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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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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Lauderdale Mausoleum at Elmwood

Posted By on Sun, Jan 23, 2011 at 12:07 AM

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Work is progressing nicely, I think, on the Lauderdale Mausoleum at Elmwood.

We had a bit of a dispute, you may recall, with cemetery officials and the Land Use Control Board, over the amount of neon signage that would be allowed on the roof, spelling out "LAUDERDALE." Eventually we reached a compromise; the 12-foot-high neon letters would be acceptable as long as they didn't actually flash on and off.

When finished, the magnificent building — sheathed in the finest vinyl siding — will contain more bricks than the old Sears Crosstown, and will be large enough to hold precisely 156,784 people, expected to come from all corners of the globe to pay tribute to the Lauderdales and study the beautiful mosaic panels telling the story of our accomplishments in America. Plus, there will be punch and candy.

I'll post another photograph, next time in color, as the structure nears completion.

Oh, I can't wait to go there!

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ripley's Tiny Knee Stadium — UPDATED

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 3:00 PM

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More than a year ago, I ran a photo of Tiny Knee Stadium in Ripley, Tennessee, and pondered why it had such an unusual name. A few readers chimed in, but I don't think they really had a definitive answer.

Well, I have the complete explanation now, since I recently received an email from Willard Rooks Helander of Libertyville, Illinois, who just happens to be the grandson of a rather remarkable fellow named Irvin Knee.

Here's what he tell us:

Coach Irvin Knee was a standout athlete at Wabash High School in his hometown of Wabash, Indiana, and then at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he excelled at football, track, and field events. He was called "Tiny" because he was a formidable figure, whose many Drake Relays records were unbroken during his life. He played against the University of Chicago football team wearing a leather helmet and slept under the stadium in the space where the creation of the atomic bomb later occurred.

Tiny Knee also coached college football in middle Tennessee and also played professional football for Clarence Saunders' Tigers. He moved to Ripley, Tennessee, to build the athletic program and teach science courses. At Ripley he recruited laborers to build a football field and cinder track described by Tennessee sportswriters as the finest track in West Tennessee.

Coach Knee developed standout track, field, and basketball programs, as well as coordinated building two public swimming pools for youth, Tiny Town kiddie park, and the Tiny Knee Shack where teens could "hang out" in the 1940s right through the '60s. He was a familiar sight in his green Willys jeep. Nearly every child in Ripley had a ride in Coach Knee's jeep and he was affectionately called Chief White Cloud by the Native American community in the area. When he died in 1968, a memorial service was held at Tiny Knee Field and the stands were filled with the many men and women who paid tribute to the man who taught them lessons on succeeding, not just in athletics and sportsmanship, but in life both on and off the field.

Tiny Knee was my grandfather.

— Willard Rooks Helander (Brownsville, Tennessee, native and Libertyville, Illinois, resident)

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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

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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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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The "Ask Vance" 2011 Calendar — Almost Ready!

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 11:59 AM

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Has it really been a whole year since I produced the last "Ask Vance" Calendar, which now adorns the walls of homes, tents, trailers, and jail cells throughout our great land?

Well, the new one is almost ready — it's at the printer as we speak. So get ready for it — more than 100 eye-popping, never-seen-before images of Memphis people and places.

The 2011 version is packed with old photographs, postcards, booklets, programs, advertisements, and other images: the Wonder City Restaurant, Ollie's Trolley, Jockey Club Face Powder, roller-skating bears (yes, BEARS), the Ditty-Wah-Ditty Tourist Court, Maywood Beach, Sacred Heart High School, Helen of Memphis, and lots more.

Plus, two whole pages of photos devoted to Clarence Saunders' Keedoozle stores and Fred Smith's Toddle House restaurants.

Look in the October issue of Memphis magazine for the order form to order a copy for yourself or your friends (and get a subscription to the magazine when you do so.) You'll be able to order them online too; be patient.

But quantities are limited, so don't wait until the last minute.

This lovely fire-twirling lady (above) is just one of the images on the cover. You'll have to buy the calendar to find out who she is.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Shelby County Courthouse Statues

Posted By on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 2:34 PM

Vance Lauderdale as Authority
  • Vance Lauderdale as "Authority"
I spend a lot of time hanging around the Shelby County Courthouse, waiting for my various trials to begin, and I've noticed that people — far too many people, if you ask me — usually walk right past the magnificent statues that guard that entrances without even noticing them.

So I thought I'd change that by telling you about them, and I think you'll be impressed. After all, it's true that a Lauderdale (I needn't name names) served as the model for "Authority" (shown here).

But first, let me chat about the courthouse, which the authors of Memphis: An Architectural Guide say exudes "serene classical confidence." As I do, myself! This truly magnificent building opened in 1910 to replace a jumbled collection of courtrooms that had previously been jammed into rented space at the old Overton Hotel at Main and Poplar. A plaque outside notes that this is the largest and most ornate courthouse in Tennessee, and it would be hard to argue with that. The city fathers (and mothers) wisely chose the sturdiest materials available (blue limestone from a quarry in Bedford, Indiana) and the best designers for this important civic project.

A courthouse building commission (you can't do anything in Memphis without forming a commission first, you know) selected the prestigious firm of Rogers and Hale, with offices in New York and Chicago. James Gamble Rogers was the primary architect, because (according to the official Report of the Commission published in 1910), he "was found to be specially qualified in designing buildings of a monumental character."

But about those statues ...

Continue reading »

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Time To Fix Up the Lauderdale Mansion, I Guess

Posted By on Sun, Mar 21, 2010 at 10:37 PM

Lauderdale Mansion Living Room
  • Lauderdale Mansion Living Room
This weekend, I finally invited some people over for dinner, and things did not go well. Some of the women complained the food was gritty from the chunks of plaster that kept raining down from the ceiling. Other guests whined that it was unnerving to try to hold an intelligent conversation — well, any conversation, really, except for "Yikes!" and "Oh My God!!" — when they could see the rats running back and forth through big holes in the dining room walls.

"What rats?" I asked them, in all innocence. I told them they were cute little kittens, but it still made them nervous.

And then others griped that the legs of their chairs were poking through the termite-eaten floors, the smell of a natural-gas leak (I've been meaning to put some duct tape over that rusty pipe in the basement) was making everyone whoozy, and when the lights flickered and went out — after a cascade of sparks from the fuse box in the hallway — well, the evening was pretty much shot. They didn't even stay for dessert — a nice platter of Circus Peanuts, served with toothpicks.

Here's a photo taken by my insurance company (click on it if you really want a better view), when those bastards canceled my homeowner's policy and tried to declare the Lauderdale Mansion "a public nuisance." Hmmm, maybe they've got a point. You know, a fresh coat of paint ought to do wonders for the old place. But the vase of flowers on the little table at the right is a nice start, though.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Main Street - And Taking Care of Grandpa's FACE

Posted By on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 10:55 PM

Main Street at Night
  • Main Street at Night
I like this old postcard view of Main Street, showing how it looked at night in the early 1900s. There's no date on the card (the postmark is smeared), but no automobiles are visible in the image — just empty streetcar tracks and some horse-drawn buggies.

The caption at the top of the card says it was taken from the roof of the Randolph Building, which stood at the corner of Main and Beale. The postcard artists took some license, I think, when they painted in some of the signs, but certain landmarks stand out. The cluster of buildings in the left foreground is the old Gayoso Hotel. Illuminated signs for many long-gone businesses are dimly visible, especially the one for Brennan's Stag Hotel, which would have stood just a few doors down (if not right next door) to the Gayoso, and Goodman's, its huge sign mounted on the rooftop at the right. I'm not sure what Goodman's was, and yeah, sure I suppose I could look it up, but I don't feel like it.

Because ...

I'm mainly intrigued by the penciled notation scrawled across the front of the card (this was before you were allowed to write messages on the back, which was reserved for the address). Somebody has written, "Della, Grandma says for you to take good care of Grandpa's face."

Oh gosh, what was wrong with poor Grandpa's face? And why couldn't Grandma take care of it herself? Has she gone off on a vacation, and left the poor man in the care of Della, who might have forgotten to "take care" of his face if not for this postal reminder? And who was this Della, anyway? She sounds very unreliable, if you ask me.

I'll never get to sleep now ...

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sears Crosstown Under Construction in 1920s

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

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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.

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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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Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Tasty and Tasteful Sausage Advertisement

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 11:33 PM

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My pal Bonnie Kourvelas, who shares my appreciation for all things weird and wonderful, recently sent me a list of the 15 worst advertisements of all time. This one caught my eye, because it is supposed to entice you to eat a certain brand of French sausage — a brand where the pigs, apparently, slaughter themselves! What a lovely image!

What's this got to do with Memphis? Well, it reminds me of the old Leonard's barbecue joint on Lamar. A neon sign out front showed a pig, wearing a top hat and swinging a cane, with the words, "Mr. Brown Goes to Town." A fine sign, indeed (and relocated to the Leonard's in East Memphis). But what was even better (as far as signs go) at the original location was the smaller neon sign inset into a wall of the building, showing a pig relaxing happily as he was being consumed by the flames of the barbecue pit. I can't remember if that one also got moved to the new location.

The point is that quite a few BBQ places tend to show the pigs having a good old time, just as they are about to be cooked and eaten. That's weird to me, because I can't think of a single steakhouse that shows cows enjoying their last moments in the slaughterhouse. Not even seafood restaurants seem to show fish on their journey to our stomachs. So why is it okay for us to see pigs on Death Row?

Of course, sometimes you'll see it with chickens, too.

Even though I haven't been able to find a photo of it, one of my all-time favorite neon signs stood in front of Jack Pirtle Fried Chicken on Poplar, just east of Cleveland, which showed a line of chickens running across a diving board and then leaping — to their searing deaths! — into a steaming bucket of grease. A pair of neon drumsticks sticking out of the same bucket was an especially nice touch, I thought. Kind of showing the "before" and "after" of the chicken's demise.

They tore the sign down when they demolished that particular Jack Pirtle. An AutoZone stands on the site today. If anybody has a photo of the sign (preferably in color), please send it to me.

In the meantime, I have a curious hankering for some sausage ...

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Bird's-Eye View: The Mississippi River Bridges

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2009 at 9:29 PM

78cf/1243306029-bridges-aerialview.jpg I wanted to share an interesting old photograph that I found tucked away in a Central High School yearbook. It's an aerial view of the three old Memphis bridges that cross the Mississippi at the South Bluffs area. (Click on it to enlarge it.)

The view is looking eastward towards Memphis from Arkansas. From left to right, you have the Harahan Bridge (1914), the Frisco Bridge (1892 — called "The Great Bridge" when it first opened), and the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge (1949).

What's really interesting is that if you look very carefully at the top of the photo, at the easternmost end of the Harahan Bridge, you can see a portion of the insanely complicated one-way road system that gave automobiles access to the roadways that were suspended on the outside of the bridge. They were added later, you see, and there was no space to put them inside the bridge spans.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Confederate Park - Over the Years

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2009 at 11:04 AM

In the May issue of Memphis magazine, I give an account of Confederate Park — what used to be there, how it came about, and what changes have taken place there over the years. Stop what you are doing right now and go read it. Here I thought I'd just share with you some old postcard images of the park, so you can see the then-and-now changes for yourself.

Take a close look at the last two postcards, which seem to be identical (they're on the next page). But one shows a pair of steamboats in the Mississippi River, and one doesn't — which gives you an example of the liberties that postcard artists took with their subjects, and is just one reason that old postcards are sometimes not the most reliable sources for historians.

But they're still fun to look at, nevertheless. Here you go:

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Continue reading »

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Doughboy Statue — Overton Park's "Vicious Beast"

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2009 at 10:02 PM

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Let’s get something straight right now: Nobody is buried beneath the Doughboy Statue in Overton Park. Instead, the massive monument honors “the memory of Memphis and Shelby County men who gave their lives to their country in the Great War,” according to the massive plaque mounted on its base. And back then, they were talking about World War I. The plaque holds the “1917-1919 Honor Roll” and carries 230 names. I am ashamed to say there’s not a Lauderdale among them.

The old Doughboy has endured its own battles, that’s for sure. It was the brainchild of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who raised funds “with the aid of a grateful public and schoolchildren” (according to a smaller plaque mounted on the back of the base) and hired an out-of-town sculptor named Nancy Coonsman Hahn to erect a monument to America’s fighting spirit. Although I’ve been unable to find out just how much the piece cost — and let me tell you it is indeed one big chunk of bronze — I did turn up old newspaper articles that tracked a subscription drive to raise funds for its massive stone base, and that alone was $3,500.

Anyway, the statue — depicting a grim-faced U.S. Army soldier clambering over a rock with his bayonet drawn — went up in Overton Park on September 21, 1926. And some people were certainly not happy with it. Michael Abt, a Tech High School art teacher and sculptor (who gained fame for designing most of the Cotton Carnival floats), caused quite a stir in the newspapers back then by calling the statue “the attack of a vicious beast.”

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The 1939 Pure Oil Station on Front Street

Posted By on Tue, Sep 9, 2008 at 12:53 PM

c869/1242669446-pure-station-1935.jpg In the September issue of Memphis magazine, I tell the compelling story of the little green cottage on South Front Street, which opened in 1939 as a Pure Oil Station (above). The building went through many owners over the years, and is now the property of a nice fellow named Kris Kourdouvelis, who lives next door and uses the old gas station for storage.

Yesterday I received an email from a Memphian named Kenneth Pasley, whose uncle was the original owner of that station. Here’s what Kenneth had to say about it:

"I worked at that station for my uncle, William Willingham, from 1956 to 1966, when I graduated from CBU. My uncle Bill owned the station from about 1938 to 1970, when he retired and closed it. During the war, Bill’s younger brother Tommy left school early every day and ran the station. When Bill returned home from France, in 1945, Tom spent time in the Army Air Corps, then moved to Walls, Mississippi, and opened a Pure Oil Station on Highway 61, just north of Twinkle Town Airport. Henry Halbert may have owned the little station in question before Uncle Bill, but he did not own it after 1938. Henry Halbert ran the Pure Oil Service station at 836 South Third (Third & Iowa), when my other uncle, Reggie Willingham, went into the Army Air Corps. Reggie took the station back over when he returned from the war. Henry then went on to open “Halbert’s Auto Supply”.

Thanks for the additional information, Kenneth.

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