Published 2:50 pm Sunday, August 17, 2008
Celebrities are not strangers to Atmore
By Lowell McGill
Over the last 50 years Atmore has been an occasional stopping off place for several well-known personalities.
I remember in the early 1950s a group of Hollywood performers traveling in a tour bus stopped off here for a couple of hours. The main star in the group was Robert Stack. I cannot remember the purpose for traveling through our area, but some said they were promoting a movie that featured him. Several had their photos made with him and he also handed out autographed photos of himself. Stack, if you remember, starred as Eliot Ness on the TV series “The Untouchables.”
In 1954, Ferlin Husky came by WATM on a tour promoting some of his records. We put him on the air and he sang a song that day. Husky, who also recorded under the name of Simon Crum, had two hit songs in his career. A member of the grand Ole Opry, he recorded the songs “On The Wings Of A Dove” and “Gone.” Actually, the latter song crossed over into the popular field and stayed at the top of the charts for several weeks. He was, indeed, a gentleman in all respects, in addition to being a good vocalist
During the early1960s my family and I were at Little River State Park. We noticed a big crowd of people gathered around a figure down near the lake. We went to take a look and found out it was Dub “Cannonball” Taylor, a well known western sidekick to several cowboy movie artists.
We learned that he had been on a bird hunting trip near Jackson and he stopped at the lake for a dip in the water to cool off. He was a likeable and funny person.
A Georgia native, he was also the father of Buck Taylor who played in the TV Series “Gunsmoke.”
Tim McCoy, the old time theatre cowboy came to Atmore in the 1960s with a traveling country band. They performed at the Atmore National Guard Armory. Hugh Rozelle was to serve as master of ceremonies, but was unable to do so because of the death of his father in Ashland.
Lady Bird Johnson stopped in Atmore during the 1960s when her tour train came through. Mrs. Thomas, wife at that time of Dr J.B. Thomas, joined her on the tour and traveled with her to Mobile. Lady Bird, who was campaigning for her husband L.B. Johnson, was related to Mrs. Thomas.
I wrote in one of columns a few months ago about meeting Jerry Clower in Flora, Miss. while I was working flood claims in that area. In that column I related that he often came to Atmore as a salesman of farm products. This was before he became famous. He told me he got his start in show business by visiting towns like Atmore, speaking to farm organizations. He was an excellent speaker and a talented comedian. He spun jokes off his friends and relatives growing up in Mississippi. These jokes propelled him to stardom. I remember him telling me that day to give his regards to all his Atmore friends. He was particularly acquainted with C.E. Bachelor, Miles Horne and T.P. Whitten.
Incidentally, I failed to mention in that column that Flora was the childhood home of John Garrard.
In 1955, Bill Monroe and his bluegrass band were stopped along the highway with several others following a fatal accident on a bridge on Hwy. 84 in Whatley just east of Grove Hill.
Joe Osenton, the stepson of Coach A.R. Homes, and I were returning from the University of Alabama that Friday. While we waited for the wreck to be cleared Monroe told me his band was on their way to Pensacola to perform. I remember his saying “Atmore, that’s the town where the prison is, isn’t it?” I told him it was that.
I think everyone remembers Charles McCartney, “The Goat Man.”
He came through Atmore several times before he, reportedly, lost his life on a highway while touring the country with his team of goats, which pulled his chuck wagon style carriage.
McCartney, who lived in Jeffersonville, Ga. for many years, traveled the highways all across the southern states with his goats. He would always camp out on the edge of town and local residents would go out and take photos of him and his animals. He also sold autographed photos of himself and the goats.
Randy Owens, who heads the singing group “Alabama,” and his family stopped and ate at a local restaurant here five or six years ago. Billy Ray Parker and I were having lunch when they came in. We heard him tell one of the waitresses that he and his family were on vacation. He said they were taking the “back roads” to get a look at Alabama’s rural country side.
These are just some of the personalities I remember coming through here. I am sure there are others that you probably remember.
Well, this week I had planned to write about the tanker contract, which had been originally awarded to Mobile. But, due to the nature of the ongoing sensitive political situation, I decided that a biased opinion in my column would not be appropriate. As you know my column is carried worldwide on the internet and I certainly do not want to be unobjective (or is it non-objective) and have excerpts pulled from my text. I think it best that we let those in charge make the decision, even though it may be sometime before we know the outcome.
Let’s hope the decision springs pleasure for all of us who want the contract in Mobile. It would be so nice to see a renewal, if you will, of old Brookley Field, the military post where so many of your friends and family members worked, including my father who worked there for 25 years.
Again, that 1954 nostalgic narration by the Billy Vaughn Orchestra rings in my heart even today… “Yes, it always whispers to me those days of long ago, when we finally learned the secret of The Shifting, Whispering Sands.”
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org