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Vince Staten: Readers update 84-year-old errors from initial 1929 cyclone reports

Staff Report • May 30, 2013 at 11:01 PM

The newspaper is the first draft of history.

And as my colleague Rick Wagner notes, sometimes the only draft.

In Sunday’s column about the Rye Cove Cyclone of 1929, I used that first draft as my source material. I quoted from the Kingsport Times’ initial report from the scene, published only hours after the cyclone had ripped through the Rye Cove School. The story dominated the front page of an Extra edition. I was impressed with the stark headlines and the immediacy of the writing. There was no CNN to rush in a team of reporters in 1929. Just us newspaper folk.

In the rush to get the story out, mistakes were made in that first draft. And I am happy to correct those 84-year-old errors today.

Jayne Wolfe says my column made a mistake in the name of the school principal. It was not Floyd Noblin. It was A. Scott Noblin, Floyd’s older brother. “They are cousins of mine. I have heard Scott recount how his engraved pocket watch was blown away during the tornado. An honest man returned it to him almost a year later; it had been found around a mile away from the disaster.”

Jayne also caught me up on what happened to the two brothers after the tornado. “Scott became a book salesman, and he and his wife Bertha settled in Keswick, Virginia, outside Charlottesville. Bertha ran a dog kennel at their home. When Robert Kennedy was a law student at the University of Virginia, Bertha kept his German shepherd for him when he was out of town. Scott and Bertha had no children; however, they were especially close to their niece Judy, the daughter of Floyd and his wife Mary Kate (Grimm) Noblin. Judy married Tom Chilton, Hall-of-Famer in basketball from E.T.S.U., and she and Tom live in Madison, Indiana.”

My colleague Roger Davis grew up two miles from the site of the disaster and had a personal story. “I went to elementary school in a building which was later erected on the grounds where the old schoolhouse had stood. My mother was 6 years old when the tornado hit. She was not at the school at the time, but was with her family in Stanleytown, some four miles or so away. Nevertheless, the tragedy had a profound impact on her, as it did on the entire community. She is still afraid of storms. When I was little, she used to wake me up and take me to the basement if a bad thunderstorm hit. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that Ava Carter, the teacher killed in the cyclone, is buried in a cemetery atop a high bluff near my boyhood home. All these years later, the event is still a topic of conversation in those parts.”


As to another topic raised by my Rye Cove column: Was Rye Cove on Central Time in 1929?

I think it was. Maybe Kingsport, too. Kingsport would have been on whatever time J. Fred Johnson wanted it to be on.

Steven Frazier says, “My dad always told me that before World War II the time zone changed somewhere around Surgoinsville. He further explained that that was the reason the Hawkins County courthouse was open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That was the time in the eastern end of the county and made it 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Rogersville and the rest of the county. When the line was moved further west they decided to keep the eastern times. Everyone liked getting off at 4!”

Donna Caldwell’s grandmother will be 101 years on June 30th and is a survivor of the cyclone. Donna says, “She was almost 17 when the cyclone hit and she still recalls the day vividly.”

Donna visited her Wednesday and asked my time zone question. “She said, ‘We didn’t even think about time zones back then on the farm. It didn’t matter if it was Eastern or Central time, the day was from Sun-up to Sunset.’”

I think that sums it up.

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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