Monday, February 29, 2016

Old Alabama Stuff (10): Pine-Barren Bogs in 1922

The article below written by Roland Harper appeared in 1922. As L.J. Davenport, the author of the Encyclopedia of Alabama article about him notes, "He was one of the last botanists to visit and describe the native vegetation of the Southeast before it was altered drastically by human activity." Harper documented his field trips with extensive notes and more than 7000 photographs. 

He took a circuitous route to Alabama. Born in Maine, he lived with his family there and in Massachusetts while his father worked as a science teacher and school administrator. When Roland apparently came down with tuberculosis, the family moved to Georgia. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1897 with a degree in engineering.

The family moved back to Massachusetts, and within a couple of years Harper had published his first botanical paper. He enrolled in Columbia University where he studied both botany and geology and received a PhD in 1905. In that same year he began working for the Geological Survey of Alabama and continued there until his 1966 death.

Over the course of his long career Harper published hundreds of items, including books and scientific papers. His major works include The Economic Botany of Alabama published in two parts in 1913 and 1928. Other works include Forests of Alabama [1943] and Preliminary Report on the Weeds of Alabama [1944].

Wikipedia has this to say about pine barrens: 

"Pine barrens, pine plains, sand plains, or pinelands occur throughout the northeastern U.S. from New Jersey to Maine (see Atlantic coastal pine barrens) as well as the Midwest, Canada and northern EurasiaPine barrens are plant communities that occur on dry, acidic, infertile soils dominated by grasses, forbs, low shrubs, and small to medium sized pines." 

Harper notes this botanical feature of pine forests in sand, gravel or clay stretching from Delaware into Alabama and Mississippi. These areas support bogs of typically unusual or rare plants. In Alabama Harper says the bogs are scarcer since the soil has more clay.

He describes his visits to a portion of these bogs in Autauga and Chilton counties in 1905 and 1921 respectively. Harper "examined quite a number of them" in Chilton County after noticing a pitcher plant from his train car. His article includes lists of woody plants and herbs including some not previously reported in the area.

The article by Davenport linked above gives more information about Harper's life and career. A book-length biography by Elizabeth Findley Shores is cited below. I am pleased to note that she is a relative!


Torreya was a journal published under that title from 1901 until 1945 by the Torrey Botanical Society named after a professor at Columbia College in the mid-19th century. Harper's article can be found at the Internet Archive here.



Further Reading


Davenport, L. J. and G. Ward Hubbs. "Roland Harper, Alabama Botanist and Social Critic: A Biographical Sketch and Bibliography." Alabama Museum of Natural History Bulletin 17 (May 1995): 25-45

Shores, Elizabeth Findley. On Harper's Trail: Roland McMillan Harper, Pioneering Botanist of the Southern Coastal Plain. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008





Roland Harper








Thursday, February 25, 2016

Film Actresses from Alabama Before 1960 (3): Dorothy Sebastian

Dorothy Sebastian's film career flamed briefly in the late 1920's and early 1930's and then just as quickly burned out. During that period she did appear in major roles in several high-profile films with other stars of the time.

She was born in Birmingham on April 26, 1903, one of five children of Robert and Stell Sabiston. Robert was a minister and the couple had served as foreign missionaries before settling in Birmingham. Stell was a painter, and Dorothy and her mother operated a small shop selling portraits and needlepoint creations. 

Dorothy eloped with her high school sweetheart, but the marriage ended in 1924. At this point she headed to New York and what she hoped would be a dance and acting career. She played a chorus girl that year on Broadway in George White's Scandals which opened in June and ran for 196 performances. She appeared in that show with her new last name.

Sebastian managed to get a screen test with United Artists and appeared in her first five films in 1925. In 1927 she was the female lead in a Tom Mix western, The Arizona Wildcat. The next year she played along with Joan Crawford and fellow Alabama native John Mack Brown in the drama Our Dancing Daughters

Her acting career continued into the early sound era. In 1929 she appeared in Spite Marriage with Buster Keaton, who was her lover at the time. She also had an affair with director Clarence Brown. Interestingly, Brown had operated an auto dealership in Birmingham before World War I.

In the early 1930's Sebastian asked for a raise in her MGM contract, but the studio refused and dropped her from its roster. She appeared in a few more films before she married William Boyd, better known as cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy. That marriage ended in 1936 in a bitter divorce. 

Sebastian continued to appear in a few small roles until her final film appearance in 1948. During World War II she worked in a defense factory where she met her future third husband, businessman Herman Shapiro. She died of cancer in April 1957.

A lengthy biography can be found at the Internet Movie Database along with a complete list of her films. A web site devoted to Sebastian can be found here

Unless otherwise noted, images are from the Lantern media history digital library.



Dorothy Sebastian

Source: Wikipedia 



Source: BhamWiki

















The 1928 silent film Our Dancing Daughters starred two Alabama natives, Sebastian and Johnny Mack Brown, who was a football great at the University of Alabama before heading to Hollywood.




Dorothy Sebastian, Joan Crawford, and Anita Page in a publicity still for OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS (1928):





Source: The Hollywood Revue blog



Monday, February 22, 2016

Birmingham Photos of the Day (43): By Walker Evans in 1936

Walker Evans [1903-1975] was one of the great documentary photographers of the twentieth century. Evans made three brief trips to Alabama during his career, in March and the summer of 1936 and again in 1973. The images he recorded on the 1936 visits are among the most iconic Great Depression photographs taken in the United States. 

His most famous photos were taken in Hale County that summer. In the previous year Evans had been working for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal program that was part of recovery efforts during the Great Depression. Evans traveled to various places, including the South, documenting agricultural and industrial life and work. 

In summer 1936 writer James Agee accepted an assignment from Fortune magazine to write about sharecroppers in the Deep South. Agee wanted Evans to accompany him, so the photographer took a leave from the federal agency. The two men spent eight weeks in the Alabama summer living primarily with three sharecropping families. The manuscript Agee delivered to Fortune was much longer than the magazine would publish; it eventually became the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men published in 1941. Agee's singing prose about the daily lives of these desperately poor but proud people, and Evans' images make reading the book an unforgettable experience.    

Evans' third trip to Alabama came in 1973 when he and artist and photographer William Christenberry, an Alabama native, toured Hale County. Some of the color photographs Evans took on that trip appeared with Christenberry's in a museum exhibition "Of Time and Place" as well as the exhibit's catalog. 

Evans' first trip to the state may have been late in 1935. Some of the photographs below are dated in that year, others in March 1936 and some just 1936. Whatever the exact dates, these images capture indelible scenes from the city's past. 

The three photos below that feature a steel mill seem to capture the Ensley Works. Take a look at the photograph on the BhamWiki site here and see what you think.

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are from the New York Public Library Digital Collections.




Birmingham steel workers


A similar shot of steel workers with Coca-Cola sign fully visible





Front entrance of a boarding house in Birmingham




Steel mill with workers' houses in the foreground




Roadside stand in the Birmingham vicinity

Source: ArtsMia 




Miners' houses near Birmingham




Another angle on those miners' houses




Company owned steel workers' houses















Thursday, February 18, 2016

That Time America's First Female Detective Helped Solve a Montgomery Crime

Although born in Glasgow, Scotland, Allan Pinkerton came to the United States in 1842. By 1849 he had become the first police detective in Chicago. The following year he and a local attorney founded what became the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The company still exists today, although now as a division of a Swedish security firm. 

The Pinkerton's motto became "We Never Sleep." Pinkerton himself developed several investigative techniques still used around the world, such as shadowing a suspect and undercover work. During the Civil War he spent two years as chief of Union intelligence services; before he died, he had begun work to centralize America's criminal identification records. Today the FBI maintains just such a database. 

In 1856 Pinkerton personally hired Kate Warne as the first female detective in the United States. At first he thought the widow sought clerical work, but she had seen his newspaper ad for a detective. Warne convinced him that a woman could do investigative work in ways a man could not--something she would prove over and over. 

Before her death in 1868 Warne worked alongside Pinkerton and others on various important cases, including a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln in Baltimore in 1861 and many others during the Civil War. You can read the details of these activities on her Wikipedia entry and this essay. Some more about her is also available on this blog post. Warne has been the subject of a novel, a children's book published in 2015 and another book for children published early in 2016. She is also a character in The Pinkertons television series.

In 1858 Warne participated in a case with Alabama connections, which is detailed in Pinkerton's 1875 account, The Expressman and the Detective. Money totaling some forty thousand dollars had been disappearing from the Montgomery office of the Adams Express Company, which had a monopoly in the South on the delivery of letters, small packages and valuables. Suspicions naturally fell on Nathan Maroney, the man in charge of that office. 

Maroney seemed an exemplary employee, having come to the city in the early 1850's after service in the Mexican War with a company of Texas Rangers. A native of Rome, Georgia, Maroney was the son of a physician.

Packages of money began disappearing in April 1858. Unable to prove anything, the company requested Maroney's resignation in January 1859. Maroney was then arrested, but made bail and awaited trial in June. At this point Adams Express, fearing they would still be unable to find enough evidence that would convict Maroney, hired the Pinkerton Agency. Allan Pinkerton was happy to have the business from such a large company, and sent a man to Montgomery to begin investigating Maroney and other possible suspects.

Pinkerton himself soon arrived in Montgomery. "On the journey I amused myself reading Martin Chuzzlewit, which I took good care to throw away on the road, as its cuts at slavery made it unpopular in the South. At the various stations planters got aboard, sometimes conveying their slaves from point to point, sometimes travelling with their families to neighboring cities. I did not converse with them, as I was not sure of my ability to refrain from divulging my abolition sentiments." Pinkerton quickly concluded that Maroney was probably quilty and Mrs. Maroney might leave with the money and head north at any moment.

On March 12, Pinkerton's worries came true. Mrs. Maroney and her daughter made their way to Charleston and then by steamer to New York. On April 5 Maroney himself left town for Atlanta, followed by a Pinkerton agent. From there he traveled to Chattanooga and Nashville and on to Memphis. He then boarded the steamer "John Walsh" to New Orleans. After a stop in Natchez, the steamer continued down river where Maroney and the Pinkerton agent checked into a hotel. The next time he was sighted Maroney had changed his appearance significantly. Soon the suspect had boarded another steamer for Mobile and then back to Montgomery. He had apparently satisfied himself that he was not being followed.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Maroney had made her way to Jenkintown, then a small place a dozen miles north of Philadelphia. At this point Pinkerton brought Warne into the case. She was to become Madam Imbert, travelling with a companion, Miss Johnson. Pinkerton's instructions were explicit. "[Y]ou will arrange for a permanent stay in Jenkintown, get acquainted with Mrs. Maroney, and when you get thoroughly familiar with her, make her your confidante, and to show her how implicitly you rely on her friendship, disclose to her that you are the wife of a noted forger, who is serving a term in the penitentiary. As confidence begets confidence, Mrs. Maroney will, most certainly, in time unbosom herself to you." [page 101].

Madam Imbert was first pointed out to Mrs. Maroney by someone who noted "that the tall lady was from the South." In various ways Imbert insinuated herself into Mrs. Maroney's life until she indeed had the confidence of the suspect's wife. Warne was apparently made for this kind of work. "Mrs. Maroney was impatiently awaiting the arrival of Madam Imbert. She did not have to wait long, as the Madam came down immediately after breakfast. Her commanding figure and decided expression made her appear like a general giving orders. She was perfectly calm, while all the rest were so excited that they did not know what to do or say. She controlled the position."[p264]

From that point Warne "controlled the position." She managed to convince Mrs. Maroney to "exchange" the forty thousand dollars which were presumed to include bills marked by the banks before shipping. Warne came up with an elaborate scheme involving another Pinkerton agent posing as a book peddler who would supposedly take the money to be exchanged. The sum of $39,515 was returned to the Adams Express Company.

Maroney was soon arrested in New York and extradited to Montgomery for the trial. He was convicted and sentenced "to pass ten years in the Alabama Penitentiary, at hard labor." [p 278] Mrs. Maroney had gone to Chicago with "Madam Imbert". What happened to her, or Maroney after he completed his sentence, is unknown. 

Kate Warne died of pneumonia on January 28, 1868; Pinkerton was at the bedside. Many thought she had been Pinkerton's mistress; she often posed as his wife as they worked undercover. She is buried as "Kate Warn" in the Pinkerton family plot in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. Two newspaper items about her that appeared in March 1868 can be found below.

Do yourself a favor and read Pinkerton's The Expressman and the Detective. It's a rip-roaring story.




Allan Pinkerton [1819-1884]

Source: Wikipedia





Source: Wikipedia




Full text published in 1875 can be found at Project Gutenberg 



"As he stood outside of the counter, I was enabled to call off all the packages on the way-bill, but dropped the four containing the forty thousand dollars under the counter."—Page 237.




"The peddler lifted his satchel into the buggy; the Madam hurriedly emptied it of its contents, and holding it open, jammed the bundle of money into it, and handed it back to the peddler."—Page 268.


Kate Warne, as Madam Imbert, is depicted on the right, giving another Pinkerton agent posing as book peddler a satchel with the money.




This long obituary appeared in at least a few newspapers in March 1868. The article reviews several of Warne's exploits as a Pinkerton detective. You can read the entire item from an Ohio newspaper here. The piece was reprinted from the Chicago Republican. 



This editorial appeared in in a West Virginia newspaper on March 18, 1868. The item seems to evaluate Warne's work with some admiration and a good bit of horror. Warne's death is noted in passing near the end. 


Monday, February 15, 2016

Old Alabama Stuff (9): Sandwiches & Soda in Birmingham in 1906

Back in October 2015 I posted an entry on Gunn's Pharmacy in my "Birmingham Photo of the Day" series. The BhamWiki article for that business included that ca. 1915 photograph but also one from the interior taken from an article in American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record Volume 52, Jan-Jun 1908. I decided to take a look at the entire article and found it on Google Books. That article is included below, along with larger versions of two photos taken inside Jacob's Pharmacy. Let's take a closer look.

The article covers both some general and specific aspects of the drug store trade in Birmingham at the time. Between 40 and 50 such stores were operating in the city depending on the ups and downs of the local economy. Five of these stores are discussed: Parker's, Patton-Pope Drug Company, Gunn & Gambill, Jacob's and Collier's. Although pharmaceuticals and such provide good income, "they are secondary considerations" to the soda fountain food and drinks also offered. At Parker's, just purchased by Gunn & Gambill, a large newstand was also available.

Many of the places served sandwiches, "...all made by the same person, a woman who gets telephone orders at night and delivers the goods next morning through a corps of little boys. Only one kind is sold. It is a turkey sandwich with a pungent dressing somewhat resembling chili sauce, and is distinctly good. Each sandwich is wrapped in a waxed paper and is served in this paper on a saucer, without knife or fork. At the most carefully tended fountain the attendant partially unwrapped the sandwich so that it lay on the plate with the paper beneath, but ready to the hand of the customer. In the others the package was thrown down in any sort of fashion on the saucer. The sandwiches cost six cents delivered, and sell at ten cents each." 

The soda man at one of the successful stores noted how sandwichs brought in customers during slow times. Busy times included lunch hours between noon and 2 and then after the nearby theaters released their patrons. At the busy times store menus were taken up so customers would not waste time perusing them.

The soda fountain in Parker's extended the full length of the store and had 26 tables in addition to the counter space. Three adult men and three or four boys available during the busy times worked the fountain. 

Considerable space in the article is devoted to Jacob's Pharmacy with it's brand new "thirty foot soda counter" and fixtures. The store also featured a private room on the upper level for the fitting of trusses used for hernia patients. Jacob's heavily promoted this business, promising to refund the travel expenses for any patient who could not be properly fitted.

The anonymous author of this piece engages in a bit of wistful editorializing at the end. "We have consistently decried the commercialization of pharmacy, and cannot but view with regret the extent to which commercialism has gone in the introduction of the restaurant feature, but...it is a condition and not a theory which confronts us, and it cannot but prove interesting to other druggists in the United States to know the methods which are being pursued by the Yankees of the South who live in Birmingham."

A fascinating article "The Heyday of Drugstores in Alabama" by James Kuykendall can be found in the January 1987 issue of the Alabama Review.





















Thursday, February 11, 2016

Alabama Book Covers (8): T.S. Stribling

As a writer of fiction, Thomas Sigismund Stribling led two lives. The Tennessee native wrote 16 novels, including a trio set in the Florence, Alabama, area, and spanning the antebellum era into the twentieth century. The second novel of those three, The Store, won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1933. Oddly, his second novel, Birthright, was turned into a silent movie in 1924 by pioneer black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Michieaux made a sound version in 1939. 

Before his first novel was published in 1917, Stribling wrote numerous "Sunday-school stories" for religious publications. He also began writing boys' adventure stories and later some science fiction and westerns and many detective short stories. He continued writing stories even as the novels appeared. A number of the detective stories featured Professor Henry Poggioli. 

Stribling was the first Alabama author to win a Pulitzer for literature; the only other one is Harper Lee. Stribling is said to have sold more books between the too World Wars than such giants as Hemingway and Faulkner. He died in Florence in 1965. The University of North Alabama Archives site has much information about his life and the manuscript materials they house.

Various covers of Stribling novels and collections and magazine issues with his stories can be seen below. 



T.S. Stribling [1881-1965]


















 Lobby card for the 1939 film by Oscar Micheaux

Source: Getty 


This March 1927 issue contains a reprint of Stribling's story "The Green Splotches" first published in a 1920 issue of Adventure. A recent blog post has a lengthy discussion of the story.
Source: Wikipedia



Monday, February 8, 2016

Movies with Alabama Connections (5): Bayou

If you examine this film's entry at the Internet Movie Database [IMDB], you'd never know there are Alabama connections. But hey, I found some.

In the September 5, 1956, issue of the Mobile Press-Register, the following notice appeared. "Harold Daniels has been named by the American National Films, newly organized Mobile motion picture producing company, as director of its first film, 'Bitter Swamp.' Production on the film is scheduled to begin Oct. 1 on location in Louisiana." 

The Saturday, June 1, 1957, issue of the newspaper had more information about the film. "Big, blonde Peter Graves, star of the Mobilian produced film 'Bayou' stood up in the Admiral Semmes Hotel last night and delivered himself of an address on Hollywood methods...Michael Ripps, Mobile producer of the film, told of some of the difficulties experienced in shooting on the Louisiana location."

So we learn several things from these two brief paragraphs about Bayou, which had its original release in June 1957. American National Films, a Mobile company, produced the picture. According to the IMDB, Bayou was the firm's only movie. As mentioned in the first notice, Harold Daniels did indeed direct the film. In addition to his 19 credits as an actor, Daniels directed 24 feature and TV movies including My World Dies Screaming in 1958 and House of the Black Death in 1964. A native of Buffalo, New York, he died in 1971.

The movie was filmed on location around Barataria Bay in Louisiana. Executive Producer Michael A. Ripps has several other credits in the IMDB. He is listed as writer of The Fat Black Pussycat [1963] and producer of Common Law Wife [1963] among a few other classics. Edward I. Fessler is listed as the author of both the story and screenplay for the film; it's the only credit given for him at the Internet Movie DatabaseBy the time of first release the movie's title had been changed and it would acquire another title on re-release. United Artists distributed Bayou but the film did poorly despite such a major firm's support.

The tag line for initial release, as seen on the poster below, was "Somewhere, a 15-year old girl may be a teenager...in the Cajun country, she's a woman full-grown!...and every Bayou man knows it." So does Martin Davis, a young architect from New York, who comes to New Orleans on business and is taken to a carnival in Cajun country. There he meets Marie, the teenager, who's working to support her father and is lusted after by Ulysses, a brutal local store owner who has attempted to rape her. Read the summary at Wikipedia or find a copy of the film if you can to see how this New York vs. Cajun competition turned out.

Peter Graves played the architect; he would go on to a prominent career on television in Mission Impossible and other programs. The role of Ulysses fell to Tim Carey, a character actor who had appeared in such classics as East of Eden and Paths of Glory. Ed Nelson, who would go on to later fame in the TV series Peyton Place, and Jonathan Haze, largely known for a role in the original Little Shop of Horrors, were also in the cast. 

Marie, the cause of it all, was played by Lita Milan, whose acting career was a mix of film and television roles. She is probably best remembered as the female lead in Paul Newman's western, The Left Handed Gun [1958]. The Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen web site has much detail about her life and acting. Unfortunately, according to an article from 2013, she was at that time living in poverty in Madrid, Spain.  

As noted above, Bayou did not perform well during its first release. In 1961 rights to the film were purchased, and it became Poor White Trash which circulated on the drive-in circuit around the South for years. The film should not be confused with another one of that title released in 2000. I have no idea if the movie is currently available in any format or via streaming. Please enlighten us in the comment section if you have more information! 













Graves in 1967

Source: Wikipedia 






Lita Milan on the lobby card for Bayou 





I doubt that's the Cajun country of Louisiana behind her, but Ms. Milan probably made good use of this sultry look in Bayou. 





Ed Nelson in his role as Dr. Michael Rossi in the TV version of Peyton Place

Source: Wikipedia




Jonathan Haze in his most famous role in the 1960 Roger Corman film Little Shop of Horrors

Source: Wikipedia