Singing City


The subject of Presidents as slave owners is being scrutinized these days as never before, and the Hermitage is no exception. In fact, visitors’ most frequently asked question is one with a built-in contradiction: Was he a good slave owner? As at every historic property with a slave history, the present-day keepers want to answer yes. Here at the Hermitage we learn that Jackson “was not especially harsh” and that when selling slaves, he never broke up a family. Recent studies and restoration of the few remaining slave buildings on the property should shed more light on this, as will the more than a half-million artifacts relating to the slave population that have been dug up so far.

One of the docents at the house mentioned that a restaurant in Printer’s Alley, named, he thought, the Brass Rail, retained a brick wall from the stables where the young lawyer Jackson had kept his horses. Just before leaving town, I decided to check it out. The picturesque Printer’s Alley is a block-long cut between two streets that house many of the city’s liveliest clubs. I peered down it early on a Sunday morning when it was deserted except for an amiable fellow continuing last night’s drunk. Everything was closed, including the Brass Stables, as it was called, but I probably wouldn’t have ventured in anyway. I picked up a leaflet at the front door to discover that it’s an “Exotic Showbar,” billing itself as Nashville’s “Best Kept Secret for Adult Entertainment.” So is the old brick wall still propping it up? For me at least, that will be another Nashville secret.

Back at the airport, with a two-hour delay ahead, I wandered the corridors. No live music this time, but still a reminder of Music City. I passed a defibrillator prudently mounted on a wall and idly stopped to read an inscription near it. “For Your Achy Breaky Heart,” it said.

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