Former Gadsden-Etowah Tourism Board executive director Albert Lloyd Wagnon recently passed away. The Vagabond knew Lloyd for many years and often stopped by to see him at the tourism office. Lloyd was an inspiration to many as he was to The Vagabond. In his recent book Vapor Trails, he mentioned the Etowah Historical Society and what folks need to do to preserve history:
“Recently, I visited Dr. Webb Sledge’s office for a checkup, and nurse Peggy Parrish commented that she had seen me in a movie the week before at a monthly meeting of the Etowah Historical Society. “I learned later from Bobby Wilbanks that Jamey Moore’s documentary production “Glory in the Sky” was included on the program. Jamey’s interest in the air warfare of World War II prompted him to invest his time and talent in its filming, with Andy Chaffin, Hank Prickett, John Echols and I providing the commentary based on our individual combat experience.
“Andy flew B-l7’s based in England, Hank flew B-29’s based in Taiwan. John was a B-24 gunner flying from southern Italy and I flew B-25 ’s based in Corsica.
Since the filming, both Andy and Hank have reported in to their Heavenly Commander; and John and I are on standby for similar orders; so Jamey is to be commended for documenting and preserving this segment of real history about real Americans for the education, enlightenment and inspiration of some future generation in search of the truth.
“My comrades of WWII are dying at the rate of about 1,000 per day. Each of them had a heart-felt story to tell. Many had no one who cared enough to listen, and even less who had the opportunity to record their experiences for posterity.
“It is somewhat heartening to hear of senior oriented groups and organizations that sponsor interviews and record responses of certain senior veterans across our land; but in reality, the family is in the best position to elicit through love, the stories from family elders to record and preserve the family heritage and traditions, for the yet unborn.
“And, as we contemplate our mission, we should remember that almost every person approaching the end of life’s journey is a veteran of wars against disease, poverty, prejudice, political manipulation and /or religious domination; and, they have a story to tell… if only we would listen!
“Thanks to my siblings, and especially to my little sister Sadie, our dad had a little tape recorder present, and the encouragement to use it for the last several years of his life. As the sands of time filtered down life’s hour glass, Dad’s sleep schedule kind of “got out of sync” with the rest of the world and he found himself having breakfast at midnight… fully awake and alert throughout the pre-dawn hours.
“It was at these times that his best stories were told about his experiences and the impressions of his “90 some-odd” years of “research and development.”
“After his passing, the family entrusted me with the numerous tapes to edit and consolidate for our family’s enjoyment and historical significance. Dad’s little incremental dissertations covered many, many subjects, including secrets of our Cherokee Indian heritage, the “Willie C. Wagnon” and other steamboats plying the Coosa River between Greensport and Rome, Ga., including a “side-wheeler” in 1899.
“In one episode, he said that prior to 1907, the making of whiskey was a wide-open industry in Gadsden, and that his dad bought its “mosh” from a big still in north Gadsden to be used as hog food. He said sometimes the hogs ate “too much too soon” and that bunch of drunk hogs would put on quite a show for the kids… and taught a grand lesson as well.
“Dad passed down details of his stint with the U.S. Army in World War I: how he received his basic training at Camp Gordon in Georgia, and how on one occasion thousands of troops had been marched to the parade ground and placed in a special formation.
“Many of the soldiers were instructed to remove their olive shirts so as to reveal their white long sleeved undershirts and he was one of that group. They were ordered to attention as a photographer in a tethered balloon high above took “aerial photos.” Later, photo copies of that unique assembly were made available and revealed the distinct letters YMCA: a tribute to the Young Men’s Christian Association, a potent and positive influence for those young men training to “gouge out the guts” of the “Kaiser’s killers” in Germany.
“My dad’s framed copy of that photo hung on our living room wall when I was a lad at home. l have not seen the photo in many years, but I still remember him saying: “that’s your dad, the third soldier to the left at the top of the “C.” I hope to find that photo and check him out one more time.
“Dad’s historical treasures went on and on: How to make “homemade soap”… finding a hollow log for the “ash-hopper”… percolating water through the ashes to obtain lye… mixing that with lard and fat-back and boiling the whole mess in the cast iron wash pork to render the product as soap.
“As the tape rolled on, I learned that as a teenager, he was a paper carrier for The Gadsden Times News. He was the only carrier east of the Coosa River. I learned that on many occasions in those days, the wagons would “mire to the hub” on muddy Hoke Street…and that every adult male was required to work four days per year on the public streets, or pay a four dollar fine.
“l also learned about Arbuckle Coffee, White Lily Flour, Liberty Bell Chewing Tobacco, Duke’s Mixture Smoking Tobacco and Henderson Motorcycles with side cars and a reverse gear. And, I learned that my daddy really loved my mother, that each of their children were committed to God’s care while still in the womb; and, that they were pleased with each of us as we worked our way through life.
“Folks, “sentimental journeys” are the easiest to begin… and the most difficult to end, so I’ll conclude with this loving suggestion: While there is still time and opportunity, encourage your precious elders to talk about their unique experiences, and take the time to record and preserve their stories. You’ll be glad you did! Thanks!”