In the early part of the last century, the Ford Motor Company operated a manufacturing plant on Union, where The Commercial Appeal stands today. On the morning of August 10, 1921, two Ford employees, chief accounting clerk Edgar McHenry and special agent Howard “Shorty” Gamble drove to a bank on Second Street to pick up that week’s payroll — a satchel containing $8,500, which was an enormous sum in those days. They were accompanied by two Memphis police officers, Polk Carraway and W.S. Harris.
They returned to the Ford plant and parked in front of the building. Just at that moment, a blue Cadillac pulled alongside. Four masked men jumped out with revolvers and shotguns and shouted “Hands up!” Before anyone could move, the bandits opened fire, killing Carraway and Gamble and wounding Harris. “They were shot down by cold-blooded murderers, who never gave their victims a dog’s chance,” said The Commercial Appeal later.
When Roller Derby came to Memphis in 2006 — organized into teams with such catchy names as the Legion of Zoom and the Priskilla Presleys — lots of fans thought it was a reincarnation of the matches they watched on television back in the 1960s. But it turns out the sport is actually much older than that, and the Lauderdale Library has recently acquired a souvenir program for a 1939 event with the long-winded title of Leo A. Seltzer’s Trans-Continental ROLLER DERBY or Coast-to-Coast Roller Skating Race.
This is a pretty amazing document, because Seltzer, it seems, is the fellow who pretty much invented roller dergy. I have no idea how this particular race could take place “coast-to-coast” since the participants, then as now, raced around in a circle. But that’s how they promoted it, anyway. And this entertainment spectacular took place here in Memphis every night from 7 to 11 p.m. for two entire months — January and February 1939 — at the Municipal — better known to Memphians as Ellis — Auditorium.
For reasons that only my team of highly paid psychiatrists, psychologists, venipuncturists, and ventriloquists can explain, I’ve always found these dire warning signs amusing. Not because of what happens to the people (if you can really call these “people”), but by the sort of noncommittal, unemotional way these tragedies are depicted.
Most of them are found around industrial or construction equipment, and — without saying a word — they warn that your hands could get cut off, your feet could get smushed, you might get electrocuted (usually by lightning bolts!), you could get bonked on the head, and all sorts of other hazards. Why, it’s enough to make you just stay in the house all day. Which probably explains why I do just that.
But this sign is one of my favorites, because it shows the awful fate that awaits anyone who — get this — doesn’t get out of the way of the gate of a certain parking garage downtown. My, that is one deadly powerful gate! Seems to me they might adjust the spring tension on it, so it wouldn’t just crush the life out of you, as it has done with this nameless (and footless, handless, and neckless) fellow.
Poor dumb bastard. What a way to go.