Blogging Along the Brandywine: ‘It might have been’

Many people of a certain age are familiar with the facts of the evening of Sept. 20, 1973. A single-engine Beechcraft E18S took off from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in La., failed to clear a tree at the end of the runway and crashed, killing all six aboard.

The Jim Croce grave at Haym Salomon Memorial Gardens in Chester County.

One of them was famed singer-songwriter, Jim Croce. He was 30 years old.  His album “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” featuring “Time in a Bottle,” had reached the Top 20. A later single, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” would go gold.

That September, I was 24, in my third-year teaching, never dreaming that in the next year an effervescent young teacher would join our faculty bringing the story full circle.

Our high school had a lot of rough kids who didn’t want to be there — the kind that made me wonder why I had chosen teaching as a profession. But Judy Coffin was the consummate high school English teacher, the kind they make movies about — pretty, energetic, funny, a bit of a hippy and confident. The kids picked up on it and loved her.

One day in the faculty lunchroom, over a conversation on Croce’s death, she said, “I have Jim Croce’s Ovation guitar.”

Judy lived near Glenmoore, in northern Chester County. Her neighbors down the road had been Jim Croce, his wife Ingrid and infant son Adrian, who had moved to Lyndell to escape their frustration with the New York music scene.

As Judy reminisced last week, “A major highlight was the frequent weekend gatherings of several musicians at their little house … and the people who liked to make music, be with them or to just be there. The house was stuffed with happy people and plenty of food.”

It was at one of these parties that Jim and Ingrid introduced Judy to Maury Muehleisen.

Maury was classically trained on piano and guitar. It was his high crystal-clear melodies on his Martin D-35 guitar that were the perfect complement to Jim’s strumming and street-wise lyrics.

As Ingrid wrote about Judy on her web page, “She was one of my best friends ... Maury moved in and started writing songs for Judy and never stopped. She was his muse!“

And Maury in turn was Jim’s muse.

“… Jim and Maury were very different, in their music and the things that inspired them,” Coffin said. “Jim's music was rooted in folksy blues and basic rhythms and chords which did evolve the longer he played with Maury, whose enchanting chords and lyrical style were original to him.

“They both were profuse writers and composers. As time passed, they developed an affinity with each other's styles and they both grew musically because of it”.

Maury was only 24 when he perished in the crash the night of Sept. 20, 1973.

My husband and I visited Jim Croce’s grave last week at the Haym Salomon Memorial Gardens just off Phoenixville Pike near Frazer. It’s on top of a quiet hill under a tall pine tree.

His bronze marker is framed with the tiny stones placed on graves in Jewish cemeteries to mark a visitation. We left 2 guitar picks and 2 dimes in homage to his song “Operator”.

When I think of talented young lives cut short, I remember the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who in 1856 wrote:

For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, 'It might have been'.


About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”



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One Response to “Blogging Along the Brandywine: ‘It might have been’”

  1. brandywinebard says:

    Thanks Leslie!
    Now I think I’ll go on line and get a copy of “I Got a Name” by Ingrid Croce.

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