Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Alabama Photo of the Day: Monument to a Slave

Another expedition to the digital material at the Alabama Department of Archives and History uncovered the photograph below. The description there noted, "Monument to Harry, a slave who saved several Howard College students from a fire in Marion, Perry County, Alabama; photo taken in the 1930's". Let's investigate.

To find out more, I turned to James F. Sulzby, Jr.'s two volume work, Toward a History of Samford University (1988). He discusses the fire on pages 28-33.

Samford was originally known as Howard College and incorporated by an act of the state legislature in 1841. Baptists founded the school, which opened in Marion on January 3, 1842, with nine students. 

The first official college building, a four-story brick structure opened on January 1, 1846. The first commencement was held on July 27, 1848, when seven men graduated. 

For the fall 1854 session 112 students were enrolled. Many of them lived in town, but others lived in the college building. On October 15, 1854, a fire began around midnight. The building and all property, valued at almost $20,000, was destroyed. 

A committee appointed to study the fire issued a statement on October 18. They noted that a professor, the tutor and 23 students had various injuries but all survived. One student died a few days later. The committee determined the fire started in a stairwell but could not establish a cause. 

The only immediate fatality was Henry, the college janitor and a slave owned by President Henry Talbird. He apparently awoke soon after the fire started and went through all the floors waking students. The fire prevented his return by the stairs, and Harry was forced to jump from a fourth story window. He was killed by the fall.  

Harry Talbird's funeral was held at Siloam Church. He was buried in Marion Cemetery. The marker seen in this photograph was paid for by officers and students of the college and members of the Baptist State Convention. 

The monument has a different inscription on each of its four sides; you can read them below. Also below are contemporary photographs of the monument. 


Servant of

H. Talbird, D.D.

President of Howard College

Who lost his life from injuries received while rousing the students at the burning of the college building on the night of Oct. 15th 1854.

Aged 23 years.

He was employed as waiter in the college, and when alarmed by the flames at midnight and warned to escape for his life replied "I must wake the boys first," and thus saved their lives at the cost of his own.

As a grateful tribute to his fidelity and to commemorate a noble act, this monument has been erected by the students of Howard College and the Alabama Baptist Convention.

A consistent member of the Baptist Church he illustrated the character of a Christian servant "Faithful even unto death."

(source: Library of Southern Literature, By Edwin Anderson Alderman, Joel Chandler Harris, Charles William Kent, pub. 1910, pg. 6463-6464, in a section of "Epitaphs and Inscriptions" in volume 14.)

Source: Find-A-Grave

Source: Find-A-Grave

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Some Random Record Albums Found in Colorado

We were in Colorado Springs for several weeks in October and November 2017, and I had time to peruse my father-in-law's extensive collection of vinyl record albums. He was primarily a fan of the big bands and singers like Frank Sinatra, but he also had a few curiosities. So naturally I came up with one of those blog posts I love so well, random stuff with some Alabama connection buried in there somewhere. 

Think of this post as an opportunity to brush up on some musical popular culture from the 1950's and 1960's and even earlier. I know I learned a few things, so here we go. 

Allan Sherman [1924-1973] was a comedy writer and producer and a song parody genius. He created the concept and produced the television game show I've Got a Secret which ran from 1952 until 1967. He also wrote folk song parodies infused with Jewish humor to entertain at parties and released this first album in 1962. In the late summer of 1963 his most famous parody, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" about a young boy writing his parents from camp, reached number 2 on the Billboard chart. He released eight more albums and did other work before his death. 

The 101 Strings was an easy listening orchestra that recorded more than 150 albums from 1957 until 1981. Many were released as CDs in the 1990's as by the New 101 Strings. The actual group was the Northwest German Radio Orchestra of Hamburg conducted by Wilhelm Stephan. This album was released in 1960. 

In her day Helen Morgan [1900-1941] was a well-known club singer of primarily torch songs who also appeared in films and stage productions. Her alcoholism led to an early death from liver cirrhosis. Her life and career were the subjects of the 1957 film The Helen Morgan Story

Ted Lewis [1890-1971] was a musician, singer and bandleader. He was especially popular before and after World War II with a stage show that combined jazz, comedy and nostalgia. Lewis was one of the early northern musicians to take up New Orleans style jazz and by 1919 led his own band recording for Columbia Records. Future musical stars such as Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey played with Lewis. His career continued into the 1960's with Las Vegas and television appearances. 

This album was released in 1967. His lengthy discography of recordings as a band leader can be found here

I wonder if any of these lullabies would work with my six-and-a half months old grandson Ezra? 

Side 1: Sleepy Baby (Doris Day)/ Sweet Kentucky Babe (Anna Marie Alberghetti)/ Sweet And Low (Norman Luoff Choir)/ Hush Little Baby (Anna Marie Alberghetti)/ Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra (Andre Kostelanetz)/ Medley: Never Be Afraid; Star Light Star Bright; Little Boy Blue (Bing Crosby)/ All Through The Night (Norman Choir)/ Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (Diahann Carroll)

Side 2: Close Your Eyes (Rosemary Clooney)/ Raisins And Almonds; Now That Day Is Over...(Diahann Carroll)/ Sleep, Baby Sleep (Norman Luboff Choir)/ All The Pretty Little Horses (Rosemary Clooney)/ Cradle Song (Norman Luboff Choir)/ Medley: Rock A Bye Baby; Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star; Sleepy Time Is A Happy Time (Mitch Miller, The Sandpipers and Anne Lloyd)/ Brahms Lullaby (Andre Kostelanetz)/ Medley: No, I'm Not Sleepy; Sing Soft, Hum Low; Once Upon A Time (Mary Martin)

Paul Weston [1912-1996] was a pianist, composer, arranger and conductor.  His career extended from the 1930's into the 1970's and included work in radio and  television. Weston became known as the "Father of Mood Music". He was married to singer Jo Stafford. 

A great history of the genre is Joseph Lanza's 2004 book, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition. 

Dream Time Music was released in 1953 and Mood Music in 1955. The covers were done by Robert McGuire [1921-2005], a pin-up and pulp novel cover artist. 

The Buffalo Bills were a barbershop quartet that started in Buffalo, New York, and performed from 1947 until 1967. They appeared in The Music Man on Broadway in 1957 and in the film version released in 1962. This album was released in 1959. 

The lengthy acronym on the cover stands for the "Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America". The group is now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society.  

The Red Army Ensemble or Choir is also known as the Alexandrov Ensemble after its first director. Formed during the Soviet era in Russia, the group consists of an orchestra, choir and dancers. Founded in 1928, the group continues to perform today. This album with this cover was released in 1963. 

Doesn't this cover just make you tingly all over with nostalgia? RCA released this classic in 1964.

I assume the sweater "P" stands for Princeton. 

Now we come to the Alabama portion of our trip down somebody's memory lane. As Wikipedia notes, the Montgomery native "recorded over one hundred songs that became hits on the pop charts. His trio was the model for small jazz ensembles that followed. Cole also acted in films and on television and performed on Broadway. He was the first black man to host an American television series."

The Cole family moved to Chicago when Nat was four; he dropped out of high school at fifteen to pursue his interest in music. His three brothers Eddie, Ike and Freddy also had musical talents and interests. In the late 1930's Nat had limited success with various bands and then formed his trio. In 1940 the King Cole Trio had its first hit song, "Sweet Lorraine."

Enormous success followed, including many hit records, a radio show, and a TV show that premiered on NBC in November 1956. In 1958 he went to Cuba and recorded an album in Spanish; he won a Grammy the following year. His recordings sold in the millions. 

Always a heavy smoker, Cole developed lung cancer and died in February 1965 at age 45. His Wikipedia entry sums up his career:

"Cole was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007. A United States postage stamp with Cole's likeness was issued in 1994. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.

"Cole's success at Capitol Records, for which he recorded more than 150 singles that reached the Billboard Pop, R&B, and Country charts, has yet to be matched by any Capitol artist. His records sold 50 million copies during his career. His recording of "The Christmas Song" still receives airplay every holiday season, even hitting the Billboard Top 40 in December 2017."

I Don't Want to Be Hurt Anymore was Cole's next to last album, recorded between
mid-January and early May 1964. The orchestral arrangements were done by Ralph
Carmichael, who worked with Cole from 1960 until the singer's death. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What's Coming to the Blog in 2019?

Once again I want to start the new blog year at AlabamaYesterdays with a review of past efforts and a list of posts I hope--hope being the operative word--to do in 2019. I note that from the 2018 list [see below], only the posts on Carnegie libraries and P.T. Barnum were actually completed. So all the others remain in the ongoing wish list. That 2018 post includes the lists from previous years as well. There are still a lot of topics waiting patiently for their turn. 

First, let's do the numbers:


A total of 439 posts so far....sheesh....makes me tired just thinking about that...

2019 possible posts:

-Alabama's "Weird Tales" Connections

-Shelby County's Silent Movie Star: Henry Walthall

-Some Old Alabama Postcards (2) [I've acquired a number of new goodies for this post]

-Harriet Martineau Visits Alabama in 1835

-There's a Ticket Stub for That [a journey through 30 or so years of movies, concerts, etc.]. I've actually begun some organizational work behind the scenes on this one, which was also on last year's list. 

-Alabama Actors R.G. Armstrong & Harry Townes [You probably know their faces, since both men had very active film and television careers]

-A Legacy & Justice Visit to Montgomery

-New entries in ongoing series, such as films with Alabama connections

-Family history stuff, such as "A Memory Tour of Huntsville" & "Some Alabamians in New Orleans (2)" [That latter one may become a regular feature as long as our son Amos is living there!]

-The usual crop of posts on "let's connect [fill in the blank] to Alabama!"

-The usual crop of stuff I haven't even thought of yet

I guess I better get to work...

This photo shows the Carnegie library in Eufaula around 1910. The ones below show the interior.

P.T. Barnum in 1851

From the 2018 post:

For the fourth time I'm taking a look at what's ahead for AlabamaYesterdays in the coming year, and what kind of success I've had fulfilling my own prophecy at the beginning of 2017, etc. All previous posts are below.

I maintain a long laundry list of possible blog post topics. Some may never get done, but I keep the wish list going. Here's a few I HOPE to do in 2018:

-Carnegie Libraries in Alabama

-Ambrose Bierce in Alabama

-Alabama Women at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893

-Alabama Author Michael McDowell's 1977 Dissertation on Death

-Birmingham Doctors in 1920

-P.T. Barnum Visits Alabama

-Langston Hughes' Alabama Poems

-There's a Ticket Stub for That [a journey through 30 or so years of movies, concerts, etc.]

-Vladimir Putin's Alabama Connections [just kidding--maybe]

Friday, December 28, 2018

Walker Evans Photographs an Alabama Cemetery in 1936

Walker Evans [1903-1975] is one of the best known American documentary photographers of the 20th century. He made three brief trips to Alabama in his career, in March and the summer of 1936 and in 1973. I have written about him in several blogs posts, including this one which links to the others. 

Evans made that summer 1936 trip with writer James Agee; they spent a couple of months living with a sharecropper family in Hale County. That experience resulted in the 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, perhaps the most famous non-fiction book ever written about Alabama. 

Most of Evans' photographs on that trip were taken in Hale and Greene counties. The ones below are taken from a roll of 36 exposures in a cemetery probably in one of those places. My source for these is the Walker Evans Archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Met's web site gives no location information except they were taken in Alabama in 1936. 

Divorced from specifics, these photos have a haunting, timeless quality, floating out there somewhere in the past. What does this cemetery look like today, I wonder? Based on the number of marble headstones, many of them large, and the location in a poor, rural state, this cemetery probably contained the graves of at least modestly well-to-do whites. 

Research into Evans' archives at the Met might reveal the location of these graves. If you recognize the place, please leave a comment on this post.

Other comments are below a few of the photos.

This grave appears to be that of "Laura Abbie, wife of J.N. Erwin". I've tried searching Find-A-Grave & Ancestry but no luck so far. Two photos below also have names visible, but I've been unable to figure them out yet. 

The Association of Gravestone Studies has a section of its web site devoted to the symbolism of images found in cemeteries. Here's what it says about hands:

"Hands are found on many gravestones.  It may be the hand of God pointing downward signifying mortality or sudden death.  The hand of God pointing upward signifies the reward of the righteous, confirmation of life after death.  Praying hands signify devotion.  Handshakes may be farewells to earthly existence or may be clasped hands of a couple to be reunited in death as they were in life, their devotion to each other not destroyed by death."

The gravestone below appears to have a hand pointing upward. 

This grave is topped by what appear to be salt and pepper shakers and a basket, perhaps of food. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

John Coltrane's "Alabama"

On September 15, 1963, one of the most infamous events of modern American history took place in Birmingham, Alabama. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted some 15 sticks of dynamite at the 16th Street Baptist Church; four young African-American girls were killed in the explosion.  

These murders led to various responses in addition to those from law enforcement. Among the artistic ones was a work by jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, "Alabama". 

Coltrane was born in North Carolina in 1926, and took up the saxophone at an early age after his mother gave him one. He served in the navy, making his first recordings and playing with various base big bands until his discharge in August 1946. Then he returned to Philadelphia, where he had spent time before military service, and joined the burgeoning bebop scene. He played, studied and learned under musicians like King Kolax, Jimmy Heath and Dennis Sandole.

In the summer of 1955 trumpet player Miles Davis, who was reviving his career, contacted Coltrane about joining his new quintet. For the next several years Coltrane played with Davis and with pianist Thelonious Monk. In 1959 he recorded his first work as a group leader, the album Giant Steps that consisted only of his original songs. By the following year Coltrane had a quartet making live appearances.

Coltrane died in 1967 and by that time had worked with various personnel in  quartets that recorded such jazz classics as My Favorite Things (1961)  and A Love Supreme (1964). In the final years he was influenced by jazz avant garde figures such as Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Birmingham's own Sun Ra.  His skills on tenor and soprano saxophones and in composition are major contributions in jazz history.

The elegy "Alabama" was included in a recording session at Rudy Van Gelder's  studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on November 18, 1963. His fellow players were members of his "classic" quartet: McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. On December 7 they played the composition on "Jazz Casual", a program hosted by critic Ralph Gleason on National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. You can hear that 5 minute 54 second version here

Five takes were made of "Alabama" that afternoon in New Jersey; Coltrane did not discuss the subject of the piece. The final version ended up on his 1964 album Live at Birdland. Only the first three songs on that album were recorded at the club. The fifth song, "Your Lady" was also recorded at the "Alabama" session.

As history would have it, JFK was assassinated in Dallas just days after the recording of "Alabama".  

In April 2018 the Kronos Quartet premiered a new arrangement of "Alabama" by composer Jacob Garchik. You can read an interview with Garchik here in which he discusses his work with Coltrane's piece. Garchik notes that Coltrane is believed to have adopted rhythms and cadence for "Alabama" from a eulogy Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the day after the bombing. Another source says that Coltrane may have heard a broadcast or recording of the eulogy delivered by King on September 18 at the funeral service for three of the girls. A third source concurs with that idea.

John Coltrane [1926-1967]

Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Birmingham Photo of the Day (67): Agnes Moorehead

As I often do, I was roaming around at the Alabama Mosaic site recently and came across this photograph of actress Agnes Moorehead. The only clues given are that the location is Birmingham, Alabama, and the date was February 16, 1973. So what was she doing in the city at that time? Let's investigate. 

Moorehead was born December 6, 1900, in Massachusetts. The family soon moved, and she grew up in St. Louis. She earned a bachelor's degree, then returned home to teach school for five years. Then she was off to the University of Wisconsin and a master's degree in English. She had begun acting as an undergraduate and decided to pursue that profession. She graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1929.

She pursued stage and radio work in New York, and by 1937 she had become a principal actor in Orson Welles' Mercury Players that produced works for both stage and radio. Moorehead played Margo Lane in The Shadow radio program in which Welles acted the title character.

In 1939 Welles and company moved to Hollywood, and Moorehead made her film debut as the mother of the title character he played in his masterpiece Citizen Kane. From that point she never lacked for work in film, radio and later television. She received an Emmy Award, and two Golden Globes, four Oscar nominations and six additional Emmy nominations. Moorehead could play puritanical, neurotic, possessive, and arrogant characters in dramas, thrillers and comedies. 

Some of her many films include The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Journey into Fear (1943), Dark Passage (1947) with Bogart and Bacall, and Show Boat (1951). Later she appeared in The Bat (1959), Disney's Pollyanna (1960), and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964). She continued her radio career alongside her one in films. Moorehead appeared in more of the 946 episodes of CBS's show Suspense than any other actor. Her most famous episode was "Sorry, Wrong Number" but Barbara Stanwyck got her role in the 1948 film. 

Moorehead had many great guest roles on television in the 1960's, ranging from The Rebel and Rawhide to The Twilight Zone. She won her Emmy for an episode of The Wild, Wild West. From 1964 until 1972 she played Endora, the witch with the acerbic wit and mother of Samantha on the popular show Bewitched. 

In the 1950's Moorehead acted in a national tour of George Bernard Shaw's play "Don Juan in Hell". She returned to that role at the Palace Theatre in Times Square for 24 performances that ended on February 4, 1973. You can read an account by a fan who caught her back stage after the final performance here. The production then went on a tour of unknown locations and duration.

Was she in Birmingham on February 16 for a performance of "Don Juan"?  She made an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on February 19. That's a pretty tight schedule, but Moorehead was a professional, so who knows? Only further research will tell.... 

Moorehead died on April 30, 1974, in Rochester, Minnesota. You can find out more about Moorehead's life in Charles Tranberg's 2006 book, I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead.  

Agnes Moorehead in Birmingham, 16 February 1973

Moorehead in the 1950's

Source: Wikipedia

Friday, December 7, 2018

Hale Infirmary: An Early Alabama Hospital for Blacks

In 1890 Hale Infirmary opened in Montgomery as one of the state's earliest hospitals for blacks. The facility was largely the work of one man, the city's first black physician, Cornelius Dorsette. I've written an entry on him for the Encyclopedia of Alabama, so let me quote myself on the origins of Hale Infirmary:

"Soon after his arrival in Montgomery, Dorsette had married Sarah Hale, but she died after less than a year. Her father was James Hale, the wealthiest black man in Montgomery at that time, and Dorsette convinced him that the city needed an infirmary for blacks. Hale donated land, and a white women's club helped Dorsette raise money for the building and its operation. The first such facility for blacks in Alabama, Hale Infirmary opened in 1890 and operated until 1958."

Dorsette came to Montgomery in 1884 at the urging of Booker T. Washington; the two were classmates at Hampton Institute in Virginia. By then Washington had been in Tuskegee for three years, and felt a black physician could be successful in Alabama's capital city. He was right. 

Dorsette also had constructed a three story professional building on Dexter Avenue that included his office. He helped found and served as the first president of the National Medical Association, an organization for black doctors, and served as a trustee of Tuskegee Institute and as Washington's personal physician. Unfortunately after a hunting trip on Thanksgiving Day in 1897, he caught pneumonia and died.  

Another prominent black Montgomery physician was also associated with Hale Infirmary. David H.C. Scott, an Alabama native, returned to the state after graduating from Meharry Medical School in Nashville. He practiced in Montgomery until his death in 1920, and often operated at Hale Infirmary which was on Lake Street near his office. Scott married the daughter of a prominent contractor, who built his son-in-law a three story building that housed a drug store and offices. Scott was also an important member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

More information about Hale Infirmary can be found in the article below. As noted there, Hale Infirmary cost $7,000 to build its two stories that could hold sixty patients. 

See also Thomas J. Ward, Jr.'s entry "Black Hospital Movement in Alabama" in the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Ward says the first hospital in Alabama for African-Americans was the one at Tuskegee Institute, which opened in 1892. However, the article below notes that the James Hale Infirmary Society was incorporated in Montgomery in 1889 and presumably the facility opened the following year. 

This photo and article depict the infirmary and staff in 1919.

Source: Clement Richardson, National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race. Montgomery, 1919, p. 129

Hale Infirmary, also around 1919

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives and History

David Henry Clay Scott, M.D.

Source: Clement Richardson, National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race. Montgomery, 1919, p. 78