In Memphis magazine’s current City Guide, I told readers that I wanted to see how much they really knew about the history of the city they call home. Most people can recite one or two basic facts about Elvis, or Sun Studio, or Piggly Wiggly, or the many accomplishments of the Lauderdales. But I tossed more than 30 questions your way, about considerably more esoteric subjects, though I made it clear that if you had been reading the magazine’s “Ask Vance” column, you should already know the answers.
Finished the quiz? Then put your pencils down and compare your results with the answers below. There’s no prize for winning. Just the immense pride you should feel if you did well.
1. For years and years, what well-known Memphian kept telling listeners, “Keep dialing and smiling. Bye-bye now”?
c. J.C. Levy, owner of the Dial and Smile telephone joke line (above, recording a baby elephant, probably as part of one of his telephone gags).
2. In 1952, a massive blaze at the Quaker Oats plant in North Memphis consumed thousands of:
d. Corncobs. That’s right, corncobs.
3. In the 1950s, a Memphian opened a business on Lamar with the curious slogan, “Where You Won’t Get Bit.” This was, of course:
b. Bittman’s Appliances, owned by Herbert Bittman.
4. Who were “The Original Memphis Five”?
a. A jazz quintet formed in New Orleans in the early 1900s.
5. What stands on the former site of the Grand Opera House, which burned in 1899?
c. The Orpheum Theatre.
6. How did Lakeland’s “Huff ‘n’ Puff” Road get its unusual name?
c. It followed the course (well, sort of) of an old-timey steam locomotive, back in the early 1960s when Lakeland was first developed as an amusement park.
7. Who — or what — stands at the entrance to the Juvenile Court building on Adams?
c. A pair of cast-bronze dogs that originally graced the entrance to the Victorian mansion that occupied the site.
8. What happened to the estate of restaurant and hotel owner John Gaston?
a. It was turned into a public park on South Third. Gaston Park is still there today.
9. What was the Bitter Lemon?
c. A really hip coffee house on Poplar Avenue (closed years and years ago)
10. Who was Pappy Sammons?
a. The owner of Pappy’s Lobster Shack, an Overton Square landmark (and, like so many landmarks in Memphis, now a parking lot).
11. When the magnificent Hill Mansion on Union was demolished in 1979, the two snarling stone lions at the entrance were relocated to:
c. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The guard the old west entrance.
12. In the early 1960s, the Whirlaway Club made news because:
b. Two dancers were arrested for their obscene performances and costumes.
13. What in the world was “Eat-Um Aid”?
b. A soft-drink mix sold by the Clyde Collins Company of Memphis.
14. What was “The Riverview Project”?
a. A massive urban-renewal plan of the 1960s, never carried out.
15. What happened to Natch, the brown bear that was the first animal at the Memphis Zoo?
c. Unfortunately, he was poisoned a few years after the zoo opened.
16. Who were Margarita, Polly, and Samantha?
c. Some of the first animals at the Memphis Zoo.
17. What did the Memphis company Arrowglass build?
c. Boats (runabouts and ski boats — and pretty good ones, too)
18. In the late 1950s, a popular restaurant called “The Old Master Says” opened on Poplar Avenue across from East High School. The “Old Master” was:
c. Owner John George Morris. The building later became the Luau.
19. Who was Berl Olswanger?
a. A Memphis musician, composer, and music-store owner.
20. What fell from the sky in Midtown on the afternoon of April 29, 1944?
b. A B-25 bomber, killing all aboard and several people on the ground.
21. The tiny gray cottage at 1737 Madison has gone through many owners, but it originally housed:
c. A Pure Oil gas station.
22. Where — or what — was the “Speedway”?
a. A section of North Parkway used for horse racing in the 1800s.
23. Leonard’s Barbecue was a Memphis institution. Who was Leonard?
b. Leonard Heuberger, the owner.
24. Who were “Graveyard” Graham, “Horse” Birk, “Dutch” Leggett, and “Little Man” King?
c. Players on the UT Doctors football team in the 1920s.
25. What was the original name of the revolving restaurant atop White Station Tower?
a. The Embers. The restaurant no longer rotates and, last time I checked, was used for offices.
26. Why was Charles Decker famous?
c. He was billed as “the smallest man in the world.” That was in the 1800s.
27. If we can believe historian Paul Coppock (and I usually do), what Memphis store once sold airplanes?
28. What famous historical artifact traveled to Memphis as part of a national tour in 1915?
d. The Liberty Bell.
29. What was the name of the old steam-powered fire engine that was once displayed in a giant glass case in Overton Park?
d. The E.H. Crump. It's on display today in the Fire Museum of Memphis.
30. What product did the Saymore Company manufacture here in the 1950s?
b. Sky Rocket bubble gum.
31. A “trademark” of popular musician Edwin Hubbard was the clump of turkey feathers tied to:
a. The end of his flute.
32. What structure on East Parkway was called “The Showplace of the South?”
d. The Fairgrounds Casino. It was a place to dance, not gamble.
33. Who was “Happy Hal”?
c. “Happy Hal” Miller, children’s TV show host and toy store owner.
34. What TV show in the 1960s used “Music of the Spheres” at its theme song?
c. Fantastic Features. Featuring Sivad, of course.
35. Where did gospel recording artist Bette Stalnecker obtain the massive columns that adorn her former home at 688 S. McLean?
e. The Goodwyn Institute. Yes, I know this wasn’t one of the original answers. That’s what happens when I drop in a few questions at the end to fill the space. When I’m drunk, I mean.
36. Even though it opened to the public in the early 1900s, not until 1964 was this important feature added to Confederate Park:
b. The statue of Jefferson Davis.
So, how did you do? Rate yourself accordingly:
Here’s how to rate yourself:
0-10 correct: Pitiful. Just pitiful. Are you sure you live here?
11-25 correct: Well, at least you’ve read three or four columns.
26-33 correct: An impressive showing, but nothing to brag about.
More than 34 correct: Almost impossible. Even I have already forgotten the answers to some of these. Congratulations!