Images courtesy Julie Dilworth


Cable Channel 6 [Nashville, TN] – “A Primitive Weather Channel Christmas” (Excerpt, 1975)

Hello again.

I have been away for a while, but am back. Expect new things soon!


In this oil the young art student moved into experimentation with color, framing the face with a bright halo effect and sweeping a prismatic bond of color in on upward arc behind the head.
From The Tennesseean Magazine January 1979 –  Thanks Nate for loaning the magazine!

By Clara Hieronymus

The paintings and drawings of 50 years ago are a part of Mary Northern’s legacy; the rest of the legacy consists of an ongoing debate about forcible Good Samaritanism as against a victim’s own wishes.

maryAt 18, Mary Caroline Northern,
looks like a much younger schoolgirl.
This is the yearbook picture,
Ward-Belmont class of 1924.
Painting3Mary Northern pored over magazines as a teen­ager,
and made color sketches in the style of horse race
magazines as in this cartoon.

Last month Belmont’s Leu Gallery was filled with a disparate array of drawings, oils, watercolors, small pencil sketches and a motley of newspaper clippings and snapshots.

They represented the work of a young woman, done when life lay mostly before her and she was in that period of early adulthood when dreams, yearnings, and hopes call most urgently for expres­sion.

The exhibit comprised some 75 items painted or sketched in the 1920s and 30s by the late Mary Caroline Northern soon after her graduation from the fashion­able Ward-Belmont school for girls and long before she became a ghostly recluse in a rubble-filled, unheated, and unlight­ed house in East Nashville. The snap­shots are of its rooms.

There is something touching about the pieces in this collection. They give evi­dence of a genuine talent, but a talent that was mostly potential and was never to be developed beyond this stage of time in a young life. For the most part they are no better and no worse than the paintings and drawings by most art-interested teen-agers who eagerly, prolifically try their skills in the modes of their time.

She finished high school in 1924 at the age of 18, and the next year completed a correspondence course in art with the Federal School of Illustrating and Car­tooning. Apparently she continued to study for a little longer with that school, submitting work and receiving evalua­tions and suggestions.

She painted some portrait heads in oil, made some illustration-type sketches in pencil and watercolor, created some watercolor and ink cartoon sketches with comic quote-line captions (these look as if they derived from magazine cartoons of the 1920s), did some figure drawings in pencil and some “continuous line” drawings in black ink.

There are also some figure studies in pencil, the kind done for art class as­signments. Miss Northern’s work reflects the period of the 1920s, both in the angular Art Deco motifs and the wearing apparel of her subjects. She apparently was more interested in people as sub­jects than in landscapes or still lifes.

Soon after her death on May 1 (1978) at the age of 72, when her art work was discov­ered in the grisly dwelling she had lived in most of her pitiable life, much was made of some color drawings done in the manner of Vogue magazine covers. It is highly unlikely that these were ever actually accepted for publication; like other works in the collection they seem more to reflect the enthusiastic experi­mentation the young art student engaged in as she tried to increase her skills and find a direction for expressing them. They are done in the style used by that magazine’s cover artists, but they are not of cover quality.

Evidence of other self-conscious ex­perimentation is found in the signatures on the varied works. Like most teen­agers, she tried out many versions in the way she signed her name, sometimes using script, sometimes printing, some­times running the letters all together, but obviously trying for a way that would both please her and call attention to it­self.

A letter from an instructor at the correspondence school commends, her efforts, notes that she draws very well, and asks her to let the writer know what response she gets from the magazine.

An auction of Miss Northern’s art and personal effects last July brought unbelievably good prices, though buyers admitted that their value derived more from the “story behind them” than from the merits of the art per se.

The oils in the Belmont show have been cleaned by Lyzon Gallery and restored to vivid freshness of color. The ink, pencil and watercolor drawings are miracu­lously clean, and one marvels at that fact. Apparently they were kept in manila envelopes and covered away in an upstairs room; despite the broken win­dows and the years’ accumulations of dust and detritus, these bits of Miss Northern’s younger, happier life re­mained intact.

The Reverend Palmer Sorrow, admin­istrator of Miss Northern’s estate, says he is considering the selection of one of the drawings with the idea of making an edition of 500 prints to offer for sale.

The show of her work opened recently (Dec. 26 – Jan. 12) at the Third National Bank. On Jan. 20 there is to be an auction from 2 to 5 p.m. at Maryland Farms in Brentwood. Since the earlier sale yielded enough revenue to pay Miss Northern’s debts, Sorrow said proceeds from the coming auction will be divided between Belmont College and the Hospital Hospi­tality House.

He notes that the auction, to be con­ducted by Bill Colson, will take place almost on the anniversary of Miss Northern’s death. Sorrow is very san­guine about the probability that this sale will bring high prices. He feels that the story of Miss Northern’s strange life will make buyers eager to bid for the work offered; to him it seems fitting that she might be remembered for these rather cheerful expressions and not for the sad squalor in which she suffered out her final years as an eccentric old woman with gangrenous feet who would have frozen to death had she not been taken forcibly to a hospital.

Myron King, of Lyzon Gallery, said the color drawings reminded him of Villon prints brought back from Paris by the late Philip Perkins.· “They are interesting because of the timing of what she did and when she did it,” he said. “The sale is a natural for a charity and should be an interesting one.” John A. Hill, an art collector and member of the Fine Arts Committee at Cheekwood, said, “It’s terribly interest­ing work because it represents its period, the 1930s mainly. It’s obvious that she copied the style of art being done at that time, and most of it is decorative. I think we’ll buy one or two things for Cheekwood because of their historical interest.”

Mary Northern’s 1924 yearbook from Ward-Belmont school and a few
pencil sketches mode in the late 1920s and 30s shore space in this cabinet in Belmont’s Leu Gallery.
Mary Northern lived as a recluse in this dilapidated house on Gallatin Rd.,
so overgrown and dark, people in the neighborhood thought no one lived there.
Miss Northern, her feet frostbitten and bleeding from burns suffered when she tried
to warm them in this fireplace, lived, ate and slept in the sagging chair seen here.
In this self-portrait as a young woman, Miss Northern apparently
veiled the eyes as if the artist’s appraising look penetrated too deeply.

Hers was a story that puzzled, troubled, touched and exasperated people, not only in Nashville but in other cities in other states. It set off ethical debates and editorials, as well as columns by syndicated writers on a national level.

Mary Northern, who had lived alone after her mother’s death in 1960, and was reclusive even before that, literally withdrew from the world except for such necessities as going to the store with her Social Security check to buy meager supplies for herself and the six cats that occupied the filth and ashes piled up in the downstairs room of her house.

Windows were broken, there had been fires in the room she lived in, sitting in a broken down chair in front of a fireplace, keeping her catsup bottle and other food under the chair and using the mantel as an ashtray. Without electricity, the house was dark and unheated. Miss Northern’s feet had suffered severe frostbite during the cold winter of 1976-77 and, trying to warm them, she had burned them badly.

When Sorrow, a neighbor up the street who had often taken food to her, saw the horrifying condition of her black­ened and bleeding feet, he called the Department of Human Services which had also been taking food and trying to help.

It was he who said, “Something has to be done. You must make her go to the hospital.”

Police were sent and Miss Northern, kicking and screaming was taken to the hospital. Doctors, examining the irreparable damage, urged amputation but the patient refused consent. Ultimately, nature and daily whirlpool baths washed away the decayed flesh and left bare bones, some of which surgeons re­moved.

Strong-willed and cantankerously independent, Miss Northern took the anti-coagulating medication or refused to take it, as she wished. She weathered pain and pneumonia but not the blood clot which doctors had feared would be a probability, and on May 1 died peaceably, in a clean bed, in clean apparel, looked after and tended to in spite of her­self.

The aspect which so intrigued all who heard or read about the Northern case had to do with interpretations of moral obligation toward those who need help, and the right of the person to resist that help. The courts at one point had said Miss Northern was incapable of deciding for herself and ordered amputation. She felt otherwise and, with the help of her attorney, successfully fought that ruling.

Columnist Ellen Goodman of Boston quoted William Cur­ran, professor of legal medicine at Harvard Medical School about the court’s decision to declare Miss Northern incompe­tent. ” .. . It may owe more to St. Augustine’s Confessions than to Gray’s Anatomy. It stems from the idea that individuals hold their bodies in trust, that the body is the vessel of the soul and people have an obligation to sustain that life. In short, they have not been granted the power to decide to die.”

Miss Goodman noted that most of us would choose life, and would also want to “save” another person, “But if, like Mary Northern, a 72-year old woman chooses to risk death over a 50% chance of a crippled life, and if she maintains this choice, then surely she should be let alone. I think all of us want that power over our lives.”

The debate has continued, even after Miss Northern’s death. The questions raised are still unanswered, the impli­cations still tantalize the rational, responsible mind.

Perhaps thoughtful consideration about being our brother’s keeper when the brother does not wish to be kept and the right to exercise control over one’s own life will, in the end, be Miss Northern’s legacy to the community. These, not the touching handful of painting and drawing studies by a young art student full of hope about the future.

From Dave Price:
“When I was growing up, the top of the state capitol was the highest point in downtown Nashville.  On August 15, 1922, two young ladies and their photographer climbed up to the top and the result is this shot (upper left). 
The photographer was not able to step back very far.

No, I cannot give an explanation for their adventure, nor do I know what they had been smoking.  Interesting picture though.” 


Originally from January 1979 The Tennessean Magazine.winter51-0205


By Walter Carter

“Weather experts say it won’t compare with some of Nash­ville’ s more infamous winters. Why, back in 1796 it was so cold … “

No matter how cold it gets in Nash­ville, or how hard it snows, some­ body is bound to say, “This is summer­time next to The Blizzard of ’51.”

And according to weather forecasters Helen Lane, Tom Siler and P .J. New, that statement should hold true through the winter of ’79. In fact, by virtue of a split decision (two yesses and one yes­-and-no) this winter may be even milder than the last.

“Mild” is relative, of course. No one has forgotten that Nashville schools were closed 18 days last winter due to “umpteen” snowstorms (the count given in a Tennessean article), or that on three different nights last January the tem­perature fell to 7° F.

But 7° is like summertime compared to the -13° temperature recorded on Feb. 2, 1951. For ten days then, Nashville stood frozen in the worst ice and snow storm in the city’s history.

The -13° thermometer reading tied an all-time low set in 1899 (without the accompanying conditions). And in terms of disruption of people’s lives, the ’51 blizzard was far more severe than even The Great Cold of 1796, during which officers of the Tellico blockhouse built a fire on the frozen Cumberland River, barbequed two quarters of bear and invited their ladies to a Christmas feast on the ice.

Midway through dinner, one of the ladies probably remarked, “I knew this winter would be a hard one when I saw how black the wooly worms were last fall.”

Wooly worms this year have more brown in their coloring, according to Helen Lane, the weather woman of Crab Orchard, Tn. Mrs. Lane has been keeping track of weather indicators just for fun all her life, but people started taking her seriously back in 1959.

“I was a correspondent for the Cross­ville Chronicle,” she recalled. “I said, ‘You better fill the coalhouse full this winter. I saw twelve fogs in August.’ That was the year it snowed six feet on the mountain.”

Mrs. Lane only counted five morning fogs in August of 1978, so she predicts that many snows for this winter. “But I don’t believe anybody’d get mad at me if it didn’t snow at all this winter,” she said.

Some good and some bad weather is in store, she believes, because hornets have built nests both high (a sign of good weather) and low to the ground (a sign of bad).

“The corn shucks are fairly thick,” she added, “but not as thick as last year. And the leaf foliage is thick. But we could see the skyline through the trees in our yard, and we couldn’t last year.”

Mrs. Lane was a little concerned that perhaps the good weather in her forecast had already been used up by the long fall season, pointing out that the geese she saw flying south on the second weekend of December were more than a month behind their usual schedule.

She also noted that the Farmer’s Al­manac, which claims 80% accuracy, says that bad weather will not hit until the middle of January.

At the U.S. Weather Station in Nash­ville, P.J. New agreed with the cornsnow-on-roof

shucks, although his source is the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C.

“The odds are about three to two that this winter will be warmer than nor­mal,” said New. “There should be a little more precipitation than normal, and if it’s warmer, maybe more rain than snow.

“The last two winters the U.S. Weather Bureau said it would be colder than normal and it doesn’t take any crystal ball to know they hit it.”

One man who has been known to consult a crystal ball for a forecast is WNGE-TV’s “Weather Wizard” Tom Siler. However, in predicting this winter’s weather, Siler relied upon in­formation from the General Electric Weather Center in Denver, Colorado.

“The forecast we made back in August was that this winter should be colder and wetter than normal,” Siler said. “It should be somewhere between ’77, when we had an abrupt cold snap, and ’78 when it was cold longer but not so severe.”

Siler’s long range forecasts are based on solar maximums, or flair activity on the sun-sunspots. ” A big flair means more energy, and weather is directly related to energy,” he explained, adding that scientists are still divided in their opinions of the accuracy of that method of forecasting.

Tied in with the sunspot theory are weather cycles-11 years of good fol­lowed by 11 years of bad. We are near the end of a cycle, Siler said, and after 1980 a new warm cycle should improve the winter weather.

The Blizzard of ’51 fits in with that theory, having come near the middle of an 11-year bad cycle. Through the ten days of snow and ice, the weather in Nashville was nothing short of unbeliev­able-at least in the opinions of those who were caught in it.

3Martha Ann Isaacs’ contest photo offered proof that getting out of the house was only half the problem of getting around town during the blizzard. 2Nashville Electric Service hod the only vehicles on the rood for the first few days of February, 1951, but off the rood was another story. Here, in a photo by William Schmeltzer, NES repairmen helped a Hamilton, Ohio family who would rather hove been somewhere else. 1A permanent move to a tropical climate was a common thought during The Blizzard of ’51. Evelyn McDonald submitted this photo for The Tennessean’s blizzard photo contest.

A story in The Tennessean summarizing “The Great Blizzard” suggested that the account be “clipped out and saved as a future reference, both for those who don’t believe and those who can prove that it happened in Nashville, Tenn., during the first week of February, 1951.” ‘

The problems started on the night of Jan. 31, when a rainstorm turned into sleet, freezing on roads and power lines and literally turning the city into a block of ice. Sleet and snow fell through the next day as the temperature dropped to -1°. Sixteen thousand homes were without power as the sleet turned to snow.

By the third day, when the tempera­ture hit -13° (-22° in Clarksville, -20° in Bell Buckle), fallen tree limbs blocked many roads, live power lines crackled on the ground and electric transformers exploded all around. Road scrapers cleared snow off the streets, only to find a 6-inch layer of solid ice underneath.

The police department reported no violent crimes, no arrests for drunken or reckless driving (since all traffic was on foot), and only one drunk.

The Tennessean was published for two days on an “emergency basis,” without any advertisements. The paper also sponsored a photo contest, awarding cash prizes for the best blizzard shots, and the U.S. Postal Service delivered the entries daily with no interruption of ser­vice.

On Feb. 4, the fifth day of the blizzard, the temperature rose above freezing for the first time. 5,000 homes were still without power, and emergency phone lines were run along the ground where they would stay for two weeks.

The ice began to thaw the next day as the temperature never fell below 27°. Taxis and busses resumed service, and automobiles just freed from snowbanks were soon trapped again, this time in downtown traffic jams.

Rain fell on Feb. 6 and the thaw continued for one more day. Then on Feb.8 the freeze returned, icing the roads so that they resembled sheets of glass and compounding all the problems of the previous week.

Days later, when the ice finally melt­ed, someone said, with noticeable hesi­tation, “This warn’t nothin’ next to The Winter of ’99.”

Thanks Nathan Eubankz for the loan of the Tennessean Magazine!