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The blog of Vance Lauderdale

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Overton Park's Little Log Cabin

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 at 2:26 PM

A couple of weeks ago, I enthralled my half-dozen readers (yes, I'm talking about you) with photos and a few words about the odd Japanese Garden that once stood in Overton Park. Surely you remember what I said? If not, scroll down and read it again. Better yet, gather your children around you as you do so; reading the inspiring story aloud to them may deter them from a life of crime. It certainly can't hurt.

Anyway, I was rummaging through my old postcards archived in the Lauderdale Library, searching for other images of that garden, when I came across these two cards, and thought I'd share them with you. Why? Because they actually pay me to do this. Hard to believe, but it's true.

After they — and I don't know who, exactly, "they" were, since I wasn't around at the time — but as I was saying, after "they" demolished the Japanese Garden after the attack on Pearl Harbor, "they" were left with a little empty island in the middle of the lake, so "they" put a rather bleak little fountain there. And here's an image of it, below. Oh, I could stare at it for hours!

But at some point, "they" erected a cute little log cabin on the island, as you can see in the top image. I have no idea how large (or small) this structure was; somebody should have stood beside it when they snapped the photograph, to provide a sense of scale. What were you thinking, cameraman? And I also don't know what purpose it served, or where it came from, or what happened to it, so please don't ask me about any of that.

What I DO know is that this is not the present-day Rainbow Lake in Overton Park. This lake, as I've said before, was filled in when they constructed the Memphis Academy of Arts complex.

And that concludes today's history lesson on Overton Park.


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Wilson Field and Amelia Earhart

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Harry Wilson and chief pilot R.S. Weaver at Wilson Field in 1950
  • Harry Wilson and chief pilot R.S. Weaver at Wilson Field in 1950
Six years after Amelia Earhart vanished in the Pacific, her airplane crashed and burned at a little-known airport in Memphis.

If that sounds like an episode from The Twilight Zone, let me explain. A Lockheed Vega was one of the first airplanes that Earhart purchased, but she replaced it with a larger plane before attempting her doomed flight around the world in 1937. The Vega crashed upon takeoff at Wilson Field on August 26, 1943, while it was being ferried across the country by a new owner. Blurry pictures taken right after the crash (such as the one below) are filed away in the Memphis Room at the main library.

The wreckage remained visible for years, joining a fleet of other demolished and dismantled aircraft that caught the eye of anyone driving past the cluster of hangars and dirt runways at the northeast corner of Ridgeway and Raines Road.

Wilson Field was owned and operated by Harry T. Wilson. A self-taught pilot since 1915, Wilson had flown in the Signal Corps during World War I and teamed up with Vernon Omlie, one of this area's first aviators, in the 1920s. He took over Omlie's Mid-South Airways Corporation after the older pilot died in a plane crash near St. Louis in 1938.

Wilson moved the company to Memphis Municipal Airport, but had to relocate several miles east when the U.S. Army commandeered the city's main airfield during World War II. During the war, he supervised pilot training for the military. In later years, he provided flight classes, aircraft maintenance, and other services, and slowly built up a sprawling "boneyard" of vintage airplanes and parts.

In the 1960s, a reporter visited Wilson Field "in the quiet countryside" and noted that "airplanes remain on the field from World War II training days. Weeds and young trees grow through their fuselages. Wilson says one man wants one of the old planes as a plaything for his children."

It was certainly an odd place. Many years ago, I confess to a bit of trespassing, when I went with some friends to explore it at night. At the time, there was even a big old DC-3 parked there, and we climbed through a door, roamed through the cluttered cabin, and sat in the cockpit. Suddenly, a light flashed on in the hangar across the field — we didn't know anyone stayed there at night! — so we got spooked and scurried away, half-expecting to get shot before we reached our cars.

Wilson, hailed by the Memphis Press-Scimitar as "a pioneer figure in aviation in Memphis," died in 1975. I don't really know what became of all the wrecked airplanes, but rows of houses now stand atop the old grass runways of Wilson Field.


Amelia Earharts former plane
  • Amelia Earhart's former plane

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The Trimble Monument in Forest Hill Cemetery

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Forest Hill Cemetery has many fine monuments, but one of the best is the Trimble Monument, showing a beautiful young lady weeping by the side of a tomb, beneath a stone canopy supported by massive columns.

The inscription reveals this is the last resting place of Frank Trimble (1840-1915) and Lilly Shelton, identified as "his wife" (1852-1899).

Who were these Trimbles, and why did they build such an impressive tomb, you ask? Just sit back and I'll tell you. Wait, you're leaning back too far! Can you still see the computer screen? Okay, then.

After weeks of research (well, I mainly just walked across the room), I turned up a 1911 edition of Who's Who in Tennessee. Frank Trimble rated a mention, which told me that he was born in Hazel Green, Kentucky (don't you love the names of some of these small towns?). He moved to Illinois at the age of 22, then ventured to Memphis during the Civil War, where he became a merchant. That didn't last long, what with the war and all, so in the late 1860s, he started a real estate firm, called simply Frank Trimble and Company, dealing in "farm lands, etc."

The Who's Who also told me he was a Royal Arch Mason (the best kind), a member of the Knights of Pythias, and a member of the Episcopal Church, though which one it didn't say. It gave all that, and yet not a single mention of "Lilly Shelton, his wife."

Old city directories in the Lauderdale Library reveal that Trimble and Company was located downtown on Madison, while the Trimbles themselves resided at 23 South Diana, just south of Madison. The house was torn down years ago, but Trimble Place — which runs for two blocks behind Overton Square and stops at Diana, close to where the house was — remains today, as yet another (more humble) monument to the Trimbles.

Some of their descendants, including Dr. Peter Trimble, DDS, still live in Memphis.

The years have not been especially kind to the monument in Forest Hill. From a distance, it still looks magnificent, but venture closer and you can see that the wind and rain have etched away the details on the statue's face (see below). It's still quite beautiful though, and considering that drivers have a good view of the monument from the nearby expressway, one of the most admired tombs in the cemetery.


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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Al's Golfdom & Al's Golfhaven

Posted By on Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Al and Susie Fister in the 1980s
  • Al and Susie Fister in the 1980s
For years and years, the place to "hang out" in East Memphis was Al's Golfdom, and in Whitehaven it was Al's Golfhaven, both owned and operated by Al and Susie Fister (shown here).

The Fisters moved to Memphis in 1960, hoping to open a driving range, since (hard to believe) our city didn't have one. They scouted around and purchased a cotton field on South Perkins and opened the Golfdom complex. It was slow going at first, but within a few years, they had expanded — adding a pair of nice miniature golf courses, snack bar, batting cages, go-karts, and a giant slide. Al's became so popular that it stayed open 24 hours a day. During the winter, they even sold Christmas trees. When celebrities came to town — Lee Trevino, Bob Hope, and others — they headed out to Al's to practice their swing.

In 1965, Al expanded his operation, buying up 20 acres of farmland on Raines Road, right by the expressway, and opening Al's Golfhaven, a somewhat larger version of the place on Perkins.

Remember the red tractor that picked up the golf balls? The driver was protected by a cage, but he became a moving target whenever he ventured out into the big field.

I could tell you more about both places here, but I won't. Instead, you must go out and purchase the October issue of Memphis magazine, where you can read the whole thrilling story, beginning on page 58. You'll be glad you did, I assure you.



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Monday, October 4, 2010

Who Was "Cotton-Eyed Joe"??

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

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.


The "Hollywood" Showboat - 1933

Posted By on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Back in the early 1930s, Memphians could go downtown to the various theaters, which were gradually being converted from vaudeville and stage shows into "moving picture" theaters, but we also had another entertainment option that's no longer available: showboats.

Poring over a November 1933 issue of The Commercial Appeal, I noticed this ad for a production of "St. Elmo" aboard the Hollywood showboat.

Reserved seats were 40 cents, which seems a bit steep for the time, but maybe this was a classy boat, and a good production that was well worth the price of admission.

What's interesting is where the boat was docked — near "Second Street and the Wolf River Bridge." I would have thought they would have just tied up at the cobblestones, about where the Memphis Queen Line is located today. But back in the 1930s, the riverfront was considerably busier than it is now, so maybe this was the only place the boat could stay for extended periods of time. I really don't know. Do you?

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