Sunday, May 3, 2020

Johnny Cash's Symbol on Endearing Love, On Display for 50 Years on the Riverwalk

This bench sat for 50 year on the San Antonio Riverwalk. Unbeknownst
to the city, it featured an hand carved note to Johnny Cash's first love. 

   A recent documentary, My Darling Vivian has shed light on the life of Vivian Liberto, the San Antonio native who was Johnny Cash's first wife.

   They met in 1951 at a San Antonio skating rink when she was 17 and Cash was 19, when he was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base before being shipped to Germany. Cash spent three years overseas, writing almost every day to Liberto and the two were married upon his return to the city in 1954.

   The were married for 13 years and had 4 daughters.  Sadly, the story of their love has largely been forgotten and often written out of the narrative of Cash's very public life. In the Hollywood biopic Walk the Line, an unfair portrayal of Vivian Liberto gave the public the perception that she was unsupportive and an unloving wife.

   I myself had long had a different perception of Vivian Liberto, based on a story told to me by legendary San Antonio disc jockey Bruce Hathaway. It was a story that was only verified after the city of San Antonio decided to publicly display an iconic piece of Cash memorabilia that had been sitting unprotected on the Riverwalk for over 50 years and later stored away for 9 years

The Story:

  Before leaving in 1951 for a 3 year assignment in Germany, Cash and Liberto were walking along San Antonio's Riverwalk when he pulled out a pocket knife and carved Johnny Loves Vivian on a cedar park bench.

The well worn carving 7 deacades after it's creation

   Cash would often refer to the bench in his letters home, asking if she had visited their spot while he was absent. They even visited the bench upon his return to San Antonio and before they married at St. Ann's Catholic Church.

   In 2004, Liberto returned to the city and with the help of Lincoln St. George, the city's River Operations Superintendent, she found the bench near St. Mary's Street and the La Mansion hotel.  She offered to buy it from the city, but they refused, citing they it had been designed by the Riverwalk's famed architect Robert Hugman.  Liberto even offered to pay to replace the bench with a replica but that offer was also turned down.  

   A year later, Vivian Liberto passed away.  By then, the city had removed the bench and placed it in storage, where it sat for the next 9 years.  

The bench,  in storage

   It wasn't until 2013 that the city finally donated it to the Witte Museum and I was finally able to verify the story. 

   Today, the bench, and the well worn carving are on display for all to see. 

The Bench today, on display at San Antonio's With Museum



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