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Saluda gives Perry Como a Christmas salute: Late iconic singer, wife spent many summers in WNC vacation home
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 14:35
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SALUDA — The late singer extraordinaire Perry Como, a beloved former summer resident of Saluda, who, in turn loved this Polk County city now numbering 713 people, was honored in a program about Como and his Christmas music during the Saluda Train Tales program on Dec. 20 at the Saluda Historic Depot at 32 W. Main St.

“Como bought a vacation home in Saluda in 1980,” an event promotion noted, and “in his later years, Como lived in a private semi-retirement with his wife.”

The singer, actor and television personality had a career that spanned more than 50 years.

Como received five Emmys from 1955 to 1959, a Christopher Award (1956) and shared a Peabody Award with good friend Jackie Gleason in 1956. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1990 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1987. Posthumously, Como received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002; he was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. He has the distinction of having three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio, television and music.

Como died in his sleep on May 12, 2001, at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Fla., six days before his 89th birthday. He was reported to have suffered from symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Dec. 20 program began with introductions by Mark Ray, an at-large board member with the Saluda Historic Depot. Ray also oversees the depot’s store hours on a part-time basis. Ray thanked the Polk County Community Foundation, which sponsors the Train Tales series.

Ray said in a Dec. 22 telephone interview with the Daily Planet that the program honored Como, who was “a favorite singer, exceptional role model and just a wonderful example of a good, humble, gracious person...

“He had over a 50-year career. He bought property (in Saluda) in 1979 — about 140 acres” and held it for roughly 22 years. “He visited prior to that — and that’s why he made the decision to buy. He basically could have gone anywhere, but he basically found Saluda to be that little mountain community to give him the privacy he was after.

“We decided to do a tribute to Perry because of his notoriety with his Christmas songs. I deal in the past. I’m an ‘old soul.’ The guy had no baggage. He was just a very genuine, humble, gracious person — the stories at the program abounded about his kindness. “

He added, “Lips were sealed in Saluda — as far as where his property is located” — both in Como’s lifetime and even today. “It’s a long drive on a mountaintop. It’s behind a gated drive now from the family that bought” the property....

“The fact that the locals went out of their way to protect their privacy” — Como greatly appreciated, as “he just couldn’t escape otherwise,” Ray said. “His Jupiter, Fla., place, his home in Long Island — he couldn’t escape. He was very, very much a family guy. The Saludans were very protective of his privacy.”

Further, Ray said, “To me, we’re in desperate need of this kind of portrait,” referring to today’s political turmoil.

Roughly 50 people attended the one-hour evening program, including locals as well as those from distant locales, making it standing-room-only in the 25-foot x 25-foot front lobby. “I don’t think anybody was turned away,” Ray said. “Plus, there were others observing within the depot... We had people arriving an hour before the program even began.”

Following Ray’s introduction, a presentation — “Dialogues” — was given by Nancy Pew, a member with Historic Saluda Committee. (The text of her presentation appears on Page A12.) Ray said he chose Pew to give the main address because “she is my partner and assisted me in a lot of the (Como) research, so she was the most familiar with the material. She is the former president of the Friends of Carl Sandburg, so she’s comfortable with an audience.”

Next, Ray played one of the brief videos with three of Como’s classic Christmas songs with visual support.

Pew then opened up the floor for stories and interactions from those present who knew Como, which resulted in “about a half-dozen stories confirming everything we stated” earlier.

Later in the program, a brief  Historic Saluda Committee video was shown featuring personal stories of locals interacting “with Perry back in the day,” Ray said.

To conclude the event, Ray said, “I played a CD of three more of Perry’s more noted songs. The biggie we concluded with was ‘Avé Maria’ — and that just brought the house down. A lot of the folks just teared up on that one. The other songs played were “O, Holy Night” and”There Is No Christmas Like a Home Christmas.”

The program ended and, “as people started to depart, there was a calmness like a spirit in the air, and they applauded,” Ray said.. He and Pew received many compliments afterward.

Some of the audience remained afterward to mingle over finger foods, appetizers and beverages, Ray noted.

While there is no statue to Como in Saluda, he said there is one of him in his hometown of Canonsburg. Pa.

Ray noted that he recently moved his father’s collectibles store from Hendersonville to Saluda to a vacant space on the depot property so that he would be close enough to “get the hours up” for the depot store operations. Since, then, he said, “Our attendance has blossomed... This will be our second year with just at 10,000 signed visitors at the depot, which is pretty impressive for a nonprofit in its fifth year.”

Regarding the depot’s current location across West Main from the railroad tracks, Ray said, “Back in the day after the passenger train scenario ceased with Southern Railway, they didn’t want the depots on their right-of-way. The communities (along the railroad’s tracks) were given an opportunity to move them. Many didn’t take advantage. Saluda did this in 1984 — in one piece. That was a pretty significant feat in those days. As a result of that, it’s probably one of the most authentic, unaltered depots in Western North Carolina, if not North Carolina, itself.

“We’ve got a YouTube video that’s currently ‘up’ that was the first in a series on abandoned railways. In less than four months, it’s had over 210,000 views. So that shows we have some momentum,” Ray said.



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