Discover The Story Behind Franklin’s Famous Best-Seller
Just over a year ago, Visit Franklin Films released a new series called Made to be Makers. In it, several local artisans, chefs, and story-tellers were featured inviting all of us to dig a little deeper into our own stories and celebrate the gifts we all bring to the community around us.
The last and final episode created was on Franklin’s famous storyteller and New York Times Best-Selling Author, Robert Hicks. Robert has had an incredible impact on the community of Franklin over the years and is considered a national treasure for his work in battlefield reclamation.
Unfortunately soon after production was wrapped on his episode, Robert’s health took a sharp decline and we decided to delay releasing it. In addition to commemorating the Battle of Franklin this November, I’m excited to finally be able to share this episode with the world and decided to sit down with Robert to discuss the video and a little of what’s been happening since filming. Below is our conversation. Scroll to the bottom to watch episode 7 of Made to Be Makers.
JC: We filmed this video over a year ago, so catch us up a little bit on what’s been happening with you and what the last year has really looked like.
RH: (laughs) This has been an amazing year for me because I came back from my annual trip somewhere in the world for my birthday in late January, which was Havana, Cuba this year. And I found out that I was dying. I mean, first, I had sepsis and they thought I was dying and literally, the doctors told friends to bring whoever needed to say goodbye to me to see me. Then I survived sepsis and we started dealing with bladder cancer. I ended up having an operation that didn’t go well where I was told I flat lined and they gave me six-and-a-half units of blood. I survived. Then the doctors deemed that I still had to have an operation that was successful, so we went back in, and that was, believe it or not, even the trickiest of them, and I survived that. And so now I’m on the road to wellness. You know, according to my doctors, I’m gonna have to find another way to die.
JC: Incredible. I can’t imagine what it’s been like to have to go through something like that!
RH: I’m a strong believer in a world that is in the hands of a loving God, and I would say that I am living proof of that right now.
JC: So, now, that you’re on the road to recovery, what is the next thing that you’re looking to do in retelling the stories surrounding the Battle of Franklin?
RH: You know that’s a great question. A friend of mine came up from Atlanta and he said, “Now that your job isn’t being sick,” which is opposed to my job of getting well, it really was my job to be sick, “What are you gonna do with the rest of your life?” And that’s kind of what I’m trying to figure out right now. I’m working on a fourth novel. This one, the autobiography of Jack Daniels. I’m working with a young filmmaker on a seven-part miniseries and then I’m just trying to figure out what I do wanna do with the rest of my life, and specifically here in Franklin.
JC: As you know every November, here in Franklin, we commemorate the Battle of Franklin. You talk about it in the video, but what initially drew you into this story and compelled you to retell this story through Widow of the South?
RH: You know, when I moved to Franklin, very little was ever really said about the Battle of Franklin. I mean I didn’t know anything about it. I knew that, uh, supposedly, more American generals died there than in any other battle in American history, which is true. I knew that it was the five bloodiest hours of the Civil War, which wasn’t true. It turned out that there was an afternoon in Antietam. I knew that it had no consequences, which is definitely not true. And so those simple facts were how I lived for, uh, maybe the first 10 years. Then, as I began to read things, I was sucked into it. I was asked onto the Board of Carnton, and I was there with a board that really wasn’t that interested in the history of the place, as much as making it a pretty place. So I wanted to know more. Why was one of the largest military cemeteries in America privately held in the backyard, you know? Who put it there? Why was it there? And so, I just slowly was sucked into the whole story of this place.
JC: People from all around the world visit Franklin, Tennessee, and Williamson County by the hundreds of thousands every year to tour the grounds of Carnton, Carter House and Lotz House to learn the story of everything that happened here, right? What’s, the one thing you want them to take away?
RH: That something really important happened here. Something important, not just to the 750 men, women, and children, black and white, who were here the night of the battle, but something important with consequences that effects them and comes down to them to this day. This is our patrimony, and when I say our, I don’t mean simply Franklin’s or descendants of people who were here or the people who’ve arrived since them. I’m talking about our patrimony as a nation. This is ours, and they need to have ownership of that. That’s what my goal is in anything and everything I do is to be sure that people go away feeling that this is an important spot, you know? In olden times, ancient times people were told to put up Ebenezers, to pile up rocks where something important happened, and it shouldn’t be forgotten. Instead of putting a pile of rocks up, we built a pizza parlor, you know? So, part of my goal in founding Franklin’s Charge has been to kind of disassemble the pizza parlors and the strip malls, and in their place, put the land back so that people can see something that really is hallowed. Something important happened when people bled to death on that land. When you read the letters of men the day after the battle, the big conflict is not whether there was bloodshed here, but how deep was the blood? Some write about the rivulets of blood going through the garden where it had been plowed. Some write about it being heel-deep or shoe-deep or boot-deep. But nobody questions the fact that there was blood everywhere, and that the blood was of those who bled and died to make this a better nation, and that’s Franklin’s gift to America. That what came out of it, though imperfect, though flawed, though not there yet, is still far better than before that battle.
What a humbling experience for me personally to get to sit with and get to know Robert over the past couple of years. If you’ve never read his best-selling book Widow of the South, then I highly recommend it. And if you’ve never toured the grounds at Carnton, Carter House, or Lotz House, then be sure to put that on your bucket list today. Also, mark your calendars for the night of Friday, December 7th. Robert will be joining us in the Visitor Center for Art Scene to sign books, share some stories, and discuss his next book project.