Thursday, December 8, 2016

Alabama Book Covers (16): William P, McGivern

At some point in the dim mists of the past I ran across the Wikipedia entry for fiction and television writer William P. McGivern, which noted that although born in Chicago, he "grew up in Mobile, Alabama." Let's investigate.

McGivern was indeed born in Chicago in 1918. We can find him there in the 1920 U.S. Census, along with older brother Francis and their parents Peter and Julia. The family lived at 4903 Forrestville Avenue and the father was superintendent at a brewery.   

The future writer served in the Army in World War II and then studied in England. He spent two years as a police reporter in Philadelphia before his first novel, But Death Runs Faster [AKA The Whispering Corpse] appeared in 1948. McGivern was off and running. By the time he died in 1982 he had published more than 20 novels, mostly mystery and crime thrillers, numerous short stories and various television scripts.

Several of his novels have been adapted as films including Fritz Lang's The Big Heat [1953] starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame and Rogue Cop [1954] with Robert Taylor and Janet Leigh. A particular favorite of mine is Odds Against Tomorrow [1959] in which Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan try to rob a bank without killing each other. Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame also star. McGivern's time as a police reporter adds a realism to his crime writing and that is carried over into these films.

In addition to the crime novels, McGivern also wrote a number of short stories, including some science fiction. He wrote a World War II novel and two books with his wife Maureen, including a memoir of the family's world travels. In the 1960's and 1970's McGivern wrote scripts for a number of television series such as The Virginian, Ben Casey, Adam-12 and Kojak. He also wrote a novel as "Bill Peters". 

Ok, but what about the "grew up in Mobile, Alabama" business? Beats me where that came from. You'll find it stated in a number of places across the web, all of which seem to originate with that Wikipedia entry. Yet the 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census records show McGovern living with his family in Chicago. In 1930 father Peter is listed as a real estate salesman; by 1940 he has moved to insurance sales. Perhaps the family moved to Mobile for some years between the census taking and then returned to Chicago.

Oh, well, perhaps I'll find documentation some day....

William P. McGivern [1918-1982]

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, December 5, 2016

Birmingham Photo of the Day (53): Students at the Zoo in 1968

The photograph below was taken in May 1968 by John McDavid. Six students from Minnie Holman School are posing in front of a fence at the Birmingham Zoo. Behind them is a giraffe surveying the scene; further in the background at the lower left is a camel.

Minnie Holman School, located in what is now the Crestwood North area, opened in 1928 and was demolished in the early 1990's. Minnie Holman became the second wife of John Phillips in 1898; he was a longtime early Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. The former Phillips High School was named after him. You can see many photos from the school's history here.

Photos, scrapbooks and other materials related to the history of the Birmingham Zoo can be found here. The Zoo opened in 1955.

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Old Alabama Stuff (14): Dr. Charles T. Jackson Examines a Meteorite from Clarke County

I could have subtitled this post "It Came from Outer Space!" or perhaps "Alabama's connection to the 1846 'discovery' of anesthesia". But I did not. Bear with me, though, and you'll see why either of those designations would have been accurate. After a fashion....

Let's begin with the main character here, Dr. Charles Thomas Jackson. He was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on June 21, 1806. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1829, but an early interest in geology continued during his studies there. With a friend he visited Nova Scotia in 1826 to collect minerals; return trips to that area in 1827 and 1829 led to his first publication.

Jackson traveled to southern Europe in 1831 for further medical experience and geological exploration. From 1837 to 1839 he conducted geological surveys for Maine and Massachusetts; in April 1839 he began a survey of geological and agricultural resources in Rhode Island. At various times he worked as state geologist for Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. 

His geological work continued into the 1870's and proved to be his main source of income. Between 1828 and 1873 he published numerous works related to geology; his medical publications number less than two dozen. In 1873 he suffered what was probably a stroke; his family paid for his care at McLean insane Asylum in Belmont, Massachusetts, until his death on August 28, 1880.

During his long life Jackson was a physician, chemist, geologist and surveyor. Yet he had difficulty completing projects; his ideas were often brought to fruition by others. He helped dentist William Morton who was searching for a suitable pain reliever; Jackson suggested sulfuric ether. Using that agent, Morton demonstrated its usefulness in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in October 1846. The two received a patent for the process, but were forced to abandon it when local physicians refused to use the agent under those conditions. 

Jackson had similar brushes with the development of the telegraph and guncotton, an early form of nitrocellulose discovered by C.F. Schonbein in Switzerland in 1846. Jackson did demonstrate it in Boston in December of that year. A recent article has speculated that Jackson may have suffered from some form of attention deficit disorder.

By 1834 Jackson was attempting to establish a medical practice in Boston, and in that year married Susan Bridge. He also had a laboratory for his geological and chemical studies on which most of his income depended. His brother-in-law Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Jackson there on various occasions, and referred to the place in Conduct of Life. Emerson compared nature to a rag merchant "like some good chemist whom I found the other day in his laboratory, converting old shirts into pure white sugar."

In 1838 Jackson published an article in Silliman's American Journal of Science and Arts entitled "Chemical analysis of meteoric iron from Claiborne, Clark Co., Alabama". Dated August 5, 1834, Jackson's article opens by telling us that "Mr. F. Alger handed me this remarkable mineral..." Francis Alger was the friend who had accompanied Jackson on that first trip to Nova Scotia and who became a well-known mineral collector and author. Jackson further notes the mineral came to Alger via "Mr. Hubbard, who had obtained the specimen during his travels in Alabama..." 

I have been unable so far to identify "Mr. Hubbard" for certain. The likeliest candidate I've found is Lucius Virgilius Hubbard, born in Vermont in 1803 and died in New Orleans in 1849. He graduated from Harvard in 1824. I haven't found any more information about him, but interestingly his son Lucius Lee Hubbard, born shortly after his father's death, had a life-long interest in collecting and writing about minerals. He also served in a Minnesota infantry unit deployed in Alabama during the Civil War. Yet none of that says anything about his father's possible presence in Alabama in 1834.

Jackson declares that Mr. Hubbard's find is a "most peculiar and remarkable meteorite." The specimen was found on the surface "near Lime Creek, in Claiborne, Alabama." The piece was so large that Mr. Hubbard had to employ "a negro to break it with a sledge-hammer." He was unable to do so, but Mr. Hubbard himself managed to detach the piece that ended up in Jackson's laboratory in Boston.

Jackson described the sample in some detail, followed by his analysis, which can be read below. Both iron and nickel were present, meaning it was an iron meteorite made up of an iron-nickel alloy. Some 5% of meteorites fall into this category. 

Claiborne is now a ghost town, but in the 1830's it was a thriving port and trading center on the Alabama River in Monroe County. In 1825 on his American tour the Marquis de Lafayette visited the town, which then had about 2500 residents. Claiborne was the county seat until 1832, when it was moved to Monroeville. Despite outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera, the town remained active until the Civil War. Looted at the end of that conflict, Claiborne quickly declined. Today all that is left are three cemeteries. 

Jackson made use of this Clarke County meteorite in two other venues. At the 1842 meeting of the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists, "Dr. C.T. Jackson exhibited a specimen of meteoric iron from Clairborne County, Alabama, in which he discovered chlorine, in the form of chloride of iron and nickel, in 1834" [Proceedings, published in Boston in 1843, p. 62].

In the following year he made "Remarks on the Alabama meteoric iron" at a meeting of the Boston Society of Natural History. You can read that material below.


Martin RF, Desai SP. An Appraisal of the Life of Charles Thomas Jackson as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Anesthesia History 2015 Apr; 1(2): 38-43

Woodworth JB. Charles Thomas Jackson. American Geologist 1897 August; 20(2): 68-110 [overview of Jackson's geological career and lengthy bibliography of all his publications]

Wolfe, Richard J. and Richard Patterson, Charles Thomas Jackson: "The Head Behind the Hands". History of Science, 2007

A street in Claiborne in the 1850's

Source: Wikipedia 

Silliman's American Journal of Science and Arts, 1838

This biography of Jackson by Richard J. Wolfe and Richard Patterson appeared in 2007.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pondering Alabama Maps (7): October 2, 1866

I stumbled across this map in my random wanderings around the web and found it interesting. On the bottom right is noted "Department of Interior/General Land Office, October 2, 1866" thus making the map seem to be a snapshot of the state on a particular day. Perhaps that's actually the date the map was finished and ready for printing.

Published in Philadelphia, the map has an abundance of information about the state at that time. In Jefferson County the only town we see is Elyton, the county seat until moved to Birmingham in 1873 just seven years later. At the bottom is this note:  "The whole central region of this state is underlaid with iron ore, in vast beds. There are also coal measures of great thickness and extent. Lead ore is also found." 

In east central Alabama along the Georgia line we see Benton County. Created in 1832, the county was named after Missouri senator and defender of slavery Thomas Hart Benton. In the 1850's Benton became an opponent of slavery, and the name was changed to honor secessionist John C. Calhoun. 

North of Walker County is Hancock County. Established in 1850 from a part of Walker County, the name originally honored the famous signer of the Declaration of Independence John Hancock. The name was eventually changed to Winston after state governor John A. Winston.  

At the time this map was created Alabama had entered the Reconstruction period

Friday, November 18, 2016

Some Family Photos from Back in the Day

Well, the 1960's anyway.

Most of these photos were taken by yours truly, or at least using the black and white camera I had in those days. The location for the first four was my paternal grandparents' house on Chandler Street in Gadsden. I imagine we were visiting for Sunday lunch. The other four were taken at our family home on Lakewood Drive in Huntsville. Some comments are below each one. 

I also have photos from the 1950's that will do just nicely for another post someday soon...and probably more from the 1960's...

Here I am on the left along with younger brother Richard and our grandfather Amos J. Wright, Sr. Pawpaw worked for the L&N Railroad for many years and died in 1975. I remember one of his favorite sayings: "See you in the funny papers." I've written about his World War I training at Auburn here

This photograph features my mother and grandmother washing dishes. Mawmaw seems about to laugh at her silly grandson taking pictures. She died in 1997. That little iron skillet hung on the wall there for a long time.  

Here's Mawmaw again sitting in their long narrow den off the kitchen. I think she's looking at some photographs. The clock on the television--a Zenith, I think--tells us it's one-thirty. Mawmaw would later move her Singer sewing machine to that alcove on the left where it sat for many years. That ancient machine is now sitting in my daughter Becca's home in Oklahoma: 

Younger brother Richard poses in the same den a half hour earlier. That clock on the shelf behind him is still in the family. On the table on the lower left is a candy dish Mawmaw always kept there and a book. Wonder if it was one I was reading and brought with me? Looks like a library call number on the lower spine. That appears to be one of Mawmaw's African violets on the television with the other clock. 

Now we come to the house in Huntsville. Our beagle Duchess surveys her back yard domain from the roof over the basement entrance. 

Here's Duchess behind bars--er, the fence--probably wondering why I'm taking pictures instead of playing with her. 

And here's Duchess in another roof pose. We lived in a house halfway up a fairly steep hill, and sometimes she would be sitting on the other side of the roof. That gave passersby coming up the hill or even some neighbors the impression that we had a dog on our roof.

Brother Richard faces the camera in one of our bedrooms; it looks too neat to be his. Before he became seriously interested in Alabama archaeology, dad did a lot of woodworking and that desk and lamp are two of his pieces.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Movies with Alabama Connections (10): Alabama Jones

My investigations of many things Alabama-related can lead to some pretty odd places. Case in point: this bit of erotica, which actually has TWO Alabama connections.

I haven't seen this film, but the type is well-known. In recent years any major box office hit has gotten an erotic remake--er, rip off; the numbers are legion. This genre echoes the "Eurospy" French and Italian films of the 1960's and 1970's that rode the success of James Bond films. Alabama Jones was directed by Jim Wynorski [under the name Harold Blueberry], a well-known figure in erotic and exploitation genres. 

The film has a state connection beyond the title. One of the leads is Angela Little, born in Albertville in 1972. In the film she is billed as Katie James. In addition to work in the adult film industry, Little has also acted in mainstream films and television shows including Rush Hour 2, Charmed, CSI and Monk. She was Playboy magazine's Playmate of the Month in August 1998.

For some reason, Little's screen name doesn't appear on the DVD cover below. I presume the three names listed were bigger stars in the industry in 2005 when the film was released. 

Other characters in the film include California Jones and Oklahoma Jones. I leave historical researchers in those states to do their duty at some point.

Angela Michelle Little

Friday, November 11, 2016

The 1898 U.S.S. Alabama Battleship

Most of us are familiar with the World War II battleship USS Alabama saved from the scrapyard in the 1960's and now the centerpiece of Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile. I've written about the campaign to save her here

An earlier battleship designated the USS Alabama did not have such a pleasant fate. Launched in 1898 and commissioned two years latter, the Alabama had a long service history, cruising to ports around the world. She was decommissioned for the last time in May, 1920, and in September of the following year turned over to the War Department for use as an aerial bombardment target by the U.S. Army Air Service. 

Under the supervision of legendary General Billy Mitchell, the battleship was attacked by aircraft with both chemical and demolition bombs. On September 27 she finally sank in shallow water; the USS Alabama remained there until sold for scrap in March 1924.  

Several photos related to the 1898 vessel are below. Many others featuring commanders, crew members and the ship can be found at the Navsource Online Battleship Photo Archive. A film about the ship over three minutes long can be found on YouTube. Additional photos can be found here

A photograph of the launching of the second USS Alabama in February 1942 taken by a Life magazine photographer can be found here. Another view of the launching is below. Kent Whitaker has published a book on the second USS Alabama [Images of America, Arcadia Publishing, 2013]. 

Information about the World War II light cruiser USS Birmingham can be found here. The most recent of four ships named USS Montgomery after the state capitol was launched in August 2014. 

USS Alabama anchored off New York City around 1912

USS Alabama being used for aerial target practice in 1921

Portion of the USS Alabama being scrapped at a shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland in June 1928. 

"Alabama had been sunk in bombing tests in September 1921 and had to be raised for scrapping. Note the cofferdam used to seal her hull amidships, and the dished-in side plating caused by near-miss bomb explosions." 

Postcard of the battleship from the early 1900's

Launching of the USS Alabama on February 16, 1942