Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Birmingham Photo of the Day (61): Eddie Rickenbacker's Visit

The city of Birmingham has hosted appearances by many famous people over the years. I recently did a blog post on two by John Philip Sousa early in the 20th century. This time up it's Eddie Rickenbacker

The Alabama Archives gives the date of this photograph as sometime in the 1939 to 1943 range. Rickenbacker accepted an offer to lead Eastern Air Lines by its original owner General Motors in 1935. He held that position until 1959 and remained on the board of directors until 1963.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Rickenbacker [1890-1973] won the Distinguished Service Cross eight times in World War I as a flying ace with 26 victories. In 1930 one of those awards was converted to the Medal of Honor. France also awarded Rickenbacker the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre.  Thus began a life of extraordinary achievement.

After World War I Rickenbacker designed and raced automobiles and served as a military consultant. In the late 1930's he promoted airplanes in both civilian and military spheres by writing two popular comic strips, Ace Drummond and The Hall of Fame of the Air. In February 1941 he survived a near-fatal plane crash, and in October 1942 spent over three weeks adrift in the central Pacific after another crash. He made a trip to China and the USSR in the spring and summer of 1943 on a fact-finding mission. Thus by the time he appeared in Birmingham Rickenbacker was a well-known and popular figure.

Several prominent men joined Rickenbacker at the dais as he spoke to members of the Birmingham Aero Club and individuals from other areas around the state. Governor Frank Dixon was there; he served from 1939 until 1943, so that is the possible date range for the talk. Also present was R.H. "Bob" Wharton, who served as President of the Jefferson County Commission.The arched, sandstone bridge forming an early cloverleaf intersection at U.S. 31 & Lakeshore Drive in Homewood is named after him. George A. Mattison, Jr., was a Birmingham industrialist. Charles E. Oakes was listed in the 1942 Birmingham City Directory [found via] as the President and General Manager of the Birmingham Electric Company. The other dignitaries--James A. Simpson, J.W. Morgan and W.J. Wise-- remain unidentified at the moment.

The Birmingham Aero Club had its beginnings in 1922 as a company by that name founded by Glenn Messer. The firm was not successful, and Messer turned the name over to Steadham Acker. He and others developed the organization that still exists today and is the sponsor of the Wings and Wheels Air Show, one of the longest running aviation events in America. The club was also responsible for early development of what is now the city's Southern Museum of Flight.  

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