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An Autobiography: Chapter 12, Albert Schweitzer Film

One of the worst disasters to ever hit the city of Walton, struck on Friday, July 13, 1956, at 4:00 p.m., and the tornado was over in about two minutes. Walton received an estimated loss of $500,000 in property damage. On July 29, we had a benefit show for the victims of the tornado.

On another Sunday, a milder tornado struck Verona during a show when Martha Carson, the most popular gospel/country singer of the 1950s was performing. Lightning split a tree near the stage, and the people ran in panic, many to their car and many crowded on the stage.

Martha was a seasoned trouper and stood on a chair, and with Billy’s band behind her, started strumming her guitar profusely, while singing gospel songs to the frightened crowd. She had the folks in the palm of her hand, and they soon quieted down. There was an elderly lady who got up close to Martha, and Martha held her hand while she sang. Georgianna and I were never more proud of any of our performers in those four years.

Martha Carson 

Martha Carson 

After we moved to Nashville almost 30 years later, Martha called Georgianna and told her she wanted to write her story and would like Georgianna to live with her for a while and help her. Georgianna would have loved that, but Martha was a chain smoker − and Georgianna was very allergic to tobacco smoke. No one ever smoked in our homes.

In 1957, we showed two films at the park with free admission. The first was the English film, Martin Luther, the film that set box office records a few years before. It was shown by Mr. Bruce Wallace, a good friend who lived across the street from the Methodist Church. The film was introduced by the Rev. Whealdon.

The second documentary was Albert Schweitzer, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1957.

Here is the film review from the New York Times: 

The life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer has been such an extraordinary one that we could hardly expect all facets of it to be revealed in an eighty-minute documentary film. But certainly the over-all pattern of human service and Christian example in the career of this great scholar, musician and physician is warmly illuminated in the color film, "Albert Schweitzer,” which opened last night at the Guild. Proceeds from the première and all profits from the film went to Dr. Schweitzer’s African hospital. The venerable doctor himself is a participant in much of the film, which was photographed by Erica Anderson under the direction of Jerome Hill. Particularly he is in evidence in the latter half, given over to a fine account of a day at the Schweitzer hospital in the jungle village of Lambaréné.  

A touching pictorial report is given of a visit by the aging doctor to the Alsatian village of Gunsbach, where he was reared as a boy, and a subsequent documentary flashback on the formative influences on the growth of the youth and the man. The film then takes up a detailed description of the jungle hospital, its physical layout and its African patients.  

This is the heart of it. For it is in the candid views of Dr. Schweitzer and his small staff of dedicated Europeans working patiently with ailing natives—the piteous lepers, the aged and infirm—that the magnitude of his simple motto, "reverence for life,” is most movingly conveyed. 

Contrary to the general impression, Dr. Schweitzer's hospital is not a handsome, modern institution but a cluster of small buildings and primitive huts, crowded with nondescript patients in a fashion that appears indifferent to hygiene. This state is explained as consistent with the necessity of maintaining routines as near to the normal ways of life to the natives as is medically feasible. But vividly manifest is "the brotherhood of those who bear the mark of Cain”" The gentle presence of the quiet old doctor among these people bespeaks his belief: "There are claims on his heart.” 

Albert Schweitzer LIFE 

Albert Schweitzer on the cover of LIFE magazine, February 19, 1965. 

In the earlier phases of the picture, Mr. Hill and Miss Anderson, who made an excellent short about Grandma Moses a couple of years ago, reconstruct the early life of Dr. Schweitzer in the familiar documentary way of showing the buildings and places that were significant, while narration conveys the line of thought. 

They have also used Dr. Schweitzer's grandson and his sister to re-enact little episodes of particular importance in which Dr. Schweitzer, as a boy, and his mother were involved. And in the opening sequences of Dr. Schweitzer's return to his old home, they have him playing Bach's Prelude in D major on the organ of the village church. 

There is in these phases of the picture a reflective, poetic quality that prepares the viewer to appreciate the contrast that occurred in Dr. Schweitzer's career when he forsook the atmosphere of the study for the hard realities of his jungle hospital. The deeper psychological motivation of the humanitarian may not be clear, but the force of his philosophical convictions is potently put across in this film. 

The personal narrative, written by Dr. Schweitzer himself, is spoken earnestly and beautifully by Fredric March. The commentary, written by Thomas Bruce Morgan, is spoken by Burgess Meredith. The musical score by Alec Wilder is tasteful and eloquent. The picture betokens the report. 

Before the film, I knew a little about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, of whom the Rev. Whealdon spoke of. How could I know that on that beautiful summer evening in a hillbilly park in Kentucky, my quest of keeping alive the legacy of Dr. Schweitzer would begin?

In 1958, I conceived the idea for a Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and made plans to build it at the park as a national attraction. I knew about various halls of fame, and I thought that with my background and connections in country music, I could do this successfully. However, it didn’t develop at the park, but in 1961, I was publishing a newsletter, PROGRAM CHATTER for Country Music to promote my Country Music Scrapbooks that were being sold over radio stations, and this newsletter was mailed to several hundred DJs.

In the newsletter dated January 13, 1961, it stated: “Thurston Moore, publisher of the Country Music Scrapbook has sent us a proposal for the establishment of a COUNRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME and we would like to have your ideas and reaction to it.”  

A lengthy description in the newsletter gave details of my idea, plus the creation of a Country Music Museum with it. Charlie Lamb’s January 23, 1961, issue of THE MUSIC REPORTER ran an article under the headline: “Hall of Fame would Immortalize C&W’s best.

The article read: “Denver – The immortals of the Country Music world - living and dead – would be given permanent and lasting recognition in a COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME, according to a proposal originated by Thurston Moore, Editor of the Country Music Scrapbooks. Moore suggests that manuscripts, items of clothing, music instruments, etc., of the C&W greats be collected and permanently displayed under one roof in a suitable location.” 

At the end of the 1959 season at the park, after many disastrous Sundays, mostly because of rain, we decided it was time to move on. I had just published the first edition of The Country Music Who’s Who, which was proclaimed by many as the “Bible of Country Music,” and I could see there were greener pastures ahead.

Country Music Who's Who 

I sold the park to Sy Elder, a good friend and a businessman in Cincinnati who wanted the park as a summer home and a place for his children. He still owns the park, and I have visited a few times. On one visit, I said, “It’s amazing that the stage is just as we left it with our names up there.” One of his daughters said, “You are a legend in these parts, we would never change anything.”

Here is an article on the website of the Steel Guitar Forum under a large picture showing a big crowd in front of the stage.

“My childhood friend's grandfather bought the Verona Lake Ranch from Thurston Moore sometime in the 1950s. This picture hangs in their summer home there in Verona, KY, and we have all wondered for many years who the band might be. It's a blurry old picture, but maybe some of you remember the Ranch, apparently it was quite a big deal in its day, seated 1500, artists like Hank Snow, Ferlin Husky, Flatt and Scruggs, and many more played there. Any of you all remember this venue, or recognize this band? Steeler is playing thru an old (brand new then) Fender Bassman, I think. Maybe that's Miss Georgie playing there.” 

No, that is not “Miss Georgie.”

Don’t Miss the Next Chapter: Message of the Sunflowers