Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Visit to Fort Payne (1)

In the fall of 2012 Dianne and I made a trip up to Desoto State Park outside Fort Payne and stayed for a few days. These photos are from that trip; I'll be doing another post with more pictures as well. I've already done a post on the fascinating Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel just outside the park. 

After the Civil War, the Birmingham to Chattanooga railroad line passed through Fort Payne, and the town enjoyed a brief industrial boom as investments from New England poured into the area. The Opera House and other opulent buildings were constructed during this four-year period. In 1907 the first hosiery mill was built in Fort Payne, creating a second economic wave that lasted for many decades.

One place in the area we visited was the Orbix Hot Glass Studio. Glassblowing is a difficult and beautiful art; you can get up close to it here. In addition to watching the process, the shop offers a variety of pieces for sale. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos there. 

Comments are below most of these photographs.  

There's something fascinating about old barns.

Fall colors in Alabama can be fascinating, too.

Here's the lodge entrance. You can almost see the door of our room in the middle left of the photo. The Mountain Inn Restaurant here served some wonderful meals; the breakfast buffet was especially good.

The town of Fort Payne has a lot of history and restored buildings are common downtown. I'm always attracted to old theaters and cinema houses; this one was built in 1935 and is still thriving. 

This restored shop housing Accel Graphics has several large photographs of old Fort Payne above the entrance. That's a neat idea!

Fort Payne has honored the group "Alabama" in a big way. That makes sense; they were one of the most successful musical acts in the U.S. from 1979 until 2004. 

Also near Fort Payne is the Little River Canyon National Preserve, which has some of the most spectacular scenery in Alabama. DeSoto State Park is actually located within the Preserve. Here are a few photos taken in the Preserve; more will follow in the second post about this trip.

Back in the 1960's, long before the Preserve was created in 1992, I came here on a Boy Scout camping trip. One thing I remember vividly from that trip was hiking to the bottom of the canyon and looking back up. Hulks of derelict cars could be seen on the sides of the canyon. Seems the area, being remote, was the perfect site to dump stolen cars after they were stripped of parts. At least that's how I remember the story. 

Even the road around the canyon offers spectacular rocks. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

New Year's Eve in Montgomery in 1967

Recently I began looking for some photos to use in one of my history of holidays in Alabama blog posts on New Year's Eve and Day. As often happens in doing research, one gets sucked down another rabbit hole but finds fascinating stuff anyway.

All of these photos were found on the Alabama Mosaic site. They are part of more than 2200 at the Alabama Department of Archives and History taken at the Laicos Club by Southern Courier photographer Jim Peppler. Published in Montgomery, the Courier covered civil rights in the South from 1965 until 1968. All 177 issues can be found here.  The photos used here are form a subset of 49 identified as taken at a New Year's celebration. 

The Laicos Club was registered as an Alabama non-profit domestic corporation in Montgomery in October 1962. I have found nothing more about it. As noted below, photos and a brief article about the band appeared in the Southern Courier issue for January 27-28, 1968

More information about the band and others is given below some of the photos. Material in quotes comes from the notes on individual photographs on the ADAH web site.

"Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces performing on stage at the Laicos Club...Chico Jenkins is playing the guitar on the leftMarion Sledge is singing at the microphone, and Bobby Moore is playing the saxophone in front of the drum set."

The ADAH page is here.

"Woman performing on stage with Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces...."

Some of the band members are seen playing behind two dancers. Leader of the group Bobby Moore is playing the saxophone. 

Barbara Howard Flowers on the left and another woman are looking at photographs during the Laicos Club celebration. Flowers was a staff member at the Southern Courier; the other woman was a backup dancer for the band. The photographs they are looking at were taken at a show in Selma at the National Guard Armory on Dallas Avenue.

Marion Sledge sings with the band at the show.

Guitarist Chico Jenkins plays during the show

A dancer performs during the show. The stage and band are behind her, but not visible in this photo.

Here's the Southern Courier story; a larger version of the text is below.

Born in New Orleans, tenor saxophonist Bobby Moore started the first version of his group while stationed in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, in the early 1950's. After leaving the military, he moved to Montgomery in 1961 and put together the band seen in these photographs. They played local concerts and often provided backup for such national artists as Sam Cooke and Ray Charles when they came to town.

In late 1965 they recorded Moore's song "Searching for My Love" at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. The song became a hit and million seller in 1966 after Checker Records in Chicago signed the group. Checker released less-successful singles through 1969, then dropped the group. 

Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces continued to play in Alabama with various personnel until Moore's death in February 2006. The group has continued under the leadership of son Larry Moore. 

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Whatever Happened to Advance, Alabama?

Everyone loves a mystery, so here's one. 

In the summer of 1936 writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans headed to Hale County, Alabama, on assignment for Fortune magazine. Agee had worked at the New York City publication since 1932. In 1935 Evans, working for New Deal agencies the Resettlement Administration and then the Farm Security Administration, spent time in the South documenting the effects of the Great Depression. I have written about the photographs Evans took in Birmingham on that trip in a previous blog post.   

Agee planned to write about the life of southern sharecroppers and tenant farmers, and he and Evans lived with three different families in Hale County for eight weeks that summer. The resulting lengthy article manuscript was rejected by Fortune, but in 1941 Agee published a book-length account, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, that featured many of the photographs Evans took on their trip.

Largely ignored at the time of publication, the book is now considered a classic and is a wonderful read. Although he used pseudonyms in the book, the real people have become well-known as well. The book has been very controversial in Hale County for various reasons, but I found it to be a sympathetic portrayal of noble people living in difficult circumstances. Agee was also a poet and fiction writer, and this book draws on techniques from both genres. 

Another manuscript about the trip was published in 2013 as Cotton Tenants. The original book inspired composer Aaron Copeland to write his opera The Tender Land, completed in 1954. In 1989 Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson published And Their Children After Them, which carries the stories of Agee's farmers up to the time of publication. The book won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. 

The two photographs below were taken by Evans on one of his two trips to the state and are labelled on various sites as being in "Advance, Alabama." The Photogrammer site at Yale University makes available thousands of photos taken in the 1930's and 1940's by New Deal photographers. These two are identified there is being taken in 1935 in Lee County.

Both the date and place seem wrong. Evans was indeed in Alabama in late 1935, but I have not encountered any reference to him in Lee County. The first photograph below appears in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men right after a photo of downtown Greensboro. That would seem to indicate the photos were taken on that summer 1936 trip with Agee.

"Advance" does not appear in Foscue's Place Names in Alabama or Harris' Dead Towns of Alabama. I've looked at 1937 road maps of Hale and Tuscaloosa counties and did not find "Advance." I also did not find such a town listed in the U.S. Geological Survey's Geographical Names Information System.

We should remember that Agee used pseudonyms for both the people and places in his book except for Birmingham. The county seat in Hale, Greensboro; the town nearest to the tenant families, Akron; and even Moundville are given other names. I wonder if "Advance" is the name given by Agee to some abandoned place in Hale County or if these shots were taken somewhere in Akron, Moundville or Greensboro. The only internal clue I can find, the C.W. Lewis Furniture Company, is described below. I did not find anything on the "Dunnvant General Merchandise" store. 

If you have any more info about the mystery of Advance, Alabama, let all of us know in the comments!!

This photo appears in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men right after one of downtown Greensboro. 

Source: Photogrammer at Yale University

On the side of this Dunnavant General Merchandise store is an advertisement for a Tuscaloosa business, C.W. Lewis Furniture Company. The ad urges "Come to See Us." 

Source: Photogrammer at Yale University

An invoice from July 1924

Source: University of Alabama Digital Collections

A C.W. Lewis Furniture Co. advertisement from the 1925 volume of the University of Alabama's yearbook, The Corolla 

Source: Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum

Walker Evans in 1937

Source: Wikipedia

Some Family Photos from the 1960s

I recently posted an item on some family photographs I took, or at least were taken with, a camera I had during the 1960's. This post continues that saga, and don't worry--there are plenty more to come as we travel back in time via old family photographs.

In 1960 we moved from a house on Cloverdale Drive in Huntsville to one on Lakeview Drive in the Lakewood subdivision. At the time that section of northwest Huntsville across Memorial Parkway from Alabama A&M was booming. Both houses are still standing, by the way. I'll be doing some posts on photos taken at Cloverdale sometime soon.

As we can see from the front and rear views of the house, we must have recently moved into it. The front and back yards are dirt with no trees or the basement entrance cover and patio dad would later build out back. 

Some comments are below each photo. Based on the clothing, these pictures were probably taken during two different visits by my grandparents from Gadsden. 

Here's the front of the house. Based on the rocks and the dirt, these photos were taken soon after we moved in. I think my brother Richard spent much of our lives picking up the rocks in the front and back yards before they were sodded.  


Ah, Christmas back in the day. Popcorn strung and put on the tree. All those thin aluminum strips that went everywhere. That's our grandmother Rosa Mae Wright [1900-1997] in the lower right corner. The small desk to the right of the tree is in mom's den at her current house in southeast Huntsville. That lamp may still be around, too. I may be proudly showing off a new wristwatch. 

Another view with mom, Richard and the train set. These photos were probably taken after the Christmas festivities and the arrival from Gadsden of the grandparents. 

These folks may be getting tired of being photographed. That's the patriarch, Amos Jasper Wright, Sr. [1894-1975], on the left. That side table under the lamp is in mom's sun room now. 

Grandparents watch the grand kids play. 

Now here's dad--Amos Jasper Wright, Jr.--on the right with his parents and younger son Richard. I probably took the picture; mom was probably in the kitchen. 

On the wall behind them are mounted evidence of dad's early interest in Alabama archaeology. We still have these gems in the family. Mom, dad, Richard and I spent many winter Saturdays in the 1960s walking cotton fields and other areas in north Alabama surface collecting whole ones and pieces of projectile points [arrowheads], pottery sherds, etc. We would bring them home, and after washing dad would meticulously label them with the University of Alabama Office of Archaeological Research in Moundville's site number and the finder's initials. We picked up thousands of these things over the years. Much of that material has since been donated to OAR.

Dad was very active in archaeology in Alabama for many years. He served as President of the Alabama Archaeological Society and edited their Stones and Bones newsletter for a long period. In addition to several articles, his research resulted in two books: The McGillivray and McIntosh Traders: On the Old Southwest Frontier, 1716-1815 and Historic Indian Towns in Alabama, 1540-1838.

His research materials and collection of books on Alabama and Southeastern Indians were donated to the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Father and son talking about the guns, or maybe that crazy kid taking photographs. The bookshelf on the left is in my basement in Pelham; the other one is in mom's basement in Huntsville. 

These two photos show the family around the table. I guess I took this one, and dad took the one below. Mom stil has that hutch on the right. The table and chairs are still around, too.

And finally the back yard of that Lakeview Drive house. The door on the lower left led to the basement. Dad would later build a small room off that door for garden tools and our future beagle Duchess. That previous post I mentioned at the beginning has a photo or two of her on top of the roof. Dad would also put in a patio in this backyard.