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WALTONS, REAL AND TV FOLK, TO GATHER IN VIRGINIA HAMLET
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WALTONS, REAL AND TV FOLK, TO GATHER IN VIRGINIA HAMLET

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The people of Schuyler, Va., are hoping that a Walton's Museum will helping revive the local economy.

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The Waltons are coming home this week to the hillside hamlet where they never really lived.

Oh, the real-life Jim-Bob - known hereabouts as Jim Hamner - still resides in the white frame house with the friendly front porch that is so familiar to fans of his oldest brother, Earl, the writer.Earl Hamner has been gone to Hollywood for decades now. It was there he created The Waltons, basing the beloved TV series on his own Depression-era upbringing here in the shadow of Ragged Mountain.

His character was called John-Boy, but homefolks still call him Earl Jr. His daddy, who died in 1969, was and is known locally as Earl.

Earl Jr. will be back in Schuyler (pronounced Sky-ler) come Saturday when they open the new Walton's Museum at the old elementary school. And the populace of 400 or so is downright thrilled that he is bringing most of The Waltons TV cast with him.

They see this homecoming as a chance to save their community.

Hard times have been a way of life in Schuyler since the 1930s when the soapstone quarry closed, putting Earl Hamner and a lot of the other men out of work. Most families, like the Hamners, have watched children grow up and then move off to find jobs.

For years, the essence of this place has been a rugged Blue Ridge beauty, a few houses, a few churches, one store, an elementary school and the dignity, decency, fortitude and eccentricities that were captured during the 1970s TV series.

CBS canceled The Waltons TV series a decade ago, though, and last year Nelson County closed the elementary school.

Both events were calamities of sorts for Schuyler.

Back when ``The Waltons' was high in the Neilsen ratings, two or three busloads of tourists would roll in every day to see the true-life versions of John-Boy's house and Ike Godsey's Store and other fictionalized Walton's Mountain landmarks.

There was never an Ike Godsey's Store, of course, but its inspiration - Luke Snead's Store - did a brisk business. Strangers would march right up past the hydrangea bushes and knock on the ``Waltons' front door.

``My mother used to invite tourists in,' recalled Earl Hamner. ``She kept a guest book that eventually had 4,000 names in it. She would even serve tea. But some tourists started stealing flower pots so she had to stop. I think she had some large tea bills, too.'

Luke Snead's Store burned down. Harry Hamilton, who helps his son and daughter-in-law operate its replacement, said a good day now brings in two or three tourist cars.

It was a harder blow to Schuyler when the county passed a consolidation plan and closed the elementary school.

The citizenry convinced the county to let them turn the elementary school into a community center. But they needed money to run a community center. Woody Greenberg, a county commissioner, hit upon the idea of a Waltons Museum.

With Earl Hamner Jr.'s help, Greenberg made arrangements to interview members of the original cast and make a documentary, ``Waltons Mountain Revisited,' that will be shown at the museum.

The museum also includes Waltons memorabilia and several classrooms converted into sets from the series.

Earl Hamner Jr. and his surviving siblings will be here for the opening, as will most of the TV series cast. There were eight Hamner offspring - just like there were eight Walton children. Two of the Hamners have died, and except for Jim, all have moved away. Richard Thomas, who played John-Boy, is appearing in a play in Houston and won't attend.

Earl Hamner Jr., who returns to Schuyler about twice a year, has sent a passel of Waltons stuff that the organizers are sorting through. He always looks forward to seeing his boyhood home, where every night ended with a ``good night Earl Jr.' rather than the ``good night John-Boy' made famous on TV.

``Richard Thomas once went there and came back saying he had always wondered how everbody could call good night to each other,' said Hamner. ``But it was a small house, not as large or as isolated as the one on TV.'

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