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Mysteries

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cibo Pizza's Mystery Sign

Posted By on Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 10:13 AM

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In the March issue of Memphis magazine, I gathered the children around me and told them the beautiful, inspiring, and ultimately heartrending tale of Cibo's Pizza. The story was so compelling that now Hollywood has come a'calling, and I'm presently reviewing several scripts for a movie to be called Searching for Cibo, with Johnny Depp slated to play the lovelorn chef, and ... well, I won't give it away. But let's just say that Julia Roberts was such a hit in Mystic Pizza that it seems (to me, anyway) a natural career move for her to star in another pizza movie. It can only help her.

For those of you who have yet to to read the March column, Cibo was a short-lived pizza chain in Memphis, and in my typically thorough telling-you-more-than-you-asked manner, I even tracked down the addresses of all the branches in town. According to old telephone directories, one of them was located at 4495 Summer, close to Perkins. But they all closed years ago.

So what am I to make of this photograph, submitted by my pal Pat Rohrbacher, showing a genuine old Cibo's sign mounted on a pole behind Grahamwood Cleaners, close to the intersection of Summer and Graham, which is quite a long way from Perkins? As far as I know, no Cibo's was ever located here. Furthermore, the sign isn't even visible from either Summer or Graham.

Now, just as soon as I can borrow a quarter for the pay phone, I'll call the folks at Grahamwood Cleaners to see what they know about it. I'm pretty sure I dropped some change in the sofa here . . .

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stephen Sykes and His "In-Curiosity" House

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 8:41 PM

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In the February issue of Memphis magazine, I told readers about a remarkable fellow named Stephen Sykes, who constructed an absolutely amazing folk-art house / junk pile / art creation outside Aberdeen, Mississippi, in the 1950s that he called "In-Curiosity."

Do you remember what I wrote? If not, I can't help you. It's pretty much been the main topic of conversation along the Greenline for weeks and weeks. But you can read the whole story here.

Anyway, I illustrated the column with some grainy frames from an 8mm home movie, taken by a Memphis family on vacation in 1959. They were a bit hard to see, so I thought I'd include a few blow-ups of the frames here, along with several pages from the March 1963 issue of Ebony magazine, which featured Sykes and his "do-it-yourself skyscraper. Click on any image to enlarge it, and keep in mind that — yes — this is the man's HOUSE. Enjoy!

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BLACK & WHITE PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT COURTESY EBONY MAGAZINE

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Here's the Dempsey Hotel Today - in Macon, GA!

Posted By on Sun, Feb 20, 2011 at 5:00 PM

The Dempsey - NOW
  • The Dempsey - NOW
A couple of days ago I expressed my befuddlement over a matchbook cover showing an establishment in Memphis called the Dempsey Motor Hotel. I had never heard of such a place here, so asked readers to help me on my quest.

And by "help me" I meant: do all the work entirely.

And they did. My pal critter42 (that's not his name, but that's what I call him here) took about 30 seconds, it seems, to discover that there was/is indeed a Dempsey Hotel, but it was/is in Macon, Georgia — not Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, he even turned up an old postcard of the place that almost exactly matches the illustration on the matchbook (see below).

So I took about 30 more seconds to determine that: 1) he's right, and 2) the fine-looking old building is still standing in downtown Macon, with a few modifications, as you can see (above). In fact, according to their website, "this grand building was reborn in 1981 when it was transformed into 194 apartments, to create a comfortable and affordable environment for the elderly and disabled residents of middle Georgia."

But when critter42 says the matchbook was a misprint, well that's one heckuva misprint. I guess the matchbook printers probably felt pretty bad about the whole thing. But I simply can't sympathize with such incompetence, since I have never ever made the tiniest mistake in my book, column, blog, calendar, syndicated radio show, ventriloquist act, oboe recitals, and sno-cone business. The Lauderdales simply don't do such things, you see.

The Dempsey - THEN
  • The Dempsey - THEN

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where Was the Dempsey Motor Hotel in Memphis?

Posted By on Sat, Feb 19, 2011 at 7:48 PM

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Lately, it seems I've been posting more questions than answers on this blog. And that's just the way I like it. Let somebody else go to the trouble of solving just some of the countless mysteries that readers send me each and every day. For example:

Somebody on eBay is selling a nice old matchbook cover for an establishment called the Dempsey Motor Hotel, and the description says the place is (or was) supposedly in downtown Memphis. Well, that's news to me. I've never heard of the joint. But you'll see that it is a rather large, modern-looking establishment, with convention facilities capable of handling groups from 10 to 1,000. It has "two fine restaurants, a tavern, and a tap room," and it's "located with a block of seven state highways." And it also has FREE attached inside parking.

All this is very interesting, but it would have been really helpful if they had actually listed the address of the hotel. Especially since (according to the matchbook) it has a "prestige" address.

The seller says the hotel name is short for Jack Dempsey, the world-famous heavyweight boxer, but if he ever had any connection with Memphis, nobody has ever told me about it. I think the Dempsey name just comes from something else, but I'm not sure what, exactly.

Because I'm not entirely sure this place ever existed. The illustration seems to show the building on South Main Street that is, was, and will forever be known as the Chisca Hotel. In the 1960s, the name (and hotel) was expanded to the snazzier-sounding Chisca Plaza Motor Lodge, and the general description on the matchbooks certainly describes the Chisca. But as far as I know (which isn't really very far these days), the place was never called the Dempsey.

Or was it? Does anybody know something about this place that I don't?

If you'd like to see the original eBay listing, and perhaps add this odd item to your collection, go here:

In the meantime, I'll look through old city directories and see if I can track down this establishment.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

East Parkway Is "Knightdale Bypass"? Since When?

Posted By on Sun, Feb 13, 2011 at 10:30 PM

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Okay, I'm spending WAY too much precious time on Google and Bing these days, "flying" over our city in response to recent questions.

And today I noticed this. Look closely at the street names.

Since when has East Parkway ever been called "Knightdale Bypass"??

And where the heck is Knightdale, anyway, and why are we bypassing it?

The mind reels ...

PHOTO COURTESY OF GOOGLE, OF COURSE

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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Epping Way Mystery

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 11:03 PM

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  • PHOTO COURTESY BING / MICROSOFT
Ah, Memphis is just full of mysterious places.

A friend of mine was driving along James Road in Raleigh and happened to turn south on a little road called Epping Way. The road ends after just a few blocks, and he came to a rather fancy gate, with stone pillars on either side. This gate is padlocked (I believe he told me that), and there is a rather prominent sign on one of those posts, proclaiming "NO TRESPASSING - PROPERTY OF MEMPHIS CITY SCHOOLS."

Now this, in itself, is intriguing because I never knew that Memphis had a school in that area. But it's only when you turn to Google or Bing for a good aerial view of the property that the mystery deepens. As you can see from these two images, taken from different angles, beyond that gate is a double driveway that curves back to some type of school-looking building, which seems to be rather unkempt and abandoned.

And then look to the side of it: not just one, but SIX overgrown tennis courts, side by side. There's even a nice little gazebo, if you look closely, all by the shore of a very nice lake.

I'll go ahead and tell you that if you go to Bing and rotate their birds-eye view option, looking at this site from various angles, at one point the building completely disappears, leaving only some kind of concrete foundation. So it's safe to say that this structure has been torn down, though various aerial views — apparently taken weeks or months apart — don't consistently show it.

But what was this place? Why all the tennis courts? And what does the Memphis City School system have to do with it?

Does it surprise you to learn that I sent these images to the good folks at the school system and asked them this very question, and they didn't even bother to respond? No, it didn't surprise me either. Either they don't know, or they don't want to say. And after my family gave them that fine Lauderdale School, too. So disrespectful!

If anybody know what this curious property is — or was — please tell me.

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  • PHOTO COURTESY BING / MICROSOFT

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Well, I Just Don't Know What to Make of THIS

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 12:15 AM

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I thought I'd share another VERY intriguing old photograph that I found tucked away (where it belongs!) in a set of books purchased at an estate sale.

The lovely lady is very pretty, as you can see, and she is certainly very stylishly dressed — down to the nice umbrella.

But what has she done with her dress? Or her pants? Or ... well, anything, really.

Look away, children! This is not meant for you.

There's nothing on the back to tell me who, what, when, where, or why. But if this is somebody's mother, well, they have some explaining to do.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Audition - Who? Where? When?

Posted By on Sun, Jan 16, 2011 at 11:14 AM

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This photo tumbled out of an old book I had purchased at a Memphis estate sale.

I love the composition. It perfectly captures the "moment" — an old-time audition, with a pretty girl on a fancy stage, dressed in a sexy costume, and singing her heart out, a piano in view in the bottom corner of the image. No bored piano player visible; that would have spoiled the effect.

The 5x7 photo has a rubber stamp on the back (see below), indicated it had been carefully inspected (I'll bet!) and approved by U.S. Army censors, so this must have been mailed to, or from, somebody in the armed forces during World War II.

But who is she? Where is she performing? When did this take place?

We'll probably never know. But I sure hope she got the part.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Rin Tin Tin at the Memphis Zoo

Posted By on Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 10:25 AM

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I really enjoy the offbeat questions I get from readers from time to time. Such as this one, from C.A. in Corinth, Mississippi, who asked me, "Was there ever a dog statue at the Memphis Zoo?"

This puzzled me, since as far as I know, just about every creature in the world is (or has been at one time) on display at the zoo except for dogs and cats. Pet-type dogs and cats, I mean. So when I asked what made her think such a statue ever existed, she replied:

"I have the statue. Bought it from an elderly lady. She said it came from the Memphis Zoo. It is Rin Tin Tin and has it on the statue. It stands 12.5" tall. As you can see it has some damage. It was an outside."

Okay, by "it was an outside" I guess she means that it once stood outside, somewhere. But judging from the photos, this statue seems to be made of plaster, which wouldn't have survived long after a Memphis rainstorm. So, assuming the "elderly lady" is telling the truth about it coming from the zoo, I can only presume it was sold years ago at the gift shop.

But why would the Memphis Zoo sell plaster statues of Rin Tin Tin, the famed German shepherd who starred in his own TV series, who — as far as I know — had no connection with Memphis?

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Who Was "Cotton-Eyed Joe"??

Posted By on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 8:20 PM

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This curious quarter-page ad ran in the back of a 1961 yearbook for St. Mary's Episcopal School. It did not appear in yearbooks before or after that. I checked. Just that one year.

So the obvious question is: Who was "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and why was he memorialized in the St. Mary's yearbook in 1961? In "loving" memory, no less.

I will patiently wait for an answer, dear readers. C'mon, I can't do this without you.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Japanese Gardens in Overton Park - I Think

Posted By on Sun, Sep 26, 2010 at 9:25 PM

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My pal Robert Ferguson, a former police officer turned history buff, recently purchased a set of old black-and-white negatives at a Memphis estate sale. He went to the time and trouble (and expense) to get some of them turned into prints, and made an interesting discovery — what he thinks may be really fine old photographs of the Japanese Garden in Overton Park.

Robert Galloway, who was head of the Memphis Park Commission, was fond of all things Oriental, and in the early 1900s he had city crews scoop out a nice pond and build an island in the middle with a "snow-covered" Mt. Fujiyama. They installed a graceful arched wooden bridge, and added Japanese lanterns and other ornaments. It was a wonderful addition to the park — until December 7, 1941, when anti-Japanese sentiment boiled over and the entire thing was demolished. The Memphis College of Art stands on the site today.

I think Robert (Ferguson) is right. Some of the pictures show Japanese lanterns and other ornaments, and the photo of the man in the hat, who seems to be sitting on an invisible chair, shows the fake "mountain" in the background. But I don't know what to make of the woman sitting on the ground, since she seems to be perched on rocks piled on an old iron gate.

Robert wrote me: "I'm guessing the photos are from the Japanese Gardens that were destroyed in Overton Park. I'm 90% sure these are Memphis locations, because the old Midtown home where I bought them also shows up in some of the negatives [not shown here]."

Judging from the clothes, these were taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and one photo [not shown here; just take my word for it] shows an automobile with a 1935 license plate.

I think these do indeed show the long-gone Japanese Gardens, though I don't know what to make of the weird bare trees that seem to have wires dangling from the sawed-off branches. And does anybody recognize the family?

Other pictures are on the next page. Thanks, Robert, for sharing them.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Okay, This REALLY Creeps Me Out!

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 12:41 AM

Yikes! Whose baby is this?
  • Yikes! Whose baby is this?
Not too long ago, I was staggering through a local antique mall in search of vintage postcards or whatnot. I turned a corner, stepped into one of the cluttered booths, and encountered ... THIS horrible creature.

It was fairly early in the morning, and my first thought was that an awful tragedy had occurred. Somebody, perhaps distracted by all the pricey knickknacks around them, had inexplicably left their baby behind, strapped into a high chair, and the poor thing had starved to death, overnight. He certainly didn't look very well off, that's for sure.

But, being the brave man that I am, I took a deep breath and took a closer look, and discovered that this was a DOLL. A very lifelike doll, I might add. Or perhaps I should say a very "deathlike" doll. And clad in a bright UT-orange jumper, which really didn't help.

I tagged this post "Mysteries" because I am truly baffled why any company would produce such a disgusting, depressing doll. And — just as disturbing — why would anyone buy it? What is it, part of the new "Dead Baby" line of children's toys? And judging from the price tag looped around his wrist, a real bargain at $195!

Here's a closer look at his face. Cute little fellow, isn't he? Don't you just want to run your hand through his thinning, grizzled hair? And I promise you, it IS a doll.

Have you seen my mommy?
  • "Have you seen my mommy?"

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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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Embury Methodist Church's Odd Gravestones

Posted By on Sun, Jun 20, 2010 at 11:49 PM

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When I've been interviewed by Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and North American Potato Farmer magazine, I've told those writers that I spend an awful lot of time writing about DINING and DYING.

Because I get so many queries about long-lost diners and restaurants, you see, and also about odd and unusual tombstones.

My good friend Andrew Northern, who has amassed a fine collection of interesting Memphis images, seems to share my hard-to-explain fascination with old graveyards, and recently sent me two photographs of rather cryptic tombstones he recently discovered in the cemetery of Embury Methodist Church, on Woodstock-Cuba Road several miles north of Memphis.

First of all, it's always sad when someone is buried without anyone knowing who they are, and in this case, a simple tombstone marks the last resting place of someone whose identity remains unknown. But it's even sadder when the tombstone carvers can't even spell UNKNOWN correctly! And good grief, would it have really been that much trouble to at least put a DATE on this stone? This is just ... bizarre. Though I DO like the "In Spirit" floating above the cross. That's a nice touch.

But what's with the cross? If the person buried here is completely uknown — uh, I mean unknown — then how do we know he (or she) wasn't Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu or — for that matter — a fearsome Thuggee (look it up — it's not what you think).

The other stone that caught Andrew's eye marks the grave (maybe) of James E. Rowe, who embellished his tombstone with the sort-of-witty inscription THE END. But is it, really? You'll note that the stone carries only the date of Mr. Rowe's birth, not his death. It's late and I'm tired, so I haven't been able to determine if Mr. Rowe is even buried here. Yet.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDREW NORTHERN

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Toddle House / Church Mystery — SOLVED!

Posted By on Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 9:57 PM

First Congregational today
  • Photo courtesy Google Images
  • First Congregational today
NOTE: REVISED AND CORRECTED

If you've been reading this blog (and really, what else is there to do?), you know I recently turned up an intriguing old photo of a Toddle House nestled in the shadow of a large Gothic Revival church, and everyone has been offering suggestions and theories about the precise location shown in the photo (see the previous post and all your comments below).

It was quite a mystery because the photo, dated 1937, had a notation scribbled on the back "Highland - St. Luke's." But even the folks at St. Luke's said it wasn't St. Luke's. And a caption at the bottom said "J.C. Stedman, Memphis" but I have since discovered that Stedman wasn't a local photographer, but was the developer of almost ALL the Toddle Houses built across the U.S.

And I can now say with 99.99% certainty that the buildings in the old photograph are NOT located on Highland. Not even close. In fact, they are not even located in Memphis.

The picture shows the First Congregational Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. It's still standing today, as you can see from the photos here, "borrowed" from Google and Bing, but the charming little Toddle House is now a parking lot, dang it. The photo here is taken from just about the same position as the original photo; the little red dot shows the approximate location of the old Toddle House. (Scroll to the next page for an aerial view that's a bit more clear.)

All credit for solving this vexing mystery must go to Laura Cunningham, who works in the history department at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library, with additional help pinpointing the correct structure from "critter42" here. Laura knew that the original photo had been mislabeled, and this afternoon, while I set about to slog through old city directories and newspaper files, she disappeared for about 10 minutes and then told me, "I found the church." And she was right.

What she did was truly astounding. Laura began her detective work by — no, I won't give it away here. I will let her research secrets remain a secret, but let me just say that I was very impressed, and the Lauderdales are rarely impressed by anything. Why should we be?

But, to show my gratitude, not only will I give her praise here, but a plug as well. Laura is the author of the very interesting book, Haunted Memphis, and she is currently hard at work on another, to be called Lost Memphis. I'd say she's also got a good start — the first few pages anyway — on a third book, Lost Columbus, Ohio.

And thanks again to critter42 for his fine detective work as well.

Continue reading »

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