“The alarming increase in automobile accidents everywhere during the past few years has rendered the correction of traffic conditions one of the most important municipal problems of the present day. The motor car has become the greatest menace to human life, and has made the streets of the cities places of real danger.”
Except for that quaint phrase “motor car” you might have thought this was written yesterday, because then as now, Memphians have always been bad drivers. Why, my chauffeur tells me about near-death experiences almost every day! But this observation actually comes from the introduction to a little booklet archived in the Lauderdale Library called “Memphis 1929 Traffic Code,” and it’s just full of fascinating rules and regulations.
Then as now, city officials probably realized the situation was hopeless. It really doesn’t set a very confident tone, if you ask me, that the advertisement on the FRONT COVER is for J.T. Hinson and Son, the “world’s finest ambulance” service.
Roaming through the fourth floor of the Lauderdale Library last night, I came across several bound volumes of a now-defunct magazine called Night & Day. As I flipped through the yellowing pages of the July 1953 issue, my one good eye was caught by a story about a fellow named Max Palmer, who became known as the Clarksdale Giant, among other monikers.
The Night & Day story was short, so I’ll just quote it here: “Max Palmer was a normal-sized Clarksdale, Mississippi, boy until he was 14. ‘Then something went haywire,’ he says. Max stopped growing upward when he hit 8′6″ at age 19, but continued to add weight, to the tune of 450 pounds. He wears a size 10 hat, size 64 suit, size 20 shoe on his right foot, size 21 shoe on his left. He has a 22-inch neck, 50-inch chest, 49-inch waist, and 19-inch hands. At 25, he makes his size work for him in the movies. The man with Max [the photo I’ve scanned below] is a healthy 6″2″. Eat your Wheaties every day.”
In the early part of the last century, the Ford Motor Company operated a manufacturing plant on Union, where The Commercial Appeal stands today. On the morning of August 10, 1921, two Ford employees, chief accounting clerk Edgar McHenry and special agent Howard “Shorty” Gamble drove to a bank on Second Street to pick up that week’s payroll — a satchel containing $8,500, which was an enormous sum in those days. They were accompanied by two Memphis police officers, Polk Carraway and W.S. Harris.
They returned to the Ford plant and parked in front of the building. Just at that moment, a blue Cadillac pulled alongside. Four masked men jumped out with revolvers and shotguns and shouted “Hands up!” Before anyone could move, the bandits opened fire, killing Carraway and Gamble and wounding Harris. “They were shot down by cold-blooded murderers, who never gave their victims a dog’s chance,” said The Commercial Appeal later.
Half a century ago, one of the most popular restaurants in Memphis had a rather humble name. Owners called it The Stable, and I recently turned up an old menu for this interesting establishment — one of the earliest “theme” restaurants in our city.
In 1942, an enterprising young man named Allen Gary teamed up with an equally enterprising fellow named George Early, and they purchased a brick stable — a real one, apparently, that had been built in the mid-1800s — at 60 South Bellevue, just around the corner from Union Avenue. They cleaned the place out, put in a full kitchen, installed a Wurlitzer jukebox, added tables and booths, and hung a neon sign out front advertising “The Stable.”