Monday, November 30, 2015

A Visit to Camp Hill, Alabama (1)

This past July my brother Richard and I made one of our annual trips seeking Alabama and family history. This time we were in east central Alabama mainly around Brundidge and Camp Hill. We visited several other places I've already written about such as Smuteye, Union Springs and Aberfoil. I'll be doing a future post on Tallassee and a second one on Camp Hill. A decade or more ago mom and two of her sisters, Heth and Marjorie, made a similar trip to Brundidge and Camp Hill; some things have changed, others not so much.

We visited Camp Hill on a hot Sunday morning. We had already been to Brundidge the day before, also a very hot late July morning. The heat was about the only thing in common between the two cities. Brundidge seemed to be a thriving small town; Camp Hill is a sad and hollow shell of its former vibrant past. Mom says she and her sisters practically wept at the sight of the town where they had lived for a few years in the 1930's and remembered so fondly.

In the 2000 U.S. Census the population of Camp Hill was 1,273 people. More recent estimates in 2014 give the population as 992 or 947.

The Encyclopedia of Alabama has this summary of Camp Hill's history:

"The Camp Hill area began to be settled by the early 1830s just before Creek Indian Removal. The community initially was referred to as either Burnt Bull or Ashbank. The name Camp Hill most likely came from the area's popularity as a camping place.

"Camp Hill remained primarily a farming community throughout the 1850s and 1860s. The Savannah and Memphis Railroad came through in 1870, bringing with it increased settlement. Camp Hill incorporated in 1895, and its economy at this time was fueled primarily by cotton gins and a brickyard. In 1898, Universalist minister Lyman Ward founded the Southern Industrial Institute to educate underprivileged rural youth. In 1948, it was renamed the Lyman Ward Military Academy."

The military academy is one of the few thriving institutions left in Camp Hill. Lyman Ward was a fascinating individual; you can learn more about him here. He even ran for governor in 1946 as a Republican, but was soundly defeated by Democrat Jim Folsom. More information about the Universalist Church of American is here.

Lyman Ward [1868-1948]

Source: Wikipedia

First Universalist Church of Camp Hill

This cornerstone gives the basic dates. 

An historical marker offers more information on just how a Universalist Church ended up in a tiny town in east Alabama in the late nineteenth century. 

The church and its grounds are obviously cared for, but a congregation has not met here in many years. 

This church is now the Gracefulness Baptist Church. When mom and her family lived in Camp Hill, it was the Methodist Church where my grandfather, John Miller Shores, was minister. He served the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church for some 55 years. 

 This house was apparently the parsonage for the Methodist Church when mom and family lived there. Mom remembers a large open space between the parsonage and the church. Another house is between this one and the church, but a more modern one. Mom also remembers a large front porch, which seems to fit this house. 

Richard spotted the top of this house as seen in the second photograph below. This large structure is well-hidden in an otherwise nice neighborhood. The decay foreshadowed what we saw later in Camp Hill's former downtown. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Movies with Alabama Connections (3): The Fighting Kentuckian

This post might have been called "That Time John Wayne Saved Alabama" or at least the followers of Napolean who settled in the state early in the 19th century. The film can be described as one of Wayne's comedy westerns; after all, in 1818 the Alabama Territory was part of the young nation's wild west, now known as the Old Southwest

Before we get to this story of Wayne and the Bonapartists who came to the Alabama Territory, let's review a little real history. The myth of the "Vine and Olive Colony" was born in Albert Pickett's 1851 book, History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period. According to that telling, military noblemen were forced to leave France after the fall of Napolean and were offered land grants by Congress in the Alabama Territory near what is now Demopolis if they would grow grapes and olives. Soon broken by the effort in the wilderness, they and their families returned to France.

In his article on the topic in the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Rafe Blaufarb of Florida State University demonstrates most of that story to be somewhat less than accurate. None of the French settlers were noble and few were military; most were whites who had fled Haiti after the 1791 rebellion and settled in New Orleans and Philadelphia. Congress did grant some 92,000 acres and in August 1817 about 40 of the Philadelphia group left for Mobile. There were some 347 original grantees; only 150 or so ended up in Alabama. By the early 1830's most of those had left the state. Blaufarb's article [and the book he's written on the topic] gives great detail about the fascinating true story.

The site of these true and mythical tales, Marengo County, does have a Napoleonic legacy. The county name is taken from the site where Napolean's army defeated the Austrians in Italy in 1800. The name for the county seat, Linden, originated with Hohenlinden in Bavaria, where Napolean also defeated the Austrians.

The romanticized version of this story continued to be told and expanded by historians, novelists and Hollywood well into the 20th century. The Fighting Kentuckian, released in 1949, was thus a part of the traditional mythology and what Blaufarb terms "the lowest point of historical accuracy".

The film opens with a narration that outlines the romantic history of the French in the Alabama Territory in 1818. A year later, our hero, John Breen [John Wayne], is seen in downtown Mobile, where his unit of Kentucky militia are departing as they make their way home after the War of 1812. Since the Treaty of Ghent ending the war had been signed in December 1814, the Kentuckians were obviously taking their time marching back.

Also in Mobile on that day is the beautiful Fleurette DeMarchand [Vera Ralston], daughter of General Paul DeMarchand, one of the leaders of the French settlers. She has come from Demopolis to Mobile for a day of shopping in the big city. Judging from her outfit, certain merchants will no doubt be glad to see her.

Well, our hero John Breen wastes no time making time with the beautiful Fleurette. Members of Breen's unit are trying to find him to make sure he joins them, but he quickly commandeers the beautiful Fleurette's wagon and leads his comrades on a merry chase around Mobile. 

Our hero John Breen pursues the reluctant but beautiful Fleurette and in the process is caught up in the efforts of evil Americans to steal the land granted to the French settlers. After various adventures and struggles, Breen saves the day and marries the beautiful Fleurette. A full synopsis of this fascinating tale can be found on the Turner Classic Movies web site

I do want to comment on a few specifics. The film runs about 100 minutes and according to the Internet Movie Database was released on September 15, 1949. George Waggner wrote and directed the movie, which was filmed at Republic Pictures in Hollywood. Much of the film is set in Demopolis. 

Waggner directed a number of films in the 1930's and 1940's, including another Wayne film, Operation Pacific (1951). In the 1950's and 1960's he directed many episodes of numerous television series, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Batman. Why Waggner was interested in a pretty obscure aspect of early Alabama history is unknown.

Wayne's co-star Vera Ralston made this film in the middle of her acting career. A native of Prague, Czechoslovakia, she first came to prominence as a figure skater in the 1930's. Her meeting with Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Winter Olympics makes for an interesting story. She made 26 films between 1944 and 1958.

The set for downtown Mobile looks realistic enough for the period, but was probably used in Republic westerns as well. In scenes outside the city the landscape looks more like southern California than southern Alabama. 

Several well-known actors besides Wayne and Ralston appear in the film. Oliver Hardy makes a rare appearance without Stan Laurel and provides comic relief as the character Willie Payne.. A scene where Wayne and Hardy discuss surveying and attempt to do it in a field on the French land grant is pretty amusing. Another funny scene has Wayne and Oliver as part of a dance band pretending to play fiddles. Late in the film Wayne, Hardy and others are riding in the countryside and pass a sign that says "Catawba", the town that became the first state capital. And the film is worth watching just for the scene where Hardy explains to a French lady how to make corn pone

Film noir icon Marie Windsor appears as Ann Logan, mistress of one of the evil Americans. She gets to sing a song in one scene, or at least lip sync it. I've been unable to determine if that was really Marie singing. Later in the film Wayne declares, "You sing nice." Windsor tells Oliver Hardy at one point that "You're talking to a girl who learned to drink Alabama rum out of a jug." Before you die be sure and see a film Windsor made in 1952, The Narrow Margin

Character actor Paul Fix also has a significant role in this film. He appeared in over 100 movies and numerous television programs. He may be best remembered as the marshal in Chuck Connors' show The Rifleman. 

One character in The Fighting Kentuckian declares that "In another few months Alabama will become a state." Since that happened in December 1819, this film's events are ostensibly taking place in the summer and/or fall of 1819. They are really taking place in some fantasy land constructed by Albert Pickett, with help from the Great American Dream Factory. 

You can watch a trailer for the movie at Turner Classic Movies.

The Fighting Kentuckian cinema poster.jpg.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Showmen's Trade Review April-June 1949

John Wayne-Vera Ralston in Dakota.jpg

Wayne and Ralston in Dakota in 1945

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgivings Past in Alabama

In the United States Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a federal holiday since 1863 when Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise" to God. The holiday's roots are often traced to the Pilgrim's first harvest celebration and a presidential proclamation by George Washington.

Today Thanksgiving in America is largely a combination of family celebrations, football, and shopping, shopping, shopping. Below are some scenes and other materials from past Thanksgivings in Alabama. 

Muhammad Ali signs autographs at the Alabama State College homecoming in Montgomery on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1966. That same day the Turkey Day Classic football game between Alabama State and Tuskegee Institute was played. Ali was on a tour of colleges in the South.

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives & History Digital Collections
Many other photos from his visit are available there. 

Thanksgiving procession at the Central Alabama Agricultural School in Blountsville on November 24, 1904

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives & History Digital Collections

Thanksgiving altar at the Church of the Ascension on Clanton Avenue in Montgomery in November 1961

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives & History Digital Collections

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Bill Bates of Bates Farms presents Clyde the Turkey to Governor Don Siegelman for the traditional pardon, perhaps in 1999. Bates began his annual presentation in 1948.  

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives & History Digital Collections

Martha Young [1862-1941] was an Alabama fiction author, poet and folklorist; she often wrote in African-American dialect. This typescript is dated around 1920 and probably meant for submission for publication. 

Although considered for decades as a negative characterization, "Uncle Tom" was originally a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. He was intended to overturn the negative stereotypes of African-Americans in the minstrel shows of the period.  

Source: University of Alabama Digital Collections

Not all the news related to Thanksgiving in Alabama is positive or light-hearted. These units were probably still active after the Spanish-American War. Hostilities had ended in August but the peace treaty was not signed until December 10, 1898. 

Owingsville [KY] Outlook 1 December 1898
Source: Library of Congress Chronicling America Digital Collection

Monday, November 16, 2015

Birmimgham Photos of the Day (39): Ensley Furnaces in 1906

The two photos below show Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company's furnaces in Ensley around 1906. The company's complex at Ensley included furnaces, steel works and steel casting divisions, as well as a coke oven plant, cement works, and a pumping station at Village Creek. These massive operations, as well as employee housing, were known as the Ensley Works. The furnaces operated from 1888 until 1976. 

TCI, as the company came to be known, had been founded in 1852 as the Sewanee Mining Company. In 1907 they became U.S. Steel's primary southern subsidiary. The company's operations in the Birmingham area and elsewhere in the state made it one of Alabama's largest employers for decades.

Below the photos is a selection of pages from a book the company published in 1900. Included are a description of the Ensley Furnace Division and the book's title page and first page of the table of contents. The photo of the blowing engines at the furnaces is also from the book.

Source: Detroit Publishing Company via the U.S. Library of Congress Digital Collections [both photos]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Alabama Book Covers (6): Michael McDowell

During his brief lifetime, Michael McDowell was a prolific author. He was born June 1, 1950 in Enterprise, Alabama, and died on December 27, 1999. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard and a Ph.D. in English from Brandeis University. I'll be devoting a future post to the dissertation he wrote at Brandeis. Until his death he lived in both Massachusetts and Hollywood.

Under his own name and various pseudonyms McDowell wrote supernatural thrillers, mysteries and screenplays for films and television. He co-wrote the script for the film Beetlejuice and taught screenwriting for several years before his death.

Several of his novels, including The Amulet, The Elementals, and the six-volume Blackwater series are set in his native state. As you'll note below McDowell's work is currently enjoying something of a renaissance. His large collection of materials related to death was donated to Northwestern University.

You'll find some more covers at McDowell's Amazon page.

Michael McDowell (author).jpg
Michael McDowell [1950-1999]

Source: Wikipedia




The book covers above are from the McDowell page at Valancourt Books, which has brought several of his novels back into print in recent years. Valancourt is a small press devoted to rare, neglected and out-of-print fiction.

The Elementals

The Amulet

Source: Amazon

Monday, November 9, 2015

Birmingham's Magazine in 1916

Like most cities Birmingham has publicized itself in various ways over the decades. One of those methods has been via a magazine that explores the positive aspects of life in the city. Birmingham Magazine was published briefly before World War I. Another similar publication, Birmingham, began in 1918 but ceased during the Great Depression. In 1961 Chamber of Commerce revived that magazine; it is currently published by Birmingham News Multimedia. The articles linked in this paragraph sort out the details of the two publications.

Below are the cover and table of contents for the January 1916 issue of the original magazine. That issue had an impressive 72 pages. As we learn from the cover, the issue cost 10 cents and an annual subscription was $1.00. The cover announces "The Dawn of Prosperity" which is reinforced in the statement of purpose below. The editors also announce their intention to "give the people of Birmingham and elsewhere correct facts about Birmingham and Alabama, of which the people know so little." I suppose that declaration could easily be made today as well.   

Some of the articles listed in the table of contents deserve a close read, and I may cover them in future posts. Articles on the Panama Canal and the Birmingham area, concrete's contribution to civilization, good roads and highways and library news are to be expected in such a publication. But the issue also carried articles on women's suffrage and the convict lease system in Alabama. Those topics were controversial and not exactly typical chamber of commerce material.

The entire issue is available via the Birmingham Public Library at the link below.

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Visit to Brundidge, Alabama

This past July my brother Richard and I made one of our annual trips seeking Alabama and family history. This time we were in east central Alabama mainly around Brundidge and Camp Hill. We visited several other places I've already written about such as Smuteye, Union Springs and Aberfoil. I'll be doing future posts on Camp Hill and Tallassee. A decade or more ago mom and two of her sisters, Heth and Marjorie, made a similar trip to Brundidge and Camp Hill; some things have changed, others not so much.

Brundidge is a very nice little town in southeastern Pike County that bills itself as "Alabama's Own Antique City." The downtown area is filled with shops and galleries of all types; we enjoyed a respite from the late July heat in a pleasant coffee shop. Almost all the storefronts we saw were occupied by active businesses or other entities. The population in 2013 was estimated at just over 2000 people.  

My maternal grandmother Tempe Hilliard Flowers Shores was born in Brundidge and lived there until she left to attend Huntingdon College. Her parents Joseph and Mollie Flowers lived in Brundidge for many more years. After Tempe married future Methodist minister John Miller Shores, they and their children, including mom, often visited. My maternal great-grandfather ran a general store in town. 

Richard and I wanted to visit the house and store sites as well as the Brundidge City Cemetery where ancestors are buried. On the way out of town to seek another cemetery nearby, my brother and I passed the reason Brundidge seems to be doing so well: a massive Wal-Mart distribution center. 

Photos and more commentary are below. 

The Brundidge City Cemetery is well kept these days and also was when mom and her sisters visited. 

Interestingly, there were two lines of Flowers living in Brundidge who were not related. Arthur Talmage Flowers was a member of the line we are not related to. The symbol above his name indicates he was a Mason. He married Vela, one of Tempe's younger sisters. Thus a Flowers married a Flowers. 

Here's the house where my grandmother Tempe Hilliard Flowers Shores was born and where mom and family visited many times.

Mom said she remembers playing around the big tree. The small house on the left is a more recent addition to the street.

The three photographs below from family collections show the house and barn in earlier decades.  

The barn no longer exists, but the house and its small addition to the left--done originally for a master bedroom with bath--look pretty much the same. My aunt Heth was born in the house. 

Tempe's parents, my great-grandparents Joseph and Mollie Flowers, are buried in the Brundidge City Cemetery. Their daughter Vela is buried close to them. 

The storefronts on this part of Brundidge's main street have remained much the same for many years. The far white building was my great-grandfather's general store. 

The general store is now the Brundidge Police Department headquarters. Richard and I went inside and explained our interest to the two young people working there on a Saturday morning. 

Here's a closer view of the storefront. Next door is a law office. Mom said when she and her sisters visited a liquor store occupied the site. She said her grandfather Joseph Flowers, a Methodist teetotaler, would have been horrified.

Mom remembers being taken to the store by "Papa" as a young girl, allowed to play there and take naps atop a stack of overalls. The pile was so high "Papa" had to put her up there and take her down. 

The Masonic lodge is currently located on the main street. A.T. Flowers was probably a member of this lodge.

This Baptist church is located a few miles west of Brundidge near a place once known as Hilliards Crossroads. 

Many of our Flowers and Hilliard ancestors are buried in this cemetery behind the church.

This side of my family seems to have had several Masons; my grandfather John Miller Shores was also a member. Quay was our great-uncle, and Tempe Flowers Shores' younger brother.