That some of Abbo’s Alley was laid out during WWII by German POWs is something I’ve often heard, but seen little documentary evidence. Below is what I’ve found.
To the Editor:
Thanks very much for Alan Cheuse’s refreshing article on Sewanee (Travel, May 6). As a student I was one of Abbo Martin’s ”assistants” in the development of Abbo’s Alley (now known as the Abbot Cotten Martin Ravine Gardens). In one afternoon in 1951 two of us, under Abbo’s watchful eye and the direction of his waving hickory walking stick, planted nearly 2,000 Dutch daffodil bulbs. It was especially gratifying to note that Mr. Cheuse singled out daffodils as one of the graces of the Alley.
Abbo’s assistants worked hard, at $2 per afternoon, to help him fulfill his vision. It was work that, in a way, transformed us and made us better. I never fail to go back to Abbo’s Alley on my visits to Sewanee. I planted part of my youth there with those bulbs, and dogwoods, and hemlocks. Abbo eased our labor by quoting Wordsworth to us if our spirits flagged. Or he led us off to some new task with ”As Plato says, ‘a change is as good as a rest.’ ” I never really knew whether Plato said that, but the idea helped.
During World War II Abbo was assigned three German prisoners from the nearby camp in Tullahoma. He later received letters from one of them, remembering his kindness. ”They had never had a milkshake until I bought them one at the Union,” Abbo told us. As he left them working by themselves, while he drove up to the Union, he would admonish them: ”Nicht gangen away, oder ich gechasse mit bloodhounds.” They smiled at his fractured German, and promised to hang around.
I’m thankful for those days at Sewanee, and especially thankful for Abbo.
Little Rock, Ark.
Richard Allin writes the ”Our Town” column five days a week for The Arkansas Gazette.
No doubt the poem Abbo recited was “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:
I wandered lonely as a cloudThat floats on high o’er vales and hills,When all at once I saw a crowd,A host, of golden daffodils;Beside the lake, beneath the trees,Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.Continuous as the stars that shineAnd twinkle on the milky way,They stretched in never-ending lineAlong the margin of a bay:Ten thousand saw I at a glance,Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.The waves beside them danced; but theyOut-did the sparkling waves in glee:A poet could not but be gay,In such a jocund company:I gazed—and gazed—but little thoughtWhat wealth the show to me had brought:For oft, when on my couch I lieIn vacant or in pensive mood,They flash upon that inward eyeWhich is the bliss of solitude;And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.
From “Abbo’s Scrapbook,” a feature in the Sewanee Purple (March 23, 1955) 2