Hollywood, Homosexuality, Pop Culture, Travel

Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016~~~ PART III

127 yard sale part III photo

Original publish date:  August 29, 2016

Over the past two weeks, I have shared with you tips and stories about the Highway 127 yard sale that takes place the first week of August and spans 690 miles through six states. Although we found many exciting and interesting items to add to our ever mounting number of side collections, it was one item in particular that came as a surprise.
At one of the tent cities near Liberty, Kentucky my wife and I encountered a dealer that we could hear before we could see. It was still fairly early in the day and I guess since the crowds were sparse, this seller decided the best way to drum up business was to bellow like a carnival barker to any prospective buyer that came within earshot. He looked like Burl Ives’ version of Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: large boned, bald-headed and wearing a white tank-top t-shirt, suspenders, dress slacks and wing tip shoes.
Amid the blusterous, braggadocio, and bombastic rhetoric the seller was hurling our general direction, my wife Rhonda pulled out a typed letter from a paper filled drag box. A “drag box” is a term we use to describe a large wooden box of great length and width but of shallow depth. Usually, these boxes contain castoffs and quick sale items or varying size and category. In short, you never know what you might find in one. Usually you are guaranteed to come away with nothing more than dirty hands but in this instance Rhonda picked up the one thing that seller was most proud of.

louise 1931
Louise Brooks & Dante 1931.

As she held it in her hands, the seller barked “Read it! Read it! There’s some really wild stuff in there!” Rhonda perused the letter, smiled politely at the dealer and handed it to me. Dated July 20, 1963 from Rochester, New York, the letter was signed at the conclusion in red eye-liner pencil by a name vaguely familiar to me but one that I didn’t immediately recognize: Louise Brooks. As I scanned the document I agreed that it indeed lived up to the dealer’s hype. I bought the letter.
Here it is so that you may read it verbatim as I did. ” “7 North Goodman Rochester 7, N.Y. 20 July 1963. Dear Paul-It was nice talking “at” you the other night. I hope I didn’t go on too interminably. There has never been a community where I was accepted but always there were people who could teach me things. Living here in Rochester, I am compelled to be exclusively autodidactic. When I make an occasion contact with someone of your intelligence, or Herman’s, I have atendency (sic) to carry on. I thought a great deal about our conversation and I am thinking of writing a short romantic story, in the fashion of CAMILLE. I was putting it off for years. Then I re-read Tolstoy and weighed your comments carefully. You see, I didn’t think that I could write a man. But following Tolstoy’s example, I willdo (sic) the reverse and simply put my own feelings into a man. The CAMILLE style seems right because it was about a tramp and a bum: myself and George Marshall fit that description famously.”
The letter continues: “Yes, I did read LOLITA and I don’t think he is that obvious. Having been one, of course, I should know. Do you recall that Lolita was Lita Grey’s read name? And I am not so harsh as you are in my opinion of Elizabeth Taylor. She is not much of an actress, but then nothing much has been demanded of her. The day of reckoning will come, I think, when she will have to admit that she invented the idea of Richard Burton as a matchless actor cum great intellectual. The truth is, of course, that he is a boring actor, a pompous ass, and an ugly peasant who has used her egregiously. I can’t wait for your visit. We will do the town (ha!) and order rare prime rib at the Rio Bamba, which is to Rochester what Ciro’s used to be to Lotus Land. Bring a lot of money or a credit card. I have never been a cheap date. Louise Brooks” Ms. Brooks obviously typed the letter herself, which somehow made it cooler still.

1920s Louise Brooks (67)
Louise Brooks. The Original Flapper Girl.

After I left the road and 90+ degree heat, I remembered who this woman was. Why, that’s Louise Brooks, Hollywood’s original flapper girl! When I googled her image, her 1922 high school Sophomore yearbook photo popped up. Right then, I knew I was writing an article. (See the photo above) One look at that photo, and you KNOW what the letter confirms: this was one interesting lady!
Mary Louise Brooks was born in Cherryvale, Kansas on November 14, 1906. Her life would prove to be as conflicted as the region of her birth. Despite its bucolic name, Cherryvale rests not far from the Oklahoma border. Bonnie & Clyde, Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Dalton Gang and Belle Starr are but a few of the region’s exports. However, the area is also home to Little House on the Prairie, Vivian Vance of I Love Lucy fame and Harry S Truman. She would carry that enigmatic regional reputation around with her for the rest of her life.
f990f1a9af1b79b84d5bf7ec26439b77Beginning in 1925, she starred in seventeen silent films and eight ‘talkies’ before retiring in 1938. She would forever be remembered as the iconic symbol of the flapper, and for popularizing the short ‘Bob’ haircut. Google Louise Brooks’ images and you will see why. In short, she was gorgeous at a time when classic Hollywood photographers were at their peak.
Born to an absent, disinterested lawyer father and an artistic mother who declared that any “squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves”, she was pretty much left to her own devices from the start. When she was 9 years old, a neighborhood predator sexually abused Louise, which influenced her life and career. Years later, she cited the incident as making her incapable of real love by stating that it “had a great deal to do with forming my attitude toward sexual pleasure….For me, nice, soft, easy men were never enough – there had to be an element of domination”. Years later, when the incident was revealed to her parents, her mother suggested that it was Louise’s fault for “leading him on”.
8153079034_502c9a9e0d_bBrooks began her career in 1922 as a dancer, joining the legendary Denishawn modern dance company in L.A., whose members included founders Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, as well as a young Martha Graham. Her perceived closeness to Shawn (husband of Ruth St. Denis) got her booted from the troupe. Thanks to her friend Barbara Bennett (sister of Constance and Joan), Brooks almost immediately found employment as a chorus girl in George White’s Scandals and as a featured dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. From there, her career caught fire.
Paramount Pictures signed her to a five-year contract in 1925. There she caught the eye of Charlie Chaplin and the two had an affair that lasted all summer. Soon, she was playing the female lead in silent comedies alongside luminaries like Adolphe Menjou and W. C. Fields. She made the transition to “talkies” with ease and the roles kept coming. By then, she was a Hollywood A-lister and a regular guest of William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, at San Simeon.
More importantly, her distinctive bob “pageboy” haircut, worn by Brooks since childhood, helped start a trend that lasts to this day. She refused to play the Hollywood Studio game and after her 5-year contract with Paramount ran out, she left after being denied a promised raise. Choosing instead to leave for Europe to make films. Her rebellious stand against the studio system placed her on an unofficial Tinseltown blacklist for the next 30 years. She would make only 6 more films, mostly ignored by critics and audiences, over the next 7 years. Job offers slowed to a crawl.
Ever the rebel, Brooks turned down the female lead alongside James Cagney in the 1931 film The Public Enemy. The part went to Jean Harlow, which launched her career to stardom and Hollywood immortality. Turning down Public Enemy marked the end of Louise Brooks’s film career. Brooks declared bankruptcy in 1932 and began dancing in nightclubs to earn a living. She attempted a comeback in 1936 with bit parts in B-westerns. Her last hurrah came as the lead opposite John Wayne in the 1938 film Overland Stage Raiders. Her long hairstyle in that film made her all but unrecognizable from her flapper days.
Brooks then briefly returned to her middle America roots, but didn’t stay long. “That turned out to be another kind of hell,” she said. “The citizens either resented me having been a success or despised me for being a failure. And I wasn’t exactly enchanted with them. I must confess to a lifelong curse: My own failure as a social creature.”

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After briefly trying her hand at operating a dance studio, she returned East and found work as a radio actor, a gossip columnist, and even worked as a salesgirl at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City for a few years. Ultimately, she turned to a life as a courtesan with a few select wealthy men as clients. She claimed, “I found that the only well-paying career open to me, as an unsuccessful actress of thirty-six, was that of a call girl … and (I) began to flirt with the fancies related to little bottles filled with yellow sleeping pills.”
Brooks, a heavy drinker since age 14, sobered up and began a reasonably successful second career writing about film. Her first project, an autobiographical novel called Naked on My Goat (a title taken from Goethe’s Faust) began her trek on a path that would supply tons of juicy material and outrageous insights for future generations to devour. She was notoriously cheap for most of her life, although kind and generous (almost to a fault) with her friends. Those qualities shine through in the letter we found in the hills of Kentucky on the 127; a place I’m sure Ms. Brooks never could have dreamed it would land.
louise-brooks-110Despite French film historians proclaiming Brooks skill surpassing Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo as a film icon, she lived in relative obscurity for years in New York City and Rochester, N.Y. Despite her two marriages, she never had children, referring to herself as “Barren Brooks”. Her many lovers once included a young William S. Paley, the founder of CBS along with a veritable who’s who of Hollywood leading men and women.
Lulu-in-Berlin--550x412By her own admission, Brooks was a sexually liberated woman, not afraid to experiment, even posing fully nude for art photography in her golden years. Brooks enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, cultivating friendships with lesbian and bisexual women. She admitted to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night stand with Greta Garbo. She later described Garbo as masculine but a “charming and tender lover”.
Louise Brooks identified herself as neither lesbian nor bisexual. Shortly before her death, she opined : “All my life it has been fun for me. … When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian… I have done lots to make it believable […] All my women friends have been lesbians…There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves, for reasons (like) marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls – they did nothing for me.” Brooks published her memoir, Lulu in Hollywood, in 1982; three years later (August 8, 1985) she died of a heart attack at the age of 78. She had been suffering from arthritis and emphysema for many years. She was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York. What a life! It just goes to show that you never know what you’re going to find in the hills and valleys of the Highway 127 yard sale.

Pop Culture, Travel

Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016~~~ PART II

127 yard sale part II photo

Original publish date:  August 21, 2016

Our first day on the 127 Yard Sale (aka the World’s Longest or 127 sale) was tiring but an adventure none-the-less. Part one detailed this popular annual event that officially begins on the first Thursday in August, spans six states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama) and 690 miles. We started just South of Cincinnati and ended our first leg in Daniel Boone country near Harrodsburg / Danville, Kentucky.
Luckily, our hotel reservations were made months in advance and in this case it was a good thing. As we drove down the 127 toward the hotel, we ran parallel to a rather wicked looking train derailment. Seems that a coal train pulling a long line of cars loaded with coal somehow left the track. It slowly tipped over like a wave crashing on the beach as it skidded to a stop. We heard that 27 cars tipped over spilling their loads and closing the crossroads for miles. It was an interesting coal country site to say the least. Train wrecks don’t seem to happen around these parts much anymore, thank goodness. Luckily, no one was hurt but it sure was a mess.127-yard-sale-state-route-map
As we checked into the hotel, our rooms were fine, but guests checking in after us kept coming down to the lobby and asking why their beds had no bedspreads on them. The front desk had the same reply to every query, stating rather matter-of-factly that whenever the “coal boys’ were in town, the staff removes the bedspreads because the workers are filthy and the coal stains won’t come out. Go figure. It certainly made the casual conversation with our fellow guests all the more interesting.

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Sgt. Alvin C. York General Store & Visitor Center.

Now back to the 127. The second day could be your most interesting. That is if you are on the 127 to see sights, take pictures and meet the locals. Along this leg you will pass hilly terrain dotted generously with “See Rock City” barns and Ruby Falls signs. You’ll pass through valley towns where time seems to stand still. You can stop and visit places like the Alvin C. York General Store and Visitor Center in Pall Mall, Tennessee. Here you can walk in the footsteps of one of the most celebrated soldiers in American history.
A pacifist drafted for service in World War I in 1917, York applied for conscientious objector status, but was denied. On October 8, 1918, while on patrol in France, York and his platoon were caught in an ambush behind enemy lines that left over half the platoon dead. York almost single-handedly led a counterattack that resulted in the taking of 35 machine guns, killing of 28 German soldiers and capture of 132 enemy combatants. York was awarded the Medal of Honor and became an instant celebrity. He was barraged with offers for commercial endorsements along with movie and book deals, which he rejected, believing it was wrong to profit from his war service. The York site is well worth a stop.

Alvin_C._York_postwar_1
Sgt. Alvin C. York

As you steam South, the road winds through towns with interesting names like Junction City, Hustonville, Liberty, Pricetown, Dunnville, Sycamore Flat, Webbs Crossroads, Humble, and Freedom. You’ll pass the Jordan Motel in Jamestown, Tennessee, a must see stop for all 127 roadsters. For it was here on the grounds of the motel where those original vendors first set up their tents, booths and tables for that very first yard sale nearly 30 years ago. The quaint little roadside ranch motel’s wooded front yard still hosts booths and tables today. img_3295
From here we passed an Amish Ice Cream stand consisting of a churn operated by a horse walking on a treadmill. It was something to see but the ice cream is warm and doesn’t really live up to the hype. It was at a yard sale table nearby where I heard my favorite quote of the weekend. As I perused the offerings on the table, a prospective customer picked up a boxed candle-ma-jig off the table and asked the older, matronly looking lady in charge how much? She answered three bucks. As the customer put it down and walked away, the woman muttered aloud to no-one in particular, “Well, It outta be worth $ 3.00. It was my only Christmas gift last year.” Think about that for a minute.
It is along our journey’s second leg where most of the “tent cities” cropped up. A tent city is easy to spot from a distance by the small oasis of shelters and pop-up canopies blanketing farm fields and parking lots along the highway. Usually, these tent cities contain anywhere from a dozen to several dozen sellers gathered together in one central location. These stops require a stop and park followed by a lot of walking. Woe be it those yard saler’s who find that over sized, bulky “must have” widget while shopping on the other side of the lot. The walk back to the car will seem like an Olympic event for these unfortunates. All part of the tent city experience on the 127.
tmg-article_default_mobile_2xIt was during the second day of the trip where our little quartet found our most interesting finds along the route. While at a tent city near Grimsley, Tennessee we came upon a large group of dealers set up in a local park. On this 95 degree / 50 % humidity day (heat index 107), I found a rather refined looking group of Southern Belles strategically seated in a shady corner of their booth. Leaning against a post near them was a heavy steel sign from the Jack Kerouac Era California State Beaches that read: “Clothing Optional Beyond This Point”. My red-faced smirk must have betrayed me and the ladies giggled at my sheepish delight. I asked for the price and as I picked it up I realized that the sign had 2 bullet holes in the center of it. I had to have it! I forked over the cash equivalent of a St. Elmo’s dinner for two (with shrimp cocktails of course) to make it mine. The delightful owner said she had purchased the sign on “this very same field 8 years ago.”
13935071_1182314075133187_4467003385220003335_nRhonda found a San Francisco Candlestick Park exit sign in the same booth from another lady and got a much better deal than I (about the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.) A little further down the road, I found a beautiful Teddy Roosevelt metal color lithographed sign from 1903, a real stuffed alligator dressed as a sheriff complete with tiny cowboy hat and badge (please don’t judge me animal activists) and a wooden sign that had me puzzled at first. It was a large B&W direction arrow sign with the word “AWFISS” on the front. My traveling companion Chuck Hodson had to clue me in on the meaning. Apparently, “AWFISS” is slang for “Office” in the hill country. Sadly, it was not for sale.
14021611_1182314078466520_246330168175241924_nThe last of the day’s finds was made by Chuck. It was a 12″ tall miniature prison electric chair complete with skull and crossbones in the back chair rest. “Beware Tennessee State Prison” and a 1956 year date were painted on the seat back. Constructed of wood, finish nails and leather straps, it was obviously made by an inmate back in the Ike Era. The Prison, located near downtown Nashville, opened in 1898 and closed in 1992. Hollywood movies Nashville, Ernest Goes to Jail, The Green Mile, and many more were filmed within it’s walls. I find myself strangely drawn to objects like these. I guess I love that type of gallows humor.
We ended the second day at Crossville, Tennessee and although the third day’s journey towards our Chattanooga terminus was fun, we were happy to get off the congested road, out of the heat and back into the air conditioning once and for all. The yard sale continued without us down The Lookout Mountain Parkway (which Reader’s Digest calls one of the most scenic drives in America) all the way to the end of the 127 yard sale in Gadsden, Alabama. Maybe someday we will travel the entire route, but for now, we’ve seen enough. Driving north, it was amazing how fast we covered the same ground via I-24 and I-65 back to Indianapolis when we weren’t stopping every fifty feet.
We have made the trip on the 127 Yard Sale six times now but I don’t think we’ve ever done it two years in a row. It seems that, although it is fun, the 127 is the sort of thing that you need space and time to appreciate. What can be said for sure is that the 127 is a bucket list kind of thing for anyone who loves traveling, history and antiques. You will meet folks you’ll never forget, find treasures you’ll cherish forever and ALWAYS kick yourself for not buying one thing or another. I guess that’s what keeps us coming back.
Then, every once in awhile, you could just find something that spins you off into a direction you never would have guessed you’d have found yourself traveling to begin with. Something that seems to call your name and invite you in to learn more about it’s origin. My wife found one such relic at the bottom of a dusty drag box in the hills of Kentucky. A little bit of Golden Age Hollywood on the banks of Turkeypen Creek.

Next week: Part III- Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016

Pop Culture, Travel

Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016~~~ PART I

127 yard sale part I photo

Original publish date:  August 15, 2016

Last week, my wife and I (along with fellow antiquer buddies Chuck & Becky Hodson) decided to revisit the tortuous multi-state adventure known as The 127 Yard Sale. Also known as the World’s Longest or 127 sale, it is an annual event that officially begins on the first Thursday in August, and concludes on Sunday. The sale spans six states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama) and 690 miles. This was our 6th journey into the hills and dales of Kentucky & Tennessee to essentially poke through other people’s stuff.
I wrote an article detailing one of our trips a few years ago, but I figured it was time to retrace our steps just in case any of you are considering going yourselves someday. FYI, the dates for 2017 are August 3rd to the 6th and August 2nd to the 5th in 2018. The official route begins 5 miles north of Addison, Michigan and ends in Gadsden, Alabama. While there is no official count, an estimated 100,000 shoppers visited the approximated 5,000 vendors along the route.
127-yard-sale-state-route-mapAccording to their website, the 127 Yard Sale began in 1987. Mike Walker, former Fentress County Executive in Jamestown, TN, planned the event to encourage travelers to bypass interstate highways such as I-40 and I-75 in favor of scenic routes that would take them through rural communities and allow them to experience what the small towns and cities had to offer. With state parks, historical attractions, scenic drives, water falls, opportunities for hiking and biking, rivers and lakes for boating, train rides, horse back riding, fishing, blue grass music, arts and crafts festivals, and more, this provided a great opportunity to bring more visitors to Tennessee and the 127 Yard Sale route.
So now that you know the details, route and history of the 127 yard sale, let me give you some tips of what you can expect, guidelines you might adhere to and examples of things you are likely to find along the way. If you’re a lifetime collector of “stuff”, then you’re sure to have a ball. If you are decorating a house, room or man cave, you’ll have a blast. On the 127, there’s stuff you didn’t know existed, stuff you just have to have, and stuff you didn’t know you needed. If you don’t like traffic, have no patience or can’t stand the heat (literally not figuratively)then you might want to stay home.
Although the route begins in Southern Michigan and spans the entire state of Ohio, I recommend that you start South of Cincinnati. Oh, and that you start out on a Wednesday. Yes, “officially”, the sale starts on Thursday, but most dealers are up and running by hump-day. We spoke to many who had been set up since the previous Saturday, but I’m guessing those were only the diehards catering mostly to the locals. I have tried to start the sale in Ohio in years past but came away with little more than wasted time and needless delay. I have met people whose 127 experience involves shopping only in the Buckeye state, then heading home to sleep in their own beds the very same night. So that could be a good test run for those still sitting on the fence.
However, if you want to really experience the 127 yard sale, let me offer some pointers. First of all, take plenty of bottled water. A cooler full of ice and a case of water will be your best friends for this particular journey. Remember all those old movies about people stranded in the desert? That’s what the 127 sale is like. We went through 16 bottles of ice cold water on the first day alone. Second, wear light colored, loose fitting clothing and comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking through dirt and tall grass in many places so don’t wear your expensive sneakers but rather your sturdiest, most utilitarian pair of kicks. Third, for this trip, I bought the ladies each a cooling towel at Lowe’s. Get it wet, give it a snap then drape it around the neck and you’ll think it a worthy $ 5.00 investment I assure you. File that under the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” category.bottled-water
There’s a lot of stop-and-go traffic along the route so be patient and take care while driving. It can be a hazardous drive in places where vendors occupy both sides of the two-lane road, traffic slows, sometimes coming to a complete standstill as people shop from their cars trying to decide whether a pull-off is worthy or not. You’d be surprised how many yard-salers slam on their brakes when they see a velvet Elvis leaning up against a table from the roadway. Always use your turn-signals and avoid sudden stops, don’t make U-turns and safely pull as far off the roadway as possible. Although it is a two-lane road in most places, 18-wheelers, dump trucks and farm machinery make regular appearances. So pull out with care while leaving all stops.
image6311894xAssuming you are starting South of Cincinnati, consider making hotel reservations in or around the Harrodsburg / Danville, Kentucky area for your first night’s stay. Not only will you be spending the night in historic Daniel Boone country, you’ll most likely find that, allowing for the frequent stops on your treasure hunt, you will have seen all you care to see by the time you reach this area. Go out and have a nice dinner and turn in early. If you are a people person, you’ll soon discover that most of your fellow hotel guests are coming off the sale as well. Many of them are eager to tell stories, share tips and show off their prized buys after a day of buying on the 127. Swapping tales about your shared struggle can be some of the best memories of all and are only rarely disappointing.
At least in the case of the 127 sale, the early bird does not get the worm. No need to get up early because, unlike most neighborhood garage sales, these folks rarely uncover their tables before 9:00 am. If you find yourself walking through dew soaked fields on the 127, you’re likely walking past covered tables with nothing to show for it but soggy socks and shoes for the rest of the day. Remember athlete’s foot? Sleep in, hit the continental breakfast and let the morning sun bake the dew away.
worlds-largest-yard-sale-Google-Search-335x249Once you’re out on the road again, you’ll soon find that yard sales are EVERYWHERE! In the front yards of people’s homes, farm fields, cow pastures, side streets and alleyways, in empty lots, business parking lots, community parks, churches and town centers. Some areas will have large groups of vendors together (127 veterans call these ‘tent cities’), while others will be set up separately. As you weave your way from one yard sale to the next, Highway 127 winds through horse country surrounded by beautiful rural areas and interesting scenery, so be sure to enjoy the ride along the way.
There is no set “opening” or “closing” time for the individual sales along the 127 Yard Sale route. Each vendor chooses the time they want to start and many stay open until dark. Traffic along the 127 Yard Sale route gels up considerably in congested areas and small towns, so how long you stay on the 127 per day is more dependent on what your personal goals are and how much ground you want to travel each day. Obviously, if you hit every yard sale, you’ll be hitting the hay late. By the very nature of the route, you may become intrigued with a specific area once you get to it and end up spending more time there then you initially planned. However, you will see as much as you wish to see and will always reach your full point when you decide you’ve seen enough. Best advice, concentrate on what you see, appreciate what you find and don’t have undue expectations about your results. Sometimes on the 127, the visitor takes only memories and leaves only footprints.5d43a47db54ad.image
 

             Next week: Part II- Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016.

Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard Sale Eclipsed.

Eclipse Tourism

Original publish date:  August 14, 2017   Reissue August 15, 2019

2017 was the 30th anniversary year for the 127 yard sale aka “The World’s Longest Yard Sale” which started in 1987. I’ve written about the yard sale before and my wife and I have taken this long strange trip several times now. The 127 yard sale bills itself as the longest yard sale in the world, and they’re probably right. After all, it is a 690 mile long route that travels through 6 states; Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. The sale follows Highway 127 from Addison, Michigan to Chattanooga, Tennessee past Lookout Mountain in Georgia and ends in Gadsden, Alabama. Oh sure, the road has more colorful nicknames along the route: Dixie Highway, Federal Route, Cumberland Parkway, Bluegrass Parkway, Lookout Mountain Parkway, but yard sale veterans just call it the 127.
The route can be beautiful and it is also steeped in history. Besides traveling through the historic cities of Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Birmingham, the 127 skirts the entire Eastern edge of Indiana, travels through Kentucky horse country, near Civil War battlefields and past civil rights landmarks. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called this area home. Yes, highway 127 has tons of history but for the first week of August every year Highway 127, it also has tons of bargains.
To survive the world’s longest yard sale you need many things: reliable-roomy transportation, hotel reservations in advance, a trusted GPS device with paper map backups, comfortable shoes, lots of change (singles and quarters), a case of bottled water, insect repellent, snacks and most of all, plenty of patience. The route encompasses all sorts of terrain and conditions: small towns, big cities; mountains, hills, dales; 90° heat, dew as thick as fog and take my word for it, there will be monsoon rains somewhere along the route. And did I mention bad drivers? Yard sale travelers seem to lose their minds when they see a bargain resting 20 yards from the curb.
10-127-Corridor-Sale-flea-market-009We started our trip on Wednesday, August 2nd south of Cincinnati. We allowed ourselves three days for the 127. We learned long ago that it would take at least five to hit every sale. We started out at nine in the morning and made it as far as Harrodsburg Kentucky that evening. Normally it would take 2 hours to drive the 120 mile route between the two locations. The next day, Thursday, August 3rd, we left around 8:30 AM and by 6 PM we had made it as far as Spring City Tennessee. This day’s route was 180 miles between locations. Normally this is a four hour trip without stops. By our third day, Friday, August 4th, between the crowds, the traffic and general fatigue, we had just about had our fill. By the time we had reached Chattanooga that afternoon, we were done.
127Sale_2013_8.0.1421549453.0And what did we find on the world’s longest yard sale 2017 redux? Unlike years past, we really didn’t find anything fantastic for ourselves; we just found stuff. Don’t get me wrong, we found some cool things. We just didn’t find any life changers. My personal prize was a bronze statue of Gettysburg hero General Winfield Scott Hancock. It now rests on my desk. I found tons of old paper to play that I am still winding my way through. My favorite so far is a packet of letters written by a French woman to her soldier beau in Geneva Indiana in 1919 – 20 at the close of World War I. She pleads for news from her soldier boy and wonders why he doesn’t write. Poignant to say the least. 127-Yardsale-No-Parking
We did notice that at some places along the route of the sale local law and code enforcement officials had meticulously coned off the berms along the road. Interspersed among these cones were flashing highway reader signs proclaiming that any vehicle found parked on the berm will be ticketed. Apparently the novelty of the 127 Yard sale has worn off in some communities. Humorously towns before and after these persona non grata localities replaced those ominous no parking signs with signed reading “Welcome Yard Salers.”
5d3eed899c6b2.imageMy favorite memory comes from a gentleman I met at the Jordan Motel in Jamestown Tennessee. The motel is an important landmark on the 127 because this is the spot where the first booths were set up back in 1987 to start what would become the world’s longest yard sale. Jamestown is in the heart of Big South Fork Country which bills itself as the Trail Riding Capital of the Southeast. At first I was drawn to the booth by a large metal highway 70 sign leaning against a nearby tree. It was only 35 bucks but it wasn’t our I-70 so I passed. Let me rephrase that, Rhonda suggested I pass because I am apparently out of room for any more road signs.

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The sinkhole at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

1392253216000-XXX-Corvette-aftermath-01On this man’s table were a couple dirty squares of carpeting, each about 4″x4″ and each displayed in picture frames. Alongside the dingy relics were photographs of a scene that looked strangely familiar to me. It was a large hole inside a closed building that I soon recognized as the sinkhole that swallowed eight Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green Kentucky around Valentine’s Day of 2014. I asked about them and was informed me that the vendor was the contractor hired to pull the cars out and repair the hole. He said, “In fact, I’m the guy that fired up that Corvette and drove it out. It didn’t have anything but an oil leak.” As he searched his cell phone to show me a video of the event as proof, he informed me that he was surprised the Corvette museum called him because, “I’m just a good old boy from Kentucky, I didn’t know thing about Corvettes or fixing sinkholes.” As Rhonda and I got back in the car and drove south, she asked me if I had asked him how much they were. Strangely, I hadn’t. I guess I was too caught up in the story.

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The Jordan Motel in Jamestown, Tennessee.
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1940s postcard of the Jamestown Hotel.

It was also at the Jordan Motel, which had about 50 dealer booths scattered around the grounds, where I found another relic from my past. Rhonda was quick to point out a couple of baby boomers walking past. The 50 something woman was smoking a cigar. I’m a cigar smoker myself and I’m here to tell you I don’t see that very often. Turns out they were sharing it. She would take a puff or two and then hand it over to her “old man”. Here my eyes caught something on a nearby table that piqued my interest. It was a well used copy of Bob Dylan’s 1966 seminal double album “Blonde on Blonde”.

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Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

I picked it up and the dealer, who appeared to be somewhere in his 60s, immediately said, “You can have that for a dollar if you want it.” I pulled out my dollar bill so fast it’s a wonder I didn’t sprain my wrist. I couldn’t resist telling him why I wanted it. I have a copy of the album that I was fortunate enough to get Bob Dylan to autograph for me 30 years ago. I met him briefly after a concert at Market Square Arena. To say I met him might be a stretch though. I caught him just after he had climbed into his limo to leave for the airport. I knocked on the window, showed him my album and a pen and asked if he would please autograph it for me. He got a rather perturbed look on his face and rolled the window down just far enough that I could slip the album and pen through. He scribbled his name, which is indecipherable, and passed it back through the window to me and drove away. I still have that album of course, but I had long ago lost the two records that were originally housed within.
With this 127 yard sale find I could finally replace them. The booth owner promptly told me that he was at Woodstock in 1969. It was then that I noticed his ponytail and tie-dyed tank top. “I remember pushing cars out of that mud. There was mud everywhere,” the old hippie said, “I never forgave Dylan for not showing up and playing. He lived there! How can you not play Woodstock when you live there?” Who would’ve thought that I would encounter the one guy who could top my Dylan story with a story of his own in the hills of Jamestown Tennessee?
However, there was one event that literally overshadowed our journey on the 127. The 2017 World’s Longest Yard Sale was being eclipsed by another event, “The Great American Total Solar Eclipse”, two weeks in the future. Rhonda and I spent our second night at the Howard Johnson’s in Spring City Tennessee. It’s Rhonda’s preferred abode while on the 127 because it’s nice and clean, convenient to the route and features a restaurant next door called “Winstead’s American Grill & King of Pizza” that is famous for its handmade Stromboli’s. The motel, the restaurant, heck, the whole town was festooned with posters and banners for the August 21 eclipse event.
321815_226757074075159_867120722_oSpring City Mayor Billy Ray Patton claims the town is one of the best places in the world to view the eclipse because it is located along the exact path the eclipse will travel. Spring City rests on the 70 mile wide “path of totality.” Residents and visitors will have two minutes and 39 seconds of totality when the moon completely blocks the view of the sun. The total solar eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina. But don’t get any ideas, the hotels in Spring City were already sold out two weeks ago. On Monday this small TVA town of 2000 is expected to swell to 50,000 with visitors hoping to catch a good view of the eclipse.
127-yard-sale-state-route-mapWhile it is too late for anyone to visit the 2017 Highway 127 yard sale, there is still time to prepare for the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. On Aug. 21st (this Monday) the eclipse will be visible for the first time since 1979. Hoosier sky watchers will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse on that summer day, but most people will have to travel to see the sun completely eclipsed by the moon.
It is important to remember that looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face. That safe zone will happen only within the narrow path of totality. Otherwise, the only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.” Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device, the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
The total solar eclipse is not visible in Indianapolis, but it can be observed here as a partial solar eclipse. In the Circle City, the eclipse will begin at 12:57 p.m., according to Butler University’s Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. It will reach its maximum point at 2:25 p.m. and will officially end around 3:48 p.m. If seeing a partial solar eclipse doesn’t thrill you and seeing a total solar eclipse is your only interest, never fear, in 2024, Indianapolis will be on the direct path of its first total solar eclipse in nearly 820 years. Not to mention, that will give you plenty of time to visit the Highway 127 World’s Longest Garage Sale and report back.

 

Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard sale. (2011)

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Chuck & Becky Hodson at the Jordan Motel. Where it all started.

Original publish date:  August 13, 2011  Republished August 8, 2019

The world’s longest yardsale. The name alone is intriguing, right? This reporter just returned from an exhausting three day trip from Cincinnati to Chattanooga spent poking through piles of other people’s discards, with a few antiques and collectibles mixed in. Like driving cross country, everyone should do the world’s longest yardsale at least once in their lifetime.

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Rhonda Hunter with colorful slag glass aka “Petrified Jello”.

The event stretches from Hudson Michigan to Gadsden Alabama, a span of 675 miles along highway 127, tracing the route of the old Dixie highway. The official website (www.127sale.com ) describes it as: “Hundreds of thousands of folks join us each year for this fun-filled event, spanning 654 miles and five states. It’s impossible to keep track of how many shoppers and vendors we have, but it’s grown to be the biggest and best event of its kind in the world. You’ll find homeowners selling stuff they’ve accumulated throughout the years as well as professional dealers and vendors. It’s almost impossible for shoppers to cover the entire route in four days, so be prepared to pick up where you leave off next year! You’re going to discover some neat places, interesting people, and quaint stops that you’ll probably want to visit again and again. So pack your camera, sunglasses, a good pair of walking shoes, and plenty of cash- you’re in for the World’s Longest Yardsale!”
The website is correct (despite the conflicting mileage tally) in that it is nearly impossible to traverse the route in four days. I can attest because I tried to do most of it in two. Our little group of four (Me, my wife Rhonda and friends Chuck and Becky Hodson) departed in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday bound for our starting point just below the Queen City in Northern Kentucky. We managed to make it to Cumberland Falls State Park in Jamestown Kentucky that first night and then to Chickamauga battlefield in Southern Tennessee / Northern Georgia that second night. It was exhausting.

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Kids along the route riding cardboard boxes down the Hills of Highway 127.

This was my third attempt in four years. You’d think by now I’d have a system, but I’ve learned that systems don’t really work very well for this event. The heat, pushing 100 degrees both days, zaps you and has the undesirable affect of kicking up wicked nighttime storms that destroy vendor’s booths, merchandise and morale. The event always starts the first Thursday of August and lasts through Sunday. So you can be sure it’s gonna be hotter than the Devil’s underpants, traffic will be a factor, parking will be a challenge and hotel rooms along the route will always be booked way ahead of time. But, if you like this kind of thing, you can also be sure it will be fun.
Highway 127 ambles through some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see featuring quaint historic towns full of Antebellum homes peppered with references to folk heroes like Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Alvin C. York. There are massive horse farms with gleaming white fences enclosing rolling bluegrass hills that surround barns featuring colorful Dutch hex signs or family names adorning the exterior. Not to mention, you’ll find more “See Rock City” and “See Ruby Falls” signs then you can possibly imagine. Whiskey distilleries and tobacco barns are not an uncommon sight as well.

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Becky Hodson, Rhonda Hunter & Chuck Hodson deciphering a sign on the 127.

The roadsides are verily dotted with sales booths of every size, style and description. Ranging from the lone seller seated behind a single table with only a few unwanted items on display to entire “tent cities” of 100-or-more vendors tightly packed in farmer’s fields and church parking lots. If I had to describe what you could expect to find on these tables, I’d say clothing, glassware, audio / video, kitchen widgets, books, toys and tools. But if you look hard enough, you can find antiques and collectibles hidden among the bric-a-brac.
There are two trains of thought for this event. You can go out looking for one particular thing and narrow your focus, in which case you’ll save time but probably end up disappointed. Or you can simply go-with-the-flow and let fate rule your search, in which case you’re likely to be richly rewarded. As an example, my neighbor Richai Riggs asked me to search for size 6 boys jeans for her young son Riley, but added, “Make sure the knees aren’t ripped out.” Piece-of-cake I assured her. I’ve since discovered that there are no size 6 boys jeans that do not already have the knees ripped out on this planet (outside of a department store).

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Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

On the other hand, I stumbled across a tattered old manila envelope from 1962 that contained the first two printer’s proofs of newsletters from the Troy Donahue Fan Club complete with an autographed photo that Troy personally gave to the fan club president. Troy was an international teen heart throb and 1960s Era icon best remembered as Sandra Dee’s costar in “A Summer Place.” Okay, maybe not that exciting, but fun and certainly one of last things I’d ever expect to find on a hillside in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The point is, you never know what you’re going to find until you look for it.
The people you’re bound to encounter along the route help to make the trip more memorable, to be sure. That extends to both sellers and shoppers. Some sellers are on you as soon as you enter the booth: “What do you collect?…Can I help you?…Where ya’ll from?” while others barely take notice that you’ve entered their space. On more than a couple of occasions, the seller I encountered behind the table was asleep! Many sellers embrace the expected “hillbilly” reputation of the sale by bringing along props and oddities like log cabin outhouses and horses that make homemade ice cream by walking on a tread mill, not to mention the “overalls with no shirt” fashion statement seen surprisingly often along the route.

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Yes, they really play and dance.

The shoppers come in all shapes, sizes and demeanors. They come with children, neighbors, spouses, friends, pets, and pickin’ partners. Chances are you’ll never guess what they’re looking for, unless you happen to see them make a purchase and even then that doesn’t always make sense. I have witnessed great big burly men purchase glassware and children’s clothes as well as dainty looking women buying auto parts and sporting goods. You just never know.
Part of the fun in shopping the highway 127 sale is just plain people watching. I will share a couple incidents in particular from this year’s sale that you may find as amusing as I did. During one stop, our quartet was shopping a one house setup when an older man (65+ at least) walked up with his obviously much younger bride that looked like she might have migrated from the Philippines. We were in a confined area and it quickly became obvious that she spoke no English. Another shopper, not of our party, was heard to mutter something about a mail-order bride out of earshot of the couple before walking back to their car. Sadly, this older gentleman was sporting one of the worst toupees I’ve ever seen (we’re talking a real hair divit here). He walked a few feet away, picked up a pistol shaped hand held hair dryer and asked the seller, “How much?” The seller responded, “Two bucks.” Hairpiece guy then asked, “Does it work?” and proceeded to find an outlet to plug it into. I have no idea what he was going to use it for, but he bought it. Before you start judging, keep in mind I’ve been fighting a losing battle with hair loss for ten years or more, so no one understands the irony better than I.IMG_4322
At another stop, I watched a nearby seller pick up a framed knick-knack contained in it’s original box and ask the seller, “How much?” The seller hesitated for a moment before saying, “Three dollars.” Then continued, “It was the only thing I got for Christmas this year, so yeah, three bucks.” You can’t make this stuff up and that’s the point. The Highway-127 yardsale must be experienced to be believed. There are so many things I love about regional sales like the highway 38 yard sale, National Road yard sale or the world’s longest yardsale. They enable you the opportunity to get out and experience America, help the local economies of the towns you visit along the way and meet unforgettable characters while driving the roads that made America. I just wish they’d rename this particular event, “The Dixie Highway” sale, sounds so much more…historic.

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