Young Man, There’s No Need to Feel Down: Stuntin’ at the Y in 1918

In 1918, when the U.S. Government joined forces with DuPont to build a gun powder facility and  Old Hickory Village, they chunked out not one, not two, not three, BUT FOUR YMCAs!  OK, so one of the four was a YWCA (for women), but who’s being picky?  If I was flung back into 1918 ala Doctor Who style, I’d be able to choose from a White YMCA, Colored YMCA, Family YMCA, or YWCA.

Four Ys in a Village!  Let’s just get it over with and sing a few bars of the Village People’s 1978 hit………

Young man, there’s no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town 
There’s no need to be unhappy.

Recently, while I was knee-deep in one of my 1918 geek-out modes,  I collided with this article about one of Old Hickory Village’s four Ys.

Old Hickory Record, August 10 1918

I had never heard of “Stunt Night.”   My kids and their friends, on the other hand, are constantly using the phrase “we be stuntin’ at (insert location).”  I have never known what stuntin’ means………..until now.  The Urban Dictionary defines stuntin’ as:

This would be my definition of stuntin’, if you asked me. My head would be paralyzed in the turned position if I passed this hunk of Colin Firthabulosity.

Back to Stunt Night at the Y.  Stunt Night, it turns out, was an early form of fake wrestling, or as my most Southern friends and I like to say, “wrasslin.”

Here is an image I found on Ebay of a YMCA Stunt Night in Iowa during 1918.

Looks pretty civil to me!  Where are the half dressed men sporting gaudy gold championship belts the size of a car?

Sadly, the Old Hickory Village YMCAs weren’t always for entertainment and wrasslin’.  Spanish flu raked across the Village with tremendous force in 1918.

October 8, 1918

The Y.M.C.A opened its doors to stricken men.  Each office, the gymnasium, and lobby was turned into wards with cots crowded into them.  Secretaries turned their attention to serving patients.  The religious secretary acted as chaplain to the dying and those who had passed out cigars and candy across the counters now served soup and broth.
~ Lou Cretia Owen Papers - Tennessee State Library and Archives

Rumor has it that the one of the Ys was even used as a morgue at one point.  An estimated 465 people died from Spanish Flu in the Old Hickory Village.

None of the YMCA buildings survived the years.  All but one were torn down in the 1920s (the “White Y” was saved ). In 1967 it was replaced with a more modern building which is now referred to as The Old Hickory Community Center.

The “White”and “Colored” YMCAs…….

The location of the White YMCA and the Colored YMCA

November 20, 1918

We went to a negro rally held at the colored Y.M.C.A tonight.  A large crowd of negroes crowded the auditorium but special  seats were arranged for the white guests.

The colored people lauded the plant, complimented the executives, and pledged loyalty to Old Hickory as long as there is a camp open here.  It was thrilling and stirring to hear them rally to the reservation and express their patriotism.  The negroes have rendered loyal service.  Without them, it would have been hard to have carried out the program that has been.
~Lou Cretia Owen Papers – Tennessee State Library and Archives

Old Hickory Record, August 10, 1918

The White YMCA located on Donelson St. 


November 9, 1918

Little happened yesterday.  We had a rest day.  Went to services at the Y.M.C.A yesterday afternoon and to vespers late today.  Lounged in the Y.W.C. A. rest rooms.  This is the most comfortable place to spend a Sunday afternoon.  The hostess serves tea at 4 o’clock. Tables are covered with magazines and a blazing fire in the fireplace is inviting.

November 18, 1918

The Y.W.C.A program beginning today with a soldier party is listed on the bulletin board as follows:

Monday – Soldier Party
Tuesday – Community Dance, Y.M.C.A
Wednesday – Tea for women of village
Thursday – club night
Friday- Folk Dancing
Saturday – Big Community Party
Sunday – 2 p.m. hike. 4 p.m. vespers.

Each week the Y has some activities planned for every evening of the week to make the life at the plant more pleasant for the girls.  The young men are brought into the program often.  ~Lou Cretia Owen Papers –  Tennessee State Library and Archives

The Family YMCA

Now for the granddaddy of them all, the Family YMCA.  This facility was equipped with a bowling alley, swimming pool, and auditorium.    I am a bit obsessed with this particular YMCA because it was located across the street from where I live now.  There is zero, zip, NADA sign that this building ever existed.  The worst part is there is no one left with memories or inherited stories about this building. It was torn down some time in the 1920s.  The pool remained until the 1960s.  It’s as if someone took a giant eraser and scrubbed the landscape.  I walk my dog on the land that once contained 1,000 laughs.

The Family Y


Inside the Family YMCA

The Family Y – Tennessee State Library and Archives

I can’t finish this blog without singing the Village People song again.  I wonder what the lyrics would have been if they’d wanted to sing about a Colored, White, Family, and Women YMCA?  I’m not going to attempt the lyrics.  I do know if the song had been written in 1918, it might have gone like this:

It’s fun to stay at the Y…..M….C….A……….unless you have the Spanish Flu
It’s fun to stay at the Y…..M….C….A……….unless you have the Spanish Flu

I promise to write no more song lyrics!

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