Found this way cool photo of Perry Como and local photographer extraordinaire, Guy Cox, from 1948. They were both at Fleming Stadium during the annual tobacco festival. I assume that Mr. Como was just about to croon the heck out of the place, (or had just finished and everyone was in a daze).
There was a rumor going around that Elvis Presley played in Wilson before he was famous. And when I first started working here I heard a lecture about the history of baseball in Wilson and it was mentioned that Elvis played at Fleming Stadium. I looked into it but I didn’t find anything (I must not have looked very hard).
Almost two years later, on the way to work today, Elvis popped into my head for some inexplicable reason and I thought about the old rumor and lecture. So I looked into it again and the first thing I came across online was a listing of Elvis tour dates in 1956. And there, bright as the winter sun in my face on my morning commute from Wake County, was a date for Elvis playing in Wilson, NC at Charles L. Coon High School on February 14, 1956. However, my subsequent scanning of the Wilson Daily Times from around that date found nothing. Was Elvis considered too lusty to put in the paper? or just too unknown? From further research I learned that Elvis made his first TV appearance on the Milton Berle Show in April 1956 and after that his fame took off. So he wasn’t yet crazy famous nor yet the bugbear of proper, non-hip shaking folks when he appeared in Wilson. But what about Fleming Stadium? I would have stopped the search there if the the presentation that I heard had not mentioned that he played at the local baseball park. Thus, after another online search I found an earlier tour listing for 1955 and there was a entry for September 14, 1955 at Fleming Stadium. From there the dam burst. The Wilson Daily Times had an ad for the concert in three consecutive issues leading up to the concert. But unfortunately there was no write-up or photos from the concert in the following issues of the newspaper. However, since my original fruitless search there has been an informative website created that charts the career of Scotty Moore, Elvis’ backing guitarist for his early career (Scotty is ranked 29th in Rolling Stone Magazine’s greatest guitarists of all time according to Wikipedia). The site has a page dedicated to the show at Charles L. Coon High School and Fleming Stadium, and it references a blog post of mine about the stadium. The site references two books about Elvis: Did Elvis Sing in your Hometown (1995) by Lee Cotton and Last Train to Memphis (1995) by Peter Guralnik. Cotton’s book has an entry about the show at Fleming Stadium that the website quotes and I will reproduce it here:
Elvis was brought to Wilson by Slim Short (real name Bob Allen), a local deejay on WGTM. Tickets for the show, which were only $1.00 in advance and $1.25 the night of the show, were badly oversold. Some 2,000 fans crowded the stadium. Elvis came on stage last, following Cowboy Copas. When he bounded up the stairs to the stage, he slipped and fell. His composure was rattled, and he told a few jokes while he got his bearings. Following the show, Elvis ate at Cliff’s Drive-ln (defunct, famous local Wilson eatery).
There isn’t much about his two shows at Charles L. Coon High School but at least there is some documentation out there that Elvis graced Wilson with his iconic rockabilly synthesis of Southern white ballads and dance music and African American rhythm and blues.
Last night I was fortunate to be able to hear a lecture on the history of baseball in Wilson, NC from local historian and resident comedian, Keith Barnes. The lecture was set in the North Carolina Baseball Museum, which is housed at the historic 73 year old Fleming stadium in Wilson. The history of baseball in the town was much more rich than I had known. It started in the late 1800’s with club teams that eventually became minor league farm teams in the early 1900’s. Anecdotes of the famous playesr that passed through included such titanic greats as Jim Thorpe and Rod Carew to recent phenoms such as Justin Verlander (currently the highest paid pitcher in the MLB). I believe that the fondest memory of the of the attendees was when the Red Sox played the Phillies at the stadium in the early 50’s. Where Ted Williams’ batting practice before the game was the highlight of many of their childhoods. But the lecture was not just about the players, but also of the the local heckling legends, bat boys, kids jumping the fence, an early Elvis concert (nobody knew him then) and the filming of the rain-out scene from Bull Durham with Kevin Costner in Fleming stadium. Also, the man whom I was sitting next to, Earl Boykin, batted against the pitching great Gaylord Perry right there at Fleming Stadium (he fared poorly). The stadium is now home to the Wilson Tobs of the Coastal Plain League.