The following "happenings" are co-incidental things that have occurred either to me or to my family, both before and after I was born. Please do not look for any "meaning" in them, as I am not a believer in the occult, and am not trying to connect them with any further events or happenings; am just reporting them. There is no doubt that almost everyone reading this can claim similar events, and every one is unique. Here are my own:
First, my mother, Mabel Willett Young (Martin), was born in the last decade of the 19th Century - on a September 11th! (And also in the same year that the present Lookout Mountain Incline Railway started). Both being products of St. Elmo, this fact seemed to tighten her relationship to that suburb. Little could she ever have imagined, however, that her September 11th birthdate would, many years later, (and long after her death) come to signify the most tragic day of recent American history. For it was on my mom's 106th birthday that the iconic Twin Towers, which stood on the southern end of Manhattan Island - overlooking New York Harbor, were leveled by foreign terrorists. My mom would have been horrified to have such a cataclysmic event stand as a memorial for her birthday. This co-incidental event was perhaps the most poignant of all, and for us, the Martins, it is definitely a day, "that shall live in infamy".
Of about the same significance were the events which took place preceding my daughter's birth. One late November day, early in our marriage, my wife and I came to the conclusion that she was expecting our first child - yet we needed a doctor to confirm that suspicion, and lead her systematically through the birth. An appointment was therefore set up with a leading Chattanooga obstetrician of the day - a Dr. Fancher. (No relation to the "Fancher Boys", about whom I wrote a story last year). Anyway, the appointment was set for late on a Friday afternoon, 1963. My wife was working for TVA at the time, while I was working for a poster company on Amnicola Highway. The plan was for me to pick my wife up from her job - after work - and take her to the building where Dr. Fancher's office was located. I would let her out of the car while I went to find a parking place in the busy 5 p.m. malaise of Friday afternoon traffic. But - before I left work to drive into town - and beginning much earlier in the afternoon - the radio networks were all broadcasting how President Kennedy had been "shot" in Dallas, Texas. Details were plentiful, as many reporters were in the city for that occasion, but facts were very confused and sketchy. When I left work I believed the President to still be alive. It only took a few minutes to get into the downtown area where I picked Pat, my wife, up as arranged. I got her to the doctor's address and let her out of the car - then went to park. As I walked back to the building, I passed Miller Brothers Department Store's large display window at the corner of 7th Street and Market - and their very savvy and alert display department had already placed a large and beautiful portrait of Kennedy in the window. It was appropriately draped in black bunting, with a hand-lettered epitaph - also impeccably done - attached to, and sweeping down from the portrait. Perhaps a single white rose topped off the simple, but highly effective display. Such a display could only mean that the President was dead. Yes, my wife did indeed see Dr. Fancher on that fateful day; she WAS indeed an Expectant Mother, and a few months later we had a beautiful baby daughter! But I cannot pass that former Miller Brothers window without remembering that awful day in 1963.
I have sometimes mentioned how I lived and worked in the great City of Philadelphia for a number of years. I was a "Sculptor/Engraver" for the U.S. Mint which occupied a very large square of Philadelphia real estate beside Independence Mall National Park. The Engraving Division was one of the smallest departments in the entire mint, if not "the" smallest. There were six Engravers (artists) and about the same number of technicians and administrators, plus our boss, a Presidential Appointee. We artists all worked together in the same large room, and knew each other pretty well as a result. Anyway, if you will, please bear in mind that Philadelphia is one of the larger cities in the country, and that the Philly phone book's White Pages was nearly three inches thick. It coincidentally turned out that two members of our Engraving staff - one artist, and one technician, were listed on facing pages of that thick book, their Italian names both starting with the letters,"Ia". THEN, for a second coincidence, there were two of our engravers who lived on the same street near the mint, about one block apart, although on opposite sides of the street. Neither one had known the other before mint employment, and had no other known connection.
Next, there is the curious occurrence of how my father, Woodfin B. Martin, died on the same day as Elvis Presley - August 16th, 1977. Dad would be mortified to know that he and Elvis shared the distinction of dying on the same day! (Dad was no fan of Elvis's). I remember how the news started trickling in from Memphis early on that afternoon, that Elvis had been found dead. The news media seem to have been caught off-guard, because it took them a while to grasp the story and feed it out to the public. Yet by Evening News-time it had gelled into a full-fledged "bombshell" story - although still not having too many details to publish. Since the story did not affect either me or my family personally, I paid little attention to it, preferring to walk my dog at his regular walk-time. About half-way through that walk, my wife suddenly pulled up beside us in the car, letting it be known that my father was gone. (This was well before the age of the Cellphone!) Dad had been in Campbell's General Hospital (on McCallie Avenue, through to Oak Street) for several weeks, actually, as an early Medicare patient, and had been promised his freedom on the very next day! So, it was a shocker to get that news and hurry down to the hospital. When the funeral was over, a few days later and the dust all cleared, we realized that Elvis had been only 42 years old, and my dad's long life had enclosed Elvis's 42 years by a few hours. (I was the same age as Elvis, though several months his senior). Elvis and I were both 42; dad was 92.
And perhaps least significant of all these coincidental things, was that my daughter recently had a birthday which coincided with the LAST performance of the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus! That circus had been going for almost 150 years, perhaps being the world's best-known circus. Elephants had been taken out of their repertory only very recently, and as a result ticket sales had dwindled. I can barely remember when that circus came to town once a year, and there would be a parade of caged circus animals, headed by a long line of gentle female elephants. (Local teenage boys could earn their way in to see an entire performance by helping to set up the "big top"). That circus parade, replete with clown antics and uniformed marching bands, headed north on Market Street, turning right at East Third. and continuing to the circus grounds outside Engel Stadium, to the west. It was a piece of true Americana - forever lost, as of May 21st, 2017.
Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.