Second & Commerce, Vol. 2 Iss. 2

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C larksville-Montgomery County, Tennessee
931.552.0654 Making Great Things Happen. Proudly serving Tennessee and Western Kentucky with 12 convenient locations. A 25 Year Tradition MEMBER FDIC



Frank Lott


Becky Wood


Yvette Campagna


Maegan Collins


Larry Richardson


Jeffrey V. Bibb

Peggy Reiff Miller

Tyler Nolting

Kate Tallman

Anna Woten

Yuson Yi

The mission of this publication is to foster creativity and champion our area’s unique cultural diversity. SECOND & COMMERCE expands the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s purpose through supporting the arts community, exploring local history and telling stories about the past, present and future of Clarksville.

I recently returned from attending my very first Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) annual meeting, held this year in Northwest Arkansas. As the Museum’s Executive Director since 2020, it was indeed an eye-opening experience for me. In-person conferences and conventions are returning after being virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the events at this year’s conference were held at the magnificent Crystal Bridges Museum, one of the best new museums in the world.

The Southeastern Museums Conference has a membership of more than 180 institutions in 12 states. SEMC is an association of museums, museum staff, independent professionals and corporate partners, serving as the major regional networking organization for museums in the southeastern states. Their annual awards competition recognizes excellence in the use of exhibits, programs, technology and creative publications through innovation, effective design, accessibility, creativity and recognition of institutional identity. The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center was honored with five awards at the 2022 conference – more individual awards than any other member institution.

The Museum is pleased to showcase the Clarksville-Montgomery County community to regional audiences. We serve a broader regional area and we are committed to sharing the history and culture of the people that live here. We strive to improve the Museum experience for all our audiences through new programs, innovative events and enhanced visitor experience. One way we measure our success is by entering these competitions that judge our work, often against larger museums with bigger budgets. We want to know how we measure up to other great museums in the country… and believe me – we do!

2022 SEMC Awards presented to the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center: Annual Reports – 2021 A Year in Review – Silver Magazines & Newsletters – Second & Commerce – Bronze

Mailers & Calendar of Events – Reception Invites – Bronze

Virtual Media – Sustainability Webpage – Bronze Explorers Landing Exhibit – Honorable Mention

Of course, none of these awards would be achieved without the dedication and talent of our incredible professional staff. Every department in the Museum is represented in these honors. My greatest thrill as Executive Director is the collaboration and shared vision with this team to produce the offerings that keep our members and visitors coming back for more!

Enjoy this issue of Second & Commerce!

Thomasa Ross, Chair Frazier Allen Dan Black Kell Black Christina Clark*

Joe Creek* Jim Diehr Jamie Durrett Darwin Eldridge

Lawson Mabry

Linda Nichols

Brendalyn Player

Larry Richardson

Wes Sumner Eleanor Williams*

*denotes ex-officio

HOURS OF OPERATION Tuesdays–Saturdays 10 am–5 pm Sundays 1–5 pm Closed Mondays @customshousemuseum #customshousemuseum
2 / SECOND & COMMERCE 1 / Director’s Letter 4 / Happening at the Museum 8 / Member Spotlight 29 / Seasons: The Museum Store 30 / The Postscript 32 / Connect with Us TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTACT Advertising Inquiries Arts & Culture Events Article Submissions Please email Becky Wood at andcommerce The Clarksville Montgomery County Historical Museum (d.b.a. Customs House Museum & Cultural Center) is designated by the IRS as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. © Customs House Museum & Cultural Center 2023-01/2023-4M Launching the SS Clarksville Victory Photographer unknown, January 30, 1945 Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center ON THE COVER: we can help with that clarksville’s premier coworking space


Roger Dale Brown: Capturing the Essence

Roger Dale Brown has made it his life’s work to connect deeply to places around the world, incorporating knowledge of their nature, history, architecture and culture in his creative process. This knowledge and passion for the outdoors is currently on display in his new exhibit, Capturing the Essence.

Mt Olive Cemetery: You Won’t Die Twice

Since its formation in 2004, the Mt Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society has worked to emphasize the influence and contributions of Clarksville's African American community through the conservation of this historic burial ground, keeping alive the memory of those interred there.

Collections Spotlight: Behind the Scenes

The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center houses over 20,000 artifacts of varying sizes and materials in its collections. Peek behind the curtain – or in this case, the hermetically sealed cabinet – and learn about how items are stored in order to preserve them for years to come.

SS Clarksville Victory: Heritage of Hope

During World War II, American shipyards began producing Victory ships, a new class of cargo ships to replace losses caused by German submarines. This is the story of the SS Clarksville Victory and how the last remaining piece of this vessel has found its way back to its namesake town.

The Seagoing Cowboys of the SS Clarksville Victory

In the wake of World War II, the SS Clarksville Victory transported thousands of horses and other cattle to war-torn Europe, delivering hope to devastated citizens and changing the lives of the seagoing cowboys who braved the trip.

L.M. Ellis and the Burt High Trifecta

Burt High School was the launchpad for athletic icons like track star Wilma Rudolph, coach Davey Whitney and basketball player L.M. Ellis, who broke barriers on and off the court on Burt’s 1961 Championship team and as the first Black player signed to the Ohio Valley Conference in 1963.

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We, the Board of Trustees of the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center of Clarksville, Tennessee, wish the family of Khandra Smalley to know that we gather together with them to mourn the passing of a good person. Khandra contributed much to the community and to the betterment of society.

Whereas Khandra Smalley was a great leader of this community; whereas Khandra Smalley honorably served as a Customs House Trustees Board Member and Chair; whereas Khandra Smalley worked with diligence and vigor to achieve the goals of this organization; whereas the passing of Khandra Smalley, a great community leader, has caused a deep void and sadness in the community; whereas Khandra Smalley served God and community well and faithfully; and whereas Khandra Smalley loved her family and served with a gentle spirit. Therefore, be it resolved, that we as a community will mourn with the family and continue the great work of Khandra Smalley.

The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center Board of Trustees

DECEMBER 20, 2022


Jill Mayo: Paper Dreams THROUGH JANUARY 8

A Simpler Life: Photographs by Carl Wilson THROUGH JANUARY 8

Tennessee Watercolor Society Biennial Traveling Exhibition THROUGH JANUARY 29

Roger Dale Brown: Capturing the Essence


Nights & Cities: Impressions in Lithography


Maria D’Souza: From Dreams


Making a Difference





Learn about Museum exhibits, programs and more at

of the Horse
A Woman’s Room FEBRUARY 1 - APRIL 16
Waiting Room: A Print Series by Belgin Yucelen MARCH 1 - APRIL 20
Burykina: Brushed Expressions MARCH 3 – MAY 21
Poetry Around Us: Women Painting the Outdoors MARCH 7 – MAY 28

Roger Dale Brown Capturing the Essence

Award-winning artist Roger Dale Brown grew up in Tennessee, exploring the woods, creeks and fields around his Nashville home – a passionate observer of every aspect of nature since early childhood. This winter, that passion is on display at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center with his exhibit Capturing the Essence, a collection of plein air landscapes.

Second & Commerce: Your Tennessee upbringing has obviously influenced your work, but your art career began in a rather nonconventional way when you were living in California.

Roger Dale Brown: I was working at a California LensCrafters and in January of 1994, the Northridge earthquake completely destroyed the store. After everything settled, they transferred me to a LensCrafters in my valley. About a day or two after I started working there, this guy came in who was an artist.

I wasn’t even looking to do art – I drew in high school, but it was not even a thought in my mind. I was always interested, but never pursued it. I talked to him for about an hour, selling him glasses and accessories. At the end of the conversation, he asked if I wanted to come over to his studio and look at some of his work, and if I had anything to show, I could

in a while, he would show me some things. He did mostly faux finishings. After the fifth or sixth job together, we were supposed to meet to give a bid on a mural. He wanted me to go along with him so I could have the experience.

bring it. I had a couple drawings, so I went over there, and at the end of our visit he asked me to come to work for him as his assistant.

I really didn’t have anything to lose at that point. So, I quit my job at LensCrafters and went to work for him. I did a lot of grunt work – cleaning brushes, stuff like that – but every once

I went, and he never showed up. The designers were there waiting, so I said “you know, I can do this.” I asked what they liked, and they said “we like Monet.” I got up and left them, and went to a bookstore to get a Monet book. I found one, but it was $50 and I couldn’t afford it. On the way in, I had seen some impressionist calendars on a rack. So, I got one of those calendars and brought it back to them. We flipped through it... then I went to an awning store to get a piece of canvas. I pinned it up on the wall of my one-bedroom apartment and used house paint to paint the mural. And they liked it.

The designers liked it, and as a result, I started getting jobs. That’s how I got started back in the art world. By 2002,

“I think light, in all its forms, is the biggest inspiration.”
Roger Dale Brown Lilies from Above Oil on linen

I switched from faux finishing and murals to full-time gallery work.

S&C: Capturing the Essence is a collection of plein air landscapes. What catches your attention when you are looking for a subject to paint? How do you adapt to the scene's changing conditions?

RDB: I think light, in all its forms, is the biggest inspiration. Strong light, lack of light... it all has its own charms. Part of being an artist is learning how to see. You can draw beauty from all different types of light and subject matter. When I go outside to paint, it’s really to study. Not that I don’t want to get a good painting out of it, but it is to study what is real, what is the truth. Outdoors is a whole different type of lighting... it’s God’s way of lighting. Different weather situations aren’t a bad thing – I’ve painted in the rain before.

I’ve always loved the outdoors. My grandparents were country people; they picked cotton for a living most of their lives and I was always outdoors with them. My whole backyard

was woods, and there was a lake, Old Hickory Lake. I spent most of my time running through those woods... all that gave me a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. When I go outside, I’m looking for the truth. I try to copy tones that I’m seeing out there. When I go out and see something that inspires me, I want to keep that thought in my mind, whether the light changes or goes away completely, I still have that memory of that original concept.

S&C: You enjoy a fusion of artistic styles and don’t fall into one specific “ism” or art movement. What is your outlook of representational versus abstract when you approach a subject?

RDB: I approach all my subjects as an abstract. When I look at a scene, I bring it down to its simplest forms, and that is how I start painting. As it goes on, I have options of really tightening down and going more realistic, more impressionistic or a

“I spent most of my time running through those woods... all that gave me a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. When I go outside, I’m looking for the truth.”
Roger Dale Brown Autumn Reflections Oil on linen Roger Dale Brown Snow Valley Oil on linen

combination of both. One thing I coined early on in my career, because I didn’t really fall into any one style, is “expressive realism.” I use real colors, I like those earthy tones and I do like some brushy work. I adhere to some of the ideas of impressionism and some of the ideas of realism.

The one thing that I hate hearing [from students] is “I just don’t have my own style. I want to develop my style.” All you have to do as an artist is paint. Your style develops as you mature. We all have our own personality, and that is going to come out in your painting. Just like handwriting – you can line up a million people to write the same word, and none of it will look the same. It’s the same in artwork. Your own voice is going to come out... all you have to do is paint and get better.

SECOND & COMMERCE / 7 This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Pottery Studio | Art Gallery 115 Franklin St Clarksville, TN Rivercityclay@gmail com 931-542-6615 B R I N G I N G T H E A R T O F H A N D M A D E P O T T E R Y T O D O W N T O W N C L A R K S V I L L E LET YOUR CLAY JOURNEY SHOP BOOK A CLASS BEGIN.
Brown is a member of many art organizations across the country, and has reached Master Status with the Oil Painters of America, American Impressionist Society and American Society of Marine Artists. When not traveling to paint or teach, he lives with his artist wife and their dog Rachel in Franklin, Tennessee and teaches in his home-based studio. Roger Dale Brown: is on view in the Crouch Gallery from January 6 to February 26. His , is available for purchase in Seasons: The Museum Store.
“I approach all my subjects as an abstract. When I look at a scene, I bring it down to its simplest forms.”
Roger Dale Brown Snow Shadows Oil on linen

Thomasa Ross

No one can ever accuse Thomasa Ross of sitting on the sidelines. As the new Chair of the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center Board of Trustees, Ross continues her longtime work of supporting the arts in Clarksville.

The military brought Ross and her family to town in 2011. After deciding to make the city their permanent home, she was drawn to become active in local arts advocacy and immediately began devoting her time to creative endeavors throughout the community. Her clear passion for the subject started early, which she attributes to her parents and high school art teacher.

“I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, and each summer my parents would plan a big trip for my brother and I to Little Rock,” she explained. “The trip always involved visiting the Little Rock Zoo and the local museum, and that was my favorite place to go. That is really where my passion for art grew. I couldn't wait to return to school in the fall to discuss all the beautiful works of art with my teacher.”

Naturally, that same generational zeal for the museum experience continues to be passed down. “My daughter is 15 now – when we moved here, she was four. I was brand new to the area, and I would take her to the Museum to visit the Bubble Cave on the weekends,” Ross mused. “I could never get her to leave that place!

The model trains were and still are a favorite of hers. To continue visiting with her now, that is very special to me as a parent.”

Ross’s holistic view of supporting the arts in Clarksville has been continually reinforced by just how much local creative opportunities have evolved over the last decade.

“As you drive around Clarksville, you can physically see how the arts community has progressed. There are more murals, more galleries, more programming and more art organizations –Clarksville is becoming a place that is recognized for its vibrant arts community.

“I love visiting the Museum and not only seeing beautiful and diverse exhibits, but learning about our regional history. I love attending First Thursday Art Walk and taking a self-guided tour of visual art and live music. I love having places such as DBO Gallery, the Downtown Artists Co-op, HUDUBAM Booktraders, Courtney's Creative Palette and River City Clay downtown. I love being able to attend exhilarating and spectacular performances by the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, the Cumberland Winds and the Roxy Regional Theatre without having to drive out of town. As our arts and culture community evolve, I look forward to Clarksville being identified as an artist hub not only in the state of Tennessee, but across the country.”

“As our arts and culture community evolve, I look forward to Clarksville being identified as an artist hub not only in the state of Tennessee, but across the country.”
Photo by Lucas Ryan Chambers Photo courtesy of Thomasa Ross

Ross has been a member of the Museum Board since 2018, when she was immediately selected as the Chair for the Collections and Exhibits Committee. Since then, she has also served as the Board’s Nominating Committee Chair and Vice Chair, on top of volunteering with the education department and assisting with other community outreach.

Outside of the Museum, Ross has served on the boards of the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council, the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, the Clarksville Community Concert Association and Austin Peay State University's Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, as well as on the Creative Arts Committee for the APSU Foundation.

Ross is taking the reins from Jamie Durrett, who has served as the Museum’s Board Chair since 2020. “Thomasa is a talented and dedicated leader in our community,” said Durrett. “She is a tremendous asset to the Customs House Museum Board and will be an excellent Board Chair. I look forward to seeing the great things she will accomplish in the future.”

As for the future? Ross is committed to reaching further into the city and the county to ensure that the arts are available to everyone.

“My hope is that we continue inspiring young people to become interested in art and history through community outreach and engaging programs,” Ross stated. “I’m so excited to continue the great work that’s being done at the Museum and to support programming that reaches our entire diverse population. The Museum is for everyone – it belongs to everyone in this city.”

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Photo courtesy of Thomasa Ross

Mt Olive Cemetery: YOU WON’T DIE TWICE

Mt Olive Cemetery is a monument to the success of Clarksville’s African American community. Those interred at Mt Olive rose from enslavement, volunteered in the U.S. military and became free Americans, serving the community with distinction. The cemetery connects Clarksville’s history to the development of African American institutions throughout the Reconstruction and Jim Crow periods and to its association with people of achievement within the African American community, who served as sources of pride and hope.

On the National Register of Historic Places since 2020, Mt Olive Cemetery is truly a treasure in Clarksville’s own backyard. The Mt Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society, started by Genevia Ann Bell, has formed valuable and important partnerships over the last two decades. The Society hopes for this space to be one that the Clarksville community, the state of Tennessee, the United States and the world can embrace and celebrate together in unity and solidarity.


At 7.24 acres, Mt Olive Cemetery is one of the largest African American burial grounds in Clarksville. Ground penetrating radar (GPR), conducted in 2005 by Dr. Robert Freedland of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, identified an estimated 900 graves. GPR was conducted again in 2010 by Dr. Daniel Frederick of Austin Peay State University and some of his students, which found an estimated 400 additional graves. Thus, a conservative approximation of the total interments at Mt Olive Cemetery is 1,350, considering that previous GPR did not survey all 7.24 acres of the cemetery. Nearly all those interred at Mt Olive were enslaved or were descendants of enslaved persons, and more than 90% of the graves are unmarked, with the known headstones ranging from rudimentary hand carvings to elaborate monuments. The first burial was James Hunt, who died September 8, 1817, and the last burial was Oscar Jasper Holmes, who died February 22, 1958.

The cemetery, tucked away amongst the trees off Cumberland Drive, was originally part of a 120-acre tract of land, which exchanged hands at least 10 times since 1880 without ever having an African American owner. Currently, 305 individuals interred at Mt Olive Cemetery have been identified: 273 civilians and 32 veterans. Thirty of the veterans were United States Colored Troops (USCT), one was a Buffalo Soldier and one served during World War II.


The 273 known civilians interred at Mt Olive Cemetery built Clarksville into the community it is today. The women buried there performed largely domestic labor, working as housekeepers, cooks, laundresses, teachers, midwives, nurses, tobacco sorters, dairy workers, hairdressers and hotel waitresses. Men labored mostly outside of the house, working as truck drivers, teamsters, shoemakers, barbers, carpenters, gardeners, farmers, painters, tailors, porters, ministers, tobacco laborers, butlers, miners, boot blacks, waggoneers, merchants, coopers, janitors, factory workers, plasterers and blacksmiths.

The average life expectancy of the citizens interred at Mt Olive was 47 years for the women and 42.7 years for the men. Nearly 20% of these individuals died before the age of 18 and more than 7% died before the age of one.


Of the 32 veterans interred at Mt Olive, the 30 USCT served in the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 59th and 101st regiments. The one Buffalo Soldier served in the 24th Infantry Regiment, and the WWII veteran served in the 25th Infantry Regiment. Headstones have been found for 27 of the 32 veterans.

Mt Olive Cemetery sits on 7.24 acres between Cumberland Drive and Rollins Road in Clarksville. Approximately 1,350 people are interred at this historic African American burial ground. Photo by Maegan Collins

TOP LEFT: Born into slavery, Martilla Frazier spent most of her life enslaved to Cave Johnson’s family, even traveling with him to Washington, D.C. when he was appointed Postmaster General under President James K. Polk. Martilla died on May 20, 1883 and her headstone states “Martilla Frazier: A Faithful Servant, The Johnsons’ Black Mammy.”

TOP MIDDLE: James Hunt is the first documented burial at Mt Olive Cemetery. His headstone, now in two pieces, reads “James Hunt - Died Sep 8 1817 - At Rest.”

TOP RIGHT: Oscar Jasper Holmes is the last known burial at Mt Olive Cemetery, having been laid to rest on February 27, 1958. Holmes lived on Peach Street with his wife Olivia and their four children. The small metal sign on the left was the original marker for his grave – in 2020, his current headstone was donated by the Mt Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society.

BELOW: Headstones have been found for 27 of the 32 veterans interred at Mt Olive Cemetery, each adorned with an American flag and veteran grave marker.

Fort Defiance was built by enslaved African American men prior to the Union takeover of Clarksville in 1862. Beginning in December 1863, a recruitment station was set up in the vicinity of Fort Defiance for the 16th USCT Regiment, where nearly 2,000 enlistments occurred. It is important to note that arriving to the fort could be full of struggle and peril, as Confederate guerillas had patrols set up around Clarksville to prevent enslaved men from reaching their destination.

The 101st USCT had their regimental headquarters in Clarksville at a home built by Robert West Humphries, later becoming the Howard D. Pettus House. This home and property were purchased by Austin Peay State College around 1967, and the building was razed to construct the Dunn Center, which opened in 1975. The 13th USCT played a pivotal role in the Union victory at the Battle of Nashville on December 16, 1864, effectively ending the war in Tennessee, albeit with catastrophic casualties.

By 1865, President Abraham Lincoln stated, “Without the help of the Black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.”


Mrs. Bell, a California native, was a Clarksville leader and activist. Earning her GED just prior to her 60th birthday, she then enrolled as a student at APSU. While working on a project at Mt Olive Cemetery for class, she immediately recognized its historical significance, and in 2004, she established the Mt Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society, a 501(c)(3) public nonprofit organization. She then convinced the City of Clarksville to accept the donation of the cemetery from its owners, Robert Davis and Mary Holt, with the proviso that the City quit-claim the property to the Society, which occurred June 9, 2005. On May 29, 2019, the Society honored Mrs. Bell’s memory with a bronze plaque at the cemetery.


Over the Society’s near 20-year existence, countless individuals, groups and organizations have offered their time, talents and treasures in order to further preserve and restore the cemetery, while remembering and honoring those interred. All of these people have helped advance the

GENEVIA ANN BELL: FOUNDER OF LEFT: Headstones at Mt Olive Cemetery range from rudimentary to ornate. This marker from 1892 resembles a tree stump, complete with stone flowers traveling up the side. Photo by Maegan Collins
The 273 known civilians interred at Mt Olive Cemetery built Clarksville into the community it is today.
Photos by Maegan Collins
Although those at Mt Olive Cemetery have physically passed away...we are keeping their memories alive and not allowing them to die twice.

ABOVE: Maggie Talley was born around 1883 to Abe and Annie Jackson in McAllisters Crossroads in Montgomery County. She was a highlyrespected teacher at the African American school for District 14, and passed away at age 37 due to pulmonary edema on February 17, 1920. She was buried three days later at Mt Olive, though no known headstone has been located at the cemetery.

Photographer unknown, ca. 1900 Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center

mission of the Society and are continuing our mantra of “You Won’t Die Twice.”

That is, although those at Mt Olive Cemetery have physically passed away, by cleaning their graves, saying their names and restoring and preserving the cemetery, we are keeping their memories alive and not allowing them to die twice. The Mt Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society honors and celebrates those buried here as often as possible through ceremonies, presentations, cemetery tours, cleanups, research and various other projects.

If there are individuals, groups or organizations interested in emphasizing the influence and contributions of African Americans regarding the history, education, development, growth and culture of the Clarksville area, then the Society invites you to join in our mission. @mtolivechps

LEFT: Genevia Ann Bell, community activist, established the Mt Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society in 2004. Photo by Maegan Collins

Behind the Scenes


The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center acts as steward for over 22,000 objects, ranging in size from large farm equipment to delicate military uniform regalia. For all collections, the most important concerns are limiting temperature and humidity fluctuations, reducing light exposure as much as possible and preventing the introduction of pests to organic collections. The Collections Curator determines a housing plan for each object based on the size, shape and material of the piece.

Smaller objects, such as the ones pictured here, are kept in customized, hermetically sealed cabinets fabricated to maintain environmental conditions to the highest degree possible. Shelves and drawers are first lined with specialized foam

sheets which absorb shock, reduce vibration and limit the objects movement within the cabinet. Like objects are often stored together in order to maximize space and facilitate research opportunities. Pieces like jewelry, which tend to get tangled or shift, are secured within a secondary housing created out of museumgrade materials. If more security is needed, PVC-free plastic bags are added as a final safety mechanism.

The introduction of man-made materials is heavily regulated due to the long-term damage these materials pose for museum collections. For this reason, adhesives are rarely used in collections storage and never come in contact with the piece itself. These concerns determine storage decisions as well. Man-made rubbers and plastics will release chemicals in vapor form through a process called “off-gassing.” This happens

most when the product is new, but can continue for years. If you have ever noticed the smell of a recently painted room or a new pair of tennis shoes, you have noticed off-gassing! These acidic gasses contribute to the degradation of objects in close proximity, and if stored improperly, will hasten degradation of the offgassing object.

Many of these environmental effects take years before the changes are noticeable to the naked eye, but are often irreversible. In the focus of prevention over repair, collections staff carefully consider each piece as an individual, and as an element of the collection, when determining how best to care for and store each object. collections/explore-the-collections

Have you ever wondered how museums store their collections?
Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural

Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts was not expecting to receive a letter from the United States Maritime Administration in his mailbox last May.

The Administration, responsible for operating the U.S. Maritime Service and the U.S. Merchant Marine, was in possession of the builder’s hull plate from a World War II vessel – the SS Clarksville Victory. They wanted to get in touch with the namesake city to arrange a donation of the artifact.

The plate, much like an architect’s plaque on a building, features the ship’s location and company of manufacture, along with the hull number and launch date. It is the only remaining piece of this Victory ship, which was sold overseas for scrap nearly thirty years ago.

As one of the newest acquisitions to the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center collections, the donation has brought this piece of local history back to life, inspiring new interest in its connection to the city of Clarksville, the role Victory ships played in the war and the perils faced by the “seagoing cowboys” in its aftermath.


As war raged in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was reluctant to join the war effort and searching for ways to provide aid to Great Britain. With the passing of the Merchant Marine Act in 1936, Congress created the U.S. Maritime Commission, responsible for the oversight of a “naval and military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency.”

The original goal was to produce 50 ships a year for 10 years, but by 1939, it was evident that this would not provide adequate support to allies in Europe. The Maritime Commission ramped up production, and in a few years, American shipyards had built nearly 6,000 cargo ships. “Liberty” ships, built as a boon for the European war effort, comprised a little less than half of this new fleet.

After the United States entered the war in 1941, German submarines enacted losses that the U.S. struggled to outpace. The Maritime Commission once again expanded the shipbuilding program, endeavoring to create ships capable of carrying the large quantities of supplies needed in Europe at a speed that would allow them to outrun German U-boats. These vessels were coined “Victory” ships. Both Liberty and Victory ships carried cargo and troops, and served as fuel tankers, hospitals and prisoner transport. While the Liberty ships were designed to be the dependable workhorse of the war, Victory ships, with their speed and carrying power, would continue to be used after the war as part of the regular merchant fleet. The Maritime Commission built 531 Victory vessels during the course of the war – the greatest ship-building program in American history.


Victory ships were 455 feet long, 62 feet wide and, thanks to their faster steam turbine engines producing 8,500 horsepower, could sail at a speed of 15-17 knots. The five cargo holds and living quarters would transport 4,555 net tons of cargo and passengers, including 62 civilian merchant sailors and 28 naval personnel to operate defensive guns and communications equipment. Built in one of seven shipyards in the United States, Victory ships were either crafted in California, Washington, Oregon or Maryland. After the inaugural SS United Victory, subsequent cargo ships were named after member countries of the United Nations, followed by cities and colleges across the United States.


The SS Clarksville Victory was built at the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland in 1945. It was the first ship of its type to be named for a Tennessee town, and for this illustrious honor, clubs and citizens of Clarksville volunteered to stock the ship’s library. In a matter of months, 160 books were donated or purchased. It is unclear exactly why Clarksville was chosen for this particular distinction.

On January 30, Mayor William Kleeman and his family traveled to Baltimore for the christening of the SS Clarksville Victory. Mayor Kleeman’s daughter, Anne, served as the sponsor of the ship. His son, Bill, remembers that day quite well.

“It was impressive, with the big ship and so forth. I do remember that it was very cold, because it was January in Baltimore,” said Kleeman. “I was about the same age that my grandson is now, about 13 years old. I was very much in the background... I think my sister was very excited about it.”

Anne was a student at Sweet Briar College in Virginia at the time, meeting her family as they traveled to Baltimore by train for the christening. "She had to hit the ship twice – the first time it didn’t break! The ship had started moving down, and they told her, real quick: ‘hit it again!’”

With the crack of that silk-shrouded champagne bottle – which is currently preserved in the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s collections – the SS Clarksville Victory set off into the Atlantic, on its way to provide much-needed supplies to war-torn Europe.

Mayor Kleeman was an old friend of then-Vice President Harry Truman, as the two men served together during World War I in the 129th Field Artillery, 35th Division. The pair would often take trips out west to Tiptonville, Tennessee to


Photographer unknown, ca. 1945

Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center

BOTTOM LEFT: Men and women from all walks of life constructed ships in Baltimore’s Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, which was owned by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation and operated from 1941 to 1945.

Photographer unknown, ca. 1945

Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center

The Maritime Commission built 531 Victory vessels during the course of the war – the greatest ship-building program in American history.
LEFT: Victory ships were designed to be faster and more durable than their predecessors, Liberty ships. Over 500 Victory ships were built between 1944 and 1946 across shipyards in California, Washington, Oregon and Maryland.
It was the first ship of its type to be named for a Tennessee town, and for this illustrious honor, clubs and citizens of Clarksville volunteered to stock the ship’s library.
BELOW: Mayor William Kleeman's daughter Anne christens the SS Clarksville Victory with a silk-shrouded champagne bottle in Baltimore, MD. Photographer unknown, January 30, 1945 Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center ABOVE: Bill Kleeman Jr. (front left) and his sister Anne (front right) pose with family at the launch of the SS Clarksville Victory. Photographer unknown, January 30, 1945 Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center BELOW: "Back from France." Officers from the 129th Field Artillery, April 1919. First row, second from left: Harry S. Truman. Back row, third from right: William Kleeman. Photo Div. Post Exchange, Camp Mills, NY Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center ABOVE: President Harry Truman smiles at longtime friend, Clarksville Mayor William Kleeman (bottom left), before boarding a military plane. Photographer unknown, ca. 1950 Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center

go fishing and waterfowl hunting in Reelfoot Lake. On October 8, 1945, Truman even held a press conference on the porch of Linda Lodge on Reelfoot Lake to share that the United States intended to keep the secret of the atomic bomb to itself.

Truman assumed the presidency after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, a few months after the launch of the Clarksville Victory. Bill Kleeman recalls Truman’s sense of humor and has memories of visiting the White House and running through Air Force One as a child. “He told me that my dad was about my size when he served with him,” Kleeman remembered with a laugh. As far as we know, the friendship between Truman and Kleeman did not have any direct connection to the naming of the ship.


Departing United States docks 12 times during its lifetime, the Clarksville provided wartime assistance and post-war recovery missions. It was one of 73 ships to participate in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s missions aimed at jumpstarting post-war rehabilitation efforts. This

Ships like the Clarksville Victory helped Europe and its citizens rebuild from the catastrophic destruction of World War II.
Bill Kleeman Jr. stands with the Museum’s photographs and artifacts from the SS Clarksville Victory, 77 years after he attended the ship’s launch in 1945. Photo by Maegan Collins

included supplying an initial 742 horses to Danzig, Poland, in an effort replace livestock killed during the war, contributing a total of a quarter of a million animals to European citizens struggling to rebuild. It entered the James River Reserve Fleet on January 16, 1948 and was finally sold for scrap on December 9, 1993.

While hundreds of Victory ships were built during the war effort, only three remain intact. The SS American Victory in Tampa, Florida, the SS Lane Victory in Los Angeles, California, and the SS Red Oak Victory in Richmond, California now all stand as floating museums. These pieces of living history recognize the contributions of those who built, sailed and staffed Victory ships from coast to coast.

Recent efforts by the U.S. Maritime Administration to donate artifacts from various Liberty and Victory ships to their namesake locations have reinvigorated local interest in these floating historical vessels. In addition to the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s newest acquisition, the bell from the SS Battle Creek Victory has found its home back in Michigan at the Battle Creek Regional History Museum and the city of Carroll, Iowa was recently gifted the builder’s hull plate of the SS Carroll Victory, launched in 1944.

Despite its decommission, the SS Clarksville Victory left an immutable mark on history. Ships like the Clarksville Victory helped Europe and its citizens rebuild from the catastrophic destruction of World War II. By continuing to tell its story, we preserve and honor the efforts of civilian and military personnel in our community. collections/ explore-the-collections

The builder’s hull plate for the SS Clarksville Victory joins the christening bottle and its commemorative case in the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s collections. The plate contains important information about the boat, including its name, the shipyard where it was built and when it began its service.

Photo by Maegan Collins ABOVE: Status cards for the SS Clarksville Victory chronicle each trip the vessel took from a U.S. port between its launch in 1945 to its sale for scrap in 1993. Courtesy of the United States Maritime Administration

The Seagoing Cowboys of the SS Clarksville Victory

The SS Clarksville Victory provided the “trip of a lifetime” for 224 men from across the country in the aftermath of World War II. The ship was one of 73 vessels run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) that transported livestock to Europe and China to help devastated allied countries rebuild. Over the course of less than two years, the UNRRA transported 300,000 animals across the oceans – mostly horses, heifers and mules. These animals needed men to feed, bed and watch over them in transit. The UNRRA hired the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren (BSC) to recruit these livestock tenders. In return, the UNRRA agreed to include some of BSC’s Heifer Project animals in their shipments, free of charge. The livestock tenders soon became known as “seagoing cowboys.”

The seagoing cowboys had to join the United States Merchant Marine to work on a merchant ship. Their classification: “cattleman.” For their service, the Merchant Marine paid them one cent per month – simply a token to make them legal workers. The UNRRA, however, paid them $150 per trip.

Life at sea proved to be challenging for most of these landlubbers. Some adapted to the rolling of the ship... some didn’t, and ended up “feeding the fish” multiple times. Nevertheless, work

TOP ABOVE: Seagoing cowboys of the SS Clarksville Victory explore the ruined city of Gdańsk, Poland, December 1945.

Courtesy of Peggy Reiff Miller, from the album of J. O. Yoder

TOP BELOW: Members of the seagoing cowboy crew of the SS Clarksville Victory on their way home from Poland, January 1946.

Courtesy of Peggy Reiff Miller, from the album of Nelson Schumacher

TOP RIGHT: Seagoing cowboys relax on hay bales on the deck of the SS Clarksville Victory on their way to Greece, February 1946.

Courtesy of Peggy Reiff Miller, from the album of Olen Schrock

From December 12, 1945, through February 1947, the Clarksville Victory made seven trips for the UNRRA. The ship transported 3,725 horses, 776 mules and 794 head of cattle to Poland and Greece. Each trip required 32 seagoing cowboys. Nearly 7,000 men and boys from all walks of life, ages 16 to 72, served the UNRRA as seagoing cowboys over its lifespan. Of that number, 224 found the Clarksville Victory their home for six weeks or longer. Some signed up for adventure, others to do something positive after the war.

had to be done, in often smelly holds. Storms at sea added further challenges, and the danger of leftover mines lurked in European waterways. Sighting land in Europe brought relief and anticipation of shore leave once the animals were offloaded.

In Greece, the cowboys could explore various Greek antiquities, like the Parthenon or the ruins of Philippi, depending where the ship docked. Those who went to Poland had a more sobering experience. They saw some of the worst damage of World War II in the city of

The ship transported 3,725 horses, 776 mules and 794 head of cattle to Poland and Greece.

Gdańsk, which was over 90% destroyed. They explored battlefields, witnessed evidence of horrible Nazi atrocities and interacted with destitute survivors trying to sell the cowboys whatever they had left of any value.

The SS Clarksville Victory delivered hope to these devastated people. Its livestock trips also changed the lives of many seagoing cowboys. Clarksville Victory cowboy Robert Epp said, “The trip exposed me to the realities of war in a way that we couldn’t imagine without seeing it.” Many cowboys came home with a new purpose in life – to do all they could for peace in the world and the betterment of humankind. And many of them did.

Peggy Reiff Miller is the author of the children's picture book The Seagoing Cowboy (Brethren Press, 2016) and a blog at She has been researching, writing and speaking about the history of the seagoing cowboys for the past 20 years. She resides with her husband Rex in Englewood, Ohio. This spring, Miller will bring her expertise on this subject as a guest lecturer at the

Museum & Cultural Center.

Customs House
The “unshaved fellows” of the crew pose for a photo on their way home from Poland. Courtesy of Peggy Reiff Miller, from the album of Paul Bucher
Downtown Clarksville
A seagoing cowboy en route to Greece poses in front of the horses he feeds and waters on the deck of the SS Clarksville Victory, February 1946. Courtesy of Peggy Reiff Miller, from the album of Olen Schrock

The mid-1950s to mid-1960s saw the launches of three Burt High School athletic stars who followed different trajectories to reach widespread recognition, admiration and respect.

Established in 1923, the all-Black school was the namesake of Dr. Robert Tecumseh Burt – among Clarksville’s most notable, benevolent and beloved citizens. Dr. Burt was an African American physician who founded the Home Infirmary in 1906 as Clarksville’s

L.M. Ellis & the Burt High Trifecta

first and only hospital. The Burt High School Tigers, donning black and gold uniforms, were known throughout Tennessee – and ultimately, the world –for success in multiple sports. These teams became the springboard for barrier-breaking athletes like Wilma Rudolph and L.M. Ellis.

After the desegregation of Montgomery County public schools, Burt High was closed in 1970 with its students integrating into three other local high schools. The school building is in use today as Burt Elementary School on Bailey Street contiguous to the Austin

Peay State University campus. If only Burt High’s hallways, classrooms and gymnasium could tell stories of all the notable athletic achievements that took place on the premises!

L.M. Ellis played center on Burt’s 1961 State and National Negro High School Championship basketball team, and later became the first Black basketball scholarship signee and player in the Ohio Valley Conference at Austin Peay. This trailblazing man with a deep but gentle voice, giving spirit and wide smile made history, changing the game of basketball in Clarksville and beyond.

L.M. Ellis drives for an open shot for Austin Peay’s Governors. Courtesy of the Ellis Family and Goodwin Productions


L.M. Ellis’ ancestors lived in Stewart County, but eventually migrated just east to Montgomery County. His father, L.M. Ellis Sr., and mother, Sadie Stewart Ellis, were farmers in the Woodlawn community where L.M. was born. Mr. and Mrs. Ellis sold the family's 44 acres for $1,400 when little L.M. Jr. was six years old… $700 to pay off debt and $700 to buy a home on Ford Street in Clarksville. Today, Ford Street is the eastern-most boundary of Austin Peay’s campus.

Future Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph was about three years older than L.M. when the Ellis family arrived on Ford Street.

“Wilma’s family lived just a few doors away on St. John’s Street,” recalled L.M. in a recorded interview. “Us neighborhood kids called her dad [Ed Rudolph] ‘Papa Ed.’ They had an old shed with a peach basket hanging on it, which was our basketball goal. Wilma taught us a lot about the game… and she would always beat the boys.”

“We always had a great friendship,” said L.M. of his relationship with Wilma.


L.M. and his Tiger teammates achieved notable success during his three varsity seasons (1958-1961). Playing center during Burt High’s magical 1961 basketball run under Coach Davey Whitney, L.M. was named to both the State and National Negro High School All-Tournament Teams.

“In addition to learning finer points of the game, including teamwork, Coach Whitney was a strong disciplinarian,” remembered Ellis. “He and his wife

Bernice taught us to shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye. They taught us to be responsible young men with self-pride. Coach didn’t allow any thugs or bad influences around our team. We wore dress jackets with buttoned shirts with ties on the road. He gave us mental toughness to survive and succeed in life after basketball.”

After Burt High’s basketball success, L.M. was contacted by multiple colleges and universities which invited the Burt High senior to consider casting his lot with them. L.M. ultimately chose Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference –considered at that time among the nation’s elite basketball leagues. Due to NCAA rules of that era, freshmen were required to play exclusively on a school’s freshman team.

L.M.’s freshman year at Drake was successful in that he averaged 14 points per game. That spring, L.M. attended the Drake Relays, a notable track and field event, where he ran into Wilma Rudolph. By that time, Wilma was attending the all-male relays as an Olympic Gold Medalist.

“Wilma introduced me to a lady during the Drake Relays who would later become my wife,” recalled L.M.

This trailblazing man with a deep but gentle voice, giving spirit and wide smile made history, changing the game of basketball in Clarksville and beyond.
Burt High School Tigers 1961 State and National Negro High School Championship Team. FROM LEFT: Front Row – Ed Brown, Charles Manson, Charles Gray, Ken Hughes. Back Row – Coach Davey Whitney, Cleotus Dinkins, Tommy Gray, L.M. Ellis, Willie Roach, Leroy Brown, Lester Barker. Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center L.M. Ellis – with his father, L.M. Ellis Sr. – lived on a farm in the Woodlawn area of Montgomery County before the Ellis family moved into Clarksville, near Austin Peay’s campus. Courtesy of the Ellis Family

L.M. began his sophomore year on the Drake Bulldogs’ varsity team. However, he became disappointed with the team’s relatively slow, methodical style of play and desired to transfer to his hometown Austin Peay State College. Drake University consented to L.M.’s transfer request and L.M. signed with APSC on Jan. 8, 1963. Under NCAA transfer rules, he would not be eligible to compete at APSC until Jan. 9, 1964.


The 1963-64 season was the first for the Austin Peay Governors in the NCAA Division I Ohio Valley Conference. The other “big first” for APSC was signing L.M. Ellis, the first Black basketball scholarship athlete in OVC history. By contrast, Perry Wallace of Vanderbilt University became the Southeastern Conference’s first Black basketball scholarship athlete three years later, in 1967.

The other “big first” for APSC was signing L.M. Ellis, the first Black basketball scholarship athlete in OVC history.
RIGHT: 1963-64 was Austin Peay State College’s first year in the NCAA Division I OVC with L.M. Ellis as the first Black scholarship basketball player in league history. Govs captain Steve Miller (front row, center) along with his wife June became close with L.M. and supported his smooth transition as a student-athlete at APSC. Courtesy of APSU Athletics

L.M. Ellis’ arrival was a timely and fortunate roster addition for firstyear Govs head basketball coach George Fisher. Ellis was eligible for all but two OVC games. APSC needed a strong rebounder and Ellis delivered on his potential, grabbing a team-leading 10.5 rebounds per game, plus team fourth best 9.3 points per game. The Governors surprised their new OVC rivals with a 14-9 overall and 7-7 won-loss record in the competitive OVC. Fisher was named OVC Coach of the Year.

Steve Miller, a senior from Louisville, Kentucky, was the 1963-64 team captain. Steve married June Fearneyhough, his high school sweetheart, in August 1963. He was the most settled player on the team and his maturity, leadership and playing ability were essential to this team’s chemistry and success.

“We had a terrific team environment, and L.M. was completely accepted by his teammates,” said Miller. “By transferring from Drake, L.M. had the 1963 spring and fall semesters to practice, allowing him to bond with his teammates before becoming eligible to play in games.”

Miller added, “Our team was tight-knit, and we had each other’s backs. If we were on a road trip and a restaurant would not allow a Black player to be seated, Coach Fisher moved us down the road until we found an eatery that would serve every one of us.”

That first OVC team organized 25- and 45-year reunions. “I am extremely proud that every player showed up for both reunions, which was significantly important and underscored a long-term respect and commitment to each other,” said Miller.

L.M. Ellis remained loyal to both of his Alma Maters – Burt High and Austin Peay. He was generous with both his presence and financial support. His number “45” is one of only six in men’s basketball annals to be permanently retired. He was inducted into the APSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990 and the prestigious Red Coat Society in 2020 for his long-time support of APSU Athletics.

The U.S. Army veteran spent several decades as a regional supervisor with J.C. Penney and later founded the Ellis Consulting Group Inc. L.M. died in Clarksville June 1, 2022. He was married four times and was the father of three children, three stepchildren and 13 grandchildren. His oldest child, Yvetta Denise Johnson (née Ellis) was born May 27, 1961, the day he received his diploma from Burt High School – L.M. walked straight from graduation to Clarksville Memorial Hospital that day. L.M. was survived by his wife Mary and faithful dog Boney, named after his Burt teammate and lifelong best friend Tommy “Boney” Gray.

Learn more about this Clarksville legend in the documentary L.M. Ellis: There’s Only One First by Goodwin Productions, available on CDE Lightband’s Clarksville Community Network.

L.M. Ellis remained loyal to both of his Alma Maters – Burt High and Austin Peay.
L.M. Ellis prepares for a free throw at the packed Memorial Gymnasium (a.k.a. “Little Red Barn”). Courtesy of the Ellis Family and Goodwin Productions LEFT: In February 2022, L.M. Ellis became one of only 10 Austin Peay Governors to have their jersey “retired.” He was joined by his wife Mary and APSU President Dr. Michael Licari at half court of APSU’s Dunn Center for his jersey retirement ceremony. Courtesy of APSU Athletics / Photo by Robert Smith


Montgomery County’s educational, social and athletic history. The lives of these accomplished and much-loved athletes were entwined during the “Black and Golden” era of 1954-1961.

L.M. Ellis (1943-2022)


L.M. Ellis was a high achiever among over-achievers for the Burt High boys basketball team when the Tigers won both the 1961 Tennessee and National Negro High School Basketball Championships, coached by Davey Whitney. L.M.’s basketball experiences and Coach Whitney’s influence prepared him for success at the next level of the game as a college player... and also for a life well-lived.

LEFT: Tommy “Boney” Gray (left) and L.M. Ellis led the 1960-61 Burt Tigers to the Tennessee and National Negro High School Basketball Championships. The two teammates and lifelong best friends were named to both the State and National All-Tournament Teams. Courtesy of the Ellis Family

RIGHT: L.M. Ellis’ 1961 National High School Championship jacket on display at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center. Courtesy of Goodwin Productions

Wilma Glodean Rudolph (1940-1994)

With the persistent, strenuous and loving efforts of her mother Blanche, Wilma overcame serious infantile leg paralysis, scarlet fever and other illnesses. She shed her leg braces by the time she was 12, and remarkably became a Burt High track and basketball star by age 14, named to the state Negro High School All-Tournament team twice. “Skeeter” Rudolph set multiple Tennessee and National AAU track records in the 50- to 200-yard sprint categories and as anchor of sprint relay teams. At 16, Wilma won a Bronze Medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and a record-setting three Gold Medals in the 1960 Rome Olympics. She became arguably the most internationally famous and praised female athlete of that time, and a hometown hero as the most famous resident ever to hail from Clarksville.

TOP: Wilma Rudolph (holding basketball) was a four-year basketball star at Burt. In those seasons, the Tigerettes never finished below third place in the Tennessee Negro High School Basketball Tournament, winning the title in 1957. She was named All-Tournament twice. Courtesy of Joseph B. Roberts / Burt High School Reunion Association

BOTTOM: Wilma Rudolph blazed to three Gold Medals in the 1960 Rome Olympic games… the first female to accomplish this feat. Courtesy of Kasper2006, Wikimedia Commons

Davey Lee Whitney, Sr. (1930-2015)

After being an acclaimed four-sport star at Kentucky State University and then playing for three seasons in the Negro American Baseball League for the renowned Kansas City Monarchs, Whitney headed to Clarksville’s Burt High in 1954 for his first head basketball coaching job, winning over 200 games in 10 seasons. Whitney’s success with the Burt High teams propelled him into his revered career of college head coaching at Texas Southern and Alcorn State that spanned 32 years while amassing a rare 500+ wins. Whitney was known as a mentor to his players, and “The Wiz” to the basketball world.

LEFT: L.M. Ellis poses with his daughter, Yvetta Denise Johnson, and Coach Davey Whitney at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center, ca. 2011. Courtesy of Billy Lampkin

RIGHT: Davey Whitney, who coached the Burt High School Tigers to over 200 victories in 10 seasons, talks game strategy with (from left) Lawrence Young, Euless Pettus Jr. and Robert “Red” Warfield. Courtesy of Joseph B. Roberts / Burt High School Reunion Association

Scan the QR code for more details of the extraordinary accomplishments of these Burt High School Black and Gold Stars.

School holds a prominent place in
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Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo HAPPY NEW YEAR BLESSINGS

The Korean New Year is called Seollal, the first day in the Korean lunar calendar. Seollal is one of the biggest holidays in Korea, and the celebration is typically three days long. Seollal is an important family holiday when we can come together to share stories, perform ancestral rituals, eat traditional foods, play folk games and more.

An essential part of the holiday is the charye, a ritual to receive blessings from our ancestors. Relatives gather at the house of the oldest male in the family, where preparing a large amount of food is a major task. Growing up in Seoul, my sisters and I had to help my mom prepare the meal. We did not like the chore then, but now, as I remember it, it was a happy time... spending time with my mom and learning how to cook holiday food.

I especially enjoyed eating Seollal foods like tteokguk, a sliced rice cake soup. The meal marks the passing of the previous year, with its warm broth bringing comfort and prosperity into the next. After charye and the family meal, children do a traditional sebae bow to their parents and elders of the family by kneeling and putting their hands on the ground. When bowing to elders, they say Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo, which means “Have lots of luck in the New Year.” The elders respond with blessings to the children, then typically reward them with a small gift of money called sebaetdon to deliver them luck.

For children, receiving sebaetdon is an exciting part of Seollal. I was so envious of my friends who had many relatives, as Seollal is the day when kids can earn a hefty allowance. Even the fussiest child will decide to be cute –

say “Grandma, Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo” with fluttering eyelashes and a charming smile. Sebaetdon is often given inside an envelope, but traditionally, it was given inside a colorful silk pouch called bok jumeoni, which means “lucky pouch.” Bok jumeoni is made with vibrant silk or cotton fabric and embroidered with a letter wishing good fortune. It is believed that wearing bok jumeoni full of grains wrapped with red paper brings good luck.

My childhood memories of Seollal are full of color. I liked peering through my window, watching people in the street on their way to visit relatives wearing hanbok, Korean traditional clothing. I loved that colorful silk pouch hanging at their side. It was beautiful in view... likewise, it had a cash gift! How could I not love that, even when my bok jumeoni was not as full as those of my friends? To me, the pouch looked like a fruit – a fruit you pick to fill yourself with luck and happiness.

As an artist who now calls Clarksville home, I try to embrace my Korean cultural heritage in my work. While sketching an idea for a New Year’s painting, I remembered my childhood impressions of Seollal. Inspired by those memories, I painted


bok jumeoni hanging in a tree, standing on a snowy watercolor field, and titled it Lucky Fruit

The pouch features the saekdong pattern, which includes colorful stripes created by patchwork, usually using the dynamic colors of blue, green, yellow, white and black. I love the saekdong colors. They are traditional, but also modern and contemporary. I painted the saekdong pouch to wish people a vibrant new year. My painting Happy New Year uses a traditional Korean patchwork quilt pattern and colors with a New Year blessing in the Korean language at the center. I celebrate Korean nature with the mountain, river and New Year’s rising sun.

This year, Seollal falls on January 22 and it is the year of the rabbit – a year of luck and courage. Cheers to a radiant and joyful year, even with the challenges in our daily lives.

Pick and enjoy the lucky fruit as much as you can! Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo!


Yi Happy New Year Watercolor on paper
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Over 360 feet of track 800+ rolling stock 25 interactive push buttons 5 trains running simultaneously 113 steam and diesel engines 13 ft x 36 ft O gauge layout O, HO & G scales on display The Huff & Puff Express Model Trains run on one of the largest model railroad layouts in the region. Each season features new scenery and train cars – see something new each visit! Enjoy the model trains, included with membership or admission! Sundays 1-4 pm Wednesdays 10 am - 12 pm Fridays 10 am - 12 pm Last Saturday of Each Month 1-4 pm 200 S. Second Street Clarksville, TN 37040
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