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Welcome to the official podcast of The Nashville Retrospect, the monthly newspaper devoted to stories from Nashville's past. Editor and host Allen Forkum interviews local historians and people who experienced the city’s history firsthand. He also investigates audio artifacts from area archives and relates fascinating articles from old Nashville newspapers.

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Dec 1, 2018

On Christmas Eve, 1956, a woman jumped off the Shelby Street Bridge into the Cumberland River with a baby in her arms. Host Allen Forkum (editor of The Nashville Retrospect newspaper) revisits this tragic and heroic story through interviews with people who were there, including Harold Hogue, Anne Knox, and Judy Hunt Charest. Also learn about the aftermath of the event during the decades since. (Segment begins at 04:45)

(Special thanks to Mike Hudgins and Sheri Hogue for their assistance with this story.)

Original caption from the Dec. 24, 1956, Nashville Banner: “Muddy waters of the Cumberland River swirl around Mrs. Milton Hunt (arrow No. 1), who clings to a steel retaining beam, and her three-and-a-half months old daughter, Judy (arrow No. 2).” In the podcast, Anne Knox mentions the two objects floating in the water. (Image: Tennessee State Library and Archives, photo by Vic Cooley)

Original caption: “Jack Knox [III], 25-year-old drafting department employe of Nashville Bridge Co. holds Mrs. Hunt above the water after he had rescued the baby and then swam to where the mother was hanging on near exhaustion.” (Image: Anne Knox, Mike Hudgins, photo by Vic Cooley)

Original caption: “Mrs. Hunt is pulled ashore from the Bridge Company boat. A first aid team worked on her until she could be taken to General Hospital, where she was listed in critical condition.” The man in the foreground wearing a watch is Harold Hogue, who is interviewed in the podcast. Virgil Johnson is piloting the boat. (Image: Anne Knox, Mike Hudgins)

Original caption: “Gilbert M. Dorland, vice-president of Nashville Bridge Co., hold three-and-a-half months old Judy Hunt after the tot was pulled form the icy waters of Cumberland River below the firm’s building.” (Image: Anne Knox, Mike Hudgins)

Original caption: “Dressed in the only available dry clothes, a bridge company baseball uniform, Knox warms up after his plunge into the icy waters shorty after 10 a.m. today. He is a former West End High School and Citadel athlete.” (Image: Nashville Public Library, Nashville Room)

The Hunt family (Marguerite, Milton and Judy) is pictured in 1957. (Image: Judy Hunt Charest)

Judy and her mother, Marguerite. (Image: Judy Hunt Charest)

Jack Knox (right) receives the Arland D. Williams Society award at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., on Nov. 12, 2005. He died ten days later. (Image: Anne Knox, Mike Hudgins)

Judy Hunt Charest and Harold Hogue at the reunion at the site of the rescue on Sept. 16, 2015. The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (formerly the Shelby Street Bridge), the Nashville Bridge Building (formerly the Nashville Bridge Company), and the pier mentioned in the story, can all be seen in the background. (Image: Allen Forkum)

Harold Hogue shows the watch given to him by Judy Hunt Charest, which she had engraved with: “Everyone needs a HERO. Thanks for being mine. 12/24/56 Love, Baby.” (Image: Allen Forkum)

UPDATE: Harold Hogue died on Dec. 28, 2020.

Also hear folk singers Dee and Delta Hicks of Fentress County, Tenn., discuss the lost tradition of Old Christmas in a 1981 interview by Bob Fulcher (assisted by Sharon Celsor-Hughes). Old Christmas was traditionally observed in some rural and mountainous areas of the south on Jan. 6 and included tales of farm animals kneeling to pray at midnight on Christmas Day. The interview was part of Cumberland Trail Park Manger Bob Fulcher's  Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project. (Segment begins at 48:40)

(Special thanks to Bob Fulcher of Cumberland Trail, and to Lori Lockhart and Zach Keith at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.)

Dee and Delta Hicks of Fentress County, Tenn. (Image: Bob Fulcher)

And finally, Allen Forkum reviews some of the contents of the December 2018 issue, including children’s letters to Santa Claus in 1907 and Johnny Cash’s 1976 Christmas TV special. Also hear calls from readers about bygone Christmases in Nashville. (Segment begins at 01:30)



A list of articles relating to this episode that you can find in archive issues of The Nashville Retrospect (archive issues can be ordered by clicking here or on the issue links below):

• “Dives In River With Baby; Rescued,” Nashville Banner, Dec. 24, 1956 (The Nashville Retrospect, December 2011)

• “Love Gives Itself; Jack Knox III and His Heroic Christmas Eve Rescue” by Mike Hudgins, The Nashville Retrospect, December 2011

• “Dives In River With Baby” letter to the editor by Judy Hunt Charest, The Nashville Retrospect, January 2012

• “Dives In River With Baby” letter to the editor by Harold Hogue, The Nashville Retrospect, December 2015


Other related articles:

• “Knox Grins, Shivers After River Rescue,” Nashville Banner, Dec. 24, 1956

• “Woman ‘Critical’ Following Plunge,” Nashville Tennessean, Dec. 25, 1956

• “Photographer Witness To Near-Fatal Jump,” Nashville Tennessean, Dec. 25, 1956

• “Mother And Baby, Saved From River,” Oakland Tribune, Dec. 25, 1956

• “Plunges With Her Baby In River; Saved,” New York Daily News, Dec. 25, 1956

• “Old Christmas,” Nashville American, Jan. 7, 1907


Links relating to this episode:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–8255

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website

“Bipolar Disorder, Manic Depression” at WebMD

"Ordinary Angels" (song about the river rescue) written by Chris Floyd, Scott Barrier, and Judy Hunt Charest

 “Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project” at Tennessee Virtual Archive

Bob Fulcher: Folklife Heritage Award, 2017 Governor’s Arts Awards

Cumberland Trail

“Dee Hicks” and “Dee & Delta Hicks” by Bob Fulcher at Sandrock Recordings

“Old Christmas Day” at The Free Dictionary

“The history of Old Christmas” by Jim Buchanan in The Guide


Audio excerpts: Dee and Delta Hicks, interview by Bob Fulcher, Dec. 8, 1981, 81-PK–2, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Music: “Near You” by Francis Craig and His Orchestra (Bullet, 1947); “Quiet Outro” by ROZKOL (2018); “The Apotheosis of All Deserts” by ROZKOL (2017); “Covered Wagon Days” by Ted Weems and His Orchestra; and “The Buffalo Rag” by Vess L. Ossman