Despite all of the negativity that sometimes is associated with Logan County, I can honestly say I’m proud to have been born and raised in what once was nothing more than an Appalachian wilderness.
Yes, we’ve got a long history of political corruption and we have legends that can be identified with the Hatfield and McCoy feud, as well as the Battle of Blair Mountain. There have many murders, and hundreds of accidents and deaths related to the dangerous work of mining coal, such as the Buffalo Creek flood and the 22 Holden mine catastrophe, and yet, despite all of that, I always feel good when I reflect upon some of the accomplishments of folks who once called Logan County their home.
I have written before about people who left a good mark upon their native county of Logan. People like Joanne Dru, whose real name was Joan Letitia LaCock, who was born in Logan in 1922 and became a well-renowned Hollywood actress, starring in several popular movies of the 1940’s and ‘50’s. She was the elder sister of Peter Marshall, who some of us knew to be the host of the once popular “Hollywood Squares” television show that ran during daytime hours from 1966 to 1980.
Of course, there was world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, 2002 Olympic champion Lea Ann Parsley, a direct descendant of the feuding McCoy clan, as well as old-time musicians like Frank Hutchinson, Edward “Ed” Haley, Bo Ratliff, the Williamson Brothers, and fiddlers Sherman Lawson and blind fiddler Ed Haley of Harts. All of these people, and many others, hailed from Logan County.
There have been several fantastic athletes from Logan County make their marks, even at the professional ranks. Max Butcher was a very successful starting pitcher with Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while Lionel Taylor and Charlie Cowan, along with Shane Burton, were pro football players — Cowan and Taylor becoming all-stars.
There were numerous military heroes like Ted Belcher and Frankie Molnar, to name just a few, who sacrificed their lives to save others. Naturally, there were other people who helped to make Logan County proud. Danny Godby, professional golfer Buddy Cook and NFL sports agent James “Bus” Cook, both from the Man area, along with Chris Harvey, who also hailed from Man and was a member of the 2002 NCAA football championship team Miami of Florida, which finished the year with a 12-0 record — all were very important keys to their relative sports.
Among numerous Loganites were world-renowned magician Michael Ammar, fighter pilots Dan Dahill and Bill Abraham, along with lesser known Loganites like Charlie Byles, who created the heirloom tomato plant known as the mortgage lifter, to Harry Jeffries of Taplin, who has the distinction at the age of 14 as being the youngest person to enlist (improperly) in the U.S. Army during World War I.
Of course, today we appreciate the renowned efforts of Landau Eugene Murphy (2011 “America’s Got Talent” winner) and up and coming star Brayden Williamson for their musical contributions that help to spotlight the talent of Logan County.
It is now my pleasure to add two more people to the growing list of Logan Countians who accomplished great feats in their lifetimes. And the odds are that you have never even known about them.
I will start first with a fellow who came to America around 1914 and then quickly made his way to Omar, where he adopted the name of Sam Abraham because his cousin, Joe Abraham, was well known there and the man felt like his real name “Tofik Mecca,” was just “too much of a name for anyone to have if he expected to go into business,” according to the newspaper account of January 14, 1939.
Known simply as “Sam” to his Omar friends, Tofik left “on his own” for Hollywood in 1934 “to get into pictures.” According to Sam, who was known in Hollywood by his real name, it took him two years before he, in his words, “learned the swing of things.”
The former Omar resident was visiting Logan in 1939 after having appeared in several movies — mostly Arabian plots — that included “Trouble In Morocco,” “Charge of the Light Brigade,” “The Sheik Steps Out,” “Another Dawn,” and several other films of that time period.
Another movie, “Suez,” was to be shown at the Logan Theatre the following week while “Sam” was back in Logan. In that movie he was cast as an Arabian chieftain.
“Progress is slow in Hollywood,” he told a Logan Banner reporter. “There are thousands of extras ready for call, and many of them are as charming or gallant as the stars. But, first, they must establish themselves. That is the hard job.”
Sam started first as a non-speaking extra, but he gained many speaking roles after that, his first movie appearance being in “Cleopatra.” His latest movie before returning to Logan was in “Gunga Din,” in which he was allowed the honor of fighting with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Cary Grant (two movie stars of that time) in one of the desert scenes.
In more recent times, another former Loganite, who lived both in Logan and at Barnabus near Omar, was one of the best known real estate developers in Nashville. In fact, this writer, like numerous other Loganites, have witnessed his work while visiting the “Music Capital of the World.” However, we never knew the connection to Logan County.
Among the many iconic Nashville properties Ulysses Grant Browning developed was the International Plaza near the airport there and the United Artists Tower on Music Row, a place that nearly all Nashville vacationers visit. He also developed the city’s first affordable housing development, fulfilling his incessant desire to help those less fortunate.
You, see, Grant Browning was the great-grandson of Devil Anse Hatfield. His grandmother was Elizabeth (Hatfield) Caldwell, the sixth child born unto William Anderson “Devil Anse” and Leviacy Hatfield. Grant’s mother was Osa Caldwell Browning, who arranged for him to go, at the age of 15, to Trevecca High School in Nashville to get him an early start on his wish to enter the ministry. From there he entered Trevecca University and then on to the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. As a teenager, he pastored the Presbyterian Church in Effingham, Kansas.
He returned to continue his studies at Vanderbilt University, pursuing work in both theology and philosophy. After pastoring at several churches and discovering that theology/philosophy teachers were not in great demand, in 1965 Grant became active in his first real estate ventures. He became a developer of apartments, condominiums and office buildings.
So it was that this former Loganite who, along with his younger brother, Joe, roamed the streets of Logan while growing up near the post office in Logan. Together, they visited their family cemetery at Sarah Ann every Memorial Day weekend, after they both had moved away many decades ago.
It was on one such visit that I was honored to meet them, both of whom were in their ‘80’s at the time. I kept in contact with them until Grant first died at the age of 89 in 2020 and Joe, whose wife informed me of his passing just two years after his brother. They were true gentlemen by all accounts.
Grant Browning was a wealthy man when I introduced him to the Logan County Commission long before the death of himself and his brother. They left that meeting with high hopes that their family cemetery would be upgraded with perpetual care and that a museum honoring the Hatfield family would be constructed nearby. The brothers said they had many family heirlooms they would be willing to donate. They also were willing to contribute financially to reach that goal.
I suppose nobody realized at the time that Grant Browning, a man who developed projects throughout the southeast and even co-partnered in the year-round housing system in North and South Dakota with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had more to offer than some thought.
Grand and Joe Hatfield left Logan with dreams of becoming successful. Both of them were — just not in Logan County.
If you ever visit Nashville, as I have, just take note that the developments in the area, like Georgetown, Hobbs House, Village Green and Jefferson Square, were just a few of the places developed by a guy who came from the hills of Logan County.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.