John Shearer: Random Thoughts About The Incline, Presidents, Tulsa, Neely, Tebow And Hornung

Friday, November 20, 2020
Seeing that the Incline Railway held its 125th anniversary on Monday brought a little sentimentality to me, not to mention the realization I am getting older.
 
Whenever relatives or others would be in town when I was growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, or maybe just on occasion with my mother, we would visit such places as Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Incline and Chickamauga Battlefield.
 
This, of course, was in the days before the Tennessee Aquarium opened in 1992.
 
My favorite attraction by far was the Incline.
I liked the amusement park ride feel of it without becoming too scared or even dizzy, and the view at the top was fascinating. The fact you could walk down to Point Park – which for years was free to visit (and still should be in my humble opinion!) – added to the breathtaking experience.
 
Oh yeah, and the caramel apples they sold at the top, and which I asked my mother to buy me, were enjoyable as well.
 
I had checked with the Local History and Genealogy Department of the Chattanooga Public Library as they were going back to a no-visitation policy amid the worsening pandemic, and no article could be found in the Chattanooga Times in 1895 when it opened. They encouraged me to check other 1895 newspapers like the Chattanooga News found online, and I hope to do that when time allows.
 
There was a record in the Chattanooga Free Press in 1995 when the Incline celebrated its 100th anniversary, because I wrote the story! I remember they had a brief celebration at the bottom station – which already had its current wooden frame look – and they served luncheon food, although caramel apples were unfortunately not part of the offerings. 
 
I also recall that my mother, Velma Shearer, went with me, and I saw my former Bright School administrator, Ann Zahnd Moon, and her mother, whose family had operated a clothing store nearby. 
 
When I turned 40 in 1999, I celebrated that Saturday by taking my then-13-year-old nephew, Logan Julian, on a ride up the Incline. 
 
Unfortunately, it was Labor Day weekend, and plenty of other riders were there, and the man in the ticket office appeared flustered or maybe a little overwhelmed with all the people wanting to ride it. Needless to say, he did not sing “Happy Birthday” to me.
 
But I still had fun, and my nephew was kind to go with me for an experience in which I was probably the one feeling more like a kid again.
 
I know the celebrities who have ridden the Incline include President Teddy Roosevelt in 1902, Prince Henry of Prussia that same year at a different time, and actress Susan Hayward in 1941. A couple was also married on it in 1962.
 
Speaking of presidents to visit Chattanooga, the election of Joe Biden means that another president will have visited Chattanooga, although he to date has done it only as vice president, when he spoke at the funeral of the five servicemen following the 2015 terrorist attack here.
 
It has been a while since I researched all this, but, unless I am mistaken, the only president since before Franklin Roosevelt not to come to the Scenic City in some capacity after becoming a public figure or adult, or after his presidency, was Bill Clinton. 
 
Among the more recent presidents to come here while in the Oval Office have been Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
 
I just recently learned that Harry S Truman actually came to Chattanooga for the funeral of Sen. Newell Sanders in 1939 while a U.S. senator, and he had his picture taken on the steps of City Hall with some other senators.
 
And, of course, Dwight Eisenhower was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe as a young officer during World War I.
 
Whether former President Clinton and wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea ever stopped by Chattanooga during his pre-presidential years – perhaps even to ride the Incline for fun – is not known.
 
Speaking of having fun, I have been uplifted watching sports lately. Sure, Tennessee’s football team has been struggling to date, and my Georgia Bulldogs have lost their two toughest games. 
 
Of course, just getting to watch games that have not been canceled due to COVID-19 has been rewarding enough. 
 
It has also been entertaining to see traditional doormats like Indiana put together solid seasons, while perennial powerhouses Michigan and Penn State have one win among them to date in this crazy season.
 
Thursday night, I just happened to switch to the Tulsa and Tulane game on TV before going to bed, and it was downright inspiring, even though I have never pulled for – or even cared about -- either team. Tulsa has miraculously come back from big deficits in several games this year, but it did not seem likely last night when the Golden Hurricane got down 14-0 to Tulane and also had to play its third-string quarterback.
 
Well, guess what happened? Not only did Tulsa score a hail Mary touchdown as time expired to send the game into overtime, but they intercepted a pass for a TD in the second OT for an amazing comeback win.
 
Yes, my heart was temporarily warmed when I went to bed and thought that maybe we can overcome big obstacles like the pandemic as we are trying to do with the fortunate vaccines that are on the horizon.
 
I was also inspired hearing the story about the little Saw-whet owl that survived the ride inside the Rockefeller Christmas tree from upstate New York to Manhattan. 
 
Maybe we can survive this bumpy ride that is 2020, too!
 
Among the other sports news, longtime East Ridge High girls coach Catherine Neely died recently from COVID-19. In reading the nice media tributes, I thought back 20 years ago to when I once did a feature story on her and her volleyball team.
 
She was about 60 then – close to the same age I am now – and I remember she was very responsive to my interest and was polite when I talked to her by her gym office, although she did not possess an overly animated or demonstrative manner. Two or three of her volleyball players also came up later for the interview, and it was neat to watch how in a low-key way she seemed to have a good rapport with them, despite the more than 40 years difference in their ages.
 
Whether she was more intense on the court, I do not know.
 
While she was interchangeably mentioned as both a success in volleyball and basketball, one girls high school basketball coach I worked with while teaching public high school two or three years later told me that volleyball was more her forte.
 
I think she also told me she either then lived or had lived by the big curve of Hixson Pike just north of the current Publix, so I thought that was neat that she resided not far from where I had grown up. She had deep roots in Hixson as well as East Ridge.
 
I also took note of the media reports on former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow of Florida speaking in Chattanooga within the last week. During his talk at Redemption to the Nations Church in the old Highland Park Baptist facility off Bailey Avenue, he remarked that he took a recruiting trip to Tennessee while in high school, but realized they were courting another quarterback and that they seemed more committed to that person.
 
The usually easy-going player said that motivated him to want to beat Tennessee every year, which he did.
 
The quarterback was not mentioned, but I did some research and he might have been talking about Nick Stephens, a Texan, who was the only quarterback the Vols signed for the fall of 2006, the same year Mr. Tebow was a freshman. I don’t think he was talking about Jonathan Crompton, who had come as a freshman in 2005.
 
Mr. Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 as only a sophomore.
 
Speaking of the Heisman, among the seemingly numerous athletes who were starring during my childhood years and have recently died was former Green Bay Packer great Paul Hornung, who passed Nov. 13 at the age of 84.
 
My former Baylor high school coach, the late E.B. “Red” Etter, once told me that, while at Central High, he coached against two future Heisman Trophy winners. One was Steve Spurrier, who played at Johnson City Science Hill before starring at the same school as Mr. Tebow – Florida.
 
The other was Paul Hornung. On Oct. 30, 1952, Central and Flaget High from Louisville, Ky., which were both ranked No. 1 in their states, met at Chamberlain Field in Chattanooga. The two teams were tied, 7-7, late when Flaget drove the ball to the Central 5-yard line. 
 
The field goal kicker, who had also aided the drive with a 46-yard run, came out to kick a seemingly easy short field goal for the win.
 
But you know what? He missed it, and Central survived with a tie in those pre-overtime days.
 
That player who missed was, of course, Paul Hornung.
 
The next day in what was a Louisville-themed weekend at Chamberlain Field, the University of Louisville Cardinals were trounced by the Mocs, 47-17. That is even more impressive considering the Louisville quarterback, was, like Mr. Hornung, a future NFL Hall of Famer.
 
The player was Johnny Unitas, who later starred with the Baltimore Colts.
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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