Ethel Sloan Park was the ninth child born to Lunsford Yandell Park and Isabella Ann Eliza Barron. She was born in Decherd, Tennessee, December 13, 1883. Her first husband was Paul Jordan Smith (who also went by the last name of Jordan-Smith), whom she married September 25, 1904. Ethel and Paul had three children: Lucille Isabella Smith (who changed her given names to Isabel Jordan), Wilbur Jordan Smith, and Ralph Wendell Smith. Ethel and Paul divorced (a scandal at the time), and Ethel subsequently married Dr. James Perkins ("Mr. Jim") Richardson, who died in 1922. Please refer to the genealogy available under "Family Trees" for the names of Ethel and Paul's grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Ethel was a remarkable woman. Her second husband, Mr. Jim, ran a preparatory school, Prosso, in Kansas City, Missouri, and later in Houston, Texas, where Ethel taught Latin and classics. It is rumored that among her students were the young Howard Hughes and the actor Joel McCrea. After Mr. Jim's death, Ethel turned her attention to a variety of interests, including collecting folk songs from the Ozarks, some of which she published in American Mountain Songs (New York: Greenburg, 1927). She also had a radio program on New York's WOR in the 1930s. At some point in her career, she designed and had built a special trailer for herself, which she hauled across country on numerous trips. Eventually went to live with her daughter Isabel and son-in-law Kirby Hansen, Sr., on their farm in Fresno, California, where she lived until her death on April 11, 1968.
Whenever she came to visit her children, Ethel played what she called her "zither" (autoharp) and sang songs to her various grandchildren, who remember her sweetness well. She was deeply familiar with American folklore, to the point where she became a contestant on the early TV quiz show The Big Surprise, which boasted a $100,000 top prize. Her chosen category was "hillbilly music." She worked her way up to the top, and then, in a calculated cliff-hanger, missed one part of a six-part question. The question in question was, "What is the Indian name for the Cumberland Gap and what does it mean?" She replied, "I plumb don't know." The question was obviously outside her category, and she contemplated lodging a protest. But the quiz show had a gimmick that was important for the suspense that the show's ratings counted on. A single wrong answer triggered the gimmick, which was that she would only get another chance at the prize if a "rescuer," someone who looked just like her, would come on the show and answer a single question. The rescuer double was found, of course, and answered the question correctly. That gave Ethel a second chance, and she successfully answered the final question and won the top prize, the biggest ever awarded until then.
We plan to include some more photos of Ethel in the very near future, so come visit this page again. Also visit the Stories page for more about Ethel.