So begins another installment in a series of terrifying, guilt-inducing advertisements that the Johnson & Johnson company ran in national magazines in the 1940s. And boy, did they lay it on.
Just look at the image: A young boy — on crutches! — stares wistfully at a dusty bicycle in a garage. The caption reads: “AND NOW THERE IS A BICYCLE FOR SALE.” My goodness, what has happened here? Why won’t he ever ride it again, you wonder?
Very simple. Because his parents foolishly, stupidly, and carelessly forgot to use Johnson & Johnson bandages. Read on:
“For the rest of his life, he must pay the penalty for something that needn’t have happened. He merely cut his foot — just as thousands of active boys do. And his mother bandaged it, lovingly, as has been the way of mothers since the world began.
“The bandage looked clean, too. But it wasn’t. And infection set in and spread . . . infection that crippled.
At first glance, this somewhat grainy image appears to be a rare photo of the Lauderdale Mansion. But a close look reveals this building has a nice tile roof, and our mansion’s roof has been covered with flattened-out beer cans since at least 1956. No, this is the Fargason Mansion, and out of all the grand buildings demolished in Memphis, this one suffered a worse fate than most.
In the early 1900s, John T. Fargason amassed a fortune in the wholesale grocery business. A 1903 telephone directory advertisement for the J.T. Fargason Company, located at 115 South Front Street, notified customers that the firm offered “fancy and staple groceries, cigars, and tobacco” and was the sole distributor of Omega “Highest Patent” Flour, Santee Syrup, Heekins & Company roasted coffee, and even “Zebra and Whale” brand axle grease. That’s the kind I used on my hair, when I was a teenager, I recall. Good stuff!
Fargason had this monumental stone residence at 1318 Lamar built around 1905. (The architect’s name, along with other details about the grand home, has been lost to history, I’m afraid.) The Fargason family, prominent in Memphis social circles, lived and entertained here for three decades. In the mid-1930s, however, they sold the property. The next owner lived there only two years, then the old house stood vacant for several years.
In 1940, Phi Rho Sigma, a medical fraternity at the University of Tennessee, turned the home into its chapter house, thus beginning its inevitable decline. The fraternity, unable to maintain the mansion, moved out in the late 1950s, and again the home stood empty for several years.
In 1960, bulldozers pulled down the once-grand home. The Howard Johnson chain built a 145-room high-rise hotel on the spacious grounds, which became the Coach and Four Motor Lodge in the late 1970s. The property closed, and the derelict building remained a Midtown eyesore before it was finally demolished. Today the site is a vacant lot.
Why does our fine city have such a penchant for tearing down some of the coolest-looking buildings ever constructed? Case in point, the Venetian-inspired Memphis Steam Laundry building, designed by noted architect Nowland Van Powell.
Begun by Jules Rozier way back in 1882, the Memphis Steam Laundry Company operated downtown for many years before moving to 941 Jefferson in 1927. Except for Dryve Cleaners, laundries aren’t usually noted for their architecture, but for some reason, Powell — at the time the principal designer for architect E.L. Harrison — decided that this normally humdrum industrial building should be modeled after the Doges’ Palace in Venice — much like the north wing of the Lauderdale Mansion. The facade was just slathered with patterned brickwork, elaborate arches, and terra-cotta ornamentation. The sides and back, however, were just plain brick. Much like the north wing of the Lauderdale Mansion. Hey, we had to cut costs somewhere.
“Few cities are lucky enough to have a genuine Venetian palace in which the citizens can have their shirts laundered,” wrote Eugene Johnson and Robert Russell in Memphis: An Architectural Guide. “What connection Harrison and Powell saw between cleanliness and Venetian Gothic we shall probably never know.”
The founder was a woman named Helen Putnam (left), and yes, she was rather large. Newspaper stories about her organization, which employed such oh-so-clever headlines as “Women’s Group Here Carries Plenty of Weight” and “Club Gets Fatter,” said that Helen weighed 350 pounds and organized a club of other women like herself to help each other lose weight. “Being overweight is an emotional problem like alcoholism,” she told reporters. “Sometimes you need someone to talk to when you’re about to eat what you know you shouldn’t.”
So Fat Girls (later Ladies) Anonymous was born, though I can’t really explain the “anonymous” part of their name, since the members made no attempt to conceal their identities. The newspapers listed their names, ran their photos, and even published their addresses. In case you’re curious, some of the other “girls” who were original members included Mrs. J.F. Martin of 255 Merton, Mrs. W.H. Rouse of 2723 Fizer, and Mrs. Billie Ware of 3334 Tutwiler. Know any of them?