And it's a prosperous city. The privately endowed city high
school boasts a full Jeffersonian portico and a vast landscaped lawn. The city
park sports both an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, ball fields, an
antique-car raceway, meticulously maintained and memorialized picnic shelters.
Elegant brick homes line the shady streets on the west side of town, where
doctors and lawyers and executives enjoy the best of life with their families.
There's history in Winchester, too.
George Washington surveyed the area. Stonewall Jackson
headquartered here. James and Dolley Madison honeymooned at nearby Belle Grove
Plantation. It's home to Virginia's First Family, the Byrds. Sen. Harry F. Byrd
still walks Winchester 's streets. A small bronze statue of his brother,
Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, graces the elegant, Beaux-Arts Handley
Library and Archives building.
And there's a bright red apple monument. a six-foot-high
plaster remnant of the first Apple Blossom parade. You can't miss it. sitting
in front of Sheridan's Headquarters across the street from the library.
Winchester is, after all, the Apple Capital of the World.
Winchester was also home to country music legend Patsy
Cline. But you won't see a statue of her anywhere in town, no matter how hard
you look. As one angry fan wrote to the editor of the Winchester Evening Star:
''I've visited cities which pay greater tribute to early America gangsters and
outlaws than Winchester does to Patsy Cline.''
The diehard members of the Patsy Cline Memorial Committee
are working hard to change all that. In Winchester, people are beginning to
face the music: Patsy Cline was one hell of a singer.
Who was she, this woman who Tammy Wynette calls "the
standard-bearer of all female country singers?'' Whose recording of Willie
Nelson 's "Crazy" was ranked second only to Elvis' "Hound
Dog"/" Don 't Be Cruel" on the Top 10 Jukebox records of all
time? Whose greatest-hits album went triple-platinum 28 years after her death?
Jack Fretwell was the emcee of one of those talent shows.
"I first heard Patsy when she was 12 or 13, after the
family had moved here to Winchester," he says. "Saturday mornings,
the kids would come and compete for two tickets to a movie. She was good, very
Did she win?
''I don't remember, actually,'' Fretwell admits. " But
I sure remember what she sang four years later at the Elks Minstrel Show.'' His
eyes shift into the past, far away from the corner of the Winchester Library
where we sit. "It was 'Blue in the Night,' and what a mature voice she had
for a 16-year-old. It was something. She had the kind of voice you recognize
right away. Like Sinatra, and Tony Bennett—it was that distinctive."
Fretwell, who still performs as a singer-comedian in the
Winchester area and runs an alcohol rehabilitation center, took Patsy on as a
singer for his eight-piece dance band.
''I'd go by her house on a Saturday afternoon and rehearse
with her: We did Cole Porter, Jerome Kern ... She didn't read music at all, but
she picked up the songs like that." He snaps his fingers. '' She had great
timing on top of that big voice of hers.”
Pharmacist Harold "Doc" Madagan now owns Gaunt's
Drug on the corner of Cameron and Boscawen Streets. It's the kind of store
where you can still buy Tame Cream Rinse in white bottles, where the mailman
stops to buy a greeting card on his route. Though the soda fountain has long
since shut down, you can still sit in one of the highbacked wooden booths
while Madagan fills your prescription. Across the center aisle stacks of Patsy
T-shirts lay neatly folded on a table.
Beneath the pharmacy counter and above long shelves of
medicine, rows of hastily framed Patsy photographs shine beneath glass. Madagan
is proud of them; keeps copies of one to hand out to visiting fans. Like his
idol, Patsy, Madagan is plainspoken and says exactly what he thinks.
''Yeah, she worked here from late 1949 through most of 1951.
And after she left Winchester, made it big in Nashville, she'd still come in
here and give us all the news. She always had her hair up in curlers because
she was always singing someplace that night.''
He leans across the table. "She had it tough, really
tough. That kid had to fight her way across the tracks in this town. She wasn't
on the Washington Street cocktail-party lists, let's just say that. Winchester
is a very cliquish town, to say the least.''
Joan Hafer, a Winchester hairdresser and musician, played
bass with the Playboys from 1956-58 and remembers Patsy Cline as one strong,
“You know, it wasn't an easy thing to be a woman in country
music back then. I was resented as a woman bass player, believe me. But I knew
I could do the job, so I just went on and did it.
“Patsy was the same way, much more so. She had the guts to
get what she wanted. She said exactly what she thought. She got along great with
men. You'd see her having a beer, telling jokes. She'd be right in the center
of things. Today, nobody'd think a thing of it. But back in the '50s, women
just didn't do that. In a lot of ways. Patsy was way ahead of her time."
In March, 1953, 20-year-old Patsy married Gerald Cline,
eight years her senior. Patsy got more than her now-famous name from Gerald: by
all accounts he was looking for a stay-at-home wife, and Patsy just didn't fit
the bill. He became increasingly resentful of her nights out with the band,
nights which, it was rumored, included a love affair with bandleader Bill Peer.
"Patsy had a tough time in that marriage," Joan
Hafer says carefully. "Gerald had been married before, and his
ex-mother-in-law and her daughter would come to the Moose Club and sit right
below Patsy in the front row. They'd just stare at her and Patsy wouldn't pay
them any mind; she'd just go right on singing like they weren't even
there." Hafer doesn't have much to say about stories of Patsy's healthy
libido; that she "knew how to entertain the gentlemen·' and had affairs
trailing from Winchester to Nashville and back again. ''Well, she did break
up Bill Peer's marriage. Beyond that . . .'' Beyond that, what she may have
done after the show doesn't have a whole lot to do with Patsy's talent and
What did affect her career in the mid-to-late-fifties
was a bad contract. which Patsy had signed in late 1954 with Bill McCall,
President of Four Star Records. In it, Patsy agreed to record only songs owned
by Four Star and for a royalty rate less than half that of established stars.
It tied her hands artistically and kept her poor far longer than she should
There was that contract, and meeting Charlie Dick , who
thought Patsy was the best there was.
“She sang a lot at the Berryville Armory, down the road,” he
says from behind his cash register. “She sang some with the Kountry Krackers.
And yeah, she was good, real good.”
Just for the record: Patsy never sang here. But it would have
been her kind of place: smoky and dark, jam-packed with men looking for women
and women looking for men, with a strong-beat band and free-flowing beer.
In the next few years, things moved fast for Patsy: she
divorced Gerald Cline in March 1957, and married Charlie Dick in September. She
gave birth to a daughter, Julie, in August 1958 and the family moved to
Nashville in late summer, 1959. Six months later, her dream came true: Patsy
traded small-time television (Connie B. Gay 's Washington, D.C. "Town and
Country Jamboree'') to sing at the Grand Old Opry.
Still, money was tight. Four Star Records deducted every
possible expense from the earnings of “Walkin' After Midnight”: the record sold
750,000 copies, yet Patsy received a grand total of $900 in royalties from it.
She continued to record with Four Star, unhappy with many of the songs they
chose for her. It must have been with great relief that Patsy signed with Paul
Cohen at Decca Records in 1960, when her contract with Four Star expired,
leaving behind Bill McCall for producer Owen Bradley.
The rest is country-music history. Nine days after son Randy
was born in January 1961. her second hit, "I Fall to Pieces," was released . It was
this Hank Cochran/Harlan Howard song that finally gave Patsy the financial
security which had evaded her so long.
And what did Winchester think of Patsy's second #1 hit on
Billboard's country charts? Mel Dick, Charlie's brother, tells it like this:
“I remember going into the big record store downtown. 'I
Fall to Pieces' was way up on the national pop charts as well as on the Billboard
list. There was nothing in the window, and nobody said a thing to me about it.
I went back next week—same thing. Finally, when it reached #1, they did a
window display. It was probably the high mark of Patsy's popularity here in
Winchester. Now, in Martinsburg, Hagerstown-she was everywhere. But not
here," he says.
But Carnegie Hall beckoned in late 1961. and Patsy went.
along with Grand Ol' Opry co-stars Minnie Pearl. Bill Monroe, Faron Young and
Jim Reeves, to Las Vegas.
"Crazy," "She's Got You,"
"Strange," "Sweet Dreams (of You)," "Faded Love,"
"Crazy Arms." Patsy recorded 48 songs during 15 marathon studio
sessions between August 1961 and March 1963. Her voice got stronger; her delivery
perfectly timed; the emotion exquisitely conveyed. She played a five-week stint
in Vegas, performing every single night, and appeared with Johnny Cash at the
Hollywood Bowl. She sang heart songs with tears running down her cheeks. She
was a lyricist's dream come true, according to Willie Nelson. She felt the
lyrics because she lived them.
And then, Patsy finally got her frontpage headline in the
Winchester Star. On March 5, the single-engine Piper Comanche plane crashed
near Camden, Tennessee Patsy, her pilot/manager Randy Hughes, and
country/western singers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins all were killed. She
was 30 years old.
You'll miss Patsy's grave unless you know where to look for
it. Her bronze plaque reads like this: "Virginia H. (Patsy Cline) Dick,
1932-1963. Death cannot kill what never dies: Love.”
Two other monuments to Patsy stand in the cemetery, neither
erected by the City of Winchester. One is a bronze gateway plaque, placed by
Charlie Dick and children Julie and Randy. It's decorated with running musical
notes, dedicated to ''one of America's best-beloved singers.''
Over near the lake, on the southern edge of the cemetery,
stands the Patsy Cline Memorial Bell Tower, a 55-foot bronzed steel tower from
which three clapperless bells hang. It's not a pretty thing, but it took a lot
of fundraising by the Patsy Cline Memorial Committee to pay cemetery owner
Larry Omps what it cost him to put it up five years ago.
"We donated the road," says Adams. "We could
call it anything we wanted. So now Winchester has Patsy Cline Boulevard.” She
Adams is quick to share the credit with long-time Winchester
residents who have worked for many years to give Patsy her due. There's Jack
Fretwell and Teresa Jenkins Bowers, who worked for over two years to win the right
to name a short stretch of U.S. 522 south from U.S. 50 to the Clarke County
line named the Patsy Cline Memorial Highway. All they were asking for was a
sign. They finally got it—24 years after Patsy's death.
And there's Jim Knicely, a Patsy fan from way back, when he
lived behind Gaunt's Drugstore. He's got a Patsy Cline videotape collection,
Patsy Cline T-shirts for sale, Lions' Club Patsy Cline pins, hours of Patsy
Cline stories, and very set opinions about Winchester's treatment of the
big-voiced girl from the wrong side of the tracks.
“If she'd been a doctor's daughter, you better believe this
city would have stood behind her from the start,” he says. "And about the
rest—her morals, let's call it—well, it was all right for any man in this town
to do what they say she did. You know what I mean?"
What does Patsy's mother think of all this? Nobody really
knows for sure; Hilda Hensley long ago stopped talking to strangers about it.
But if the Patsy Cline Memorial Committee has its way, the future is going to
matter a lot more than the past.
"The old folks who resented her are dying off,” Knicely
says. “And the young people-they're the ones who're listening to Patsy's music
And that's as it should be. Because finally, it was the
music that mattered most to Patsy Cline.