Since my last post about Yeehaw Junction I’ve run across a few more interesting bits, and even found an Elvis connection just a few miles away.
The simple word ‘Yeehaw’ has always screamed out bluegrass to me. I remember seeing signs in the town over the years for the annual Yeehaw Bluegrass Festival. I never made it to one, but they were held for a lot of years on a vacant patch of land not far from the Desert Inn. Stages were built and musicians played and festival goers camped out and had fun for the weekend.
That ended in 2016. With the land no longer available, promoters moved the event to the Agriculture/Civic center in Okeechobee, some 30 miles south on US 441. I suspect it will not make it back to the rural pasture in Yeehaw Junction.
And, probably unconnected, there was a short-lived YeeHaw UK country music festival in Great Britain. Held at Rockingham Castle in Northhamptonshire, one of those stately places that’s been in the family forever and needs paid ‘events’ and ‘tours’ to survive, the festival lasted for one session, in 2014. Probably the promised genuine American country food, drink and products spelled its doom. Or maybe it just didn’t measure up to the normal events held at the Castle, like jousting, dog agility, horse trials, Easter Egg Hunt, traditional fair, Victorian Christmas, and something called The Suffering Obstacle Race (10 miles of pain and suffering according to the description).
And while checking out all that I stumbled across a Bluegrass band in Charleston, SC , called, you guessed it, YeeHaw Junction. Figuring it was more than coincidence, I asked where the name came from. The answer came back: “I grew up in Florida and had seen many signs for YeeHaw Junction. I thought that it would be a name that was expressive of the type of music that we played.”
The odd bits add up fast: Yeehaw Junction is at the terminus of the first and second longest stretches of limited access highway without an exit in the US. It is at the southern end of the longest stretch (the next interchange to the north is 48.9 miles away at Kissimmee/St. Cloud) and at the northern end of the second longest stretch (the next exit to the south is 40.5 miles away at Fort Pierce).
I am keenly aware of the distance. On a northbound jaunt one time I was in the middle of the 40.5-mile stretch when I noticed the gas gauge was on empty and the warning light was on. I slowed to 50 mph, turned off the air conditioning, and made it to Yeehaw.
But on to the Elvis connection. Here’s where it gets fun. Just 14 miles north of Yeehaw Junction sits the tiny crossroads town of Kenansville, a late 1800’s cattle town on the now defunct Okeechobee spur of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad. The railroad is long gone, but the name, given to the place in 1914 in honor of the former Mary Lily Kenan, third wife of Henry Flagler, lives on.
Prominent on Canoe Creek Road in Kenansville is the Heartbreak Hotel. You can see it coming, can’t you: YES. According to one account: “Legend holds that the hotel is the hotel that inspired a young Elvis Presley to write his hit ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’”
The problem with that legend is that Elvis didn’t even write the song, much less wake up in his room at the Heartbreak Hotel one morning with the lyrics on his lips. He got a piece of the song-writing credit because that was Col. Tom Parker’s way, back in the day, of giving the newcomer a bit of added income.
The true story is good though, and might even include the Heartbreak Hotel in Kenansville, but we’ll probably never know for sure.
One of the real songwriters was indeed from Florida. Mae Axton (mother of Hoyt) was a teacher in Jacksonville, FL, who had long done some part-time promotional work for Col. Parker . Another ‘legend’ has it that she saw the Heartbreak Hotel while touring the state prior to Elvis’ southern concert tour. She’d promised Elvis she’d write him a song and she teamed up for that with songwriter Tommy Durden of Gainesville, FL. It’s said he had seen a story in a Miami paper about a suicide who had left behind a note that stated “I walk a lonely street.”
And all that, according to the lore, got mashed together into a song about a Heartbreak Hotel down at the end of Lonely Street. And a hit was born. The missing bit, as you’ve probably noticed, is whether Mae Axton every knew about or saw, the Heartbreak Hotel in Kenansville, but why let a missing bit get in the way of a good story?