Nashville now and then: Nothing but blue skies

The day the Depression ended in Nashville -- and aviation manufacturing began... also, Dr. Bobedil Smellfungus announces his new Nashville medical practice on a slow news day in 1820
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November 16, 1939: The Depression is over.

It was not as though folks around here were eager to get involved in the conflict that had recently begun in Europe — the Nashville Banner was running a petition drive to oppose American involvement in the war — but sixty-eight years ago today, we were more than happy to benefit from the military buildup.

Unemployed Nashvillians started lining up that day to apply for jobs at the warplane factory being built next to Berry Field, the Nashville airport opened a couple of years earlier. The Aviation Manufacturing Corp.'s plant would soon employ 3,000 workers, as the U.S. Army frantically increased its air power to prepare for a war that realists knew America would have to fight.

The coming of the factory capped a decade-long struggle to bring modern aviation to Nashville. Early airstrips along what is now Hampton Ave. in Green Hills and at the present site of McCabe Golf Course proved unsuitable for various reasons, and Sky Harbor Airport near Murfreesboro was a long way out of town.

From 1929 onward, arguments ensued over the best place to put a new airport. One stretch of pasture east of town was nixed after a ladies' group's objected that aircraft might crash into the Hermitage. Then bond issues earmarked for airport expansion were voted down by the city council and in a public referendum. Eventually, federal money and Depression-era makework programs created Berry Field. But efforts to make the new airport an engine of economic renewal were slow to get off the ground.

Finally, a Chamber of Commerce committee secretly cut a deal with Aviation Corp. to build what would later be known as the Vultee, Avco and Textron Aerostructures factory. The city would buy 96 acres of farmland for the plant, extend water and sewer lines, and build hangars and runways to enhance the existing airport. This time, the council unanimously passed a $100,000 bond issue just as the deal was announced, before opposition could develop.

The factory would do its part for the war effort, constructing components of the Vultee Vengeance dive bomber and the P-38 Lightning. Over the years after the war, it would produce wings, fuselage elements and other parts for military workhorse cargo carriers including the C-130 Hercules, C-141 StarLifter and C-5A/B Galaxy. It would have a secret role in the development of the B-1 bomber. And it would turn out wings for the Lockheed L-1011 commercial jet, and Gulfstream's GII, GIII and GIV business jets.

Today, the 2.1 million-square-foot Vought Aircraft facility on Vultee Boulevard employs some 1,150 Middle Tennesseans. It is a major supplier to the European consortium Airbus, manufacturing wing components that are up to 100 feet in length for a variety of Airbus jet models.

In 2005, Vought decided to shut the facility down, creating angst locally over the loss of good jobs but also salivation in industrial real estate circles at what might become of the prime, runway-side acreage. New management at Vought, however, reversed the shutdown plans later in the year.

November 21, 1820: Paging Dr. Smellfungus

Slow news day? It's hard to figure what else accounted for the ad that ran 187 years ago this week in The Clarion and Tennessee Gazette, published in Nashville. The growing city had lured a number of doctors to set up shop in recent years, and announcements of new medical practices or newly available procedures and medicines were a commonplace in the newspapers of the time.

Submitting to the tender mercies of practitioners in the largely unregulated field of medicine could be a harrowing experience, and the patent medicines they often sold were often of dubious value. Perhaps inspired by a less-than-positive encounter with the healing arts, or just bored by the plethora of medical ads in the paper, someone penned a lengthy announcement for that day's Clarion:

The undersigned, Doctors, etc. &c. and Apothecaries etc., having entered the practice of

Medicine, Surgery, etc. &c.

and in the establishment of a Medicine shop, etc. &c., connected therewith, inform the public that they are about to open in Nashville, a large assortment of

Medicines, Paints, etc.

which they will enlarge by a considerable addition from New-York, Philadelphia & New Orleans etc. as soon as the waters will permit, &c. and will sell to country practitioners, etc. and others &c. on as moderate terms as the present times will permit, etc. Their Medicines may always be relied upon as genuine, and active as a cat, having been laid in by Doctor Apothecarious Von Funk, surgeon in chief to his present majesty the Dey, and principal rat-catcher to the ex-three-tailed Bashaw of Tripoli; and will be delivered or furnished, by wind or water, steam, horse or hand power, by night or day, hot or cold, wet or dry, or drizzly, storm or calm, to rich or poor, fat or lean, hungry or fed, saint or sinner, cut and dry, for use, to be taken instanter, and to work in an instant, etc. &c. without delay, &c.

It goes on in that vein for a while, with part one of the ad concluding:

Korn, Koon Skins, Sour Krout, Cow-tails and Turnip Sallit,

in the spring, will be received in payment for our medicines etc.

—SMELLFUNGUS & FLUKE

at the sign of the black bear, under the bluff at Nashville

Following that announcement comes a message from one of the doctors:

During the boating season, I will attend at our Dispensary three nights and days in the week, to be designated by the discharge of a blunderbuss at midnight, for the purpose of receiving consultations from a distance and answering the same, making prescriptions, pronouncing necessary incantations, raising ghosts, laying spirits and setting the river on fire, for the benefit of disordered complainants, & will only be induced to leave town on those days by attending a patient in the country. In which latter event, disordered complainants will be turned over to Mister Doctor Fluke, &c. and the apothecary, and may the Lord preserve them say I....

Doctor S. being sensible that he has become somewhat obnoxious to the olfactories of many good people of this community, and that some serious doubts are beginning to be entertained of his own claims to be a witch, pleads guilty to the latter imputation, and is willing to compend for the loss of his infallibility by permission to sell pills and prescribe to disordered complainants from a distance.

The good doctor elaborates on his proto-telemedicine practice, explaining that "the length of the foot, cock of the eyes, or color of the hair, enclosed in a letter addressed to Smellfungus & Co. in Nashville," will enable him to render an accurate diagnosis of what ails you. Or you can send something else:

Doctor S. is unwilling to strain too hard in his first efforts to excite wonder and fool the people; but he would wisely intimate, by way of a hint, that that he is deeply skilled in urinal philosophy, and that one drop on a letter sent from a distance by a "Disordered complainant," will enable him to answer the same, make preparations, return advice and directions, and, without the least compunction, take pay for the same.

—BOBEDIL SMELLFUNGUS, M.D.

N.B.: Guber-peas, Chesnuts and Buckhorns, if in due season, will not be refused.

Birthdays of note in the next couple of weeks:

  • Longtime mid-Tenn. Legal Services chief Ashley Wiltshire — November 16
  • Nobel Prize laureate and emeritus VUMC biochemist Stanley Cohen, former CCA head Doc Crants and former MCA Nashville Chairman Bruce Hinton — November 17
  • Tennessee State Museum Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell — November 18
  • Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — November 20
  • Gov. Phil Bredesen, lawyer/ex-jurist Penny Harrington and contemporary Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman — November 21
  • Boult Cummings attorney Sam Lipshie — November 23
  • Lawyer John Wagster Sr. — November 24
  • Lawyer Cyrus Booker — November 27
  • Lawyer Jim Cheek — November 28

"Nashville now and then" is a week-by-week look back at Nashville's economic, political and social history. Your thoughts, suggestions and questions are always welcome — leave them in the comments section below, or e-mail tom.wood@nashvillepost.com.

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Note: "Nashville now and then" will take the holiday week off, returning November 30th. Have a safe and joyful Thanksgiving!