Monday, June 15, 2009

Elvis Presley's Mystery Train (Station)

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 1:54 PM

0127/1245093401-elviswalkingjpg.jpg A reader from Lowell, Massachusetts, recently sent me a letter and wondered if I could solve a "mini-mystery" involving Elvis Presley. Here's a portion of his query:

"It is 1956 and Elvis travels to New York to tape The Steve Allen Show. His on-air performance includes 'Hound Dog.' The next day he takes the train from New York to Memphis.

"Somewhere in the area of White Station (on Poplar) the train stops and Elvis gets off alone so he can walk to the Presley family home on Audubon Drive. It is believed the train stopped somewhere between Mendenhall and Colonial Roads.

"This is a special moment in Elvis' life as he had not yet reached the level of fame that prevented him from walking home alone in Memphis. The scene is part of the DVD Elvis 56 and it shows Elvis waving to the train. Photographer Albert Wertheimer captured the moment from the train of Elvis walking on Poplar Avenue (above) in the direction of downtown (perhaps waiting for the train to pass so he could cross over the tracks?).

"In one of Wertheimer's photos, a Town and Country Barber Shop is visible in the background. Do you have any way of locating where the barber shop once stood? Does the building still stand?

"Thank you, Shane McDonough, Lowell, Massachusetts"

It turns out this is one mini-mystery that was fairly easily to solve. But first you have to understand that the area around Poplar and Mendenhall has changed considerably since 1956. Back then, Mendenhall was a two-lane road that stretched southward from Summer and dead-ended at Poplar. It didn't cross the railroad tracks, as it does today. About a block to the east, another two-lane road, called Mt. Moriah, ran southward from the railroad tracks along Southern all the way to Quince. The two roads did not line up, so drivers had to make a "jog" along Poplar if they wanted to drive from Summer to Quince.

Sometime in the 1960s, the city widened the roads and constructed that big curve that runs by the Half Shell, effectively linking Mendenhall to the north with Mt. Moriah to the south.

But here is where it really gets confusing. From the early 1900s to the late 1950s, there was a little train station at that intersection, on the south side of Poplar. The depot was called White's — later just White — Station. But it was located at Mendenhall/Mt. Moriah, not White Station. The road known as White Station was originally called the Bartlett Road, and stretched from Summer to Poplar. It didn't gain the name White Station Road until the late 1950s, when developers extended it south of Poplar to bring traffic to all the subdivisions they were building in that area.

And to answer your question — finally! The Town and County Barber Shop shown in the photo was part of a row of one-story brick buildings that stood at the northeast corner of Poplar and Mendenhall. Other businesses on that corner included Modern Shoe Rebuilders, Hamkirk's Drive-In Grocery, Hamilton's Variety Store, and Brouse Drugstore. They all came tumbling down when Mendenhall was widened. A parking lot for a bank and Houston's restaurant occupies the site today.

You know, that was a pretty long walk for Elvis, but back then, the little depot at Poplar and Mendenhall would have been the closest train station to his house on Audubon.


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