The Lauderdale Library recently made an interesting purchase — some pages torn from an old scrapbook that contained eight photographs showing Broadway Street in West Memphis, Arkansas, as it appeared in 1932. It’s really a fascinating glimpse at a bygone age. Broadway, as you might expect, has changed quite a lot in 75 years.
Look carefully (you may have to squint at the images below — I’ve posted them as large as I can), and you’ll see a service station with globe-topped pumps and a sign offering gasoline at 16 cents a gallon, a billboard for Fortune’s Ice Cream, lots of horse- and mule-drawn carts, and such long-gone establishments as the tiny Bell Cafe, West Memphis Cleaners, West Memphis Meat Market, and the Martin Drug Store.
When Roller Derby came to Memphis in 2006 — organized into teams with such catchy names as the Legion of Zoom and the Priskilla Presleys — lots of fans thought it was a reincarnation of the matches they watched on television back in the 1960s. But it turns out the sport is actually much older than that, and the Lauderdale Library has recently acquired a souvenir program for a 1939 event with the long-winded title of Leo A. Seltzer’s Trans-Continental ROLLER DERBY or Coast-to-Coast Roller Skating Race.
This is a pretty amazing document, because Seltzer, it seems, is the fellow who pretty much invented roller dergy. I have no idea how this particular race could take place “coast-to-coast” since the participants, then as now, raced around in a circle. But that’s how they promoted it, anyway. And this entertainment spectacular took place here in Memphis every night from 7 to 11 p.m. for two entire months — January and February 1939 — at the Municipal — better known to Memphians as Ellis — Auditorium.
Hanging beneath the old Frisco Bridge is a sign that has baffled me for two years now — ever since I discovered it during one of my drunken “explorations” (I was looking for a shortcut to West Memphis). But as you can see from the scan, a bright red metal sign dangles from the underside of the old bridge. Neatly cut into the quarter-inch steel are the words “S.L. Lipe 1943-2004.”
Who was S.L. Lipe, and why is he memorialized in such a strange location?
This isn’t that easy to find. To see it, you have to get on Crump Blvd. heading west and take the Metal Museum Drive exit. Be careful, because if you miss this exit, the next stop is West Memphis. The drive loops beneath the old bridges, but just as it passes beneath the Frisco Bridge, there’s a dirt road on your right, which heads towards the river and deadends below the bridge. Look up — after you’ve parked your car, NOT while you are driving! — and you’ll see the lozenge-shaped sign.
For reasons that only my team of highly paid psychiatrists, psychologists, venipuncturists, and ventriloquists can explain, I’ve always found these dire warning signs amusing. Not because of what happens to the people (if you can really call these “people”), but by the sort of noncommittal, unemotional way these tragedies are depicted.
Most of them are found around industrial or construction equipment, and — without saying a word — they warn that your hands could get cut off, your feet could get smushed, you might get electrocuted (usually by lightning bolts!), you could get bonked on the head, and all sorts of other hazards. Why, it’s enough to make you just stay in the house all day. Which probably explains why I do just that.
But this sign is one of my favorites, because it shows the awful fate that awaits anyone who — get this — doesn’t get out of the way of the gate of a certain parking garage downtown. My, that is one deadly powerful gate! Seems to me they might adjust the spring tension on it, so it wouldn’t just crush the life out of you, as it has done with this nameless (and footless, handless, and neckless) fellow.
Poor dumb bastard. What a way to go.