Humphrey: Capitol keeping mum; displays do the talking

On July 12, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

KnoxNews.com, by Tom Humphrey July 12, 2009 “Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, chose to exhibit a copy of The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s front page on Aug. 6, 1945. The headline, streaming across the top of the page in all capital letters, reads: “Atomic Super-Bomb, Made at Oak Ridge, Strikes Japan.” There’s also a badge worn by […]

KnoxNews.com, by Tom Humphrey
July 12, 2009

“Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, chose to exhibit a copy of The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s front page on Aug. 6, 1945. The headline, streaming across the top of the page in all capital letters, reads: “Atomic Super-Bomb, Made at Oak Ridge, Strikes Japan.” There’s also a badge worn by a Manhattan Project security guard.

One of the legislator-selected historical displays set up in a wing of the Tennessee State Museum this summer features a pair of dueling pistols said to have been made sometime between 1830 and 1860.

“Today, these weapons serve as a beautiful reminder of the importance of our right to keep and bear arms,” says an accompanying note from the legislator who chose the pistols for exhibition, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris.

The exhibit – titled “The People’s House: A Temple of Democracy” – was created as a means of celebrating the Tennessee State Capitol building’s 150th birthday. The stately old Capitol, then, is about as old as the dueling pistols.

And while it’s probably been many decades since the guns were put to use, the Capitol is still functioning and beautiful, especially since a facelift a few years back. The House and Senate still meet within its walls.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, now at old age in terms of gubernatorial tenure, has a suite of offices within the walls, too. He somewhat famously declared in his second inaugural address that he talks to the Capitol. And the Capitol talks back.

Since the governor’s revelation of Capitol conversations, I have been granted a couple of interviews with Capitol myself. It seemed appropriate then, to drop by the other day, wish Capitol a happy birthday and seek comment on the legislator-selected exhibits set up in Capitol’s honor at the nearby museum.

Capitol, however, declined comment, except to say the exhibitions speak for themselves. I’ll take that as a suggestion to simply list some displays.

Norris’ pick of pistols is one of the more interesting exhibits. But there are lots of others and maybe they do say something about the nature of the selector and his or her politics. Here’s a sampler:

Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, chose a whiskey flask once carried by Nathan Greene, who was a state senator and state Supreme Court justice back when the Capitol was much younger. There’s also a set of playing cards with Andrew Jackson’s picture on the back.

Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, chose to exhibit a copy of The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s front page on Aug. 6, 1945. The headline, streaming across the top of the page in all capital letters, reads: “Atomic Super-Bomb, Made at Oak Ridge, Strikes Japan.” There’s also a badge worn by a Manhattan Project security guard.

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, displays a letter written by an angry Davy Crockett to a man who owed him $200. Among other things, Crockett threatens to reveal the fellow as a cheater in playing cards.

Sen. Doug Henry, D-Nashville, exhibits a copy of the legislative acts of the 33rd General Assembly in 1861, including the state’s secession from the Union. There’s also a handbill signed by then-Gov. Isham Harris, who after the Civil War, became speaker of the United States Senate.

Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, chose a “sword cane” – a walking stick that could be used as a sword – owned by William “Parson” Brownlow, who was military governor of Tennessee during and immediately after the Civil War. There’s also a document wherein citizens call for readmission to the Union.

Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, features an 1876 engraving of an “African-American political convention” held at the Capitol and a print of people celebrating the ratification of the 15th Amendment prohibiting slavery to the U.S. Constitution.

Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, displays a sword and scabbard carried by Knoxvillian Lawrence Tyson when he served in the Spanish-American War after serving as speaker of the Tennessee House.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Diane Black of Gallatin focuses on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, displaying an “temperance songbook” and a bedspread made by women pushing for prohibition.

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, displays a photo of Anne Davis, a state representative from Knox County, and a copy of a 1926 bill she pushed to authorize purchase of land by the state as part of creating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Rep. Jim Hackworth, D-Clinton, has a note on food safety legislation and displays a tin of “Ten-EC candy” made many years ago by Tennessee Biscuit Co.

Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, displays a tourism-promotion book printed by the Department of Conservation in the 1950s titled “Joyous Vacation Days” and with a picture of ladies in not-so-revealing bathing suits on the cover.