Thursday, March 26, 2015

Birmingham Photo of the Day (30): 3rd Avenue at Night in 1908

Once again I want to feature in this series a photograph from the 1908 publication Views of Birmingham. As the BhamWiki site notes, the book was a 64-page promotional effort published by a banking firm. You can read the introduction below the photograph. "Birmingham is destined to be the greatest of Southern cities," it declares. 

The photograph shows 3rd Avenue at night. Since I recently watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the first time in a while, this shot makes me think of the Mother Ship landing on the street car tracks.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Easters Past in Alabama

I plan to do several posts related to holidays and their celebration in Alabama or parts of it. The first was a look at "A Vintage Valentine's Day in Birmingham." Next up is Easter; some historical goodies from the Digital Collections at the Alabama Department of Archives and History are below with information and/or comments. We've been sending Easter cards for a long time!

This postcard is dated April 6, 1912. 

This card dates prior to 1920.

This Easter egg hunt from the 1930s is taking place on the playground of the Cowikee Community House in Eufaula. The complex served the families in the Cowikee Cotton Mills village.

Company party for the families of employees at Gamble's, Inc., in Montgomery, March 25, 1967

Another of several photos on the ADAH site taken at that March 1967 Gamble's party. Adults could have fun, too!

This window display was at the Silver's store on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery; the photograph was taken on April 3, 1949.

Easter decorations inside the Church of the Ascension on Clanton Avenue in Montgomery, April 22, 1962

On April 8, 1917, Helen Keller wrote a letter to a Mrs. Burton in Montgomery. Apparently the lady had sent some Easter lilies, and Keller was responding to thank her. The flowers were "a message of hope that cheered me" when she was "grieving over the fearful world-tragedy." Two days earlier the United States had declared war on Germany and was thus about to enter the European war already in progress. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Birmingham Photos of the Day (29): Three Churches in 1908

I'm continuing to draw photographs from the wonderful 1908 publication Views of Birmingham

The top photo is the "Baptist Church", perhaps the one built of Bedford Stone and dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1905. If so, it is the First Baptist Church of Birmingham now located on Lakeshore Drive in Homewood. The property was sold to AmSouth Bank in the 1980s. The Encyclopedia of Alabama has an entry on Southern Baptists in Alabama.

The Methodist building still stands and is now the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham. More information on the building is available on the BhamWiki site and on Methodism in Alabama at the Encyclopedia of Alabama. 

The Episcopal church also still stands and is now known as St. Mary's-on-the-Highlands Episcopal Church. The congregation was organized in 1887. An EOA entry on the history of the Episcopal Church in the state is available here.   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Film Actresses from Alabama before 1960 (1): Lois Wilson


One of the earliest actresses from Alabama to find success in Hollywood, Lois Wilson is probably unknown to most state residents today. Although born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1894, her family soon moved to Birmingham where she grew up. 

We can find some interesting information about the family in the 1910 U.S. Census. Her father is A.K. Wilson, a Canadian native. Her mother Constance was born in Pennsylvania. Also listed are three other daughters, all younger than Lois, and grandfather William Wilson. The family lived in the city's 15th Ward. 

She graduated from Alabama Normal College in Livingston, which is now the University of West Alabama. Apparently Wilson just missed the era of famed educator and reformer Julia Tutwiler, who directed the school from 1881 until 1910.

By 1915 Wilson was teaching school. We can assume her ambitions ran beyond that; she entered a Miss Birmingham contest sponsored by the Birmingham News and Universal Pictures. By winning she received a trip to Hollywood for an audition. After a brief period in Chicago, she won her first film role--a small part in a short, The Palace of Dust. She made four other films in 1915 alone. By the time she more or less retired from the movies in 1941, Wilson had acted in more than 100 silent and sound motion pictures.

Wilson appeared with various established or up-and-coming film stars of the silent and early sound eras: Pola Negri in Bella Donna [1923], Rudolph Valentino and Bebe Daniels in Monsieur Beaucaire [1924], Louise Brooks in The Show Off [1926], Bette Davis in Seed, Davis' second film [1931] and Tom Mix in Rider of Death Valley [1932].

She worked with Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in The Dumb Girl of Portici in 1916. Wilson played heroine Molly Wingate in one of the most popular westerns of the silent era, The Covered Wagon [1923]. In that same year she appeared in Hollywood, one of the earliest films using cameos by a parade of stars--in this case ones such as Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Noah Beery, Mary Astor, William S. Hart and Alan Hale. She played Shirley Temple's mother in Bright Eyes [1934].

In 1922 Wilson was in the first group of WAMPAS Baby Stars of actresses expected to be major stars. That campaign was a promotional effort by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers and ran annually until 1934.

In 1926 she played Daisy Buchanan in the first film version of The Great Gatsby released just a year after the novel was published. Like so many silent films, this one has not survived but a one-minute trailer does exist. Thus we have an Alabama actress playing a character based on Alabama native Zelda Fitzgerald

Wilson made other films with Alabama connections. In 1921 she played the title character in Miss Lulu Bett; her male co-star in the film was Milton Sills. You can read a long review of the film by Fritzi Kramer here. A few years later Sills would star in Men of Steel, a picture filmed mostly in Birmingham. In 1922 she appeared in Manslaughter with Thomas Meighan. Two years later Meighan would be in the Birmingham area to film Coming Thru

After 1941 Wilson made only one more movie, The Girl from Jones Beach in 1949. The comedy starred Ronald Reagan and Virginia Mayo; Wilson played the mother of Mayo's character. She did not completely retire from acting, however. She had a couple of roles in Broadway productions and did network television work on the soap operas The Guiding Light and The Secret Storm.  

Wilson was a good friend of silent film star Gloria Swanson and made an appearance on the 1957 episode of the television series This Is Your Life when it profiled Swanson. In 1950 Swanson had played former silent star Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd., one of the great films about Hollywood. 

Wilson died at 93 on March 3, 1988, in Riverside Hospital in Reno, Nevada. She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. She never married. Whether she ever returned to Alabama after leaving in 1915 is currently unknown. 

Picture-Play Magazine December 1918
In the section titled "Favorite Picture Players" she follows Mary Pickford and Alice Joyce

Wilson made the cover of Picture-Play in 1923.

Motion Picture Studio Directory for 1919
Wilson's entry is in the right hand column, 3rd down

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Old Alabama Stuff (4): Teacher Certification in 1922

This pamphlet of 16 pages was published in 1922 as Bulletin No. 32 of the State of Alabama Department of Education. The item describes the various types of certification and methods of receiving them for Alabama's public school teachers. 

Certificates could be received by graduating from an approved post-high school training program for teachers or by examination. Certificates valid in other states could be approved by the State Superintendent of Education. Special and emergency provisional certificates were also available.  

Details are also given for rules governing examiners, preparation of teachers in colleges and universities and "preparation of teachers in colored institutions." 

Monday, March 9, 2015

That Time Mom Saw George Washington Carver in Camp Hill


George Washington Carver in March 1942
Photograph by Arthur Rothstein

When my mother was six and seven years old, she and the family were living in the small town of Camp Hill in Tallapoosa County.  Her father John Miller Shores was minister at the Methodist church. Mom was the youngest of four children; the older siblings were Heth, John and Marjorie. My grandmother Tempe completed the family.

Mom tells the story of the time they went to hear a talk by George Washington Carver while they lived in Camp Hill. The event took place in the town's largest auditorium at the Southern Industrial School, which is now Lyman Ward Military Academy. Mom remembers him as an older black man with snow-white hair. Carver was about 70 at the time. The trip from Tuskegee would have been a drive north of less than 40 miles.

The auditorium was crowded. Mom was lifted into one of the deep windowsills to watch beside other children. She remembers being afraid she might fall from her perch. She doesn't recall any of Carver's speech, just the size of the crowd. Both whites and blacks were in attendance. She suspects the blacks were segregated in some way, but doesn't remember specifics. Perhaps the auditorium had a balcony.

The Lyman Ward web site notes that one of the school's two gyms was constructed in the 1930's. You can see a panoramic video of the interiorof Tallapoosa Hall here. I've shown this video to mom and the high windows are the way she remembers them in the auditorium. 

Mom does remember something very specific about the event. The family brought home a booklet which she read and kept for some years. The item described Carver's many achievements; she doesn't remember if the pamphlet was sold or given away at the event. 

Carver's appearance is interesting in light of events in Camp Hill just a few years earlier. In July 1931 a meeting of the Alabama Sharecroppers Union in a church was attacked by a band of white men. A shootout resulted in at least one death and 30 arrests. Four other individuals were later lynched, but the 30 were eventually released. The all-black Union, affiliated with the Communist Party USA, operated in the state from 1931 until 1936.

On a brighter note, Chicago White Sox outfielder Bill Higdon was born in Camp Hill in 1924. He died in 1986.

Rev. John Miller Shores 

My grandmother Tempe, Aunt Heth standing on the left, Uncle John on the right. The two squirts are Aunt Marjorie and mom--she's the one with the pensive look. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Birmingham Photo of the Day (28): The Morris Hotel in 1908

In the previous post in this series I made some comments on the city's Hillman Hotel and included a photo from the Views of Birmingham published in 1908 that included so many photographs of local landmarks at that time. Below is another hotel photo from the book, this time featuring the Morris Hotel at the corner of 1st Avenue North and 19th Street. 

The Morris was constructed in 1891 as an office building and a 125-room hotel. The building lasted until 1957 when it was demolished for a three-story parking deck. You can read much more about the Morris at its BhamWiki entry. A few more photos can be seen at the Birmingham Public Library's Digital Collections

Image of the newspaper article taken from the Birmingham Public Library's Digital Collections

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pondering Alabama Maps (5): An 1867 Railroad Map


The wordy title of this map is "Map showing the line of the Alabama & Tennessee River Rail Road and its proposed extensions; exhibiting also the contiguous mineral deposits and zone of production". The dark blue line indicates the existing railroad; the dark green lines are proposed extensions.

The company had incorporated in March 1848 under an act of the Alabama legislature. By 1862 about 135 miles of the line ran from Selma to Blue Mountain and toward Dalton, Georgia. By February 1867, after acts of both the Alabama and Georgia legislatures, the line was merged with one in Georgia to become the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad. By 1894 the road had become part of the Southern Railroad Company.

Digital versions of this map in various sizes/formats can be found at the Library of Congress web site.

A very good history is Wayne Cline's book Alabama Railroads.