There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In Winchester, Va., as in many a small Southern town, the rich dine at the country club and the poor drink at the dives.
I have come to Winchester, an hour’s drive west of Washington, to look for the celebrity ghost of Patsy Cline, so I stop at the first beer joint that catches my eye. The Stonewall Grill sits on the railroad tracks across from an abandoned depot and in the shadow of a Confederate cemetery. Its name pays homage both to its rock-and-mortar exterior and to the Rebel leader who headquartered in Winchester during the Civil War.
Inside, a jukebox blares country music for customers relaxing after the day shift. Some are busy playing shuffleboard on a long table that dominates the small, dark place. They share an intense concentration; there is no shouting or cheerleading, only grunted nods of “Good shot.” Indeed, it is soothing—almost hypnotizing—to watch the pucks silently pierce the settling cigarette smoke and glide ever so smoothly down the table’s powdered wood surface.
In a nearby booth, an elderly woman clutches a can of Milwaukee’s Best, rubbing her eyes and squinting at the shuffleboard activity a few feet away. She wears a bewildered, drowsy gaze, as if she has just awakened from a Rip Van Winkle slumber and now sees a vision of Ronnie Van Zandt longhairs bowling tenpins. The music stops; somebody needs to go feed the jukebox. But the game has everyone’s attention.
“Where’s my Patsy Cline song?” sputters the old woman in slurred outrage. “I put in money to hear Patsy—where in the hell is she?”
Nobody responds to her drunken rant, not even her boothmate, a middle-aged woman who seems to regard her companion as a loon to be tolerated but never indulged. The crone repeats her loud complaint, claiming the machine stole her money. The bartender orders her to quiet down. Instead she gets hysterical, thrashing in her threadbare sweater.
“I love Patsy,” she wails, sloshed and watery-eyed, her makeup a doughy mess. It’s just herself and Patsy in their own little pri vate hell. “IlovePatsy.IlovePatsy.IlovePatsy.”
Finally, I go to the jukebox near the front entrance. Standing at the shiny new CD machine, I notice a small, homemade icon to Cline hanging on the wall above a pay phone: a framed piece of weathered stained glass in a rose pattern, with faded photos of the legendary singer pasted in the middle. I pay for a song, and as Cline’s plaintive voice fills the bar, the grateful woman hugs every warm body around before one of the shuffleboard players—probably her ride home—motions her back to the booth. Defeated, she skulks to her seat to strangle her empty beer can.
“I ain’t from around here,” she announces defiantly to no one in particular. “I’m from North Carolina—and all y’all can go to hell.”
Patsy Cline has always had it rough in her own back yard, ever since the high-school dropout decided she was going to be a star. Meanwhile, outside Winchester, her popularity continues to soar more than three decades after her death. Never strictly a “country” artist—her best-known tunes all boast a lush pop sound—she’s now one of the most famous female singers on the planet, period. She recently won a Grammy for lifetime achievement. Her 1961 smash, “Crazy,” has been named the most popular jukebox song of all time, and her Greatest Hits CD has been lodged on the charts longer than any other reissue. She even has her own commemorative postage stamp. And of course, they love her in the heartland, where Wal-Mart uses her standards as advertising jingles.
A mainstream Sweet Dreams queen of the first order, Patsy Cline has also become a postmodern cult idol, the Angel on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Hipsters in search of terminal angst have always championed her weeping voice; even Morrissey fans give her the rainy day A-OK. A musical based on her life has become a perennial theatrical sensation in London, where her records sell more than Madonna’s. More recently, she serenaded the mass-murderer lovebirds in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. And years after Patsy clone k.d. lang put away her chaps, Cline’s signature cowgirl costumes still pass the Camp-fire test. She’s a celebrity fave for female impersonators and drag queens from Japan to Vegas to New York City, where a “St. Patsy’s Day” look-alike contest has been held every spring for the last five years at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Bar-B-Q.
“She combined the vulnerability of a waif with the directness of a truck driver,” says Village Voice columnist and fringe-culture maven Michael Musto, one of the contest’s celebrity judges. “Patsy wallowed in excesses of emotion, which is what appeals to drag queens. She always seems to be going crazy or falling to pieces, which is fun to imitate—much more fun than, say, Olivia Newton-John, who is always at peace with herself. And ultimately the power of her voice transcends the camp value. The voice cuts to the heart of the song, and that’s responsible for her being a lasting cult figure.”
But the “hayseed Judy Garland,” as Musto calls her, remains a common street tramp in Winchester, which has virtually ignored her since she died in a 1963 plane crash. Even before that, Cline was an outcast in this staid Shenandoah Valley showpiece, the oldest British-founded town west of the Blue Ridge. Her Grammy Award rated nary a mention in the Winchester Star, an unabashedly right-wing newspaper that endorsed Ollie North in his Senate race (though the Star did see fit to run a recent front-page story on the leader of the dog-sled team that slogged to the South Pole with Winchester native Richard Byrd).
George Washington, Stonewall Jackson, Admiral Byrd: These are the names that local blue bloods want forever linked to their fair city, not someone they castigated as a stereotypical ’50s B-movie bad girl. Cline’s death and surging posthumous fame have done little to dispel the sordid images that linger in Winchester of the rebel without a beehive hairdo: Foul-mouthed lowlife. White trash. Town slut.
And so Cline roams as a homeless celebrity ghost in her own town, finding temporary shelter in makeshift shrines. The thousands of pilgrims who annually come to Winchester to find their idol’s roots routinely leave disappointed, if not downright angry: There’s really nothing much to see, not even a modest building like the Statler Brothers’ museum in Staunton, a couple hours’ drive south. Winchester’s scant gestures to Cline’s memory have been token at best and fraught with controversy, summed up by a street sign originally erected as “Pasty [sic] Cline Blvd.”
There are indications, though small, that Winchester is finally coming around to accepting its status as a potential Patsyland. Spurred by a few longtime local Cline boosters, the town has begun to embrace its prodigal daughter—if for nothing more than the almighty tourist dollar.
The last time I was in Winchester, back in 1992, another outsider was trying to pay tribute to the hometown heroine. The event was called “Celebrating Patsy,” though it might just as well have been dubbed “Trying to Make Up for Three Decades of Willful Neglect.” It was a fancy bash at a cultural arts center, across town from the Stonewall Grill’s working-class neighborhood. There was wine and cheese and balloons, and a throng of people gathered to memorialize Cline for the first time since her massive funeral, which, as with this crowd, featured more out-of-towners than natives.
Newcomer Fern Adams had organized the event after moving to Winchester and discovering how little the town had done to honor its fallen daughter. Indeed, except for a few efforts by family and friends, there had been no official recognition whatsoever. A realtor and developer, Adams had become a Cline fan after seeing Jessica Lange’s portrayal in Hollywood’s sudsy bio, Sweet Dreams.
Adams ran head-on into Winchester’snasty anti-Cline complex: She watched in horror as town officials repeatedly spurned modest petitions to have a street renamed for the singer. The avenue in question, Pleasant Valley Road, is one of Winchester’s main thoroughfares, and it includes the radio station where a determined teen, then known as Virginia Hensley, launched her musical career. There are other streets in Winchester named after famous people: Lord Fairfax, George Washington, the late Sen. Harry Flood Byrd: Why not one for the legendary chanteuse?
Pleasant Valley Road residents railed against the proposal. A local minister whose church was on the street complained that the name change would cause postal hassles and prove an expensive debacle. The city council killed the proposal. Adams, who owned some high-priced property between Pleasant Valley and a new mall, outmaneuvered the town fathers by donating the land to the city in exchange for the right to name the short connector road Patsy Cline Boulevard.
But Adams wouldn’t stop there. She wanted more for her idol, something even Explorer Byrd didn’t have: a full-scale museum. Thus the “Celebrating Patsy” extravaganza, which featured a collection of memorabilia, including a fur stole, a leather handbag, and other personal objects. Cline’s widower, Charlie Dick, flew in from Nashville to donate a gold record of Greatest Hits, which had already gone triple-platinum in its CD reissue. Far-flung devotees journeyed to pay their respects. There was grand talk of the museum, and how it would provide a permanent home for such prized trinkets as Cline’s Confederate souvenir cigarette lighter that played “Dixie.” (It was one of the few items that survived the plane crash.)
Locals gossiped about how a jealous Winchester—a Dixiefied Peyton Place—had largely snubbed Cline, while she always proudly reminded interviewers and fans of her Virginia hometown. In the mid-’50s, she was already a regional star, appearing regularly on Connie B. Gay’s Town & Country Jamboree, the wildly popular country-music TV program broadcast from Washington, D.C. By the spring of 1956, Cline was featured in a Washington Star Sunday magazine cover story that christened her the “Hillbilly With Oomph.” In Winchester, though, people weren’t impressed. “They said, “She won’t last long—nobody from Winchester ever did anything,’ ” recalled one woman.
Then came the moment of truth. The crowd gathered together for a moment of silent remembrance, as Cline’s ethereal posthumous hit, “Sweet Dreams,” floated from a jukebox and a summer rain fell softly on the town. Some in the hushed audience bowed their heads and closed their eyes in prayer. Others wept into their horsd’oeuvres napkins, their muffled sobs mingling with the melancholy music. It was a shameless display of overwrought emotions that Miss Fall-to-Pieces herself would have appreciated.
Afterward, I stood out on the front steps chatting with Charlie Dick. We smoked cigarettes and gulped white wine in lieu of a keg of beer. Dick had apparently done pretty well in the promotions business in Nashville, and had the satisfied look of a smooth operator. He reminded me of a hillbilly version of Chuck (The Gong Show) Barris: the same obnoxious charm, frizzy graying hair, and gold chains gleaming from an open collar. He reminisced about the old days, when he and Cline ran wild in the strait-laced town. He still couldn’t quite believe how famous his late wife had become.
“She’s more popular now than she’s ever been,” he said, mentioning that fans still phoned almost daily from all over the world. “A lot of people come to Winchester to find out about Patsy. They hear her music and they want to know where it all came from.”
In the years since the “Celebrating Patsy” love fest, the number of fans has increased, but Winchester’s former lassitude has returned. Plans for the museum stalled. The death of Fern Adams triggered the collapse of the memorial committee she started. What’s left of the memorabilia is crammed into a phone-booth-size display case at the cultural center, where it plays a poor second to a prominent Civil War exhibit. For many residents, the idea of a fitting memorial to Patsy Cline simply doesn’t register.
“It’s not really an issue people care about,” says Winchester Star managing editor Ron Morris. “She lived here, she’s buried here, she made some great music—that’s about it.”
Dick is not surprised by the local indifference to Cline and her legacy. After all, ignoring her was the way the establishment treated her when she was alive. “We were from the other side of the tracks,” he says in a phone interview from Nashville. “That’s Virginia—it’s a weird state. It’s got its old ways, and older people set in their ways. They could do more for her, but Winchester’s always been quiet about [paying tribute to Cline].”
Dick remembers a wealthy Winchester couple who paid a surprise visit when Cline was performing sellout shows in Las Vegas: “They came to the show and wanted to take us to dinner and all this, that, and the other,” he says. “Of course, back in Winchester, they didn’t know who we were.”
Indeed, the establishment did its best to shun its rising young star. She had to practically sneak her way into the annual Apple Blossom Parade that remains Winchester’s cultural and social highlight each spring. The parade committee never formally invited her to participate, even after the hit “Walking After Midnight” had made her a national star. No local firm would sponsor her. Defiant and proud in her homemade cowgirl costume, she rode in an Oldsmobile provided by Connie Gay. (And still the ugly rumors stalked her: “One of the marching bands was positioned after her car and the comment I heard was, “I would rather follow the horses,’ ” recalls one former parade official.)
Dick’s younger brother Mel was a 9-year-old spectator at that parade. He never forgot the reception his sister-in-law received—cheered along main street and in the poor neighborhoods, then deliberately snubbed uptown. There was no booing—just an icy silence.
“On certain streets they would holler and applaud, and then in the ritzy sections they would just absolutely ignore her as she went by,” Mel says. “It was so still and quiet, you could hear the noise the crepe paper was making. You just held your breath and thought, “Gosh, I wish she’d go on so I can breathe again.’ It was that extreme.”
Mel recalls Cline just smiling and waving as if nothing was wrong. “The proper way to handle it here would be to ignore it and say nothing at all,” he explains.
An accountant, Mel Dick has lived in Winchester all his life; he says the town’s negative attitude about its famous daughter is simply part of local tradition: “Since I was raised here, that never bothered me. That’s the way it was, so there wasn’t any reason to carry on about it.” It wasn’t until Fern Adams came to town that Dick realized something should be done. He helped organize the “Celebrating Patsy” exhibit and is now general manager of the international fan club, Always Patsy Cline, which boasts nearly 400 members around the globe. The club meets in Winchester every Labor Day.
Dick is also responsible for the annual memorial service at Patsy’s grave, held on the anniversary of her March 5 death in the single-engine Piper Comanche plane crash. Last month, there was snow on the ground when he laid the wreath at her grave. He was the only one present.
The Great Apple of Winchester is made of solid concrete and towers 8 feet tall, just about bite-size for those Easter Island stone heads.
It stands impressively in front of a building once used by Union troops as headquarters during the Shenandoah Valley campaign. The building later served as the meeting place for the local Elks Lodge, which still makes sure the Great Apple—Winchester’s largest monument—gets a fresh coat of red paint twice a year.
The apple industry and the Civil War remain Winchester’s prime drawing cards for tourists, with a handful of fruit-related festivals and events, along with the obligatory battle re-enactments. (“If this Valley is Lost, Virginia is Lost,” declared Stonewall Jackson.) The self-proclaimed “Apple Capital of the World” hasn’t really earned that title for years; several Pacific Northwest states now surpass Virginia in production. Moreover, the town’s textile mills have been closed for decades; the largest local employer is a modern new medical center on the outskirts of town.
Nevertheless, the orchards still dominate the surrounding countryside. And Winchester’s wealthiest families, who got rich off them, continue to rule the town’s ossified social scene, suspicious of outsiders and change. “You’ve got to have been here two or three centuries to be considered a native,” says Eugene Gunter, a Winchester attorney who spent years trying in vain to get city leaders to name a street after Cline. “Hell, that girl put us on the map. I really don’t think she’s gotten her just dues in this town—it’s deplorable.”
The apple monument remains an unavoidable sight downtown, which boasts a magnificent beaux-arts library and extraordinary privately endowed public high school, a brick masterpiece complete with Palladian portico, donated by Northern millionaire and Winchester vacationer John Handley. (An extreme Southern sympathizer during the Civil War, Handley got his wish to be buried near the Confederate veterans’ graves in the town’s historic cemetery.)
Driving around Winchester, I have to search hard to find evidence that Patsy Cline hailed from here. There’s a tiny placard announcing “The Home of Patsy Cline, A Country Music Legend” on the city-limits line—another effort of the late Adams. But it is obscured by a thicket of rotary-club markers and banners. Like the connector road named for her, the sign ends up seeming a backhanded tribute at best.
Cline’s eternal resting place, at Shenandoah Memorial Park just south of town, also presents a bevy of riddles: Supposedly, the state has named the stretch of road near the cemetery the Patsy Cline Memorial Highway. But there are no signs or markers to that effect. In fact, I drive several miles past the park, past Affordable Dentures office park, all the way to Dinosaur Land near the West Virginia line, and the route remains Front Royal Pike.
As for the cemetery itself, it’s one of those late ’50s spacious-lawn specials that forbids tombstones—or any other above-ground memorial—in the interest of easy mowing. (These green swards are proof that the golf course remains the modern American archetype for heaven.) There’s no directory, so the only way you can find Cline’s grave is to check every flat marker—no simple task in a meticulously landscaped park several football fields large. To make matters even more difficult, her grave is a small bronze marker that simply announces “DICK” in large letters. A smaller engraving clarifies matters: “Virginia H. (Patsy Cline) 1932-1963. Death cannot kill what never dies: Love.” (Anxious pilgrims should note that cemetery employees, who can usually be found either riding on lawnmowers or repairing them, can provide directions that save you an hour or so.)
At the far edge of the park is what appears to be the base of an obsolete—or simply unfinished?—radio antenna. This turns out to be a monument in honor of Cline; because of cemetery zoning, it had to be placed far from her grave. The 55-foot steel structure is a bell tower, though it does not play music: Its “bells” are merely decorative. The committee that raised the tower did not have the funds to install a sound system, which was supposed to play Cline’s songs every evening.
Leaving the park, I spot another inconspic uous tribute, a bronze plaque on the gate entrance emblazoned with musical notes and a brief homage to “one of America’s best-beloved singers.” It was erected by Charlie Dick with help from some of his country-music friends in Nashville.
At the Cracker Barrel restaurant near Interstate 81, I meet with Jim Kniceley, a tireless Cline booster for nearly three decades. Two years older than she, he grew up on the same street she did in the town’s poorest neighborhood. Kniceley was one of the locals who helped raise the bell tower; he’s still perturbed that it doesn’t play any music.
“Patsy’s recognized the world over, but not at home, and it’s a shame,” he says. “There’s a stigma that nobody liked the girl and it never goes away. It’s something that happens the world over, you know—”Granddaddy didn’t like you and I don’t like you either.’ ”
Kniceley retired recently after a career in the shipping department of a brake-lining manufacturer. A lifelong fireman, he now dedicates his time to volunteer work; his speciality is organizing country music concerts for charity. His business cards (“For Your Promotions Needs”) boast “If You Need It, I Have It!” Tooling around town in his burgundy Cadillac Coupe de Ville, he seems to know everyone. “Whether they’re a poor man, a rich man, or a drunk on the street, I associate with them all,” he says.
He’s heard all the stories about Cline’s supposed promiscuity, her cussing and drinking and carrying on. He’s read every trashy biography and seen the movies. It’s not the Cline he knew: “I always thought she was an outstanding woman,” he says. “We’ve all got dirty closets. We all do bad things. We all cuss somebody out or get mad and beat the living daylights out of somebody—we all have our quirks in life.” Then he whispers, “She could slap the hell out of you—big as she was.”
What alienated Cline from Winchester wasn’t only her poor background, saysKniceley. It was her frank, independent attitude. He remembers a woman ahead of her time: “If she wanted a date with you, she asked for it. If she wanted to say a cuss word, she said it, and that was unheard of. I admired the lady—she was very open. If she didn’t like you, she told you. So you absolutely knew where you stood.”
Kniceley is a member of a new committee that is raising funds for a Cline museum, a facility that would house a permanent collection. The project is being spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce, led by a young woman named Kitty Zuckerman. So far, the committee has raised a few thousand dollars. This winter, Kniceley is planning to run group tours to Nashville to raise more money.
“All I’m interested in is seeing that the lady’s been acknowledged for what she’s done,” he says. “And if a museum and business establishments come into being, and there’s people who want to buy some knick-knacks with her name on it, that’s great, because there’s nothing any greater than a loyal fan. And you’ll need that money to keep things up.”
At the town visitor’s center, I find some Cline T-shirts and recordings for sale. The receptionist, a petite, polite woman named Judy Sue, was 1961 Apple Blossom Queen; a native of nearby Berryville, she was also Miss Clark County of that year. “My mom went to the one of the Apple Blossom Parades that Patsy was in,” she recalls. “She said she was the most beautiful thing you ever saw. She had that real blue cowgirl outfit on, and her teeth were so white—she was just vibrant….I’ve got an aunt who hated Patsy and to this day hates Patsy. My aunt is mousy and timid, and Patsy did the things that she always wanted to do and didn’t give a damn about who cared.”
Judy Sue gives me a brochure—another fruit of Adams’ labors—that points out several Cline-related sites around town: the radio station where she first sang on the air; the neighborhood where her mother still lives; the drugstore where she worked after quitting high school to support her family.
Along South Kent Street, the working-class neighborhood hasn’t changed much since the days when Cline lived here. The ramshackle row houses are a little worse for wear, perhaps, but she would certainly recognize them.
Cline’s mother, Hilda Hensley, now lives down the street from the place where she raised her daughter after her husband abandoned the family. It’s a corner house with a tidy front porch; her old tan Cadillac is parked outside. It is rumored that Hensley keeps Cline’s homemade western costumes—every rhinestone sewn on by hand—in plastic bags in a closet; the entire wardrobe preserved and waiting for a museum. Hensley reportedly remains bitter about Winchester’s mistreatment of her daughter; she doesn’t give interviews. She did, however, go to California to pick up Cline’s Grammy Award.
On Pleasant Valley Road sits the art-deco building that houses WINC, the radio station where a 14-year-old Virginia Hensley made her on-air debut. Former station manager and disc jockey Phil Whitney often hangs out at the place where he worked for nearly half a century. At 80, he retains his native New England accent and his distaste for most country music.
Virginia Hensley, he says, simply showed up one Saturday morning during a country show that featured local music live from the studio. Whitney recalls that she sounded like any other teen-age girl warbling mountain tunes—or what was known back then, quite derogatorily, as “hillbilly” music. There was no hint of the soul-tortured torch singer whose songs spur listeners to tears.
“She was inexperienced and untrained but she had a real strong will to improve, and she did,” says Whitney. “I think part of her motivation was peer acceptance, because she was from South Kent Street. She wanted to be accepted by the other kids.”
After Cline became a Nashville star, she always made sure to stop by the radio station during her visits to Winchester. Curlers in her hair, she would drive up in her white Cadillac convertible and hand-deliver a 45 of her latest hit recording. Whitney recalls chatting with her in the control room: “She’d bring me the record and say, “Would you play this on the air?’ She wanted the people of Winchester to hear that she had made it. That was very important to her.”
Though the station’s play-list featured pop and big band tunes, Whitney would play the record. There was never much of a response from the listening audience. “I was the intermediary to help get her acceptance in her own community, but she never did,” he says.
I drive across town to Gaunt’s Drug Store, where Cline worked at the soda fountain. Frozen in the past, this old-fashioned neighborhood pharmacy offers customers cozy clutter and a rack of wooden canes by the front door. It is an unlikely mecca for Cline worshipers.
For the last decade, pharmacist Harold Madagan has been assembling his shrine to Cline right in the middle of the store, an entire wall of rare photos and records. There’s a sequence of shots of Patsy singing at the Lorton Fire Hall on New Year’s Eve, 1957; in a parade in nearby Elkton, near the mountain hollow where she was born; and in a kiddie talent competition, when her idol was still Shirley Temple.
A jovial, outspoken man, Madagan took his collection public to combat Winchester’s neglect of Cline. He says it attracts more than 400 visitors a year to his tiny store. They come from Canada, Russia, Denmark, England, Germany, Australia, South America—just about everywhere. Madagan greets them when he has the time, stepping out from the pharmacists’ booth to share anecdotes. Sometimes he’ll play a cassette of Cline’s music and show off the old soda fountain in the back that he hopes to donate to the museum when it opens. He also hands out free mementos, usually a small black-and-white photo of Cline triumphant in an Apple Blossom Parade.
Madagan keeps a spiral binder in the store, the “Patsy Cline Guest Book,” for visitors to sign and write comments: “We came on a pilgrimage!!!’‘ jots a North Carolina couple. “She’s fabulous!!! She’s our favorite!!!!” “A fan since 1957′‘ reports another one of the faithful.
Some directly address their idol, as if she can somehow hear their messages: ““We love you, girl!’‘
What is it about Cline that draws such a fanatical response? Madagan—who says he enjoys country music “until they sing through their nose”—has his own theory: “It was like she was standing on a mountain looking down, saying, “I understand, friend, but it’ll get better.’ She could get inside of your mind and she could get inside your heart and then she could trap you as a friend for life.”
Madagan has been working at Gaunt’s since he was a teen-ager (by then, Cline had left to start her music career). After graduating from pharmacy school, he came back to Gaunt’s, eventually taking over the drugstore. Like Cline, he came from “the wrong side of the tracks,” and admired the wild and free rebel girl, who had style even when chucking an empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can from her speeding Cadillac. Unlike her, he grew up to play the local establishment’s game.
“I worked my ass off to make it over here and get accepted,” he says, characterizing Winchester as a town where “apple people marry apple people, and doctors’ kids marry doctors’ kids….” “Patsy didn’t try to cross over and be somebody she couldn’t be. Now, maybe she wasn’t accepted, but maybe she didn’t try very hard to be accepted. She was a bit crude and rude at times; even today you wouldn’t do the crazy things she did. [After she became a success] she didn’t try to put on this “I’m the new Patsy.’ She just did it the same damn ol’ way she’d been doing it for years. She’d say, “Hoss, this is the way I got started, this is the way I’m gonna finish. I’ve fought y’all for 10, 12, 15 years, and I got here being what I am, and I’m not going to change.’ ”
An elderly gentleman comes into the store to get a prescription for his wife. Madagan nonchalantly asks him if Winchester has done enough to remember Cline. “Don’t know a thing about her,” the man says. When Madagan presses him, the old coot hisses bitterly, “They named a road after her, didn’t they? Isn’t that enough?”
After he leaves, Madagan says, “That was the old money talking there, see what I mean? There are some people who never accepted her, and it’s the same way today.”
It’s maddening; there are traces of Patsy Cline everywhere in Winchester. But the undercurrent of resentment leaves little doubt that if a memorial or museum is ever built, it will be a grudging tribute at best. Even the Stonewall Grill, where I make a final stop before leaving town, turns out to have its own small slice of Cline history. The bar used to be a diner, Winchester Lunch, and was a popular hangout for millworkers on their lunch breaks. One of the managers, Wanda Jones, says Hilda Hensley used to bring her daughter into the diner often when she was a little girl.
It’s hard to imagine such a scene now. Even the drunken woman screaming for Patsy seems a phantasm, some echo from another era. The jukebox blasts some bright new country songs, and the ashtray-dark photos of Cline fade ever deeper into the field of stained-glass roses.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.