Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Sno Cream Castle

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM

You really have to admire someone who opens a humble little building like this, at the corner of Willow and Getwell of all places, and decides to call it a "castle."

And the "queen" of the Sno Cream Castle was a Memphian named Edith Humber, who opened her tiny ice-cream eatery and sno-cone shop back in 1964. Despite our steamy summers (some things never change), it was slow-going at first for the fledgling business. In a story about the place that we published in the May 1994 issue of Memphis magazine, written by my pal Dawne Massey, Humber said she made only $30 a day the first few weeks. It wasn't long, though, before sales increased by $10,000 each year for the next decade or so.

The reason for her success? "Because I put my whole life and soul into it, I guess," she said. "The first thing is a good product — you've got to have good food. And you've got to be friendly, and you've got to show the people that you appreciate them."

Humber added hot dogs, hamburgers, and foot-long pronto pups to her menu, but she told us that she never changed her ice-cream recipes over the years. Customers knew better than to even ask for low-fat ice cream or yogurt: "The biggest reason I don't want to change is because people have always asked me why mine tastes better than anybody else's, and I say, 'If you've got something going good, why change?' And it's low butterfat, so it's not real fattening anyway."

Humber said she rarely, if ever, advertised. People flocked to her "castle" because they heard about it from their friends and family. "The kids would save their lunch money at school to come here," she said. "Then they'd go home and tell their parents, 'We had a Rainbow [one of her popular sno-cone flavors]. Then on the weekends the parents would come up and say, 'Do you have something called a Rainbow?' and it would spread like wildfire."

Ill health forced Humber to close the Sno Cream Castle a few years after our 1994 interview. When she passed away in 1997 at the age of 71, the business died with her. It's now a vacant lot. When you drive by there, it's depressing to see what a tiny amount of space it occupied, but boy what a lot of memories it still holds for so many people in Memphis.

Sno Cream Castle Menu Board
  • Sno Cream Castle Menu Board

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Miss McKellar Lake — 1973

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 11:35 PM

Since everyone seemed to enjoy the photo I posted below, showing the 1964 finalists for the coveted title of Miss McKellar Lake, you must indulge me while I share a photo of the 1973 contestants.

From left to right, they are: Tommy Hooker (Miss McKellar Lake of 1963), Tori Petty, Elaine Henderson, Paige Petty, Donna Hodges, Susan Harris, Diane Long, Pam Parrish, Margaretta O'Neill, Cheri Phelps, Barbara Clemons, and Judy Joe.

Hmmm. Some of these names sound familiar to me, so it's very possible I've written about them before. The newspaper clipping that accompanied the photo explained that the pageant itself would be moved to WHBQ-TV and broadcast on the George Klein show, though they weren't very specific about which show, exactly. Talent Party, perhaps?

I wonder where some of these women are today?

Sorry that the 1973 photo doesn't include a shot of an old Chris-Craft boat, or Cypress Garden water skis, which fascinated some of you who studied the 1964 version. I'll do better next time.


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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Miss McKellar Lake

Posted By on Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 11:24 AM

Miss McKellar Lake Finalists
  • Miss McKellar Lake Finalists
Does anyone still go to McKellar Lake anymore?

At one time, it was a magnet for Memphians trying to beat the heat. The Lauderdales kept their cabin cruiser, The Lady Lauderdale, berthed there, alongside radio/tv pioneer Hoyt Wooten's magnificent yacht, the Elbaroda ("adorable," spelled backwards). In the 1950s and 1960s, the lake — actually a former oxbow of the Mississippi River — was always packed with ski boats, house boats, rowboats, and just about anything that could float.

But it gradually lost its allure, perhaps because of places like Sardis and Pickwick. What's more, expressways (and airplanes) brought the beaches of the Gulf Coast within easier reach. That's just a theory.

McKellar was such an important part of the Memphis community, and our social life, that every year we held a Miss McKellar Lake contest, and the prettiest women in the region would compete. The event was sponsored by the Memphis Park Commission, Memphis Ski Club, and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. I'm not sure what the "talent" portion of this competition entailed; I suspect how the contestants looked in a swimsuit was the key element of the judging, since that's all the newspapers ever showed.

Here's an undated photo taken of the finalists, all of them (according to the original newspaper caption) just 16 or 17 years old. From left to right: Lynda Cummings, Micki Slover, Micki Dollar, Rita Raney, and Cynthia Cowgill. Some of those names sound made up, to me. I mean, what are the chances that two different girls named "Micki" would end up as finalists?

I'm a little confused. The newspaper clipping that accompanied this photo has a date of "August 1989" stamped on it, but the photo itself was dated 1964. I'm no expert on women's swimsuits or hairstyles, though of course I know you would certainly assume I would be, but I can't tell WHAT year this is from. What do you think?

And I'm sorry to say that I don't know who won this particular contest. Does anyone remember any of these ladies?



Friday, July 16, 2010

The Dog Fountain at Rhodes College - UPDATED

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 12:57 PM

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the interesting water fountain at Rhodes College, which was dedicated to the beloved German shepherd, Cujo, who had once belonged to a Rhodes alumnus named David Granoff.

Well, somehow Granoff found out about the story, and took the time to contact me and tell me more about the fountains — yep, there is more than one at the school — and about his life after leaving Rhodes. And he said it was okay to share some of this with you, so I will:

"I actually offered to donate these fountains 10 years earlier then when they were finally built," Granoff says. "The original person in charge of fund-raising and gifts did not think that this was an appropriate gesture for the campus, no matter what the amount was. Finally, with a changing of the guard, a new person contacted me and thought it was a great idea, as there were no water fountains out by the playing fields or the intramural fields. Ironically, when they had a major improvement of the athletic facility with a donor providing a couple of million for the tennis courts, the local newspaper featured the water fountains as the key item in a news article."

Both fountains, as you probably surmised, are by the athletic fields on the eastern edge of the college campus: "As far as the water fountain locations are concerned, I believe you found the one that was out in the area we use to refer to as the intramural fields. The other one is between the tennis courts and the Stauffer baseball field (maybe near the physical plant between the two)."

I then asked Granoff what he had been up to over the years, and he told me this:

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tony's Pizza Man — Mystery Solved?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 10:55 AM

Is this fellow Tony?
  • Is this fellow Tony?
Precisely one year ago, I posted this photograph of an odd-looking fiberglass statue I had discovered at a Midtown estate sale. Who was this vaguely scary-looking creature, I wondered, and where did he (or it) come from?

Several readers thought it was a promotion for a pizza parlor in Memphis, and suggested Pasquale's, Shakey's, Coletta's, and others. I didn't think that was right.

Then other readers — among them peterwertz, bp1952, and pwgriffith (hmmm, something tells me that is NOT their real names) — thought it came from the old Tony's Pizza on Central, a building now occupied by Central Barbecue.

I wasn't able to prove, or disprove, their theories. Until now. Looking through some old newspapers yesterday, as I seem to do Monday through Friday, and most Saturdays and Sundays, I noticed a 1968 ad for Tony's Pizza, shown below. You'll have to click on it to enlarge it, but I think you'll agree that there is a definite resemblance. The fiberglass guy wears eyeglasses, while the Tony's guy doesn't, but the chef's hat and the moustache are pretty similar, and the real giveaway, if you ask me, are the checkered pants.

So, I think the little fellow came from Tony's. What do YOU think?

Tonys Pizza ad from 1968
  • Tony's Pizza ad from 1968

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Posted By on Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 3:00 PM

In the summer of 1961, anyone looking for a job might have noticed these tiny newspaper ads for two competing ice-cream companies.

You could go to 741 S. Cox and knock on the door of Mr. Johnstone and apply for work driving a truck for Ice Cream Circus — a company I no longer remember.

Or — a better option, if you ask me — you could pay a visit to 3065 Broad and apply for a coveted position as a Merrymobile driver. Not only would you be driving a real, honest-to-goodness Merrymobile around the streets of Memphis, but look, you could earn more than $100 a week.

I'd go for the Merrymobile job. Just think of all the stories you could tell your kids. And what an ice-breaker at parties: "I remember that time I was a Merrymobile driver ..." Not many people can say THAT.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Street Cars For Sale — 1961

Posted By on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 10:12 PM

So I'm looking through old bound volumes of Memphis newspapers, just like everybody else in town does on their Thursday nights in the Home, and this ad catches my eye. It's from a July 1959 copy of The Commercial Appeal.

Street cars for sale! These were the old electrified buses, which had a complicated apparatus on top that made contact with high-voltage lines and just rained down sparks whenever the buses crossed an intersection. For some reason I was terrified of them as a child — probably because I wasn't allowed out much, and since the mansion lacked electricity, I wasn't used to seeing it in action.

Anyway, just look at the business potential you had here. Why, just pick up one of these things — with tires or without — and you've got yourself a roomy fishing cabin, sleeping quarters (my, wouldn't THAT be lovely!), field offices, storage facility, tool room, and even a food stand. The sky was really the limit.

I don't know how many of these ratty old things this company sold, but I sure don't remember seeing any of them parked around town, serving as "sleeping quarters" or "food stands."

I'm just glad Father didn't see this ad, or that might have been my bedroom. Yikes.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Clarence Saunders' Amazing KEEDOOZLE Stores

Posted By on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 11:13 PM

Clarence Saunders Keedoozle
  • Clarence Saunders' Keedoozle
Most people reading this blog probably know quite a bit about Memphis history, and that means they also know quite a bit about Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly, the world's first (well, maybe) supermarket. But for some reason, their knowledge of grocery-store history often doesn't extend much farther than that (I did my dissertation on it at Heidelberg), and what some of you may NOT know is that, after Clarence lost his Piggly Wiggly stores, and his fortune, and his Pink Palace, he started over with something entirely different.

In the late 1930s, he came up with the world's first fully-automated grocery stores. No carts or baskets, no lugging heavy groceries around the store. You just carried a "key" and picked out your items, which were then whisked by conveyor belts, bagged and tabulated, to the front of the store.

He called the new stores "KEEDOOZLE" and you can learn the whole amazing story by watching the July episode of WKNO's "Southern Routes." The show airs Thursday, July 9, at 8 pm, and repeats Saturday, July 10 at 2:30 pm, and again on Sunday, July 12, at 12 noon. For all you folks with more channels than I have, it also airs on WKNO-2 on Saturday, July 10, at 9 pm.

It's a truly fascinating Memphis business story. That episode also includes a nice feature on my pal Tad Pierson, owner and operator of the American Dream Safari, and a piece on a local piano prodigy (the kid's only 6 years old). Don't miss it, or you will hurt my feelings.


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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Goldsmith's — Socks for Sale!

Posted By on Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 10:18 PM

1941 Commercial Appeal ad
  • 1941 Commercial Appeal ad
During my lonely days and nights in the Lauderdale Mansion, I'll often pull out musty copies of The Commercial Appeal or Memphis Press-Scimitar, settle back in my La-Z-Boy with a jug of moonshine, and relive the good old days.

And sometimes those days seem pretty strange. Case in point: In December 1941, Goldsmith's (describing itself as "Memphis' Greatest Christmas Store") had apparently advertised some "interwoven" socks for sale. You could pay 39 cents for a pair, or get three pair for a buck. Seems reasonable, no?

But wait — that was WRONG. The following day, the store ran this correction, saying, "We are sorry — this was an error."

Oh my gosh. What horrible mistake did they — COULD they — have made in a simple ad for SOCKS?

Why, they got the price wrong, and were losing almost 10 cents on every sale! Just look. The correct price should have been three pairs for ... $1.10.

Boy, I guess they must have planned on selling lots of these socks to pay for the cost of running the correction.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jack Pirtle's Fantastic Neon Sign

Posted By on Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Jack Pirtle in 1965
  • Jack Pirtle in 1965
While thumbing through an old Central High School yearbook from 1965, I noticed this interesting ad for Jack Pirtle Fried Chicken, with a tiny photo of the establishment at 1370 Poplar, just east of Cleveland. I'm sorry it's not a better image, but don't blame me; blame the yearbook people.

Nevertheless, if you squint and scrutinize the ad carefully, you'll see something that surprised me. Namely, was Jack Pirtle allowed to call itself "KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN"? Apparently so, because even though it's hard to tell, there's Colonel Harlan Sanders' big head on the left-hand edge of the sign, and the sign itself and the yearbook ad say it.

But what's a real shame about this ad is that it doesn't show the sign more clearly, because let me tell you, folks, this was one of the Grade A, First-Class, and Most Fantastic neon signs in the history of Memphis. And, yes, that's really saying something, but let me describe the action, which used to mesmerize me as a child:

Neon chickens, their wings flapping wildly, scamper along the top of the billboard. As they reach the left side, they spring onto a diving board, and then leap happily into a BOILING BUCKET OF GREASE. In a matter of seconds, drumsticks — NEON drumsticks — poke their legs out of the bucket. Yum!

The sign, of course, doesn't bother to explain what happens to all the guts and brains and beaks and claws, but gosh it sure made chicken-cooking look fun! And the chickens didn't seem to mind one bit!

There's still a Jack Pirtle at this location, but the great sign was pulled down in the 1980s (maybe sooner — I can't exactly recall). What a shame.

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