ROGERSVILLE — Half a century ago Rogersville played a major role in the Davy Crockett mania that swept the nation, attracting thousand of people every year to its summer long Davy Crockett Outdoor Drama that was performed not far from the resting place of Crockett’s grandparents.
Fueled by the popular Disney TV series staring Fess Parker, and "The Alamo" movie staring John Wayne, nearly every boy who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s wanted a coon skin cap and a muzzle loader just like Davy.
In the late 1960s Highway 11-W was under construction and Rogersville leaders were concerned that traffic through downtown Rogersville would peter out to nothing and ruin local businesses.
But, one thing Rogersville had going for it during the height of Davy Crockett popularity was a direct link to the man himself. Crockett’s grandparents were the city's first white settlers in 1775. They were massacred there by Native Americans and are buried at Crockett Creek Park.
In 1966 three golfing buddies, Marian Slaughter, Mary Clay-Lewis, and Louise Rogers rallied the entire city behind their idea of holding a Davy Crockett Outdoor Drama. The idea was to keep people coming downtown while at the same time capitalizing on Rogersville’s colorful history.
The play was produced completely by local talent, from the actors and musicians, to the technical staff, set designers, artists, builders and costume makers.
The only outside influence was the play's author, Earl Hobson Smith who was a faculty member at Lincoln Memorial University, and also wrote the "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" performed in Big Stone Gap, Va.; and "Farewell to Valley Forge" performed in Valley Forge, Penn.
The curtain fell on the Davy Crockett Outdoor Drama for the last time in 1971.
But, many of the people who participated in the production are still around, including current Rogersville Heritage Association member Patricia Rhoton who waited her turn to become the bugler in the final scene of the play.
"As high-schoolers graduated and went on to college, the bugler changed on Friday and Saturday night," Rhoton told the Times-News Wednesday. "I finally got to move up in the ranks where I was in high school playing trumpet, and in became the bugler to play taps at the end."
Nearly 50 years later Rhoton is now helping organize a reunion for everyone who participated in the drama during it’s brief but memorable run.
The reunion is scheduled for the evening of Aug. 12 at the Hale Springs Inn, and will feature performances from the play, live music, members of the cast and artifacts such as props and costumes from the original show.
Several members of the original production are already lined up for the event, but the RHA has issued a casting call for any and all former performers and support crew who haven’t already gotten the word to plan on attending this event.
The event is free and open to the public. The Hale Springs Inn will be serving barbecue that night, and the only charge will be for food and drinks.
In it's heyday the Davy Crockett Outdoor Drama ran from the weekend after the Fourth of July until Labor Day.
There were two performances per week, on Friday and Saturday night, initially on a 100 foot long stage that was construction at the current location of the Chip Hale Center on Hasson Street.
"It incorporated actors, and cast members and support personnel and technicians, and a lot of different facets of vocations in our town," Rhoton said. "I guess there were over 100 cast members at one point. Families were involved. Mom and dad may have had a part in the play, and their children were included as extras on the stage. This was a big undertaking for the town in that it took a lot of people and a lot of hands to put it on."
Many of the props and backdrops are still in existence.
The story begins with Davy Crockett being smitten by Polly Findlay, interrupting her wedding and winning her heart. It follows the highlights of his life and ends with Crockett's death at The Alamo.
In its final year the drama moved to a new location on Rt. 66 near where the Super Dollar store is located today and was renamed "The Lion of the West."
"When it moved to the new location I think some of the support dwindled," Rhoton said. "And when you think about Friday and Saturday night from the week after the Fourth of July through Labor Day, that's a huge dedication of your time. Imagine tying your life up two nights per week for two months, year after year."
The Aug. 12 reunion is from 5 to 8 p.m. and takes place inside the Hale Springs Inn.
Former cast members and drama participants will be stationed throughout the Hale Springs Inn during the event to answer questions and talk to visitors about the drama, share behind the scenes anecdotes and talk about what the production meant to the community and them personally.
The Rogersville Arts Council will also be performing reenactments from the original play, as well as musical performances of period songs.
"It's a reunion of the folks who were involved and a history of all of this that took place," Rhoton said. "This was a huge event for Rogersville in its day. We just want it to be a fun evening for the community, and anyone who wants to reminisce about their part in the drama."