HANK WILLIAMS MYSTERIOUS LAST RIDE
By Gerald Hodges
Just before daybreak on a cold New Year's Day in 1953, a baby-blue Cadillac pulled up to the small Oak Hill, West Virginia hospital. Exactly who was driving the car is uncertain, but the man in the back seat was singer-songwriter Hank Williams.
党I ran in and explained my situation to the two interns who were in the hospital,・said Charles Carr. 典hey came out and looked at Hank and said, 'He's dead.' 的 asked 'em, 'Can't you do something to revive him?' One of them looked at me and said, 'No, he's just dead.'媒
The last 24-hours of the troubadour's life has passed from reality to myth. Historians and biographers have speculated about what really happened. They used sketchy reports made by officials and statements from the young chauffeur, 17-year-old Charles Carr, that only deepened the mystery.
Williams was very gifted and talented, and in his own way fell victim to his own success and circumstances. Yet he managed to find a giant place in history, despite the demons in his personal life.
By the time he had reached his 29th birthday, Williams had succeeded in making a mess of his life. He suffered from Spinal Bifida from birth and underwent several operations the last year before his death. Most biographers agree that the constant pain and bad marriage with wife, Audrey is what led to his drinking and reliance on shots of morphine and other drugs.
Hank had been kicked off the Grand Ole Opry in June, 1952, and was playing at the Louisiana Hayride. By the end of November he had completed two successful tours, one in Texas and the other in Florida. He was making progress towards getting his life back in order.
In late December he had come down with the flu and was in bed at his mother's boarding house in Montgomery. Hank was ready to attend two shows in Charleston, West Virginia on December 31 and Canton, Ohio on New Year's Day.
On the morning of December 30, Hank set out to find a driver. He visited friend and former band member, Braxton Schufert. 的 had a regular job with Hormel, and while I occasionally played with him in Montgomery, I couldn't go off for several days,・Schufert said during a 1999 interview.
He asked Leo Hudson, another local singer and Daniel Carr, owner of a taxicab stand in Montgomery. Daniel Carr told Hank that his 17-year-old son, Charles was home from Auburn, and he would probably accept his offer.
It was cloudy and raining when Charles Carr and Hank left Montgomery on the afternoon of Dec. 30, 1952. They spent the first night in Birmingham, a distance of just over 100 miles.
On the afternoon of the second day (December 31), they made it to Knoxville, Tennessee. Realizing they were still three hundred miles from their first show, Hank decided to go to the Knoxville airport and book an airplane flight. The flight took off, but was turned back because of the snow and low clouds. Records show they checked into Knoxville's Andrew Johnson Hotel at 7:08 p.m.
A later official police report indicated that Williams had been carried to his room by hotel porters. Carr has never said in any of his interviews whether Hank was drunk or sick, but there had been plenty of time and places to buy liquor. But according to the autopsy performed a day later, there was only a trace of alcohol in his system.
After checking into the hotel, Carr called room service and ordered dinner for the two. In a later interview, Carr said that Hank developed a bad case of hiccups and was unable to eat. There are records that show that Dr. Paul Cardwell, the hotel's doctor and Knoxville physician visited Hank that night. Cardwell later testified that he gave Hank a shot of morphine to control the convulsions.
Carr said that Hank fell out of bed and bruised his head. This bruise became a point of controversy during the later investigation and was never fully explained.
A call came from A. V. Bamford, Hank's agent in Montgomery. The show in West Virginia had been canceled, and Carr was instructed to get Hank in the car and head towards Canton.
Carr had the hotel's porters carry the exhausted and unconscious singer to the Cadillac to resume the journey to Canton. One of the accounts that verify Williams was carried to the car by porters came from a report filed by Tennessee Highway Patrolman, Swan Kitts.
"He was lifeless as they put the clothes on him," Kitts wrote in a report.
Carr said in an interview that Hank was fully dressed all the time. He also reported that Hank was pushed in a wheelchair to the car.
It is believed that as Carr drove out of Knoxville on Highway 11, he picked up a hitchhiking soldier. Trying to make up time, Carr passed a Greyhound bus and almost ran into Officer Kitts. The officer turned around and stopped the Cadillac. He listed a third person as being in the car in his report. He allowed them to continue, but noted that Hank was covered with an overcoat.
They headed on towards Bristol, Virginia and stopped at the Burger Bar, a diner that is still in existence. Carr said, "I remember Hank got out to stretch his legs and I asked him if he wanted a sandwich or something. He just said, 'No, I just want to get some sleep.' Carr said that was the last time he remembers Hank talking to him.
No one has ever validated Carr's statements that Williams got out of the car in Bristol. After getting a snack, Carr pulled out and headed towards Bluefield, Virginia. It was between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. By this time Carr was exhausted. He had driven since leaving Birmingham without any sleep. Persistent rain and snow continued to fall, and Carr knew he couldn't continue much longer.
Arriving in Bluefield, he spotted a small diner that was open. He made a U-turn and came back to the restaurant. Next to it was a cab stand. Hazel Schultz was the waitress at the Dough Boy Diner that listened to Carr's story. She indicated there was a cab driver in the back of the restaurant that had just gotten off work.
The driver was Don Surface, and she brought him up to talk with Carr. The pair struck a deal. Surface would be paid fifty dollars plus a bus ticket back home in exchange for driving to Canton. The pair left the restaurant around 4:30 a.m.
Whatever happened to the soldier remains a mystery, because no one in Bristol or Bluefield remembers seeing him.
With Surface at the wheel, Carr quickly went to sleep in the passenger's seat. The trio reached Beckley, West Virginia, where Surface realized he had missed a turn and stopped at a service station on Main Street.
The owner came out and Surface tried to wake Carr, but was unable to. He then tried to wake Hank and became alarmed. The owner of the station looked at Hank, and said, "Boys, I think you've got a problem. There's a hospital six or seven miles up the road, and I suggest you take him there immediately."
Carr was awake by this time, but Surface continued to drive. In several interviews, Carr said it was he that drove Hank's lifeless body to the hospital.
In his book, "The Death of Hank Williams", Ralph Moore said one of Surface's cousins told him Hank was wearing only a T-shirt.
There are many contradictory statements about Hank's condition and his final trip. We do know that he was pronounced dead at the Oak Hill hospital at 7 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1953.
Charles Carr died in 2013. He gave several interviews after Hank's last ride and his story of the events remained consistent throughout the years.
Even though Hank died 64 years-ago his memory lives on in his songs. His music is more popular now than when he was alive.
Hank spent much of his boyhood years in the small town of Georgiana, Alabama, next to the L&N Railroad tracks. The building that now houses the Hank Williams Museum was once his home. Each year the faithful gather and honor him with a festival the first weekend in June. Fans come from around the world to listen to his songs and fellowship.