Tuesday, June 01, 2010

history carved in stone

Every county in Tennessee has its own history and amazing stories to tell. Each county has her own uniqueness. Some stories and legends are well known throughout our state, while others, are merely shadows, cast over time, quite literally, hidden beneath aging stone. In searching for stories; it’s hard for me to choose or narrow down, any one legend or tale that shines over them all. They all shine, either individually or uniquely, with much respect to their corner our state. Tennessee and her people, offer me a colorful pallet, of interesting stories and charming tails, which are truly inspirational to write about. You don’t have to look very hard to find amazing stories of great people in Tennessee. Lucky enough for me, I found some very interesting history right here at home. Living here in Montgomery County, I could not have been luckier. Not far from my home, in western middle Tennessee, is an astounding piece of history. Known by few outside of Clarksville yet regarded by many throughout the world.
About 9 years ago, taking a Sunday drive, my husband and I stumbled across these incredible statues along an old sleepy road. Although, damaged by time and assaulted by vandalism, these statues told us a narrow story about an unknown man. The emotion of seeing these incredible statues in person is purely beyond description. It is my struggle to articulate the enormous grief we felt, in viewing these astonishing masterpieces in ruins .The history lost here was immense and unforgivable. We offered our extreme anguish to the artist who put them there,yet there was so many unanswered questions. Why would someone destroy these amazing sculptures? Why were they left unattended on a mysterious abandoned Rd? Why was there nothing done to protect them? Who was this man, who left his legacy for all to see? These questions bewildered me for a long time. After digging a bit deeper, to find the man behind the stone, I finally found an interesting story of a pure country boy, who believed that life was what you make of it. Quite, literary.
Back in the 1700’s, The Wickham family ancestors came to the new land. Upon that land, The Wickham family legend began .In the mid 1800’s, a small cabin was build in a deep hollow in Palmyra Tennessee. That old cabin was built with love and country pride. It still stands today. It is affectionately known as Wickham hollow. Enoch Tanner (ET) Wickham was the youngest of 13 children; born to Elizabeth (Marsh) Wickham and Robert L. Wickham in 1883. Elizabeth and Robert were humble people, grateful to God for blessing them with a basket of children. Back in those days, people didn’t have very much, so the dear lord and his lessons was the best thing to give. Robert was a hardworking man that loved his community. Every 4th of July, he would gather his boys together, to butcher a steer and have a community BBQ for friends and neighbors. So growing up Wickham was more than lifestyle; it was a family reasonability, sure to make a country boy proud. Like many folks back then, the Wickham household, thrived on good old country values and sweet potato pie. It was a slow and deliberate lifestyle of hard working men with modest and respectful woman. Most family spirits belonged to God and the people back then liked it that way. Through the course of that simplicity, ET learned early in life, what it took to become a man. He used the tools gifted by his parents and implemented them rising his own brood. After Marring Annie Yarbrough in 1906, ET an Annie set out to start their own legacy. Together, having 9 Children. They surrounded their 4 sons and 5 daughters with lots of love, tender Godliness and deep-rooted family values.
ET loved all his children, but his girls were well protected by old fashion rules and blue steel. Have you ever heard the old song of Wolverton Mountain? That was a song written back in 1962. It was based on a true story of a country man, Clifton Clowers out of Arkansas. Back then, men kept their daughters under lock and key, and ET was no exception. He kept those girls on a tight leash and was on the ready for any men to come calling.
ET provided for his family by rising tobacco. Having many fields to tend, friends would share in the labor and profits. Whilst, he trusted his helpers, this unwittingly invited the wolves into the henhouse, so to speak. Finally one day, his daughter Mary could not hide, her undying love any longer. She ran off at the age 25 with ET’s farmhand, twice her elder, to become his wife. Unbeknownst to ET, one by one, he found himself surrendering his daughters to the destiny of time. It was hard to let his children go, especially his Son Ernest, who was killed in world war II. Despite his great sacrifice to his country, Et was a patriotic man, loving his country and life. He had the bull by the tail, on a downhill run. Taking in such pleasures, in hunting, ,enjoying his grandchildren, reading American history, and staying close to nature. ET left school in the 3rd grade to help his mother, after his father’s death, but the lack of his formal education never hurt him any. One thing for sure, he accomplished anything he set out to do. He built every home he ever owned. He was a great recycler. Utilizing his blacksmithing skills, coupled with concrete and some back yard junk. He took good old fashion ingenuity to a new level. This man could build anything. He even built the bed he slept in. Complete with a feather tick mattress.
One day he decided he could hatch himself some chicken eggs. So there he laid for 21 days, leaving the nest no longer than a mother chicken would, and was able to hatch his own eggs. After he retired from tobacco farming, he began to create sculptures of concrete. It was said his first piece was a self sculpture. After feuding with the mailman over an apparent disagreement, the mailman had exclaimed, “ if I should ever have to see your face again ,it would be to soon!” So ET, and his playful personality, then decided, that his mailman was going to see him like it or not. He began creating a mailbox using his face as mold. I imagine that mailman was not too pleased.
ET was a nice person just like his father, he loved people. So across the street from his cabin he built a community clubhouse called the united sportsman’s club of Palmyra. There, he would welcome social gatherings like turkey shoots and BBQ’s .It was a place where people could speak their political minds and talk of social concerns. He found time to talk with anyone who wanted to listen. His sculpturing didn’t began until he was in his mid 60s.
His first life-size sculpture was a memorial to his son Ernest, who had died under friendly fire. Upon completion , he had the state senator Estes Kefauver and General William Westmoreland, Commanding General at Fort Campbell KY, to come and dedicate his work. Back then, it was quite a spectacle. Many dignitaries and local people came to watch with much respect. ET, being the man he was, offered his statue to Westmoreland as a gift to Fort Campbell. It didn’t take long for soldiers to be assigned to guard the sculpture while the finishing touches were being applied. They soldiers stayed for two weeks. As, recalled by family, the day, the helicopter came to his little town of Palmyra. ET was quite humbled by the whole affair, he was asked to jump in an accompany his works to the Fort Campbell base. He obliged and was amazed by the life changing experience. After that, Et went on to create many life size statues, depicting political figures and historical events. He included meaningful saying and personal writings that he inscribed using a nail. He even sculptured his powerful oxen that plowed his land for so many years. This mans work was so amazing, that some of his art has been preserved at the Clarksville Customs House Museum and Austin Peay State University. He even created two statues of his faithful hunting beagles, that were placed at the entrance of his home, like two lonely lions guarding an english castle. They made their way to the worlds fair. In his lifetime, Et Created 40 life-size statues. After digging his own grave, on August 27th 1970 ET died at the age of 87. Although ET, never lived to see the horrible vandalism come to pass, His family told me, he knew it was coming .Before his death, he was getting scared to live on that old forgotten road. He guarded his property, with a rifle next to his bed, propped up by an old log , complete with a leather flap over the barrel to conceal its presents. Et was burred next wife and son, marked by home made tombstones complete with a larger than life angel guarding his journey to the promise land. In 2006, the family had decided to move his treasures closer to kin where they could be better protected. Although moving these heavy statues is an overwhelming task, it is almost in completion. Sadly enough, some of his works were shot up so bad and greatly disrespected, they were at a complete loss. ET’s grandson has a website in dedication of his grandfather. www.wickhamstonepark.com. I Hope you take the time to view Arlens website. Enclosing, I want to everyone to remember this old saying that ET believed in. “When I die, burry me deep, with a Jug of molasses at my feet, and a big fat biscuit in my hand, and I’ll sock my way to the promise land.” Thank you ET for giving us so much. His history will forever be carved in stone.

Written By Kathleen Chute