Court day: Charges dropped, but Jim-Bob's leaving town
Like a bumper sticker making the rounds in Nelson County, truth in this rural community continues to be stranger than fiction– at least than the fictional world of The Waltons.
In August, Jim Hamner, baby brother of the popular television series' creator, Earl Hamner, was charged with a very un-Walton-like crime: contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A neighbor accused the man whose character was the extremely clean-cut "Jim-Bob" on The Waltons, of getting her 13-year-old son drunk.
On October 24, in the Nelson County Juvenile and Domestic Court, the charges were dropped.
"It was basically a lie," says Jim Hamner, "I didn't give that child anything. I wasn't even home."
Hamner believes the charges were "just vindictiveness against me and Earl because of the museum. Otherwise I don't think museum board members would have been there in court."
The tiny burg of Schuyler has been split since the Walton's Mountain Museum fired Hamner as its treasurer March 26. Subsequently, Earl Hamner withdrew his support from his hometown's only tourist attraction. What's more, a new Hamner-endorsed museum is in the works that could threaten the Schuyler museum.
Jim Hamner says the woman who filed the charges is an employee of the museum, as are her husband and daughter. The mother of the boy did not return The Hook's call.
So why were the charges dismissed? Nelson County commonwealth's attorney Phillip Payne did not return The Hook's phone calls. However, WINA quotes Payne as saying, "another fella came and said he gave the boy booze." According to the WINA story, Payne would not say who the man was and whether charges would be filed against the other "fella."
With his legal problems behind him, Jim Hamner, 66, is leaving Schuyler and the house he was born in for either Charlottesville or Richmond. "I just want to get away from illiterate people," he says. "My health can't take this."
Earl Hamner calls the charges against his brother "without merit," and says he's concerned that Jim "was hounded out of town." Earl plans to buy back his home place from his brother to ensure it doesn't fall into "enemy hands."
Jim Hamner thinks the house could be a self-sustaining tourist attraction. On October 19, while the museum next door was celebrating its 10th anniversary, Hamner opened his house to a tour bus and carloads of visitors.
"They were pretty upset because there were no actors or actresses at the museum," he says. The only actor from the series scheduled to be there, Hal Williams, who appeared occasionally in a supporting role, canceled his visit when he found out Earl Hamner was on the outs with the museum, according to Jim Hamner.
That same weekend the museum was actor-free, Earl Hamner was in Lynchburg with series star Michael Learned. Raising funds for the proposed Nelson County Museum of Rural History– widely seen as a competing museum– Hamner attended a dinner and read from his new book, Goodnight John-Boy.
"It's going to be an institution with some substance," says Hamner in a phone call from California. "Not one based on a television series that's hardly on the air," he adds.
The 79-year-old writer remarks that he may not live to see the new museum completed. He mentions a recent interview with Larry King, who asked, "What do you envision on your tombstone?" Hamner offers this epitaph:
"I put my hometown on the map. Now I wish I could take it off."