Charlie Hughes: The Baxter Bugler
By Jari Villanueva © 2016 TapsBugler
The recent articles about persons playing Taps every night as tribute to veterans got me thinking about bugle records. Has there been anyone who has played consistently for a period of time? And using a real bugle. There are two who are featured as playing Taps every evening: one in Galveston, Texas and one in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida (you can look them up) using a digital bugle. And there is a naval lieutenant commander who plays Taps every evening on a sound system in Glen Rock Pennsylvania who has caused some consternation among his neighbors by playing it at 60 to 80 decibels every evening.
The digital bugle is an instrument that uses a device placed inside the bell to play a recording of Taps. So basically one has to flip a switch, hold the fake bugle up and pretend to play. While it’s a nice gesture, most people who hear this are fooled into believing it’s the real deal-someone who is actually playing the bugle. Playing a real bugle takes some effort, some skill and dedication. Not just a push of a button.
So I decided to check and see if there was anyone who held a record for playing the bugle for any long period of time. I discovered Charlie Hughes of Baxter Tennessee. Hughes lived from 1888-1970 in his hometown of Baxter.
In 1922 Hughes purchased a bugle from Sears and Roebuck for $2.98 and taught himself to play. He thought blowing a bugle would be a healthful exercise. At sun-up on March 15, 1924 Hughes climbed on pole he built in his yard and sounded Reveille. He was to repeat this performance every day for the next 36 years.
A national radio show in New York City heard about it and Hughes traveled there to play on national radio. This began a parade of feature writers, newsreel crews and broadcasters who put Hughes in the national spotlight from time to time for several years. He became known as the Baxter Bugler. Every day the 600 citizens of Baxter could count on their human alarm clock to awaken them. In 1939 he said the idea was to do “a good deed for my neighbors”
He claimed to be the champion bugler of the nation. “There are lots of buglers” he explained, “But none as famous as I. That’s because I climb a pole to do my bugling.”
Despite the weather, he was up early around 4:30 to play except for the times he was either on vacation or traveling because of his fame. Some locals claimed that Hughes had money buried by his pole that he checked on each morning before climbing up to sound the morning call.
In March, 1938, the town led by Mayor Will T. Sewell turned out to honor him on the 15th anniversary of his playing each morning.
What is interesting is that, as the town grew in population (up to 838 in 1958), no one objected to the sounds he made so early in morning. Hughes even reported that he never had anything thrown at him. Telephone operator Minnie Phillips said, “It’s been going on so long that I think we’d miss it if Charlie stopped.”
Hughes worked as a post-office messenger. He never married, first living with his mother and then with his sister, Ava, when he retired at age 65. A concession he made to retirement was moving his wake-up to 6 am and adding a bell he would also clang if he couldn’t blow the horn. Despite his bachelorhood, he said he was still looking. A woman from Virginia had proposed marriage if he would come to her farm and blow the bugle for her. He said he was too busy to take her up on it.
In December 1961, he gave up playing the bugle telling a newspaper that he had lost too many teeth to play all the right notes.
He passed away on August 12, 1970 of heart failure.
So that is some record. Let’s see if someone can top that!