When I was growing up, my mother often told me stories of our family history that had been passed down through the generations. One story in particular that always amused me was chronicled in a book entitled “Key and Allied families.” It was the story of my seventh-generation grandfather who lived in Virginia in Colonial times. One day a young suitor called on his daughter, Alice. Her father, Dr. Crymes, was taken aback by the young man. After the young man left, Dr. Crymes forbade Alice from seeing the man ever again. He explained that the young man drank too much rum, spent too much time hunting foxes and worked as a farmer. That young man was a young farmer named George Washington. Alice later married a man who had served under Washington, as a captain, in the Revolutionary War.
It was stories such as these that instilled within me a fascination with history, particularly the strange and unusual aspects of history. Studying the strange and unusual aspects of history is like taking a road less traveled and discovering facts seldom chronicled and often overlooked in the grand scheme of historical research. Most know of the Lincoln assassination, but few know that four presidents have been assassinated and each time a president is murdered he is in the company of a member of the Lincoln family. Most are familiar with the life of George Washington but few know the bizarre cause of his death which seems to defy belief.
After nine years of freelance writing for more than 30 magazines and newspapers, I went to work for the Citizen Tribune newspaper in Morristown, Tennessee where my knowledge of history paid off well.
While there I interviewed a number of people who played an integral role in history. Among them were Frank Buckles, who, at the age of 107, was the last veteran of World War I. I interviewed Dutch Van Kirk, the navigator of the Enola Gay which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I interviewed veterans of Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, and D-Day as well as a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis tragedy. I interviewed numerous politicians (such as Gov. Bill Haslam, Gov. Phil Bredesen, U.S. Senators (Bob Corker, and Lamar Alexander), U.S. congressmen (Phil Roe, David Davis), actors, (Including David Keith, Ben Jones, Catherine Bach, Margaret Pelligini, of ‘Wizard of Oz’ fame, Robert Clary, Lou Ferrigno, Kathy Garver, and others) country music stars ( such as Aaron Tippin, Vince Gill. Josh Turner, Freddie Hart, Billy Currington), athletes (Such as Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier, Rusty Wallace, Mick Foley, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, and others) and authors, ( such as Dwana Pusser, Ashley Williams, Amy Greene, Ron Hall, Michael Knight, Mary McDonough and many others) and comedians (Gallagher and Steven Wright) and more.
In 2008 I covered a funeral that would prove pivotal in my career as a writer. It was the funeral of a sailor killed in World War II. His body was discovered in 2007 and returned home in 2008, 65 years after he was killed. The funeral was in Sneedville, Tennessee, and my story was picked up by the Associated Press and ran in newspapers across the nation. I soon began stringing for the AP.
My fascination with strange historical facts prompted me to write “Stranger than Fiction: The Lincoln Curse,” a collection of 50 stories about the weird and bizarre twists of history.”
Michael Williams lives in Sevierville, Tennessee with his wife of 29 years. He works as a contributing writer for the Associated Press, the Knoxville Journal and the Civil War Courier. In addition he is the editor of the seviercountynews.com.