We’re coming upon Halloween, that time of year when things get scary. (I’ll throw in the fact that Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses and started the Reformation on Halloween, something that Bossuet could appreciate.) In any case “ghost stories” make their way to the surface. In Cleveland, TN, that means “Tall Betsy,” a story initiated by another Cleveland legend, Allan Jones. According to the “official website“:
Tall Betsy was a very tall woman who walked the streets of Cleveland, TN in the early 1920s. She always wore black and was referred to by the townspeople as Tall Betsy, Black Betsy, and the Lady in Black. Marie used the stories of Tall Betsy to get young Gincy to be home before the street lights came on because that is when “TALL BETSY” comes out.
Since score-settling about past offences is the rage these days, I think it’s time to do so on Betsy’s behalf.
I come from a family of tall people in general and tall women in particular. My mother was 5′-11″ and my wife is 5′-9″. It’s not been easy to be a tall woman. Growing upon in Palm Beach (where Allan Jones has his digs just down the street from where my grandmother lived), we’d watch a show on WPTV called “Call the Doctor”. Television moved a lot slower in those days; all this amounted to was a physician and a moderator sitting in front of the camera taking live calls about medical issues. One caller was distressed that her daughter was shooting up so fast and wondered what could be done. The doctor’s first response was brief: “Tall men”. (Worked in my family…) But then he went on to say that there were drugs and other treatments that could stunt growth, and many women in the day were subjected to that kind of thing.
The sad truth was that, in a culture where men hated to look up to a woman in any way, tall women were regarded as freaks. That’s compounded in this part of the country by the fact that the Scots-Irish, among their other characteristics, tend to be vertically challenged. They had a few defenders, though: J.R.R. Tolkien conceived of the Lady Galadriel at 6′-4″. Had she grown up in these hills, she would have gotten many phone calls from Pat Summitt.
Summitt and the Lady Vols did a great deal to advance the cause of women, tall and otherwise. It’s hard to argue with winners. But sooner or later those winners will go shopping, and in Knoxville that meant the Tall Gallery. Near the West Town Mall, it was one of my wife’s favourite “tall shops”, which have pretty much disappeared from the landscape. Owned by two elderly women who barely reached the ground, it was a place for hours of hunting through the clearance racks (and for me they had the best waiting area of just about anywhere where my wife has shopped). Greeting everyone who came into the place was a 7′ or so stuffed giraffe in the display window, an example that it’s possible to turn a put-down into a mascot.
Now, in fairness, there are tall women who are really scary. Leading the pack these days is Samantha Power, our ambassador to the UN, who along with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Valerie Jarrett and John Kerry, have made a complete mess of American foreign policy with their combination of pseudo-moralism and passive-aggressive behaviour. Thanks to them and others, every day in the Middle East is Halloween without the treat.
So if Allan Jones wants to promote some Gothic horrors (or maybe Celtic horrors, she’s from Ireland) about “Tall Samantha” we’d all be better off. In the meanwhile it’s time to put away the fears (and the shortening drugs) and, as our TN-3 congressman Chuck Fleishmann knows all too well with his South Dakota colleague Kristi Noem, celebrate leadership we can look up to.