When I was a kid, the rumors surrounding Halloween mischief usually revolved around this or that crazy lady sticking razor blades in apples. Some older trick or treaters might go out and toilet paper a lawn, maybe egg some cars or kick over some jack o’ lanterns.
Looking back at Knox County Halloweens back in the 1960s will absolutely set your hair on fire, because the pyromaniacs back then were straight out of Devil’s Night from The Crow. They took “fire it up” to new heights.
Last year I reported on the Halloween night burning of Brice’s Covered Bridge in east Knox County (see story here) back in 1968. It was the only covered bridge left in the county, and a piece of history was lost. Two years prior, things also got completely out of hand.
The biggest loss on that night was Neubert’s Mill, a towering structure along Stock Creek on Pickens Gap Road, just south of Tipton Station Road. The mill was built by Fritz Neubert, a son of Hermann and Elizabeth Neubert for whom the historically German Neubert community was named. They were the proprietors of the Neubert White Sulfur Springs Hotel and, later, water company. Fritz and his brothers eventually ran the hotel, which burned in 1924 shortly after the family sold it.
But the mill was built by Fritz over a century before it was also lost to fire at the hand of vandals. The mill had been a stop for the old Smoky Mountain Railroad in years past, as the engines would take on water from a large tower behind the mill. Neuberts was its own community by the late 1800s, and a half day’s ride by horse or carriage from Knoxville before modern roadways and automobiles entered the picture. It had its own general store, post office, schools and churches.
By the time of that fire in 1966, the mill was no longer in use, but still in the possession of Fritz’s grandchildren (his son Joe kept it running until 1958). The mill previously produced flour and cornmeal and had a saw and plaining mill in the same building. On top of the history that went up in smoke, the family lost a small fortune in stored timber. Firemen and other emergency personnel had difficulty even attempting to stop the inferno as the arsonists had burned out the wooden bridge on Marine Road at Tipton Station, causing a 5-mile detour.
That Halloween was thoroughly hell on wheels. On top of the loss of the mill, miscreants were busy across the county. It wasn’t just some good-natured hijinks and pranks; it was dangerous and destructive. Sheriff Archie Weaver was checking on some vandalism in Kimberlin Heights, a particularly active area that night, and was nearly hit in the face with brick debris. A private security detective in the same neighborhood ended up in the hospital after having a cherry bomb sling-shotted into his eye.
Two homes and a garage in Knox County as well as one home just over the line in Sevier County were destroyed by fire. The Knoxville Fire Department alone had nearly 40 calls, for leaf piles, trash, even cars set ablaze. Other bridges were burnt out and motorists were dodging burning tires and other debris on more rural roads and highways.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s this: if some older teenagers or even adults show up on your doorstep tonight looking for candy, just hand over the Reese’s Cups. There’s so much worse they could be up to.
Source: The Knoxville News Sentinel digital archives, Nov. 1, 1966