Claudius Meade Capps, M.D.

Copyright (2002) * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference

Claudius Meade Capps, M.D.

(1863-1951)

Claudius Meade Capps was born in Clinch River community near Cumberland Gap on April 9, 1863, the son of Valentine Willis Capps (1833-1914) and Minerva Jane Atkins Capps (1836-1910).  He graduated from the Tennessee Medical College in 1889, then attended the New York Polyclinic (1896-1898) and the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital (1898).

In 1898 Dr. Capps returned to Knoxville and established a practice specializing in diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat. It was said that he was the first surgeon in Knoxville to perform a mastoid operation, among the most demanding and dangerous surgeries performed at that time. He later limited his practice to the diseases of the eye. In 1925 his office was located in the Fretz Building, Suites 207-208, in downtown Knoxville. By 1935 he had moved to Suite 219 (1).

The Tennessee Medical College was founded at Gay and Main Streets in 1889 by a group of stockholder physicians, dentists and legal counselors. By 1905 the medical college had become associated with Lincoln Memorial University and was sold to LMU in 1909. In 1912 Dr. Capps became Professor of Ophthalmology and Otology at the college. As with so many private medical schools of that era, grave financial difficulties made it necessary for the school to cease operations in 1914. The buildings were later used for the Knoxville General Hospital (2).

Except for the two years he spent treating World War I veterans in a hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was a lifelong resident of Knoxville. The family lived in the Colonial house directly across from Greenwood Cemetery at the intersection of Hedgewood and Tazewell Pike for many years. They moved to 406 Biddle Heights in East Knoxville late in life.

The doctor is remembered for his interesting every-day conversation style replete with poetic expression and humor. Throughout his adult life he spent much of his spare time writing either poetry or song. He also wrote a historical work on the Cherokee Indian Nation. His published books were: Indian Legends and Poems (1932), Sea Dreams (1936), and The Blue and the Gray (An Anthology of Civil War Poetry, 1943). 

The Blue and the Gray was well recognized and sold many copies. It represented the first anthology of Civil War poems published in 30 years when it was published in 1943. Adhering to the 1940s version of political correctness, he omitted John Greenleaf Whittier’s "Barbara Fritchie" which many Southerners considered an unjustified slur on the chivalry of General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. The anthology contains 160 poems, including James Russell Lowell’s "Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration," and Father Abram Ryan’s "The Conquered Banner." Also included are poems by William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman and Henry Timrod. "The Bivouac of the Dead" and the once familiar and poignant, but now almost forgotten, "Little Giffen of Tennessee," and were also included (3).

Little Giffen of Tennessee was only sixteen years old and already in his eighteenth battle at The Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862). One verse of the poem describes his untimely death in the battle:

Word of gloom from the war one day:

"Johnston’s pressed at the front they say!"

Little Giffen was up and away;

A tear—his first—as he bade good-by,

Dimmed the glint of his steel-blue eye.

"I’ll write, if spared!" There was news of the fight:

But none of Giffen—he did not write.

Although the doctor had taken music at age 10, his schoolwork, and later his interest in medicine, consumed so much time that he did not begin composing until the late 1920s. He took one of his songs, Blue Hills of Tennessee, to Congressman J. Will Taylor’s office and the Congressman told him to take it to Miss Elizabeth Simpson, former Federal employee who could "sing like no one else could." Miss Simpson sang the song beautifully and asked the doctor to write another especially for her. He asked, "Where were you born?" She replied, "Kentucky." He wrote My Kentucky Rose, and dedicated it to her. In 1938 it was arranged for the famous Tennessee Theater organist, Billy Barnes, to include the selection in his organ program with Dr. Claudius Capps as honored guest for the movie and mini-concert (4).

The Blue Hills of Tennessee, written in memory of his mother, sold more than 5000 copies soon after it went on sale. He later wrote My Old Tennessee Home, which he considered a contender for the Tennessee State Song. Unfortunately, other compositions preceded it and then The Tennessee Waltz and Rocky Top were published. My Old Tennessee Home was never chosen. When asked whether it was difficult writing songs, the doctor replied, "Getting ideas for songs … is the least of (my) worries. It isn’t hard. It comes as natural as eating. I never worry about ideas (5)."

Dr. Capps married Ollie (Beeler) Capps (1873-1948) of Union County on ________ __, 1889. During their long and happy marriage, they had four children, Paul (____-____), Claude M. (1912-1985), Ethel (____-____) and Nora (Mrs. Dewey) George (____-____), wife of the City Councilman (1936-1937) (6).

Oak Forest

(Tazewell Pike, Beverly)

After 60 years of marriage, his wife died on April 6, 1948. Dr. Capps followed her in death on August 27, 1951. The Capps family had been members of the Knoxville First Baptist Church since before the turn of the century, more than 50 years. They are buried in Greenwood Cemetery just across from their former home "Oak Forest" on Tazewell Pike in Beverly. 

Dr. Claudius Meade Capps was a man for his time, an excellent physician, a talented poet and composer and a dedicated churchman. He made a difference in the lives of Knox Countians and many others beyond Knox County (7).

W-CAPPS.DOC (8/28/02, 9/20/02)

(Author's Note:  Thanks to Helen (Berner) Rackowit, a Capps descendant, who Emailed from Arkansas with dates of the birth and death of Dr. Capps' parents.  Additions and corrections are always appreciated.)

References:

1. S.J. Platt and M.L. Ogden, Medical Men and Institutions of Knox County, Tennessee (1789-1957) (Knoxville, 1969); Knoxville City Directory, 1925-1835; "Dr. C.M. Capps, Physician, Surgeon and Poet, Dies at 88," Knoxville News-Sentinel, August 28, 1951.

2. ibid. (Platt and Ogden); Lucille Deaderick, Editor, Heart of the Valley (A History of Knoxville, Tennessee) (Knoxville, 1976).

3. ibid. (Deaderick, 1976); op. cit. (Knoxville News-Sentinel, August 28, 1957); Robert Cunningham, "Dr. Capps Edits Fine Anthology of War Poetry," Knoxville News-Sentinel, December 12. 1943. The three books and words and music for his composition "The Great Smoky Mountain National Park" (words by C.M. Capps, music by Harry Jay, c1930) are in the Special Collections (restricted use) at the McClung Historical Collection. His three books are:

4. "Knox-Composed ‘Kentucky Rose’ Is Published," Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 4, 1938.

5. Rex Raney, "Songwriting ‘Natural’ For Local Physician," Knoxville News-Sentinel, December 5, 1946. The Tennessee Blue Book (1999-2000 Millenium Edition, Nashville, 1999) lists the state songs, the authors and the dates they were adopted: My Homeland, Tennessee (Taylor-Smith, 1925); When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee (Newman, 1935); My Tennessee (Tranum, 1955); Tennessee Waltz (Stewart-King, 1965); Rocky Top (Bryant, 1982); Tennessee (Rorie, 1992) and The Pride of Tennessee (Congdon-Vaughn-Elliot, 1996).

6. "Celebrating Golden Date," Knoxville News-Sentinel, August 20, 1939; Greenwood Cemetery Records: Ollie (Beeler) Capps was born on August 26, 1873 and died on April 6, 1948.

7. Obituaries: Ollie Beeler Capps, Knoxville Journal, April 8, 1948; Dr. Claudius Meade Capps, Knoxville Journal, August 28, 1951.

Greenwood Grave Markers: Dr. C.M. Capps, Mrs. Ollie (Beeler) Capps, Edith (Daughter, Dr. and Mrs. C.M.) Capps (8/10/1905-1/25/1908), Beryl Ida Capps (wife of William M. Emory Jr) (7/2/1894-10/29/1918) and Audrey Irma Capps (10/19/1891-1/3/1969).

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