[Today’s post is sponsored by longtime reader and fan Carole Ann Thomas of Greenville NC]
It was just after midnight on New Years Day when the Cadillac crossed the Tennessee state line and pulled up to the all-night diner. The driver, a college kid named Charles Carr who had been pressed at that last minute into this job, asked the sole occupant of the back seat if he wanted anything to eat. That occupant, who had not been feeling well for several hours prior, is said to have declined the offer. The driver went inside, got a sack of burgers, and returned to the idling car to continue the arduous and icy all-night journey to Canton OH.
By the time the duo had passed Mount Hope and reached the outskirts of Oak Hill WV, sometime after 3:00 a.m., the driver noticed in the rearview mirror that the blanket had fallen off the seemingly resting passenger. He stopped to rearrange the cover given the bitterly cold night, only to find that his compadre’s hand was as cold as the ambient temperature. Yup, the man in the back was deader than yesterday’s fish by that point.
The car was a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible. The corpse was that of 29 year old Hank Williams, Sr., Hall of Fame and Grand Old Opry star, and arguably one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, with eleven Billboard country-western #1 hits then to his credit.
Williams was a known substance abuser, and over the previous twelve hours, is documented to have been drinking and taking the sedative chloral hydrate and possibly other prescription meds to assist him in sleep. His (not helpful) doctor in Knoxville had also given him a dose of morphine on top of all else before Williams started on the drive.
An autopsy documented the cause of death as myocardial infarction complicating preexisting congestive failure and severe substance abuse. But there were unexplained bruises on the body of indeterminate age, and for a while, suspicion fell on Carr, though no charges were ever filed. The matter was laid to rest amongst all but the hardest-core conspiracists.
And the burgers?
Carr said that Williams had declined his offer to eat when they pulled up to the Burger Bar in downtown Bristol VA just after midnight. But Carr did buy a sack-full, and whether Williams later partook of the snacks driving out of town is known only to Carr. In short, no one is sure if the Bristol burgers tipped an already-sick Williams over the edge into eternity.
But that possibility hasn’t hurt business any. I recently took my daughter to college in Tennessee, and on the way back, went through Bristol where we once lived. The Burger Bar is in full swing, capitalizing on its dubious connection to Hank Williams (if not exactly advertising the fact that the burgers might have killed him).
I’m a sucker for any roadside dive with history. The burgers are just as greasy and gooey as you’d expect from a grill of this age. If in town, don’t miss them… unless you’re on chloral hydrate.
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