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The blog of Vance Lauderdale

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Frog Gates at Shelby Farms

Posted By on Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 10:52 PM

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Shelby Farms and the old Penal Farm complex are just full of oddities. I've already written about mysterious gravestones, blue barns, and abandoned 1950s cars in the woods. But the other day, I spotted these strangely decorated gates in the western portion of the complex.

Yes, the two concrete gate posts are topped with brightly painted, cast-concrete FROGS. Now I have to say that for a former prison, Shelby Farms certainly has a lot of gates, but these are the only ones I've found (so far) that feature animals. And why frogs, I wonder?

They're located on Nixon Road, just south of Mullins Station, right across from the building that now houses the Shelby County Archives. The gate itself doesn't serve any purpose anymore, since the road now runs just a few yards to the east of it. But I really do like the frogs. I'm sure they brightened the days of the prisoners who trudged through these gates years ago to work the fields.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Tasty and Tasteful Sausage Advertisement

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 11:33 PM

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My pal Bonnie Kourvelas, who shares my appreciation for all things weird and wonderful, recently sent me a list of the 15 worst advertisements of all time. This one caught my eye, because it is supposed to entice you to eat a certain brand of French sausage — a brand where the pigs, apparently, slaughter themselves! What a lovely image!

What's this got to do with Memphis? Well, it reminds me of the old Leonard's barbecue joint on Lamar. A neon sign out front showed a pig, wearing a top hat and swinging a cane, with the words, "Mr. Brown Goes to Town." A fine sign, indeed (and relocated to the Leonard's in East Memphis). But what was even better (as far as signs go) at the original location was the smaller neon sign inset into a wall of the building, showing a pig relaxing happily as he was being consumed by the flames of the barbecue pit. I can't remember if that one also got moved to the new location.

The point is that quite a few BBQ places tend to show the pigs having a good old time, just as they are about to be cooked and eaten. That's weird to me, because I can't think of a single steakhouse that shows cows enjoying their last moments in the slaughterhouse. Not even seafood restaurants seem to show fish on their journey to our stomachs. So why is it okay for us to see pigs on Death Row?

Of course, sometimes you'll see it with chickens, too.

Even though I haven't been able to find a photo of it, one of my all-time favorite neon signs stood in front of Jack Pirtle Fried Chicken on Poplar, just east of Cleveland, which showed a line of chickens running across a diving board and then leaping — to their searing deaths! — into a steaming bucket of grease. A pair of neon drumsticks sticking out of the same bucket was an especially nice touch, I thought. Kind of showing the "before" and "after" of the chicken's demise.

They tore the sign down when they demolished that particular Jack Pirtle. An AutoZone stands on the site today. If anybody has a photo of the sign (preferably in color), please send it to me.

In the meantime, I have a curious hankering for some sausage ...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Veiled Remarks" Book-Signing at Elmwood

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 3:28 PM

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Most people go to graveyards to pay their respects to the dead, study the tombstones, research their family trees, admire the landscaping, and — oh, there are all sorts of reasons.

But this Thursday evening, September 24th, you can — and should — go to Elmwood Cemetery to attend the book-signing for Veiled Remarks, a really fine book produced by my friend Melissa Anderson Sweazy, a super-talented writer and photographer.

Subtitled "A Curious Compendium for the Nuptially Inclined," the book is a nice collection (hence the word "compendium" you see) of all sorts of historical tidbits and oddities relating to marriage, such as: an Old English rhyme for predicting the best day to marry, Charles Darwin’s pro and con list concerning marriage, etiquette expert Emily Post on how to handle broken engagements, notable figures in history who suffered cold feet on their wedding day, and — my personal favorite — “a brief history of the syphilis test required by most states in the early twentieth century for a marriage license.”

Not that those test results had anything to do with the Lauderdales' many broken engagements, I assure you. What ARE you thinking?

Now why would Melissa hold this event at Elmwood? Well, she'll tell you all about that when you arrive. At least I hope she will.

The book signing begins at 5 p.m. in the Elmwood Chapel (just inside the main entrance) and will last until the hundreds of thousands of people who read this blog have gone home. I myself may make a rare public appearance, which is reason enough for you to attend.

For more information about the book, go here.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Peabody Theater in 1943

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 10:54 AM

The Peabody Theater
  • The Peabody Theater
Next time you visit the Drum Shop at 878 South Cooper, pay attention as you enter the building. See if you find traces of the ticket window or concession stand, left over from when the building was a neighborhood moviehouse called the Peabody Theater.

Back in the 1930s or so, Cooper-Young was like a small town, and trolley cars rumbled down Cooper and turned onto Young on their way to the fairgrounds. I managed to find a nice photo of the old building, taken in 1943, in the Memphis Room at the main library. Squint hard at the marquee and you can see they were showing (as theaters did in those days) a double feature: My Friend Flicka and Mister Big. A banner over the door reads "All The Best Features!"

The Memphis Room also had two other images of the Peabody, but I didn't bother scanning them because my scanner is too slow and I was in a hurry to get home and take my daily 8-hour nap. One showed a tiny, rather plain lobby, with a little snack bar set off to one side. The other photo showed the auditorium itself, with light fixtures dangling from the ceiling. I tried counting the seats, but gave up after 600, so the building was larger than it looks from the street.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

"All Aboard with Mr. Be"

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 3:29 PM

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Kids growing up in Memphis in the 1960s and '70s surely remember a popular show on Channel 10 called All Aboard with Mr. Be.

You don't remember it? Then stop reading right here, turn off your computer, and do something productive with your lives.

But if you do remember this show, then I'm going to tell you more about it, like it or not.

First of all, the main character's name was indeed spelled "Be." I know this because some time ago I talked to a nice gentleman named Holden Potter, who produced and directed the show, and he ought to know. Mr. Be himself was a local actor named Allen Bates, who dressed up like a locomotive engineer, and this kindly old fellow served as the host to the half-hour show, which featured films and puppets, including one called Ponce de Lion (a play on the name of the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, you see).

"This was in the days before organized kindergarten and day care," Potter told me, "so the show was designed to fill in for that." They went with an old-timey train motif because back then, in the 1960s and 1970s, everything was high-tech and plastic, and Potter says, "We wanted to convey that grandfather image, smelling of pipe tobacco and oranges, and trains had a certain romance. Kids knew that trains could take you anywhere you wanted to go."

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Missing Memorial

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 3:02 PM

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On Patriot Day — September 11th — it makes sense to talk about a Memphis war memorial that has disappeared.

Does anybody even remember the polished aluminum fountain (shown here) that was installed in 1962 at the entrance to the Front Street Post Office? It seems a local group called the Gold Star Mothers raised some $50,000 for a memorial to their sons, who had died in the war, and recruited Memphis architects to design one. What they wanted was a traditional, shrine-type structure — something with nice bronze statues and granite columns.

What they got, though, was a gleaming rectangular trough, with water dripping into a big marble pool below. The Gold Star Mothers were dismayed, calling the flashy thing "a monstrosity." The designers (whose names I can't recall) defended their work, saying the fountain was "the first example in Memphis of non-representational civic sculpture." In other words, it was some of that "modern" art, and some people here didn't appreciate it. This was 1962, remember.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Death of Vance Lauderdale

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 2:30 PM

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Apparently I have been dead for more than a year, and I didn't even realize it. I admit I've been feeling a bit sluggish lately, and perhaps crankier than usual. But if this is heaven, then it's really not half as nice as I had expected. If anything, I thought I'd at least get a newer car, and perhaps an upgraded computer. You know, a Mac with "Snow Leopard" already on it.

Unless — UH OH — I ended up in "the other place" way down below. If that's the case (and I really can't think why it wouldn't be), then my bleak surroundings make sense. Though it's not quite as hot as what they used to tell us in Sunday School.

What AM I blathering about? Well, one of my many, many readers sent me this clipping from his Columbia University alumni magazine, which tells of the unfortunate demise of another Vance Lauderdale — clearly some rascal who stole my identity and even tried to pass himself off as a doctor. Then look what happened to him.

Let this be a lesson to us all. Or something. I'm not sure what to make of it.

At any rate, rest in peace, Vance.

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