Fire at Tweetsie

Tweetsie Railroad, 1959

The first thing I heard this morning was the announcer on my clock-radio saying that the building housing the museum and gift shop at Tweetsie Railroad had been destroyed in a fire over the weekend. This awful news gives me a pang of sad nostalgia, as I grew up within earshot of the Tweetsie whistle—close enough that we could stand on our deck and watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. We went to Tweetsie pretty often (I specifically remember performing an excellent Ghostbusters-themed routine at the Palace Saloon with my tap dance class). The smell of railroad tar always reminds me of those childhood visits.

The good news is that only one building was lost; the bad news is that it was one of the original depot buildings, and contained pieces of irreplaceable memorabilia including railroad timetables and lanterns, photographs, and the boots, saddle, Stetson, holster, and shirt worn by singing cowboy Fred Kirby during his 30-year career portraying Tweetsie’s marshal. The Morton images below show Kirby in 1959, his first year in the role.

Fred Kirby as the Tweetsie Marshal, with other actors, July 1959

In the image below, the boy at center (in the tube socks) is Jim Morton, Hugh Morton’s son.

Fred Kirby as the Tweetsie Marshal posing with boys including Jim Morton, July 1959

This last image, a cropped version of the original, shows Hugh Morton posing with Kirby (in his trademark red shirt with white fringe) at Grandfather Mountain in about 1963. The photographer is unknown.

Hugh Morton and Fred Kirby at Grandfather Mountain, ca. 1963.

5 thoughts on “Fire at Tweetsie

  1. Cathy Cole from Tweetsie says: “We have several very nice temporary buildings in place with the essential functions (First Aid, Stroller Rental and Restrooms); the roof, porch and Wild West façade which unite them are still under construction. Plans for the permanent replacement for the Depot are still in the early conceptual stage. We won’t be devoting any substantial time to planning until after the temporary buildings are completed and we are open fulltime. Construction of the permanent building will probably start immediately after the end of the 2008 season.”

  2. Others in the picture of Jim Morton with Fred are (I think) Norman Cocke, Bill Cocke, and Peter Pottle. I do not know the smallest boy or the boy on Fred’s right.
    Whoever took the picture of Fred and Hugh no doubt simply tripped the shutter. Hugh would set the shot up and ask someone else to take it if he was going to be in it, which he seldom was.

  3. Loved the lively scene presented in the second photo (where the man with the tube socks appears); happy at least some of this heritage was salvaged.

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