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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Craver Family's Unusual Birth Announcement

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

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

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??

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Richard Halliburton Vs. The New Yorker

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

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."


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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

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.


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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

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, February 17, 2011

Now THIS Was Some Party

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

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.


More later ...

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Well, This Goes Without Saying ...

Posted By on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Yes, it happens to the best of us.

A tombstone (and family name) at Calvary Cemetery in Memphis.


Monday, December 27, 2010

A Memphis Circus Family from the late 1800s

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM

This unusual photograph turned up on eBay recently, purporting to show a group of circus performers from the late 1800s. What made this photo especially interesting was that it was taken by a Memphis photographer named Day, who had a studio on Main Street.

Nothing more is known — not yet, anyway — about this interesting family (if they indeed are a family — where is their mother??). What was their act? Trapeze artists? Jugglers? Strong man, with assistants? It's hard to say from their outfits.

I really like the smaller boy's crazy-striped costume, and if you look closely, you'll see that the dapper man (the father?) is wearing a shirt with a rather curious design on the front, which is similar to (but not exactly the same as) the shirt worn by the older boy.

If anyone has any information about these performers, I'm sure you'll let me know.





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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Remembering "Monk" — aka Tony Cassatta

Posted By on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 3:29 PM

Tony "Monk" Cassatta may be the most famous Memphian that people here never knew.

Let me explain: Most people living here in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and beyond had heard stories about the odd little fellow that everyone called Monk. Perhaps some of you had encounters with him. But nobody really knew much, if anything about him: his real name, his background, where he lived.

So back in 1979, Memphis magazine published a profile of this interesting fellow, written by my pal Susan Turley Dynerman, and it was one heckuva interview since Monk had plenty to say, all right, but not many things that really made sense. In fact, the story was rather cryptically titled "Who Is This Man? — The Secret Life of Memphis' Most Visible Eccentric."

That was before I came along, you see.

His attire was as distinctive, in its own way, as my own. "You can find him bundled in four or five wool shirts on days when the blacktop is hot as a skillet," wrote Susan. "And you can find him bent over his walking stick, an oversized baseball cap cocked on his head, a stub of a cigar protruding from his small, furrowed face, tapping on car windows."

Continue reading »

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vance Lauderdale - Young Scholar

Posted By on Thu, Sep 9, 2010 at 3:15 PM

Vance Lauderdale, B.A., M.A.
  • Vance Lauderdale, B.A., M.A.
It seems I can't even walk down the candy aisle at Schnuck's these days without someone stopping me and saying, "Vance, how is it that you know so much about so many weird things in Memphis?"

If the person is a subscriber to Memphis magazine, I will usually take the time to reply, the best I can. If they are not a subscriber, then I knock them aside with my cane and storm out of the store. It's bad enough that you are reading this highly entertaining blog for FREE; must you pick my brain like a pickpocket, too?

But the general answer is that I was considered a boy genius, knowledgeable in any and all fields, collecting diplomas from schools around the globe. In later life I just decided to focus on the more arcane subjects of the city that I have decided to call home (after being exiled from so many others by the police, Boy Scouts, and 4-H clubs).

In fact, here's a charming photo of me at the tender age of 6, just after I had earned my degree in geography (with a minor in cartography) from Case Western Reserve University — a school that I chose merely because I found the name amusing. I still have the old globe, a graduation gift from President Grover Cleveland.

Friday, August 27, 2010

When James Jones Lived at Leahy's Tourist Court

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 11:02 AM

Most everybody is familiar with the best-selling novel, From Here to Eternity, which the Modern Library has ranked #62 on its list of the "100 Best Novels." Perhaps even more of you have seen the 1953 movie based on the book, which won a whopping eight Academy Awards. Even if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I KNOW you're familiar with the famous "beach-kiss" scene featuring — oh good grief, do I have to tell you everything?

But (and this is my point) how many of you know that James Jones, the hard-drinking, tough-as-nails author of this book, along with many others, actually wrote it while he was living in Memphis — at Leahy's Tourist Court, of all places? Not many, I bet.

But it's true. In 1943, Jones had been shipped to Kennedy General (later Veterans) Hospital here to recover from injuries he received in action at Guadalcanal. He must have liked it here, because he returned with his wife, Lowney, in 1950, and settled down at Leahy's to write the greatest novel of his career.

With assistance from a former Memphian named Birch Harms (it sounds like a made-up name, doesn't it?) I tracked down an old friend of Jones, Captain Patt Meara, now retired and living in Florida, who told me the whole story, and a lot more — including all those times he and Jones went to the (in)famous Plantation Inn over in West Memphis to enjoy a band with an up-and-coming young singer by the name of ... Isaac Hayes.

I tell the whole dramatic story in the September issue of Memphis magazine. So turn your computer off right now — do it! — and go pick up a copy if (for shame!!) you don't already subscribe.

In the meantime, here's an old postcard of Leahy's when it had seen better days. The old house was torn down a few months ago.

BOOKJACKET IMAGE COURTESY OF PATT MEARA — Look carefully at the credit line and you'll see that Meara took the photo that ran on the dustjacket of the first edition.


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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Grave of the Vienna Sausage King

Posted By on Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 11:10 PM

Not many people know that Archibald K. Wortham, the "inventor" of the tasty Vienna sausage, is actually buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis.

On July 19th, the anniversary of Wortham's birth, his devoted fans (mostly former Boy Scouts) leave empty cans of the delicious concoction at his gravesite.

Why he is buried here is a mystery, since he was born in Vienna, Austria (as you might expect), traveled to America in the early 1900s to work in a tin-can factory outside Baltimore, and then spent the rest of his life in Vienna, Virginia (where it is pronounced, as many do the sausage, Vi-EEN-a).

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Remembering Ted Rust 1910-2010

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 9:49 AM

Edwin C. "Ted" Rust died last week at the age of 99. As the longtime director of the Memphis College of Art, and the Memphis Academy of Arts before that, he was an icon in the art world of our region. He can take credit, more than anyone else if you ask me, for turning the college into an institution with national credibility. He was also a talented sculptor, a brilliant administrator who had a knack for finding and nurturing the best artists and teachers, and a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

It was an honor to know him, and though he is gone, his memory lives on in all the public art he created throughout our city, from the sweeping sculpture of Rhodes College President Charles Diehl on that school's campus to the wonderful plaques (below) that adorn the Memphis Dermatology Clinic in Midtown.

Ten years ago, one of my colleagues at Memphis magazine profiled Rust in a cover story. You can read about it here, and you should. Rust definitely made Memphis a better place.


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Friday, July 23, 2010

Miss McKellar Lake — 1973

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 11:35 PM

Since everyone seemed to enjoy the photo I posted below, showing the 1964 finalists for the coveted title of Miss McKellar Lake, you must indulge me while I share a photo of the 1973 contestants.

From left to right, they are: Tommy Hooker (Miss McKellar Lake of 1963), Tori Petty, Elaine Henderson, Paige Petty, Donna Hodges, Susan Harris, Diane Long, Pam Parrish, Margaretta O'Neill, Cheri Phelps, Barbara Clemons, and Judy Joe.

Hmmm. Some of these names sound familiar to me, so it's very possible I've written about them before. The newspaper clipping that accompanied the photo explained that the pageant itself would be moved to WHBQ-TV and broadcast on the George Klein show, though they weren't very specific about which show, exactly. Talent Party, perhaps?

I wonder where some of these women are today?

Sorry that the 1973 photo doesn't include a shot of an old Chris-Craft boat, or Cypress Garden water skis, which fascinated some of you who studied the 1964 version. I'll do better next time.


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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Dog Fountain at Rhodes College - UPDATED

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 12:57 PM

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the interesting water fountain at Rhodes College, which was dedicated to the beloved German shepherd, Cujo, who had once belonged to a Rhodes alumnus named David Granoff.

Well, somehow Granoff found out about the story, and took the time to contact me and tell me more about the fountains — yep, there is more than one at the school — and about his life after leaving Rhodes. And he said it was okay to share some of this with you, so I will:

"I actually offered to donate these fountains 10 years earlier then when they were finally built," Granoff says. "The original person in charge of fund-raising and gifts did not think that this was an appropriate gesture for the campus, no matter what the amount was. Finally, with a changing of the guard, a new person contacted me and thought it was a great idea, as there were no water fountains out by the playing fields or the intramural fields. Ironically, when they had a major improvement of the athletic facility with a donor providing a couple of million for the tennis courts, the local newspaper featured the water fountains as the key item in a news article."

Both fountains, as you probably surmised, are by the athletic fields on the eastern edge of the college campus: "As far as the water fountain locations are concerned, I believe you found the one that was out in the area we use to refer to as the intramural fields. The other one is between the tennis courts and the Stauffer baseball field (maybe near the physical plant between the two)."

I then asked Granoff what he had been up to over the years, and he told me this:

Continue reading »

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