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Source: The Greeneville Sun
by Amy Rose
President Andrew Johnson’s 200th birthday anniversary was celebrated in grand style Monday night at the end of a busy year of Bicentennial activities commemorating his birth two centuries ago on Dec. 29, 1808.
Several hundred local residents of all ages, plus numerous out-of-town visitors, joined in the various festivities, which began at 4 p.m. with a birthday party at Towne Square Shopping Center, complete with cake, balloons, the singing of “Happy Birthday,” and live music.
The party was followed by a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Johnson’s grave atop Monument Hill at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, capped by a spectacular fireworks display in crisp, clear weather.
The impressive 15-minute fireworks show was launched from Hardin Park a few blocks away and was followed by spontaneous applause and cheers from the crowd watching from atop Monument Hill.
“What a way to end a wonderful year!” said Carlos Whaley, who with Jim Small, chief of operations of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, served as co-chair of the Andrew Johnson Bicentennial Celebration Steering Committee.
Monday’s festivities concluded with a two-hour event at the General Morgan Inn to recognize those who contributed time, money, or energy to make the year-long bicentennial celebration a success. More information on the recognition ceremony will appear in Wednesday’s edition of The Greeneville Sun.
Presidential Birthday Party
Johnson’s 200th birthday party was held under a large white tent in the area of the Towne Square Shopping Center parking lot near the intersection of West Summer and Irish streets.
The hundreds of partygoers who stopped by the celebration were treated to birthday cake, coffee and lemonade.
Among them were Jackie Reece and Jess and Marylyn Bailey of Erwin. The Baileys brought their 10-year-old grandson, Gunnar Bailey, of Clarksville, Ga., to the celebration.
Marylyn Bailey recalled that they enjoyed a summer visit to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, and they decided to return for the birthday celebration, especially to see the luminaries that were placed at the National Cemetery.
“This really is a jewel of a place,” she said of Greeneville.
Also at the party were Jack and Kitty Stewart, who retired from California to Mosheim four years ago.
Jack Stewart, a former junior high school history teacher, said he greatly appreciates the bicentennial celebration’s respect for Johnson and what he stood for.
“[Coming to the celebration Monday] just seemed to be the right thing to do on the 29th,” he said.
The Stewarts noted that they have taken all three of their teenage grandchildren, who live in Asheville, N.C., to the museum at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. One of their grandchildren shares a birthday with Johnson, they said.
Greene County native Gayle White attended the birthday party with her husband, Zachary White, and their one-year-old daughter, Makynzee White.
Gayle White said she is amazed by the fact that Johnson is buried in Greeneville, a fact she just learned on Sunday by reading The Greeneville Sun.
Her toddler daughter enjoyed playing with one of the red, white and blue balloons during the party.
Cakes Served Civil War-Style
Each of the four large birthday cakes was decorated with the official Andrew Johnson Bicentennial logo featuring a portrait of the 17th president. The cake was served by Civil War reenactors in uniform.
While live music was played by the band “Stolen Moments,” a slideshow focusing on Johnson’s life as well as scenes from the events held throughout the year was shown inside the tent.
Just outside the tent, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service were offering specially postmarked postal cachets to commemorate the event. Each was offered for sale at $5.
Lizzie Watts, superintendent of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, welcomed the crowd, which totaled about 100. They sang “Happy Birthday” to Johnson near the beginning of the party.
Later, beginning about 5:30, partygoers were transported free on two Greene Coach buses to the national cemetery several blocks away, where they were joined by a large crowd that braved the cold for the wreath-laying ceremony that began shortly after 6:30 p.m.
‘Most Beautiful View’
The cemetery was decorated with 1,500 clear luminary bags that glowed more brightly as the sun set.
“This is the most beautiful view in the city of Greeneville,” World War II veteran Arthur Ricker told his wife, Edith Ricker, as they watched the sun set behind the mountains of southwestern Greene County.
Many attendees took photos of the monument at Johnson’s grave as they waited for the ceremony to begin.
The crowd was welcomed by Supt. Watts, who spoke about Johnson’s rise from poverty to fulfill the American dream.
She said Johnson honored his opportunity to achieve that dream through 40 years of public service, from his election as a young town alderman in Greeneville to U.S. President.
Watts said she thinks Johnson would have been honored to know that the crowd was there to honor his life.
Prayer was led by Chaplain Kevin Millsaps of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard, which represented President George W. Bush during the wreath-laying ceremony.
Brig. Gen. Isaac Osborne, of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, spoke about Johnson’s life, describing him has “an honest and honorable man,” “a champion of the common man,” and “a man of great courage and integrity.”
Osborne explained that Johnson was born in Raleigh, N.C., served as a tailor’s apprentice, came to Greeneville as a young man in 1826, and opened his own tailor shop.
Johnson had no formal education and taught himself to read, he said. Later, he learned much from his wife, Eliza McCardle Johnson, Osborne noted.
His tailor shop became the site of many political debates, which led Johnson to pursue a career in politics, he said.
Johnson was thrust into the presidency after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, who had chosen Johnson as his vice president, Osborne told the crowd.
Johnson led the Reconstruction of the nation after the Civil War and was instrumental in the abolition of slavery.
His goal as president, Osborne said, was to see the nation restored to unity, and his policy on that issue led him into conflict with many in Congress who had a more punitive view toward the former Confederate states.
His congressional enemies impeached him, but he was acquitted by one vote in his impeachment trial, the general pointed out.
During his presidency, the 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution were adopted, Nebraska was added as a state, and the Alaska territory was purchased.
A wreath also was laid by Judge James Handy, of Delaware, representing the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.
The wreath-laying was followed by three volleys totaling 21 shots by the Greene County Honor Guard, and the playing of “Taps.”
Park guide Emma Edmonds sang the national anthem, which was immediately followed by the 15-minute fireworks display.
Those attending the GreenBank Ladies Classic high school basketball tournament at nearby Hal Henard Elementary School were able to leave the gymnasium to watch the fireworks.
When fireworks ended, the crowd erupted in spontaneous cheering.
Several residents in outlying parts of Greene County, including Mosheim and the South Greene area, reported seeing the fireworks from their homes.
Following the wreath-laying and fireworks, the cemetery was opened to traffic for viewing of the luminaries.
A Full Year Of Events
The year-long celebration of the Johnson Bicentennial was kicked off on Dec. 29, 2007, with a 199th birthday party at the Nathanael Greene Museum and a daytime wreath-laying ceremony at Johnson’s grave.
Throughout the year, Johnson was portrayed by Daniel Luther, a staff member of the National Historic Site.
At the 199th birthday celebration, Luther presented “Tennessee Tailor,” a speech from the end of Johnson’s term as president which Luther had memorized; a reading of Johnson’s final amnesty proclamation for Southerners; and the recounting of Johnson’s 60th birthday celebration in the White House.
Other varying bicentennial events throughout the year included lectures, a scholarly symposium at Tusculum College, Civil War reenactment activities, concerts and other family-oriented celebrations.
The events were organized by the Steering Committee that first assembled with numerous community members in April 2007.
The official committee members, in addition to Watts and co-chairs Small and Whaley, were Jim Austin, of Andrew Johnson Bank; Denise Carr and LeRoy Ripley, of the George Clem Multicultural Association; Earl Fletcher, director of the Nathanael Greene Museum; Larry Henderson, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1990; Tammy Kinser, tourism director of the Greene County Partnership; Kathy Knight, of The Greeneville Sun and Main Street: Greeneville; Nancy McNeese Monger, Greeneville alderman and former executive director of Main Street: Greeneville; Dr. Robert Orr, historian; and Sarah Webster, Greeneville alderman.
The committee originally hoped to have at least one event a month, and sometimes two a month were held, Small noted.
The committee’s goals were:
• “to present the life of Johnson in the context of his time as a springboard to discuss the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction and Civil Rights;
• “to encourage, through a formal education process, a stronger interest in local and regional history to both youth and adults concerning issues around Andrew Johnson’s political career and his early years in Greeneville;
• “to build tourism in Greene County by marketing the bicentennial on a broad scale that will increase visitation and tourism dollars; and
• “to develop community pride and awareness during this celebration that will have future positive and lasting impact.”
Small noted Monday night that, while visitation at other national historic sites has decreased in 2008, visitation to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site has been up 5 percent this year.
“It has been a remarkably amazing year!” Watts summed up.