Thursday, May 23, 2019

W.S. Newell HIghway

Recently we made a trip to see our daughter Becca Leon and grandson Ezra who live near Jacksonville, Florida. On the way back to Pelham we ended up stuck for two and a half hours in a massive traffic jam on I-65 just north of Prattville. Unfortunately, the problem was caused by a wreck involving two commercial vehicles and the death of one of the drivers. The backup lasted for more than ten hours. 

Traffic was shuttled off the interstate onto US 31 at the Pine Level exit; the wreck was several miles north toward the Verbena exit. As we crawled toward that exit, I noticed the sign below that read "W.S. Newell Highway". As so often happens, wondering about that individual led to this blog post. 

W.S. "Billy" Newell was a road and building contractor who died in September 2009. His company built portions of I-65 and I-85; the stretch of the former named after him was their first interstate project. Newell also built various neighborhoods in Montgomery and other projects around the state. You can read more about him and see a photograph here. His firm remains in business today. 

Another one of Newell's well-known projects is the large "Go to Church or the Devil Will Get You" sign along that same stretch of I-65. 

Source: Flickr

Exactly 80 years ago you could see this sign along a roadside in #Alabama in May 1939. Found via @Shorpy Taken by Marion Post Wolcott during her work for the Farm Security Administration documenting poverty in the Great Depression. The words are the title of a hymn by Daniel March [1816-1909] based on Isaiah 6:8 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Trader Joe's Opens in the Alabama Theatre--in Houston

On November 2, 1939, an art deco movie house named the Alabama Theatre opened in Houston, Texas. The first film shown was The Man About Town with comedian Jack Benny. In December 1983 a final movie appeared on the screen, the low budget horror title Mortuary. The Alabama Bookstop opened in the theater the following year. That business, later acquired by Barnes and Noble, operated until September 2009. You can see photos of the bookstore interior at this site

Despite several proposals, the facility's future remained in doubt until 2011 when the Trader Joe's market chain announced plans to open its first store in the Houston area. The next year the chain opened that store in the former theater and preserved much of its exterior and interior architectural delights. 

The Alabama in Houston was built in the same year as the River Oaks Theatre; both were owned by the Interstate chain. That company, which operated from 1905 until 1976, had vaudeville houses and movie theaters in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. I have not found any mention of operations in Alabama. Perhaps founder Karl Hoblitzelle admired our own Alabama Theatre in Birmingham, which had opened in 1927.

The Trader Joe's at The Summit is nice, but we seldom shop on the 280 corridor. If only Joe's had chosen a historic building downtown to re-purpose...

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Morrione Vineyards in Wetumpka

In cleaning out some stuff at mom's recently, I came across this bottle in a box  of other wines from California and Tennessee. These bottles have been at her house for probably 15 years; she's not much of a wine drinker. They were all purchased sometime before dad died in 2003 and never opened. 

Alabama currently has a pretty robust wine industry. The North Alabama Wine Trail includes six wineries. I found this 2013 posting from the Wine Nomad on wineries in the Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile areas. At that time there were eight wineries in the state. This search at the state's official travel site will pull up links to wineries, wine festivals and wine bars around the state. 

Morrione comes up on none of those searches. If you Google "Morrione Vineyards" you will get some results but all are seemingly out of date and consist mostly of an address and phone number: Location: 3865 Central Plank Rd, Montgomery Alabama Telephone 334-567-9957. Often "U-Pick" is added to the name. You can see that location on a Google satellite view. That phone number seems to be no longer in service.

I'm not really a fan of sweet wines, but my paternal grandparents in Gadsden  had a fence in their back yard loaded with muscadines each year. Whenever I visited for a week in the summer I'd practically make myself sick eating them. Ah, the muscadine days of yore....And did you know there is a community named Muscadine in Cleburne County? 

I presume this winery is now defunct. Anyone who has further information is invited to leave a comment to this post!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Dad's Photographs at Auburn University in 1946

In one of our albums of old family photos I found a few from Dad's time at Auburn University in the second half of the 1940's. I've selected some for this post. I guess the shots were taken with a camera of Dad's, and someone else took the ones that include him. 

Of course, Auburn was known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API) until 1960, when the name was formally changed to Auburn University. Mom says when they were there in the late 1940's everyone called it Auburn.  

Further comments are below. 

Theta Chi House ca. 1945

The website for the Auburn chapter of Theta Chi notes, "The first house was Dorm 12; the second house was located near downtown Auburn by the Freewheeler Bicycle Shop. Our third house, built in 1952, was located at 712 West Magnolia Avenue. Currently, we are living at 935 Lem Morrison Drive. The house was completed in the summer of 2007..."

At some point during his two periods at Auburn, interrupted by two years in the U.S. Navy, Dad was President of the fraternity. He was at Auburn from 1945 until July 1946 and again from 1948-50, when he was probably president. The house built in 1952 was being planned during that time; he and Mom left Auburn in December 1950 after he graduated.

The fraternity house shown in the photograph above is identified as the Theta Chi House ca. 1945 in a note in dad's handwriting on the back. 

Dad and presumably some fraternity brothers in front of the Theta Chi house. Dad is on the right holding the books.

Ross Chemical Lab ca. 1945

This building on West Thach Avenue was built in 1930 and named after Bennett B. Ross [1864-1930], a longtime chemistry professor at Auburn.

Ross Chemical Building [now Ross Hall] in a 1948 postcard

Source: Alabama Postcards Collection via Auburn University Digital Library 

Library ca. 1945 on West Thach Avenue

This library was one of  the Carnegie libraries built in Alabama; it opened in 1910. You can see the interior at that time here. I've written a blog post about those libraries. 

Today the library is Mary E. Martin Hall, named after the university's librarian from 1918-1949. The building house offices; when I arrived at Auburn in 1970, the registrar, graduate school and such were located there. 

Auburn's current Draughon Library was built in 1962. 

Here's the library in October 1910.

Women's Quad ca. 1945

A 1948 postcard of the girls' dormitories on the "quad" at Auburn

Source: Alabama Postcard Collection via Auburn University Digital Library 

Dad and some fellow engineering classmates? ca. 1945

Alpha Gams 1946 

I did not find any history or house photos on the Alpha Gamma Delta Auburn chapter website. Mom was not a sorority member, and she and Dad hadn't met yet, anyway!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Alabama Author: John Craig Stewart

One thing I like to do on this blog is highlight some of Alabama's lesser known authors. The state has a rich literary history that's not limited to such well known figures as Harper Lee, Fannie Flagg and Rick Bragg. So next up in this post is John Craig Stewart.

Stewart was born in Selma on January 20, 1915 and died in North Carolina in 2003. According to the 1940 U.S. Census he was living in Montgomery and had been there since 1935. His address was given as 615 South Perry Street. Stewart had married Patti Gee Martin in February 1939. On October 16, 1940, he registered for the military draft, and that form gives us more information. Stewart was six feet tall and weighed 160 pounds, with light complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. 

We can find a fairly detailed outline of his subsequent life and career at the Alabama Authors site maintained by the University of Alabama Libraries. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II from 1941 until 1945, leaving the military with the rank of major. By 1950 he had earned bachelor and master degrees from the University of Alabama and joined the faculty there. He and Patti divorced in 1952; Stewart married Lila Harper in 1960.

Stewart taught in Tuscaloosa until 1964, when he relocated to Mobile and the newly established University of South Alabama. He left that school in 1983 and moved to North Carolina, where he died on April 16, 2003. He was buried in that state in Saint Paul's in the Valley Cemetery in Transylvania County. The University of South Alabama's McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library has a collection of his papers and publications. The Alabama Authors entry notes, "The University of South Alabama established the John Craig Stewart Creative Writing Award, given annually to outstanding student writers, in his honor." I have been unable to find out anything more about this award.  

Stewart's publications include both fiction and non-fiction. His first novel Through the First Gate appeared in 1960; a second, Muscogee Twilight in 1965 and a third one, The Last to Know in 1981. He also published short stories and  articles on Alabama history. His one non-fiction book was the 1975 The Governors of Alabama. He also contributed to the textbook for elementary school students, Know Alabama, and to Rivers of Alabama.

More details and comments are below.   

New York; Dodd, Mead, 1960

Northport, Ala.: American Southern Pub. Co., 1965

This back cover offers a bit more information about Stewart. Several magazines that published his short stories are mentioned; I've only found details on one, noted below. We learn that Stewart was living in Spanish Fort, a town of less than 2400 people at the time. Also mentioned is the publisher's plan to issue a collection of his short stories, a volume that apparently never appeared. The Lincoln-Mercury Times 1951 article by Stewart, "University of Alabama", can be found here.

 Gretna, La.; Pelican Pub. Co., 1975

Northport: Colonial Press, 1957

A fifth edition was published in 1981. The first edition appeared in 1955.

Huntsville: Strode Publishers, 1968

Stewart published the novel The Last to Know in 1981, but I have been unable to find a cover image.

Source: Find-A-Grave

The only published short story by Stewart I've tracked down so far is this one in a 1955 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. I notice some fellow named Kurt Vonnegut also had a story in this issue; he sounds familiar....

Source: FictionMags Index

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Movies with Alabama Connections: Ocean's 11

Here we have another one of those blog posts examining a minor film appearance of something related to Alabama. This sort of thing is fun to do, and today's lesson pertains to the Frank Sinatra Ocean's 11 and not George Clooney's. I've seen the remake, but it's been a while and I don't think this Alabama connection made the cut. Someone correct me in the comments if needed.

Recently I just happened to catch ten minutes or so of the film [which I've seen several times] on TCM and low and behold that Alabama connection popped right up. I'd forgotten about it, so let's investigate. 

The original Ocean's 11 starred Frank Sinatra and four of his fellow "Rat Pack" members: Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis, Jr. Most of the film was shot in Las Vegas to give those guys something to do during the day before they took the stage for their casino shows each night. The story involves Danny Ocean [Sinatra] recruiting a group to rob five casinos simultaneously on New Year's Eve. Thrills and hilarity ensue before the final twist at the end. Angie Dickinson plays the ex-wife; Cesar Romero, Richard Conte and others fill out the supporting cast.

The state's big moment comes pretty early in the film. Danny runs into Beatrice, his ex, in the hotel, corners her in an elevator and  tells her, "I've got great news!" Beatrice, almost breaking into laughter, says "Auburn beat Alabama by twelve points." Danny, of course, has a bigger bet in mind. 

This appearance of the Iron Bowl in a major Hollywood production in 1960 must be one of the earliest such appearances by either school. In recent years Auburn University and its football team have numerous minor appearances in films and TV shows. There is of course the film A Love Song for Bobby Long in which two of the main characters are a former Auburn professor and a graduate student. Big Fish demonstrates some Auburn love. Auburn football games have appeared in the background of several TV shows and films. And because a production employee was an Auburn graduate, a school banner appeared for nine years on the wall of a bar often seen in the daytime serial General Hospital

I'll let an Alabama fan explore appearances of the Crimson Tide in such media. 

Jeremy Henderson of the War Eagle Reader blog, which tracks these things, explains the Ocean's 11 appearance by noting that when the film was made "Auburn was on top of the football world." That may be true as far as bookies were concerned, but would general members of the film's audience recognize the reference? After all, Auburn vs. Alabama was hardly a top college football rivalry at that time, and the first national telecast of an Iron Bowl did not take place until 1964. As far as I could determine, none of the story and screenplay writers on the film had any Alabama or Southern connections. 

No matter. We'll just take the reference and enjoy the film!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Lynching in Shelby County in 1901: Louis McAdams

In September last year we visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. You can read about that visit in a blog post here.

The National Memorial documents over 4000 racial terror lynchings in twelve Southern states and over 300 elsewhere in the United States from 1877 until 1950. Each county where such lynchings have occurred has a monument hanging in the open air memorial. A second monument for each county, which will hopefully be claimed and erected there, forms the rows on the Memorial grounds. Since we live in Shelby County, I naturally paid close attention to that monument.

Further comments are below.

The National Memorial is impressive inside and out. 

Here's a transcription of the nine documented lynchings in Shelby County:

August 31, 1889: Two people, names unknown


June 7, 1890: unknown


March 24, 1893: John Dances 


July 10, 1900: John Jennings


January 2, 1901: Louis McAdams

August 8, 1908: unknown

May 26, 1910: Jesse Matson

April 30, 1923: John Morton King

In doing a bit of research myself, I've found some interesting details about the January 2, 1901, lynching of Louis McAdams. This post shares that information. 

I found five distinct items about the lynching in contemporary newspapers. I'll discuss those below. 

I also found some information about McAdams in the U.S. Census. He appears as a one year-old child of Jackson and Fannie McAdams of Wilsonville in the 1880 count. Jackson was about 65 years old and from South Carolina. His occupation was listed as farmer. The 1880 non-population agricultural census noted Jackson owned ten acres in Beat 9 of Shelby County. Fannie, 45, was an Alabama native. Four other children ranged in age from four to 17.

The 1900 Census finds Louis at age 25 living with his mother Fannie, then 70. Louis' birthday is listed as May, 1875, with no day given. Oddly, Louis could read but not write. That birthdate, his age and his mother's age do not mesh with the 1880 Census, but such discrepancies are common in census records. McAdams' occupation is given as farm laborer. 

Thus we know that Louis was in his early or mid-twenties and living in Wilsonville at the time of his lynching. Fannie later appears in the 1910 Census, age 85 and widowed, living on Teague Bridge Road in Wilsonville. Two young people, Homer and Luanna Blakey ages 21 and 19 were living with her. She had had 18 children; nine were then living. She could neither read nor write. 

McAdams was the only lynching victim in Shelby County for which I found information in my initial research. Perhaps I can further document others in the future. 

The Columbia [Tenn.] Herald., January 11, 1901, Page 8

The first item above identifies the man McAdams was accused of "cutting and seriously injuring" as J. M. Ray, "a merchant of that place", i.e., Wilsonville. I found several J.M. Rays in Shelby County in census records between 1880 and 1910, but none listed as a merchant.

Note the last item in the extract above describing outrages by "white-cap" activity in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. You can read more about the vigilante whitecapping movement here.

Ameryka. (Toledo, Ohio)
[weekly published in Polish] 1893-1902, January 12, 1901

The Abbeville Press and Banner. (Abbeville, S.C.) 1869-1924, January 16, 1901

In this item we learn some more details. Louis was taken from the sheriff's office by "a mob of one hundred men" who hanged him and then quietly dispersed. "Every man wore a mask." I wonder if Louis was just left hanging from a tree branch?

The Appeal. [St. Paul, Minn.] September 14, 1901

Front page articles on lynchings & a list of 101 lynchings thus far in 1901. McAdams is included in the listing. 

Bourbon News [Paris, KY] January 04, 1901

This account is the longest one I found and gives us additional details. We learn that the altercation with Ray [misspelled "Rey" here] took place on Christmas Eve, 1900. McAdams was arrested in Childersburg on Tuesday, January 2, 1901, and seized by the mob the following day. He was hanged from a tree four miles from Wilsonville and "As the Negro's body swung in the air the contents of 50 shotguns and rifles were emptied into it." 

Since there were 100 masked men, I wonder why only half supposedly fired their guns at McAdams. A sudden attack of restraint on the part of half the mob? This story was apparently filed in Birmingham, as "a special" from Wilsonville. Did these extensive details come from an eyewitness?

Louis McAdams' lynching was also noted briefly in four other papers I located:

Watertown [Wisconsin] Republican., January 09, 1901

The Hope [ND] Pioneer., January 10, 1901

Willmar [Minn.] Tribune., January 09, 1901

The Bolivar [Tenn.] bulletin., January 11, 1901

Another general resource on lynching in the United States is the "American Lynching" site. This source gives 347 total lynchings in Alabama from 1882 until 1968, with 299 black victims & 48 white. In the "Explore" section you can get a list of Alabama's victims by county.

Monroe Work was an African-American sociologist who spent much of his career at Tuskegee. One of his many projects there documented lynchings. A web site devoted to him has an extensive bibliography on the subject. A 1931 map of lynchings based on his research can be found here.

Wikipedia has a long article on the subject here.

Source: Project Gutenberg

In its report on lynching in America, the Equal Justice Institute in Montgomery  gives the following description of its sources and results:

Racial terror lynching was much more prevalent than previously reported. EJI researchers have documented several hundred more lynchings than the number identified in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date. The extraordinary work of E.M. Beck and Stewart E. Tolnay provided an invaluable resource, as did the research collected at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. These sources are widely viewed as the most comprehensive collection of research data on the subject of lynching in America. EJI conducted extensive analysis of these data as well as supplemental research and investigation of lynchings in each of the subject states. We reviewed local newspapers, historical archives, and court records; conducted interviews with local historians, survivors, and victims’ descendants; and exhaustively examined contemporaneously published reports in African American newspapers. EJI has documented 4084 racial terror lynchings in twelve Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, which is at least 800 more lynchings in these states than previously reported. EJI has also documented more than 300 racial terror lynchings in other states during this time period.