Ask Vance Blog

The blog of Vance Lauderdale

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Look — I'm Getting a BRAND-NEW Blog, Everyone!

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2011 at 11:10 PM

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Just look at it! Isn't it beautiful? This is the picture I saw in the Radio Shack blog-machine catalog, and I just can't wait to see the real thing. I'm told it will be TWICE as fast as the old blog (meaning: this one) and the stories will be ... well, they'll be about the same mediocre quality. No device in the world can fix that. I blame the demon rum.

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!
Vance

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Craver Family's Unusual Birth Announcement

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 8:12 PM

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My serfs (okay, they prefer to be called "interns") are still cataloging and filing away the more than 43,000 items I purchased at the recent Shelby Foote estate sale.

Every few hours, they will clamber out of the basement to show me something of interest, but I think that's just an excuse to get a sip of water, a spoonful of porridge, and a breath of air. But occasionally, they really do find something intriguing, and this is a good example.

It's a birth announcement, but cleverly written and designed as if it were introducing a new model car. "The Craver Production Company of 1900 Mignon Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee," it reads, "Announce the 1935 Craver Baby Girl, Model Number One."

This particular "model" was released on June 19, 1935. The proud parents are H.A. Craver, "designer and chief engineer," and Dallas Craver, "production manager." Even the good physician who helped with the birth gets a mention, with Dr. J.J. McCaughan listed as "technical assistant."

It's curious, at least to me, that the baby girl's name is not given on the announcement. Even so, she came fully equipped with such special features as "two-lung power, double bawl bearing, free squealing, economical feed, scream-line body, water-cooled exhaust, and changeable seat covers."

This was apparently the Cravers' first child, and they wanted to make sure that everyone understood there would be no additional children anytime in the immediate future: "The management assures the public there will be no new models brought out during the balance of the year."

I wanted to find out more about this rather clever family, but so far I'm stumped. I'm sorry to admit that the Lauderdale Library is missing some copies of old city directories, such as the 1935 edition. But later editions, from the late 1930s through the early 1940s, do not show this family as living in Memphis, and another family entirely is occupying 1900 Mignon. Birth, marriage, and death records online at the Shelby County Register's Office don't show this family, but that's not too unusual because most of those records don't cover the 1930s anyway.

I'll have to do some further research before I can tell you just who the Cravers were, and where they went.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share this with you. Now, back to the basement, serfs!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vance Lauderdale — Hard at Work (For a Change)

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 11:39 PM

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Well, I begged and pleaded for years, and look — the good folks at Memphis magazine finally bought me a new computer!

Now I can crank out these columns in a matter of days.

Just as soon as the hot lead cools, and the ink dries, and the pages are trimmed, and ...

Hey, wait a minute. Where's the damn monitor on this thing??

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 10, 2011

Richard Halliburton Vs. The New Yorker

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 1:56 PM

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Richard Halliburton was one of our city's most famous celebrities — an international adventurer and author, whose books about his many exploits — swimming the Panama Canal, crossing the Alps on an elephant, and more — were bestsellers in the 1920s, '30s, and 40s. He died as he had lived, trying to sail a Chinese junk across the Pacific during a typhoon. Halliburton Tower at Rhodes College stands in his memory.

But Halliburton didn't always get the respect he deserved. In a 1937 edition of The New Yorker, I came across this curious little item. The New York World-Telegram newspaper was announcing the author's latest book, saying:

“Richard Halliburton, author of The Royal Road to Romance and other travel books, has written Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels, which his publisher, Bobbs Merrill, describes as his 'first book for juveniles.'”

And The New Yorker's snippy response?

"Somebody's lost count."

Ouch.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

The Shelby Foote Estate Sale - Empty Rooms Now

Posted By on Mon, Mar 7, 2011 at 4:49 PM

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I made a return visit to Shelby Foote's former home on East Parkway today, just to see what wonderful treasures were still left for the taking.

Well, not much. An original Carroll Cloar oil painting, whose title now escapes me, was still available (a bargain at $45,000) along with a somewhat battered authentic "Indian Wars" sword ($750), a few pieces of furniture (a bed, some tables), some celluloid bridge markers ($65 each), and a box of old postcards and letters (none of them, as far as I could see, relating to Memphis).

Most of the glass-topped boxes containing the butterfly collections were still for sale on Monday, though priced at $195 to $265, so you had to really like butterflies if you wanted to take these home. (I have to admit, these really were magnificent butterflies.)

Just about the only books left were an 18-volume set of James Branch Cabell ($195).

Even so, it was certainly a treat to wander through the interesting old house, which is constructed inside and out in a rambling Tudor style, with uneven brickwork, tile floors, massive rough-hewn beams, hand-carved mantels, and curious creatures (is it a deer or a dog?) carved into the plaster door moldings here and there.

The most fascinating part of the house, to me, was Foote's former study, a vaulted room with a massive brick fireplace. I had seen plenty of images of him sitting at a low desk, ink pen in hand, with a mosaic of photos and letters neatly pinned to the wall behind him. Here's the same desk (above) as it appeared on Monday afternoon, looking rather forlorn and empty, with just sun-faded outlines showing where he had mounted his things to the wall. Rather depressing, yes.

PHOTO BY GREG AKERS

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Treasures from the Shelby Foote Estate Sale!

Posted By on Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 1:04 AM

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More than 4,000 people lined up to peek inside the charming Tudor-style mansion of Civil War historian Shelby Foote today, and I was one of them. Foote died in 2005, and his family held an estate sale on East Parkway so history buffs could purchase treasures from one of the greatest writers of our time. And the "star" of Ken Burns' fine Civil War PBS series, remember.

The house was packed with precious books (many signed by Foote himself), lovely sculptures, beautiful paintings, vintage photographs, old guns and canes and pottery and even a stunning collection (more than 40 glass cases) of butterflies.

The trouble is, I already have all that stuff, as anyone who has tried to walk through the Lauderdale Mansion can attest (along with the fire marshalls).

So instead, I concentrated on the odd and unusual, such as this old decal that carries the cryptic message, "It's TOTEM POLE." The pretty blonde lady seems to be landing in some form of helicopter (look out for those whirling blades!), and the fellow on the ground seems to be wearing an army uniform. But what it means, and being a decal, where it was supposed to go — well, that's a mystery.

If anyone can explain this, I would be mighty grateful.

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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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Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lauderdale Factories in the Early Days

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 11:30 PM

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Although I've posted quite a few images of the Lauderdale Mansion on these pages, I believe this is the first time I've bothered to show one of our factories.

This is an early, undated view of the main dirigible factory outside Itta Bena, Mississippi. During the peak production years, the aluminum-fabricating machinery and hydrogen-processing equipment operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Plus there was a gift shop.

I believe the empty buildings are now used to store old Facebook posts and the URLs of dead websites. Such a waste.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Elks Club and Elks Hotel

Posted By on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 8:26 PM

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In the December issue of Memphis magazine, I told the compelling, thrilling, and ultimately heart-rending story of the Elks Club / Hotel, one of the finest such clubs in the entire country, and a downtown landmark that — by then known as the Hotel King Cotton — ultimately fell to the wrecking ball to make way for the Morgan Keegan Tower.

Did you get all that, or should I repeat myself? Whew, I get long-winded sometimes.

ANYWAYS. The University of Memphis Special Collections Department has a very fine booklet that was published to announce the opening of the new Elks Club, and it was just packed with nice photographs and illustrations showing off the rather magnificent facilities available to club members. And since I'm feeling curiously kind-hearted tonight (it must be the cheap liquor), I thought I'd share some of those images with you, so you can see what we have lost. And as you gaze upon these marvels, remember this: They were available to the men only. Since they weren't actually Elks, the only part of the club that the women could enjoy was the "Ladies Writing Room" on the top floor.

We ran a few of these images in the December issue. Here's the rest. Click on any image to enlarge it, and enjoy!

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PHOTOS COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dowdle Sporting Goods' Great Neon Sign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 3:57 PM

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I certainly remember Dowdle Sporting Goods. That's where the Lauderdales bought our custom-made bowling shoes, hand-crafted badminton racquets, and designer fencing outfits.

But for some reason, though I am usually as keen-eyed as a hawk, I have no memory of the store's wonderful neon sign, as shown here in an ad that ran in the 1977 Bartlett High School yearbook.

Too bad it's in black-and-white, but you can see a basketball and football, and look carefully and you can see neon tubes that — when lighted in sequence — would have shown the basketball bouncing and the football arcing through the air. Definitely a very cool sign, made here in Memphis by the Balton Sign Company.

I called the nice folks at Dowdle, who told me that a customer backed into the pole one day, sometime in the late 1970s, and knocked the whole thing down. All that neon was far too expensive to repair, and from what I understand the city (at least back then) was beginning to express concern about moving signs that distracted drivers, so the old neon sign wasn't replaced.

Too bad. But at least we still have a picture. Close your eyes and imagine how it might have looked. But NOT while you are driving!

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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

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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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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now THIS Was Some Party

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 3:06 PM

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Anyone who reads this blog regularly (yes, I have a list of your names and addresses) probably knows that I have a tendency to stumble on great old photos at estate sales, yard sales, you name it. You call it luck; I call it skill.

I recently bought a couple of trays of 35mm Kodachrome slides, just filled with interesting photos of an unknown (unknown to ME, I mean) local family celebrating birthdays, Christmas, and other events, and I wanted to share a few of them here.

First of all, the photo here shows a couple of well-dressed ladies having WAY too much fun opening what seems to be a little basket filled with miniature whiskey bottles. Perhaps they've already gulped down a few of those bottles, and that explains their hilarity. It makes me thirsty for an ice- cold bottle of Kentucky Nip (full-size) just looking at this. (I LOVE this picture!)

Meanwhile, sitting across the room, Grandma (below) seems to be expressing considerable dismay at the proceedings.

These pictures were taken in the early 1950s. Grandmothers just don't look like that anymore, do they? What a shame.

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More later ...

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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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