Monday, December 27, 2010

A Memphis Circus Family from the late 1800s

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM

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This unusual photograph turned up on eBay recently, purporting to show a group of circus performers from the late 1800s. What made this photo especially interesting was that it was taken by a Memphis photographer named Day, who had a studio on Main Street.

Nothing more is known — not yet, anyway — about this interesting family (if they indeed are a family — where is their mother??). What was their act? Trapeze artists? Jugglers? Strong man, with assistants? It's hard to say from their outfits.

I really like the smaller boy's crazy-striped costume, and if you look closely, you'll see that the dapper man (the father?) is wearing a shirt with a rather curious design on the front, which is similar to (but not exactly the same as) the shirt worn by the older boy.

If anyone has any information about these performers, I'm sure you'll let me know.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Driving the Green Hornet's Famous "Black Beauty"

Posted By on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 1:05 PM

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Yesterday I journeyed with some of my colleagues at Memphis magazine to the Malco Paradiso for a rather unusual event — a chance to not only sit in but DRIVE the famous "Black Beauty" vehicle used in the upcoming Green Hornet movie, which opens across the country in January.

The picture here shows Frank Murtaugh, our managing editor, behind the wheel of the 400-horsepower behemoth (a 1965 Chrysler Imperial in an earlier life).

The ride certainly wasn't as cushy as the rich velvet seats in my Daimler-Benz, but I was mighty impressed with the dual, hood-mounted .50-caliber machineguns, and think I'll add those to my own vehicles.

The rocket launchers below the bumper are another nice touch, as is the flame-thrower mounted in the grill (visible in the photo below), but I think I'll keep those features in mind for the front entrance of the Lauderdale Mansion.

You can never be too careful.

Here's another view of the car, with my pal Hall Prewitt behind the wheel.

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TOP PHOTO BY HALL PREWITT. THANKS, HALL!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bergville Cafe - Remember It?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 2:10 PM

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One day, I was rooting through the old photo files in the Memphis Room, and came across this image of a quaint little cafe called Bergville.

It was quite a handsome little establishment, and even the signs painted on the windows proclaimed it "A Clean Place to Eat." But I was perplexed by what I could see in the background — rows of storage tanks of some sort (barely visible in the left background). If not for the "Poland Photo Memphis" logo at the bottom, I wouldn't have thought this was a Memphis establishment.

But it certainly was located here, a tiny restaurant that opened in 1932 at 459 Union Avenue. The proprietor was Alex Guigou, who with his wife Helen had previously operated the curiously named Orange Palace Cafe on Summer. Those mysterious tanks in the background belonged to the Beacon Filling Station next door, and in fact, in those days that section of Union was fairly industrial, in a car-related way.

In the same block, you could find McCreery Used Cars, the Automobile Piston Company, Charles Ham Auto Service, and Farber Brothers Auto Tops. Just a few doors down was the old building — originally the Ford Motor Company — that housed The Commercial Appeal.

I have no idea why Alex and Helen Guigou called their little eatery Bergville. It didn't last long. Old city directories show a different manager running the joint every year until 1936, when the owners renamed it the Spick & Span Restaurant. In the 1940s, it became the Blue and White Spot Restaurant. Does anybody remember any of these places?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the tiny building housed a used-car dealership, joining many others in that area, back in the days when Union Avenue was considered "Automobile Row." But all that is changed now, and the little place called Bergville is long gone.

PHOTO COURTESY MEMPHIS ROOM, BENJAMIN HOOKS CENTRAL LIBRARY

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Al's Golfdom on WKNO's "Southern Routes"

Posted By on Sun, Dec 12, 2010 at 4:44 PM

Al and Susie Fister
  • Al and Susie Fister
Back in the 1960s and '70s, one of the most popular places in town was an amusement center on South Perkins called Al's Golfdom. Don't let the name fool you. There was a heckuva lot more than just golf here. In addition to the fine driving range and a pair of fancy 18-hole miniature golf courses (complete with odd critters), Al's had baseball batting cages, go-karts, a giant slide, a concession stand, picnic tables, rides for the little kids, and more. During the winter, Al's even sold Christmas trees. Maybe some of you bought yours there?

The sprawling place on South Perkins (just about where the Mall of Memphis stood for years) was so popular that owners Al and Susie Fister opened another one on Raines Road, called Al's Golfhaven.

I've previously told the story of Al's Golfdom in the pages of Memphis magazine, and I sure hope you read that. But now you can learn even more about Al's, and see tons of vintage photos and old TV commercial's, on the December edition of the WKNO-TV (Channel 10) show Southern Routes, hosted by my good pal, Bonnie Kourvelas.

It airs Monday, December 13th, at 6:30 pm on Channel 10. If you miss it (or just want to watch it again and again) the show repeats on Saturday, December 18th, at 2:30 pm and again on Sunday, December 19th at 12 noon.

Here are a few shots of Al and Susie, taken in the 1980s at Al's Golfhaven. It was quite a place.

Al Fister at Golfhaven in the 1980s
  • Al Fister at Golfhaven in the 1980s

The Golfhaven Snack Bar
  • The Golfhaven Snack Bar

The go-kart track at Als Golfhaven
  • The go-kart track at Al's Golfhaven

Als Golfhaven in the 1980s
  • Al's Golfhaven in the 1980s


PHOTOS COURTESY AL AND SUSIE FISTER

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Remembering "Monk" — aka Tony Cassatta

Posted By on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 3:29 PM

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Tony "Monk" Cassatta may be the most famous Memphian that people here never knew.

Let me explain: Most people living here in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and beyond had heard stories about the odd little fellow that everyone called Monk. Perhaps some of you had encounters with him. But nobody really knew much, if anything about him: his real name, his background, where he lived.

So back in 1979, Memphis magazine published a profile of this interesting fellow, written by my pal Susan Turley Dynerman, and it was one heckuva interview since Monk had plenty to say, all right, but not many things that really made sense. In fact, the story was rather cryptically titled "Who Is This Man? — The Secret Life of Memphis' Most Visible Eccentric."

That was before I came along, you see.

His attire was as distinctive, in its own way, as my own. "You can find him bundled in four or five wool shirts on days when the blacktop is hot as a skillet," wrote Susan. "And you can find him bent over his walking stick, an oversized baseball cap cocked on his head, a stub of a cigar protruding from his small, furrowed face, tapping on car windows."

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Monday, December 6, 2010

When the Liberty Bell Came to Memphis

Posted By on Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 3:32 PM

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You wouldn't think that the folks who own the Liberty Bell would send it all over the country aboard a train. After all, it's already been cracked once.

But in 1904, they sent it all the way from Philadelphia to the St. Louis World's Fair, making various stops along the way so people could admire it. That particular tour didn't include Memphis. Then as now, it seems, we get left out of a lot of things.

In 1915, however, the famous bell was carried about the "Freedom Train" to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and on its return journey it did indeed make an early-morning stop in Memphis at the old Poplar Street Depot downtown. The date was Saturday, November 20, 1915, if you want to mark it on your calendar. Your Ask Vance calendar, I mean.

My pal Paul Coppock wrote about this day: "Confederate veterans formed the guard of honor. The biggest unit in the parade was formed by 12,000 city school children, almost every one of them carrying a flag. They sang, 'Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean' as they passed the bell."

It's hard to believe that 100,000 people — which would have been just about every man, woman, and child in Memphis back then — would jam downtown to see such a thing, but that's what the newspapers reported. Some in the crowd even demanded to touch the famous bell, and you can imagine how curators would feel about such things today, but anyone who wanted could get close enough to touch it, caress, and do anything short of taking a big gong to it.

Newspapers later proclaimed that some people actually managed to kiss the bell, and "afterwards were seen with a radiant glow on their faces, indicating that one of the ambitions of their lives had been satisfied."

My goodness. I have to confess that I have many ambitions of my life, some of them seemingly unattainable unless I recover my lost fortune, but kissing the Liberty Bell has never been one of them.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Burkle's Bakery

Posted By on Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 11:21 AM

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In 1936, Herman Burkle moved his little bakery from downtown to Madison and Cooper, at the time a busy intersection in "East" Memphis. (Right across the street was an Esso gas station called the "East Memphis Motor Company.") He found space in a narrow building that formerly housed the Idle Hour Billiard Parlor, squeezed into a row of businesses that included Purdy (later Purdy-Jester) Drugs, Piggly Wiggly #35, and La Vogue Beauty Salon. And there Burkle's Bakery would remain for the next four decades.

Herman Jr. and his sister, Ruth Lee (shown here), took over the business in the 1950s. They added "restaurant" to the name, and 2125 Madison Avenue soon became a Memphis institution — a breakfast, lunch, and gathering place for everyone from bankers grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to the office to scruffy art students munching bearclaws after class.

"Burkle's never tried to expand, to spice its menu with exotic dishes, or to move to a more populous or affluent neighborhood," noted the Memphis Press-Scimitar. "It was satisfied to offer well-prepared bakery foods, meats, and vegetables without costly frills. And that is what has satisfied its customers, whether they are family groups or young people from the surrounding Overton Square."

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