Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Old Alabama Stuff (8): The "Alabama Antelope" in "Football Thrills"

One of the football greats at the University of Alabama before World War II was Don Hutson. Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1913, Hutson graduated from Alabama in 1934. Six different organizations named him first-team All-American after his senior year playing receiver, safety and kicker on the football team.

Hutson signed with the Green Bay Packers in 1935 and played eleven seasons of pro football. By the time he retired he held eighteen National Football League records and had created many of the routes used by receivers today. He is considered one of the greatest receivers in NFL history and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. 

Hutson is featured on four pages of the second issue of Football Thrills, a comic book that appeared in 1952. You can read those pages below. The entire comic can be found at the Comic Book Plus site if you also want a larger size and to read the stories about Bronco Nagurski or Casual Kazmaier.  

This comic book was supposedly edited by "Red" Grange, another football great known as the "Galloping Ghost." Grange played running back at the University of Illinois and for the Chicago Bears. He was a charter member of both the College and Pro football halls of fame. Be sure and read Grange's opening comments on Hutson.

Whatever happened to such great nicknames for football players? 

Football Thrills Issue #2, fall 1952

Don Hutson
Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama/UA Bryant Museum

This issue also featured an ad for the exciting "Jim Prentice Electric Football" game!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Old Alabama Stuff (7): Alabama Sketches by Samuel Minturn Peck

Samuel Mintern Peck was born in Tuscaloosa in 1854 and died there in 1938. His father was attorney Elisha Wolsey Peck, who served as Chief Justice of the state supreme court from 1869 until 1873 despite having opposed secession. The son graduated from the University of Alabama in 1876 with a master's degree, and to please his parents began medical school in New York City. He graduated in 1879, but never practiced. His real love was literature, and his father's death in 1888 made him a wealthy man able to indulge that love for the rest of his life.

Peck had begun publishing poetry while in medical school, and his first collection, Cap and Bells, appeared in 1886. Those 86 light verse poems proved very popular; the book went through five editions. Peck continued to write and publish poetry; his final collection Autumn Trail came out in 1925. Six years later the Alabama Writers' Conclave created an honorary position of Poet Laureate of Alabama and named Peck to fill it. After his death the post remained unfilled until 1954.

Peck also wrote a great deal of prose, including articles for various newspapers and "sketches" for such magazines as Collier's Weekly. Some of these latter pieces were collected as Alabama Sketches published in 1902. In some of them the town of "Oakville" substitutes for Tuscaloosa.

Although he managed to gain some popularity during his lifetime, Peck's poetic and prose work is now considered mostly pedestrian and read by few. His remaining importance lies in that fact he was the state's first Poet Laureate and one of the rare individuals from Alabama before World War II who devoted a lifetime to literature.

Samuel Mintern Peck around 1910

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alabama Book Spotlight: Birmingham City Directory 1909

The pages below come from the 1909 Birmingham City Directory published by R.L. Polk & Company. Founded in Detroit in 1870 to publish business directories, the company began issuing city directories that included individuals in 1872. The firm continues to operate today.

In this and future blog posts I'll be taking a look at some of these directories and their contents from various cities in Alabama. Older city directories are widely used by genealogists and other local historians, but they are fun to just dip into and see what can be found. Here goes on a few pages of the 1909 directory for Birmingham, which I accessed via the subscription site

Here we can see types of businesses people in Birmingham needed in 1909 and still need today: roofers, hardware, electric and laundries. 

This page includes a list of restaurants and "lunch rooms" operating in the city in 1909. Eating out has been popular for a long time!

In 1909 some people could attend Spencer Business College, "A School Backed by an Experienced Faculty." Also available was Adams Drug Company, "Open All Night." The city never sleeps. 

One of these pages features the ad for Eaton's Business College, "For Colored Young Men and Women."

Some typewriter companies and services are listed on these pages. I used both manual and electric typewriters frequently in the 1960's and 1970's for work and my own writing. I miss them in many ways. There's something satisfying about all that pounding and noise.

Finally we have a full page ad for The Reliance Hotel and Restaurant Company "Opposite New Terminal Station." They have all "modern conveniences" and the "European Plan." I know nothing more about this hotel; even the BhamWiki site doesn't have an entry for it. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Birmingham Photos of the Day (35): Even More Hospitals

Two recent posts in this series here and here have offered photos related to some hospitals in the city. These four images are also related to such institutions, but go beyond the actual buildings. One is not even a photograph. Some comments are included. 

Nursing class at Norwood Hospital on August 21, 1921. 

Dr. Charles Carraway had moved his clinic from Pratt City to Norwood in 1916. The hospital, eventually renamed Carraway, grew into a massive complex that finally closed in 2008 but remains today as a sad urban ruin. 

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections

This 1911 photograph shows Dr. Joseph G. Moore and five Hillman Hospital nurses identified only as Aldiffer, Black, Clifton, Ramsay and Smith. 

Moore graduated from the Birmingham Medical College in 1911. The college operated from 1894 until 1915. The Birmingham Yellow Pages for 1920 shows Dr. Joseph G. Moore with an office in the Empire Building

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham Archives 

First page of the August 1906 contract between the Birmingham Medical College and the Board of Lady Managers of Hillman Hospital. The entire document is three pages in length.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham Archives 

This newspaper advertising flyer from May 1960 notes expansion of St. Vincent's and Children's hospitals. A readable version can be found at the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Alabama Connections of Actor Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis is one of the most recognizable movie stars working today. His film career began in 1980 with a bit part in The First Deadly Sin starring Frank Sinatra and Faye Dunaway. The part is uncredited; he plays "Man Entering Diner." 

Since then he has found great success in such films as the Die Hard franchise, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, Looper and many others. He has worked very little in television, except for Moonlighting, the 1985-1989 series with Cybill Shepherd that made him a star. He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role in the light-hearted detective show.

Back in March of this year an announcement appeared noting that Willis will make his Broadway debut this fall in an adaptation by William Goldman of Stephen King's novel Misery. The production is scheduled to open in November and run into early February 2016. 

Willis is no stranger to the stage. Early in his career he acted in such Off-Broadway productions as Heaven and Earth and Bullpen. 

So-what connections does Willis have to Alabama? 

In the past couple of years he has been to Mobile filming several movies. The Prince was released in 2014 and Vice earlier this year. A third film, Extraction, has been filmed but not yet released. He and Nicholas Cage seem to be regulars in the port city lately.

Another connection? One of his daughters is named Tallulah Belle--perhaps after legendary Alabama actress Tallulah Bankhead??

And there is yet another connection from very early in his acting career. In 1981 he played the Sheriff in the Labor Theater's production of Railroad Bill at St. Peters Hall in New York City. The play was written and directed by Charles Portz, co-founder of the Labor Theater. The story was based on the brief career of black Alabama train robber Morris Slater--better known in song and story as "Railroad Bill." 

Death of Railroad Bill
Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama

So there you have them--the tenuous but fun connections of Bruce Willis to Alabama. 

In a future post I want to explore the long career of Railroad Bill in blues and folk music over the past century. 

Bruce Willis at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006
Source: Wikipedia

Monday, July 6, 2015

Old Alabama Stuff (6): "Black Belt of Alabama" in 1920

In its December 1920 issue the Georgraphical Review published an article entitled "The Black Belt of Alabama"The author was Herdman F. Cleland and under his name was "Williams College." Why was this faculty member at a small private college in Massachusetts writing about a region of Alabama? Let's investigate.

Cleland was born in Milan, Illinois, in July 1869. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1894 and spent several years teaching natural science at Gates College. In 1900 he earned a Ph.D. from Yale University and briefly taught geology at Cornell University. In 1901 he began teaching geology and botany at Williams College where he remained until his death in 1935. He died in the January 24 sinking of the Mallory Line's passenger and cargo vessel Mohawk after a collison with the Norwegian freighter Talisman.  

Cleland's article on Alabama's Black Belt is one of his professional publications. Cleland published various other geological articles, including "Some Little-Known Mexican Volcanoes" in Popular Science Monthly in 1907. By 1920 he had also published such articles as "The Effects of Deforestation in New England" in Science in 1910 and "The New England Geological Excursion" in the same journal in 1912. Various other publications related to his expertise followed in the years before his death.

This article focuses on Greensboro as a "typical" town of the Black Belt; about 2000 people lived there at the time. Cleland divides it into several sections:
-A Typical Black Belt Town
-The "Mansion" of the Cotton Planter
-The Poorer Quarters and Negro Cabins
-Main Street and the Old Market
-What is the Black Belt?
-Physiography of the Black Belt
-Early History
-The Plantations
-Social Relations and Culture
-"The Lost Cause"
-Recent Changes in the Black Belt
The article is a fascinating and sympathetic portrait of the region fifty-five years after the end of the Civil War. His final section, "Recent Changes in the Black Belt," is a clear-eyed yet nostaligic attempt to predict the future. You can read it in the final image below. Cleland does not discuss in his article what prompted his interest in the Alabama Black Belt.
Twenty years later Renwick C. Kennedy, a pastor from Camden in Wilcox County, wrote an article called "Alabama Black Belt" published on pages 282-289 of the Fall 1940 issue of the Alabama Historical Quarterly. Kennedy offers a more prickly defense of the area, its history and people.  

Paul A. Chadbourne
Herdman F. Cleland, Ph.D. [Yale]
Source: Williams College

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ghostly Signs of Pelham's Video Past

Spotting ghost advertising and other signs is a popular pastime these days, and there are still plenty to find in Alabama. Vintage signs that no longer exist are also of interest. Local examples of the first group are discussed in Fading Ads of Birmingham by Charles Buchanan and Jonathan Purvis. Tim Hollis covers some in the latter group in Vintage Birmingham Signs 

As I've noted in a previous post, the city of Pelham has been around for a long time and dates from its founding as Shelbyville in the Alabama Territory in 1818. Despite that long history, Pelham has very few "old" buildings and thus few ghost and vintage signs from the past. One of the oldest places in town currently houses Riverchase Carpet and Flooring near the intersection of US31 and Valleydale Road. Built in the early 1950's, the structure was originally a service station of the Pan-American oil company.

Dianne and I are frequent visitors to Kai's Koffee in Pelham, and as we were leaving the shop recently she pointed out the item below on the wall to the left of Kai's entrance. We have lived in Pelham since 1985, so we began chatting about the video stores we used to visit back in the day when the children were much younger, roughly the decade of the 90's. My notes on these gone-but-not-fogotten places are below.

If you know of other "old" buildings in Pelham and/or ghost or vintage signs, let us all know in the comments section!

For more about the video store phenomenon, see Daniel Herbert's 2014 book, Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store.

You can see this tape drop on the brick wall between Kai's Koffee and the Linda Hair Salon in the Victoria Plaza on US31 across from the post office. An independent video rental store used to occupy one of these areas and was the only such place in town we don't remember ever visiting.

The location in the Village at Pelham on US31 now occupied by a florist used to be a Video xPress store. That chain of video rental stores began in Bessemer in 1983 and had 85 locations by the time Movie Gallery bought it in 1994. The stores were apparently open most holidays. I remember coming here one Christmas Day afternoon once the kids--and the adults--in the family had finished examining and playing with the holiday haul. I don't remember what we rented, but I bet it was suitable for kids.

In the early 1990's one of these storefronts in the Shelby Mart was occupied by an independent video rental store. I remember visiting there only a few times, even though at that time we lived in the neighborhood behind this commercial strip. I don't think the store operated more than a couple of years. 

Finally we come to the location of Pelham's Movie Gallery, which operated in this currently empty store between Dollar Tree and a barbecue place at the junction of AL119 and US31. Founded in Dothan, Movie Gallery became the second-largest video rental chain by the time it liquidated in 2010. The final stores closed in August of that year.