2144 Greenup Avenue, Appalachia, Ashland, Ashland Cemetery, Bake Lee, Bill Bowler, Charlie Ferguson, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, Freeman's Shoe Store, Ghost Riders in the Sky, guitar, history, Imogene Haley, Ironton, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Colliver, Lawrence Haley, Lazear Funeral Home, Logan County, Milt Haley, music, Noah Haley, Ohio, Over the Waves, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, radio, Steve Haley, The Shadow, U.S. South, West Virginia, Winchester Avenue, writers, writing
I asked about Ed during that time period. Lawrence said he stayed in a little room just back of the kitchen, which was furnished with a chair, cot, wardrobe and small radio. His fiddle was always on top of the wardrobe, although he seldom played it.
“He listened to the radio quite a bit,” Lawrence said. “You surely have heard of Vaughn Monroe, his version of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’. Pop had a transistor radio he carried up to his ear. ‘Goddamn,’ he’d let out, ‘That’s some tune.’ Cause he felt hell was a place where you had to do something you done all your life. I never heard him try to play it but he’d listen to it and listen to it. He’d say, ‘That’s some hell, ain’t it?'”
Pat said, “Pop would shiver when he would hear ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’. Pop heard it once or twice on that little radio he carried, and he kept his ear right to it.”
I found it strangely odd that Haley had such a high opinion of the tune — maybe he just liked the words.
The cowpokes loped on past him and he heard one call his name,
If you want to save your soul from hell a-riding on our range,
Then, cowboy, change your ways today, or with us you will ride,
A-trying to catch the devil’s herd across these endless skies.
Yippee-yi-ya, yippee-yi-yo, ghost riders in the sky.
Lawrence said Ed eventually gave up on music broadcast over the radio and started tuning in to programs like “The Shadow.”
“We had a great old big crank-up record player and we had a great old big stack of thick RCA records a quarter of an inch thick, I guess,” he said. “They played a lot of them. I guess they learned some pieces of music off of that. ‘Over the Waves’, I guess that’s been around for a hundred years. Pop was pretty good at those slow pieces, too.”
Pat said she never had a real conversation with Ed, so I guess he kind of kept to himself. She remembered him having a white, foot-long beard, which he was very proud of and combed out every day. She said she had a picture of him with Lawrence and Ella in the back yard at 2144 Greenup but couldn’t find it. It was taken in the fall of 1950, when Lawrence was called back into the service.
Around that time, Bill Bowler, a blind guitar player in town, came and asked Ed to play a gig for the grand opening of Freeman’s Shoe Store in Ironton, Ohio. It was kind of a big deal — there was some type of parade going on. Pat said, “We were so happy somebody had finally got him out because he just all of a sudden stopped playing.” Lawrence drove the two over in his brother Noah’s car, then came home. Pat said, “Larry had hardly got back and was telling his mother, ‘Yes, he sat Pop down with Bill Bowler,’ and the next thing we knew Pop came through the front door just cursing a blue streak.” Something had really upset Ed at the shoe store, but the family never did know what happened or how he made it home. Lawrence said, “He just saw that they wasn’t nothing over there for him. He didn’t tell me that I done wrong by taking him over there or anything. He just wasn’t happy, so he didn’t stay.”
Not long afterwards, Lawrence saw his dad play for the last time at Charlie Ferguson’s. He said Noah got him so drunk that he sat down on the floor and played until he fell over. I wanted Lawrence to show me how Ed was playing at Ferguson’s, which he did after joking, “Now John, I don’t want you to involve me in what my dad did.” As he sat there in the floor with my fiddle, Pat laughed and said, “Oh boy, this was a good idea.”
Pat told me about February 3, 1951, the snowy day Ed passed away at home.
“It was very, very cold. My son Stephen was born January 27th, and it was exactly a week later. Pop was in the front room listening to the radio and he came through our bedroom around three o’clock. He had my daughter Beverly on his shoulders and he took her off and he rubbed his head in her tummy and he said, ‘Mmm, you smell so good. You don’t smell like those pissy-ass babies out in the country.’ The children in the country apparently didn’t wear diapers a lot of times and we always kept rubber pants on Beverly and of course the baby powder. After my father-in-law had played with my little girl, he went through and asked my sister-in-law, ‘Patsy, when will supper be ready?’ She was fixing dinner and she said, ‘Aw shortly, Pop.’ And he said, ‘Well I’m going to take a nap.’ He had a room in the back of the house. And we had a nephew Ralph Mullins living with us. He was born in 1946, so he was about five years old. And he took little cars and he was running them up and down while Poppy was napping.”
Pat said, “And when Patsy got dinner ready, she called for Pop to come to the table. My mother-in-law got a little bit irritated because Pop didn’t come. Larry and his brother Jack had been working on a car outside and they went in to check Pop.” Lawrence said, “Mom went in and lifted up his hand and said, ‘Ed.’ Shook his hand, you know. She said, ‘I can’t get him awake. I know he’s alive. I can hear him breathe.’ Well, when she was lifting up his hand, you know, she was pumping out his last breath of air.” Pat said, “And the boys told their mother then that Pop was dead. But the whole time Ralphy had been playing with his cars, so Pop apparently did not cry out in pain. That was it. He just passed away. It was a massive coronary that took him.”
“Pop died just as peaceful a death as could be, I reckon,” Lawrence said. “He died in his sleep.”
When the Ashland newspaper ran Ed’s obituary on Sunday, February 4, 1951, it mistakenly referred to him as the “flower huckster” of Winchester Avenue. Much to the embarrassment of the family, the newspaper had confused Ed with Bake Lee, a blind man in the area who sold pencils and flowers on sidewalks. Bake usually worked the streets with his wife, Lula Lee, an old schoolmate of Ella’s who played the mandolin and French harp.
“Mr. Haley, who had been blind for 65 years, was a familiar figure on Ashland’s streets, having sold flowers in the 1400 block on Winchester Avenue for several years,” the paper partially read. “A resident of Ashland for 35 years, he was born in Logan County, W.Va., a son of Milton and Emma Mullins Haley.”
Lawrence showed me a copy of his father’s corrected obituary: “HALEY: Funeral services for James Edward Haley, 67, retired musician, who died Saturday at his home, 2144 Greenup Avenue, will be conducted at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Lazear Funeral Home with the Rev. Lawrence Colliver officiating. Burial will be in AshlandCemetery. The body is at the funeral home.”
No one played the fiddle at Ed’s funeral.
“Had a little organ music,” Lawrence said. “I don’t reckon they was anybody he’d care for playing at his funeral.”
Pat said she heard that Ed didn’t look “natural” because the funeral home had shaved off his white beard. Ella had his favorite flower, morning glory, carved on his tombstone.