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32 minutes | Jun 29, 2021
Season 2: Episode Six: 1969 Miss Memphis Review
37 minutes | May 24, 2021
Season 2: Episode Five: Amro Music turns 100 years old!
So today we’re going to cover a topic that hits really close to home for us… and by that, we mean that it helps to literally pay for us to live in our home. We are, of course, talking about a place of employment. We are both gainfully employed by fantastic, privately-owned, local companies that have rather long histories. And both companies are hitting huge milestones this year and next. Memphis Dermatology, where Tara works, will hit 50 years this next year… That’s an amazing achievement for any privately-owned business! I’m sure you’ll hear us talk more about them in the future. Tara has been with them for 13 years now, so it’s a regular topic in our conversations anyway. Alan’s place of employment for the past 16 years, Amro Music Store hit a gigantic milestone this past month. And that is the topic of our episode! As of April 10th of this year, Amro Music has been open, and owned and operated by the same family, for one hundred years! Wow… such an amazing accomplishment! We went to their 100 year celebration a few weekends back and it was a lot of fun. It’s amazing to me when companies are able to withstand the test of time. Someone is doing something right. One of the reasons we try to mostly buy local is because most local companies give back to their communities and Amro is no exception. From what I know, as a previous band kid, and what I have heard from other band parents and children, if you want to be taken care of, you go to Amro. They are a pillar in the Midsouth music community. Amro Music is the largest band, orchestra, and piano retailer in the Mid-South, and is actually one of the largest in the nation as well. They began renting musical instruments for student use more than 50 years ago, and they now supply a large majority of the band and orchestra instruments found in school programs in the Mid-South. Amro is widely respected for its long history of service to music education and Mid-South musicians, the high quality of its employees, its involvement in and assistance to the local music community, and its long-term stability as a business. Amro is also one of the most prominent piano retailers in the Mid-South, providing pianos and organs for both rental and purchase, with a highly qualified team of experts to help people find the perfect instrument for their home or institution. Amro has also been a Steinway & Sons piano dealer since 1964. Being a Steinway dealer is a big deal… not every dealer gets to represent Steinway pianos. They’re the only concert piano manufacturer whose products are still handmade in the United States. And didn’t Steinway make a fancy 100 year celebratory piano for y’all to have in your showroom? They did! I think that’s pretty cool…they must like you guys a lot… So how does a company that serves so many communities, take care of all of those customers? Well, Amro has 8 educational representatives, many of whom have formal music education training and years of teaching experience, that regularly visit most of the schools in the mid-south. They provide support for the band and orchestra programs within their respective territories, providing advice, product support, and basically anything else to make sure that the students and directors have everything they need to succeed in their instrumental music learning and teaching efforts. They are an amazing resource for both new and seasoned music educators. Additionally, an in-store team of band and orchestra experts, known as Director Services (this is what I (Alan) do at Amro) act as a music educator call center to provide support for school music educators, as well as the Amro educational representatives (so the ed reps can spend more time out in the field actively helping school music programs, and not have to deal with smaller details, which are way more difficult to deal with from a vehicle). I know being a teacher can be stressful, so I imagine band directors and other music educators are probably extremely thankful to have someone in their corner that’s just a phone call away and knowledgeable of their needs. It reminds me of that scene in The Office when Jim and Dwight are on a sales call and Dwight calls the big box store and it just rings and rings and Jim calls Dunder Mifflin and Kelly answers immediately and cheerfully. That’s what happens when you call you, right? Yep! You’re like the Kelly Kapoor of Amro! Maybe a little less bubbly, though. How many schools would you say Amro deals with on a regular basis? All in all, I’m not sure exactly how many school music programs we deal with on a regular basis. It’s not an easy number to keep track of, but it is a LARGE number of school programs… somewhere around 600. Our educational representatives cover a territory that reaches 7 states. We visit or cater to programs in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, and Alabama… so Amro has a very long reach outside of Shelby County. So, Amro’s pretty awesome… and they have had a huge impact on this region’s music community in the last century. And since this IS a history podcast, how about we keep to form and get to talking about some history? Before we get into the history, we have to acknowledge the wonderful Averwater Family, who own Amro Music – and in particular, CJ Averwater, the president of Amro Music – for allowing us to use historical archive recordings of the company’s founder, Mil Averwater, and the rest of theAverwaters, telling the story of Amro’s beginnings. Amro has an amazing history anyway, but being able to share it with all of you, straight from the mouth of the founder and his successors, is a really special thing. So, thank you very much to the Averwater family for allowing us to use these wonderful recordings. So, Amro Music’s story begins when Mil Averwater and his business partner Frank Moorman were on a temporary layover in Memphis, on their way to Los Angeles. Here’s Mil Averwater, telling us about how Amro landed in Memphis. Mil “I went to work when I was about 16 years old for the Procter & Gamble Company, in the engineering department. Of course, I’d taken classical music for about seven years, through a teacher who was also connected to the Cincinnati Conservatory, and I just quit taking those lessons, and I took one of the short courses in popular music at Leffingwell School down in the heart of Cincinnati. After studying down there and teaching down there, they made a teacher out of me. I worked with those for about 6 or 7 months, I decided to start my own business. I thought I was capable enough to do it. Well, there were a number of studios in Cincinnati. So, I went to Louisville and tried to find a place in Louisville, but we couldn’t find a decent location. So, we decided then we were going to go on to California. I had a partner by the name of Frank Moorman. We were on a train and we hit Memphis, and I said, “Well, this looks like a good sized town,” and Frank Moorman got cold feet anyway. And he didn’t want to go any farther, because he wanted to be closer to home, see. So we decided to stop over here, and we spent a few days, and we found a location. We decided we’d try it out here. And that’s how we came to Memphis.” Amro opened its first studio on the second floor of 166 S. Main Street in downtown Memphis. (That’s right where Main Street becomes the walking and trolly only section) The music lesson business was slow early on, and in order to drum-up business (music pun intended), they would throw open the windows of their second floor studio and play to attract passersby, and when they were coaxed upstairs by the musical sounds, Mil would offer them a 30-lesson package. After a while, as enrollment in the studio increased, other teachers were added to the faculty to teach lessons on different instruments such as banjo, guitar, and saxophone. In the 1920’s, jazz became a very popular genre of music, and it was most popular with the younger generations of the time. In order to latch on to that popularity, Mil Averwater wrote a jazz piano method in 1923 called “The Amro System of Popular Jazz.” The book was used by many pianists to learn jazz techniques. Let me just take a moment to say how cool it would be to have lived during the time when jazz was becoming popular?!? Now don’t get me wrong, that was not an easy time for people, but I would be all about pulling out my flapper dress and heading to a speakeasy to listen to jazz all night. The Great Depression was a hard time for everyone in the United States, but Mil took a different approach to perpetuating his business, resorting to bartering in lieu of monetary payment. Here’s Mil’s son and second generation owner, Bob, to tell us about that time: “Back during the depression… he kept things going, in some cases, by accepting eggs or whatever… vegetables, from his students. Some of them paid in produce, so to speak. When the war started, musical instruments were not readily available, so he advertised and bought as many instruments as he could, and those were refurbished and put back to good use. This is when things really began to grow – after the war. Schools came back and wanted to reorganize their bands, and this is what we did. We started bands, or reorganized old bands that had folded up during the war.” So, at this point, Amro was fully in the business of instrument sales. It was, at first, just an accommodation for students, but quickly became the financial mainstay of the business. As the popularity of school bands grew, the need arose for more instruments in students’ hands, which led Amro to introduce their first instrument trial rental program. Mil and his crew began to beat the pavement (or, gravel back then), visiting schools in the surrounding states to muster in rental business from the areas. They would even stay some nights in band directors’ houses. Here’s Mil’s grandson, Pat, a 3rd generation owner and the current Chairman of Amro Music, sharing some background, and talking about the appearance of a new type of competition for the company: “So I remember as a young boy, riding to Amro my dad in his car… parking in the back alley back there at 71 Union, and there were three parking places. One for my dad, and the other one was for Vernon Drane, and then the third spot was for our piano truck to back up to the back door. And you’d go in the old, big heavy metal doors, and you’d step into the building, and it had the old wooden, creaky floors, and no insulation in between the floors. The repair shop was down below us, and every footstep could be heard throughout the whole building. It was just this long store that took up the entire city block. And you know, back in those days, you didn’t have computer systems… you didn’t have point of sale software. In fact, their inventory was taken on the little index cards, where each card was the serial number of an instrument, and when somebody rented that instrument, you wrote their name at the bottom of a list and as they returned the instrument, you crossed their name out and waited for the next person. At 71 Union, any parking was done on the city streets. It was downtown, and while downtown was very vibrant during, you know, the 30’s, the 40’s, and even the 50’s, the suburban shopping malls started coming into play, and so people just weren’t driving all the way downtown anymore.” “Soon after that, the toll-free numbers came out. You know, the 1-800 numbers, and the catalogs that came out, and so now all the national competitors became somewhat local competitors because anybody could pick up the telephone and call and get a price on the same product that you’re selling. That was a new challenge, and we’d never experienced anything like that, and it required new solutions to combat all of that.” Mil’s three children, Bob, Ron, and Joy, all three came to work for the family business, which opened a path to succession once Mil decided to retire. During that time, food and other life essentials, shopping, and even entertainment were becoming more accessible and closer to home for suburban dwellers. The introduction of satellite stores helped to accommodate those customers that weren’t traveling to the city center to shop as much any longer, as Memphis continued to grow and stripmalls became the norm. In 1960, a new branch was opened at the southwest corner of Poplar and Highland. Shortly thereafter, another branch was opened in Whitehaven. From left to right: Chip, Bob, Mil and CJ in front Upon Mil’s retirement in 1968, Amro Music was a full-line dealer of musical instruments and gear of almost every type… wind and string instruments, guitars, drum sets, digital pianos, live sound equipment… you name it, Amro had it. The company was incorporated and passed along to the next generation of Averwaters, with Bob Averwater named as president and Ron Averwater named vice president. With the continual growth that Amro was experiencing, along with the growth of the suburban areas, the need arose for yet another branch in Raleigh. In 1981, Amro made one more move, when the main, downtown branch of Amro Music relocated into its current home at 2918 Poplar Avenue. Since that time, the satellite branches have all closed, and the company has redefined its focus in recent years, with a strong lean toward music education. The company has now been handed off to the fourth generation of Averwaters, and the growth just keeps… well, growing. Here’s Nick Averwater, 4th generation owner and current Vice President, on Amro’s focus on education: “You know, over time, I think Amro has adapted to the different markets – you know, of course, when The Beatles came on scene, everybody suddenly started selling a lot of electric guitars and doing that… But at our core, I think we have always been in touch with the music educator. I mean, it started with Mil, our founder, who he himself was a music educator, and that has just been central to our focus through the years – continuing to offer those services and products that music educators need, whether it’s in their home or in their classroom. And so today we benefit from being one of the largest single-location retailers in the country, and again I attribute that primarily to our focus on the needs of the educator as well as our customer – and having a great team here at Amro Music.” Left to right: Nick, Pat, CJ So now, we’ll steer a little away from the history of Amro, and look at something that is pretty amazing… Let’s look at how a music store can actually survive for 100 years, and still be in a position of growth today. There are many reasons, of course. The first thing that comes to mind is Amro’s focus on education… and we’re not only talking about school band and orchestra students, although they’re an essential part of the focus. Amro also puts a large amount of effort toward helping music educators, as their mission statement makes clear. “Our mission is to spread the joys and benefits that making music provides to the community by providing resources to music educators that allow them to spend more time working with young musicians and less time on busy non-teaching activities.” I’m lucky enough to be an integral part of this effort… My job at Amro is almost entirely to build and maintain relationships with music educators, and to provide a home base of sorts for nearly anything that they might need to make their jobs (and lives) easier. Another reason for Amro’s success and longevity is this… Amro has consistently been innovative in their response to adversity. Mil’s decision to accept goods and services in lieu of payment during the Great Depression is a perfect example. In the past year or so, Amro has once again proved themselves to be industry leaders and innovators during adversity, concerning their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did every department find ways to adapt their approach, offering products to cater to a whole new set of needs, like PPE products, instrument bell covers, and musician’s masks, but the company truly went above and beyond to help music educators find some direction during a grim time, when many were unsure how (or if) they would be able to proceed with teaching music during, or after, the pandemic. I just have to say that I’ve been extremely impressed by everything Amro did during the pandemic. Admittedly, I was kind of panicked for you and for us when Covid hit. It was a little scary not knowing how a company that provided products for an industry that did literally the exact opposite of what the CDC said to do, was going to survive. But Amro thought outside the box and they made it work. And for that I am super grateful. Here’s CJ Averwater, 4th generation owner and Amro’s current president, with a bit about how Amro has pushed through hard times: “Obviously before my tenure, you know you had the depression, you had high interest rates – that sort of thing. And right now we’re kind of living in one of the big challenges with the Coronavirus. You talk about changing the way we do business overnight. Back in March we had to shut down the retail side, and move to a skeleton crew, but like every significant challenge we’ve faced, we’ve found opportunities in it, so we’ve rethought all of the processes… we’ve rethought how and why we do certain things, and because of this we’ve found new opportunities that we didn’t know were there before. One of the great things about our history is that whenever we face these challenges, we view it as an opportunity, and we’ve found ways to get past it. But I will say, I think one of the other reasons we’ve been able to bounce through so many challenges is the foundation that those before us have laid.” Amro assembled a team of music educators to create Considerations for a Safe Return to the Instrumental Music Classroom, a step-by-step process on how to safely conduct music classes in person. That process has now been used in schools in California, Texas, and Arizona, in addition to the local Tennessee schools. Amro has also created a podcast called After Hours: Conversations for Music Educators, where music educators have been able to share best practices and tips on how to create successful music programs during COVID and beyond. It actually started as a series of Zoom sessions with an open forum format, and I believe most of the episodes still follow this format. The podcast has been wildly popular in the music education community, and all of the information has been super helpful to programs all over the United States. All of the episodes can be found on Amro’s website. E’rybody starting podcasts during the pandemic!! Amro’s habit of constantly looking for ways to innovate and improve on current practices, combined with their diligent efforts in imprinting themselves on the Mid-South communities, and the music education industry as a whole, are some of the big reasons they have lasted this long. And they don’t appear to be going away any time soon… that’s for sure. There is another phenomenon found at Amro that is not found in very many workplaces… Amro has had a large amount of employees that have stayed with the company for a VERY long time! We spoke with CJ Averwater, Amro’s current president, and he told us that the average tenure for Amro employees is currently 12.8 years. That’s just shy of four times the national average tenure for jobs in the private sector. On June 7th, which is just about two weeks from now, I will have been employed at Amro for 16 years. The Averwater family just makes it easy to work there. I have always been treated fairly, and I have felt acknowledged and valued as an employee. I know that some people say, “oh, my job doesn’t even feel like work,” but I think that’s a little hyperbolic. We work hard at Amro – but it’s work for a greater cause. We’re helping people find their path to making music, and I think that’s a very honorable cause. I think those are the reasons that people stick around for years and years at Amro. We’d be remiss not to mention some of the past employees, and present employees, that have been with Amro for the longest amount of time. Starting with the people who are currently working at Amro – working our way up from the 15 year mark – and keeping in mind that Amro only has about 70 employees in total. Amro has 6 employees with a tenure of between 15 and 20 years They have 11 employees with a tenure of between 21 and 25 years 4 employees who have a tenure of between 26 and 30 years And 4 that have been with the company for more than 30 years… and of those four, two of these employees have been with Amro for more than FORTY YEARS. Both of those lovely gentlemen, Archie Fleming and Cliff Acred, are instrument repair technicians now, but both of them have held other positions at Amro during their tenure. They are both fantastic individuals, and I have always enjoyed working with them. One past employee that absolutely has to be mentioned is – by far – the Amro employee with the longest tenure. I’m not sure that anyone will be able to match it… I guess we’ll have to see.Vernon Drane, also known as “Kowboi,” was hired right out of college by Mil Averwater in 1945. He did just about every job (or maybe literally every job?) that there was to do at Amro, and finally landed in the band instrument repair shop. Vernon worked for Amro until his 2013 retirement right before he passed away, at age 90, in 2014. If you haven’t already done the math, Vernon worked for Amro Music for sixty eight years. Amazing. We were talking a moment ago about Cliff Acred and Archie Fleming… I have to mention that these guys are both truly top-notch musicians as well… Archie is one of the finest saxophonists in Memphis, and Cliff is an outstanding bass guitarist. Cliff was actually Isaac Hayes’s bassist for a number of years. He can be heard playing bass on Isaac Hayes’s famous theme song to the movie, “Shaft.” Shut yo’ mouth… I’m just talkin’ ‘bout Shaft… Actually, several of our employees have played with some big name music acts… just to name a few…One of the brass repair technicians, Hubert Crawford, or as he’s affectionately known, “H-Bomb” (because of the amount of sound that dude is able to produce from hitting his snare drum), has played with James Brown, The Bar-Kays, Mark Farner, and Eric Gales. Art Edmaiston, one of the woodwind repair techs, has played with Greg Allman and The Doobie Brothers, among many others. And one of the purchasers, Brian Stuhr, is a fantastic rockabilly guitarist and he plays with pianist Jason D Williams. Amro has also seen quite a large number of famous customers in its 100 years. There is a poster on the wall of the second floor of the store that lists all of the names – well, probably not even ALL of the names – of Amro’s famous customers. It can also be found on Amro’s website. Here are the names of some of the bigger names on that list:Johnny Cash, BB King, Roy Orbison, Sam “The Sham” Zamudio, Paul Simon (one of my all-time favorites, Billy Joel, Carole King, Ben Folds (one of our favorites), Willie Nelson, Elton John, local legend and all around amazing guy Kirk Whalum… and just SO many more. And for one of the biggest names on the list, there’s even a receipt for proof! In March of 1967, Elvis Presley bought a Gibson SG Guitar, a used Epiphone amp, two guitar chord books, and a guitar chord chart. He also borrowed Amro’s Steinway concert grand piano to record several “Live at Graceland” albums. So many lives have been touched by Amro, in the best way possible. Local saxophone legend Lannie McMillan, and our former neighbor here in Vollentine Evergreen, had this to say about Amro, “Can you imagine all the great musicians Amro has helped start? It’s impossible to imagine what Memphis music would be without Amro Music’s influence.” I’m lucky and thankful to have such a wonderful and influential place to work every day. Like we said earlier, there are many reasons that Amro has thrived through its 100 years of business, and I hope there will be at least a hundred more. Wow! What a legacy! I’m always boastful when I tell people my fella works at Amro. But in all seriousness, it’s a wonderful local company that continues to thrive, even during the most challenging of times. It’s obvious that music is central and imperative to living your best life, just look at all the musical creativity that has come out of just the last 18 months while more people have been at home. We need music. And it’s proven that it makes you smarter… It is! Amro has been there and will continue to be there for the people, communities, band programs, and everything in between to help them achieve their musical goals. So if you’re in need of musical things, Amro is a great place to look and if they don’t have it, they will surely be able to point you in the right direction! Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoyed today’s story! https://www.amromusic.com/https://www.youtube.com/embed/OnaUWC2NrJE **Photos (and music) on this site are for informational purposes only and constitutes Fair Use under Section 107 of the US Copyright Law. We do not own the rights to these photos. **
41 minutes | Apr 26, 2021
Season 2: Episode Four: History of Memphis Breweries
22 minutes | Mar 22, 2021
Season Two: Episode Three: Memphis’s Oldest Eateries
27 minutes | Mar 2, 2021
Season 2: Episode Two: Earnestine & Hazel’s
28 minutes | Feb 14, 2021
Season 2: Episode One: Alice and Freda
“The day of our wedding was set, and then not all the powers in the world could have separated us. It was our intention to leave here and go to St. Louis, and I would have been Freda’s slave. I would have devoted my whole life to making her happy—But when Freda returned my engagement ring, it broke my heart. It was the most cruel thing I have ever suffered. I could not bear the idea of being separated from her, whom I loved more dearly than my life. I wrote to her and implored her to not to break off the engagement, but my letters availed nothing. I could not bear to think of her living in the company of others. Then, indeed, I resolved to kill Freda because I loved her so much that I wanted her to die loving me, and when she did die, I know she loved me better than any other human being on earth. I got my father’s razor and made up my mind to kill Freda, and now I know she is happy.” – Alice Mitchell Alice Mitchell was born November 26, 1872, in Memphis, to George and Isabella Mitchell, a relatively well off family. “Uncle George”, as he was called, was a partner in the furniture business, Mitchell and Bryson. Her mother, Isabella, was a homemaker with a somewhat sordid past of her own. After her first child was born, Isabella was committed to the mental ward for melancholia. The doctor diagnosed her with puerperal insanity, a “derangement or unstable state brought about by childbirth”. She stayed in the hospital for 2 months before “recovering”, only to find out that her child had died while she was away. While her mind became “unbalanced” again, she managed to pull herself out of it for fear that she would be committed again. Isabella had 7 children, but only 4 survived until adulthood. Her mental instability, supposedly, worsened with each birth. Alice was the last of Isabella’s children. As a child, Alice was not the typical girl of that time period. She did not enjoy needlepoint and sewing. Alice preferred swinging, climbing, marbles and tops, sports, and shooting rifles. She didn’t prefer the company of boys in the way most girls did. She was often rude to them, except for her brother with whom she spent time playing. She didn’t fare well in school, her teachers believed her to be “badly balanced” and she lacked the desire to read books or newspapers. Alice was “handsome” with hazel eyes and light brown hair, but she was never the fancy of the boys, they regarded her as mentally wrong. Alice was sent to the Higbee School for Young Ladies, as were many girls of well to do families. This is where she met Freda Ward. Freda, the tall, slender, blond haired, blue eyed girl was opposite of Alice in many ways…passionate, enjoyed music, and studious. Frederica “Freda” Ward was born March 5, 1874 to Thomas and Cornelia Ward. Thomas was a machinist at a fertilizer company. Besides Freda, the Ward’s had three other children. Unfortunately, Cornelia passed away in 1882. Thomas, Freda, and Jo stayed in Memphis for a while as Freda and Jo went to school, but some years later, they moved to Golddust, TN, about 80 miles north of Memphis, where the eldest married daughter, Ada, lived. Thomas became a merchant and planter, where he made a decidedly better living than in Memphis. His eldest daughter became like a mother to Freda. So let’s go back a bit, before the Wards moved away… Alice and Freda’s relationship began during their stay at Higbee’s. It was not uncommon, at that time, for young girls to act fondly towards each other. Kissing, hugging, and walking arm in arm was called “chumming” and was thought to be a girls training for their future relationships with their husbands. But Alice and Freda’s relationship was different. Alice felt a connection to Freda like she would a connection to a man. Freda appeared to have shared Alice’s affections, but somewhat less strongly. As it turns out, Alice fell in love with Freda, obsessively so, and they spent all their time at school together, as well as at home, eventually becoming lovers. When Freda’s family moved to Golddust, Alice was openly distressed. The two corresponded via mail often, expressing their love for each other. In the summer, Alice was able to go to Golddust to visit for several weeks. During this time, they resumed their previous relationship. Freda’s older sister Ada thought nothing of their affections, she assumed it was just something unwed girls did, since at that time, there was not really a word for what she was seeing. During the winter of 1890, Freda came to Memphis to visit and stay with Alice for several weeks. One night in particular, Freda decided to tell Alice about two men that were occupying her affections in Golddust. Two gentlemen, Ashley Roselle and Harry Bilger, had begun to openly take interest in Freda. This made Alice extremely upset. This is the first time we see Alice’s murderous tendencies. While in bed, Alice brandished a bottle of Laudanum, a mix of opium and alcohol which was used for pain relief. She was contemplating whether she would poison Freda with it. The concentrated dose could potentially kill Freda, or it could make her break out in an itchy rash, constrict her breathing, or have irritable bowels. But, Alice decided to not give it to Freda, holding on to the bottle. The next day when Freda was to depart back to Golddust, Alice followed her on to the steamer and shut the door of the cabin behind her, screaming “marry whomever you want,” and she downed the bottle of Laudanum. Alice did not die though, but she apparently suffered from the aforementioned ailments. As Alice was recovering at home, she continually wrote letters to Freda and they then resumed their regular correspondence. It was February of 1891 that Alice decided to make a move, and in a letter to Freda, she proposed marriage. Freda accepted. In fact, she accepted the proposal in three additional letters that Alice had sent her. In true Alice fashion, in her final proposal letter, she warned Freda that if she broke her promise of marriage, Alice would kill herself. Freda continued to agree to the marriage, and with that, Alice collected the money that she saved and bought an engagement ring for Freda, it cost her $15 Alice gave Freda this ring on her visit to Golddust in June of 1891. Freda accepted it and wore it, as well as freely showed affection for Alice. Alice was oddly ashamed of their public displays of affection. While Freda’s sister, Ada, who at first did not think much of the girls affections for each other, began to think it was disgusting. She was pleased to see Alice returning to Memphis. How were the girls going to manage getting married? Their plan was a complicated one. Alice would go to a barber and get her hair cut short like a man. She would buy mens clothes and start going by the name Alvin J. Ward. Freda would come down from Golddust and when she arrived, Alice would get a marriage license and they would either have a ceremony in Alice’s home church or before the Justice of the Peace, if her pastor did not agree to the wedding. Once they were married, Alice and Freda would go to St. Louis where Alice, aka Alvin, would continue the countenance of a man and get a job to provide for Freda. Unfortunately, they faced some hiccups along the way. The first was a suitor of Freda’s named Ashley Roselle, he was one of the men Freda had mentioned earlier. In July of 1891, he began to court Freda and she offered him her picture. Alice found out about this and was overcome by jealousy. She demanded Freda stop encouraging him. Freda told Alice that she would be true to her forever. The second problem they encountered was Freda’s sister, Ada. She found the letters Alice and Freda had been writing to each other. She found out their plan to marry each other and immediately forbade it. She told Freda that she would not be going to Memphis, but in an act of defiance, she went. Purely out of spite, her sister wrote letters to Alice and her mother to expose their secret. “Ere now you must fully realize that your supposed well laid plans to take Fred away have now gone awry. You should have taken into consideration that Fred had a sister watching over her, who had good eyes and plenty of common sense, and was fully competent to take care of her sister. I return your “engagement ring” as you called it, and all else that I know of you having Fred, as you won’t marry her yet awhile. Don’t try in any way, shape, form or manner to have any intercourse with Fred again. I thought you were a lady. I have found out to the contrary.” When Alice’s mother received the letter, she knew of Mrs. Volkmar’s (that’s Ada’s married name) frail health and believed it to all be a misunderstanding. The matter never resurfaced. Alice was quite distraught after they received the letter and the tokens of her affection back. She kept them locked in a box in the kitchen, returning often to look upon them. As the fall began, Alice started losing weight, losing interest in all things, acting strangely to her family and acquaintances. For example: during the winter months, Alice had ordered coal for the house. She ordered it in the name of Fred Ward though. She claims she didn’t remember doing this but her mind must have been on Freda. Those that knew her began to think she was not in her right mind. There were rumors of Freda’s return to Memphis in November, but they never came to fruition. In anticipation, Alice would carry around her father’s razor, already planning to do something despicable. When Freda didn’t come to Memphis, Alice took matters into her own hands, penning letters to Ashley Roselle, believing he was her rival and the reason Freda was not coming to Memphis. Freda did eventually make it to Memphis, in January 1892. Instead of staying with Alice, she stayed in Mrs. Kimbro’s boarding house. In an effort to see her, Alice wrote letters to her. She sent two but only one was received by Freda. She wrote “returned” on it and sent it back to Alice. Freda did eventually write back to Alice, but only after they two had passed each other on the street and there was no interaction between the two of them. “Dear Allie:I love you now and always will, but I have been forbidden to speak to you and I have to obey. You say I am as much to blame as you are. If I have done you any harm or caused you any trouble, I humbly beg your forgiveness. Please don’t let anyone know I wrote this. No one knows about that last summer’s business except our family, that is unless you have told someone. We go back to Golddust this evening. Freda Alice knew there was no steamboat on the evening of January 18, so she waited for one she knew was coming. On January 25, 1892, the steamboat arrived. Alice had her horse and buggy set up for an evening ride. She invited her friend Lillie Johnson, who brought her 6 year old nephew, along for the ride. As they were riding past Mrs. Kimbro’s house, she saw Freda and her sister Jo, on the way to the boat. Alice followed them to the boat, leaving Lillie and her nephew in the buggy, and ran after Freda on the cobblestones. Alice grabbed Freda and brandishing the razor, cut her face. Jo intervened but ended up getting cut too. Freda began to run off, but Alice caught her and cut her neck from ear to ear. Laying on the ground, bleeding to death, Alice ran from Freda back to her buggy. As she jumped in, she grabbed the reins from a very shocked Lillie, and began to drive erratically back to her home. During the ride, Lillie bewildered, tried to clean the blood off her face and Alice told her to leave it because it was Freda’s blood. When she asked Alice what she had done, she simply answered, “cut Fred”. When Alice got home, she told her mother what had happened and the police came. They waited for Alice’s father to arrive home before taking her to jail. She told the police that she cut Fred because she loved her and because she wouldn’t speak to her. At the time, it did not appear that she realized she had done anything wrong. She felt her best option was to marry Freda, but since she couldn’t, the next best thing was to kill her. It was her duty. She would be keeping her word to Fred. Alice felt no remorse for what she had done, although she did cry for Freda…because of her love for her. So now that we know how and why Freda was murdered, we can start the Trial portion of the story… To start, Lillie Johnson was arrested, as an accessory, even though she was unaware of Alice’s intentions. Her trial started February 23, 1892. The judge, Julius DuBose, delayed the hearings until the courtroom could be expanded. There was so much press coverage of this event, he wanted to make sure there was room for everyone. Big name cities, such as San Francisco and New York were sending reporters. Men and even a large number of women came out to see the spectacle. While Lillie’s lawyer’s insisted that she had no prior knowledge of what Alice had intended to do, Judge DuBose did not believe it. He said that “the proof is evident that the defendant aided and abetted in the commission of the crime, a crime, so atrocious and malignant ever perpetrated by a woman”. Lillie Johnson’s bail was set at $10,000 and she was released. Eventually the charges against Lillie were dropped. Alice Mitchell had some of the best lawyers money could buy…General Luke Wright and Colonel George Gantt. Gantt was considered one of the best litigators in Memphis. He knew the law and was unmatched in courtroom debate. Wright was the son of a TN supreme court justice and an attorney general in Shelby County. The evening of the arrest, her lawyers interviewed Alice and decided, with the help of her father, on a plea of insanity. In order to proceed towards a trial, the court had to prove she was fit to stand trial, given the plea of insanity. Alice’s father testified to her genetic disposition to madness. As mentioned earlier, they used the “evidence” of her mother having suffered from puerperal insanity after the birth of her first child and having to be committed to an insane asylum for several months. She became more unstable after she was released from the asylum and learned of her child’s death. With each child’s birth, the puerperal insanity worsened. This ailment was seen as having been passed down to her youngest daughter. The media, all over the nation, grasped on to this story and ran with it. They sensationalized everything, although some of the facts were correct, numerous were way off base. What they mainly focused on was the fact that Alice was not normal. Newspapers interviewed those that knew Alice personally. One of the things neighbors had to say was… “I live next door to Mr. George Mitchell and have known Alice for nine years or more, and have never considered her strong mentally. Her manner has been always flighty and unsettled and her ways were different from that of most girls. She was of an impulsive disposition, and given to doing very much as the present mood inclined her, whether it was to snatch up a rifle and stand about her yard shooting sparrows or to ride a bareback horse at break-neck speed about the premises. I have never seen anything about her conduct that was at all immodest, nor was she the least bit fast as regards to men. On the contrary, she seemed to care nothing for them and rather preferred the society of her own sex. . . . From a long and close knowledge of Alice Mitchell her act was that of an insane woman.” In addition to newspaper interviews, people in the community wrote to newspapers with outlandish stories of their own. One man said that three years prior to Freda’s murder, Alice would have been 16 at that time, she “made love like a man to his, now deceased, daughter”. Given all the speculation of Alice’s unnatural personality, loving and wishing to marry a woman and supporting her was clearly a sign of lunacy, it’s not surprising that the public had turned against her and were convinced that she was indeed insane. So, it would seem that the prosecution was in trouble. Their only true argument was that Alice was of sound mind and the defense was merely drumming up sympathy with sensational evidence. The prosecution was headed by Attorney General Peters and he stated that Alice was fast and jealous over a man, and while she was ill tempered and vindictive, she was not insane. Peters also challenged Alice’s moral character, reflecting negatively on the Mitchell’s well loved family. This rubbed the public the wrong way. The defense had won over the public. Gantt and Wright also helped their defense by questioning prominent and influential physicians to support their claim of insanity. The first physician diagnosed Alice with erotomania, though inaccurately described, they defined it as “unnatural affection between two persons of the same sex”. Other physicians claimed that erotomania was a “malady of the mind” and could easily lead to murder. The clincher of the defense’s claims was the fact that Alice’s testimony concluded by saying “and now I know she is happy”. How would any sane person be able to say someone who had been murdered is now happy? Unfortunately for the prosecution, it was hard to convince the judge and jury that a woman would pose as a man and try to provide for her as a man would. And killing Freda because she couldn’t have her, and now no one else could either, was something society did not understand. It was beyond comprehension that a woman would want to be with someone with whom she couldn’t reproduce. The jury believed that Alice didn’t choose Freda as a rational act, it was because of her diseased mind, which was passed on to her from her mother in utero. When all was said and done and the defense had rested, it took the jury 20 minutes to come back with a verdict of insanity. Alice was sent to the Western State Insane Asylum in Bolivar, TN. Alice died March 31, 1898. It has been said that she died of consumption, something that was spreading through the asylum, but there has been high speculations that she committed suicide by jumping in the asylum’s water tank. She was 25. Both Alice and Freda are buried at Elmwood Cemetery. **Photos on this site are for informational purposes only and constitutes Fair Use under Section 107 of the US Copyright Law. We do not own the rights to these photos. **
28 minutes | Dec 23, 2020
Episode Ten: The Orpheum Theater
The Orpheum we see today is not actually the original building. The original theater was not even called “The Orpheum” – that name wouldn’t appear on the front of the building until 1907. The original theater, built in 1890 on the southwest corner of Main and Beale, was known as the Grand Opera House. It was well known among theater-goers, and it was touted as the fanciest theater outside of New York City. It was managed by Frank Gray, a gentleman that had come up in theater, beginning his career as an usher. Mr. Gray was well-respected in the theater community for reliably booking only the best shows available, and was even nicknamed the “Dean of Southern Theater Managers.” Grand Opera House In 1899, the Grand Opera House was purchased by John D. Hopkins, already a theater owner in St. Louis and Chicago, who had a background in vaudeville and minstrel shows. The theater was renamed Hopkins Grand Opera. Hopkins immediately began making improvements to the theater, replacing the gas lamps with electric lighting and brightening the drab interior even further by repainting it in grey and gold. Even though vaudeville was the theater’s main focus, they also hosted more refined acts such as the great French stage actor, Sarah Bernhardt, during one of her world tours. Unfortunately, sophisticated acts like Sarah Bernhardt merely acted as a facade for some of Hopkins’s seedier dealings. He was involved in a lawsuit around 1906 because of his plan to sublease the theater to the Eastern Burlesque Wheel. This was not a popular idea among the theater community, and Hopkins drew so much harsh criticism that it prompted him to try and sell the theater. He had no such luck until more than a year later, when the theater changed hands to the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit. Hopkins died, presumably from kidney failure, just more than two years later. In the New York Times’s public announcement about the theater changing hands, a phrase was used to hint at what kind of theater fare the patrons could expect, and also to appeal to a more elite clientele… this phrase delights me to no end… After the functional portion of the announcement, telling about renovations and the name change, it says, “Advanced vaudeville will be served.” So finally we’re in 1907, and we have a theater in Memphis called “The Orpheum.” The theater saw great success with its vaudeville acts for nearly two decades. In 1923, a fire broke out either during, or just after (depending on the source) a striptease performance by the famous singer and recording artist, Blossom Seeley. Blossom is credited with playing a pivotal role in bringing jazz and ragtime to the mainstream in the US. Fortunately, no one was harmed in the fire, but the theater was a total loss – it burned to the ground. Fire of 1923 The site sat dormant for about 4 years, before ground was broken on a new theater, on the foundation of the old building, but the new building was twice as big, with a much more luxurious appearance. The new theater was designed by sibling architects named Cornelius and George Rapp. Their architecture firm, Rapp & Rapp, has quite the list of well-known buildings that they designed… enough so that they deserve for us to briefly tangent into their works. Rapp & Rapp were known to be the foremost designers of early 20th century movie palaces, having designed more than 400 theaters in their time. Here are some of the buildings that were designed by Rapp & Rapp. The Central Park Theater in New York City The Chicago Theater in – well, Chicago The Paramount Building in Times Square – that’s the one with the giant four-faced clock on top The Nederlander Theater in Chicago, formerly known as the Oriental Theater (the name was changed in 2019). And if you know even basic stuff about Chicago history, you might have heard about the devastating fire that happened in the Iroquois theater in 1903 that killed just short of 600 people, and began theater safety reform in the US… well, the Nederlander Theater, designed by Rapp & Rapp, replaced the Iroquois Theater. Also – I actually performed in that theater for a couple of weeks back in 2000. It’s really a lovely theater. Rapp & Rapp also designed most of the theaters in the Orpheum theater circuit… they’re all over the US. The new Orpheum Theatre was built at a cost of 1.6 million dollars – an enormous financial undertaking. In today’s dollars, that total would work out to somewhere around $23 million. The money was thought to have been well-spent once the theater patrons saw the extravagant furnishings, and the size of the seating area. The theater was built to seat around 2,800 people, making it twice as large as its predecessor, and also making it the largest theater in the Orpheum Circuit. The theater’s new furnishings featured gold and silver leaf, marble, lush carpets, crystal chandeliers, and a brand new Wurlitzer organ that was used for performances and also for accompanying silent films. The newly built theater opened its doors in October of 1928. Stage 1928 The theater was also equipped for talking pictures, which had been introduced a year before the theater’s opening with the release of The Jazz Singer, but like many other theaters, The Orpheum still made use of its pipe organ. The theater owners contacted the Wurlitzer Company and purchased a 3-manual, 13-rank, style 240 theater pipe organ. For those of you that might have just blacked out from technical jargon exposure, let me explain… no, there is too much… let me sum up… Style 240 is basically the model number of the organ. 3-Manual means that there are 3 tiers of keys, and that they are meant to be played with your hands (as opposed to a pedalboard, which is played with your feet). And finally, 13-rank refers to the number of pipe sets available for the organ to play through, which provide different sounds for the player to choose from. There are just over 1,100 pipes, ranging from 16 feet in length, all the way down to the size of a pencil. In the 1980s, an additional set of wooden pipes was donated to the theater to enhance the organ’s bass voice. Wurlitzer The Wurlitzer actually JUST returned in the past two months from undergoing a full restoration. The Orpheum launched a fundraising campaign about three years ago to raise the $500,000 necessary to restore the non-working parts of the instrument and restore the finish to its original beauty. The finish had been damaged during a small stage fire in the 1950s, when part of the original stage curtains caught fire and fell on top of the organ. We were not able to attend the post restoration concert that they held a few weeks back, but from what we hear, the organ looks and sounds fantastic. I always love when I get to geek out about the music-related stuff we run across when we’re writing these episodes… I might go on a little long when it comes to that stuff, but it’s only because I find it fascinating. OK, back to the subject at hand… As the popularity of movies increased, the popularity of vaudeville-style acts began to wane. Times were growing tighter and tighter, and when the Great Depression hit, The Orpheum just couldn’t survive. As a result, the theater was sold in 1940 to Michael Lightman, owner of the Malco theater chain. The name of the theater changed from The Orpheum to “Malco”, and they began showing first-run movies. The theater ran under the film-only format until 1977, when it was closed after a period of low attendance. The entirety of downtown became pretty desolate, and most of the businesses in the area were struggling. Malco 1970s After Lightman closed the theater, the building was actually in danger of being demolished. Thankfully, for all of us lovers of theater, this did not happen. In fact, in 1970, a group of concerned Memphians formed the Memphis Development Foundation in hopes of sparking a revitalization of the downtown area. To help this along, they purchased the theater, changed the name back to “The Orpheum,” and made plans to start bringing Broadway-style productions and concerts back to the theater. In 1980, Memphis Development Foundation hired Pat Halloran as its president and CEO. All you have to do is look to the Orpheum’s smaller venue to know how that relationship turned out. That theater is named “The Halloran Centre.” Pat Halloran held his position for 35 years. In 1982, thanks to some effective fundraising and campaigning by Memphis Development Foundation, acting under the name, “Friends of the Orpheum,” along with the generosity of Memphis and the Mid-South Community, 5 million dollars was raised to fund a full restoration of the Orpheum to return it to its 1928 grandeur. The restoration efforts worked wonders for the theater’s appearance, and they are still evident today – the theater currently looks very much like it did in 1928 when it first opened. Renovations 1982 The renovations were also geared toward making the theater more accessible for modern performers and audiences. Restrooms and dressing rooms were upgraded; new HVAC systems were installed; two loading docks were added to better accommodate touring shows; concession areas, additional restrooms, and a new box office were added on the south side of the lobby; and a green room was added in the northeast corner of the theater. Other updates included the construction of an expanded orchestra pit and a hydraulic pit lift that added extra space to the front stage area in the absence of an orchestra. After the renovations were completed, they celebrated their grand re-opening with a concert event called “Champagne and Gershwin.” In 1996, The Orpheum underwent a second, much larger renovation – to the tune of 8 million dollars. As Broadway shows became larger and more complex, their props and effects also became larger and more elaborate. To accommodate these needs, and to ensure that larger shows would include Memphis as a site on their tours, it was necessary to expand the loading docks, the stage, and the backstage areas. The orchestra pit was enlarged, loading docks were added and expanded, the stage was extended to a depth of 50 feet, new technology was installed, and 13 dressing rooms were added. There was also a warm-up area added behind the stage so that dancers could have enough room to ready themselves for shows. Stage today These improvements garnered interest from many of the larger Broadway shows, such as Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, and most recently – Hamilton. WIthout these expansions and improvements, The Orpheum could never have accommodated shows of this size. Actually, now that I think of it, the show that I performed with back in the early 2000’s, Blast!, is one of the shows that probably would have had a very hard time fitting on that stage prior to the expansion. I was no longer with the show when it came through Memphis, but I believe it was in March of 2003. So, ticket sales were growing, thanks to The Orpheum’s last facilities expansion, which began to turn the heads of major Broadway shows like the ones we just mentioned. But, in addition to this uptick in sales, the theater’s community outreach and educational programs became larger than the theater could accommodate inside its walls. In response to this, The Crump Firm drew up designs for a state-of-the-art educational facility that would house a 361-seat performance venue, lots of classrooms, and multi-purpose event spaces. In 2015, just to the south of the theater, the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts and Education was opened. It really is a beautiful venue. We went to see Raul Midon at the Halloran Centre, who, by the way is an amazing guitarist/singer/songwriter… look him up… Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in our first time at the Halloran Centre. This facility has done wonders for The Orpheum’s education and outreach efforts. They do such a wonderful job with this. It’s always amazing to hear about all of the events that they host for young people, and we’re extremely proud of the work they do. Here are some of the educational programs they host throughout the year, for those of you might not know: The Orpheum STAR Council… STAR stands for “Students Take a Role”… This program gives high school theater students an opportunity to learn what goes into hosting events at The Orpheum. They can assist with hosting the theater’s Saturday Series of educational events, help to coordinate the pre-show and post-show events for some shows, and even act as ushers during the performances. The Orpheum High School Musical Theatre Awards show is hosted to celebrate and promote musical theater in the Mid-South. This program is part of The Jimmy Awards, the national high school musical theatre awards program produced by The Broadway League that includes over 40 programs across the US. The Mending Hearts Camp, which is a performing arts day camp for young people who have suffered the loss of one or both parents. Surrounded by a group of peers who have suffered the same type of loss, they get to build self-confidence and find their creative voice through acting, movement, music, and design classes, culminating in a performance showcase at the end of the camp. Camp SAY… SAY stands for “Stuttering Association for the Young”… This is a free, two-day camp involving games and performance activities that are geared toward developing teamwork, communication, connection, and creativity, while accommodating the evolving needs of young people who stutter. The Orpheum Theatre Group Teaching Artist training program trains local artists and educators to harness their artistry and creativity to help create high-quality instruction for youth and communities throughout the Mid-South. They look for passionate, energetic, and open-minded artists who represent diverse cultural backgrounds, communities, and artistic disciplines, and their goal is to elevate the standard for teaching artistry in this area, and provide those young people with the skills to develop sustainable careers as teachers, while continuing to share their artistry with their community. The Orpheum and the Halloran Centre also host field trips (even virtual ones to cater to our current situation) for student groups, and many opportunities for teacher professional development. Now, I don’t know what other theaters do for their communities when it comes to education and community outreach, but it seems that if they’re doing even HALF of what the Orpheum is doing, that’s still a lot. I can only hope that other areas of the world have this type of participation in their communities from their local theater. So, in 2016 the Memphis Development Foundation found itself under new leadership when Pat Halloran decided to retire after 35 years. He was succeeded by Brett Batterson. New leadership also came with a re-branding. The organization was now called The Orpheum Theatre Group, and their stated mission is “to enhance the communities [they] serve by utilizing the performing arts to entertain, educate, and enlighten while preserving the historic Orpheum Theatre and the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education.” Since then, there has been one more set of renovations completed, involving the addition of more restrooms and restoring much of the gold leaf work and re-painting the auditorium’s ceiling. We can tell you first-hand that the addition of more restrooms has had a huge effect on our Orpheum experience. If you ever went to a show prior to 2016, you might have noticed that being able to say you got to go to the restroom during intermission was like saying you had won a 200 meter sprint. If your fanny wasn’t speed-walking up the aisle before the intermission house lights came up, you were likely to be holding it for another 90 minutes or so. So, we really appreciate those restroom additions. Counting all of the spaces in both The Orpheum and The Halloran Centre, there are eight different spaces that are available to rent – people host everything in these spaces… performances, company parties, conferences, weddings, receptions… you name it, they’re set up to host it. The Orpheum provides bartenders and housekeeping, and they have a list of preferred catering services that you can choose from if you rent space from them. Between having such gorgeous facilities to the fact that the theater is smack in the middle of downtown, it’s kind of hard to beat when it comes to hosting an event. All of the information can be found on The Orpheum’s website. So, not too long ago (but prior to the pandemic), when the planets aligned and we both had a weekday off at the same time, we went on one of the Orpheum daytime tours, and it was fantastic! These tours are given by volunteer docents, called FOTOs (which stands for Friends of the Orpheum), and not only did they do a tremendous job, but these two ladies were absolutely adorable. One of them was named Dorothy, but sadly I cannot remember the other one’s name. They were both retirees, and they now volunteer a LOT of their free time to The Orpheum. FOTO Volunteers give guided tours, they help scan or collect tickets at the theater entrance, they assist with pre-show and post-show events, and they are also the lovely, smiling people that hand you your program and show you to your seat at each performance. They selflessly volunteer their time simply because they love The Orpheum. The FOTO volunteers also host cast parties or luncheons for the shows that pass through The Orpheum, where they will actually cook and prepare all of the food for the gathering. These parties are typically held in The Broadway Room, which is in the northeast corner of the theater. We have heard from multiple sources that this is something that touring casts and crews know about ahead of time, and look forward to, when they perform in Memphis. As far as anyone knows, these FOTO cast gatherings are the only time on their tours that a group from the host theater prepares home-cooked food for the casts and crews. They have been doing this for nearly 40 years at this point. They have even recently released a cookbook of some of the favorite recipes from these FOTO cast parties, and we are soon to have one of those on its way to our house! If you’re interested in having a copy of your very own, it’s available on The Orpheum’s website, and it’s called, “The Cast Party: A Collection of Recipes by the Friends of the Orpheum.” I think they sell for $20, which is a great deal. So, one of the coolest parts of the guided tour we took of The Orpheum was getting to see the show murals that are painted all over the walls in the backstage areas. Typically, when a cast comes through a town, especially if it’s their first time performing a theater, a mural is painted somewhere backstage representing their show… sometimes it’s a reproduction of their show’s Playbill or poster, or sometimes they do a different mural for the specific touring cast… but once it is finished, the whole cast and crew of the show will sign the mural. The walls of The Orpheum’s backstage area are covered in these murals. My show, Blast!, even has a mural backstage at The Orpheum. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t still with the show when they came through Memphis, but about 60% of the touring cast at that point were people that I had performed with, so that was fun to see. For those of you that don’t know this, I performed in the Original London and Broadway casts of a show called Blast!, and between London and Broadway, we did a short test tour in about 8 cities around the US. I left the show in 2001 after we closed in New York. We were one of the shows that didn’t survive the theater closings after 9/11, and we closed a short time later. I’m sad that we closed, but it brought me back to Memphis, so hey… silver linings. We would be remiss to not talk about The Orpheum’s most popular permanent resident… Mary. And we really wouldn’t be us if we didn’t lean a little toward the spooky when the opportunity arose, now would we? No, we would not. For those that have not heard the tales… Mary is The Orpheum’s favorite resident ghost. Although nobody can say definitively how Mary came to reside in the theater, it is believed that she met her end either by a trolley or car accident near the theater and wandered in after she passed, or that she was injured in the crash and brought inside the theater, where she then passed. Some stories also say that she died in the fire that destroyed the theater in the early 1900s. Mary has been spotted in various places inside the theater, and one of those places is her favorite seat – Seat C5 on the Mezzanine level. Rumor has it, if you sit in her seat for a performance, you just might be in for a little pestering from a cranky, 12-year-old spirit. We won’t go into more detail about other spirits that are said to roam around the Orpheum – this is a Christmas season episode, afterall, not a Halloween episode. We’ll save that stuff for later. Speaking of Christmas – here’s a gift idea for the theater lover in your world. The Orpheum has a program called Name A Seat where you can personalize a name plate to be installed on any seat in the theater (well, any seat that’s not already taken, of course). I don’t know of a better way to honor your theater-loving friend or family member (or yourself… that’s what we’re going to do) than to make their name a permanent fixture in such a wonderful theater. At some point we will do this because I definitely want to be immortalized at the Orpheum. Thanks for listening to the story we unearthed! This is our last episode for this season! Woohoo! We’ll be back with season two in February! As always, you can find us on your favorite podcast listening app. Also, check out our website at unearthedmemphis.com, follow us on Instagram @unearthedmemphis, Facebook at Facebook.com/unearthed901, Twitter @unearthed901 or drop us an email at email@example.com. We love to hear from everyone! Questions, comments, suggestions, corrections, or just chatter is appreciated and enjoyed! We’d also like to thank you all, our wonderful listeners for tuning in to hear us geek out about our amazing city. We truly enjoy sharing our research with everyone, and we hope you’re enjoying it too! We do feel very lucky that you lovely people have decided that we’re worthy of your valuable time. If you have just a tiny bit more time, it would help us greatly if you would share the podcast with your friends. Word of mouth, even in a virtual form, like sharing on social media, is a powerful thing for podcasts. Another thing that would help us out a lot, if you have the time, would be to write a review for our podcast on whichever podcast app you use to listen. Disclaimer: We are not historians, we are simply two people who are interested in Memphis history. We have done research and are trying to provide accurate history as best we can. There is a possibility some of these statements are incorrect, but we have tried to verify all the info so that we are not putting out any untrue info. To the best of our knowledge, what we are saying is correct, but let us know if you have any things to add or correct. In the show notes, you will find links to the articles we used and book titles, etc to gather our information. https://www.broadway.org/theatres/details/orpheum-theatre-memphis,257https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orpheum_Theatre_(Memphis)https://orpheum-memphis.com/about-us/history/https://focusmidsouth.com/blog/original-memphis-orpheum-theatre/https://www.memphisheritage.org/orpheum-theatre/https://www.tennesseehauntedhouses.com/real-haunt/orpheum-theatre.htmlhttps://www.southernliving.com/travel/mississippi/the-orpheum-memphishttp://www.historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/movietheaters/orpheum-malco.htmlhttps://styleblueprint.com/memphis/everyday/orpheum-theatre-memphis/http://www.historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/movietheaters/hopkins-orpheum.html **Photos on this site are for informational purposes only and constitutes Fair Use under Section 107 of the US Copyright Law. We do not own the rights to these photos. **
25 minutes | Nov 25, 2020
Episode Nine: Ratifying the 19th Amendment
20 minutes | Nov 10, 2020
Episode Eight: Clara Conway & the Clara Conway Institute
Clara Conway was born in New Orleans, LA, August 14, 1844, to poor Irish immigrants, Margaret Riordan Conway and Thomas Conway, who came to America in the early 19th century. (I’ve read she came to Memphis in 1846, that she was brought to Memphis in 1855 when her parents died, but also that she simply moved here in 1864.) She was educated at St. Agnes Academy in Memphis, but primarily studied at home for most of her education. She also did some studying abroad. (Given this information, it would seem the 1855 date would be more accurate.) Conway began her professional career as a public school teacher. It was said that she “seemed possessed of natural gifts particularly qualifying her for the work of teaching. Her peculiar abilities for imparting knowledge and inspiring to effort all with whom she came in contact were of such rare value as to be quickly recognized.” She became principal for the Alabama Street School and the Market Street School. She was considered an outstanding teacher and was frequently featured in newspapers. She was the first woman to assist in the organizations of teachers’ institutes. In 1873, she was proposed for superintendent of public schools in Memphis, in an effort to have female educators recognized for their merits. She was endorsed by The Memphis Appeal, who wrote: “We are in receipt of several letters from person’s connected with the public school system of Memphis and others who have a direct personal interest in them, advocating for the election of Miss Clara Conway to the position of Superintendent of the Public Schools, and the only reason we have for rejecting them was their length. They all exceeded the limits we have named for correspondence. To the election of Miss Conway to so high and responsible a position we can see no objection. She possesses all the ability requisite for it with the experience of several years as an educator (Clara Conway was Principal of the Alabama Street School for several years.) To the gentleness and refinement of a cultivated lady she invites all the firmness requisite to the director of our schools… We do not know a man in our city who can surpass her in fitness. If Miss Clara Conway will accept the position, she has the hearty support of the Appeal and we hope she will be elected.” The efforts to elect a female superintendent ultimately failed and Miss Conway’s name was not even mentioned in the election. But nevertheless, the call for a female superintendent was a brilliant maneuver, the failure exposed the powerlessness of women to protect their interests as long as they lacked the rights to participate in the electoral process. Over time, Conway found herself becoming more interested in providing women with the ability to have a quality education. Her study of educational methods inspired within her the desire to establish a system of education for girls which should be based on absolute thoroughness. Her idea was that women should be so taught that, if conditions make self-support necessary, they could fill professional careers. Conway was the first Southern woman to attend the teachers’ summer school in the North. She recognized the need for a school for girls in Memphis that would offer such educational advantages as those that were offered at the best schools in the North. Conway visited schools in the north for six months in the winter of 1876 for the purpose of making a careful and thorough study of the best modern school systems. In 1877, she left her position in the public school sector and founded a school of higher education for girls, one that would prepare them for economic independence. She believed education would be a woman’s liberation. It would be what would prepare them “to take part in the work of the world”. She believed that society had little use for idle helpless women as it did for idle helpless men. She believed independence was one of the highest attributes of womanhood. She would also say that the woman’s highest duty is first and foremost to herself, not her husband. Conway’s school began with $300 of borrowed money, 50 students, and one assistant. Her school had a kindergarten, a new idea for Memphis, where young children would start out with a good foundation, well preparing them for the future. Young students would learn free hand drawing to help with their technical skills, hand, eye, and mind coordination. In an ad from 1879, Conway pleads to parents saying that “no parent should deprive a little one of this beautiful mental, moral, and physical health care giver”. Conway put a lot of stock in educating children from a young age. For older students, there were a myriad of subjects to learn and events to participate in. Conway’s goal was to create a college preparatory school for girls, so they would be able to attend the best eastern women’s colleges. Breadth, thoroughness, and development of power were aims of the school. These aims were gained by tailoring each student’s studies based on their individual needs. A noble, self reliant womanhood is the chief end sought throughout the years of school life. The number of students at the Institute continued to grow and it was apparent that schools needed trained teachers. Conway decided to add a “normal” department, which is a school for training teachers, so that would-be teachers would have a place to learn and practice. The summer of 1882, Conway went to Europe in preparation for taking her students abroad a couple years later. This feature would allow students to add travel to their fields of study, visiting famous historical scenes and learning about literature, art, and architecture. By 1884, the school had grown to 250 students and around 10 teachers. During the summers, Conway would take her teachers to a normal institute in Martha’s Vineyard, where she herself had taken courses. Also in 1884, Conway went to the National Educational Association in Madison, Wisconsin and read a paper she had written on the needs of Southern women. The Memphis Daily Appeal wrote an article on her speech, and here’s an excerpt from that article: A Plea for the Education of Women in the South She blew away the 6000 teachers convened at the National Educational Association meeting. Her name was on every tongue, not necessarily because of what she said, but how she said it. Her earnestness was intense, her lips quivered with emotion, and a glow came into her pale cheeks, while her brilliant black eyes flashed an accompaniment to the fire of her tones. Her discourse was a plea for the women of her section, who she declared were in need of educational advantages now denied them.Clara focused on the fact that there was scarcely a college that was available to women in the South. She led with the example that a boy may find the best (university), while his sister, even though she be his superior mentally, having the same or higher ambitions, aspirations, and hopes, must go to far off colleges for a full education, or must be content with the superficial course of the down academy or the fashionable boarding school. She debunked the myths of women being able to get married for financial support, and posed the questions: “What if she doesn’t? What if she does but then she’s left alone with her children to support?What if she can sew? If she has that ability, but it’s not a sustainable profession.What if she can teach? What if she is not qualified and doesn’t understand the child’s mind in order of their true development? Teacher’s work is sacred. Had she the opportunity for a proper education, maybe I could have helped her, but that was only offered to her brother. We have educated our girls to believe that their very helplessness is the best appeal to the helpfulness of some man who will one day become the protector and breadwinner.If you were to say this is what God meant in the beginning, I say I have no means of determining what God meant. Evil in the world today is rampant. Hundreds of women and children are without protectors and what is worse, unable to protect themselves. Your argument would have some force, a very little, if every woman married happily and could have a guarantee, signed, sealed, and delivered that her husband should be strong, temperate, competent, and long lived. But it has no force at all while unmarried women are on every hand and orphaned children fill the air with their piteous lamentations. The promise of a happy home and wifehood cannot be given. In the face of the glaring and terrible stories of desertion, cruelty and murder that fill our papers, do you tell me that woman should not be fitted for a life work as well as a man?There is a senseless prejudice against the liberal education of women, which finds its best expression in the term “strong minded, “ applied to any woman who thinks, reads, and reasons. It is said that such women are not fond of the home, that they neglect its duties and find their chief happiness elsewhere. The end of the paper, she goes on to debunk this as well, naming numerous educated women who tend not only to their occupations but also their homes. As the number of Clara’s students increased, the need for a larger building was apparent. In 1884-85, a board of trustees was formed from a number of the city’s most influential businessmen. The school was incorporated and a stock formed, allowing for the building of a new school. The Clara Conway Institute (as it was now called), rightly, boasted a top notch reference library, a well equipped gym for gaining a firm step, a graceful carriage, and a strong well developed form, a science lab for the study of chemistry and physics, and even an art studio. Courses were offered in voice, piano, music theory, public speaking, trigonometry, art history, philosophy, political economy, and civil government. Elocution lessons prepared the way for excellent, well formed speech. There was a three year literature course, with an in depth study of Shakespeare, as well as German and French authors. By 1891, it had over 300 students and 26 faculty, some of which had graduated from the Institute, and a building worth about $75,000. There was also an off campus residence hall for students that came from away. The school was thriving and the students were so well educated, some were admitted to schools such as Vasser without examination, and Wellesley recommended and recognized it for its excellence. In Conway’s quest for higher education, she continued to write papers and do interviews emphasizing the need for a women’s college in the South. In a paper she wrote for the Eagle publication, Conway says that while we have great primary, secondary, and high schools for girls, there is no Vasser or Wellesley, Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, or Smith. Our girls have to travel far from home for college culture or do without. A large majority cannot leave home for apparent reasons, money and ability to travel, and they are at a great disadvantage because they are of able mind and their training is absolutely essential. She pleads for a college in the South, so magnificently endowed with provisions for student aid that no good girl in search of an education would be turned away. It should combine all the requirements of the best discipline and instruction. Its foundation should be laid in the thorough training of the English according to the most approved methods. There should be a department of domestic economy, so well equipped that every graduate of the college might be prepared, not only for housekeeping, but for home keeping. In another article written about Conway and her accomplishments, she expresses that interest to start a college in the South. She believed $500,000 would be sufficient to start the school. It would ensure a small cost and the ability to provide some scholarships. Unfortunately, that dream of Conway’s would not come to pass. By 1893, Conway’s “ambition” of being a college preparatory school, over the opposition of the trustees, was likely the cause of the Institute’s demise. Her emphasis on independence for women and urging graduates to attend progressive Eastern colleges may have been too much for the all male trustee board. She tried to reassure them that practical housekeeping was also taught and reminded them that ignorant women made bad wives and mothers, but to no avail. The school closed. Conway continued to teach, by herself, for a few more years, before ultimately stopping to help further another cause she had involved herself in, the Nineteenth Century Club. 1904 Nineteenth Century Club In the spring of 1890, a small group of Memphis elite women formed a club dedicated to the intellectual development of women. It would become one of the South’s foremost female organizations. This group elected Mrs. Robert C. Brinkley as the first president. She had impeccable social credentials and was a leader in Memphis society. Her husband was also influential in the business community. With Brinkley and 15 charter members (Conway included), they formed the club. In early May, the newly donned Nineteenth Century Club had gained a total of 80 members and in a meeting at the Gayoso Hotel, they wrote the constitution and by laws. Their motto was coined by Conway, “influence is responsibility”. The club’s constitution stated that their objective was to promote female intellect by encouraging a spirit of research in literary fields and provide an intellectual center for the women of Memphis. They actively engaged in moral, philanthropic, and educational projects. It provided a means for intelligent women to implement their ideas about the direction of the city’s growth. They would strive to improve civic pride and elevate civic ideals. And while they claimed to not have any political intentions, it was clear they were intent on involving themselves in politics. They wanted Memphis to become a vibrant, people filled city, which included parks, schools, hospitals, asylums, and playgrounds and they attempted to influence city officials to get that done. The story of the Nineteenth Century Club is an interesting one and in order to do it justice, we will be dedicating an entire episode to it. Conway published a book in 1902, called Silver Lined Days- leaves from a notebook of old world travel, about the experiences of traveling in Europe at the turn of the century. She passed away in Nov of 1904 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery. Clara Conway was a pioneer for women’s independence. Her tenacity and drive for what she believed in made her well respected, not only in Memphis, but around the country. Her legacy will continue to live on as people learn of the great things she accomplished. And that is the story of Clara Conway and her contribution to helping the women of Memphis gain strength and independence. Conway Pergola in Overton Park- destroyed 1936 Citations Elite Women and the Reform Impulse in Memphis, 1875-1915Marsha Wedell, 1991 Memphis Music: Before the Blues, Time Sharp,Arcadia Publishing, Apr 11, 2007 Berkeley, K. (1984). “The Ladies Want to Bring about Reform in the Public Schools”: Public Education and Women’s Rights in the Post-Civil War South. History of Education Quarterly, 24(1), 45-58. doi:10.2307/367992 Addresses and Proceedings – National Education Association of the United States: Volume 44, National Education Association of the United States, January 1, 1905. Cosmopolitan, Volume 12, Schlicht and Field., 1891, A REALIZED IDEAL. By Lucy Graham Crozier p.885 Commercial and Statistical Review of the City of Memphis, Tenn: Showing Her Manufacturing, Mercantile and General Business Interests, Together with Historical Sketches of the Growth and Progress of the “Bluff City,” Also Sketches of the Principal Business Houses and Manufacturing Concerns, January 1, 1883, Reilly & Thomas Chattanooga Daily Times, Sept 1, 1892 Memphis Daily Appeal- July 23, 1884 https://www.memphistechhigh.com/earlyeducators.html https://historic-memphis.com/biographies/conway/conway.html https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/eagle/congress/conway.html http://historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/marketschool/marketschool.html https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Woman_of_the_Century/Clara_Conway **Photos on this site are for informational purposes only and constitutes Fair Use under Section 107 of the US Copyright Law. We do not own the rights to these photos. **
24 minutes | Oct 27, 2020
Episode Seven: The Tale of Pink Lizzie
Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…I call this story The Tale of Pink Lizzy. A two story mansion at 683 Fifth Street, on the corner of Fifth & Georgia, became home to one of Memphis’s most iconic, yet not widely known today, ghost stories. Col. W.J. Davie, the President of Southern Bank of Tennessee, built his mansion between the years 1855-1859 and lived there until October 1866. Apparently, in 1860, Davie secured a loan from Col. Robert C. Brinkley for $30,000 worth of stock in the Memphis Charleston Railroad, using his home as collateral. He was to repay the loan in four years. Unfortunately, the Civil War broke out, the bank was failing, and the military took over the railroad rendering the stock useless. To avoid Brinkley foreclosing on Davie’s mortgage, Davie decided to “sell” Brinkley the home, for the cost of the bond and $15,000, to clear his debt. Over the next two years, Brinkley renovated the mansion into a school for girls. And in 1868, the Brinkley Female College opened its doors as a boarding school housing 50 girls, under the headmaster J.D. Meredith. Upon opening, the college already had a reputation for being haunted by Davie, who was rumored to have gone insane after he went bankrupt. Brinkley Female College Our story begins on February 21, 1871, a 13 year old blonde haired student, Clara Robertson was in an upstairs room of the Brinkley Female College, practicing piano when she noticed an emaciated little girl, about 8 years old, in a dirty pink dress, coming towards her. Panic stricken, Clara ran to another room and jumped on the bed, hiding her face in the pillow. The transparent little girl followed her into the room and placed her hand on the pillow near Clara’s head. After a few minutes, the little girl disappeared. Clara ran to tell her fellow classmates what happened and of course, no one believed her. She ran home crying because of all the teasing and taunting from her classmates. When she returned to school the next day, no one spoke of the incident and Clara began to think it was just a prank. Her fears were only set aside for one day though. The following day, the little girl appeared again. This time there were other students present. It’s not really known if the two other girls really saw anything or if they were just playing around with Clara. Regardless, they all screamed and ran downstairs to get a teacher. This time, when Clara returned upstairs, the little girl spoke to her as the newspaper called it, “like a perturbed spirit in Hamlet”. The little ghost girl told her there were valuables buried in the yard and she wanted Clara to find them. It was now apparent that the adults needed to get involved. Clara’s father, J.C. Robertson, a prominent Memphis lawyer, spoke with the headmaster, Mr. Meredith and decided there needed to be an investigation. Robertson was worried about his daughter’s well being, while Meredith was worried about the reputation of his school. The following week, Mr. Meredith decided to question the students about the ghost, while Clara was made to wait outside. While Clara was in the schoolyard, the little ghost girl appeared to her again. This time, when she spoke, she told Clara to not be alarmed, her name was Lizzie, and that she would not harm her. Lizzie told Clara that her family had owned this building and it was stolen from them. She wanted Clara to undo the wrongs that had been done to her family. If Clara could find the papers and other valuables buried in the yard, she could claim possession of the property as her own. She also added that if Clara did not do what she had asked, then Lizzie would never do any good to or for anyone. After this incident, Clara told her father she was not going back to school. Her father contacted one of his clients, Mrs. Nourse, a spiritual medium, for help. Mrs. Nourse convinced Mr. Robertson to hold a seance at their home. Several neighbors came over and gathered around the table. Not long after the seance started, it appeared something had taken over Clara. At first, she sat slumped over, but then her arms began to flail around to the point where she needed to be restrained so that she wouldn’t hurt herself. Once she calmed down, she was given a pencil and paper. She first wrote the name Lizzie Davie, and then began writing down, filling page after page, everything that had happened in the past week. As people started asking her questions, she began to write down the answers. Lizzie, through Clara, began to tell of the valuables buried in the schoolyard. Under a tree stump, there was jewelry, several thousand dollars, and the title to the home. Men who attended the seance decided to go to the schoolyard and locate the stump and began digging. Mr. Meredith agreed to this because he knew it was the only way to lay this story to rest. At this point, the Memphis newspapers went wild with reports of the Pink Lizzie ghost story. It was the talk of the town. Bars even started creating “Ghost Cocktails” for their patrons. Spiritual mediums started holding seances all over the city, using techniques like table tipping, slate writing (writing on a small chalkboard), and tambourine banging to communicate with the dead. Clara began attending some of these seances, communicating with Lizzie through slate writing. While the men were digging under the tree stump, about five feet down, they found a layer of bricks. During this time, Clara was at home playing when Lizzie appeared to her again, questioning why she was not the one digging for the valuables. She told Clara that she was to find them for herself, and then she disappeared. Clara immediately went to the school and told the men digging what happened. As she stepped into the hole that the men had dug, she fainted. Once revived, she told them that she had seen a glass jar with the valuables inside. Clara returned home and Mrs. Nourse was called over for another seance. Clara told Lizzie she was not able to dig and asked if her father could take her place. Lizzie agreed but told her, once her father recovered the glass jar, it could not be opened for sixty days. Mr. Robertson and a crew of people went back to the schoolyard and after about an hour of digging, he found a moldy jar containing several bags and a large envelope. He brought the jar home and hid it in the safest place he could think of, the outhouse. Infamous Jar Clara was sent to visit relatives until it was time to open the jar. She had been through enough stress and her father thought she needed rest. Mr. Robertson had decided to open the jar at the Greenlaw Opera House, at the southwest corner of Union Ave and Second St. The public could purchase tickets for one dollar and half the proceeds would go to Clara for her troubles and the other half to an orphanage called Church Home. Unfortunately the public opening never happened. Prior to the big event, Mr. Robertson had guests to his home for a party and overheard some noise outside. He went to investigate and came upon thieves stealing the jar. They hit him over the head, rendering him bleeding and unconscious. The jar was never recovered. Since Lizzie’s request was never fulfilled, it appears a “curse” was put upon the school. Brinkley Female College closed shortly after the events in 1871. Mr. Meredith opened the Meredith Female College at the corner of Main St and Broadway. It survived for only three years. Brinkley had a hard time finding tenants for the home. He let it to the Corn family for many years, in exchange for maintaining the property. They eventually were forced to move out as a man from up north offered to rent the house. Brinkley agreed but soon discovered he was holding seances there and asked him to leave. The Corn family moved back in and took care of the property for several more years. The property was eventually sold and divided into apartments for the railroad workers and then became tenement housing. As the area around the home began to become more industrialized, the Wurzburg Paper manufacturer bought the land and moved its residents to homes of their choosing. In 1972, the home was dismantled and Jim Williams, a local businessman, purchased it and planned on reconstructing it on land outside of Jonesboro, AR. Even though the home was gone and new warehouses were built on the land, it’s rumored that contractors working at night would still hear noises, papers would fly off shelves, and drastic temperature changes were felt in the buildings. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for spirits to return to new structures that have been built on the same site of previous hauntings. So what happened to little Clara Robertson? One of Clara’s closest friends in school was Lula Franklin. She said that Clara was a changed girl after the incidents. She became distant from her friends. There are claims that Clara began to practice spiritualism in her home. It is also said that she became the second wife of a spiritualist, whose first wife’s ghost would kick Clara out of her bed at night. But it was also said that when she was 18, she married a wealthy 72 year old widower and they had several children. Clara would pass from tuberculosis. In 1871, friends of the Davie family verified the information Clara had given was true. Lizzie Davie had died in the home in 1861 and she was buried in a little pink dress. So was the story of Pink Lizzie an elaborate hoax made up by a bored, creative, mischievous child, or did a young girl come back from the grave to seek revenge for her family? Citations & Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPLDVScaNqU Haunted Memphis Laura Cunningham 2009 History Presshttp://www.historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/brinkley-female-college/brinkley-female-college.html http://lcweb2.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/tn/tn0100/tn0127/data/tn0127data.pdf https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/myth/ghosts.htm **Photos on this site are for informational purposes only and constitutes Fair Use under Section 107 of the US Copyright Law. We do not own the rights to these photos. **
23 minutes | Oct 14, 2020
Episode Six: Woodruff- Fontaine House
The Victorian Village is a small neighborhood next to Memphis' Medical District, at the edge of downtown. The area’s most famous characteristic is its collection of 19th-century mansions, which are well-known for their beautiful architecture. If anyone is not familiar with the Victorian architectural styles for which this area was named, it’s really interesting to research, especially if you’re a fan of really pretty buildings like we are. To even brush past all of the Victorian styles that are present in the world, or even in the US, would take a lot of time and much more knowledge than we possess, so we’re just going to point out some of the characteristics of the Woodruff-Fontaine house, since… well, that’s what this episode is about. Woodruff- Fontaine House Woodruff-Fontaine is considered to be built in Second Empire French-Victorian style, which can be characterized by having elaborate detailing; a heavy cornice (which is decorative trim where the walls meet the roof); a square tower located at the center of the facade; a railing around the top of the roof; hooded or bracketed windows; tall, almost floor-to-ceiling windows on the first floor; and steps leading from the street up to the doorway. If you’ve ever seen the Woodruff-Fontaine house, this should all sound familiar. Symmetry and balance are very important in this style, and there’s a perfect example in the foyer of the house. There are matching doors on either side of the pathway leading through the back of the foyer. One of them functions as a door and the other opens onto a brick wall. It was built there simply to keep the room balanced and symmetrical. (Fun fact, the fake door, that was put in place to create the symmetry, has the names of the builders, I believe, signed on the back of it) Most of the amazing homes that still remain in Victorian Village have now been renovated and, like Woodruff-Fontaine, serve as museums that teach visitors about the Victorian era in the US. One of the homes, the James Lee House, has been turned into a beautiful bed & breakfast, and another one is an upscale, retro-chic bar known as Mollie Fontaine’s. In the mid-19th century, Memphis experienced a period of growth that can be credited to an influx of entrepreneurs, lawyers, and politicians. Some of Memphis’s wealthiest residents built lavish, Victorian-style homes in what was then the outskirts of the city, but is now right in the heart of the city. This area became known as the Victorian Village, and the main street through the neighborhood was nicknamed "Millionaires Row." As the city expanded, this neighborhood became less appealing and less exclusive, and by the end of World War II, many of the wealthy residents had abandoned their mansions and moved to more affluent areas. Sadly, many of the original homes have since been torn down. All of the remaining houses in the neighborhood are safe from this same fate because they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Woodruff-Fontaine House also has quite an interesting history… Amos Woodruff and his brother came to Memphis from Rahway, New Jersey in 1845 to expand their carriage-making business. Although his brother returned home to New Jersey, Amos stayed in Memphis and found great success in multiple business ventures. In addition to his carriage-making business, he was involved in establishing two banks, a railroad company, an insurance company, a hotel, a cotton compress firm, and a lumber company. He also became the President of the City Council and ran for mayor twice. Amos Woodruff In 1870, Amos Woodruff purchased land next to the Goyer House, now known as the James Lee House, paid $12,000 for the plot and began construction on the mansion. The house was designed by Edward Culliatt Jones and Matthias H. Baldwin, who owned a local architecture firm, and would end up costing the Woodruffs $40,000 to build. Edward Jones was the architect behind some well-known churches in M...
37 minutes | Sep 16, 2020
Episode Five: Ida B. Wells
Ida Bell Wells was born July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, MS. Her parents, James and Lizzie Wells, were enslaved in Holly Springs when she was born. Her father was the son of a white man and one of his slaves named Peggy. At age 18, James went to Holly Springs to learn carpentry and he worked as a hired out slave. According to Wells, her father knew very little of the cruelties of slavery. Her mother, on the other hand, was taken from her family and sold to an architect, Mr. Bolling, in Holly Springs, where she became his cook. Ida’s mother and father met when they were both enslaved at the architect’s home (now called Bolling- Gatewood House) in Holly Springs. About six months after Ida was born, she and her parents were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. After Ida’s parents were freed, they stayed in Holly Springs. Her father, James, founded a carpentry business (this happened after he quit working for Mr. Bolling. Bolling was pressuring him to vote Democratic and when he refused, he came back to a locked shop. James left the shop, went downtown to buy new tools, and rented a house across the street to open his own shop.) Ida’s mother, Lizzie, was a famous cook in the city. Both of her parents were active in the Republican Party. Side note: There was a time when the Republican and Democratic parties had opposite platforms, and over the years they switched to what we know today. According to livescience.com, during the 1860s, Republicans were Northerners in favor of expansion of federal power. It was Lincoln’s party. The Democrats were Southerners, who did not want the federal government to have all the power, they believed it belonged to the individual states. The Republicans passed laws to protect African Americans and fought for social justice after the Civil War. The party lines began to blur in the early 1900s when a Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, emphasized the government’s role in social justice reform through expansion of the government, a traditionally Republican stance. So why did this happen? After the Civil War, new western states were acquired and both parties were vying for their attention. The Democrats saw that using the federal government to fund social programs and benefits was beneficial for their platform in trying to win over western states. The Republicans naturally took the opposing position and called for a hands off approach. They began to appeal to big business. Big business originally needed more government help with infrastructure, currency, and tariffs, but once established, the hands off approach was better. It allowed them more freedoms to do what they wanted. James Wells became a trustee in Shaw College (now Rust College), a school for newly freed slaves. The school was established in 1866 for adults and children, by the Freedman’s Aid Society, of which James Wells was a member. It was originally called Shaw College after Reverend Shaw, who donated $10,000 to the new school. In 1915, in order to not confuse it with Shaw University, they renamed it Rust College, after Richard Rust, the secretary of the Freedman’s Aid Society. As time went on and students progressed, the school went from having elementary and secondary classes to having high school and college courses. In 1878, the first two students graduated from the college department. It was at Shaw College that Ida received the first of her formal education. Tragedy struck when Ida was only 14 (there’s speculation as to if she was 14 or 16. I’ve read both but Ida’s autobiography said 14, so we’re going with that). Both her parents and one sibling contracted Yellow Fever and passed away. Holly Springs’ mayor refused to quarantine the city from Memphis after the fever broke out and people came down to get away from the city, bringing the disease with them. Ida had been visiting her grandmother out of town and was spared of the disease. Ida was the oldest of eight children and it was now her responsibility to...
23 minutes | Sep 2, 2020
Episode Four: Firsts in Memphis
This episode is about Firsts in Memphis. It occurred to me, after several tours of our favorite place, Elmwood Cemetery, that our city has numerous things that happened for the first time, here in our city. We’re going to talk about a few of them today. We’ll revisit this topic periodically, we’ve got a few more on the list, but if you have any suggestions, of course, please let us know! “We are not trying to prove we can get along in a world without men. We are simply trying to prove that when a group of women make up their collective minds that they are going to do something successfully, no force on earth can keep them from it.” -Dorothy Abbott, Assistant Manager and Program Director of WHER. This quote was from the program director of the first all female radio station. WHER was started in 1955 by none other than Sam Phillips, the man behind helping to make Elvis famous. Phillips used the money he received from selling Elvis’ recording contract to start the station. According to Philips, he created the station from his love of radio and his curiosity of hearing women’s voices on the air. Women ran the entire operation - everything from being on air personalities to engineering their programs. Phillips' wife, Becky, was one of the first djs. He drew women from all over the Memphis area, most who had no experience in radio. He employed models, actresses, telephone operators, and housewives, just to name a few. WHER was recorded and broadcast out of the third ever Holiday Inn (another Memphis first we will discuss in a moment), in a studio named the Doll Bin. It was decorated all pink and girly. The djs delivered news and played music on the air, conducted interviews with local celebrities, created and sold commercials, produced and directed the programming and ran the control boards. The radio station ran from 1955-1973. WHER inspired women everywhere to start similar stations. In sticking with the radio theme, Memphis is also home to the first radio station programmed for African Americans with African American on-air personalities. WDIA was originally created in 1947 as a country, western, and light pop station, and it failed. The owners of the station, John Pepper and Bert Ferguson, both white, decided to take the station in another direction. They hired Nat G. Williams, a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, to be the DJ of the Tan Town Jubilee, the first program to appeal to black listeners. This new show exploded and the station switched formats to an all black programming station. It became the number one station in Memphis. WDIA was known as the “Starmaking Station”. Many musical legends, such as BB King and Rufus Thomas, got their start at WDIA. King started out hosting a 15min show and then moved on to hosting a full afternoon program. It was during his show that the station got their first major advertiser. BB King credits the station for helping to launch his career. By 1954, WDIA increased its power to 50,000 watts making it possible to be heard from the Missouri bootheel to the Gulf Coast. Also, in 1954, the station created the Goodwill Fund. Originally it was designed to transport disabled African American children to school and then later it grew to be an organization that offered college scholarships, established boys clubs, provided little league teams, and helped provide low cost supplemental housing. Until 1972, the station management had been an integrated one, which was pretty uncommon for the time, but that year, Chuck Scruggs was promoted to general manager. He became the first black general manager at the station. Mr. Scruggs did more than just run a number one radio station, he helped preserve one of Memphis’s historic sites, the Lorraine Motel. When it was in danger of being torn down, he donated the money to save it and helped create the Civil Right Museum. WDIA, the heart and soul of Memphis, is still running today,
26 minutes | Aug 19, 2020
Episode Three: The Memphis Zoo
“These animals are like my children, every day that I come to the zoo I say, ‘Daddy’s home’.” - Nicholas J. Melroy, 1923 You can thank the payment of debt, which came in an unusual form, for the construction of Memphis’s wonderful zoo. Albert Carruthers, president of a local shoe business, accepted an in-kind payment for a shipment of shoes, in the form of a black bear cub named “Natch.” Mr. Carruthers gave the cub to the Memphis Turtles baseball team to use as a mascot. As the bear got older, he became less tolerant of the noisy sports fans and began snapping at children. The team retired their live mascot and returned him to Mr. Carruthers. Unable to house the bear as he got older (and BIGGER), Albert decided to chain Natch to a tree in the middle of Overton Park. Eventually, a log cabin was built for the bear and he became a popular attraction in the park. Natch in Overton Park Citizens visiting the park started “donating” wild animals to the park, beginning with a wildcat and a monkey. Eventually a fence was built around Natch. Animals, wild or not, still need food, so Natch and the other animals were being fed by a generous man, Col. Robert Galloway, one of the founding members of the park commission. The Memphis Parks Commission was formed in 1901 and headed by John Goodwin, LB McFarland, and Robert Galloway. In 1906, Galloway petitioned the parks commission for funds to help open a zoo in Overton Park (named after Memphis Founder, John Overton). After lots of effort, on April 4, 1906, the parks commission established an annual fund of $1200 to create a zoo. The first true zoo, like the ones we know today, was the Philadelphia Zoo. The charter was approved in March of 1859, but unfortunately, the Civil War broke out and it was not opened until July 1, 1874. This zoo was the first in the country to breed animals that were considered difficult to breed in captivity. In August of 1906, the Memphis Zoo Association (later known as the Memphis Zoological Society) held a fundraiser that raised $3600. That money, combined with the parks commission’s donation, allowed the zoo to be able to buy 23 cages and a row of concrete bear dens. In 1907, Galloway Hall was the first building constructed and it held most of the zoo’s animals. Galloway Hall held many animal habitats, including the reptiles until it was demolished in 1954. Besides Natch the bear and his park mates, some of the first animals the zoo held were native animals, such as foxes and snapping turtles, most of which were caught by citizens and given to the zoo. In the early days, animals would be shipped to the US directly from their country of origin. As time passed, animals were acquired from other zoos or zoos would purchase retired circus animals. Some of the first animals to arrive at the zoo, starting in 1908, were three black bears, a cinnamon bear by the name of Teddy, after President Roosevelt, six madagascar monkeys, four spider monkeys, and one java macaque monkey. Bear Pits In 1909, polar bears Ella and her mate moved to the zoo. That was also the year the elephant house was built. The first African elephant named Marguerite was acquired from Ringling Brothers circus in 1912. The following year, the first bengal Tiger, Samantha, was also purchased from Ringling Bros. Both animals were named by school children from a contest run in the local paper. Elephant House Original Big Cat House In 1914, Henry Loeb (a name that most Memphians will recognize today) held a fundraiser that helped obtain Venus and Adonis, the zoo’s first hippos. Their permanent home was not completed until 1916 but it housed all the future hippos for 100 years, until the new habitat was built in 2016. Hippos House Venus and Adonis sired 8 babies in the first 20 years they were at the zoo. Little fact I learned, Hippos are pregnant for about 8 months, but after they give birth, they will not conceive again for at least 18- 24 mon...
25 minutes | Aug 5, 2020
Episode Two: George “Buster” Putt
October 26th, 2015 - George Howard Putt, the serial killer that terrorized the city of Memphis, for 29 days during the summer of 1969, died of natural causes at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville. News of his death would not reach the public, nor the families of Putt’s victims, until March of the following year. Michael Dumas, the son of Putt’s first victims - Roy and Bernalyn Dumas - reportedly only discovered months later that Putt had died when his wife logged into the correctional facility website and noticed that they had listed Putt as “deceased.” In an interview with the Commercial Appeal following the announcement of Putt’s death in March of 2016, Michael Dumas said, “My reaction was remorse, because it brought back all the painful memories of that summer. The death of my parents has always been painful. One part of me was happy that maybe this is over with. We all carry our pain from the past. You never get over that.” The summer of 1969 was quite a tense time in the US… -The war in Vietnam had been in full swing, which was dividing the nation due to differing opinions on our involvement and conduct there... -Charles Manson’s followers committed the infamous series of horrible murders in the Los Angeles Area…-Riots broke out outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, after a conflict between gay rights activists and police… And for Memphis in particular, the years of ‘68 and ‘69 were quite a struggle. First, the sanitation strike happened, which brought Martin Luther King Jr to the city. Protests were ending in violence and arrests. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on the 2nd floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel… and after all of this happened, business and residents in Downtown Memphis relocated en masse for fear of more racial strife in the area. By the time this all settled, the area was said to be home to more jail inmates than actual residents. It was indeed a very heavy time in Memphis. Many Memphians who were not in Memphis during the late 60s, or who were not yet born at the time (like me), may not even be aware that there was ever a serial killer in Memphis. I personally was not aware of it until a coworker brought it to my attention just under a year ago. But it’s true! Memphis, during the latter part of the summer of 1969, was home to a series of brutal murders, all committed by one man - George Howard Putt. There is quite a lengthy backstory here, which we will try to deliver as concisely as possible, but I think it might provide insight into George Putt’s early development and his progression from minor crimes and misdemeanors to his later crimes of a violent, sexual, and even murderous nature. George "Buster" Putt Putt’s Early Life and Criminal History Known as “Buster” to his friends and family, George Putt did not begin his life in Memphis, but this is certainly where he ended his life as a free man. George was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to abusive, drifter parents Clifford and Leola Putt. Whether to look for work, or simply to satisfy their wanderlust, Clifford and Leola removed George from school, along with his older brother, to roam around the Southeastern United States with them. George’s parents were constantly in trouble for petty crimes, making whatever home life they had unpredictable and unreliable. George’s father, Clifford, was also extremely abusive to him and his siblings. One of Clifford’s many arrests during George’s early life was for cruelty to a minor for severely beating 3-month-old George with a leather strap. By the time George was 8 years old, his parents went to prison for check forgery, leaving Buster and his 6 siblings to live with their grandparents. It took only three years for his grandparents to send George and four of his brothers to live at a school for orphans outside Richmond, Virginia, following the arrest of 11-year-old George and an older brother for shooting out a neighbor’s windows w...
21 minutes | Jul 19, 2020
Episode One: Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society
“Yours for the asking! George wants to play catch but needs a Daddy to complete Team "Catch this ball, Daddy!" How would YOU like to have this handsome five-year-old play "catch" with you? How would you like his chubby arms to slip around your neck and give you a bearlike hug? His name is George and he may be yours for the asking, if you hurry along your request to the Christmas Baby Editor of the Press-Scimitar. In co-operation with Miss Georgia Tann of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, The Press-Scimitar will place 25 babies for adoption this Christmas.” Our first story takes us back to the early 1920s. Adoption was not terribly common in the US prior to the 1920s, but a lady by the name of Georgia Tann moved to Memphis and brought with her ideas that would change the world of adoption forever. Now, a story about adoption may not seem too scandalous of a tale, but just wait… Beulah George “Georgia” Tann was born in 1891 in Philadelphia, MS. Her father was a district court judge with a “domineering” personality. As a child, she was a tomboy in every sense of the word. Her father thought his daughter was too masculine, wearing pants and flannel shirts. To try to curtail those tomboy tendencies, he had her studying piano since age five. As a teenager, she was sent to attend Martha Washington College and she graduated with a degree in music. Unfortunately for him, Tann didn’t want to play music, she wanted to find a way to follow her true passion, the law. She was able to take summer courses at Columbia University so that she could become a lawyer. She studied hard and passed the bar exam in MS. But sadly for women at that time, becoming a lawyer was uncommon. She settled for becoming something acceptable for an unwed woman… a social worker. Her first social work job was at the Mississippi Children’s Home Finding Society. Working with the public in a poor state such as MS, she began to develop theories on the difference between classes. She saw the poverty stricken as breeders, incapable of proper parenting, and the wealthy were “of higher type” and could rear children well. During her time in MS, her job was to place orphans for adoption, but she soon realized she could capitalize on this idea and charge desperate couples a hefty fee to become parents. In the 1920s, regulations on adoption were lacking, a fact that Tann began to exploit. Children of poor families, who couldn’t afford to keep them, were acquired and sold to wealthy families. This began Tann’s descent into the underworld of less-than-legal adoptions. It was also when she decided MS was not the place for baby resale, so her father used his connections to move his daughter, first briefly to Texas, but then on to Memphis. Before her move to Memphis, Tann began a relationship with Ann Atwood, a childhood friend and coworker from a children’s home in Jackson, MS. At one time, cohabitation between two independent women was socially acceptable, but as time went by, it began to be seen as homosexual, something that was looked down upon. Shortly before they moved to Memphis, Atwood was pregnant with a child she named George, whom she would call Jack. She took Jack’s father’s last name, Hollinsworth, so that people would think she was a widow, instead of having had a child out of wedlock. In 1922, Tann adopted a daughter, June. She was apparently not the greatest mother though. In an interview with June’s daughter, she said that Tann was a “cold fish” and that she gave her material things, but nothing else. These actions would later be reflected on the children in her care. With two children in tow, in 1924, Georgia and Ann arrived in Memphis and began to use their home as a makeshift adoption agency, and thus began the Shelby Co chapter of the TN Children’s Home Society. Eventually, they acquired a building at 1556 Poplar Ave. The Society, as it was called, was well supported by the community. Tann had many connections and a strong network of ...
2 minutes | Jul 19, 2020
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Hey everyone and welcome to Unearthed: Memphis! We’re extremely excited to bring to you our new podcast about Memphis history. Subscribe to hear new stories every other Wednesday on your favorite podcast listening app!
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