probably concur.

Among his nearly 100 books, were titles such as God’s Children, The Angel Standing, and Peace in the Heart. His writings gave testimony to his personal faith.

When asked about his writing, he said, “My formula is to find a subject worth writing about, and then to make it simple, and then to make it clear, and then to make it reach the heart, and then to make it beautiful.”

The autobiography of Archibald Rutledge is entitled In His Hand.  The title itself is an affirmation of his faith.

Archibald Rutledge died in 1973 in McClellanville, South Carolina.

Just last week I saw the poet’s name in our county. Archibald Rutledge Apartments are located near the Spartanburg Regional Hospital. The sight of his name prompted this column.

How many people in Spartanburg know the name Archibald Rutledge? How many have read any of his poetry? Perhaps this writing will prompt you to read some of the works of this remarkable South Carolinian.


October 14, 2017

One of the jaunts that Clare and I look forward to each fall is a drive through the mountains. The high mountains will soon be in their full autumn glory. There is no better way to take in the wonder of this season than a road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Clare and I often travel up the Saluda Grade for a brief retreat. We usually purchase a few pumpkins and several varieties of apples along the way. After a picnic lunch we sometimes pause to enjoy a Carolina blue sky with only a few high clouds drifting above. The southern Appalachian highlands are all the more exhilarating if there is a nip in the air, and the vast forest is ablaze with color. Perched on the tailgate of my pickup truck at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway is better than having a seat on the fifty-yard line at any football game.

The Southern Appalachian Mountains and surrounding foothills are decked out for their annual autumn display. Peak fall colors in our area occur from mid-October through early November. Though the mountains are home to more than 100 species of trees, the most colorful foliage comes courtesy of sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweet gums, red maples, and hickory trees. Read more…