Sunday, March 31, 2013

McGrath's Department Store -- Part I

Once, it was the largest department store between New Orleans and Memphis.  

Employing 40 to 50 people, John McGrath & Sons had something for everyone -- a full grocery store, furnishings, a shoe department, a men's department, and a women's department 20 people strong that offered piece goods and notions, including the services of a milliner from St. Louis and a modiste.  

Opened in 1878 and located in the Daly* Building, which sported pressed brick and plate glass windows on the ground floor, the store was flooded with natural light during the day and, eventually, the building had some of the earliest electric lighting to illuminate the merchandise once the sun slipped below the horizon.  

At the turn of the century, the store, which was a quick jaunt from the train depot, was more advanced than anything the state capital of Jackson (some 60 miles due north) had to offer, according to Jasper Benoit "Jap" Becker, a McGrath grandson who started working in the store when he was a mere lad of 14.  

With aisle chairs and a basket trolley system for taking money, making change and giving receipts, the store offered up "the latest" in almost everything.

Fashion shows were all-day affairs, with people from miles around arriving to see the latest in everything, eat free food samples, and listen to live music.  Trade days and bargain days drew large crowds as well, not to mention the weekly contests that offered cash prizes. 

The McGraths -- Martin McGrath in particular -- understood merchandizing better than most. "Thirty-six inches to the yard and your child can trade here as cheaply as you can" -- was the store motto. 

And they wisely didn't just cater to the well-to-do.  Offering store credit, they sold fertilizer and goods that farmers would need to keep their rural operations running.

To draw people into town and into the store, McGrath's had countless "openings."  An orchestra would play all day, their music magnified over loudspeakers and piped into all departments -- another first for the region.

In the grocery department, the National Biscuit Company, meat and coffee companies would send their salesman to offer up free samples of different products. 

Later, fully understanding that women love the latest in fashion, the store merchandisers started sponsoring style shows, which progressed to night-time extravaganzas on the gallery roof above the sidewalk.  Singing and tap dancing by locals Roxie and Elsie Moodie and solos by Junius Johnson were also part of the draw.

At times, name entertainment would be employed to draw folks into the store. And other times, country fiddlers would be invited to play for the crowds, sometimes with only one string left on their violins.  That, according to Jap Becker, drove crazy many of the employees, who were unable to escape the sounds of their hours-long screeching.

Perhaps more enticing to the rurals were the contests sponsored by McGrath's.  There were "wagon load" challenges to see how many people could crowd into a wagon and come into town on Saturdays drew folks from miles around.

The store also handed "clock cards" -- for every dollar spent, a customer got a card with a time on it advertising merchandise.  Knowing there was money to be made with Lady Luck, people would collect suitcases full.  

It worked like this: a wind-up clock was placed in the store window, the face covered. An employee would half-wind it and soon the clock would stop.  Every Saturday, the merchants would uncover the clock face and give away $50 to the person who held a time card closest to the time that the clock had stopped -- a princely sum back in the day.
Born in 1899, 10th-grader Jap Becker went to work in the family store in 1913 when his his father's bank closed during a panic.  He was "curious and tried to learn" and, apparently, that gumption and ambition paid off.  When he turned 15, he was sent to Chicago to take a two-month course in merchandising and window trimming.

The following year, at just 16, he would travel to New York City, alone, on the train.

He got a map of the city before he left, arrived in one piece and walked three blocks to his hotel room, saving fifty cents worth of cab fare in the process.  These buying trips to New York became de rigueur, and while in New York, he would attend Broadway shows and bring back sheet music, which his Aunt Katie would adapt for the store's many openings.

As luck and fate would have it, Jap Becker entered the world of fashion at the dawn of ladies' ready-to-wear.

Recognizing an opportunity, he parlayed that new interest into added value for the store.

Whitworth College, a Methodist Church-sponsored institution of higher learner for women, was located in the heart of town.

"They wore those long black robes when they went out walking and had to walk two-by-two with a chaperone in front and with a chaperone in the back with a whip, I think, from the school," he said in an interview on file at the Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Library.

"And then they finally decided they'd have a uniform instead of robes when they went out. So they bought them from McGraths ... I went to New York, I got some samples ... they liked one, and that was the biggest sale in the ready-to-wear department.

"I bought other things, everything I bought sold, so I was kind of confident from that," he told his interviewer, Henry Ware Hobbs, Esq.
There is much more to this story, so please stay tuned ...
Information for this article was gleaned from numerous sources, including Becker/McGrath descendent Bettie Hatcher Cox, to whom I am ever so grateful for helping me tease out the "facts;" the Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Library online interviews, Durr Walker's Lincoln County history book, and Findagrave.  
*Some sources have the spelling as Daily, others as Daly.  If anyone knows the definitive answer as to the correct spelling, please leave me a message here or on my Facebook page. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

High Stepping Majorettes and the Alexander High Band

Alexander School Band 1955

This is the band for Alexander School on 5/12/ 1955. They were reordered 5/28/1963 for Judy Tyler. No names are noted. -- LLF Library caption.

Can you hear the music, even now?  

As many spectators -- those in the stands and others observing surreptitiously from the perimeter -- can attest, some really awesome music and amazing synchronized moves on the football field were the hallmarks of this school's marching band for many, many years.

As always, comments and observations welcomed here and on my Facebook page.

Friday, March 29, 2013


 A Jersey cow.  This breed's milk is prized for its higher fat content.
 Both photos above are from the MDAH digital archives collection of the Farm Bureau.

From a friend's photo album ... Thanks and you know who you are!

 It is said that the butter manufactured in creameries in Brookhaven was sold to restaurants as far away as New York City.

There is much more to this dairy industry story than these three photos imply, but I have discovered during my research that the "official" history is rife with errors -- it seems the histories of the two earliest and largest creameries were blended along the way, much like their milk and milk products.

It has proven to be especially difficult from where I sit to determine which "version" of history is correct. I am hopeful that I can tease out facts from fiction in the coming days, weeks, or months, and report back a more accurate account than what is now out there in books and publications.

Whatever the case, it is going to take some doing!

Stay tuned, and if anyone has information from "back in the day," which may be more accurate than current publications, I would be interested in seeing it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

County Farm Bureau -- Familiar Names and Faces

Mississippi Farm Bureau Local Activities, Lincoln Co. Open House. February. 1972. From left: A. E. Beall, Irl Duckworth, Mrs. Duckworth, George Sougeron, Doug Thornton, Milton H. 'Papa' Walker." Group photograph. -- MDAH Digital Archives.

L to R: P. V. Kepner, deputy adminstrator, Federal Extension Service, Home Demonstration Agent Sara Jane Craig and County Agent Travis Tadlock. View of awards presentation.
195?  Brookhaven, Mississippi --
MDAH Digital Archives

These photos dovetail with yesterday's posting of the old Farm Bureau Co-op location on North Railroad Avenue.

According to a Facebook friend, Ennis Irl Duckworth managed the Co-op Store for many years.  According to Findagrave, Irl was born March 13, 1932, and died April 7, 1987, age 55.  His wife's name (contrary to the above caption implying it was simply "Mrs.") was Pat C. Duckworth. 
I was surprised to find little information on the woman that many of us in Brookhaven knew as a household name -- Miss Sara Jane Craig, Home Demonstration Agent.

The most I could dig up online was from the 1940 Census. (I was unable to locate an obituary or a Findagrave site.)

Sara Jane Craig was born in 1904 and lived, at the time of the census, in a rental house on Cherokee Street in Brookhaven.  Her education level showed that she had graduated college and perhaps spent another year beyond her bachelor's degree pursuing a higher education.  She was single, worked 48 hours a week, and earned approximately $1,800. 

The Census showed that a "trained nurse" by the name of Laura Jane Huff, age 33, was also living at the same rental address.  She reported earning $1,000 in income, and also worked 48 hours per week.
I had little luck in locating additional information on Travis Tadlock, another local "household name" when it came to the co-operative extension.

As always, if you know more than what we have posted here, please leave word either here or on my Facebook page.  
UPDATE:  According to my Brookhaven Facebook friends, Mr. Tadlock is still with us, living in Brookhaven and tending a most beautiful yard.  Pat Duckworth is also with us, according to those who claim her as a best friend.  

Better yet, the following bit of trivia from Dr. Danny Dickey really got me going:  "If you remember in Brookhaven there were two 1,000 watt radio stations:  WJMB and WCHJ.  I worked most weekends at WCHJ while in high school, and Catherine reminded me that the station was at one time owned by Miss Craig and Miss Huff and then by Mr. Bill Jones (who was my "boss" during my time there), thence the WCHJ was for 'Craig, Huff and Jones.'"


UPDATE II: According to Pat Duckworth, the first photo was made on the day of the Grand Opening of the new Co-op building on North Second Street. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Farmer's Cooperative Building

Lincoln County Co-op. Exterior view of cooperative store building -- 1950s.  From the MDAH archives.

Another curbside snapshot that takes us back in time.  I am not sure that this building still stands today. 

UPDATE:  Not only does it still stand, the building lives on as a pawn shop, AND the metal awning is still there! Just down the street is an auto parts store (and still is today in some iteration).  The tall building in the background is the T.H. Perkins Furniture Store, which is now home to upper floor apartments and the ever favorite Fox's Pizza on street level.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lots and Lots of Children

Old School Children's Group

"This group of pictures were all in one box labeled "Old School." Most of them are copies that Mr. Williams made for customers. This is a picture of a large group of children and women. One man is sitting in a chair in the middle front row. No other information is known." -- LLF Library caption.

I don't know for certain, but the man in the chair, with a hat at his feet, may be in more than one photograph in the Old School collection.  When I have a bit more time on my hands, I plan to comb through to see if I can figure out where I've seen him before or if he has a doppelganger.
As always, if anyone has an inkling as to who these folks may be, please leave word either here or on my Facebook page. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Perkins of Caledonia

This is a young couple in a formal pose. The man is wearing a light color hat. This picture ran in the Daily Leader and Mrs Noah C Smith identified her sister and her brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Perkins of Caledonia. No date was noted. -- Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Library caption.

Another natty dresser in a fedora.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Five Rows of Children

"This group of pictures were all in one box labeled 'Old School.' Most of them are copies that Mr. (John Holly) Williams made for customers.This is five rows of children. They all may be related. Notice that not many are smiling. This picture was very worn before Mr. Williams made this copy. No other information is known." -- Library caption

Yet another thought-provoking photo from the "Old School" collection that sparks the imagination as to who these 36 children were, from whence they came and the occasion for the photograph. (The book in the hands of the little boy on the front row suggests to me these may students of a one-room school house.) It is very difficult even to guess at the date, though it is probably safe to say that it is from the late 1800s, early 1900s.

As always, if anyone has information as to their identities or where they were from, please leave a message here or on my Facebook page.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Brother and Little Sisters ... in Dotted Swiss

"Mrs. Emma Lee Russell has her children's picture taken without her. Her son is sitting between his two sisters. No date is noted."  LLF Library caption.
The photo is damaged, but the love, smiles and sweetness shine through.  
As always, if anyone recognizes these folks and knows of the circumstances, please leave a comment here on or Facebook.

Friday, March 22, 2013

O-Tay, Panky!

Seven Children -- This is a copy of a picture of seven children ranging in age.  The only information is that is was printed for the Daily Leader in 2003. -- LLF Library caption.

I don't know, but I'm thinking Darla, Buckwheat and Petey are somewhere just out of camera range. Wah, wah, wah, wah, WAh, WAH, Wah, WAH, Wah, wah, Waaaah. 

As always, if anyone recognizes these folks, please leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Styling in 1945

W. O. Montgomery

Older man with young boy. Both are wearing hats and jackets. Name W. O. Montgomery. Date 1/8/1945.  -- LLF Library caption.

I have not been able to locate additional information on this stylish duo in fedoras,   although there's a pretty good chance that the man is W.O. Montgomery.  (Yesterday's posting taught me that the name on the envelope is not always of the subject of the photograph.)  

If anyone out there has information, please feel free to post here or on my Facebook page.  

UPDATE: This from Jimmie Meese Moomaw, former Brookhaven resident and author of Southern Fried Child: "I sent a copy of the W.O. Montgomery photo to Bob Mongtomer, brother of Billy, whom I dated in high school, father of Bert, the Baptist minister I did a joint book signing/discussion with in Starkville.  He sent me this response: 'My cousin (Glenda M. Tarver) who lives in Brookhaven confirms that the Sippiana Succotash "Fedora" photo is indeed my uncle and cousin, W.O. (William Orville) and Wendell Montgomery.  Wendell was celebrating his 12th birthday in January 1945.  (They are both now deceased.  Thanks for the tip about the site Sippiana Succotash.'"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fun in Old Field Fedoras

Two boys and a man in a garden. Can't tell what the crop is. Name identified is V. L. Saxan from Meadville, MS. -- Library caption.

Here's another eye catcher that always causes me to pause and ponder.  I did a little digging and, at first, I thought the man may be Vernie Lamar "Tomcat" Saxon of Meadville, born in 1914, died on New Year's Day, 1998.

But, thanks to the internet, I was able to contact V.L.'s daughter, Linda Saxon Nix of Biloxi, and determine this photo is from a much earlier time in the family history.  It is of her grandfather, the mayor of Meadville, Robert Guy Saxon, her Uncle Mack, on the left, and her Uncle Elton, who died during WWII.

Linda estimates the photo dates from the 1930s and believes that the two boys and her grandfather are in a field of potatoes, a cash crop the Saxons grew in Franklin County.  

Based on our conversation, it appears that her father, V.L. Saxon, took this treasured photo to John Holly Williams to have a copy or two made for the family archives.

Further Saxon family history reveals that "Tomcat" married Margaret "Gingerbread Lady" Tate Saxon, who originally hailed from Senatobia in Tate County, MS. (Click on the turquoise link to read her obituary via Findagrave.) 

Their union produced two children, the aforementioned Linda, and Robert Lamar Saxon, 1944-2003.

Linda Saxon Nix went on to become a librarian and an artist in more than one medium.  

According to information on the web, she has loved photography since receiving her first camera, a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, when she was 11.  

Her work as a photographer and as an artist (jewelry included) is impressive, and I urge you to click this link or this one to view a sampling of her work.  Her website, seems to be down for the count.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dude Looks Like a Lady ...

Franklin County Fair Parade 1960 -- This is a covered wagon sponsored by Meadville's FFA in the Franklin County Fair in 1960. A young man and a young lady are dressed in old timey clothes and the wagon is being pulled by a mule. -- Library caption, from the John Holly Williams Collection.

On closer inspection, errr, that's no lady. They surely know how to have fun in the tiny town of Meadville.    

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Riding Lawn Mower from Meadville

A cow is pulling a cart with a man with a sign. This was a parade for the Franklin County Fair on 10/24/1960. -- LLF Library caption. From the John Holly Williams Collection.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New Fangled Lawn Mowers

C.B. Perkins Hardware & Company 1950 -- Three men and a lady are standing outside a house, each with a lawn mower.  There is also some lawn equipment called the Tornado 700.  No note on who these people are, but they may be employees of C.B. Perkins Hardware, and they may be doing some kind of ad. The date is 2/21/1950. -- LLF Library caption.

At first, I was puzzling over the faces, trying to figure out who these people may be, then I noticed the lawn equipment and found myself giggling at the designs. 

What the Tornado 700 intended purpose was is anyone's guess. 

A check of the history shows that up until the 1950s, reel mowers were the standard, but with the advent of new grass seeds and pride of homeownership growing in the prosperous, let's move-to-the-suburbs, post-WWII years, power mowers hit the market and were received with great enthusiasm.  

Their overall safety, however, was lacking, and many people lost fingers, toes or suffered any number of injuries walking behind these early contraptions.  

I can recall my father's best friend, Curtis Smith, showing us his "war wound" caused by a finger-sized piece of metal hidden in the grass in the late 1950s.  Without warning, the piece of iron was hurled backwards at bullet speed, lodging next to his shin.  A trip to the emergency room was in order, and he was hobbled for weeks.

The dangers did little to curtail demand for these conveniences.  According to a report by CBS, in 1946, 140,000 lawnmowers were sold in the United States.  But just five years later, that number rose to 1.2 million.  By 1958, 4.2 million mowers could be found in garages and storage sheds across the U.S.

C.B. Perkins Hardware was obviously all over the next big thing.

As always, if anyone recognizes these folks, please leave a comment here or on my FB page. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Good Doctor and His Dog, Part II

Original photo by Richard Neely, via FindaGrave, Shown Here for Educational Purposes Only
Back on January 27, 2013, I posted photographs and a narrative about Dr. Benson Mott Lockwood, a promising surgeon who died young and whose grief-stricken family erected to his memory probably one of the most photographed monuments in all of Mississippi.

Please see this link for that original Sippiana Succotash posting, since a Google search inexplicably no longer works correctly on this blog.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning out archived emails, I happened upon correspondence from Lauren Rogers, an employee of the Archives Department at Ole Miss, where a treasure trove of the Lockwood family papers and memorabilia is stored.

I had written to the library back in August 2012, asking if any of the materials on file gave a glimpse into the cause of death of the young doctor, or, of his son, Benson Miller Lockwood, born Nov. 1, 1894;  died, Dec. 14, 1907, barely 13.

Here is the heart of her reply:
"Unfortunately, the funeral notices within the Lockwood collection are not extremely illuminating in reference to either cause of death of either Dr. B. M. Lockwood or his son.  Dr. B. M. Lockwood's funeral announcement is pretty basic in its outlining of the wheres and when of the funeral. 
"Benson Miller Lockwood's handwritten funeral announcement is slightly more revealing:  
"'Benson Miller Lockwood, only son of the late Dr. B. M. Lockwood, and our grandson, died at his mother's country home, the G.W. Miller place -- at 10 minutes to 8 o'clock a.m. December 14, 1907. 
"'His suffering was great, but his illness was brief and his pure little spirit was caught by an army of angels and sought beyond the stars to the glory land.  God keep my precious boy.'"  
Photo by Sukie Carruth
I include this photograph of the father's grave marker not only for those of you who cannot be bothered with clicking on the above link, but also to show the artistry in the carving, which is scaled roughly two-thirds life-size.  Note the pupils in the dog's eyes and his arched occipital muscles.  To me, he looks as if he's just spotted a squirrel and is about to pounce into action.

I have tried in vain to learn more about the artist/craftsman behind this work.  Hope springs eternal that someone, somewhere, will know and contact me with the history.

This particular cemetery is filled with amazing, intricately carved monuments, and I urge you, if you ever happen to find yourself near Crystal Springs on a warm, sunny day, to seek out this graveyard and explore.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

As many times as I have scrolled through the LLF Flickr feed, this particular photo by John Holly Williams has always grabbed my attention and sparked my imagination -- much like the work of photographer Annie Liebowitz.

I look at this woman's face and her gnarled hands clutching what appears to be a handkerchief or perhaps a fabric flower, and I wonder, wonder.

The library caption says this woman is "Mrs. T. E. Saxon. Single pos(e) of older woman black dress and her hair is pulled back ... No date."

As always, if anyone knows of this lady and her story, please share here in the comments section or on my Facebook page.  I am more than curious to know.

Update: My friend John Case informs me that this most likely Eloise Buckles Saxon, born 1876, died 1965, wife of Thomas Ellender Saxon, born 1867, died in 1951.  Both are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, according to information on FindaGrave. Thanks, John!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Weeell Doggies!

From the Don Jackson Collection, Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Library -- Date and Location Unknown
The lumber boom of the early 1900s and the riches it brought to the residents of the Piney Woods was one thing.

The oil boom?  Well, that was the next chapter in the History of Wealth and Prosperity for Southwest Mississippi.

It began late on a Wednesday afternoon, December 30, 1942: The first oil of Lincoln County gushed to the surface at the Garland T. Smith well in the Lloyd Star community.

The California Oil Company had hit pay dirt.

Several other companies were in hot pursuit of liquid gold -- Roeser and Pendleton, Sun Oil, and Humble.

A "discovery well" in West Mallalieu "opened the floodgates for rapid drilling" in that area, according to Durr Walker, author of Lincoln County, Mississippi, A Pictorial History.

Just five years almost to the day after that first black geyser filled the sky in Lloyd Star, Brookhaven was "on the oil map," according to Walker.

Drilling activity was "spirited," and by September of 1947, Lincoln had become the leading oil producing county in the state.

The boom was huge, and those who were smart enough -- or lucky enough -- to find themselves in the midst of the economic chain of events, profited greatly.

The rush slowed considerably by the 1950s, and by the 1960s, the crude oil river of riches had slowed to a trickle.

But the story doesn't end there.

In the 1970s, a world ever thirsty for oil spurred a rise in crude oil prices, which in turn spurred new drilling in the area, leading to a series of small, but profitable, discoveries in Lincoln County, bringing new wealth to a group of local men who owned the rights.

(One man, who went from rags to riches overnight, sold his tiny clapboard home, built a beautiful mansion, replete with flickering gas lanterns adorning the entry, and purchased seven shiny new cars, one for each day of the week.)

A Boomlet Redux
Today, with crude oil prices ever on the rise, big oil companies -- with plans on fracking* for oil and gas -- have snapped up every available rent house and booked up any number of hotel rooms into the near future to return operations to an area that once produced more than 135 million barrels of oil from 416 wells.

And that chapter has only just begun.
*Simply put: a different but more complex way of extracting trapped oil and gas from the earth below. I learned some time back that the method is not "new," as some folks believe -- it was first used in 1947 in Texas.  See the turquoise link for more on the history and how it works.
Humble's Randall #1, undated.
White writing across the bottom of the photograph identifies this derrick as "Humble's Randall #1, Doris Ballew Dr. Co." "Art Studio, Brookhaven, Miss." in lower right corner.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Ghost of Doc Rowan and His Lantern ...

From the 1976 Bicentennial Edition of the Daily Leader, courtesy of Betty Hatcher Cox via her mother's archives and scanned in by Deenie Tallant.
Yesterday's posting of the premature demise of Mary H. Moreton and the mention of the great cyclone that essentially blew the town of Beauregard off the map brought to mind this oft-told ghost story.

It seems this legend is not without its followers from elsewhere in the country and the world.  A Google search turns up links to ghost story books published in New York and websites from as close as Arkansas to as far away as New Zealand.

If you find the above difficult to read, please see this link for a more succinct and updated tale of the incident, including current photographs of the location, AND, a dire warning not to seek out the ghostly lantern on the ICRR tracks, for fear you could suffer the same fate as poor Doc Rowan.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An Angel Who Played Lawn Tennis and Rode a Wooden Bike

Photo by Sukie Carruth
Monument of Mary Hubbell Moreton.  Born February 1, 1882, to Capt. A.E. Moreton and his wife, Laura Rebecca Decell Moreton.  Died March 1, 1906. Gravesite  Rose Hill Cemetery, Brookhaven, Mississippi.

Not much is in the public domain about Mary H. Moreton -- except the following information on file at the Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Library, contained in a 1996 interview of William F. Crawford, a descendent of Capt. A.E. Moreton.

Referencing Capt. Moreton and his offspring, Mr. Crawford offered for the record:
"Let me state then, he (A.E.) had five children that lived to adulthood:
 -- Samuel Evans Moreton was his eldest son.
 -- (next) Frances (Fanny) Decell Moreton -- she died at the age of 94.
 -- Robert D. Moreton was my grandfather. 
 -- (next was) a daughter named Mary Hubbell Moreton, who died when she was in her early 20's, unmarried.
-- a son, Alfred Elliott Moreton, Jr. and,
-- lastly, a daughter, Laura, the youngest."
Further along in the interview, interviewer Henry J. Ledet asked a question about the A.E. Moreton home and the surrounding lawn, which provoked the following response:  
"Yes. Aunt Mary, Aunt Mary is the daughter who died, she was 22.*  It must have been a crushing blow to them.  Aunt Mary -- Aunt Laura, her younger sister -- told me that Mary liked to play lawn tennis. She would set up tennis nets out on this part of the yard. 
"She always referred to it as 'lawn tennis.' We just say tennis now. I'm sure they must have played in high button shoes and dresses to here. 
"I can remember as a child, Aunt Mary's bicycle was still upstairs -- they never lived in these rooms, they were like attic rooms -- they were finished, floored and everything. But Aunt Mary's bicycle was kept in this room, and it was made of wood ... a wooden bicycle." 
Whatever took Mary from her loved ones too soon, this beautiful monument stands to this day as silent testimony that the Moretons greatly mourned the loss of their middle daughter.   
For a view of the Moreton's South Jackson Street home and lawn as referenced above, please see my earlier posting "With the Fury of Ten Thousand Demons," which tells the tale of one of the most destructive tornadoes to ever strike the state in olden times.  It is interesting to note that it touched down not long after Mary's first birthday, only ten miles to the north.
As always, if anyone has more information regarding Miss Mary H. Moreton and her premature departure from this earthly plane, please post here or on my Facebook page.  Please click on the turquoise FindaGrave link to view even better photographs of the monument by Caroline Passmore.

*Editor's note: If the tombstone dates are correct, she died just one month after turning 24.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chapeaus and a Parasol

From the John Holly Williams Collection at LLF Library 
Notice the hats and the parasol on the ground around them.  My guess this photo was taken in the late 1800s, early 1900s on a warm spring or summer day, most likely on a Sunday.  Who and where are still a mystery.  If anyone recognizes these folks, please leave a comment here or on Facebook.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Calisthenics Anyone?

All photos property of LLF Library.  The approximate dates are 1895 to 1900, although the top photo may be even older.

Whitworth College.  Note the medicine balls, tennis rackets and the Indian Clubs, which were popular during Victorian times. Can you imagine having to exercise in these outfits in the steamy heat?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lulah Ragsdale -- Mississippi's First Famous Female Writer

Portrait by R.I. Howell, published in The Magazine of Poetry & Literary Review, Vol. 5, July 1893, available online via Google Books (Photo is believed to be from a playbill.)
Below are excerpts from an 1893 "write up" of Brookhaven's own Lulah Ragsdale from the above-mentioned literary magazine, which featured her poems alongside those of Alfred Lloyd Tennyson, George Eliot and Charles Dickens.
"Just after the closing of the late war, a solemn eyed baby in the ancient family mansion ... attracted much attention from a wide circle of relative and friends because of its peculiarly sorrowful advent, and because it had semed to enter the world with a premonition of the bitterness of life.   
That baby, who never smiled, but whose constant, unusual sighs awoke pity and strange sympathy in all hearts, was (James) Lulah Ragsdale, only child of the gallant Confederate officer, James L. (Lafayette) Ragsdale, who had lately fallen in the battle field, leaving a brilliant and beautiful young wife, widowed and desolate, to whom the little one was born in the midst of bereavement.
 Lulah Ragsdale’s rearing, and later her training and education thus became the mother’s only solace, and no doubt, that mother, whose own heart had been deeply lashed by sorrow, unconsciously did much towards developing and accentuating the fine, sensitive, imaginative characteristics of her daughter’s mind. 
 At an early age, Lulah Ragsdale became an unsatisfyable reader, always seeking the weird, the unreal, the mystic; or else, the vivid, the passionate, the glowing in prose and poetry. 
The characters in her favorite books became her best friends, and in the constant company of such unreal creatures as she most fancied, her thoughts, her manners and her conversation became very odd and unchildlike.” -- Dallas T. James.
As best I can tell there are errors and omissions in the above description, if compared to the information on file at the Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Library which houses the Lulah Ragsdale Collection.  Please click on that link for further reading about the life of this most unusual woman.
According to the Library account, Lulah was born in a mansion called Cedar Hill (then Lawrence County, now Lincoln) on Feb. 5, 1862.  At some point, young Lulah and her mother moved in with extended family into the Italianate mansion on Brookhaven's Natchez Avenue built by Capt. Jack C. Hardy in the late 1860s or 1870s, depending on which source you choose to believe.

At 16, she was graduated from Whitworth College, an all-female college in the heart of town, and followed the call of the footlights to New York City, where she studied acting under Fannie Hunt and worked briefly as a stage actress.  She soon returned home and her writing life took off.

If Dallas James' account is accurate, Lulah had been writing in secret for many years when her first published poem, "My Love," appeared in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, creating a "furore in the South."  It was widely copied and her subsequent poems, "Galatea" and "Upton Rey" were reproduced throughout the United States.  James concludes:
“She lives in her magnolia-shadowed Southern home” at Brookhaven, MS, “where she devotes nearly all of her time to her fancies and her writing."
In addition, she taught writing and drama at Whitworth and other colleges in the state, and her prominence in the literary world helped attract students.

Her third novel, "Miss Dulcie from Dixie" was made into a movie in 1919.  For a synopsis of the plot, please see this link.

Her next novel, "Next Besters," came out in 1920 and sounded a similar theme to Miss Dulcie.  Although the movie rights were purchased, the movie never materialized.

Sadly, in 1921, according to at least one biography, Lulah suffered a nervous breakdown and was never quite the same. Vision problems with advancing age impeded her ability to write, but continue she did, publishing "If I See Green," a collection of poems in 1929.

Hailed by some as a very early feminist, she died a spinster at age 91, at home, in the Hardy House, in 1953.  She is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Brookhaven.

For more on the Hardy House, which is sitting empty and is for sale under foreclosure, please see this previous posting from Sippiana.  For additional information on the sale of the old home, which is in steep decline and on the National Register of Historic Places, please see this link.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Singing Soldier ...

"A man in a soldier's uniform is playing a guitar. He is outside and has one foot on a car. This copy was made for Mrs. T. L. Russell on 2/1/1945." -- Library caption.

I wonder what he's singing?  Smoke on the Water, perhaps?  (The one by Red Foley, not Deep Purple.)

If anyone recognizes this man and/or knows of his history, please leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cash and Carry African Violets

From the John Holly Williams Collection, LLF Library

"Hot house for African Violets. Customer Mr Hawkins. No date." -- Library Caption.

I am not sure where this hothouse may be.  As always, if anyone has any information, please leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brother Tom Perkins -- An International Authority

Photo of  Boozie Becker's Tom Perkins Camellia, courtesy of Patti Perkins, wife of Jim Perkins, forwarded by Boozie Becker's niece, Bettie Hatcher Cox
Most folks around town simply referred to him as Brother. 

Born in 1922, Thomas H. Perkins III was a Bachelor of Science graduate of Louisiana State University, and, shortly thereafter, a WWII Battle of the Bulge war hero and recipient of a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

After his meritorious service, in 1944, Brother Tom returned to his hometown of Brookhaven, and became one of the proprietors of the family business, T.H. Perkins Furniture Co., founded in 1887 by his grandfather.

But there is so much more to his story.

While his livelihood may have come furniture sales, his true passion was reserved for Camellias.  His influence worldwide on the cultivation of ornamental Camellias, Japonica, Sasanqua and Higo, cannot be denied.

Brother traveled the world and introduced several flowers to America, and, of course, to the gardens and greenhouses of historical homes of Old Towne, Brookhaven.

He was active in Camellia societies at all levels and was the first American ever elected to the presidency of the International Camellia Society, serving two terms.

"Thomas Perkins was recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on this flower and lectured around the world on Camellias, and there is even a Camellia named after him, the 'Thomas Perkins Camellia'. 
"When New Orleans hosted the International Camellia Society, bus loads of visitors from all over the world made the trek to Brookhaven to tour Thomas Perkins' gardens," according to a web article written by Margaret Gratz.
(Please see my recent posts on the horticultural work of Brother Tom's fellow Camellia enthusiast, F.F. "Boozie" Becker II, for information on how this namesake variety came to be.) 

I sincerely hope I am not violating copyrights here, but the following quotes from the same article by Margaret Gratz certainly rang true for me, having spent the better part of my adult life living in a region that is less than ideal for the growth of Camellias:
"Camellias are a quintessential part of the Southern landscape, and if you leave the South, you will, no doubt, nostalgically pine for home when the Camellias begin to bloom. When Eudora Welty was a young woman living in New York City, her mother would cut Camellias from her Jackson garden, wrap them carefully, and mail them to her homesick daughter.  Eventually, Eudora would come home to write and tend her mother's Camellias.
"Floating a Camellia in a cut-glass bowl is a time-honored Southern tradition. Every Mississippi home should have a Camellia bush and an heirloom cut-glass bowl. While the rest of the country shovels snow, Mississippians can go pluck a beautiful Camellia, float it in Grandmother's bowl in the parlor, and chase away the winter doldrums. When it comes to flowering shrubs, the Camellia is a real Southern belle, exuding warmth and charm on a winter's day." 
Brother Tom died on New Year's Day, 2000, but just like that of his friend and fellow Camellia lover, F.F. "Boozie" Becker, his legacy lives on.

Besides the plantings at his former home, a young Camellia garden named in his honor has been established outside the Brookhaven Public Library, featuring many specimens that Perkins introduced into the United States. Please see this link for more information.

Pictures of Brother are rather scarce on the internet, but there any number of hits of the stunning flower cultivated and named in his honor, which, I suspect, would be his preference.  To view his tombstone, which is eloquent in its simplicity, please see this link.

UPDATE: A special thank you to Bill Perkins for locating and scanning these photos of Brother ... 
Brother Tom Perkins -- Photo Courtesy of his nephew, Bill Perkins

Brother Tom Perkins -- Photo Courtesy of his nephew Bill Perkins

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reading the Tea Leaves of the Future

This is a "public domain" illustration lifted from Wikipedia via Kohler's Medizinal - Pflanzen.
(It includes an admonition to include this link, so here IT is.)
Yesterday and the day before, we featured stories of Camellia Japonicas and their local legacies -- by way of Brookhaven and Summit.

There is more to the Camellia and Mississippi story, especially when it comes to the FUTURE.

One of the reasons that camellias do so well in the Piney Woods of Mississippi is that tall pine trees provide the necessary understory shade and also render the soil around them the proper Ph (acidic) for beautiful blooms.

That got me to thinking -- I had read recently that Brookhavenite Jason McDonald is researching the possibility of starting the first Mississippi tea crop with Camellia sinensis, and I had to wonder what the difference is between the ornamental variety and the cash crop.

I am still not exactly clear why one plant is used for tea and its "cousin" for beautiful flowers, (which by the way, I've read are edible and medicinal) but it appears that the Camellia sinensis puts most of its energy production into the leaves, while the Japonicas that we Southerners all know and love direct energy into beautiful florabunda.

According to the news stories, McDonald apparently is still doing his homework and doesn't plan to plant the first plant until due diligence is done -- projecting a start on ten acres in 2014 -- as long as all systems prove to be a GO.

While I was at Oyster Bay's Planting Fields famed Camellia hothouses over the weekend, admiring the breath-taking blooms, I spied one plant called Camellia sinensis.  In my enthusiasm over the blooms on its neighbors, I failed to take a photo of that limp-leaved, budless, anemic-looking plant. Fortunately, the above illustration lifted from Wikipedia shows the vast difference between the two "cousins."

A Google search shows that other folks have wondered what I have wondered -- why ornamental Camellias leaves cannot be used for teas as well?  While it's probably a stretch and NOT something I would personally recommend, here is a link that shows the steps necessary to turn Japonica leaves into a cup of tea.

I must say, after reading all that it entails to get one lousy cup of tea, I think I'll just stick with Lipton, or, better yet, McDonald's, once and if he starts his cash crop.

For more reading on the Camellia species (along with onerous taxes) that helped to bring about the birth of a nation in Boston a couple centuries and more ago, please see this link

Monday, March 4, 2013

He "Fooled" with Camellias ...

 Father Hayes sits on church steps with younger group. Handwritten on back "About 70 yrs. ago - Catholic School in Brookhaven". Back row - standing is Guy Turnbough, Tom Decell, Peter Phillips, Albert Lilly Becker, unknown. Middle row - Phillip Panzica, W.E "Teenie" Becker, F.F. "Boozie" Becker II, Father Hayes, Elsie Moody, unknown, unknown. Front row - seated - Frances Bertoli (Mullens), unknown, Katurah Higgins, Marie Caneterio?, Louis Oader, unknown, and Ester Bertoli Grice. (Brookhaven, MS) -- LLF Library caption
Boozie B or Tomorrow's Dawn, most likely Boozie B -- Photo Courtesy of Bettie Hatcher Cox

"I've done most everything. I fool with Camellias, I have a yard full of them, a greenhouse full of them. As I've gotten older it's gotten to be a little bit more than I can handle, like every body else takes on something, they take on more than they can handle. I have had to curtail my activities some in that area because I can't take the physical strain of going out and working all day long like I used to," Boozie Becker in a Library interview, Aug. 22, 1991, age 80.

He was a banker for most of his life, a civic-minded member of the Brookhaven Community who was not one to brag.  A husband and a father, a veteran of the U.S. Army, he did a lot more than "fool" with Camellia Japonicas.

If you Google Ferdinand Francis "Boozie" Becker II you will get any number of hits from all around the world referencing his work with the beloved "Japanese rose."

He cultivated at least three crosses, the Boozie B, Miss Adeline, and the Tom Perkins, named respectively for himself, his wife and high school sweetheart, Adeline Moreton Becker, and Brother Tom Perkins, his good friend and fellow Camellia lover.

Born in 1910, he received his nickname from his older sister, although according to the library interview, the family was never certain how the name Boozie came to apply.  His mother seemed to recall that her daughter was trying to say brother and it came out wrong.  Whatever the case, Boozie became his nickname for life.

The third photo is of our wedding cake at our reception at Edgewood in November of 1983. Adorning the cake, made by Janie's Pastry, are hand-picked prize Camellias lovingly grown by Mr. Becker.

It was his wedding gift to us, probably the most beautiful surprise I had ever received.  I can still see Mr. Becker, shyly standing before us, a box lid laden with exquisite and stunningly perfect flowers of varying shades. Unaware of Mother's plan to use actual flowers on the bride's cake, my reaction involved dropping my jaw and simultaneously misting over.  In retrospect, I probably did not properly thank him for his unique wedding gift.

He died in 1995, but his work with Camellias lives on.   The above link in turquoise is to FindaGrave, which contains additional photographs of Mr. Becker.  Below are links that contain additional information and photographs of his horticultural work for those interested.,136,137,167&pageid=524