OK, folks, as I promised last week, here is the full scoop on the sign Paul Broyles asked about. In his question, he said, “Before the Tazewell bypass went in, we used to pass a sign coming into town from the west on Route 460 that said ‘Sweet Alice Ben Bolt.’ Who was (is) ‘S.A.B.B.’ and why did she have a sign?”

And last week I noted that actually, it is not about a woman named Sweet Alice Ben Bolt, but is an extraction from a song titled “Ben Bolt,” which opens with the line, “Oh don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt.” The song was written in the 1840s by Dr. Thomas Dunn English, who was not a Tazewell, Va., native (he was from Philadelphia) but he happened upon the area when he was lost during a hunting expedition and came to grow so fond of it that he returned many times.

Tazewell Pharmacist Scott Cole has purchased and is restoring the house that is known because it is the one in which English wrote the poem that later became the song, and Cole has been researching English and the house. The house is called The Ben Bolt House and was owned by the Peerys at the time. They invited English in to stay, because he was lost, and he ended up forming a lasting friendship with the family and came back to visit them often. He also married a Peery and lived in the house later on.

English graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1839 and was a physician at Fort Lee New Jersey. He was also known as an author, editor and contributor to periodicals. His poem “The Gallows-Goers” was very popular in 1845.*

You may recognize it from many children’s song books. Scott said the song “Ben Bolt” was sung in the 1894 movie “Trilby,” and Scarlett O’Hara sings it at one point in “Gone With the Wind.” The song was also sung by someone on a “Little House on the Prairie” episode. Can’t get much more famous than that, huh?

The poem “Ben Bolt” was immediately popular and Dominick M. H. Hay wrote a melody for it, as did English. Neither became popular. In 1948, the play “The Battle of Buena Vista” introduced the song “Ben Bolt,” with the tune by Nelson Kneass, who adapted a German melody to the words. Apparently that is when it became most popular, although poor Kneass never received compensation for the tune, and his wife drowned when she fell off Mississippi riverboat — poor guy! What that has to do with anything, I don’t know, but that was included in a biography I found online.

I found some interesting things named for his song when I was searching the Internet. For instance, someone named a mule Alice Ben Bolt, and there is a town in Texas named Ben Bolt, with another town nearby named Alice. They were named after the words in the song.

As for whom Sweet Alice was, it sounds from the poem that she was a former classmate, who has died along with all of the other students, except the author and Ben Bolt. Whether Alice or Ben were real people does not seem to be revealed anywhere in the information I have found.

In case you are interested, here is the poem/song:

“Ben Bolt”

“Oh don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt

“Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown

“Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile

“And trembled with fear at your frown.

“In the old church yard in the valley, Ben Bolt

“In a corner obscure and alone

“They have fitted a slab of granite so gray

“And sweet Alice lies under the stone

“They have fitted a slab of granite so gray

“And sweet Alice lies under the stone.

“And don’t you remember the school, Ben Bolt

“And the master so kind and so true,

“And the little nook by the clear running brook,

“Where we gathered the flowers as they grew?

“On the master’s grave grows the grass, Ben Bolt,

“And the running little brook is now dry,

“And of all the friends who were schoolmates then,

“There remain, Ben, but you and I,

“And of all the friends who were schoolmates then,

“There remain, Ben, but you and I.”

This last stanza is included in some versions and not in others:

“There is a change in the things I loved, Ben Bolt,

“They have changed from the old to the new;

“But I feel in the deeps of my spirit the truth,

“There never was a change in you

“Twelvemonths twenty have past, Ben Bolt,

“Since first we were friends — yet I hail

“Your presence a blessing, your friendship a truth,

“Ben Bolt of the salt-sea gale.”

By Kathy Kish for the Daily Telegraph. If you have a question, no matter how weird or whacky, send it to Ask Kathy, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, P.O. Box 1599, Bluefield, WV 24740; or e-mail her directly at Kathy_kish@comcast.net.

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