Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Stranded in Downtown Birmingham"

Who invented rock and roll, you ask? Well, there are various candidates with passionate advocates, and Chuck Berry is certainly one of them. His musical career extended from the early 1950's until just before his death in 2017. He had many hits over the years, but three of them have been enshrined among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll": "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene" and "Rock and Roll Music." The two Voyager spacecrafts, launched in 1977 and now deep in space beyond our solar system, carry a "Golden Record" of many sounds of human culture. Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was the only rock and roll song selected.  

I've written a number of posts on this blog about songs related to Alabama [and more are in the pipeline!], including one about some of the songs related to Birmingham"The Promised Land" by Berry would fit that group.

The song first appeared on Berry's 1964 album St. Louis to Liverpool. He used the melody to the folk song "Wabash Cannonball" to go with his lyrics, which you can read below. The singer is headed from Virginia to California when the Greyhound bus breaks down in Birmingham. Luckily he catches a "midnight flyer" train to New Orleans and continues his journey. 

The song has been recorded by numerous other artists, including Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Rivers, the Band, Meatloaf, Harry Dean Stanton, James Taylor and Jerry Lee Lewis. A version in French by the great Johnny Hallyday was released in 1975. 

Many versions can be found on YouTube

The Promised Land

written by Chuck Berry

I left my home in Norfolk Virginia                   
California on my mind                             
I straddled that Greyhound and                                              
Rode him into Raleigh and on across Caroline 

We had motor trouble it turned into a struggle
Half way across Alabam                                          
And that 'Hound broke down and left us all stranded 
In downtown Birmingham

Right away I bought me a through train ticket 
Riding across Mississippi clean                                          
And I was on that midnight flyer out of Birmingham      
Smoking into New Orleans

Somebody help me get out of Louisiana 
Just help me get to Houston town 
There are people there who care a little about me
And they won't let a poor boy down 

Sure as you're born they bought me a silk suit 
They put luggage in my hands 
And I woke up high over Albuquerque 
On a jet to the promised land

We stopped at Charlotte we by passed Rock Hill 
We never was a minute late
We was ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown
Rolling out of Georgia state 

Working on a T-bone steak 
I had a party flying over to the golden state 
When the pilot told us that in thirteen minutes 
He would get us to the terminal gate 

Swing Low Chariot come down easy 
Taxi to the terminal door
Cut your engines and cool you wings 
And let me make it to the telephone 

Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia 
Tidewater 4-10-0-9 
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land 
Calling and the boy's on the line

The Birmingham Greyhound station, built in 1950, as it appeared in 2010

Source: BhamWiki


Friday, September 14, 2018

A Quick Visit to Eutaw

Back in March Dianne and I made a visit to see our son Amos who lives in New Orleans. I've written a blog post on that portion of our trip and another one on Bellingrath Gardens, which we saw on the way down. On the way back to Pelham we spent the night in Demopolis and toured the fabulous Gaineswood home there. Blog posts on those two places will be coming soon. We also drove through Eutaw in Greene County, and this post explores a few of the sights there. 

Leaving Demopolis on U.S. Highway 43 takes you to Eutaw in about 25 miles. The town is the seat of Greene County, which is named after Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Greene. Settled about the time the county was created in December 1819, Eutaw was originally named Mesopotamia. In 1838 the county seat was moved there from Erie, and the town was renamed after Greene's Revolutionary War victory, the Battle of Eutaw Springs in South Carolina. Mesopotamia Street in Eutaw honors the original name. 

Eutaw thrived on the cotton trade during the antebellum era; many buildings from that era survive and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After the Civil War the economy declined and has never recovered; Greene County has been one of the state's poorest for decades. In 2010 almost 3000 people lived in Eutaw.

Other comments are below some of the photos. 

Driving into Eutaw you immediately spot two American icons. 

There are some nicely restored buildings around the old courthouse square.

This Grand Jury Building stands in the historic Greene County Courthouse Square District and was built in 1842. The two-story structure is also called the Old Sheriff's Office. 

One end of the old Greene County Courthouse constructed in 1869

Some more of the restored buildings around the old courthouse square.

One of the most impressive buildings in Eutaw is the Kirkwood mansion. The Rural Southwest Alabama site has this description:

Kirkwood is a historic antebellum plantation mansion located in Eutaw. It is a Greek Revival style house with Italianate influences. The house has two primary floors and a large cupola crowning the low-pitched hipped roof. The roof eaves are ornamented with wooden brackets. A monumentally scaled portico with Ionic columns wraps around two sides of the house.
Kirkwood was built by Foster M. Kirksey, a cotton planter and cotton broker. Kirksey began building the house in 1857. Construction on the nearly completed house was halted by the Civil War. Kirksey lost a considerable portion of his fortune with the economic collapse of the south. He was able to retain possession of Kirkwood but he was never able to complete the house with the lavish details he had originally planned or to maintain it properly. The house remained in the Kirksey family until 1961. In 1972, Roy and Mary Swayze bought the home and began renovations with Mr. Swayze doing much of the work himself. When the Swayze’s painted the home in 1977, it was its first coat of paint since 1912 and took 200 gallons of paint. The Swayze family spent 15 years restoring Kirkwood. For their efforts, they was awarded a National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award in 1982.
Kirkwood was photographed and recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1934 and the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on May 17, 1976.

One small correction--as i note below, Kirkwood was photographed as part of the HABS in 1934 and 1935. 

Unfortunately, we did not have time to take a tour of the mansion. Maybe another day....

Kirkwood on April 4, 1934

This photograph was taken by W.N. Mannning as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

A fireplace featuring a brown marble mantel in a southwest rear room of Kirkwood on June 24, 1935.

This photo was taken by Alex Bush as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Across the street from Kirkwood is another pretty spectacular home. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Quick Visit to the William Bankhead Home in Jasper

On our annual summer trip this past July brother Richard and I made a stop in Jasper, where we have ancestors buried in  Oak Hill Cemetery. You can read about some of them here. Also buried in that cemetery are members of one of Alabama's most prominent families, the Bankheads. As we were leaving Jasper we passed by one of the town's two Bankhead homes and decided to have a look.

More comments are below. 

The impressive stone below marks the final resting places for John Hollis Bankhead and his wife Tallulah. A Civil War veteran, Bankhead was variously a farmer, warden of the state penitentiary at Wetumpka, businessman, and a U.S. Representative for 20 years and a U.S. Senator from 1907 until his death in 1920. 

His son John also became a U.S. Senator for three terms. Another son William became Speaker of the U.S. House, and daughter Marie director of the state archives for many years. Granddaughter and actress Tallulah was named after his wife. Various other members of the family are buried in Oak Hill also.

John Hollis Bankhead's home built in 1910 is also in Jasper. His granddaughter, future actress Tallulah and her sister Eugenia lived in this house when John was not in Washington for Congressional sessions.

Source: Wikipedia

John Hollis Bankhead [1842-1920]

Source: Wikipedia

As the marker below notes, Williams Bankhead's daughter, actress Tallulah, was married in this house in 1937 to actor John Emery. Three years later Bankhead died and President Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and other dignitaries came to Jasper for his funeral and burial. 

If we had arrived a couple of hours earlier that Friday afternoon, we could have seen the inside.

William B. Bankhead [1874-1940]

Source: Wikipedia

This artwork is located on the walkway from the parking lot to the front entrance of the house.

This house is located on the Bankhead Plantation in Sulligent, Lamar County, where the Bankhead family settled in 1818 after moving from South Carolina. John Greer Bankhead built this house in 1850, eight years after son John Hollis was born. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Quick Visit to the Helena Museum

On a recent Saturday morning I finally made a long-planned visit to the museum in Helena's Old Town section just up the hill from Buck Creek. The museum was crowded with people who had come to reminisce and learn about the quarter-mile Helena Drag Strip that operated in the 1950's and 1960's. An exhibit about the strip opened at the museum in February 2016.   

The facility is formally known as the Kenneth R. Penhale City of Helena Museum.  Penhale is a Helena native and has served as President of the Shelby County Historical Society. He is the co-author of a 1998 pictorial book on the city's history. 

You can see a number of other photos on their Facebook page, although that seems to have been dormant since 2015. In addition to the drag strip exhibit, the museum has lots of photos and memorabilia related to WWII veterans from the area and  local mining and other businesses, and more.

The museum, which is open Saturdays and by appointment, opened in 2011

Friday, August 31, 2018

Birmingham's New Ideal Building

Recently Dianne and I were downtown and decided to check out the Pizitz Food Hall. Since the New Ideal Building was in the same block across an alleyway, I took a few photos and did a bit of research. 

The Ideal Department Store specializing in women's clothes was founded in Birmingham in 1908 by Robert Aland. In 1928 the firm moved to the new six-story Ideal Building in 1928. Located at 111 19th Street North, the structure was designed by David O. Whilldin, an architect very active in the city from 1902 until 1961.  

When Sears moved from its store at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 18th Street, Aland relocated his business to this spot and it became the New Ideal Building. That put the store right next to Pizitz. After the Pizitz parking deck opened in 1965, the New Ideal name was painted on the side of the building at every level. 

In the 1960's one of Aland's sons took over management and another store opened at the West Lake Mall in 1969. The family also developed a local chain of several women's clothing stores under the Aland's name. 

The New Ideal closed in 1990; the final Aland's in 1997. Apartments are now located at the Ideal Building and a sign on the New Ideal proclaims its forthcoming development into lofts. 

A few more comments follow some of the photos. 

The courtyard of the Pizitz Food Hall is partially visible in this photograph.

That fence and gate you see on the lower right leads to the courtyard of the Pizitz Food Hall. 

The original Ideal Building on November 17, 1986. 

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives & History

The iconic Pizitz building in downtown Birmingham was home to the department store from 1925 until 1988. You can read more about it and the Pizitz chain at the BhamWiki site.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Seeking Forrest Gump in Savannah

Dianne and I recently spent several days in Savannah, Georgia--our first time to visit the city. We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast, the Foley House Inn, and never left the surrounding historic district. That area is full of iconic buildings with rich pasts, parks, museums, quirky shops and great restaurants and ends to the north at the waterfront along the Savannah River. We had a wonderful time and hope to go back sometime soon! 

Fans of Alabama author Winston Groom's novel Forrest Gump or the Tom Hanks film adapted from it may know that some of the movie was shot in Savannah. From the city's founding in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, Savannah was laid out in a series of squares, four originally and currently 22 in the historic district. Right across from our b&b was Chippewa Square, named to honor American soldiers in a Revolutionary War battle. This square is dominated by a large bronze statue of Oglethorpe facing south with sword drawn to repel enemies from Spanish Florida. The statue was erected in 1910.

The park bench scene that opens Forrest Gump was filmed on the north side of this square (or maybe the south side; sources differ). Much of his wisdom is forthcoming while he's on that bench. Naturally, the bench was a fiberglass movie prop, since in the movie Forrest faced the street and the actual benches in Chippewa face inward. The Gump bench is on display at the Savannah History Museum. I wonder how many people--like us--come to the Savannah historical district expecting to see the actual bench? Maybe the powers that be should put a replica of the prop in Chippewa Square. 

More comments are below....

Across the street from Chippewa Square is the Savannah Theatre, which opened on December 4, 1818. The facility is described as "America's oldest theater".

Independent Presbyterian Church is right next to the Foley House Inn and across the street from Chippewa Square. This building was constructed in 1891; the congregation is much older. At the beginning of the movie a feather floats down to land at the bench; this church is visible in the background. 

Less than two hours after we arrived in Savannah we found the square they were so nice to name after us!

Well, not really. The square's current name honors James Wright, one of Georgia's royal governors. This square has a monument to Tomochichi, a Creek leader and friend of Oglethorpe's. 

Flannery O'Connor is one of Georgia's best known writers; her works include the short story collections A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge. She was born in Savannah and lived there until she was about 15. You can visit her childhood home. We didn't have time to tour it; hopefully we will on some future visit!

We found this very nice bookstore in the historic district. 

Caruthers was an early American novelist born in Virginia. He spent the final decade of his life in Savannah. 

We often spend time in cemeteries when we travel. In Savannah we peaked into  the huge Colonial Park Cemetery

The historic district is full of wonderful restored homes and businesses.

Some big ships move up and down the Savannah River. They call the port "The Largest Single Container Terminal in North America".

Another writer associated with the city is Joel Chandler Harris, a journalist, fiction writer and folklorist. Most famous for his Uncle Remus tales, Harris spent most of his career in Atlanta, but lived for a few years in Atlanta.

On July 4, we drove up from St. Johns, Florida, to Savannah and somewhere in southeast Georgia ended up at a gas station/convenience store offering these goodies. Only in America....