Did I want to move? Oh, absolutely not. We Lauderdales are set in our ways. But ... well, something happened, and you probably heard about it, and I guess it's my fault.
Actually, I feel kind of bad about the whole situation, to be quite honest with you. Every time I'd write something for Memphis magazine, my editors would say, "Good God, Vance, can't you just get to the point?" (Let me just way that when you are paid by the word — and not paid very much, at that — the answer is: NO.)
And then, when I'd post something on the blog, the tech-folks here would whine, "Vance, you're using up way too much band-width and giga-bytes and mega-hertz" and all sorts of mumbo-jumbo that I didn't pretend to understand. It didn't seem to be my problem, to tell you the truth.
But I certainly got a sense that everyone thought I was wasting valuable space with my ramblings, musings, dronings, and general ... uh, wait I lost track. Oh, right. The Inter-Net thing.
So how was I to know that this Inter-Net would one day fill up completely — thanks to me? That's what they told me, anyway: "The Inter-Net is full, Vance. We hope you're happy."
Well, not really. So I had a choice: just stop writing entirely — which was what they actually thought would be best. "Please, Vance, think of the children!" they'd beg me. Or (and this is the alternative I chose), I'd have to move to a brand-new blog and get all sorts of fancy new equipment — some of it costing dozens of dollars!
So that's what I'm doing. Don't worry, it will still be called "Ask Vance" and it will still be penned, or typed, or dictated, by Yours Truly. But it does have a brand-new blog address, so go HERE, and then bookmark it, or "favorite" it, or "friend" it, or "follow" it, or dang it all, just write it down on your shirt sleeve, I don't care.
Now let me make it clear the the new website is still a "work in progress" so bear with us while we work out the kinks. I just wanted to tell you where to find me, that's all.
Now you can still come back here from time to time, if you haven't gotten your fill of the entries I've posted on my beloved "old" blog. But in the future, if you really want to read about new things. Well, I mean old things, but with new words, go to the new address. Got it?
I really can't make it any easier for you. Again, it's: www.memphismagazine.com/Blogs/Ask-Vance
(The only difference is that oh-so-critical hyphen between "Ask" and "Vance."
See you soon at my new home!
Here's the deal: If you buy a calendar for the amazingly low price of just $10, you also get a FREE one-year subscription to Memphis magazine.
If you've already bought the book, well I really think you should buy another, but if you don't want to do that, bring your old one in and I'll autograph it.
The whole shebang kicks off at 6 pm at Davis-Kidd, 387 Perkins Extended. All the snow has melted from the streets, so don't even think about using that as an excuse to stay home.
See you there!
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.
TOP PHOTO BY HALL PREWITT. THANKS, HALL!
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.
It was just covered in dirt and dust, and the base had come off, but when I cleaned it up and repaired it, I discovered it was quite a find. What you have here is the trophy presented to the basketball team of Kingsbury High School for winning the City Championship in 1963. It's a pretty cool-looking trophy, don't you think, with a plaque that lists Coach Bill Todd, and the members of the varsity team: Clyde Barnard, Tippy Rankin, Herb Slate, Mike Butler, Arthur Boone, Barry Cochran, Dave Grosmann, Alfred Stapp, Bob Shelton, Joe Hurt, and team manager James Durham.
The Lauderdale Library contains a set of old Kingsbury yearbooks, and the 1963 edition of the Talon tells the story of that team's accomplishments: "Completing their most successful season in the history of the school, the Falcon basketball team had a record of 26 wins and 2 losses. They won the Eastern Division and beat Frayser 54-49 for the City Championship. The Falcons were one of the highest ranked teams in the state, at one time being voted second place by the Associated Press."
Some of the scores were rather impressive. Kingsbury walloped East 82-47, beat Overton (ranked #1 in the state) 62-55, and set an all-time scoring record by completely overwhelming Trezevant 131-24. Other lopsided victories were over Catholic 82-41, Humes 89-48, and Westside 101-48.
And yet, half a century later, the actual trophy commemorating that remarkable season lay in a dusty cardboard box, neglected and forgotten. Very depressing. I'm glad I rescued it, but would prefer that it go to somebody at Kingsbury who could truly appreciate it. So if any of these team members are still around, or anybody who cares about the history of that school, just get in touch with me. I already have plenty of trophies of my own.
Here are some other shots of the trophy, and below you'll see a photo of the team, from the 1963 Kingsbury yearbook. For some reason, the players in the photo don't exactly match the names on the trophy. I don't know why.
He might have mentioned the wings, too.
Held at the Tri-State Fairgrounds April 7-10, 1910, the National Aero Meet featured noted flyer Glenn Curtiss ("the champion of the world"), Charles Hamilton ("the dare-devil of the air"), and a number of more modest aviators from around the country.
The photo here shows Curtiss with his wife, Lena, in the cockpit of their plane, Miss Memphis.
The Commercial Appeal bragged that "all eyes are on Memphis," and workers transformed Main Street into "a glare of patriotic colors in honor of the thousands of visitors." Local businesses jumped on the bandwagon with bizarre enticements. A newspaper ad for Lowenstein's department store bragged, "Our rest rooms, a revelation of artistic beauty and luxurious comfort, are one of the interesting features of Memphis."
So I was more than a bit surprised when I was roaming through the Lauderdale Library the other night, seeing if I had tucked away a bottle of Kentucky Nip on one of the high shelves, when I pulled out a dusty bound volume of RAILWAY AGE magazine and began to read it.
And there, for the first time, I learned about the Memphis Gas Explosion of 1921 — a horrendous event that killed 11 people here, injured more than a dozen others, and leveled houses and business for blocks around. How is it possible that I have never heard of such a thing?
Here's what RAILWAY AGE had to say:
On January 24, 1921, vapors from a tank car of gasoline on the Union Railway spur on Front Street, Memphis, Tennessee, became ignited and resulted in a blast that killed 11 people and badly injured 19 others. Probably 40 or 50 men, women and children received slight injuries from falling debris or from burns. The explosion wrecked an oil plant, leveled a block of frame buildings, and broke window panes within a radius of five blocks, the estimated loss being $200,000.
So what caused this disaster?
"A workman at the plant opened the tank car without relieving the pressure within." According the story, the wind carried these vapors "across the street ... and the vapor became ignited by open fires in the frame buildings on that side of the street. Instantly there was a terrific explosion which demolished every house on the west half of that block, as well as destroying buildings in the blocks north and east.
It's true! The first show airs on WKNO this Thursday, February 4th, at 8 pm.
So plop yourself in front of the television, set your TIVO, or just wander around the appliance section of your local Target store. If you still miss it, the show will repeat on Saturday, February 6th, at 2:30 pm and again on Sunday, February 7th at 12 noon. After that, well, I really can't help you.
I won't tell you what topic I'll be discussing on the premiere episode; you'll just have to watch. I guarantee you it will be a good show, since it's produced by a super-talented gentleman named Kip Cole, and the "Ask Vance" segment (no, the whole show isn't about me — not yet, anyway) will be produced by my pal Bonnie Kourvelas, who has produced and hosted many of WKNO's wonderful Memphis Memoirs specials. If you saw "Beyond the Parkways" or "At the Movies" — well, that was some of her fine work, so I'm in good hands.
Don't worry; I'm not leaving the world of magazines or blogs or books or calendars; I'm just spreading out a bit, that's all.
Of course, this is only the first step. Next: Billboards, iTunes, and podcasts. I'm trying to get some of my colleagues to wear those old-timey sandwich boards — adorned with a stunning portrait of me, of course — and walk up and down the Main Street Mall. So far, no takers, even though I've offered them a fistful of nickels. How lazy can you be?
(And yes, that IS me on the TV screen in the photograph here. Don't squint at the image; click to enlarge it, for goodness' sake. Gosh, what a cute tyke! I think I was only 35 or so, singing in the school play.)
Here's the story:
20 Die in Crackup of Big Army C-47 Near Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. Dec. 11 (UP) — A C-47 transport plane carrying 20 Army officers and men dived to earth as it came in for a landing at the Memphis airport tonight and exploded with a flash that turned night into day. All aboard were killed instantly.
Captain Charles Carmichael, public relations officer for the 468th Air Base unit here, announced that all 20 bodies had been accounted for. The plane was en route here from Biggs Field, El Paso, Tex., on a training flight. Its home base was Aberdeen, Md.
The bodies and fragments of bodies were taken to the veterans hospital here. Several of the victims were decapitated and arms and legs were found amid the ribboned wreckage.
On Training Test
The two-engined transport, the Army's version of the DC-3 commercial air liner, crashed without premonition of trouble. It was learned, however, that the flight was an instrument training test and the pilot may have been coming in blind although visibility was good for 500 feet.
The plane crashed, exploded, and burned in a fiery shower of sparks in an open field three miles short of the airport at a spot near the Mississippi state line. Tilgham Taylor, a county penal camp guard, had just come home from work around 6 p.m. when he saw the blinding flash. He ran a mile through the woods and tried to put out the fire enveloping the broken bodies.
Well, I've done it again. Remember Hart's Bakery, Anderton's, Shifty Logan, the Bitter Lemon, the original Skateland, the notorious Whirlaway Club and their sexy dancers, and other people and places from the past? They're all featured in the 2010 Ask Vance Calendar, along with dozens and dozens of other rare images of our city. Just look at the cover! Fancy, huh?
Now I know you'd like to hang on to that old calendar forever. But it really won't do you much good after the end of the year, so it's time to buy a new one — AND GET A 12-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION TO MEMPHIS MAGAZINE AT THE SAME TIME. A tremendous bargain, if I do say so, for just $12. Heck, that's only half what we used to charge for tours of the Lauderdale Mansion, and all you saw was the basement, crawlspace, and cesspool (where I spent so many happy, happy hours).
You can also order a gift subscription for your friends, while you're at it. Remember, if you like reading "Ask Vance" and also enjoy the weird posts I put on this blog, you'd better keep those subscriptions coming in, or Vance Lauderdale hits the streets, looking for another job. One with dignity, I mean.
And just think of the poor children! No — not MY children. Just bratty children in general.
So call 901-575-9470 or go HERE to order a calendar and keep me employed. It's a win-win situation for all of us.
But the art academy (now known as Memphis College of Art) wasn't the only victim of this outrageous behavior. You know the graceful statue of the three female swimmers that stands as the centerpiece of the garden by the west entrance to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art? (The actual location is called the North Holly Court.) Lovely, isn't it?
Well, sometime during the evening of August 9, 1976, somebody must have thought otherwise, because they hacked the thing to pieces.
Here's the photo of the ruined sculpture that ran in the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Quite a mess. The newspaper reported, "The statue has a history of controversy. When it was first put in place, critics objected so strongly to the nude figures that the sculptor, Frances Mallory Morgan, was required to put a suggestion of bathing suits on the figures."
Apparently that was not enough. Luckily, the artist was able to repair the damage, and it's hard to tell the piece ever looked like this.
But sometimes you just come across things that are a bit unnerving. Like THIS display in the living room of a sale last weekend. Man, that gave me the shivers. I snapped the picture and scampered out of the room in a hurry, because if that unusually lifelike doll — if it WAS a doll — moved even a fraction of inch, I knew my heart would stop, and that would be the end of "Ask Vance."
In fact, as I turned to leave, I'd swear the little creature whispered, "Mister, can you please find my Mama"? but I don't want to think about it anymore.
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.
For 15 years, Benjamin Priddy had been driving a Shelby County school bus, picking up and dropping off students at the little schools in the Eads, Arlington, and Collierville areas. During that time, his driving record had been impeccable.
But on October 10, 1941, Priddy made a fatal error that would result in the worst school tragedy in Shelby County history. That afternoon, he picked up a busload of kids from the George R. James Elementary School, a little schoolhouse that once stood on Collierville-Arlington Road, just southwest of Eads. Driving along the two-lane county roads, he had dropped off all but 17 of his young passengers, when he made a sharp turn to cross the railroad tracks that once cut through the heart of the little farming community. Although he had a clear view of the tracks at the crossing, for reasons we will never know he pulled directly into the path of an N.C. & St.L. passenger train roaring towards Memphis at 50 miles per hour.
The tremendous impact almost ripped the bus in half, tumbling the wreckage into nearby woods. Priddy was killed instantly, along with seven of his passengers; many of the other children were horribly injured. In those days, few families in the county had telephones. News of the tragedy spread by word of mouth, and frantic parents rushed to the scene, piled the little victims into cars and trucks, and rushed them to the nearest hospital in Memphis, more than 20 miles away. “It was one of those sights you never want to see again,” one father told the Memphis Press-Scimitar. At Baptist Hospital, other parents found themselves “in a madly revolving world suddenly but surely spinning off its axis.”
On those nights when I find myself alone in the Lauderdale Mansion (that would be Monday through Friday, plus Saturday and Sunday), I often amuse myself by digging through the trunks in the attic, looking for loose coins and poring over the old scrapbooks compiled by my ancestors. Sometimes those contain the most fascinating stories — such as this account, reported in a December 1941 issue (I don’t have the exact date) of The Commercial Appeal, about the life-saving exploits of a mutt named Poochie.
Poochie, according to the paper, was a mongrel, one of seven puppies born to a mother who was a rat terrier and whose father was a German shepherd, so it’s safe to say he was not a particularly beautiful dog. His owner was a fellow named Faber Becton, who lived in north Memphis on King’s Road, and he gave away the other pups, keeping the ugliest for his own. The newspaper reported, “Like a weed in a garden, Poochie grew and thrived. The Becton children loved Poochie and he returned their love.”
Well, one day Becton took Poochie with him to the Mississippi River, just above Memphis, to train him as a pointer. Just as they arrived at the banks, they encountered a tragedy: A group of men and boys who had foolishly tried to swim in the Mississippi were being pulled under by the strong current. Here’s how The Commercial Appeal tells the story: