July 15, 1921: Day In Life Of Lobelville
In the summer of 1921, life between the Tennessee and Buffalo Rivers reflected the challenges of our nation’s economic troubles and increasing regional lawlessness.
World War I was officially coming to an end and the nation was experiencing a short, but severe, post-war recession due to industrial overproduction, widespread wage cuts, and unemployment that reached 5.7 million. A year into Prohibition and the surmounting activities of the KKK contributed to the increases in tension and stress across our nation.
While the small town of Lobelville reeled from these influences, the stories my grandfather, Joe Cunningham, shared with my father and me spoke of men and women with strong character, determined to protect their way of life and pass on their love of the natural and cultural aspects of our community. Please join me as we travel back 88 years to Friday, July 15, 1921.
“As usual, everyone rose early to complete the morning chores before breakfast. It was typical that every family had a first hand experience at gardening and hog killing, and both of those activities contributed greatly to the breakfast table.
“As I came in from raiding the chicken coup, dad had already unloaded his tub of fresh garden vegetables, including my favorites-- cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. As mom set the breakfast table, grandpa shared yet another story about how he and Henry DeLobel had run up against that legendary black panther while hunting and fishing along the Buffalo River.
“The panther was twice the size of the largest coyote and was known to have taken down a horse earlier that spring. Henry had shot at the panther, but they never did find any sign of blood, so grandpa always told Henry to watch out, one of these days that panther was going to strike back.
“As we finished breakfast, a couple of friends stopped by and we took off together for town. After a brief participation in a hog killing, we rushed over to the baseball field to watch Jack Duff and the Lobelville baseball team take on the Linden Owls. Lobelville won 9-2 and I saw my idol, Jack Duff, hit two home runs and steal three bases. I just knew he was going to be the greatest player ever—even greater than Babe Ruth, who on Tuesday had just set a new record of 137 career home runs! (Looking back, we know that Jack Duff turned pro in 1929, and played for the Boston Red Sox.)
“After the game, all of us boys headed to the river. I caught several bass and a huge catfish. Man, the fishing was perfect that day, and I was sure to bring home a record number of fish by day’s end. That was until our fishing was interrupted by the commotion upstream at the power generator. You see, the city of Lobelville was unique in that it was the only town in the area to boast its own water powered electricity generator.
“We were still getting use to this luxury and its peculiarities; usually it was only powered up on Thursday afternoons, for about an hour. Because heavy rains earlier this week, the authorities had cancelled yesterday’s event. We figured the engineers were going to bring the generator online today. Oh well, the fishing was going to have to wait. I rushed back to town; no one wanted to miss the noise and excitement when the town came alive with radios blasting, lights shining, and fans humming. We didn’t even see it as a chore when mom asked us to help iron our ‘Sunday Best’.
“As the lights went out that evening, the night seemed darker than usual. Now the only lights came from the fireflies that we were in hot pursuit of. That is until Howard Bates came tooling through town in his new black Ford, which he had recently acquired at our local Ford dealership. Mr. Bates offered me a ride home, which I wasn’t about to pass up. One of these days, I’m going to have a car just like that. As I retired to my bed, I wondered what tomorrow would bring. For a young boy growing up in Lobelville, I knew it would be another exciting adventure, and a day to be enjoyed with family & friends.”