The morning sun shines brightly on a simple bronze plaque in the Shenandoah Memorial Park just south of Winchester, Virginia. To the right of the plaque, a bouquet of roses, sent by the now aged widower Charlie Dick, bears witness to the inscription: “Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love.”
The humble site and heartfelt offering are modest memories of a local girl whose voice continues to touch fans around the world. And as Virginians settle in to wait out the worst snow storm of this winter season, plans move forth to celebrate the life of Patsy Cline.
Patsy Cline, whose timeless hits include the songs Walking After Midnight, She’s Got You, Faded Love and I Fall To Pieces, perished, along with country greats Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins and pilot Randy Hughes, in the crash of a small Piper Commanche airplane on the stormy evening of March 5, 1963.
Following her wishes, she was interred in Winchester, Virginia, the town she considered home. By the time of her death, Cline had gained an international following. Fifty years later, the country music siren’s legacy lives on.
Cline was the first female solo artist to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Her songs have been covered by performers as diverse as Madeleine Peyroux and Don McLean. One song – Sweet Dreams – became a hit for both Reba McEntire and Emmylou Harris.
Even today her classic recordings regularly reach the “platinum” level in CD sales, while her rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” continues to be ranked as the number one jukebox hit of all time.
The acclaim would most likely bowl over the determined country girl who grew up the daughter of a teenaged mother and a boozing middle-aged father. And so would the fact that so many people still make their way to the simple grave in the Shenandoah Valley to honor the woman many consider to be the most influential female vocalist of the 20th century.
Lynda H. Dubose, the administrative assistant at the Omps Funeral Home (adjacent to Shenandoah Memorial Park) told the Baltimore Post-Examiner that an average of 10 visitors a day stop in to ask for directions to Cline’s gravesite. Others, she said, arrive in large groups. “They bring them in sometimes by the busload.”
“It’s amazing that people still come here after all of these years,” marveled longtime Winchester resident Bill Keyton, a part-time funeral assistant for the Omps Funeral Home. Keyton said it wasn’t always that way in Winchester. “Patsy grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. It wasn’t till after she took it to the top that the town finally started to embrace her.”
It is hard to gauge just how many people come to Winchester each year specifically because of Patsy Cline. Renee Bayliss, a public relations specialist at the Winchester Visitors Center, told The Baltimore Post-Examiner the numbers are not annually compiled. But Sally C. Coates, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention & Visitors Bureau, recalled that, “For a few months last year, more people came in asking about Cline than about the Civil War.”
Coates said the city will be honoring the memory of Cline with two events this coming weekend. The first, on Saturday, March 9th from 8 p.m. -11 p.m. is A Celebration of Life event and reception to be held at the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, VA. This free event will include tributes along with live entertainment. Then on Sunday, March 10th from 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m., A Memorial Service will be held at the Omps Funeral Home – South Chapel – 1260 Front Royal Pike Winchester, VA. Graveside visitation will follow in the Shenandoah Memorial Park. (Cline’s grave may be found about 40 yards behind the funeral chapel.)
Coates also pointed out that, from March 5th-9th, The Patsy Cline Historic House at 608 South Kent Street in Winchester will be open from 12 p.m. -4 p.m. for tours.
The historic house, which is maintained by a group called Celebrating Patsy Cline, was first opened to the public in August of 2010. JudySue Huyett-Kempf, the executive director of the organization, said the house attracted more than 3,000 visitors in its first two months of operation. Since then, the pace has slowed a bit, though last year the house still drew some 3,500 tourists.
Tim Poole, a docent at the quaint little dwelling where Cline lived from ages 16-21, told the Baltimore Post-Examiner that the house has been restored to the way it would have looked in the 1950′s.
“The kitchen was painted bright yellow because Patsy’s mom always had a yellow kitchen,”Poole said. “There’s a glider on the porch where Patsy would sing to the neighbors while she waited for her fellow band members. She’d also sit there in the summer with her hair in curlers and let her thick, luxurious locks dry in the warm air.” Poole also pointed out a lilac bush Cline planted in the backyard, as well as the black walnut tree which provided the fruit for mother Hilda Hensley’s black walnut cakes.
On the inside of the house, Poole noted a few artifacts directly connected to Cline. Particular to the fashion so common in the Eisenhower era were a sea foam-colored tiered lamp and a blond-wood end table; both items were purchased by the late singer and her second husband, Charlie Dick.
There was also an equestrian-themed mantle clock, which Poole recalls seeing in a lot of homes growing up. But Poole’s favorite memento is a picture of Cline which now sits on a white-washed upright piano. The picture is signed, “To Mom – We finally made it.”
Patsy Cline did indeed “make it” before her tragic death at the age of thirty. She lives on in her music and in the hearts of the millions still moved by her aching renditions.
Sweet Dreams, Patsy.
Read more on Patsy Cline here.