Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Happened to Old Tuskaloosa Road?

Here's another bit of history I've passed many times over the years but only recently noticed--this street sign in Pelham announcing Old Tuskaloosa Road. That's a mighty new looking sign for such a short road, so I'm not sure what the story is behind that. You can see where it goes below.

In the Heritage of Shelby County, Alabama [1999, p.14], a section on early transportation notes the following:

"State of Alabama, Act, May 24, 1828, Vol. 4, p. 232, Road from Shelbyville to Tuskaloosa."

This reference apparently cites an Act of Congress authorizing the road--and perhaps funding--but so far I have been unable to track it down. Shelbyville is better known as Pelham today, and was the county seat until 1826 when Coumbiana was chosen. Tuscaloosa served as state capitol from 1826 until 1846, so roads to it were no doubt important. 

In the U.S. Statutes at Large, Volume 4, 1824-1835, p. 225, I did find this entry in a list of "post-roads" authorized by Congress on March 2, 1827: "From Moulton, by Walker Courthouse, to Tuscaloosa." I did not find any mention of the Shelbyville to Tuscaloosa road on page 232. Several roads in Alabama were authorized on May 24, 1828, but not that one. 

So where is the rest of this mysterious Old Tuscaloosa Road? How long did it last as an intact road over that distance? 

A Google search turns up such a designation in Helena, but also Jasper and a couple of other places. You can see existing roads in the area in the 1833 map below.

Further investigation awaits. 

Block USA is a construction company. Old Tuskaloosa Road ends quickly at their complex. Across Lee Street is the back of one of the buildings in the Summer Classics site that faces US 31. 

Here's a satellite view from Google Earth taken November 3, 2016.

This 1833 excerpt from a state map by Henry Tanner shows the existing roads. 

Source: Historical Maps of Alabama 

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Alabama Slide" A Fox Trot

In a recent blog post, I discussed a 1925 recording by Fred Hamm & His Orchestra of the "shimmy fox trot", "Flag that Train (to Alabam')". ] Here I discuss a more traditional fox trot published in 1915, the instrumental "Alabama Slide". 

Charles L. Johnson was a song composer born in Kansas City, Kansas; he died in Kansas City, Missouri. He spent his life in those two cities. Johnson wrote some 300 pieces, including 40 rags, but also waltzes, tangos, cakewalks, marches and novelty songs. In other words, he worked in many of the popular music genres of his time. 

You can find out much more about his life and work here. He was so prolific that he published some of his songs under pseudonyms. Johnson wrote music until his death at 74. Four of his ragtime pieces sold over one million copies during his lifetime. 

Songs featuring Sunny South and Dixie themes and places were also popular during his early career. I suspect that's the only reason "Alabama" appears in the title of this piece; I doubt Johnson ever came south. 

You can watch a 2010 video of John Remmers playing "Alabama Slide" here

More comments are below.


Charles L. Johnson [1876-1950]

Source: Wikipedia 

Johnson's "Crazy Bone Rag" was not published until 1918.  This cover of "Alabama Slide", originally published in 1915, must be a later edition. 

Fred John Adam Forster (1878–1956) entered the music business in Chicago in 1903 as a jobber, and later moved into publishing. He published several songs by Johnson.  

A puzzle about this cover is the handwritten notation "Iva Reading Empire Theatre" in the upper right. Did one of the sheet music's owners see Iva Reading play this tune at an Empire Theatre somewhere?

The entire sheet music can be found at the Indian University Sheet Music Collections.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Montevallo is Missing! [My 350th blog post!]

Well, sort of. And only on a map. Sort of....let's investigate.

On September 9th, the city of Montevallo had a festival to celebrate it's bicentennial. Like Pelham, once known as Shelbyville and Shelby County's original seat of government, Montevallo predates Alabama statehood in 1819. 

The first white settler in the county, Jess Wilson, arrived in 1814 and others followed as the Indian threat diminshed. The area became "Wilson's Hill" by 1822 and Montevallo in 1826 according to Clark Hultquist and Carey Heatherly's Montevallo [Arcadia Images of America series, 2011, p. 11]. You can read some more early history here. Montevallo was incorporated by the state legislature in 1848 when almost 1000 people lived there. 

Columbia in the southern part of the county became the seat in 1826 and a post office was established. The town became Columbiana in 1832 and incorporated in 1837.

I was perusing some old Alabama maps recently and noticed something interesting related to this early history. Excerpts are below; all map portions are taken from the state maps at the University of Alabama's Historical Map Archive. You'll note some mysteries as you look at these maps and read my comments. Montevallo appears on a map as early as 1823, then an 1824 map lists "Wilson Hill" but no "Montevallo". 

These maps from the 1820's and 1830's vary in the towns shown. Making maps in those days was hardly a standardized business. Did mapmakers in Philadelphia or Baltimore actually visit these places or copy from previous maps or what?

Feel free to leave insights in the comments section!

On John Melish's 1818 map of Alabama, we see Shelby County in its earliest form. The county was created by the legislature of the Alabama Territory in February 1818. The only named locations in Shelby at this time were Fort Strother and Fort Villanos, Camp Wills and Camp Bradley and Littafuchee. All but Fort Villanos would become part of St. Clair County when it was created in November.

Fort Strother was constructed during the Creek War by several thousand of Andrew Jackson's Tennessee Militia  just before the Battle of Talladega on November 8, 1813. Presumably the other fort and camps were also a part of that war. Littafuchee was an Upper Creek town; the name means "making of arrows." In October 1813 some of the Militia captured the town 

Portion of Fielding Lucas' 1822 map of Alabama that shows two towns in Shelby County at that time. A post office was established at the current Wilsonville in the same year; the town wasn't incorporated until 1897. But this map shows a weirdly shaped Shelby County; is this Wilsonville supposed to be Wilson's Hill? Montevallo is in southern Shelby County, after all, and today's Wilsonville is in the eastern part near the Coosa River.

On this section of Henry S. Tanner's 1823 state map, we find Shelbyville and Montevallo as well as Kelley's Village in the northeastern corner of the county.

Anthony Finley's 1824 state map lists only Shelbyville and Wilson Hill. What happened to "Montevallo"?

Henry S. Tanner's 1825 map again lists not only Shelbyville and Montevallo, but  also Kelley's Village. That third place is a mystery; it doesn't appear in Virginia Foscue's Place Names in Alabama [University of Alabama Press, 1989]. However, there are a Kelley Mountain and Kelley Creek in Shelby County.

Taken from David Burr's 1836 map of Alabama. Notice there are still only two towns noted in Shelby County, Shelbyville and now Montevallo. Poor Columbiana, the country seat, is getting no recognition here. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

From a Colorado Prison Riot to St. Bernard College

His obituary in the New York Times in 1971 began this way:

"CULLMAN, Ala., Aug. 17 (AP)—The Rev. Patrick Frederick O'Neill, a long‐time priest and hero of a 1929 prison riot, died yesterday in a nursing home here at the age of 84."

That prison riot took place in Canon City, Colorado. Let's investigate.

Frederick O'Neill was born in Manchester, Ohio, on February 24, 1887. He joined the Order of St. Benedict in 1907 and was ordained a priest in 1915. In 1929 he was at the Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City and ministered at the prison. On October 3, while he was there, a prison uprising began, and guards were taken prisoner. 

In order to end the standoff, O'Neill placed dynamite charges--twice-- against the wall of the building where the prisoners & captured guards were located. In 1932 he received a Badge of Honor from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for his bravery. You can read the details of his incredible efforts here. A detail account of the prison riot is here.

Benedictine monks came to Alabama and established Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman in September 1881. The abbey operated Saint Bernard College from 1929 until 1979. O'Neill apparently came to Saint Bernard Abbey soon after the riot and taught at the college for many years. 

Author Melanie Patterson, in her book Cullman: Images of Ameria [Arcadia, 2013, p. 45], notes that Fr. Patrick O'Neill, OSB wrote a film based on his experience in the Colorado prison riot that premiered at the Cullman Theater in October 1939. The book includes a photo of the theater. 

That film is apparently Mutiny in the Big House, released in 1939 and starring Charles Bickford as "Father Joe Collins." You can view the film at the Internet Archive. The entry at the Internet Movie Database makes no mention of Patrick O'Neill. However, the entry at Turner Classic Movies notes that a review in Variety at the time of release does explain that the film is based on the O'Neill/Canon City story. That entry also gives some interesting details about the film.

How the story that O'Neill wrote the script and the film "premiered" in Cullman is something of a puzzle. Perhaps O'Neill did write something, but was not given credit on the final product--a common occurrence in Hollywood. And perhaps the film was shown at the Cullman Theatre during its initial release.

Source: Find-A-Grave

Source: Find-A-Grave

Entrance to the Saint Bernard Abbey Cemetery where O'Neill is buried. 

Source: Find-A-Grave

Source: Wikipedia 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Flag that Train (to Alabam')"

I've done a couple of posts on this blog devoted to songs about Alabama from the 19th and early 20th centuries. You can read them here and here. I've also written one on songs about Birmingham. I'll be continuing this theme in some posts about individual songs and here's the first one.

This "shimmy fox trot" was recorded on either April 30 or May 1, 1925, in Camden, New Jersey. The Victor Talking Machine Company had it's recording and manufacturing operations there; the firm was purchased by RCA in 1925. What's a "shimmy fox trot", you ask? I presume it was a combination of a 1920's dance craze and the foxtrot

Fred Hamm was a cornet player and singer who in 1925 took over the Benson Orchestra founded by Edgar Benson. With his three bandmates Dave Bennett, Chauncey Gray, and Bert Lown he wrote the popular "Bye Bye Blues." A list of some of the group's recordings can be found here. Recordings on YouTube are here

A recording of "Flag that Train" is here. Lyrics are below. I've been unable so far to learn anything about the songwriters "Richmond; McPhall; Rothschild".

This song belongs to a couple of standard categories. The authors may never have been to Alabama or other southern states. The "Sunny South" was a fantasy trope used by many Tin Pan Alley-type writers to stand for a far-away paradise. The notion of catching the train back to see your loved one was also popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. 

I guess part of the title was added in Spanish for such markets in the Western Hemisphere. 

Source: Internet Archive, where you can also hear this recording

Come on and flag that train
I'm on my way again
Back to that home of mine below the line in Dixie
My folks are waiting there
I'll fill that vacant chair
And with sweet Madeline, that gal of mine, I'll be

Come on and flag that train
I'm bound for home again
For when I'm roaming, I'm as selfless as a lamb
Oh lordy, listen here
Don't miss that engineer
So flag that train to Alabam'

Source: LyricWiki

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Film Actresses from Alabama Before 1960 (8): Frances Bergen

The model and actress known as Frances Bergen was born in Birmingham on September 14, 1922, daughter of Lille Mabel and William A, Westermann. In the 1920 U.S. Census her parents are listed as living with her paternal grandparents, Frank W. and Mary C. Westermann, born in Germany and Georgia respectively. 

Bergen's father was 29, born in Alabama in 1891. Her mother was 20. William worked as an office manager at a decorating company, and the four lived at "the Ablemarle of the Humboldt Avenue," which I assume was an apartment building. By the 1930 census William, Lille, Mary and 7 year old daughter Lea F. were living at 14 Waco Avenue; the second "n" had been dropped from the family's last name. 

William died on July 15, 1932; he is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. For some reason Lille and Francis moved to Los Angeles, where the daughter graduated from high school. The year after graduation she was attending a live radio broadcast featuring actor and comedian Edgar Bergen, famous for his act as a ventriloquist with his sidekick Charlie McCarthy. Bergen noticed Francis and asked to meet her. After years of courtship they married in 1945 and remained a couple until his death in 1978. They had two children, actress Candice and film/television editor Kris. 

Despite her attention to her family, Frances had significant modeling and acting careers of her own. She worked as a model for the John Robert Powers agency in New York, appearing as the "Chesterfield Girl" and the "Ipana Girl" in magazine advertisements and on billboards.

She made her film debut in the 1953 Titanic playing Madeleine Astor. Between that appearance and part 1 of the finale of her daughter's series Murphy Brown in 1998, she played a number of film and television roles. Other films included Her Twelve Men (1954), Interlude (1957), The Sting II and The Star Chamber (both 1983) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). A major role in Henry Jaglom's independent film Eating in 1990 attracted attention late in her career.

Bergen appeared in made for tv films and episodes of various television series over the years as well. In 1958 she played a physician in "The Doctor Was a Lady" on the Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theater. Other series included Four Star Playhouse, The Millionaire, Dick Powell Show, Barnaby Jones, and MacGyver. A listing of her acting credits can be found here

One of her most memorable roles came in several episodes of the series Yancy Derringer, which ran on CBS-TV during the 1958-59 season. She played Madame Francine, the owner of a private gambling house in 1868 New Orleans.
Bergen died on October 2, 2006, and is buried in California.

Further comments are below some of the photographs. 

These two photographs show Bergen with Jock Mahoney, who played Yancy, and X Brands, who played silent sidekick Pahoo-Ka-Ta-Wah, a Pawnee Indian. 

Daughter Candice, also a model, has had an even more successful film and television career than her mother. Her films include Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Ghandi (1982). She starred as the title character in the television series Murphy Brown (CBS-TV, 1988-1998) and won five Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes for her work.

Charley, Edgar and some blonde clown around in 1952.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Cub Scout Log Book from 1962

Back in the day I participated in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. In the Cubs I was a member of Pack 301, Den 7 in Huntsville. Mom was the Den Mother. 

I guess at some point one of our projects was to create a "Log Book" about our lives, and mom has preserved it in all its glory. I discuss much of it below.

Here's the gang at what looks like some function. I'm in the back row left; younger brother Richard is front row right. 

I must have taken this photo; that's mom and younger brother Richard in the front. Those are the front steps from the driveway up to the porch of our house on Lakeview Drive in Huntsville. 

Same location, with me in the photo on the front left. Since mom was the den mother, I guess I had to always show up in uniform.

Another group photo, this time on the wall along the driveway. Richard is in the front relaxing, I'm second from the rear. 

This entry documents a family visit to the Museum of Natural History in Anniston. I have since learned the difference between "to" and "two". 

We took annual vacations to Florida in the summer, and this one is probably at Seagrove Beach. We went there for several years before changing to Naples. 

I was a big Hardy Boys fan at this time and read all the available books. I think most of the ones I read were the original versions published between 1927 and 1959, before revisions began. The Hardy Boys series ended in 2005 after 190 volumes, although there has been a subsequent "reboot". 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Strange Things Found in Alabama Stores (3)

Here's my introduction to part 1 of this ongoing series. Part 2 is here

Going through some photographs recently I came across a couple of examples of the random things I encounter here and there in stores and other public places. When I do I take photos. I've decided to share some of them in a series of posts on this blog.

These images may strike many as just silly, and some are, but I prefer to call them strange, weird, unexpected, something different springing out of the halls of American commerce. Or whatever. Let's begin. 

Feel free to tell us about your own strange finds in the comment section!

Just like the Easter Island heads in part 2, I found this classic in Old Time Pottery in Pelham this past spring. Now wouldn't this look good on YOUR front porch?  

A bit of philosophy spotted in Old Time Pottery & I heartily agree with it.

Well, maybe this one is not so strange if you're a fan of the 1983 classic A Christmas Story. Wish I had these ornaments AND a real leg lamp! These were seen at 2nd & Charles in Hoover.

Even drug stores get into the strangeness sometimes!

Another classic! This poster is above one of the booths at the Smokey Hollow Restaurant in Jemison. The whole place is decorated in Route 66 chic. I've written about various adventures there in another blog post.

And I'll conclude this episode with these two cuties, spotted at a Home Accents store in Pelham. In a back corner, of course. 

Until next time!!