Over the years Athens has certainly been the scene of some unusual events and people – and the Athens Review has described many of them.
Many believe that part of Athens’ history is as having a sort of “wild and woolly” image – perhaps not much removed from the “old west.” And one personification of this was renowned Sheriff Jess Sweeten who served for some 20 years in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. His law enforcement reputation made him legendary – and sometimes controversial but one time Sweeten seemed glad to promote the “old west” Athens atmosphere.
In the October 15, 1936 Athens Weekly Review the headline described how Sweeten had proved he was willing to “Try Anything Once.” This was because the sheriff – and Mabank’s City Marshal Dave Drennan – was scheduled to ride a “wild steer” at the Aley Rodeo.
“Two especially active Brahma steers from the bottom will be provided for the two officers” a rodeo spokesman said, adding that the “performances will be under electric lights and the rodeo program will be entirely free to the public.”
The rodeo as staged by the Aley school was to be free, but they hoped to raise money by selling drinks and sandwiches.
Another Athens “wild and woolly tradition” was the multitude of illegal stills set up to provide refreshment to thirsty county residents at a time when liquor was officially banned. One lawman encountered this as described in the Athens Weekly Review of May 13, 1954 under the headline, “Home Brew, Containers Discovered in Woods.”
The find consisted of three gallons of “home brew” as well as four empty gallon containers and two large brewing jars, discovered by Constable Jess Glasgow in a rural area just northeast of Athens. The scene proved to be long abandoned.
Then in 1947 Sheriff Holiman had a similar experience as described in the January 23 issue under the headline “Being Helpful Works Two Ways…”
Holiman was driving toward Chandler planning to raid a place he believed was selling illegal liquor when somehow his car got stuck in the mud. And though several local men showed up to help him push his vehicle back on the road, it seemed that one or more of his rescuers “went over the hill and helped the man he was going to visit.”
But whatever happened, the reporter related that the “.. sheriff found nothing when he reached the place except ‘enough jugs and bottles to fill a carload and smelling of corn, the bottled in the barn kind.’”
According to the sheriff, the man at the scene “…said they didn’t sell any liquor there, but that they drank a lot,”
Beyond this rustic image, Athens residents often assisted their neighbors as demonstrated when, according to the April 27, 1939 Athens Review pilot George Evans needed some unusual help. As the reporter related, “One of the few night landings at Robbins field in the south edge of the city was made Wednesday night when George Evans flew here from Lubbock after receiving news that his mother had been stricken and was very low.”
Evans stopped in Dallas to call Athens since he wanted to get help for his landing. The reporter described what happened: “The trip from Dallas required only about thirty minutes, but when the plane arrived here there were possibly 75 cars circled around the field with their lights on, completely lining [and lighting] the landing field. The aviator landed without mishap.”
Then there was the case of Nath Boyd who may be said to personify the “quirky” part of life in Athens when according to the October 22, 1936 Athens Weekly Review article he became the local banana-eating champion.
He won the honor as one afternoon he “consumed 40 bananas at a special exhibition at Adams and Richardson grocery on the south side of the square.” Bystanders were buying the bananas and business “was brisk as Boyd proved conclusively that he is in a class by himself when it comes to eating the tropical fruit.”
It was also said that Boyd had previously once gobbled 65 bananas at a stand on West Corsicana Street but that could not verified.
So why did he do it? Did he merely want the “honor” of holding a banana-eating record? Possibly, but he was also quoted as saying, “I just like ‘em!”