Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Alabama Author: William Chambers Morrow

In 1985 Doubleday published Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural : A Treasury of Spellbinding Tales Old & New, 650 pages of stories, many written by giants of literature ranging from Bram Stoker to Tennessee Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien. Tucked in among these works is "His Unconquerable Enemy" by W.C. Morrow, who just happened to be born in Selma on July 7, 1854. Another of his stories was adapted for the "Young and the Headless" episode of the Monsters TV series broadcast on November 25, 1990, and starring Karen Valentine. "An Original Revenge" appears in The Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories published in 1995 by Carroll & Graf. 

Morrow died in 1923. Let's investigate. 

Morrow's Wikipedia entry and his information on the Tellers of Weird Tales site offer some information about his early years in Alabama. Wikipedia's source is a critical essay on Morrow's work in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004). Terence Hanley, who maintains the Tellers site, does not give a source for most of his material, although he does quote another book by Joshi on Ambrose Bierce and his remarks about Morrow's writing. I've also done a bit of research in the U.S. Census and elsewhere, so here's the scoop so far.

Wikipedia notes, "Morrow's father was a Baptist minister and the owner of a farm and of a hotel in Mobile, Alabama. The American Civil War meant that the family lost its slaves and by 1876 the young Morrow was running the hotel, having graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham at the age of fifteen." 

Hanley says, "William Chambers Morrow was born on July 7, 1854, in Selma, Alabama, son of a slaveholder. The Civil War and Reconstruction put an end to that of course. In 1870, when the census enumerator found them, Morrow's father and mother were keeping a hotel with their sixteen-year-old son in residence. Morrow graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) at age fifteen and moved to California in 1879. "

Apparently Hanley also relies on the Joshi essay about Morrow. I have not found the family in the 1860 U.S. Census, but I did locate them in the 1870 one. Father William Chambers Morrow and wife Martha are included, as well as daughter Georgia (20), W.C., Jr. (16) and younger sister Dozella (7). The occupation of Morrow's father was given as "Hotel Keeper"; the mother was "Keeping Hotel." They were living in the town of Evergreen in Conecuh County. 

Via I found Morrow and his father listed in Mobile city directories for 1875 and 1876. The father was Manager of the Gulf City Hotel; his son was the "Proprietor". Both lived at the hotel. So far I have not found the name of the hotel in Evergreen or anything about the Gulf City Hotel in Mobile except it's listing in the 1878 city directory which placed it at the southeast corner of Water and Conti.

 In addition, I've found nothing about Morrow's time at Howard College, which was incorporated in Marion in 1841 by the Alabama Baptist State Convention. The college did not move to East Lake in Birmingham until 1881. If the elder Morrow had indeed been/remained a Baptist minister, he may well have sent his son to Howard.

Morrow apparently left Alabama behind for good in 1879 and moved to California. Why the move there and how he began writing remain mysteries, but from the 1880's until about 1908 he published a number of stories. Listed below are those pieces currently included in the FictionMags Index. Some of his tales and novels were published in newspapers, including William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. 

Many of Morrow's short stories are science fiction or horror. One of his best-known tales is "The Surgeon's Apprentice" (1887), later published as "The Monster-Maker" in his collection The Ape, the Idiot and Other People (1897). A 2000 collection of Morrow's horror and science fiction stories is The Monster Maker and Other Stories. The title story tells of a doctor/mad scientist who has a patient wishing to die. The doctor removes the patient's head and then keeps his body alive. His stories "Over an Absinthe Bottle" [p. 473-4] and "His Unconquerable Enemy" [p. 628-629] are discussed in Jess Nevins' Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (2005).

Morrow also published several novels and other works. His first novel, Blood Money, came out in 1882. The work is based on a land title dispute that took place in May 1880 on a farm in the San Joaquin Valley near Hanford, California. A clash between settlers and a U.S. Marshall and others representing the Southern Pacific Railroad resulted in seven deaths. The incident, known as the Mussel Slough Tragedy, later became the basis for Frank Norris' novel The Octopus (1901) and May Merrill Miller's novel First the Blade (1938). Ironically, Morrow began work in public relations for the Southern Pacific Railroad almost a decade later. 

His suspense novel A Strange Confession appeared in the Californian newspaper in 1880 and 1881 but has not been reprinted. Much later he published two adventure novels, A Man; His Mark (1900) and Lentala of the South Seas (1908). He also wrote some non-fiction, such as Bohemian Paris of Today (1900), from "notes by Edouard Cucuel", and a short travel booklet, Roads Around Paso Robles (1904). In 1889 he drew on his youthful experience for a 32-page pamphlet, Souvenir of the Hotel Del Monte, Monterey, California. A history of that hotel can be found here.

Morrow seems not to have published anything after 1908. Almost a decade earlier he had begun to teach writing. The Tellers of Weird Tales site notes

"Ambrose Bierce mentioned his friend W.C. Morrow in an essay entitled "To Train a Writer" from 1899. Bierce observed that "Mr. W.C. Morrow, the author of 'The Ape, the Idiot and Other People,' a book of admirable stories, is setting up a school to teach the art of writing. If he can teach his pupils to write half as well as he can write himself he may be called successful." (Quoted in Ambrose Bierce, A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (1998)."

What Morrow did for the remaining years of his life is unknown. He died on April 3, 1923, in Ojai, Ventura County, California. In 1881 he had married Lydia H. Houghton; she is listed with him in the 1920 U.S.Census. The couple is said to have had a child that was either stillborn or died in infancy and no other children. 

Various other questions about Morrow remain to be investigated. Where is he buried? What happened to his wife and his parents and siblings back in Alabama? Did he ever return to his home state before he died? Perhaps one day a fuller biography will be written. 

Morrow lived and worked in San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at a thriving time for the city's literary scene. Majors writers such as Bret Harte, Jack London and Frank Norris as well as many lesser known authors plied their trade alongside Morrow. And this group, which preceded the San Francisco Renaissance and west coast Beat writers in the city by many decades, had an Alabama connection.  

Source: Wikipedia

Frontispiece to A Man: His Mark

Artwork by Elenore Plaisted Abbott, a well-known book illustrator and painter of the time

William Chambers Morrow listing at the FictionMags Index

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Guy Morton, the "Alabama Blossom"

I recently did a post on the town of Joppa, the hometown of major league baseball pitcher Jack Lively. He played for the Detroit Tigers in the 1911 season. His son Buddy played for the Cincinnati Reds for several years during the late 1940's.

In researching Lively, I came across another father-son pair of major league players, Guy Morton, the "Alabama Blossom", and his son Guy, Jr. The state has produced numerous professional baseball players over the years, and I plan to return to this topic in the future.

The elder Morton was born in Vernon on June 1, 1893. I found the family in Vernon in the 1900 U.S. Census via indexed as "Mortin". No father was listed, so he was either deceased or otherwise absent. Mother Mary and 12 others made up the household. Ten of these individuals are Mary's sons and daughters. Two are grandchildren--the sons of daughter Eliza Guin. At 7, Guy is the youngest child. 

A lengthy biography of Morton has been written by Chris Rainey for the Society for American Baseball Research. He notes that Morton's father was Dr. Martin W. Morton, son of a doctor, who died a few days before Guy's birth. According to Rainey, Guy was playing baseball for the Columbus team in the Cotton States League in 1913. He ended that season with a 5-5 pitching record, and a scout recommended him to the major league Cleveland Naps (later Indians) team. 

In the spring of 1914 he played in the Eastern Association, but was soon called up to Cleveland and pitched his first game on June 20, 1914. His final game in the majors came ten years later, on June 6, 1924. At the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, Guy and his wife Edna were living in Vernon. Guy's occupation was listed as "baseball player." Guy and Edna had married the previous year in Birmingham.

Morton ended his major league career with a 98-88 record and 830 strikeouts. Rainey's biography gives many career highlights, including pitching against Babe Ruth in 1917. He won ten games in four of his seasons pitching. The Indians sold his contract in 1924, and he played seven more seasons in the minor leagues, including five in the Southern Association for teams in Memphis, Mobile and Birmingham. 

Morton and his wife moved to Sheffield where he went to work on the Wilson Lake Dam in the TVA system. He pitched several years on semi-pro teams in Florence and on the TVA team until his death by heart attack on October 18, 1934. He is buried in Sheffield; his gravestone notes his 2002 induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and declares that he was "Alabama's First Great Major League Pitcher." In 2001 he was named to the greatest 100 Cleveland Indians list. 

Many major league baseball players have had nicknames over the years. Rainey does not give the source of Morton's "Alabama Blossom" nickname; perhaps Morton was a rare player from Alabama at the time. 

The couple had one child, Guy Morton, Jr., who was born in Tuscaloosa on November 4, 1930. More about "Moose" Morton is below. 

Guy Morton

Guy Morton

Source: Wikipedia

Guy "Moose" Morton, Jr.

Source: Baseball Reference  

After his father died, the Guy, Jr.'s mother moved to Tuscaloosa to work in a University of Alabama museum, and he was sent to live with grandparents in Mississippi. His mother married Vaughn Shirley when Guy, Jr., was 11; his stepfather owned a grocery story in Mobile. The young Morton played for Murphy High School for two years, but graduated from Tuscaloosa High School in 1948 after his stepfather bought a grocery store in that city.

Moose started college at the University of Alabama on a scholarship, but tryouts led him eventually to a contract with the Boston Red Sox after his freshman year. He played a number of years in the minors as a catcher. He was called up by the Red Sox for one game, on September 17, 1954; he had one at bat and no hits.

After his baseball career ended, Moose coached youth teams in Alabama and Ohio where he eventually moved. He became a Baptist minister and served for many years; he died on May 11, 2014. Bill Nowlin has written an extensive biography for the Society for American Baseball Research. "Moose" is included in Richard Tellis' 1998 book, Once Around the Bases: Bittersweet Memories of Only One Game in the Majors (pp. 166-176). See the Nowlin link and the obituary link for more about his many achievements on and off the baseball diamond.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"When that Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'"

This song and the 78 RPM recording featured here involve two of the best known figures in America popular music in the 20th century, Irving Berlin and Tommy Dorsey. Let's investigate.

Irving Berlin was born into the Russia of the Tsars in 1888; by the age of five he arrived in the United States. He published his first song in 1907; his first big hit was "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1911. For the next six decades this Russian immigrant would contribute some 1500 songs to the Great American Songbook. He also wrote the scores for 20 Broadway productions and 15 Hollywood films. 

His best known songs include "God Bless America", "White Christmas" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." Singers ranging from Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland to Martina McBride, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga have recorded his compositions. Berlin died in 1989. Composer Jerome Kern once declared that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music--he is American music." 

Berlin wrote "When that Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'" in 1912. The song was one of several he wrote about the idealized South, a very popular topic in American culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This topic was a popular one among Tin Pan Alley writers at the time. Some of Berlin's other titles in the genre include "Down in Chattanooga" (ca. 1912), "When It's Night Time in Dixie Land" (ca 1912) and "Florida by the Sea" (ca. 1922). I wonder if Berlin ever visited the South before he wrote these tunes. 

Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) was a very successful trombonist, composer, conductor and band leader during the Big Band era. Born in Pennsylvania, he was the younger brother of Jimmy Dorsey, who also achieved great success as a musician and big band leader. The two brothers collaborated in the Dorsey Brothers Band/Orchestra during the 1920's and 1930's. 

By the mid thirties Tommy was striking out on his own. The song featured here was recorded in 1938 by Dorsey and his Clambake Seven, which was active from 1935 until 1956. The group often played Dixieland style tunes during performances of Dorsey's larger bands. The 10" 78 RPM is a Victor recording, #25821. The B side, "Everybody's Doing It", is also an Irving Berlin song. 

Relevant photos etc are below. I've made a few comments below the sheet music cover. Finally, I've included the song's lyrics with its reference to "Alabama's new mown hay."

Irving Berlin at the piano

Tommy Dorsey with his instrument

Source: Wikipedia

Our song is on Disc 2 of this three disc set

Ted Snyder (1881-1965) was a composer, lyricist and music publisher. He hired Berlin as a staff writer in 1909; they later became business partners. I have been unable to identify the young "Apollo" whose photograph adorns this cover. Perhaps he was a popular singer of the day who included this song in his performances. 

When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam'

I've had a mighty busy day
I've had to pack my things away
Now I'm going to give the landlord back his key
The very key
That opened up my dreary flat
Where many weary nights I sat
Thinking of the folks down home who think of me
You can bet you'll find me singing happily

When the midnight choo-choo leaves for Alabam'
I'll be right there
I've got my fare
When I see that rusty-haired conductor-man
I'll grab him by the collar 
And I'll holler
"Alabam'! Alabam'!"
That's where you stop your train
That brings me back again
Down home where I'll remain
Where my honey-lamb am
I will be right there with bells
When that old conductor yells
"All aboard! All aboard!
All aboard for Alabam'"

[2nd verse:]
The minute that I reach the place
I'm goin' to overfeed my face
'Cause I haven't had a good meal since the day 
I went away
I'm goin' to kiss my Pa and Ma
A dozen times for ev'ry star
Shining over Alabama's new mown hay
I'll be glad enough to throw myself away

Source: Song Lyrics

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Quick Visit to a North Alabama Town: Joppa

I visit mom, watercolor artist Carolyn Shores Wright, in Huntsville on a regular basis. On the drive to and from Pelham I often make brief side trips to see some of the small towns along or near I-65. Arkadelphia is a recent example. I look for a landmark or two and research a bit of the town's history. This time Joppa is up.

There are several small towns along Alabama Highways 69 and 67 northeast of Cullman including Fairview, Baileyton, Hulaco and Florette. If you stay on 69 toward Arab, you pass through Joppa. 

So what's up with that name, anyway?? Jaffa, a Hebrew word for "beauty", was a port city in ancient Palestine; the area is now part of Tel Aviv. According to Virginia Foscue's Place Names in Alabama, a Mrs. Berry chose the name for this state's town. Foscue also notes a U.S. post office was established in 1888. The Geographic Names Information System maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey includes several places named Joppa in other states, such as Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. 

Another source, Annals of Northwest Alabama, vol. 2, 1965, second edition [compiled by Carl Elliott] includes two essays with much information about Joppa. In his piece "Sketches of Early Cullman County, Alabama" [pp. 26-28], Marc Miller notes the presence of several farms in the area before the Civil War. By the early 1890's the population had grown enough to support a post office, which had to have a name. A Marion Berry chose Joppa; no reason is given. Four rural routes were started from the post office in 1904.

According to Miller the first school was established in the late 1880's in a Baptist church, but later moved to the Methodist one. Founded by Prof. J.B. Sherill, Joppa School was built in 1893 and eventually evolved to encompass grammar, junior high, high school and teacher's college levels.

The American Missionary Association bought the school in 1895 and renamed it the Joppa Collegiate Normal Institute. This facility had two dormitories for the students who studied religion and teaching. Sometime after 1900 a fire burned the school's library, but the books--mostly religious--were replaced. 

The town incorporated in 1900. As a college town, Joppa developed hotels, various stores, a stage stop, saloon and hospital. Eventually a telephone system with switchboard opened. At the time the Annals book was published in 1965, Joppa had a cotton gin, six stores, a post office, elementary, junior and high schools and three churches.   

Another essay in the Annals volume is "A Short History of Joppa, Alabama" pp. 192-200] compiled by fifth and sixth grade students at Joppa School during the 1954-55 school year. This piece notes that two boarding houses served  as dorms for the college students, and that a "Mrs. Berry" gave Joppa its name. A brick Joppa School was built in 1939 with eight classrooms, an office, library and auditorium. Two grades and a lunch room were located in the two-story frame building that had become the second college building after a fire. In 1958 Joppa School had 325 students and ten teachers. This essay gives more detail about many people in the community's history.

Joppa seems to have reached its greatest population in the 1920-1940 period; in 1930, 1894 people lived there according to the U.S. Census. By 2010 the population had fallen to 501. 

Henry Everett "Jack" Lively was born in Joppa on May 29, 1885. During the 1911 season Lively pitched for the Detroit Tigers in eighteen games and ended the season with a 7-5 won-loss record. One of his teammates was Ty Cobb. Prior to that season Lively had played for several minor league teams. "He won 23 games for Gulfport in 1907, 25 games for two teams in 1908, 18 for Montgomery in 1909, and 31 for Oakland in 1910", according to the Baseball Reference site. 

Lively was a right-handed pitcher who stood 5'9" and weighted 185 pounds. He may have begun baseball play while attending Joppa High School. Whether he played for other teams before Gulfport is unknown; the 1911 season was apparently his only one in the majors. 

Lively returned to Alabama at some point. The 1920 U.S. Census list he and wife Minnie as living on a farm they own in Arab. He died in Arab on December 5, 1967. He is buried in the Hebron Church of Christ Cemetery. His son Buddy played in the majors for the Cincinnati Reds for three seasons in the late 1940's. 

In 1999 the Thomas Corbin farmstead in Joppa was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage; you can see a photo here.  

More comments follow the photos and illustration below. 

According to Jimmy Emerson, the college closed in 1918 due to declining enrollment. The county school system used the building until it burned in 1995. This structure is a replica built on the same site. Another photo of this building by Emerson has snow on the ground.

Many rural post offices have been closed in recent years; Joppa's remains. 

This card shows Lively on one of his minor league teams, Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. He won 31 games there in 1910, the year before he moved up to the majors. 

Source: Gordon Brett Echols via Find-A-Grave

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mobile and "Blues in the Night"

I am always on the lookout for appearances of Alabama-related things in popular culture and came across this one recently. Over the life of this blog I've posted several items discussing songs from the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries that relate to Alabama in some fashion. You can read two of the posts here and here.

This example is a bit different--a shout out to various cities including Mobile. The song is "Blues in the Night", which first appeared in the 1941 film of the same name. The song has become a standard; versions by many singers can be found on YouTube. Everyone from Peggy Lee and the Benny Goodman Orchestra to Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney and Amy Winehouse have recorded it. The piece was nominated for a Best Song Academy Award. 

The film is an odd one, a little crime musical if you can believe it. The story follows a ragtag group of jazz musicians as they find and lose great success and learn that their original life riding the rails from town to town was not so bad. 

Richard Whorf plays pianist and leader Jigger Pine, and Jack Carson is the loudmouth trumpet player. Priscilla Lane is Carson's angelic and pregnant wife. The clarinetist is played by Elia Kazan in his acting days before he became one of Hollywood's best known producers and directors. Of course there's a gangster (Lloyd Nolan) and his sometime moll (Betty Field) to add the crime element. 

I remember seeing this film years ago and enjoying it. I watched it again recently and found it a bit silly and over the top in places, but still worth seeing. The cast is great at chewing the scenery, and there's some good music. Betty Field is a great femme fatale. 

Now about that song. I don't remember catching the reference to Mobile the first time I saw the film, but I did on this viewing. The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by Johnny Mercer, two giants of American popular song in the 20th century. Together and with others they both made numerous contributions to the "Great American Songbook".

During their collaboration in the 1940's the pair wrote other hits including "That Old Black Magic" and "One More for My Baby (and One More for the Road)". Arlen wrote film and Broadway music for many hits with other partners including the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. Mercer also spent much of his career in Hollywood working in the film industry. 

Many popular songs about the South in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries were written by northerners selling an idealized vision of Dixie; most of them probably never traveled below the Mason-Dixon Line. Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia, and exposed to much African-American music growing up. We can probably attribute his choice of town names and music for the song to that upbringing. Now about that woman he mentions....
The film shows up periodically on Turner Classic Movies. A trailer can be found here

Harold Arlen [1905-1986]

Source: Wikipedia

Johnny Mercer [1909-1976]

Source: Wikipedia

"Blue in the Night"

Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

My mama done told me when I was in knee pants 
My mama done told me, "Son, A woman will sweet talk
And give you the big eye but when that sweet talk is done
A woman's a two face, a worrisome thing who will leave you to sing
A worrisome thing
Who will leave you to sing 
The blues in the night

Now the rain's a fallin'. Hear the train a callin' Hoowee! 
Hear that lonesome whistle 
Blowin across the trestle Hoowee! 
A hoowee ta hoowee, clickety clack 
It's echoing back the blues in the night.

The evening breeze will start the trees to crying
And the moon will hide it's plight
When you get the blues in the night
So take my word the mocking bird
Will sing the saddest kind of song
He knows things are wrong
And he's right

From Natchez to Mobile, From Memphis to St. Joe
I've been in some big towns, and I've heard me some big talk 
I've been to some big towns
I've heard me some big talk 
But there is one thing I know
A woman's a two face
A worrisome thing who will leave you to sing
The blues in the night 

My mama was right, my mama was right
There's blues in the night

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Birmingham Photo of the Day (60): Hormel Meat Packing Plant

Wander around Alabama Mosaic, and you never know what you may find. Case in point is the photograph below, taken by Oscar V. Hunt [1881-1962] during his long, illustrious career in Birmingham. 

Whenever I find old photos of buildings, I like to see if the place still exists and if so what it's current use is. This photograph is pretty interesting just for the neat cars, which I guess would indicate sometime in the 1930's. The place on 14th Street North was a Hormel meat packing plant then; note the missing "m" in the sign. I wonder if the building was constructed for the plant or adapted for it.

As you'll see in the more recent photograph below and the Google Earth extract, the building still exists. A United Methodist ministry for the homeless, Church of the Reconciler, currently operates there. The building looks very nice, but has really not changed much over the decades.

Four photographs taken inside the Hormel plant in Montgomery in the 1950's are available here. You can learn more about Hormel here; the company has operated for more than 125 years. A photo of founder George A. Hormel is also below, along with a link to more about him.

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

The building is now used by the Church of the Reconciler.

Google Earth view of the building today.

George A. Hormel [1860-1946]