Newspaper more than rattles a cage
By Buzz Trexler | (email@example.com)
It may have been the only time in U.S. history that snakes at a newspaper eventually brought down a snake in county government.
The wild tale, which dates to July 17, 1974, is somewhat reminiscent of Mark Twain’s short story “Journalism in Tennessee,” but I swear by the grave of Parson Brownlow that the following is true.
The late Bob Parkins was a well-known Tennessee journalist who was editor, publisher and owner of the Milan Mirror, now the Milan Mirror-Exchange. Like most small-town newspaper publishers, Parkins was involved in civic life and was president of the local Rotary Club.
The story as duly recorded over time by The Milan Mirror goes like this:
Parkins’ Rotary Club had agreed to sponsor a fellow known as “Omar the Snake Man” for a fundraising event. Omar was actually Tommy Cowden, a native of Maryville, who at the time was living in Pleasant View, a small town between Nashville and Clarksville.
Omar came to Milan a week ahead of time to drum up some publicity for his snake-handling show, which he certainly received — nationwide.
It was a hot summer day, and Omar was worried the heat might kill his rattlesnakes, so Parkins let him bring them into the newspaper lobby.
“Omar brought them inside a cloth sack, untied it and dumped them on the office floor like they were potatoes,” Parkins recalled in The Mirror. “That did surprise me.”
The story describes the scene this way:
“The big rascals, about six feet long with a dozen rattlers on their tails began to coil, rattle, and spit their tongues.”
(Milan must be a tough staff, because there would have been no one around at The Daily Times to record this scene.)
Omar played to the gathering crowd, tossing the snakes around, with the increasingly mad critters repeatedly striking his boots. Still, Omar the Snake Man seemed to have control of the situation — for the first 20 minutes, at least. After milking venom from one of the snakes, he tossed it the floor. Apparently the “big rascal” thought, “I’ve had enough of this manhandling.”
“The snake was mad and struck at Omar. He knocked it away with the toe of his boot, but the snake came back and kept striking.
“Then it happened.
“Omar let out a loud, profane yell and held up one foot in agony.
“‘That blankety-blank thing got me,’ he shouted. Omar grabbed up the snake, checked the volume of venom left in the snake and threw it down yelling. ‘Kill those things.’”
The scene is one of sheer pandemonium.
As the snakes rattled around, Parkins thought about a supply of razor blades behind Omar, “but the two coiled snakes loomed in his path.”
The publisher then ran into the street hollering for someone to bring him a knife, while Omar checked out a letter opener, deciding it was too dull to do any good. As fortune would have it, “passersby responded with two knives and Omar began to whittle on his leg. ‘No, blank good,’ he cried. ‘Get me to the hospital quick.’”
Parkins loads Omar into the car, and the Snake Man tells him in no uncertain terms to ignore the red lights.
“About the time we got to the cemetery, he passed out on me and fell against the window,” Parkins recalled.
Fortunately for Omar, the cemetery would have to wait. They made it to the emergency room, where he was turned over to the care of Dr. Redmond Code.
“Meanwhile, back at the snakepit, Mirror spectators had filed out of the office after the episode and locked the door behind them, leaving the office to the two snakes.
“But remembering Omar’s instructions to kill the snakes, Mirror staffer Sharon Hendrix called the police. Two officers with drawn guns and three firemen with firesticks answered the call. Reportedly someone brought a golf club and Randy Randolph offered to loan his pistol to police.
“But officer John Seavers did the job, using birdshot in a shotgun.”
Now, that would have been enough to land Omar the Snake Man, a native of Maryville, in the annals of Tennessee newspaper history, as well as Bob Parkins and The Milan Mirror.
But what comes next is truly amazing: Omar puts the bite on a snaky public official.
Buzz Trexler is managing editor of The Daily Times. You can email him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)