Monday, September 28, 2015

Alabama Book Covers (4): Wyatt Blassingame

After looking at the first six book covers below, you'd be excused from thinking that Wyatt Blassingame [1909-1985] might have been primarily an author of non-fiction books for juvenile males. That's pretty much what he did from the early 1950's until the early 1980's. These covers only give a small sample; he published dozens of such titles.

Yet in the 1930's Blassingame published hundreds of stories in pulp magazines. Many of the works fell into the "weird menace" category of horror and shudder pulps. These stories often provided readers with jolts of the supernatural as well as various permutations of murder, torture and women in peril. Many of the magazine covers patched all those characteristics together into a wonderfully lurid visual feast. 

Blassingame was born in Demopolis and educated at Howard College [now Samford University in Homewood; then located in Birmingham], the University of Alabama and New York University. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and several of his non-fiction works relfect that experience. He also wrote a number of novels, including several for adults.

I'll be doing a longer post on Blassingame in the future; meanwhile, enjoy the covers below. John Pelan's introduction to the current reprint of many of Blassingame's early stories can be found here

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Movies with Alabama Connections (2): 100 Rifles

OK, ok, this "connection" is pretty minor, but get used to it; there will be more such postings. After all, there are a number of films where the state or one of its cities pops up briefly--Tuscaloosa as a joke in a Marx Brothers film, for instance.

That city appears in a joke in another movie, House of Bones. A crew of ghost hunters for a TV show are setting up their equipment in a haunted house, and two of them begin a discussion about the reality of supernatural phenomenon. One guy says to the other something along the lines of "The scariest thing I ever saw was a girl in a bar in Tuscaloosa."

Well. Don't you envy the kind of research I have to do to come up with this stuff?

Meanwhile, let's move along. Today's example of a fleeting Alabama film reference comes from 100 RiflesThis 1969 western was based on a novel by Robert MacLeod published three years earlier and stars Raquel Welch and two former football players, Jim Brown and Burt Reynolds.

Brown's gridiron career lasted a bit longer than Reynolds' did; in 2002, Sporting News declared him to be the greatest professional foootball player ever. Reynolds' college career ended with an injury in his first game at Florida State. However, both have done a fair amount of acting over the years.

Brown plays a deputy sheriff from Arizona who crosses into Mexico to find and arrest Reynolds' character, Yaqui Joe. Joe has robbed an Arizona bank to buy rifles for the Yaquis to help fight Mexican government repression. Yaqui Joe is actually a half-breed; his mother was Yaqui, but his father hailed from Alabama.

And there you have it. You can read more details about the film's story and behind the scenes during filming at the Wikipedia article linked above or the film's entry in the Spaghetti Western Database. I haven't seen the movie in a long time, but I remember it as being pretty good. I do happen to like westerns, but the presence of Raquel Welch is reason enough to watch.


100 Rifles (movie poster).jpg
Source: Wikipedia 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Two Early Medical Libraries in Birmingham

In March 2014 I wrote a post on "Alabama Libraries in 1886 and 1897" that described libraries found in the state in surveys done by the U.S. Bureau of Education. That 1886 survey found three medical libraries in Alabama. The largest was at the State Board of Health in Montgomery with 3000 volumes. The Pierson Libary at the Alabama Insane Hospital [later Bryce] had some 1500 books, and the Medical College of Alabama in Mobile had 500.

In this post I want to briefly discuss two medical libraries in Birmingham in the first decade of the 20th century. Comments are below. Today there are a few more medical libraries in the state, primarily at hospitals and academic medical centers. Since 1980 the Alabama Health Libraries Association has served those facilities.

Alabama Medical Journal October 1901 Volume 13 number 11

This item announces the intent to organize a medical library for Birmingham physicians. As items below indicate, efforts quickly began and a library association continued meeting until at least 1908.

George Summers Brown, M.D. [1860-1913]

Source: Holley, History of Medicine in Alabama

According to the article above, Brown was the "prime mover" in the effort to organize a medical library for the county society. As the item below notes, the idea quickly morphed into the impressive-sounding Birmingham Medical Library Association. Brown taught obstetrics at the Birmingham Medical College.

Alabama Medical Journal November 1901 Volume 13 Number 12

Alabama Medical Journal September 1908 Volume 20 Number 10

This 1908 meeting report indicates that the library association meetings were much like the county and state medical society ones--a chance to exchange some clinical information, eat good food and socialize. The Dr. E.M. Prince mentioned was a founder and surgeon for a number of years at South Highlands Infirmary [now UAB Highlands]. Prince published numerous articles before World War I and some indicated the presence of Dr. James Robertson Dawson as the physician giving anesthesia for his cases. 

That 1908 volume of the Alabama Medical Journal contains two letters to the Birmingham Medical Library Association from local physician Dr. H.S. Ward reporting on his visits to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and London, England. The first letter was read at the December 1907 meeting of the Association. In closing his second letter, Dr. Ward expresses the hope that "some day our own medical library association may be in a home of its own." 

I'll have to do some more research to determine how long this association met and if a library ever really developed and what eventually happened to it if it did. The list of names above in the original announcement indicates that a large cross-section of the county society's members at least wanted themselves associated with this project.

The second example is the private library belonging to a physician who practiced for a number of years in Birmingham, Dr. John Clark LeGrande. You'll note that he served as president of the library association organized in 1901. 

LeGrande taught hygiene and medical law at the Birmingham Medical College. He was the founding editor of the Alabama Medical and Surgical Age which was published from 1889 until 1911LeGrande was also one of the individuals who helped furnish Hillman Hospital when the permanent brick building opened in July 1903; his contributions outfitted the obstetrical ward. 

LeGrande died in March 1906 and his personal medical library was offered for sale. The John Daniel Sinkler Davis named in the notice below had also practiced medicine in Birmingham for many years. An 1879 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, Davis was the older brother of William Elias B. Davis, one of Alabama's most prominent physicians of his time period. LeGrande's "magnificent" personal library must have been impressive for its day.

Alabama Medical Journal April 1907 Volume 19, number 5 page 252

John Clark LeGrande, M.D.

Source: Holley, History of Medicine in Alabama

This page is from Jefferson County Probate records pertaining to Dr. John Clark LeGrande and dated April 7, 1906, just over two weeks after his death. As noted, he died without a will and the list of his "real and personal estate" included a "medical library." Family members probably asked Dr. J.D.S. Davis to handle the sale of the collection.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Quick Visit to Thorsby

In August Dianne and I made a trip to Clanton and on the way back drove through the town of Thorsby, also in Chilton County. I had recently read Kelly Kazek's article on the town and wanted to take a personal look. Here's what we found.

As Kelly noted, you'll miss the good stuff if you just drive through on U.S. Highway 31. Thorsby is typical of so many small rural towns these days--some nice historical structures, perhaps some efforts at preservation, and some obvious signs of declne. For instance, we found a couple of large closed and deteriorating buildings we were told were a former school. These are no doubt the former elementary school built around 1925. They must have been in use until fairly recently, though; a wheelchair ramp led up to one main entrance. The fate of the school is precarious

Its Scandinavian heritage gives Thorsby some unusual touches for a rural town in Alabama. Kelly covered that aspect in her article linked above. You can see an old photograph of the T.T. Thorson home here. An article about the house is here. Thorson was one of the town founders and its namesake; his house is still a private residence. Thorsby celebrates its heritage with an annual Swedish Festival.

A photo of the town's historical marker is here. The town's own website also offers more information. An article about the Thorsby High School that burned in 1975 is here. A fire almost exactly 50 years earlier had burned the private Thorsby Institute which the high school replaced. The current high school occupies the site today.

Below are some photos of the beautiful former Norwegian Lutheran Church building and its clock. An historical preservation committee for the town was formed in 2007 and has obviously done good work. Beverly Crider's article "Thor's Legacy Lives on in Alabama" is here

On our visit I noticed that several streets in the town had the names of states: Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan. I wonder how that came about?

Two other Alabama towns with Scandinavian heritage are Silverhill in Baldwin County and Fruithurst in Cleburne County.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Leon Lipscomb Grocery in Lacey's Spring

Lacey's Spring is an unincorporated community at the base of Brindley Mountain in Morgan County. American Revolutionary veteran John Lacy and his brothers settled there in 1818. A post office was established in 1831.

You'll find Lacey's Spring by going south on US 231 out of Huntsville. After you cross the Tennessee River you are essentially there. More of the community is also down Alabama Highway 36 as you head west toward Valhermoso Springs and Hartselle and I-65.

When you drive on US 231 toward Highway 36, you'll pass a number of gas stations; some are still operating. Several decades ago this stretch was known as "gasoline alley", and lower prices in Morgan County would attract drivers from Huntsville who crossed the river to fill their tanks. Leon Lipscomb and his grocery probably thrived in those days. 

You can learn more about the current town here.

You can see more photos of the building and its area here.

The text of historical markers approved by the Alabama Historical Association are available by county here at the state archives site. 

As you drive north on US 231 toward the Tennessee River, you'll find this hidden relic on the right in Lacy's Spring. 

The winter image below gives a full view of this sign, which I've been told marked the site of a catfish restaurant.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Alabama Book Covers (3): Forrest Gump

Although best known for his novel Forrest Gump, Winston Groom has written many other books both fiction and non-fiction. He grew up in Mobile and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1965. Then he served in the U.S. Army, spending a tour in Vietnam. Groom lived in New York City after leaving the military,  working as a journalist and writing several novels. He returned to Mobile in 1985.

The following year Groom published Forrest Gump. The book was not a great success until the film adaptation featuring Tom Hanks as the title character was released in 1994. After that the book sold almost two million copies and spawned a wit-and-wisdom book, two cookbooks and a sequel.   

Since the great success of Gump, Groom has continued to publish novels and several works of historical non-fiction. Below are some covers related to Forrest Gump the novel, sequel, audio book, film, etc. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Quick Visit to Mobile, Alabama (1)

In July Dianne and I headed to Mobile for a long weekend and a little family gathering. We stayed at the Battle House Hotel and despite the heat spent some time wandering up and down nearby Dauphin Street and adjacent blocks. Here are a few of the wonders we encountered. I'll cover some more in another post. 

Step out of the Battle House's Royal Street entrance, look up and to your left and you'll see the  Van Antwerp Building. Designed by architect George Rogers and finished in 1907, the Van Antwerp was the city's first skyscraper and the first such reinforced concrete structure in the Southeast. Wealthy druggist Garet Van Antwerp financed the building and located his pharmacy there. An ad for his business, which operated into the 1960's, can be seen below.  

This ad appeared in the June 1911 issue of the Southern Medical Journal published in Birmingham.

Down Dauphin Street not far from the Battle House is a very long and colorful mural.

For some strange reason daughter Becca Leon was not interested in this pink dress we offered to buy her. Maybe 20 years ago she would have been!

The Crescent Theater is an independent movie house in downtown Mobile.

Streets in downtown Mobile have many surviving examples of wonderful architecture.