ASK VANCE 

ASK VANCE

Dear Vance: Look what I purchased on eBay -- a stereopticon card showing President William McKinley in Memphis. So when did he come here, where is this scene depicted on the card, and why did he visit? -- M.F., Memphis. Dear M.F.: So many questions, and such a limited amount of space I have these days -- not like those book-length columns that we used to run back in the 1930s, before the terrible shiny-white paper shortage -- so I’ll get right to the point. Our 25th president had been elected to a second term in office in 1900 and, for reasons that he never really made clear to me, decided to embark on a goodwill tour of the country the following year, taking with him five of his cabinet members. The party left Washington, D.C., by train in mid-April and made a looping journey through the sunny Southland. Newspapers reported that the individual railroad cars, “among the handsomest ever constructed in this country,” were given names: The president’s coach was the Olympia; others were Omena, Guina, St. James, Pelion, and Charmion. I just thought you should know that. After a brief stop in Corinth, Mississippi, the train arrived at the Calhoun Street Station -- site of today’s Central Station -- on Tuesday afternoon, April 30th. An artillery squad fired a 21-gun salute, and Company A of the Confederate Veterans formed an honor guard as McKinley and his entourage filed into fancy carriages for the drive to Court Square. The newspapers of the day noted the irony, “as the men in gray with the western sun beaming fiercely on their gray heads and stooped forms marched as a guard to the former leader of the blue and the Grand Army of the Republic.” Nearly 40 years had passed, but we were still cranky about the way it ended, you understand. At Court Square, “the masses of humanity filled every available space” to see the president, and “every time he changed a pose, the camera fiends took a snap shot of him.” Even then, you see, the paparazzi were making themselves a nuisance. But if they hadn’t been there, M.F., you wouldn’t have your nice photo, which provides a three-dimensional image of the event if you can find one of the viewers the old cards fit in. McKinley stepped up on the makeshift platform you see here and made a brief speech, thanking Memphians for “the warmth of your welcome and the generosity of your greeting” and paying special tribute to “the valor of the Tennessean [which] has been conspicuous upon every battlefield of the American republic.” I’m sorry I don’t have space to reprint it here. Afterwards, the president and his staff attended a small reception at the Nineteenth Century Club, when it was located downtown on Third Street, and after that they attended a gala banquet at the Peabody Hotel. Not the hotel readers know today, but the first one, which stood at Main and Monroe. The Commercial Appeal devoted six pages to the banquet, even running a diagram showing where each person was seated “At the President’s Table.” Among other things, anyone wishing to squint long and hard enough at the accounts preserved on microfilm (as I did) will learn that the dignitaries dined on lobster cutlets and “teal ducks,” the president sat with his back to the north (hmmm -- is that significant?), and a two-foot-wide ribbon of American Beauty roses stretched down the middle of the main table. But what’s really interesting is that all this hubbub was for the men only. The women, including Mrs. McKinley and her escorts, attended a smaller reception in the Peabody Cafe -- sort of like the menfolk attending a grand party in Chez Philippe while the women lunch at Cafe Expresso. In fact, newspapers reported, “No toasts were proposed, as it was desired to shorten the dinner in order to give the ladies opportunity for looking in on the banqueters and hearing the president’s speech.” As long as they stood outside in the hallway, I suppose, and kept quiet. The parties, big and small, wrapped up around midnight, and instead of staying in Memphis, McKinley and Company returned to the train, which departed around 1:30 in the morning. The Olympia, Omena, and the rest were sleeper cars, you understand. Memphis’ brush with greatness was over. Only one element hinted at a later fate. The Commercial Appeal observed that McKinley was followed everywhere by detectives and Secret Service: “These precautions are always taken as a safeguard in the event of any possible attack.” The tour headed west to California, then looped back east. Then, on the afternoon of September 6, 1901, while attending a reception at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, McKinley was shot down by Leon Czolgosz, whom the papers described as an “anarchist.” He died eight days later. Holiday Inn History Dear Vance: I know that the first Holiday Inn was on Summer, but I understand that founder Kemmons Wilson also built others at the main entrances of our city. So where are they today? -- D.T., Memphis. Dear D.T.: One thing you must remember is that the main “entrances” to our city in 1952, the year the first Holiday Inn opened, were different from what they might be today. After all, this was before the expressways, and before Poplar became the main east-west corridor. As you mentioned, the first Holiday Inn, with 120 rooms, opened at 4941 Summer, just east of Mendenhall, in August 1952. Wilson then built three more, as he told reporters, “one on each corner of the city, so you couldn’t come into Memphis without passing one of my hotels.” The locations today may surprise you. Holiday Inn North, also 120 rooms, was located at 4022 Highway 51 North, at the corner of Watkins. Today it’s a scruffy vacant lot. Holiday Inn South, with just 76 rooms the smallest of the original four, was built at 2300 South Bellevue, or Highway 51 South. The buildings are still there today, little changed, but now it’s called the Elvis Presley Blvd. Inn. Holiday Inn West, at 132 rooms the largest of the group, opened at 980 South Third, which is also Highway 61. Both the South and West locations, you see, were designed to draw sleepy travelers flocking into town from Mississippi. The main building (a postcard of it in its heyday is shown below left) that contained the office and restaurant is still there today, but much changed, and now houses the City of Memphis’ Traffic Signal Maintenance and Construction Department. And the first Holiday Inn in the whole wide world? The one on Summer was converted into a Royal Oaks Motel, then torn down in 1995 and replaced the next year by a funeral home. In a way, then, that address still offers a place of rest for weary travelers. Curious Carvings Dear Vance: Several years ago, my husband and I bought several carved wooden figures (right) from an artist working in Grand Junction, Tennessee. We’ve never been able to find out much about him. Can you help? -- J.L., Memphis. Dear J.L.: I’m afraid you’ve stumped Vance with this one. At one time, some of my own family members -- whom we lovingly referred to as the “black sheep” flock of Lauderdales -- actually lived in Grand Junction, a little railroad town that is grand in name only. None of them knew anything about these carvings, or the person who made them. So I decided to include a photo of them here, for two reasons: 1) Perhaps a reader can help solve this mystery, and 2) it means less work for me. ["Ask Vance" appears every month in Memphis magazine.]

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