Why Can't They Get It Right?
There was a time when if you read something in print you could rest reasonably assured that it was accurate. Over time, journalistic standards have dropped due to the need for meeting ever present deadlines in this world of instant communications and the internet hasn't helped much in this regard either. Material is posted on the internet, and I'm not speaking of message boards here, and there is no responsibility for the accuracy of the information being presented. Good example is me. While I make every effort to research the facts that I present, most readers don't know me and for all they know, I'm some senile kook who enjoys fabricating stories to pass away the hours. Stories that are told solely for entertainment are usually harmless but stories that supposedly present facts are another kettle of fish.
Now what am I leading up to with this rambling preamble?
I had heard for years that Kate Smith, the legendary vocalist best know for her rendition of "God Bless America" was born in Virginia. Not being a native Virginian, I initially thought she was born in Emporia which is located in Greensville county near the North Carolina line on I-95. I talked to many Virginians who thought the same thing so on one of my day trips I decided once and for all to find out if this could be verified. In the meantime, I had been told that she was not born in Greensville County but Greenville, Virginia which is near Staunton, nowhere near Emporia.
When it came time to set out on my search I had to decide whether to go east to Emporia or west to Greenville. I decided to take the hike west.
I arrived at the small village of Greenville which consists of a car wash, a Dollar General store, an insurance agency and a few houses. I don't believe it has a place that sells gas. I figured there would probably not be any kind of marker denoting Miss Smith's birth place so I would have to locate someone with a little age on them who might be able to provide us with the information I was seeking. Remember now. I'm not even sure we were in or near the right town.
First I went to the Dollar General store, one of my favorite browsing places, and asked the cashier if she knew anything about the KS birthplace. While she was very nice, I'm not sure she knew who Kate Smith was and, in a way, that is understandable. She looked about 35 years old and probably didn't give too much thought as to who was singing "God Bless America" when it aired almost continuously after 9-11. She directed me to two ladies who were lolly gagging outside the store.
I introduced myself and asked the ladies to please not regard me as crazy and then shared with them the purpose of my trip with them.
Midway through my introduction I could tell I had hit pay dirt. One of the ladies said that she had lived in the area all her life and had been told that the house down by the river was where KS was born. That's about as good as I'm going to ever do as far as field research is concerned.
Now for the rest of the story. If you go to the internet you will find web sites that report KS's birthplace, in one instance, as being New York City and another that reports it as being Washington, D.C. Finally, the Encyclopedia Britannica site reports that it was Greenville, Virginia. No information is provided to explain why she was born there and it is true that her parents were from Washington, D.C. and she did move near New York City at an early age. But come on. Anyone who has bothered to establish a web site and write a lengthy account of Miss Smith's life should get the place of birth correct.
Some of you may remember that Kate Smith died in Raleigh in the mid 80's while living with her niece. She is buried in New York State for reasons unknown to me and I have read that her plans for her burial site were so garish that there was an 18 month delay while the caretakers of the cemetery decided whether they would allow her plans to be carried out. I sure would like to see a photograph of what caused everyone so much anguish.
It was interesting to see a photograph of Miss Smith right before she died because she had lost a tremendous amount of weight later in life after struggling with obesity for most of her career. At one time she weighed 230 but it didn't seem to bother "the songbird of the south." That moniker alone should have been a clue to the writers on the web sites but things have a way of getting muddled after so many years. She was born in 1907 which is almost 100 years ago and there aren't many people around who can supply first hand information.
Soon I will tell you about my visit to the Statler Brothers Museum in Staunton on the same day, one of the best single days for travel and research I have ever had. By the way, what ever happened to Randolph Scott? The Statler Brothers and I know..