1959 Middlesboro publicity and the park dedication

Published 11:19 am Friday, July 26, 2019

By William H. Baker

Contributing Columnist

Both Cumberland Gap and Middlesboro had made national headlines long before July 4, 1959.

Leading up to that date, and following it, both achieved a new level of publicity focused on the dedication of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

From 1750, the time of Dr. Thomas Walker’s naming of the area in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, the Cumberland Gap has attracted novelists, historians, song writers and others.

Since the City of Middlesborough experienced both the boom and bust of the late 1800s, the “Magic City” has attracted media attention, both positive and negative.

The Dedication Committee for the nation’s newest historical park in July 1959 established a plan for the publicity and marketing of the event that would lead to months of positive publicity for the city, the park and the tri-state area.

Resulting from that effort were hundreds of stories and pictures about the “Pathway of Pioneers” as well as large outdoor billboards in eight or 10 states that promoted Cumberland Gap as the place to visit in the summer of 1959.

The billboards were designed by members of the committee and printed by professionals. Billboard company owners agreed to post the billboards as a public service.

For weeks prior to the dedication, news stories appeared daily in the Middlesboro Daily News and were distributed to dozens of newspapers in several states.

Radio announcements were written and produced at WMIK by staff members who volunteered their time. The public service announcements were mailed to dozens of radio stations throughout the immediate area and into the Midwest, where many descendants of the early pioneers now lived.

Committee members made live appearances on television stations in Bristol, Knoxville and Roanoke. No tapes, no videos. Glossy black and white photographs. Television was still in its early stages of development, so personal appearances were used to promote the park dedication.

Preston Green, Middlesboro business and civic leader and World War II veteran, had served in the military with Frank Blair, nationally known journalist. He suggested a call to Blair might result in a story on the approaching dedication. The news anchor for the “Today” show on NBC-TV agreed and asked for film. A photographer was hired, film done and mailed to NBC. Unfortunately, when the package arrived in New York the container was empty. The film had been lost en route.

One big disappointment, but it didn’t stop Blair from promoting the dedication, and it didn’t stop the local committee from applauding Preston Green for his determination.

On a personal note, years later, I was fortunate enough to add Frank Blair’s autobiography [Let’s Be Frank About It, 1979] to a small collection of autographed books. The book reminds me again and again of the work done by local community leaders in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu