Today In Johnson City History: Dec. 23 | Living | – Johnson City Press (subscription)

Dec. 23, 1840: The Whig reported on a recent death in the community. “Departed this transitory life, at her residence in this county, on Thursday the 10th inst., in the 52nd year of her age, Mary Smitherman, the wife of Samuel Smitherman – both natives of England.”
The death notice continued, “Mrs. Smitherman came to this county about 18 years ago, and first commenced house-keeping at Pactolas, Sullivan county (sic). She was a pious woman – an excellent wife – a kind mother – and an obliging neighbor.”
The obituary further stated, “She has left a kind husband fast sinking under the weight of four-score years, and waiting his maker’s call to depart this life, and rest with her in peace. Also, she has left behind her, to lament their irreparable loss several daughters, who, from their early instructions, it is believed, will imitate her virtues, and ultimately share her happy fate.”
“Inst.” is an abbreviation for “this month” in Latin.
The Whig was a newspaper published in Jonesborough, which was spelled that way in 1840.
Dec. 23, 1875: The Herald and Tribune, reported, “Tomorrow, Friday night a Christmas Tree distribution will take place at the M.E. Church South, and on Christmas night a ‘Festival’ will be given at the Presbyterian Church, all in the interest principally, of the little folks. May many littler hearts be made happy on both occasions.”
The Herald and Tribune was, and still is, a newspaper published in Jonesborough, which was spelled that way in 1876.
Dec. 23, 1886: Readers of The Comet learned, “Governor Taylor and family, accompanied by the Governor’s private Secretary, Jas. P. Taylor, arrived in the city from Elizabethton last Saturday and took the train Sunday morning for Knoxville.”
Dec. 23, 1915: The Comet reported that E.A. Torbett of Piney Flats had recently been in Johnson City. Newspaper readers also learned that A.B. Crouch, who was president of the Unaka National Bank, had recently attended the funeral of J.R. Franklin in Talbott, Tennessee.
Dec. 23, 1921: A century ago today, according to The Herald, George B. Summers of Johnson City was a visitor to a Rotary Club in Miami.
The Herald was a newspaper published in Miami, Florida. It is now published as the Miami Herald. We do not have access to any newspapers that were published in Johnson City in 1921.
Dec. 23, 1928: The Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Johnson City was organized. (Source: History of Washington County Tennessee.)
Dec. 23, 1946: The Kingsport News reported, “The mercury had dropped to 26 degrees in Kingsport at midnight Sunday but a sympathetic weatherman gave promise of warmer weather for Monday, along with a fair sky. Cloudiness is predicted for Tuesday.”
“A low of 33 degrees was recorded during the day Sunday and a high of 38 was reported.”
The Kingsport News is now published as the Kingsport Times News. The Johnson City Press-Chronicle was not published on Mondays in 1946. Dec. 23, 1946 fell on a Monday.
Dec. 23, 1952: With a dateline of Johnson City, the Bristol Herald Courier reported, “A 55-year-old veteran was found dead in a downtown hotel today.”
The news account continued, “Chief Deputy Sheriff Charles Johnson identified him as H.H. Glisson, and said it appeared from papers in his possession he was on leave from Mountain Home Veterans Administration Center here.”
The Bristol Herald Courier is still in publication.
Dec. 23, 1971: Fifty years ago today, with a dateline from Erwin, the Johnson City Press-Chronicle reported, “Members of the Girls Club were honored recently by their sponsor, Erwin Business and Professional Woman’s Club, for having successfully completed a ten week course under the direction of Mrs. James Tolley. Each girl received a diploma and a gift.”
“The Girls Club presented a preview of fashions they will model this spring for a local department store. They also displayed items made during the course.”
“Mrs. Tolley said the next course would begin Jan. 10.”
“The club hopes to arrange for a permanent meeting place and add such items as sewing machines for the use of the girls.”
Dec. 23, 1996: Twenty-five years ago today, Tom Hodge entertained and informed readers of his column with his thoughts about the Star of Bethlehem. Here’s what Mr. Hodge wrote: “Two thousand years ago, the Wise Men and the shepherds followed a star.”
“And folks still wonder about that star.”
“The Star of Bethlehem which the wise men followed was actually (a) a comet; (b) a supernova; (c) a conjunction of two planets; (d) a cluster of planets; or (e) a literary devise used by writers to validate Jesus’ birth.”
“The answer? Most likely (c), though no one knows for sure. Historians, theologians, and astronomers are speculating about the ‘Star of Wonder’ this year as their predecessors have for centuries.”
“The star that led the Magi to the manger shines just once in the Bible, in Matthew’s retelling of the Christmas story. Some speculate that the Wise Men who reportedly followed the star were Babylonian astrologers who would have seen it during their regular observations of the heavens.”
“The least probable answer of all is (a) – that the Wise Men actually saw a comet ‘with a tail as big as a kite,’ as one Christmas song describes it.”
“’Traditionally comets are associated with bad omens,’ said Dr. Harry Augensen, professor of physics and astronomy at Widener University in Chester, Pa. ‘People who look up at the sky would have known the difference between a star and a comet.’”
“Augensen said that he was unaware of any exploding star, or supernova (answer ‘b’), at the time of the birth of the Christian savior.”
“ ‘A supernova … would have been more noticeable than the other stars, he said. ‘But there is nothing in the story to indicate that the star was unusually bright.’”
“While he concluded that not knowing the date of Jesus’ birth makes it difficult to determine what the star may have been, Augensen said that (c), a conjunction of the planets, which happens every few years, is more likely than a supernova, which occurs only once a century.”
“Fred Grosse, professor of physics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., concurs that the star was more likely a conjunction or cluster of planets than a single celestial body.”
“A conjunction occurs when two planets are aligned such that they appear to be one object, said Grosse, while a cluster (d) occurs when a group of planets are very close, but not as precisely aligned.”
“Grosse thinks that the most probable theory is that, in the year of Jesus’ birth, Jupiter and Saturn moved close together in May, September, and December, causing a triple conjunction.”
“As the Magi may have come from as far away as Babylonia, Persia, or Egypt, the trip may have taken anywhere from a month to more than a year, and they may have seen the celestial convergence at various times.”
“Grosse, who is a Lutheran, said people should not be confused by discord between science and religion, even in the case of the mysterious star reports over Bethlehem.”
“’With science you can work out the facts and figure everything out,’ he said. ‘Religion you just pretty much have to believe.’”
Rebecca Henderson is a contributing columnist for Johnson City Press.
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