A Long Walk’s End

William Browning: On a Saturday morning in May, 2015, a group of law enforcement agents, the FBI among them, knocked on the front door of the Montgomery Homestead Inn in Damascus, Virginia. The proprietor, a retired kindergarten teacher who lives across East Laurel Ave. from the inn, happened to be there at the time. She does not know for sure how many agents were on the inn’s porch. She guesses three or four, though her husband told her later another man was positioned at the back door.

“There were just a lot of men out there,” Susie Montgomery said.

Damascus (pop. 800) is in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the Appalachian Trail. Downtown consists of about five blocks “but in those blocks there are five churches,” Montgomery said. A visitor crosses one bridge coming in, another heading out. Idyllic is the word. The Montgomery Homestead Inn is only an old, two-story brick home with four bedrooms travelers can rent. On the morning those FBI agents came knocking, it was the weekend of the annual Appalachian Trail Days Festival, when something like 20,000 hikers descend on the town for fellowship and revelry, and the inn’s four rooms had been booked for weeks. Montgomery did not know what business the men crowding the porch could have there.

When she opened the front door, one of the agents held up a photograph of a man and asked if she knew him. She looked at it and said, “Yes. That’s Bismarck.”

Bismarck was the trail name of an Appalachian Trail hiker who had checked in the previous day. He had been staying at Montgomery’s inn periodically since 2010. She considered him an “easy guest.” He usually stayed for three days, paid in cash (like everyone else), and each time he left, the bed would be made and the room was clean.

The agents asked if Bismarck was inside. Montgomery said she was not sure, and what was this about, anyway? The men identified themselves as law enforcement agents and said they needed to talk with Bismarck about a case of fraud. Montgomery asked for identification, which they provided, and she took them to the room where Bismarck was staying.

Long Strange Trip

Jay Cridlin: TAMPA — Minutes after midnight, Uncle John’s Band closes another sprawling set at Skipper’s Smokehouse with the Grateful Dead’s U.S. Blues, drawing cheers from the tie-dyed faithful.

Bassist Mike Edwards deflates into a stoop at stage right, wincing, rubbing his hip and his head. He fingers a cigarette as giddy fans share kudos.

“That was a long four hours,” he says, limping off stage.

The hours are all long these days, but Uncle John’s Band keeps rolling. This was the Grateful Dead tribute act’s 850th gig at Skipper’s. But for Edwards, the group’s sole remaining founder, their gigs this weekend will top them all.

Friday through Sunday, for the first and last time, Uncle John’s Band will finally cross paths with the band they so faithfully honor. The Grateful Dead’s four core surviving members — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart — are reuniting for three star-studded, 50th anniversary farewell concerts at Soldier Field in Chicago. Each day, Uncle John’s Band will headline a four-hour pre-show party at the Field Museum just across the street.

It would be a tasty gig for any tribute band. But for Edwards — a Deadhead lifer who has seen the band live about 95 times, more than all other members of Uncle John’s Band combined — Chicago represents something greater. It’s the culmination of a life in service of the band that shaped his identity.

Hate, Hurt And Healing

Anne Hull: CHARLESTON, S.C. — The glow of their phones lighted up their faces in the night. Terrell White and his friends kept looking down at the updates, trying to separate rumor from conspiracy theory from actual fact. It was 9 o’clock — 24 hours after a suspected white gunman had killed nine black people at church two miles to the south — and here on King Street, the struggle to understand was underway.

“People at Bible study, hearing God’s word?” White said, shaking his head. “That’s no heart. That’s no fear.”

“That’s white America,” said Abdul Denmark, a barber at Fresh Cuts No. 2.

“Man, I wish we had some answers,” White said.

A Flower for the Graves

Eugene Patterson, Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 16, 1963:

A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.

Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.

It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.

Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.

We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.

We — who go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.

We — who raise no hand to silence the mean and little men who have their nigger jokes.

We — who stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring.

We — the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition — we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die.

This is no time to load our anguish onto the murderous scapegoat who set the cap in dynamite of our own manufacture.

He didn’t know any better.

Somewhere in the dim and fevered recess of an evil mind he feels right now that he has been a hero. He is only guilty of murder. He thinks he has pleased us.

We of the white South who know better are the ones who must take a harsher judgment.

We, who know better, created a climate for child-killing by those who don’t.

We hold that shoe in our hand, Southerner. Let us see it straight, and look at the blood on it. Let us compare it with the unworthy speeches of Southern public men who have traduced the Negro; match it with the spectacle of shrilling children whose parents and teachers turned them free to spit epithets at small huddles of Negro school children for a week before this Sunday in Birmingham; hold up the shoe and look beyond it to the state house in Montgomery where the official attitudes of Alabama have been spoken in heat and anger.

Let us not lay the blame on some brutal fool who didn’t know any better.

We know better. We created the day. We bear the judgment. May God have mercy on the poor South that has so been led. May what has happened hasten the day when the good South, which does live and has great being, will rise to this challenge of racial understanding and common humanity, and in the full power of its unasserted courage, assert itself.

The Sunday school play at Birmingham is ended. With a weeping Negro mother, we stand in the bitter smoke and hold a shoe. If our South is ever to be what we wish it to be, we will plant a flower of nobler resolve for the South now upon these four small graves that we dug.

Platforms and presentations

What are your favorite non-print presentations of stories? I’m partial to reading something on paper, but most of the things I most want to read are only available to me digitally. There are some slick things out there, but sometimes it feels like the flashy presentation gets in the way of the story.

I really enjoyed the Tampa Bay Times’ comic book treatment of The Incredible Adventures of Chuck, the Carpenter. (Written by Caitlin Johnston, illustrated by Cameron Cottril)

The New York Times is doing great work, at Upshot in particular, in building interactive pieces built on data. It’s not traditional story-telling, but it ends up presenting something tailored to an individual reader. This piece was really fun to play with, comparing how different counties stack up. As was this one, that allowed people to see how their perception of the link between income and college stacked up against reality.

I’m fascinated with Fold. I played with it earlier this year, to build a digital history of the Mark Jensen case, which has played out in the courts over the past 18 years. The format let me pull in things that could never really have fit in our print product (or on our website, without being incredibly clunky).

Anybody have other links to share?

‘Always A Rotten Apple’

Thomas Lake: BB King always slept with the light on, even as an old man, because he’d never shaken his fear of the dark. One summer night when he was a boy, a tornado howled across the Delta and deposited small fish in the cotton fields and left him in his mother’s arms in a cabin without a roof.

This Friday, with another storm drenching Mississippi, King lay in his coffin between two of his guitars. The lights were on and his eyes were closed as admirers walked past for a final glimpse. Nearby, in an auxiliary building at the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, board member Allan Hammons was telling a story. He’d been with King at a funeral a few years earlier, and he said King had told him: “I want you to pay special attention to the lyrics of the lead song on my new album.”

The Things They Still Carry

I thought this, from the young man who lives in my shed, was very well done for the amount of restraint.

Do read Zack Peterson: RIVERVIEW

Christopher Marquis is not quite 6.

He loves lizards and letters and flashcards and trains. To strangers, he offers garden stakes, which he pretends are hot dogs.

He graduates from kindergarten this week, and one day his mother thinks he’ll become an engineer or a physics professor.

But his father will never see it.

Army Spc. Christophe J. Marquis died Sept. 4, 2010, from injuries he sustained during a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, days before his son’s second birthday.

Father and son, one letter apart but a thousand worlds away.

“I wish now that I actually would have named him after his father,” said Brittany Jackson-Marquis, Christophe’s widow.

To this day the pain never stops, but Jackson-Marquis, 26, finds the questions to be the hardest part.

They stem from mundane things like movies. When they watched Frozen together, Christopher was intrigued by a sinking ship.

Did the passengers die like my papa?

Split Image

Kate Fagan: 

ON THE MORNING of Jan. 17, 2014, Madison Holleran awoke in her dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. She had spent the previous night watching the movie The Parent Trap with her good friend Ingrid Hung. Madison went to class. She took a test. She told a few friends she would meet them later that night at the dining hall. She went to the Penn bookstore and bought gifts for her family.

While she was there, her dad called. “Maddy, have you found a therapist down there yet?” he asked.

“No, but don’t worry, Daddy, I’ll find one,” she told him.

But she had no intention of finding one. In fact, she was, at that exact moment, buying the items she would leave for her family at the top of a parking garage. Godiva chocolates for her dad. Two necklaces for her mom. Gingersnaps for her grandparents, who always had those cookies in their home. Outfits for her nephew, Hayes, who had been born two weeks earlier. The Happiness Project for Ingrid, with a note scribbled inside. And a picture of herself as a young kid, holding a tennis racket. Over winter break she had told her dad that she was borrowing that picture, that she needed it for something.

She didn’t say what.