The Flying Saucer Sandwich

During the Covid pandemic, my partner and I have been cooking a lot more and trying different dishes. When he and a friend shared their memories of eating Flying Saucer Sandwiches in the mid-70s, I found a recipe which led me to learn more about its origins.

Who knows where the Flying Saucer originated–Hawaii? Cuba? Mexico?–but the vegan variety became popular in the vegetarian movement that followed the publication of Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. That book sold three million copies and created a food revolution. Since then, its author, Frances Moore  Lappé, an iconic activist, has written 18 more books, been given several humanitarian awards, and driven an international anti-hunger movement. Vegetarianism was given another boost four years later with the publication of Animal Liberation by Australian ethics professor Peter Singer. It was the first scholarly work to present ethical arguments for not eating animals or experimenting on them.

The vegan Flying Saucer was a popular menu item at the Economy Health Food Store that opened in 1975 on Montvue Road in west Knoxville. It was the brainchild of Dr. Roger VanArsdell and his wife Genevieve who ran the Seventh-Day Adventist school Little Creek Academy on Northshore. The store offered cooking classes, an alcoholics’ clinic, and plans for stopping smoking and weight loss. The VanArsdells considered the store a missionary project for a health education center for the greater Knoxville area. The eat-in/take-out section opened a year later, operated 11-2:30 Mon-Fri, and specialized in sandwiches–veggie hoagies, vegeburgers, and the ever-popular “Flying Saucer” sandwich.

The Flying Saucer was pita bread stuffed with vegan tuna salad and garnishes. Pita bread became popular in the US in the 70s and was often called Bible bread because it originated with desert Bedouins who would mix powdered grain and water into a flat cake and cook it on a campfire. The vegan tuna salad was made with partially mashed garbanzo beans (chickpeas) mixed with usual ingredients found in chicken or tuna salad: diced celery, radishes, artichoke hearts, red onion, pickle relish, fresh dill or flat-leaf parsley, vegan mayo and, optionally, a little tahini or nutritional yeast, then garnished with tomato, avocado, alfalfa sprouts, or cucumber.

The vegetables, except for the chickpeas, were grown on the Little Creek farm, and the pita bread came from the Little Creek kitchen. Originally founded in 1940, Little Creek began as a self-supporting school on several hundred acres. Besides the church, there was a dairy and vegetable farm, a bakery, and a medical institution. Poor kids worked off their tuition in the gardens, greenhouses, dairy, and kitchens. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have promoted variations of the Seventh-day Adventist diet since the church’s inception in 1863. They believe that their bodies are holy temples and should be fed the healthiest foods. The dietary pattern is based on the biblical Book of Leviticus and emphasizes whole plant foods, such as legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, and discourages the consumption of animal products and processed foods as much as possible. Their dietary choices seem to have paid off for them since studies show they live about ten years longer than those of other religious affiliations, second only to Buddhists, and have fewer chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

The creation of Economy Health Foods coincided with the food cooperative movement in America. Between 1969 and 1979, close to 10,000 food co-ops were established in the US. In the late 70s, when my partner, unknown to me at the time, was volunteering at the Knoxville Community Cooperative, my late husband and I were volunteering at the Leon County Food Cooperative in Tallahassee, FL, where my husband was a grad student at FSU. The Knoxville Co-op became today’s Three Rivers Market. The Tallahassee co-op became New Leaf Market. According to the Cooperative Grocer Network directory, most of the food co-ops in the US are in the Northeast. Three Rivers is the only one in TN, so I feel fortunate to have lived in two states in the Bible Belt that have food co-ops. Being a member of a food co-op is not just about having a source for fresh, organic food, it’s also about doing good in the community. Three Rivers has a monthly donation program called Nourishing Change where members can round up their tabs, and the extra cents go to a local charitable organization. Since the program’s inception in 2012, Three Rivers has raised over $559,500 for close to 100 organizations.

Economy Health Foods closed in the mid-80s, by which time Kingston Pike from the Cumberland Strip to Farragut had become a fast-food landscape. Little Creek Academy closed in 1994 and relocated to Monterey, TN, under the new name Heritage Academy. Heritage occupies 1,100 acres and continues to offer work-study programs in agriculture, food prep, and mechanics. The school also has an airstrip and offers pilot training in their Mission Aviation Program. Disaster Relief is part of the curriculum; students and staff have responded to hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes all over the globe, including the deadly tornado in Cookeville, TN, last year.

And how was that Flying Saucer Sandwich? It was delicious and will be flying out of our kitchen again in days to come.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments

In the Cemetery with Walt Whitman

While standing upon this consecrated ground, I was led into a train of reflections at once pleasing, yet melancholy. How solemn are the thoughts that arise in the mind! What a profound calm pervades the whole scene! …The effect were good, truly, if the whole mass of our population—the delver for money, the idler, the votary of fashion, the ambitious man—if all could, ofttimes, move slowly through that Beautiful Place of Graves, and give room to the thoughts that would naturally arise there.
                                                                           –Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman at about age 50.

Whitman at about fifty. Portrait by Brooklyn-based photographer G. Frank E. Pearsall, taken in 1869, scanned fr A Life of Walt Whitman by Henry Bryan Binns. Pub’d by Methuen & Co., 1905.

If ever there was a time for Walt Whitman, it is now, on this Fourth of July, 2020, the 165th anniversary of the publication of Leaves of Grass. When the heart and mind are tribulated, Whitman—often forgotten outside scholarly circles and sometimes dismissed as an old, yawping homosexual—can be gold. I am finding, in this turbulent time of Covid-19, racial unrest, climate change, such startling comfort in his words—his optimism, his celebration of Nature, his unbridled belief in democracy. I take him with me on my walks in Knoxville’s historic Old Gray Cemetery where, as a Board Trustee, I spend a lot of time researching the people buried there.

Old Gray Cemetery, photo by J.Loest 2017

In the quotation above, Whitman was talking of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn which he visited often and wrote about several times in various Brooklyn newspapers and periodicals. Was he a taphophile (cemetery enthusiast)? Possibly. He was always promoting the idea of urban parks, and cemeteries like Green-Wood were essentially the first urban parks. Although he and Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape designer of Central Park (1853), moved in different socio-economic groups, they were the two great urban optimists of the 19th century.

Green-Wood was founded in 1838 and was one of the first garden cemeteries. The Garden, or Rural, Cemetery Movement began in 1831 with Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston. The next dozen years saw another 20 garden cemeteries established in Northeast states. Knoxville’s Old Gray, founded in 1850, was the second garden cemetery in the South (Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston was founded in 1849) and is fertile research ground for life pre- and post-Civil War and during the Industrial/Gilded Age through the Great Depression and World War II.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, I have taken refuge in Old Gray and been transported into the past by the fascinating stories found there. One doesn’t have to be a taphophile to enjoy walking in a beautiful old cemetery. A cemetery is naturally a sacred place of remembrance, a place of reflection and meditation, of inspiration and solace; but it also can be simply a place to escape not only the noise and often stressful warp-speed of modern culture, but the alarming news cycle during a national crisis.

A cemetery, as opposed to a typical urban park which is full of activity and noise, is a liminal space—from the Latin limen for threshold—akin to libraries, museums, and old forests, to name a few. It is a crossroads of contradictory or ambivalent principles (life and death, the past and eternity, order and the unknown, despair and hope, the mystical and the mundane)—a transitional space of heightened intensity. French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault created a term for these places, heterotopias, which he claimed elicited “profound spatio-temporal disruption,” an “absolute break with traditional time.” It is in such places that the imagination is freed from the rigid regularity of daily schedules and calendars or, during a pandemic quarantine, an overactive amygdala.

My time in Old Gray is meditative…or it could be simply loafing. “Loafe” was one of Whitman’s favorite words― “I loafe and invite my soul,” “I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of grass,” “loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat.” Following his advise, I loafe and try to observe but rarely get beyond the surface. Nevertheless, the Victorian statues are calming.

Old Gray Cemetery, Knoxville, TN

Photo by J.Loest, 2018

The robins perch on the tombstones with an air of ownership. I study them and they study me. I contemplate the eroded, fungused engravings, many of them illegible. I pause on those of women, so many of whom died prematurely and remain forgotten except through the men in their lives. I forget Covid-19, I lose myself, I lose clock time and enter a time of no time, when the only reminders are the hour and half-hour tollings of the bells of St. John’s Lutheran Church across the street or the occasional urban youth or homeless geriatric.

St. John's Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN, photo by J.Loest, 2020


I come home with names, dates of birth and death, and begin searching the many free Internet history and genealogy sites. Although the few puzzle pieces never fully capture the person, I can imagine, given the place and time, the life they might have lived. Enlarging their stories, I shrink mine. Lately, though, I have been thinking more of Whitman than of the people resting in Old Gray, not only because he was writing during the lifetimes of those buried there, but because he was writing for an “America as shadowed forth into those abysms of circumstances.” The abysms are shadowing forth again.

Whitman said, “Past and present and future are not disjoined but joined.” The past always merges with the present, the people living today are no different than the people living then, their troubles not that dissimilar despite the advances in medicine and technology. Today, in growing parts of the capitalist, industrialized world, people face many of the same challenges that people in the 1800s dealt with—epidemics, pandemics, unclean water, natural disasters, racial inequality and conflict, political divisiveness, corrupt leaders. We in America have been seduced into believing we are unique, special, privileged, but Whitman believed we contain multitudes and carry within us both glories and unfinished parts.

Whitman understood and articulated human hopes and fears better than anyone, and offered a philosophical bridge between the present and the past. More than that, he was an equalizer of the present and the past. In 1861, just before the outbreak of hostilities leading to the Civil War, he began publishing a serial history of Brooklyn titled “Brooklyniana” for the Brooklyn Standard. This quote comes from the third of the 40 extant (out of 200) installments:

If there be any who, in looking back to the periods and persons we are sketching, feel a sort of compassion for their supposed inferior chances and lower development, we advise them to spare their benevolence, and apply it where it would be more truly needed. For the comparison of merit between the inhabitants here during the last century, or of the years previous, with the present time, and all its vaunted educational and fashionable advantages, is not a whit in favor of our own day in all the important respects that make manly and womanly excellence.

Not that I understand Whitman more than superficially. And though many have parsed, dissected and psychoanalyzed every molecule of his being, can anyone really know him. My favorite description of his unique character, a “cosmic consciousness,” came from Canadian psychiatrist Richard M. Bucke (Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, 1901). Bucke gathered 36 examples of people he believed had attained “cosmic consciousness,” including historical figures, such as Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Dante, 18th-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, and a number of contemporaries, some of whom he knew personally, Whitman being one of them. The main characteristics of cosmic consciousness as identified by Bucke are joyfulness; a revelation of the meaning, purpose, and aliveness of the universe; a sense of immortality; a loss of fear of death; and an absence of the concept of sin.

Bucke’s interest in cosmic consciousness was partly inspired by Whitman—initially by his poetry and then by his personal encounters with Whitman. Bucke not only included Whitman in his book as an example of cosmic consciousness but also regarded him as the “highest instance of Cosmic Consciousness,” higher than Buddha and Jesus. But Bucke, for all his intense acclamation, couldn’t quite grasp who Whitman was. In a letter to a friend, the Keats and Shelley scholar Henry Buxton Forman, Bucke described his meeting with Whitman in Camden, NJ, in Oct 1877:

We were old friends in less than two minutes and I spent a good part of the forenoon with him. We then crossed the river (Delaware) together to Philadelphia as he had an engagement there. I hardly know how to tell you about W.W. If I tried to say how much he impressed me you would probably put it down to exaggeration. I have never seen any man to compare with him—any man the least like him. He seems more than a man and yet in all his looks and ways entirely commonplace (Do I contradict myself). He is an average man magnified to the dimensions of a God—but this does not give you the least idea of what he is like and I despair of giving you any idea at all, however slight—I may say that I experienced what I have heard so much about, the extraordinary magnetism of his presence. I not only felt deeply in an indescribable way towards him, but I think that the short interview has altered my attitude of my normal nature to everything—I feel differently, I feel more than I did before—this may be fancy, but I do not think it is.

Whitman has been called mythic, enigmatic, charismatic, shamanistic, inexplicable, epic. He is variously described as environmentalist, philosopher, historian, pantheist, transcendentalist, reincarnationist. He was foremost a humanist, an ardent believer in a broad, all-embracing democracy—justice, personal freedom, and acceptance of the differences among people,

Our American superiority and vitality are in the bulk of our people, not in a gentry like the old world. The greatness of our army during the secession war, was in the rank and file, and so with the nation. Other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but we have it in the bulk of the people. Our leading men are not of much account and never have been, but the average of the people is immense, beyond all history. Sometimes I think in all departments, literature and art included, that will be the way our superiority will exhibit itself. We will not have great individuals or great leaders, but a great average bulk, unprecedentedly great.

Today, when American democracy is being tested once again, it’s almost as if he is rising somewhere in the clouds or above the ocean, not waving his arms or yawping, but quietly reaching his notebooks out to us. What he would make of the protests, I can only guess, but I am certain he would be upholding journalistic ethics. “I can conceive of no better service…,” he wrote, “than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.”

Whitman lived through cultural, political and familial horror. Family members had mental illness, his father was an alcoholic. Walt was taken out of school at age 11 to help support the family (he was the second of eight children). He worked various jobs in Brooklyn (office boy, house-builder, printer, journalist, editor, schoolteacher) when Brooklyn streets were a communal slop jar, collecting the refuse of packed households, butchers, brothels, boarding houses, and tens of thousands of horses. Besides the tons of dung, these animals also aged, sickened and died in the streets, sometimes in large numbers when a deadly contagion tore through the horse population as in the Great Epizootic of 1872, an outbreak of equine influenza. The carcasses were collected and shipped to Barren Island where they were boiled, skinned, and deboned. The fat was sold to chandlers to make soaps and candles; hides were sold to tanners; hooves rendered for glue; bones were carved into buttons, combs, and knife handles or burned to make “bone black,” used as a pigment. This history gave me a newer appreciation of the bone buttons in my vintage button collection, buttons that were used on Civil War uniforms and underwear.

Bone buttons, Civil War Era

Photo by J.Loest 2020


Whitman did not drink but developed health issues early on. By age 37 he was already troubled with paralysis, “spells in the head,” constipation, and problems with his legs. For three years during the Civil War, 1863-1866, he was a volunteer caregiver/bedside companion to thousands of wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate, in Washington, D.C., hospitals and suffered for years afterward from the effects of what he called his “war-paralysis.” The worst might have been the blood poisoning that sent violent red streaks from his hand up his arm, the result of having cared for a soldier with a gangrenous wound. His poetry collection Drum-Taps published in 1865 captures some of those gruesome and sad experiences with vivid imagery. Though his body in his last years was ravaged with numerous painful conditions, he remained uncomplaining to his doctors who were surprised at the results of his autopsy and amazed that he lived so long with such pathology.

Whitman celebrated his 72nd birthday, his last, on the evening of May 31, 1891, with a few old friends in his home on Mickle Street in Camden. William Sloane Kennedy, one of Whitman’s most devoted friends, included this personal memory of the evening in his Reminiscences of Whitman:

Walt opened the talk by drinking, in a glass of champagne, a “reverent memory” to the “Mighty comrades that have not long ago passed away—Bryant, Emerson, Longfellow;” also to Tennyson and Whittier, “a noble old man.”

Some one asked Whitman, during the evening (point-blank almost), why he had never married. His labyrinthine, mystifying reply is very humorous: “The whole thing, my friend, like the Nibelungen, or somebody’s cat, has an immensely long, long, long tail to it….”

He expressed with feeling and emphasis his belief in the “solidarity of the common people, of all peoples and all races.” This idea dwelt much with him…. We are “like fellows in a ship,” said he at the supper; what “jeopardizes one jeopardizes all…. The attempt at what they call ‘protection,’ and all that goes to boost up and wall up and wall out and protect out… is wrong, and one feeling for all, extreme reciprocity and openness and free-trade-ism, is the policy for me.”

Whitman breaks my heart; but I often judge writers on their ability to break my heart. If I pause over Whitman’s words, he never fails to lift me out of my fugue states. He is especially present as I walk in Old Gray, not only because he was at his peak of production during the time of Old Gray’s earliest deaths, but because he and they lived during some of the darkest times in American history, times that resonate today. He wrote about Green-Wood no less than seven times in the years before he published Leaves of Grass in 1855. Many scholars believe his writings about Green-Wood in a journalistic forum greatly informed his later poetry. It helped fuel his activism for human rights. In 1857 he began a two-year affiliation with the Brooklyn Daily Times. Mid-year, the failures of banks and businesses caused an economic downturn that came to be known as the Panic of 1857. His journalistic focus became documenting the hard times of the unemployed, the inability of the people to pay rents or taxes, and the need for poor relief. He highlighted matters relating to sanitation, public health and safety, and public education, topics that are uppermost today.

Beyond the welcome distraction from political/social evils, my hope is that my time in Old Gray gives me some of what Whitman found in Green-Wood—perhaps a broadened understanding and perspective of history; if lucky, something of both resilience and acceptance, a place to both grieve and celebrate. It’s hard to have hope right now; with so many rocks slipping, it’s hard to not believe that a landslide is inevitable. It’s harder, still, to think about death, much less celebrate it as Whitman did given our current culture which has been so insulated against death, lobotomized by the illusion of medical magic and the irrational enthusiasm of middle class prosperity, but surely walking among the peaceful dead will lessen my fear of death.

Whitman witnessed a lot of death in his lifetime—the cruel, crude, unimaginable deaths from disease and war—and the cemetery helped him overcome his fear of it. In “Song of Myself,” contemplating the “hair of graves,” he wrote,

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now….

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas ‘d the moment life appear’ d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

In his final year, Whitman took great pleasure in watching his mausoleum being built in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden. Several Camden cemeteries had offered him a plot, but he chose Harleigh because of his recent family life and its bucolic layout. Founded in 1885, Harleigh was the latest of many prominent examples of the rural cemetery movement in 19th century America. He visited the construction site several times the year before his death, driven in coaches and rolled in his wheelchair by friends. A journal entry on Oct 1, 1891 reads:

… rode out to Harleigh Cemetery (Ralph Moore’s rig)—saw the architects there—told them to have nothing artificial or ornamental—must be consistent with the plain natural place, the turf, the simple trees and rocks, the fallen leaves….

He had suffered strokes resulting in partial paralysis and been in poor health for several years. In December 1891 he contracted pneumonia and spent three months in terrible pain. When he died, on a dark, drizzly Saturday afternoon on March 26, 1892, word passed throughout Camden and, via newspapers and cables, throughout the nation and Europe. The March 28 New York Times announced the funeral:

The funeral of Walt Whitman will take place on Wednesday at 2 o’clock. If it be a pleasant day, the services will be held at the tomb; if not, at his House, 328 Mickle Street. All persons desirous of seeing the body of the dead poet can do so at his late residence between 11 and 1 o’clock on that day….

There will be no religious services. Several prominent men, not yet decided upon, will speak in lieu of the usual services….

In December last Mr. Whitman agreed with his attending physicians to allow them to perform an autopsy upon him after his death. He did this in view of the number of remarkable illnesses which he had survived and in the interest of medical science. George Whitman, a brother of the poet, today refused to allow the doctors to perform the autopsy. After the brother’s departure from the house the physicians went ahead with the post-mortem, occupying nearly three hours in their task.

The autopsy disclosed the fact that the poet had died with his organs in a state of disease that should by all the laws of medicine have killed him years ago. His left lung was entirely gone, while of the right there was but a breathing spot left. The heart was surrounded by a large number of small abscesses and about two and a half quarts of water. [The list was long, but there was no evidence of syphilis.]…. The brain was found to be abnormally large and in a fairly healthy condition.

During the public viewing from 11:00-1pm on Wednesday, March 30, a thousand or more streamed through the modest, two-story house on Mickle Street past the polished oak casket which was barely visible beneath flowers and wreaths sent from all over the world. The queue of friends, neighbors, admirers was a mixture of high, low and in-between—scholars, writers, burly policemen, curious laborers on their lunch break, and street urchins drawn by the excitement of the occasion.

At the funeral in Harleigh that afternoon, a palm-decorated tent had been raised near his new mausoleum. The crowd, spreading along the slope above, is said to have numbered in the thousands. Whitman’s good friend, John Burroughs, American naturalist and essayist, who had been a pall-bearer, wrote later: “When I saw the crowds of common people that flocked to Walt Whitman’s funeral today, I said, how fit, how touching all this is; how well it would please him.”

The only blood relative in attendance was Whitman’s younger brother George who was probably perplexed by the whole affair. When Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, it did not impress George, who recalled: “I saw the book—didn’t read it all—didn’t think it worth reading—fingered it a little.”

The weather, which had earlier been cloudy, cleared and was mild, the first bluebirds were singing, peanut sellers moved along the periphery. Bands played, and food and drinks were served. It was, according to his biographer Bliss Perry, a Camden holiday.

But Whitman’s disciples were said to be profoundly moved. “We are at the summit,” said one. “I felt as if I had been at the entombment of Christ,” wrote another. Others thought, perhaps remembering the poet’s own serene conviction of immortality, that he really was not dead at all, and that in some new guise he would come again. For such was such these the spell woven by Whitman’s unique personality was unbroken by his bodily death.

There was a lot of oratory with readings not only from Leaves of Grass, but from the works of the “Bibles of the world”: Confucius, Buddha, Plato, the Koran, Zend Avesta, the Bible. Whitman was a religious skeptic; although he accepted all churches, he believed in none. While he took a great deal of material from Christianity, his conception of religion was much more complicated and all-encompassing than the beliefs of one faith. Over the next few days, editorials appeared in all the great dailies of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, London, and Edinburgh.

Walking in Old Gray with Whitman consoles me. If my little loafing doesn’t give me hope about America, it gives me hope about myself—it reinforces how little I know, a fact that opens vistas of unimaginable opportunity. And in my ignorance, what better guide could there be—this white-haired American…what? Gandalf? Merlin? Blake? Li Bai?…, this gentle, optimistic, singing soul who believed beyond all believing that the arc of humanity bends toward unity–

The sum, concluding all we know of old or
modern learning, intuitions deep,
Of all Geologies—Histories—of all Astronomy—of Evolution,
Metaphysics all,
Is, that we all are onward, onward, speeding slowly, surely

who is still cheering us on and waiting for us to catch up.

…something long preparing and formless is arrived and form’d in you,
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes….
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

On this July 4th, I celebrate you, Walt Whitman.

Posted in Knoxville History, Literature, Miscellaneous, Nature, poetry | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Post-Civil-War Editor of A Small Newspaper in Knoxville, TN, Who Influenced the Founding Father of Modern Journalism

Spring has come again to beautiful Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, TN. As a Trustee of Old Gray, I have been researching the lives of people buried there and find them fascinating, as history older than one’s memory usually is. One of the more interesting is William Rule (1839-1928), whose spring birthday is soon approaching, May 10. Rule was a beloved two-term mayor of Knoxville and the editor of first the Knoxville Daily Chronicle and later the Knoxville Journal. He is best known for mentoring the young Adolph Ochs who started working for Rule at age 11 and famously bought the New York Times in 1896 at age 38. Because the 60-year relationship between these two men was influential in shaping the greatest, most powerful newspaper in the free world, it is difficult to examine the life of one without considering the other.

An easy assumption today is that the people buried in Old Gray in the early 20th century came from privileged backgrounds, but, for the majority, that is far from the truth. The next generation of Knoxville men and women may have moved into a higher socioeconomic status, but most of their parents worked hard to rise out of poverty. William Rule and Adolph Ochs are examples of the norm. Both Rule and Ochs were descendants of German immigrants, Rule’s great-grandfather having come from Hessen-Darmstadt to Virginia in the late 1700s and Ochs’ father from Fürth, Bavaria, to Kentucky in 1848. Both men were largely self-educated, both inherited their mothers’ love of reading and their fathers’ gentleness and profound respect for fairness and human individuality.

William Rule

William Rule, the eldest of 7 children, was born in a log cabin (the same in which his father Frederick was born) in Stock Creek, about 7 miles south of downtown Knoxville. He helped his father farm until age 19 when he married Lucy Maxey and made an unsuccessful attempt to run a hardware store on Gay Street. At age 21 he went to work on William Brownlow’s polemical newspaper the Knoxville Whig. There, he did everything from writing news and setting type to mailing and delivering papers. When the paper folded at the onset of the Civil War two years later, Rule enlisted in the Union Army infantry. He was quickly promoted to Lieutenant then to adjutant. Throughout the War, he carried three volumes, the Bible, Shakespeare, and Burns’ poems. One of the few comments from Rule about his wartime experience was a humorous remark about a friend who was a Confederate soldier who, after the war, asked if he (Rule) had ever shot at him. Rule told him, “I did not for you were in the cavalry and I couldn’t catch you.”

William and Lucy Maxey Rule and children

For a time after the war, he was a correspondent for papers in Nashville, Memphis, New York, and Cincinnati, then was employed as city editor for three more years on the reinstated Whig. He married Lucy Ann Maxey of Knox County in 1858 and they had six children. For brief periods, Rule was county court clerk, pension agent, and postmaster. In 1870, he founded the Knoxville Daily Chronicle and in 1885 the Knoxville Journal. He was elected Knoxville Mayor twice, in 1873 and 1898.



Adolph Ochs, age 20

Adolph Ochs was born in 1858 in Cincinnati, the eldest of six children. In 1864, the family moved to Knoxville in search of post-War opportunity. His father, Julius Ochs, one of nine children, had been the son of a prosperous diamond merchant and Talmudic scholar, was college educated and had a talent for languages and music. But when his father died, his older brother became heir and forced Julius to leave school and apprentice himself to a bookbinder.  Discouraged by dull, unpromising work, he chose to immigrate to the US where, like most immigrants then and now, he was forced to take any work he could.  He first became an itinerant peddler, then part-time teacher and drygoods employee, and, after the Civil War (in which he was made drill sergeant), he held various civic positions—alderman, tax assessor, Justice of the Peace, part-time rabbi—but was was never successful or lucky at any of these occupations. Adolph knew early on that he would have to augment the family income. He began his first job as a carrier at the Chronicle in 1869 at age 11. Like his boss, William Rule, had done before him, Ochs accepted any task no matter how menial and quickly impressed his superiors. Over the course of 8 years, the precocious lad moved from sweeping offices and delivering papers to being an office boy and then typesetter.  Being a typesetter required four years of apprenticeship, but he did it in two. He called his years at the newspaper his “high school and university.”

Rule earned many distinctions in his long career. He was a charter member of the Lawson-McGhee Library and secretary of the board for 12 years, a charter member of the board of governors for Knoxville General Hospital, a member of the Republican National Committee from 1876 to 1884, and a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1876. As Mayor, he established the city waterworks and a smallpox hospital. Though not an alumnus of the University of Tennessee, he served 28 years on the board of trustees and was secretary for several years prior to his resignation. Passing the campus one day, he looked at the trees on the slope of the Hill and remarked, “There is one of the few things that reminds me of my age. I was one of the Trustees who authorized that many of those trees should be set out.” The University bestowed on him an honorary Master of Arts degree in 1901.

Rule spoke out against Appalachian stereotypes (which were beginning to take shape after the Civil War), arguing that people from the region had normal levels of intelligence but suffered due to Southern states’ lack of funding for schools. In 1873, wealthy Memphis financier Moses Wicks, angered over a column by Rule which criticized Wicks’ mismanagement of his railroad and banking enterprises, challenged Rule to a duel. Rule refused, saying, “I recognize no heathenish, so-called code of honor…. You might take my life or I might take yours and yet not a single feature of the publication complained of would be changed by the results.” The story was published in the New York Times and subsequently lauded in newspaper editorials across the country. After this incident, public sentiment caused the end of dueling as a means of resolving disputes.

Adolph Ochs

In 1896, Ochs, taking control of the New York Times, mortgaged and risked everything to “conduct a high standard newspaper, clean, dignified and trustworthy.” The Times won the first Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 1918. Ochs received honorary degrees from six universities and came to be known as the “Titan of Humanity” for his lifelong philanthropy. Probably the most famous of his charitable initiatives is the “Hundred Neediest Cases Fund,” a fund-raising campaign established by the Times in 1912 and which continues today. The Fund’s history is an interesting story in itself, a Christmas story that makes Adolph Ochs the George Bailey of his time. In its 105 years, the Fund has raised $288 million for those struggling in New York. The 2016-17 campaign, which ran from Nov. 13 to Feb. 10, raised $6,177,625 — more than half a million more than the year before. For the first time, it extended its reach globally when the International Rescue Mission, a worldwide aid group based in New York that helps refugees and vulnerable populations, joined the campaign.

Biographers of Adolph Ochs argue that the Times‘s commitment to objectivity may have originated in Ochs’s personal, almost reverent, admiration for William Rule. Like Rule, Ochs viewed his newspaper as a trust, upholding the principals on which the First Amendment is based. He established a code of ethics for the New York Times which he published as an oath in his first issue: “to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests involved.”

For a few years in the mid- to late-70s the Chronicle was owned by William ‘Parson’ Brownlow, and Ochs had the opportunity to witness both Brownlow’s and Editor Rule’s strongly differing views about the place of opinion in a newspaper. Writing in the Chattanooga Times in 1879, Ochs stated that his association with the two men influenced him greatly. He called Brownlow “a harsh man; a reliable hater; not particular to be politically consistent, eager to carry any point he set his head or heart on; endowed with a violent temper and a vindictive nature…. We confess no admiration, personal or other, for the dead Governor and Senator. His political methods were especially distasteful…. He was always, to our mind, the same violent, and if trusted with power, dangerous man.” As owner of the Times, Ochs chose to practice an objectivity that reflected the views of his “guide, philosopher, and friend,” William Rule.

Adolph Ochs and daughter Iphigene

In 1884, Ochs married Effie Wise, the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, who was the leading exponent of Reform Judaism in America and the founder of Hebrew Union College. In 1928 Ochs built the Mizpah Congregation Temple in Chattanooga in memory of his parents, Julius and Bertha Ochs. When Adolph died in 1858, the best and most capable person to take over the Times was Iphigene, his beloved only child, but such an appointment would have been impossible in a patriarchal world–women were still unable to even to vote. Her husband, Arthur Sulzberger, became publisher, and her grandson, Ochs’ great-grandson, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., has been publisher of the New York Times since 1992. One of the longest and most interesting obituaries in the Times is that of Iphigene (“Iffey”) Ochs Sulzberger. Iphigene’s daughter, Ruth Holmberg Sulzberger, who died this month in Chattanooga, was publisher of the Chattanooga Times in Tennessee for nearly three decades.

By his last decade, William Rule was so beloved by his community that civic organizations hosted annual luncheons in his honor. He was esteemed and respected by journalists throughout the country and, at age 89, honored nationally after Time Magazine called him “the oldest active editor in the U.S.” Just weeks before his death, he was still arriving at the office every morning at 8am and leaving at 5:30pm. Ochs attended Rule’s 82d and 89th birthday celebrations. At the latter, Ochs, reading from a letter he had written for the occasion, said, “Captain Rule was a hero to me when I was a lad 10 years of age, and in the 60 years that have elapsed since then, he has not only maintained that eminence in my mind, but has steadily risen higher in my esteem.”

Just two and a half months later, on July 26, 1928, William Rule died in Ft. Sanders Hospital following surgery for a ruptured appendix. Ochs was unable to attend the funeral but sent a telegram, and the July 28 issue of the New York Times included a memorial headed “Tribute by Knoxville to Captain Rule; People of All Walks of Life at Funeral of Dean of American Editors.” The following year Ochs returned to Knoxville to attend a posthumous celebration of Rule’s 90th birthday. During that visit, he asked Henry Collins, the man who taught him how to set type 50 years earlier at the Chronicle, to accompany him to Rule’s grave in Old Gray where he placed a large wreath.

Ochs died suddenly on April 9, 1935 at age 77 while visiting Chattanooga. Even after nearly 40 years of living in New York City, he always called Chattanooga “home.” For decades he planned to be buried there, but in 1933, he purchased a gravesite in Temple Israel Cemetery at Mount Hope in Westchester County, NY. He chose Temple Israel primarily because it would be easier for Iphigene to visit his grave and her husband’s family, the Sulzbergers, who were also interred in Temple Israel.

Archived in the New York Public Library, among 137 boxes of the Adolph S. Ochs papers, is the four-decade-long correspondence between Rule and Ochs. Also included is a scrapbook Ochs assembled during the year following Rule’s death. In it are obituaries and clippings about the career of Captain William Rule, Knoxville, Tennessee.

William Rule family plot in Old Gray Cemetery

The New York Times has been awarded 122 Pulitzer Prizes (three in 2017)—more than any other news organization—and, in these troubling times, continues to uphold Och’s promise to give the American people “the whole story, without fear or favor.” As William Rule’s 178th birthday approaches, Old Gray pays tribute to the man who devoted over sixty years of highly principled editorial service to Knoxville, a contribution which continues to influence journalistic excellence and integrity worldwide today.

William Rule and Adolph Ochs were among the first ten journalists inducted into the Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1969.

Sources: The Kingdom and the Power:  Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: The Institution that Influences the World by Gay Talese; Knoxville News-Sentinel Archives 1922-1990; The McClung Digital Collection of the East Tennessee Historical Center;; Standard History of Knoxville, ed. William Rule; Metropulse and Knoxville Mercury articles by Jack Neely; and the New York Times digital archives.


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Why I Support Public Radio

WUOT, my local public radio affiliate, ends its Spring Fund Drive today. I’ve heard people complaining on Facebook this week about WUOT’s limited news segments and low-interest programs like Weekend Radio. I, too, would like more news; I often complain about the Saturday rehash of old “Car Talks” (I bet there are people out there who don’t know that CT ended production of brand-new episodes in 2012 or that one of the “Tappet” brothers (Tom Magliozzi) died in 2014). Of course, WUOT-2 provides many of those interesting programs, but there are a lot of listeners who don’t have an HD receiver.

This is why I support public radio. I don’t donate just for my personal benefit. I give because it benefits the many in Tennessee who can’t afford to donate, who don’t own computers or HD radios, who don’t read the best newspapers like the New York Times; but who desperately need SOMETHING that might balance FOX News which now has the largest viewership in the Nation. But perhaps my motive is not totally altruistic; helping my state become better informed absolutely benefits me personally.

I used to have a second home in St. Augustine and there listened to WJCT, the Jacksonville affiliate, which had much better programming than WUOT. But you can’t compare a crab apple to a Honeycrisp. It’s important to remember that the top NPR stations, i.e., the ones with the best programming ( Top Ten NPR Stations), are in the more socioeconomically healthy states (States with the Best Economies). WUOT simply doesn’t get the revenue to fund these programs. I’m grateful we get the NPR programming we do and hope, in these disturbing times, that WUOT can at least maintain.

Who listens to NPR? NPR says, based on Nielsen audience profiles (NPR Listener Profiles), that listeners are more likely to be:

  1. The Affluent Business Leader
  2. The Cultured Connoisseur
  3. The Educated Lifelong Learner
  4. The Civic Leader
  5. The Sustainability Champion
  6. The Curious Explorer
  7. The Tech Trendsetter

My hope is that my small donation will enable some disadvantaged person, whether it be due to poverty or discrimination, to become one of these NPR listeners. Because I was one of those disadvantaged by poverty—born in a “holler” in SW VA, grew up in a series of rental houses, could not afford college until my late 20s—but due to luck and maybe an innate curiosity widened my horizons and, at some point, discovered NPR. NPR helped me become one of those faithful listeners, the lifelong learner. For that, I am deeply indebted to those NPR donors who gave when I didn’t.

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Tribute to a Friend — Andie Ray, 1967-2015

Andie in fr of Vagabondia wValentineSometimes, when a large character in the small drama of our lives dies suddenly, unexpectedly, the loss is so shocking events following it seem almost surreal. After all, reality is a sketchy thing given the faulty observational/comprehension skills of us poor mortals. Andie Ray was just such a character; she crafted such an indelible public persona she might have existed on another plane, maybe in another era, another country.

I first met Andie in Maplehurst, that tiny enclave near downtown that, for a time, exemplified to many of us the closest thing to an artists’ colony Knoxville has ever had.  The area had a certain mystique, its artist/writer residents a Bloomsbury aura.  It was late 90s, a party in the Kristopher, a 5-story apartment building with a European feel, an Old World elegance.  I don’t remember much about the party, but I remember Andie’s bedroom, her old iron bed with a white coverlet placed catty-corner between two bare windows overlooking the Tennessee River and strings of tiny white lights like stars overhead. It was magical.

I think Andie found her identity in Maplehurst, first in the paintings of turn-of-the-century women by her friend and neighbor there, Cynthia Markert, and then when she fell in love with a man who lives mostly in 1920s Paris. Together, they created a romantic, literary residence above Andie’s boutique on Market Square, then later built a house in an old design in Old North, a house that perpetuated the myth—French doors, lots of wood, art, books, a fireplace, always a dog and 2 or 3 cats, fresh flowers, a bottle of wine to share with friends.

Vintage bicycle posterYou rarely saw Andie without a hat or wearing anything but long, slim skirts and coats, styles Colette or Zelda Fitzgerald might have worn. Sometimes, riding her pink bicycle across town, skirt and scarf flying, her woven basket full of flowers, a kid would call out, “Mary Poppins!” That, too, was a true comparison, not just a superficial resemblance but one of character–Andie Ray could talk to animals, was bold, smart, firm and persuasive in a showdown, and, if medicine was called for, made it go down easily.

Andie could have succeeded at any number of things.  She had political instincts, a strong civic sense, and was always active in city and community organizations.  Friends say she should have been on City Council, she would have made a great mayor or state representative, or, just as believable, she was meant for the stage. What struck me most was her love of animals. She was always rescuing cats and finding homes for them—one kitten, nearly frozen, she plucked from a snowbank along a mountain road, a few she nabbed from around restaurant garbage bins, several others from the dilapidated structures near the railroad tracks in Old City. She was good at convincing you that a cat was what was missing from your life. When my husband was living in a 3-story, 12,000 square foot building with a gray kitten named Wiggin, Andie coaxed him over to see a new litter. “Wiggin must be lonely all day in that big building,” she said, “why don’t you take two girls home and see which one he likes?” Well, you can imagine how far she would have gone with her recently acquired realtor’s license.

How to process such a loss, a loss that contains other losses, and, yes, our own eventual end? There are no words for something so incomprehensible. Emily Dickinson came close with her floundering dashes:

There is a pain—so utter—

It swallows substance up—

Then covers the Abyss with Trance—

So Memory can step

Around—across—upon it—

As one within a Swoon—

Goes safely—where an open eye–

Would drop Him—Bone by Bone.

No, we say at first, this can’t be; then, Stop all the clocks; and, finally, Come back, come back, even as a shadow, a dream. And that will be our comfort now, because Andie Ray will surely come back in our remembering. For those lucky enough to have known her, there is much to remember. Now, when we walk in Market Square, we will point to the building that is now gray and say, “It was once yellow, with flowers spilling from the window boxes and cat baskets below the display mannequins, a black Lab by the water bowl, an Art-Deco scroll above the front door announcing, Vagabondia, and when you walked inside, you were in another city, another country. It was like Paris in the Twenties.”

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Hearing Virginia Woolf in Buddhism Class

(Italicized text from The Waves by Virginia Woolf)

The young monk sinks easily into the asana, or lotus, position. He is Caucasian, tall and thin with large dark eyes and a friendly smile. I guess him to be in his thirties. Over a plain, long-sleeved cotton shirt, he wears the traditional Tibetan Buddhist robe—a maroon cotton cloth wrapped across the left shoulder and another wrapped around his waist, floor-length. His short black hair is in a tight knot at the center of his crown, sleek as if gelled to control stray curls. Before him, on the tiny puja (prayer table) sits not an ancient scroll in Pali or Sanskrit but a laptop. The glowing Apple on its open cover seems especially incongruous; I wonder if he is ever tempted by all the seductive fruit of the Internet. Continue reading

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Review: Obselidia

Obselidia coverI agree with Virginia Woolf who said that nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy. My favorite films waver between humor and sadness and take my imagination to surprising places. I recently discovered a gem of a small-budget indie film that met those criteria, the 2010 feature debut of writer/director Diane Bell. Obselidia has a quirkiness and strangeness about it, something of Oscar & Lucinda’s compulsion and restraint, chance and divination, and Angels & Insects’ lapse into Victorian Darwinism. It also has a bit of the Renaissance’s cabinet of curiosities. Continue reading

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Review: The Woman with the Five Elephants

The Woman with the Five Elephants
Director, Vadim Jendreyko
Country: Switzerland/German
Released 2010

Die Frau mit de 5 Elefanten

Svetlana Geier, the subject of Vadim Jendreyko’s documentary The Woman with the Five Elephants, is an example of how one’s passion can bring order out of chaos. Geier spent twenty years translating Dostoevsky’s five great novels, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Devils, The Brothers Karamazov and The Raw Youth. Geier, until her death in 2010 at age 87, was considered the preeminent translator of Russian literature into German. Those five translations, completed in 2007, the elephants of the title, were the defining achievements of her life. Continue reading

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Library Dispatch – Winter Sanctuaries

It was chilly in Rothrock Used Books yesterday—the checkout desk is just a few feet from the front doors, and the wind gusts were frigid.  Traffic was unusually heavy—I suspect libraries are busier on cold days because it’s a place to get warm without having to spend money or being accused of loitering.  The book shop had a steady drift of customers because this month, January, is bag sale month, a plastic grocery bag full of books for $5.

A tall, thin woman in jeans and a down jacket filled her bag with first readers, thin illustrated paperback books used primarily by first graders.  I assumed she was a teacher supplementing her classroom library, but she said she was buying them for her brother who is a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.  She said she hoped the readers might be useful in his work with a group of visiting Vietnamese monks who do not speak English.

“We were just there after Christmas,” she said.  “Boy, was it cold…the Abbey sits on a rise, and the wind was fierce.”

Her comment made me think of the documentary Into Great Silence filmed at the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps and the long harsh winters the Carthusian monks endure.  Kentucky winters are surely mild in comparison…although Thomas Merton, the contemplative mystic and prolific spiritual writer who spent 27 years at Gethsemani, mentions in his journals many zero and below days.

Photo credit: Lilly Lewin

I asked the woman what work her brother does at the monastery, and she said he works in the mailroom.  “It’s what he does on the outside, too.  He’s worked several years for the Postal Service in between.”  She sensed my unspoken question.  “Oh, he doesn’t know…,” she trailed off, her smile one of helpless affection.  “He comes and goes.”

Tonight, I look out at the empty icy streets, at the frozen mist rising from the river and think about the monks at Gethsemani in their tiny spare cells with the wind whistling outside the walls, about the brother who can’t decide and the sister who tries to be a bridge between his two worlds.  I think about my late husband who spent a weekend retreat at Gethsemani once in search of something:  an answer, a sign. Most of us are probably looking for that in one way or another, all wondering who or where we’re supposed to be, never quite at home in the here and now.

Even Merton, after more than two decades at Gethsemani, still felt alien and exiled among people with whom he had little in common.  The year before he died he spent two retreats at the Redwoods Monastery on the northern coast of California and felt, he said, unutterably happy, as if he had come a very long way to where he really belonged.  He felt an immediate rapport with the European nuns and was enthralled by the giant redwoods.  Upon seeing again the spindly pines and cedars of Kentucky, he said, “I must go back.  It is not right that I should die under lesser trees.”  He didn’t go back, nor did he die in Kentucky but in Bangkok that same year (1968, age 53) where he had gone to participate in an interfaith conference.  He had just come from visits in India with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders and was looking forward to final stops in Japan to explore Zen.  Merton had studied Eastern religions for several years, and there is speculation that he wished to remain in Asia as a hermit.  Perhaps he got his wish and is still there on some other plane for which there are no maps.

Perhaps there are no answers, at least none that we are capable of discerning.  Maybe we should try to become our own geography, supposing, as Merton said, geography to be necessary at all.  Maybe the signs are so ordinary we discount them, the things we experience every day, the river and the mist, the library where the poor come for Internet service and the homeless to get warm.  Where a woman comes to buy teaching books for her spiritually conflicted brother out of love.  And maybe that is the answer:  the heart the true sanctuary and love the one thing that all the mystics agree is the way to find God within ourselves.

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Elegy for Chilhowee Park, Knoxville, Tennessee

In old photographs they stroll
in Sunday finery on lazy afternoons
before the Wars, like ghosts
in their Victorian summer whites
on dirt paths that curve between
boathouse and mineral spring.
Sometimes they float in wooden canoes
on Lake Ottosee or gather
in front of the cupolaed stone
to hear violin and German bassoon.
That time-shrunken structure
is the only trace of your old allure,
the lake’s algaed depths stirred now
only by ducks and migrating geese,
as placid and timeless as the first leaves
of autumn drifting like silent notes
across the bandstand’s marble floor—
a people, a place, a world no more.




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