Monday, August 06, 2007


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Our recent trip to Hannibal, Missouri unearthed a surprising and unexpected discovery.

As a child I witnessed a cultural phenomenon that was being observed each day in the northeast Tennessee town of Clarksville where my grandfather lived. It's called a "Buzzard's Roost". What it consists of is a fluid group of men, upper middle age and older (those with some time on their hands) who meet every day at a predetermined location. The purpose of the "roost" is to provide a spot to chew the fat, discuss the weather, politics or whatever strikes their fancy.

The buzzard's roost in Clarksville was a low wall that surrounded the county courthouse. The men sat along the wall and did whatever roosting buzzard's do. When I say fluid I mean that men come and go at different times and the mix is changing throughtout the day. Most at that time were tobacco farmers or tradesmen. My grandfather was a carpenter.

Times changed, life got faster and buzzard's roost and the old cultural habits died. I don't think there's been anyone sitting on that courthouse wall in many, many years. I was pretty sure the phemonenon was dead. Perhaps there was a cultural anthropology student that had done a thesis on the subject.

After a morning spent touring Tom Sawyer's cave just outside Hannibal, we returned to town and ducked into a small bar/restaurant for an early lunch. It wasn't quite 11:30 and the place was empty except for a motorcyclist and these three men.

It took me under 30 seconds to recognize the fact that I'd stumbled upon an artifact - an honest-to-goodness buzzard's roost! The conversation followed the roadmap set down by cotton and tobacco farmers. Within 10 minutes another man joined the group, slipping easily into the framework.

I'd witnessed Illinois dairy farmers meeting up for breakfast after morning milking but that wasn't a true buzzard's roost. This was the real thing at a place called "Rumor Has It". How perfect is that?


Ang. said...

There is such a place in Dallas City, Illinois, too. They meet outside the Casey's with lawn chairs in hand. You will see them there well into the evening. I have no idea where, if at all, in the winter.

pablo said...

In front of courthouses in rural Missouri there are often public benches filled with oldtimers who spend hours chatting. These are lovingly called "liars benches."

Zanne said...

I'm so glad that the buzzard's roost tradition lives on!

Pablo - that's a good name too, and I'm glad they use the term lovingly.

My question is, what are the women folk doing while the guys are chewing the fat?

Zanne said...

By the way Ang....I wasn't aware there WAS a Dallas City, Illinois. The thought of a bunch of old timers and their lawn chairs sitting outside a Casey's presents such a great image, I just might have to take a field trip someday and photograph them!!

Ang. said...

Let me know if you do, I'll meet you. Too bad I didn't realize you were in Hannibal. You were a mere 40 or so miles south of me. Dallas City is almost the same distance north of me. It would be great to meet. :)

ROB said...

What a great story. Somehow I dont think its died out here quite yet. But then there are some who would argue we are behind the rest of the world.

Ava said...

In Diamond, Missouri ... the roost is a little place that is simply called "The Corner". ( a diner on the corner)

Zanne said...

I can't tell you all how glad I am that there are thriving "roosts" around the world!

Alissa said...

I live SO CLOSE to Clarksville, TN.

We have a place here like this. Roundy's Restaurant is our Buzzards Roost. Then they move to The Woodshed for lunch :-)