​Mine 21 Explosion: Telling the Story


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Pain, bravery and change haunt the tragedy of the 1981 Whitwell mining explosion where 13 miners lost their lives. The story is told in the short documentary “Mine 21,” produced by University classics professor Chris McDonough, directed by videographer and Sewanee alum Stephen Garrett, and unveiled through the eyes of two current students, Kelsey Arbuckle and Alexa Fults, whose pasts are intimately linked to the mines.
A miner’s cigarette lighter triggered the explosion in a methane-glutted passage where the miners should have never been sent to work. Temperatures reached 3,400 degrees. The ensuing federal lawsuit brought by the miners’ widows prompted more rigorous enforcement of safety regulations, saving thousands of lives.
How to tell that story?
McDonough learned about the explosion in 2014 from HVAC technician Tony Gilliam, who, like many others came to work at the University after the Plateau area mines closed in 1997. McDonough wrote about the explosion in his blog, speculating the story would make a good documentary.
“This was the 911 for people on the Plateau—the worst mining disaster in Tennessee since the introduction of modern safety precautions,” said McDonough. “Many of my colleagues who work at the institution where I do don’t know anything about this disaster.”
Two years later Arbuckle, then a University sophomore, read an article in the Grundy County Herald newspaper commemorating the 35th anniversary of the explosion.
“I never knew my grandfather Charles Myers because he died in 1981,” Arbuckle said. Her grandfather was a miner, and she put two and two together. Her mother was reluctant to talk about the tragedy. Arbuckle searched the internet for information. She found McDonough’s blog and contacted him.
“Can we talk?” she asked.
The documentary idea took on new life. McDonough secured a small amount of funding from the University and community resources, and brought in Garrett who’d recently produced admissions and fundraising videos for the University.
Arbuckle brought in her Grundy County High School friend Alexa Fults, who came to the University in the fall of 2017 as a freshman. Fults was writing a research paper exploring the effects of the collapse of the coal mining industry on the local economy.
“My great, great, great, great, great uncle discovered coal on the Plateau,” Fults said. “My family joked, ‘you’d be an heiress if the coal industry didn’t crash and burn.’”
“What is interesting about history is the connection to people in the present,” Garrett said. “You want the audience to authentically relate to human beings.”
Arbuckle provided an intimate “authentic-in.” Not only was her grandfather killed in the explosion. Her grandmother, Barbara Myers, who works for Sewanee Dining making desserts, had testified in the 1987 federal lawsuit.
“We explored the story by telling it,” Garrett said.
In one scene Arbuckle, her mother, and her grandmother sit down together and talk about the explosion for the first time.
Garrett also filmed a conversation between three former miners.
“They’d never gotten together and talked about the disaster in this way before. All three men broke down.”
Video footage from the Marion County Miners Museum features miners joking and talking underground. A photograph shows miners and their families at a company picnic.
McDonough located TV footage of Myers testifying before the Senate at the federal hearing.
Filming took place the first week of June over four days. Initially denied permission to use an aerial drone to film the remnants of the coal processing facility that served the Whitwell mines, approval came through just before Garrett left town.
The processing facility is scheduled to be torn down. The actual mining sites are overgrown in brush. “The last of the mines was covered over this past April,” McDonough said. “Elementary school children planted trees on the site.”
McDonough hopes the documentary prompts the community, especially University students, to engage with local history.
“Barbara Myers was a young widow working at the shirt factory and struggling to raise a family when she went to Washington, D.C. to be questioned by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy,” said McDonough. “I want students to see the woman making their pecan pie is the superhero here.”
Some families received a settlement from the mining company in a separate lawsuit.
“The federal lawsuit was about getting the Mine Safety and Health Administration to do its job so people like Charlie Myers didn’t have to die,” McDonough said.
The Whitwell mine located in Marion County employed many men from Grundy County. Appropriately, the site of the premiere screening, Monteagle Elementary School, is located in Marion County, but serves many Grundy County youth. Kelsey Arbuckle’s mother, Tina-Myers Arbuckle, whose father was killed in the explosion, teaches there.

The premiere will be at Monteagle Elementary School at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 24. There will be a screening at 5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Sewanee Union Theatre. A question and answer session will follow both screenings. To see the trailer, go to www.mine21.com


​American Civil War Museum: What Do You Love?


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Oct. 11 public conversation, Christy S. Coleman and S. Waite Rawls talked about the behind-the-scenes challenges faced in establishing the American Civil War Museum (ACWM). The ACWM is the nation’s first museum to explore the story of the Civil War from multiple perspectives: Union, Confederate and African American.
During the six-year Virginia Civil War sesquicentennial, Coleman and Rawls separately received phone calls proposing a merger between Richmond’s American Civil War Center, where Coleman served as CEO, and the city’s Museum of the Confederacy, where Rawls served as CEO. Prior to coming to the Center in 2008, Coleman served nine years as the CEO for the Museum of African American History in Detroit.
The promised financial support if the institutions combined had a strong allure, and Coleman and Rawls had a history of working together on programs. They presented the idea to their respective boards.
“The boards came up with reasons not to do it,” Rawls said.
“Ninety percent of mergers between nonprofits fail because of difficulty aligning the missions,” Coleman acknowledged.
Coleman and Rawls drafted a vision statement. The boards softened to the merger idea, but couldn’t agree on who would run the museum. The Center’s board championed Coleman, and the Confederate Museum’s board championed Rawls.
The two met in private and Coleman posed the question, “What do you love about museum work?” They divided up responsibilities according to the predilection of each with three shared areas.
In May of 2013, the two boards voted to form a new separate nonprofit with the Center and Museum of the Confederacy as subsidiaries. Work began on strategizing public relations and marketing, but before the new museum even had a name, “We were outed,” Coleman said.
Rawls was accused of “becoming PC,” and Coleman was accused of “selling out to the confederacy.”
“People are sensitive about that era of our history,” Rawls said. “They were scared we wouldn’t tell the truth as they know it.” Rawls stressed that presenting “multiple perspectives” was critical to credibility.
The nationwide controversy about Confederate monuments and statues speaks to that fear.
“National PTSD followed the Civil War,” Rawls said. “Over 750,000 soldiers died, more than in all other U.S. wars combined. The Civil War generation wanted to know ‘Will people remember us?’” Monuments began to appear throughout the country. The largest, almost 400 feet tall, is in Indianapolis, Ind.
The 2015 murders in Charleston set off a nationwide clamor calling for removal of confederate memorials.
“In 2016, I began getting calls asking if the museum wanted statues,” Coleman said. She respectfully declined. She accepted an invitation to serve as co-chair of the Richmond Monument Avenue Commission convened to address controversy surrounding Monument Avenue’s six Confederate statues.
At a public comment meeting in August of 2017, people arrived “armed ready for verbal battle,” according to Coleman. She described the polarized sides as “tear ’em down versus leave our heritage alone.”
The commission recommended signage and art installations alongside the monuments to aid in “re-imagining” how to engage with the statues. The commission also recommended amending state law to let local people determine the fate of Virginia monuments, but the Richmond city council rejected the idea.
“The museum is about breaking down barriers and allowing people to see one another in different ways,” Coleman said. Acknowledging the appropriateness of loving ones heritage, Coleman gave a poignant illustration, “You can love your drunk uncle, but you can’t pretend he’s not an alcoholic. You don’t want alcoholism in the family to spread.”

​The Rt. Rev. Robert Skirving Elected Chancellor of the University of the South


The Rt. Rev. Robert Skirving, Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina, was elected the 25th chancellor of the University of the South at a recent meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees. Skirving succeeds the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, Bishop of Florida, who served as chancellor from October 2012 through October 2018.
Skirving, a native of Ontario, Canada, was ordained and consecrated as the eighth Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina on Nov. 8, 2014. He has been a member of Sewanee’s Board of Trustees since 2014 and the Board of Regents since 2017, and received an honorary degree from the University in 2015.
Prior to becoming Bishop of East Carolina in 2014, Skirving served as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Midland, Mich.; rector of Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London, Ontario; rector of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford, Ontario; and rector of three small congregations in rural southeast Kent County, Ontario.
Skirving earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in 1982. He then went on to earn an M.Div. from Huron University College, London, Ontario, in 1986. He was ordained to the diaconate on May 1, 1986, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Ontario, and to the priesthood on Dec. 17, 1986, at St. James Westminster Church, London, Ontario, by Bishop Derwyn Dixon Jones, Bishop of Huron. In 1998, Skirving earned a certificate in congregational development from Seabury Institute, Evanston, Ill.
During Howard’s tenure as chancellor, Sewanee enjoyed increased recognition as a leading national liberal arts institution, as well as growth in the influence and reach of the School of Theology.
The chancellor is elected from the bishops of the University’s owning dioceses for a term of six years. The chancellor is president, ex officio, of the Board of Trustees and a member of the Board of Regents.

‘Mine 21’ Documentary to Premiere Oct. 24

“Mine 21,” a short documentary about a deadly coal-mine explosion that took place in the region in 1981, will have its local premiere at Monteagle Elementary School at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 24. “Mine 21” will also be screened at 5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Sewanee Union Theatre.

The film follows Kelsey Arbuckle and Alexa Fults, both from Grundy County and current students at Sewanee, as they find out more about this event. The disaster took place in Whitwell, Tenn., on Dec. 8, 1981, and took the lives of 13 miners. The effect in Marion and Grundy counties was tragic.

“Thirteen people in a small community,” says one of the people interviewed in the film. “It effected everybody.” The investigation into the explosion eventually reached the U.S. Senate.

The screenings of the documentary, directed by Sewanee alumnus Stephen Garrett and produced by professor Chris McDonough, is free and open to the public. A question and answer session will follow each screening.

To see the trailer, go to http://mine21.com


​University Releases Lots for Residential Construction


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
The University’s release of 10 lots for residential construction headlined the discussion at the Oct. 9 Sewanee Village Planning meeting. Questions concerning a proposed Pilates studio were also addressed.
“Plans originally called for release of 13 lots,” said Superintendent of Leases Sally Green, “but three lots at the top of Alabama Avenue were pulled for archeological research related to the Slavery Project.”
In an effort to address the employee housing shortage, the lots will be offered to full-time University employees first. After six months, if the lots remain unclaimed, the Lease Office will offer the lots to community members for primary residences.
Beginning the week of Oct. 15, not before, interested lessees may declare their interest at the Lease Office.
The time leading up to Oct. 15 has been set aside for gathering information so potential lessees can “make an informed decision,” Green said.
The lease office will assign lots on Oct. 22. If multiple parties declare interest in a lot, a drawing will be held.
The lots range from one-quarter acre to one acre in size and are randomly located throughout campus.
“It’s possible more lots may be released if these go,” Green speculated. Asked if existing leaseholds would be divided to create new lots, Green said, “That’s not what we intend to do. None of these lots were created in that way.”
As is the case in the Parson’s Green housing group, leases on these new lots can only be transferred to individuals who will use the home sites for primary residences. To qualify as a primary residence, the individual holding the lease must reside in the home nine months out of the year, Green explained.
Priority will be given to potential lessees who do not already have leaseholds. The University will offer financial incentives to employees who are first-time home builders. New lessees have one year to begin building. Some lots are within the downtown planning zone, and homes must conform to the Village Pattern Book architectural styles. On the two lots where sewer service is not available, septic systems will be allowed.
Contact the Lease Office for a map showing lot location and more information.
Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor Frank Gladu, who heads up the Village Planning project, addressed a number of questions regarding the Pilates studio instructor Kim Butters hopes to build on a newly-created downtown leasehold.
Gladu said he first began working with Butters to identify a location two and half years ago. Butters persuaded two leaseholders to give up vacant portions of their lease to create a lot for the studio.
“The land had to be surveyed, a new lease created, and the existing leases amended,” Green said. “It was May of 2018 by the time it was all approved.” The Lease Committee also needed to amend the commercial lease clause to accommodate Butters’ proposed project.
Butters’ architect submitted a schematic design on Sept. 21.
“The design is under review by the town planner, Town Planning & Urban Design Collaborative, to gauge adherence to TPUDC’s Pattern Book criteria,” Gladu said. The next step is approval by the Lease Committee; then construction can begin. Gladu predicted the project would go before the Lease Committee before the end of the year.
“The Lease Committee has said it will approve what the town planner approves,” Green said.
The Lease Committee previously approved the Pattern Book criteria, Gladu explained.
In the event a design doesn’t conform to the Pattern Book guidelines, adjustments can be made, Gladu said. Special circumstances may be taken into consideration.
Asked about parking for the studio and nearby buildings, Gladu said county planning commission parking requirements had to be followed, but parking specifics couldn’t be determined until the building’s footprint was known.

For more information, go to the Sewanee Village website at www.sewanee.edu/village.

​New Bike Pad at Sewanee Elementary


by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer
Students at Sewanee Elementary School will be able to enjoy afternoon bike rides over newly paved sidewalks thanks to a partnership with the board of education and the Sewanee Community Chest.
After years of wear and tear, the concrete on the old bike area and sidewalks had begun to crumble. Georgia Hewitt, who is the treasurer with the Sewanee Parent Organization and a Sewanee Elementary alum herself, said she remembers the bike pad being on the grounds when she attended in the 80s.
“We had tried to get it replaced through the Franklin County School Board for a couple of years, but funding availability prohibited this. The Sewanee Parent Organization (SPO) agreed to help with this because they had a bit of money left in the budget from last year,” Sewanee Elementary School principal Kim Tucker said.
The new bike pad was made possible thanks to joint efforts of the district, the Sewanee Parent Organization and the Sewanee Community Chest.
“The concrete was a hazard for students riding and parking, and there was also a small paved path from the school’s driveway to the bike rack area that was particularly bumpy and broken,” said Sarah Marhevsky, SPO president.
SPO member-at-large and school crossing guard Amanda Knight collected bids from local builders and arranged for the work to be done.
“Amanda was amazing in coordinating the project,” said Marhevsky. “After getting bids from local concrete companies who were interested and realizing it was a much bigger project than originally anticipated, Gipson Concrete stepped up and generously donated their services and the concrete at cost. The concrete and drain were placed, poured, and floated by Gipson Concrete, Irving Materials, Inc. and Riley Concrete Pumping.”
Marhevsky said it’s the most expensive project the SPO has taken on in recent years, with the project totaling $5,950.
“Amanda saw multiple students fall off their bikes there, and there was a drainage problem as well. The repaving has worked to address that too,” she said. “We’ve also begun looking into grants to see if we can find a way to put a cover over the bike area.”

​Community Chest Sets $110,000 Goal; Volunteering Whys and Bewares


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
More than 40 people turned out for the Oct. 4 Sewanee Civic Association dinner meeting. Following the business meeting, cofounder of Housing Sewanee and community outreach leader Dixon Myers talked about the whys and bewares of volunteering.
Vice President Brandon Barry updated the membership on the Sewanee Community Chest fund drive. The Community Chest received 29 applications with requests totaling $160,300. The SCA hopes to honor 24 of those requests, setting a goal of $110,000. Several new projects are slated to receive funding this year.
The annual Community Chest supports programs and organizations that make the quality of life richer in Sewanee and the surrounding vicinity by providing food, books, child care, promoting animal welfare and so much more. This year’s campaign will feature stories celebrating donors, Barry said. Mail contributions to P.O. Box 99, Sewanee, TN 37375 or visit www.sewaneecivic.org.
The SCA also sponsors Sewanee Classifieds, an email based subscription service that functions as a community bulletin board. Plans call for placing information cards throughout the community explaining how to subscribe to Classifieds. SCA’s annual $10 dues entitle members to a Classifieds subscription if they choose. To join the SCA visit the website or mail a check to P.O. Box 222, Sewanee, TN 37375.
Featured speaker Dixon Myers has served for more than two decades as community outreach coordinator at the University organizing student service programs in Haiti, for Hurricane Katrina victims, and in a New York City soup kitchen.
Myers identified several motives for volunteering including encouragement from scriptural references and a culture’s or vocation’s emphasis on giving back. Myers also identified more internal motivations like the logic of doing the right thing, guilt prompted by awareness of need, and experiences like poverty or sexual abuse leading to personal identification with those in need.
The nation was undergoing a “compassion boom,” Myers said, pointing to statistics showing more than 90 percent of Americans believed it was important to be personally involved in a cause they believe in.
Myers praised Sewanee. “I don’t know of any community more organized about its giving and how to get involved.”
Myers stressed that once an individual determined why and what to be involved in, the difficult question became, “Where does our energy flow?”
Giving the example of food insecurity, Myers pointed out the need for multiple programs to coexist. A food bank providing immediate relief needed to continue alongside development programs addressing the root cause of food insecurity.
Myers cautioned that while charity “means well,” efforts may “neglect to do due diligence in determining the economic, cultural, and emotional impact.”
He cited a food relief effort delivering millions of pounds of rice to Haiti and the detrimental impact on the market for local farmers who were in the midst of the rice crop harvest.
“People ask why I do international work when there’re so many problems at home,” Myers said. “You can’t separate the two anymore. The world is too small. You can go to Murfreesboro and find a Burmese population.”
Myers suggested parents take their children with them when they did charitable work to encourage volunteering in the next generation.
A number of audience members chimed in reporting on the success of their own parent modeling practices.
The Nov. 1 SCA meeting will feature a Chattanooga immunologist offering advice on how to deal with allergies.

​School Board Considers Facility Naming Process


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Oct. 8 meeting, the Franklin County School Board reviewed a proposed facilities naming process drafted in response to a July request to rename the Franklin County High School (FCHS) band room in honor of longtime band director Tom Isbell. The board also considered a proposal for establishing a FCHS mentoring program.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean appointed FCHS Principal Roger Alsup to chair a committee addressing the request to rename the band room. Alsup selected five teachers to serve as committee members and research the facilities naming process of other school systems. Franklin County Schools had no facilities naming process in place at the time of the request.
After establishing naming process guidelines, the committee reviewed the material submitted in support of Isbell’s nomination. The committee unanimously agreed with the proposal to honor Isbell.
History teacher and committee spokesperson Todd Payne said the committee members had known Mr. Isbell “from 10-35 years either as teachers or students.” The facilities naming guidelines require candidates to have worked in education at least 20 years. The recommendation supporting Isbell’s nomination noted that over his 42-year teaching career, Isbell influenced thousands of Franklin County students, several of whom went on to become band directors themselves.
“Nothing has been named for anyone at Franklin County High School at this point,” Payne said.
Bean acknowledged the argument against naming facilities in honor of educators. “People say if you do this for one you need to do it for others. It’s not a bad thing. We just need to be careful about reviewing requests.”
“I know this is short notice, and the board may need more time to digest it.”
The board deferred a decision until the next meeting on Nov. 12.
“I like the process,” said Board Chair CleiJo Walker.
If approved, the request to honor Isbell will be announced at a basketball game. The plaque on the band room door will read: Thomas J. Isbell Rehearsal Hall.
FCHS special education teacher Anna Mullin presented the board with a proposal for establishing a mentoring program at the high school. Mullin devised the program as her graduate studies capstone project. A committee including Alsup and Bean assisted with drafting policies and procedures.
Mullin intends to address legal questions with the school attorney. She expressed possible concerns related to transportation of students and mentors meeting individually with students in a non-group setting.
Inclusion in the program would be based on committee review of referrals made by teachers and guidance counselors, Mullin said. The mentor program would be open to all students, but resources could limit the scope.
Mentors would undergo background checks. Mullin envisioned reaching out to churches for mentors. Bean recommended school staff personnel as a source of mentors.
Asked if mentors would help with homework, Mullin said that was one possibility, but she also conceived of mentors as “someone to talk with or to expose them to something different.”
“Some of our students have never travelled outside Tennessee and Alabama. They’ve had limited experiences.”
“I hope the mentor-student relationship continues beyond high school,” Mullin said.
She asked the board to review the policies and procedures and to pass along recommendations to Bean.

​A Dream of ‘Forever Wild’ Come True: 1,000-Acre Mitchell Cove Conservation Easement


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Gale Link had a dream of keeping Mitchell Cove forever wild. In 1961, she and her husband purchased a 350-acre Mitchell-Cove bluff farm. Several years later, Link’s husband gave her an adjoining 850 acres of cove property for an anniversary present. After her husband died, Link struggled financially, but refused to sell the Mitchell Cove land and took a job in Nashville as a legal secretary to pay the taxes.
In 1990, longtime friend, hiking companion, and like-minded environmentalist Sanford McGee asked Link if she’d consider selling “just a little corner.” ‘If I was paid a million dollars for the land, I’d use the money to buy it back,’ McGee recalls her telling him, ‘Let’s think about how we can share all of it.’
McGee and his then wife Joan Thomas spread the word to interested friends. Alumni from the University who wanted their children and grandchildren to have the same experience of the natural world as they did joined the conversation.
The group hired an attorney and sought advice from the Nature Conservancy.
“It took us two years to figure it out,” McGee said.
Calling themselves the Jump Off Community Land Trust (JCLT), a group of 10 stakeholders bought the property from Link and donated it to a nonprofit they helped create called the South Cumberland Regional Land Trust (SCRLT).
Some of the stakeholders homesteaded on the bluff farm living off the grid. McGee, Joseph Bordley and Julia Stubblebine continue to live there on the 150-acre tract known as “the farm.” JCLT leases “the farm” from SCRLT and takes financial responsibility for the entire 1,150-acre Mitchell Cove tract, including property taxes and insurance.
In 2011, Gale Link died in a car accident. JCLT, the on-site stewards of Mitchell Cove, and SCRLT, the deed holder, began discussing how to guarantee for perpetuity Link’s “forever wild” vision.
The obvious answer, a conservation easement prohibiting development on the 1,150-acre tract, posed huge financial hurdles. The survey alone would cost $25,000.
SCRLT board president Kathleen O’Donohue had experience working with Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) to secure a conservation easement on the adjoining 95-acre Ravens Den Sanctuary.
In mid 2017, SCRLT contacted TennGreen and the nonprofit jumped at the chance to help SCRLT find the funds. The oldest accredited, statewide land trust in Tennessee, TennGreen launched a funding campaign securing generous donations from the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Tucker Foundation. This past September, TennGreen announced the $43,500 fundraising goal had been reached.

“The Mitchell Cove conservation easement focuses on protecting the property from development. No houses and no structures forever,” said Christie Peterson Henderson, TennGreen Director of Land Conservation. The only exception is a small educational structure proposed for near Ravens Den Rd. The 150-acre JCLT “farm” is not included in the easement.

The easement was crafted to allow SCRLT to explore selling carbon offset credits accrued by not harvesting trees. The revenue could “finance more conservation efforts,” said SCRLT board member Nate Wilson.
Mitchell Cove hasn’t been timber harvested since the 1950s and then mainly on the bluff. Lush ferns and waterfalls join the old growth forest fostering an exceptional degree of biodiversity. Remnants of prohibition era moonshine stills hide beneath some bluffs. The cove is also home to the earliest finding of pictographs in this part of the world. The red paintings featuring celestial characters may date back as much as 1,000 years.
“The decision to place a conservation easement on the Mitchell Cove property makes the “forever wild” vision a legally protected reality, not only during our lifetimes but for generations to come,” said SCRLT President Laura Candler.
For permission to hike in Mitchell Cove contact Candler (678) 850-5123, or McGee (931) 598-5120. SCRLT also orchestrated the preservation of Shakerag Hollow and Bluebell Island on the Elk River. To learn more visit <scrlt.org>.


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