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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Dog Fountain at Rhodes College

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 3:08 PM

DogFountain-small.jpg
Not many people — and it seems not even many Rhodes College students — are aware that a rather remarkable tribute to man's best friend can be found on that campus.

Just east of the Bryant Campus Life Center, close to the soccer fields, is a nice stone drinking fountain, with a bronze plaque on it, dedicated to a dog.

The main inscription reads:
Given in Memory of Cujo 1983-1993
"Man's Best Friend"
by
Dr. David P. Granoff '80.

A smaller inscription gives a touching account of the dog's last moments:
I held you gently in my arms, and you left knowing with the last breath you drew, your fate was ever safest in my hands.

The voices in the wind will take you home again. The journey on has just begun my friend.

And when I leave this earth, you will be out there waiting ... My True Companion.

I don't know Dr. Granoff, or where he may be these days, but I think it's a wonderful tribute to a beloved pet. Cujo lived only 10 years, it seems, but I'd say he was a mighty lucky dog to have a man like Granoff as an owner.

DogFountainPlaque-small.jpg

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A New Website for Berl "Mr. Music" Olswanger

Posted By on Wed, May 12, 2010 at 10:11 PM

Newspaper ad from 1963
  • Newspaper ad from 1963
I've written before about Berl Olswanger — "Mr. Music of Memphis" — not only on this blog, but in my regular "Ask Vance" column in Memphis magazine.

He was a remarkably talented fellow: music store owner, teacher, author, composer, pianist, bandleader, and all-around entertainer. In fact, he did so much over the course of his career that it's really hard to convey the entire range of his talents in just a few pages.

I know that countless biographers will face a similar challenge when they write about me someday.

Well, now there's a website where you can learn more about the man and his music. Anna Olswanger, Berl's daughter, has put together BerlOlswanger.com, and it's one heckuva job. Not only does it contain a detailed timeline of her father's life, but — best of all — she has compiled audio files of most of his music AND several television appearances, which are absolutely fascinating.

Go here to see what I mean, and have a great time there. I did.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ella Carver — 73-Year-Old Fire Diver!

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Ella Carver in 1961
  • Ella Carver in 1961
Memphis has always attracted our share of unusual entertainers. Some of them are born here, and some come from other places. But few have such a distinctive specialty as Ella Carver, the "World-Famous Fire Diver," who performed here several times in the early 1960s, at Lakeland and the Mid-South Fair.

Judging from old newspaper articles that I discovered, Ella clambered to the top of a 90-foot platform wearing a special bathing suit. She somehow set herself ON FIRE, then leaped from the tower and splashed into a shallow pool below, which was also ON FIRE.

Ella, who called Miami home when she wasn't on the road, traveled the country in an old truck (shown below) with brightly painted signs on the side that proclaimed that she was "the only high swan diver in the world 'on fire into fire.'" Another sign said that her diving act is "the one that never fails the public."

And what makes this even more amazing? Ella was doing this act when she was 73 years old!

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rest in Peace, Tom Turner (1924-2010)

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 12:47 PM

Memphis lost two of its "lions" this past weekend. Everybody knows about the contributions of Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos, but even though his name may not be a household word here, many of us benefited from the contributions of my pal Tom Turner.

Born in 1924 in Atlanta, Tom attended Georgia Tech, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and then moved to Memphis. He was a division manager of Buckeye Cellulose, but that was just his day job. In his spare time, he was actively involved in an astonishing number of organizations: the Volunteer Center of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Agricenter International, Blue Shield / Blue Cross, the Rotary Club, the Memphis & Shelby County Airport Authority, LeMoyne-Owen College, MIFA, Goals for Memphis, the Salvation Army — oh, the list goes on and on.

I knew Tom and was proud to call him a friend. He was a true gentleman and scholar in every sense of the word and will be missed by many.

He was laid to rest this morning in Memorial Park. My sincere condolences to his loving family and many friends.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Charlie Vergos, 1926-2010

Posted By on Sun, Mar 28, 2010 at 7:20 PM

Charlie Vergos in 1968
  • Charlie Vergos in 1968
Charlie Vergos, who turned a cluttery barbecue restaurant tucked away in a downtown alley into a Memphis — no, I'd say a national — institution, passed away Saturday morning. Considered by many as the unofficial "mayor" of Memphis, he will be missed by many, and his praises will be sung by others better at these things than I am.

I had just found an interesting old news tidbit on Charlie just a few days ago, and I guess there's no better time to share it.

Lots of people think that The Rendezvous has always been in that exact same location, just across from The Peabody, but that's not true. When Charlie started the place back in the late 1940s, it was originally in a different alley — the one with the unusual name of November 6th Street — a block away. They always say "location, location, location" is the most important thing in the restaurant business, and I guess Charlie just had a thing for alleys. A December 1968 story in KEY magazine told about the move to the new location and included the rather dark and grainy photo that you see here.

Here's the story:

NEW LOCATION FOR CHARLES VERGOS
The changing Memphis skyline has made many firms relocate. When plans were announced to tear down the building above him, Charles Vergos had to move his Rendezvous. He is now open just a block away from his old address in the alley called November 6th Street. His new address is the Downtowner Alley behind the Downtowner Motor Inn, between Monroe and Union. Enter the alley from Union, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, which is between the present Downtowner Building and its new high-rise addition. Charlie has retained much of the captivating atmosphere of the old place with many surprising new features of the new location. Specialty of the house? His nationally famous charcoal ribs, of course.

It would have been interesting, I think, to see the Rendezvous when it was brand-new. The place seems ancient and rather timeless, and I hope it always remains so. But don't go searching for it in the "Downtowner Alley." City leaders renamed the lane Charles Vergos Rendezvous Alley years ago in his honor.

Rest in peace, Mr. Vergos. You were quite a guy.

PHOTO COURTESY KEY MAGAZINE

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Last Photograph of Mother and Father Lauderdale

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2010 at 10:11 PM

Mr. and Mrs. Lauderdale
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lauderdale
It's not a pleasant image to post on my blog, but last night I discovered this faded photograph tucked away in a shoebox in the attic, and when I gazed upon it, I realized it was the last photograph ever taken of Mother and Father Lauderdale.

The yellowed snapshot was taken during an excursion to Maywood, and even though it was the middle of June, Mother is wearing her beloved chihuahua-fur coat and stuffing a Hostess Twinkie in her mouth (she gobbled them down by the dozen). And there's Pa, smoking a Pall-Mall, which is what eventually set the house on fire, when he fell asleep — dead drunk, as usual — with a lit cigarette dangling from his tobacco-stained lips.

The picture brings back painful memories, you see, because just a few days later — having squandered what little was left of the family fortune — they abandoned me in Memphis and tried to evade the taxman by escaping to Canada. And there I was, a mere child of 27, left behind in the Mansion, unable to feed myself or even open a can of dogfood for my supper. Luckily, the lady from Social Services found me in time, and ... well, you know the rest.

This photo was the one used by the FBI on their WANTED poster. As blurry as it is, it worked, too. The authorities nabbed Mother and Father just as they were trying to sneak across the border into Nova Scotia, and — oh, I don't want to talk about it anymore.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Homer Wells — "The Bloodhound Man"

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 8:54 PM

Homer Wells
  • Homer Wells
In the next installment of WKNO's fine Southern Routes show, I talk about the life and times of a very interesting character named Homer Wells, known far and wide as "The Bloodhound Man."

Wells was a private eye in Memphis in the 1920s and '30s, then tried his hand writing stories about his exploits for True Detective Mysteries, Master Detective, and other magazines of the day and became quite a local celebrity. These (below) are just some of the many "true-crime" publications that contained his stories.

Don't miss it! Southern Routes airs on WKNO-TV this Thursday, March 4th, at 7:30 p.m. The show will repeat on Saturday, March 6th, at 9:30 a.m. and again on Sunday, March 7th, at 7:30 a.m.

Also on the show will be episodes that take viewers to Tennessee's Duck River, a profile of metal-detector guru Sid Witherington, and — a special treat — a segment on local fire dancer Nadia Sofia, who just happened to be featured on the cover of the Memphis Flyer's recent "Hotties" issue. Hot stuff, indeed.

Southern Routes is produced by my pal Kip Cole and co-produced and hosted by my good friend (and fellow historian/explorer) Bonnie Kourvelas, and they do one heckuva job, if I do say so myself.

Why, just keeping me sober for each episode is almost a full-time job for them.

Hope you enjoy it.

DetectiveMagazines.JPG

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

MORE Sidewalk Signatures

Posted By on Sun, Feb 28, 2010 at 10:06 PM

SidewalkSign1.JPG
Awhile back, I wrote about "sidewalk signatures" — those names pressed into sidewalks years ago by the contractors, who were so pleased with their work that they actually signed it. If you don't remember my original column, then that's really a shame, but go here and try to pay more attention this time.

These names were impressed into the wet cement with a mold or a stamp and have survived for decades, so it was a pretty good system.

But today I was stumbling around in Central Gardens (please don't ask why), and happened to glance down at my feet as I moseyed along, and I noticed an entirely new — and considerably fancier — form of these signatures. As you can see, they are fancy embossed markers, cemented into place at various locations along Central Avenue. I really like the design of these things. "Miller Maker Memphis" is an especially fine one, with its triple use of a large "M." And I'm sort of intrigued by the interlocking "paperclip" design of "Koehler Brothers & Franklin." I assume that Franklin joined the Koehler Brothers in the concrete company and was determined to get proper (and equal) credit for the sidewalks they poured around town.

My only complaint — why didn't everyone DATE these things? I guess it would have been expensive to create a new plaque every year, but still ...

SidewalkSign2.JPG

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Cybill Shepherd - Supermodel

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 9:19 PM

Cybill Shepherd in 1969
  • Cybill Shepherd in 1969
Most people these days probably think of Cybill Shepherd as mainly a TV and movie actress. And who can blame them, after some really fine roles in the movie The Last Picture Show and then on television with Moonlighting (with Bruce Willis, back when he had hair) and later, Cybill.

Others may know her for her singing, or maybe her political activism, or maybe because she kept a home in the South Bluffs for years and years.

But many people, it seems, have quite possibly forgotten that this East High School graduate was, by any definition of the word, a Supermodel. She got her start by winning the "Miss Teen Memphis" contest in 1966, which launched an extraordinarily successful modeling career. In fact, in the late 1960s, it was hard to pick up a teen or fashion magazine without finding Cybill on the cover or featured inside.

While rooting through the Lauderdale Library one lonely Saturday night, I turned up a collection of Glamour magazines (as shown here) from 1969, 1970, and 1971 with Cybill on the cover. Not only was she a fetching cover model, but rumor has it that director Peter Bogdanovich spotted one of these Glamours while standing in line at a Hollywood supermarket and decided, right then and there, that the then-unknown girl would be perfect as Jacy in The Last Picture Show.

(Other stories claim that his wife actually came up with the idea. If that's so, she probably came to regret it, since Peter and Cybill started, uh, "dating" after the movie came out.)

The rest, as they say, is history. But here are some other Cybill-adorned Glamours for you to admire.

March 1970
  • March 1970

April 1970
  • April 1970

June 1970
  • June 1970

July 1971
  • July 1971

October 1971
  • October 1971

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beatrice Garrison and the Pentecost-Garrison School

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 10:51 PM

Althea Pentecost & Beatrice Garrison
  • Althea Pentecost & Beatrice Garrison
In the January issue of Memphis magazine, I wrote about the Pentecost-Garrison School for Boys, one of this city's best private schools, and the forerunner to today's Presbyterian Day School and Memphis University School.

At the time, I had not located a photograph of one of the school's founders, Beatrice Garrison, so we only included an image of Althea Pentecost.

But as luck would have it, I did finally turn up an old, undated photo of both women in the Special Collections Department of the University of Memphis Libraries, so here you go. Though the entire right side of the photo, which originally ran in the Memphis Press-Scimitar, has been trimmed away for some reason, you can see that the ladies are standing in front of a lifeboat, so we can assume the snapshot was taken while they were on an ocean voyage.

That's Beatrice on the right, by the way.

PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" Fashion Statement

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 6:28 PM

Delores Weaver in 1957
  • Delores Weaver in 1957
It goes without saying (though I'll say it here because I have to start this blog post somehow) that Elvis Presley had a considerable influence on music, fashion, hair styles, interior design, and — well, I could go on, but you get the idea.

And when his hit movie Jailhouse Rock came out in 1957, at least one Memphis woman was so bedazzled by the jailhouse fashions that she designed a rather special shirt for her daughter, as shown here. An accompanying news clipping from the old Press-Scimitar explains:

JAILHOUSE BLOUSE
Delores Weaver, 10, wears prison stripes to be like Elvis. A fifth-grade student at Colonial School, Delores designed her blouse, even down to the prison number from Elvis' prison garb in his new picture, "Jailhouse Rock." Her mother, Mrs. G.M. Weaver, carried out the idea with needle and thread. She can rock and roll, too."

I'm not sure that sending your child to school dressed like a prisoner is the best way to motivate a youngster, but what do I know?

What I would like to know is: Where are you today, Delores Weaver?

And what happened to that shirt?

PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dr. W.H. Rafferty — Memphis Chiropractor

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 2:23 PM

ChiropractorCard-old.jpg
In our December issue, I included some questions from readers that I just didn't have the energy to answer. One of them concerned a faded business card promoting the services of Dr. W.H. Rafferty, a local chiropractor who offered "neurocalometer" readings, among other services.

Now, if I had just been born with more "gumption" I might have been able to look into the life of Dr. Rafferty on my own, but as luck would have it (all part of my clever plan, you see), one of my readers decided to do it by himself.

Hunter Johnson, a very nice fellow who knows a good deal about Memphis history, sent me a nice letter, and I'll include a portion of it here, for your reading pleasure:

"Although I did not know W.H. Rafferty, the last name certainly rang a bell in my mind because both I and my father were patients of a Dr. J.E. Rafferty back in the 1950s and 1960s. Dr. Joe Rafferty and his wife, Ruth, were both chiropractors with an office on Cleveland at Washington. I did some checking and discovered that he was the oldest son of William Henry Rafferty and his wife, Emma Wilson Rafferty.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fairview Junior High School - 1934 Football Champs

Posted By on Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 9:57 PM

1934 Fairview Trojans
  • 1934 Fairview Trojans
Among thousands of other items, the Lauderdale Library contains a battered scrapbook just packed with terrific old photographs and yellowed newspaper articles clipped from the sports pages of Memphis newspapers in the mid- to late-1930s. And I thought I'd share just one of those with you: a nice photo showing the Fairview Junior High School Trojans, which (according to a note scribbled on that page) had won the state championship in 1934. You'll see they even painted it on the football the player at the right is holding.

I really wasn't sure of the team's name until I spotted the little fellow at the left holding the box labeled "Trojans." I think we can assume he's an equipment manager or team mascot of some sort, and not the guy who provides the players with, uh, a certain brand of prophylactics.

You'll notice that the numbering system has changed somewhat over the years. Of course, it's not a very large team here, but the highest number is 21, and there's even one player (in the middle) bearing the number 1, which would put pressure on you, I'd imagine.

Recognize any of your relatives in this picture?

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

School Memory Books

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2009 at 9:03 PM

SchoolAutographs1.JPG
Nowadays I suppose students remember their classmates by the oh-so-clever posts they write on their friends' Facebook pages, or with Twitter "tweets" and other so-called "social networking" devices.

Things were different when I was growing up. We bought fancy little autograph books, and passed them around, collecting the signatures and sayings of our dearest friends. Sometimes these turn up at estate sales or on eBay, and I thought I'd share one with you because — well, that's what I'm paid to do.

This much-worn little booklet was once owned by Robert Hugh Murphy, who was age 10 and in the fifth grade. I know this because he wrote it inside the book. A few of his friends wrote "Bloomfield, Missouri" at the top of their pages, so that tells you where the book came from. Now how it ended up in Memphis, I can't say.

What's interesting is that in a book whose cover is labeled "My Schooldays Autographs" you didn't just collect autographs, but you gathered witty sayings from your classmates. Apparently everyone picked out a clever poem or phrase, memorized it as their own, and wrote that in every book they were handed; they didn't stand there and try to think of something on the spot.

So here are a few of the inscriptions. You'll notice a certain trend with some of them.

And yes, by our standards they are corny, but you bet they were the bee's knees back in 1932, which is the date of most of these:

Continue reading »

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Monday, October 5, 2009

The REAL Vance Lauderdale — At Last!

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2009 at 2:51 PM

FatGuy.jpg
Oh, what an awful day!

There I was, trying to toast some crumbs of stale bread for my supper. The rat-chewed wiring shorted out, and — once again — the west wing of the Mansion went up in flames. The firemen arrived in the nick of time to quench the blaze. But in a panic I ran outside without my shirt on, and those damn paparazzi who hang out at the gates caught me like THIS.

I really must cut down on those bowls of Lucky Charms.

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