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The blog of Vance Lauderdale

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Broadway Coal Company

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 12:09 AM

For all you bad boys and girls who got coal in their stockings this Christmas — and by that I mean pretty much everybody who reads this column — all I can say is, well that's a damn shame, but you probably deserved it.

But I recently turned up an interesting old sales postcard from the Broadway Coal Company, which will at least tell you the various kinds of coal you received from Santa, and quite frankly the names of this stuff just fascinated me. I mean, at the Mansion the Lauderdales certainly never sullied their hands by actually dealing with coal, or the vendors who supplied it, but gosh-a-mighty I never realized there were so many different types.

If I had to choose, I'd probably go with "Broadway Special Stoker" because it just sounds so, well, special (though a bit pricey at $8.20 a ton). I also like the "Lewis Creek Nut," "Arcola Egg," and "High Grade Pea and Slack" just for their names.

What's especially interesting — to me, anyway — is that Broadway, like so many other coal companies around town, also sold ice. Now coal and ice don't seem to have a lot in common, if you ask me, and this kind of thing bothers me as much as that business of funeral homes operating ambulance services. There's just something unnatural about it.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009


Posted By on Sun, Dec 27, 2009 at 11:42 PM

Sambos advertisement - 1977
  • Sambo's advertisement - 1977
With its racial overtones and the rather demeaning name of the main character, the children's book Little Black Sambo isn't very easy to find these days.

That's what makes it so hard to believe that, in the 1970s, Memphis had not just one, but three, restaurants in town called Sambo's, which used the jungle and animal imagery from the book as their decorating theme. As you can see from this ad, which I scanned from the back cover of a 1977 Duration Club program, you could take your pick from the Sambo's on Winchester, Summer, or Poplar.

What's interested, too, is that this particular ad didn't feature the little African child as the restaurant's "mascot" but instead the tiger, which — if I remember correctly — was turned into butter when Little Sambo made him run faster and faster around the tree where ... oh, you'll just have to read the book.

All the Sambo's restaurants in Memphis are gone now, in case you were wondering. And, despite the ad, I really doubt if everyone who dined there got balloons.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sears Crosstown Under Construction in 1920s

Posted By on Thu, Dec 24, 2009 at 11:50 AM

If you enjoyed that photo of the 100 North Main Building under construction, I thought you'd enjoy this one too. It shows workers building Sears Crosstown in the mid-1920s, and this was one helluva job. I've heard that one million bricks went into this structure. I don't know if that's true, but goodness, who's counting?

Look — they even ran railroad tracks down Cleveland (or Watkins) to bring materials to the site.

The authors of Memphis: An Architectural Guide note that this was the biggest building in Memphis at the time, and when it opened in 1927, "Sears proudly proclaimed that it covered more ground than the Great Pyramid in Egypt."

And like those pyramids in Egypt, it stands today as empty as a tomb.


Monday, December 21, 2009

100 North Main Building - Under Construction

Posted By on Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 2:14 PM

100 North Main in 1964
  • 100 North Main in 1964
One day, while I was rooting through the files of the Special Collections Department at the University of Memphis, I came across this nice old photograph showing the 100 North Main Building under construction. The building opened in 1965, and for years the bright-red UP sign on the top served as a downtown beacon.

So I thought I'd share this photo with you, because that's the kind of decent, God-fearing, kitten-loving fellow I am. As were all the Lauderdales before me, I assure you.

The photo is just one of thousands and thousands archived in the department's Memphis Press-Scimitar Collection, one of the greatest history resources in town.

And since I've mentioned the Special Collections Department, I think it's only appropriate that I thank Ed Frank, Sharon Banker, Chris Ratliff, and other members of their hard-working department. They never fail to go above and beyond the call of duty when the Lauderdale entourage swarms into their quiet domain on the fourth floor of the McWherter Library, and quite frankly, it would be impossible to do this blog and my regular column without them.

You have my everlasting gratitude.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 1947 Cargo Plane Crash in Memphis

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 12:35 AM

Dec. 11, 1947, newspaper
  • Dec. 11, 1947, newspaper coverage
On December 11, 1947, a U.S. Army C-47 cargo plane crashed while approaching the Memphis Municipal Airport. Everyone aboard was killed. Quite frankly, I never knew much about this accident, which took place south of the airport, near the Mississippi state line, and have never seen any photos of it. But I recently managed to turn up a newspaper article from the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette that tells about the event. (You'll that the newspaper reported two different fatal airplane crashes that day. Not a good week for flying.)

Here's the story:

20 Die in Crackup of Big Army C-47 Near Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. Dec. 11 (UP) — A C-47 transport plane carrying 20 Army officers and men dived to earth as it came in for a landing at the Memphis airport tonight and exploded with a flash that turned night into day. All aboard were killed instantly.

Captain Charles Carmichael, public relations officer for the 468th Air Base unit here, announced that all 20 bodies had been accounted for. The plane was en route here from Biggs Field, El Paso, Tex., on a training flight. Its home base was Aberdeen, Md.

The bodies and fragments of bodies were taken to the veterans hospital here. Several of the victims were decapitated and arms and legs were found amid the ribboned wreckage.

On Training Test
The two-engined transport, the Army's version of the DC-3 commercial air liner, crashed without premonition of trouble. It was learned, however, that the flight was an instrument training test and the pilot may have been coming in blind although visibility was good for 500 feet.

The plane crashed, exploded, and burned in a fiery shower of sparks in an open field three miles short of the airport at a spot near the Mississippi state line. Tilgham Taylor, a county penal camp guard, had just come home from work around 6 p.m. when he saw the blinding flash. He ran a mile through the woods and tried to put out the fire enveloping the broken bodies.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

"ALL OUT WHEN BELL RINGS" — Fairgrounds Pool

Posted By on Sun, Dec 13, 2009 at 9:44 PM

The Fairgrounds Pool
  • The Fairgrounds Pool
With all this talk about what to do with the site of the Mid-South Fairgrounds, we tend to forget that it was, at one time, THE place in Memphis to go swimming.

Sometime in the 1930s — I could look up the exact date, but I'm pretty comfy in my chair here, and the book is all the way across the room — city leaders built Memphis' largest swimming pool. It was a huge, oval thing, surrounded by sand beaches. Maywood and Clearpool did the same thing. With sand, I mean.

On the west side was a low building (shown here) that housed showers, changing rooms, and showers. And across the front was a big sign, as you can plainly see, warning all swimmers "ALL OUT WHEN BELL RINGS." In other words, get out of the pool when the lifeguard rings a bell — either to signify that somebody might be drowning, or your swimming day was coming to a close. I don't recall what those tile-roofed buildings in the background were used for. I can only do so much, you know, and these days that's really not much at all.

Notice the old-fashioned lightpoles around the pool. I wonder: was this place open at night?

And yes, as I sit here shivering in the drafty Lauderdale Mansion, I realize it's not exactly the season for outdoor swimming, but I thought I'd share the old photo with you anyway. This place was known as the civic pool, and just like Rainbow Lake, Clearpool, and Maywood (and in more recent years, Adventure River), there's not a trace of it. Despite our unbearable summers, Memphis, it seems, just can't support a big outdoor swimming complex. It doesn't make sense, does it?

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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Yuletide Revelers

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 8:31 PM

In our December issue, I posted a question about a mysterious organization called the Yuletide Revelers, who — by all accounts — put on one heckuva party each year around the holidays, but the nature and origins of the group itself were something of a mystery.

Well, my good pal John Gratz, who knows as much about local history as anyone (and that includes certain members of the Lauderdale family), sent me this epistle:


I am sure by now you probably have been sent information about the Yuletide Revelers, but just in case you haven't, here is the story:

Members of the Yuletide Revelers were comprised from all those people who were members of the court participating in the Memphis Cotton Carnival each year: Ladies of the Realm and their escorts, as well as the actual court of the King and Queen and their guards, etc.

Once you were a member of the Cotton Carnival in this category, you were automatically invited each year to the annual party given by this organization. There were no dues, and each person could attend the Yuletide Revelers party. Once a member, you attended the ball each year with an invitation for life.

Each year the barge would load up the current participants down river just past the the old bridge, and then proceed to come upstream to the landing dock at the foot of Madison to a rather great deal of revelry, where the King and Queen would be welcomed to the city by the mayor of Memphis and given the key to the city.

The year I was an escort for a Lady of the Realm (from Riplay, TN) I was a student at Southwestern College. The barge floor had been painted with an aluminum paint, and it was not dry when we came aboard. The sticky, silver-colored paint stuck to my dress shoes, and during the course of the short trip upriver, paint became spread over most of the court's footwear and produced some difficulty in getting off the barge. Nevertheless the entire week was one big party for the court that went to all the clubs in town( Memphis Country Club, University Club, etc., etc.). By the end of the week each of us was exhausted and thoroughly consumed by the singing of "Dixie" at each stop along the way.

John Gratz
Cotton Carnival Court 1949

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Jefferson Hotel

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 at 4:03 PM

Main & Washington - 1940s
  • Main & Washington - 1940s
Bad drivers, it seems, have always been a problem in our city. And in the 1940s, an anonymous photographer documenting an automobile accident captured an image of a downtown street scene that no longer exists.

The old photo shows the intersection of Main and Washington, looking southeast towards the Sterick Building looming in the distance. The three-story brick building on the corner, with the Canada Dry Spur sign ("It's a finer Cola" — wow, what a lame slogan!) painted on the side, is the Jefferson Hotel.

Constructed in 1915, the hotel occupied the second and third floors of the building, and originally offered patrons a range of rooms costing from 50 cents to $1.50 a night. The proprietor, a fellow named Abraham Alperin, operated a clothing store on the ground floor and lived in the rear of his shop.

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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?


Monday, December 7, 2009

Funeral Homes Running Ambulance Services

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 11:08 AM

In the past, I've expressed my dismay over the number of Memphis funeral homes that also operated ambulances back in the "good old days." When I wrote about Jack Ruby Ambulance Service a few months ago, I noted that Ruby — perhaps one of our city's best-known ambulance drivers — got his start by working as a funeral director and was also, in fact, a licensed embalmer.

Such expertise, I said, didn't provide much comfort to nervous patients in those ambulances, and if you ask me, it was almost a business conflict. Was it really in the best interest of the funeral home to get those patients to the hospital on time — and therefore lose a paying customer? After all, I imagine the costs for a funeral service would be considerably higher than the cost of an ambulance ride.

Anyway, I thought I'd present you here with a couple of eye-catching advertisements I found in a 1949 city directory. You'll note that Thompson Brothers bragged they had "the only crematorium in the South" right below their announcement of "Ambulance Service." Yikes! And Spencer-Sturla (below) squeezed their own "AMBULANCE SERVICE" notice in between the description of their "efficient and sympathetic" funeral service and their "burial insurance plan ... a fitting tribute to the departed."

This is just so wrong. It would be like morticians sitting in the emergency rooms, with an embalming kit in their laps!


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Friday, December 4, 2009

Joe Canepari and Southern Motors

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 2:49 PM

In the December issue of Memphis magazine (on newsstands NOW!), I listed some questions that I hadn't been able to answer — not without going to more trouble, I thought, than they were worth. One reader asked what I knew about the Southern Motors Cadillac dealership that was operated by a fellow named Joseph Canepari. I managed to turn up a photo of Canepari (and here's another one), but that was it.

Well, it turns out that information about Southern Motors really wouldn't have been that hard to obtain. All I needed to do was open up the pages of the telephone book, because Joseph Canapari Jr. — yes, the man's son — lives in Memphis, and he sent an email telling quite a bit about Southern Motors. Here's what he told me:

"As I remember it, Southern Motors was started sometime after the repeal of prohibition by my uncle, Lawrence Canepari, an immigrant from Bassignana, Italy. He made his money during prohibition by — guess what — the production and sale of illegal whiskey. The company sold Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and LaSalle automobiles. Lawrence died in the mid-fifties and my father, Joe Canepari, bought the dealership. At the time he had Oldsmobile and Cadillac, and later dropped Oldsmobile and became exclusively Cadillac.

"I have a company photograph from 1955 showing 88 employees. I remember when the new models were shown for the first time each year. The flower arrangements that accompanied them were breathtaking by anyone's standards. The company sold to a lot of the rock-and-rollers of the day: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Mr. Sam Phillips from down at Sun Studios, but by far our most famous client was Elvis Presley. His 3:00 a.m. shopping sprees many times left the new car department empty, and likely as not you'd read a few days later where he gave them all away.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cabs for "Colored Patrons" Only

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2009 at 3:52 PM

I seem to be on a taxicab kick lately, but that's only because I stumbled across a nice collection of old advertisements in the back of a 1949 city directory.

It's hard to believe that there was a time in our city when whites rode only in "white" cabs, and African-American citizens could only ride in "colored" taxis, but here's the proof. A nice ad for the Nu-Way Taxi Company, which advertised "24-Hour Service for Colored Patrons." My oh my.

I can't say how long Nu-Way remained in business, but today the site of the cab company on Porter is occupied by New Mt. Olive Baptist Church.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Doughty-Robinson Drug Company

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 2:14 PM

d920/1242155824-doughty-robinsondrugs.jpg These days, many companies prefer to carry generic names like Costco, Super D, and Rite-Aid, but for almost four decades, one of the largest drugstore chains in Memphis went by the somewhat dry name of Doughty-Robinson.

In 1923, two pharmacists — Lorenzo Doughty and Andrew Robinson — opened their brand-new “prescription druggists” firm at 1083 Union. Back in the days when the telephone company assigned prefixes to phone numbers (Mutual, Fairfax, etc.), that first drug store got an appropriate number: HEmlock-1482.

The chain flourished, and by the mid-1940s it had opened other branches on Union, Chelsea, Jefferson, Lamar, Madison, North Parkway, Poplar, and Summer. This photo, taken in 1943, shows the main branch on Union at Camilla. In addition to medicines and pharmaceuticals, patrons could also enjoy Coca-Colas, sodas, and lunches at the “luncheonette” and — judging from other signs in the windows — bring home Kodak film, Sealtest’s Clover Hill ice cream, Forest Hill milk, and Bexel Vitamin B complex. It’s hard to see on this grainy image, but a wall-mounted thermometer advertises the new Ex-Lax (“That Chocolate Laxative”), and a placard for movie star Barbara Stanwyck promoted the “Hollywood” line of hair products for something called “Good Looks / Good Health Week.”

By 1953, however, the busy store at 1083 Union was the only one remaining, and it closed the following year. Nowadays, almost all the former Doughty-Robinson Drug Store buildings, including the main branch here, have been torn down for parking lots or are standing empty. Only one location, at 1635 Union, is still being used as it was intended. Today, it houses Wiles-Smith Drug Store.



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