UA-53645469-1 Memphis Type History: The Podcast

Bonus Episode: Fallout In China

March 7, 2018
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After Rebecca told the story of the USA's most famous fallout shelter, Caitlin wanted to dig up what these shelters looked like on her side of the world. This bonus episode tells you about what fallout shelters are like in Shanghai and a particular fascinating one in Beijing that's basically the size of a city.

For the full list of bonus episodes, visit memphistypehistory.com/bonus

Ladies Night Part Two

February 26, 2018
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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin and Rebecca each pick a new favorite lady who left an impact in Memphis history to talk about. Turns out, they both picked musicians!

 

Elizabeth Lizzie Douglas (aka Memphis Minnie)

First up, Caitlin tells us about Elizabeth Lizzie Douglas (who we refer to as Minnie), a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, recording about 200 songs from the 20s to the 50s. People claim she was the most popular female country blues singer of all time, comparable to any man musician of the time. Elizabeth was born in 1897 in Algiers Lousiana, and moved to Walls, Mississippi with her family when she was seven years old. The next year she was gifted a guitar and by ten years old learned to play the banjo and began performing with her guitar, as "Kid Douglas" at parties.

In 1910 when she was 13 she went off to live on Beale Street, playing on street corners, staying with the folks when she was short on cash. There, she partnered up with Willie Brown, who is most famous with working with Charlie Patton. They headed to Bedford, Mississippi, a place that we assume to be well known for tourism in the time.

Next, Minnie joins the circus! The Ringling Bros. Circus 1916-1920 to be exact. But 1920 she returns to Beale Street, to perform on the streets again. It's believed she married her first husband Will Weldon in the early 20s as well. More well known was her second husband, Wilbur Kansas Joe McCoy, a blues singer from Mississippi. In 1929 a Columbia Records scout discovered them while they were out performing for dimes. They went of to New York City where the nicknames, Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe became established. They played duets together, playing well known songs such as "Bumble Bee."

Minnie was super independent and elegant, chewing tobacco while singing and not missing a beat. By the 1930s, Minnie was very successful, went on tours and met her third husband, Little Son Joe, and began recording with him. When 1941 came, she picked up the electric guitar, and received her first hit "Me and My Chauffer Blues." Unfortunately, she didn't keep up with the trends of the late 40s and was dropped from the record labels.

Caitlin then goes over the end days of her life, she was one of the first 20 artists to be inducted in the blues foundation hall of fame, and Bonnie Rait paid for her headstone. Listen to the episode to hear what she had written on it.

 

Julia Ann Amanda Moorehead Britton

Next up, Rebecca talks about another famous musician Julia Britton, later known as Julia Britton Hooks. Julia was born in 1852 from freed African American parents in Kentucky. Her mother, Laura Marshall, was the daughter of Thomas F. Marshall, the Kentucky Statesman. She was also a well-educated and well-known singer and musician. This gift of musical talent was passed down to Julia. In fact, Julia was recognized a music prodigy, performing some of the most complex piano pieces.

We discover that this family was overall well respected. Julia's younger sister became the first African-American physician in Kentucky, her brother was a famous jockey, and Julia, at 18, enrolled at Berea College, making her one of the fist women of any race to attend college in the state of Kentucky. 

How Julia Came to Memphis

In 1872 Julia moved to Greenville, Mississippi. She taught school and soon met and married Sam Wertles but lost him the following year to Yellow Fever. After his passing, she moved to Memphis in 1876. Memphis was the musicians paradise and this is where she came to be known as the "Angel of Beale St."

Memphis is also where she met and married Charles Hooks, and it was a city they both greatly invested in. Julia was not hesitant to actively protest against racism and inequality, leading her to occasionally get arrested and fined. On occasion was in 1881 when she was arrested at a Memphis theater for sitting at the "white balcony" and refusing to move to the "colored balcony". 

Some of Julia's Greatest Contributions

In 1883, Julia and Anna Church opened the Liszt-Mullard Club to create opportunities in education for the black youth of the South. With the creation of this club, she was able to raise money to provide musically gifted black students to study music on a scholarship.

In 1891 she founded and became a charter member of the Orphans and Old Folks Home Club on Hernando Street where she'd purchased 25 acres. Three years later she had raised enough money giving concerts to pay off that debt. The purpose of the organization was to provide accommodations for orphans and elderly African-American women.

In 1892, Julia founded the Hooks School of Music and the Hooks Cottage School in response to the poor public education that black youth received in Memphis. The Hooks School of Music produced distinguished student musicians such as Sidney Woodward, Nell Hunter, and W.C. Handy. 

For full show notes go to memphistypehistory.com/ladies2

WDIA: USA’s First Black Radio Station

February 19, 2018
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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin talks about WDIA, the first all-Black radio station in the U.S.A. We learn about how the transformation of this station into all-black programming and on-air talent exposed some of the best local talent to become major music icons we recognize today.

 

On June 7, 1947, WDIA transmitted onto the radio waves for the first time from its 2074 Union Avenue studio... one of just six Memphis radio stations at that time! Owned by John Pepper and Bert Ferguson, two white guys, the station played pop and country western music… and it headed towards bankruptcy very quickly. However, in October of 1948, they hired high school teacher and columnist Nat D. Williams, who started the first radio show for black listeners in the country on WDIA and saved the station.

Williams' show, Tan Town Jubilee, catapulted WDIA to 2nd most popular radio station in Memphis. The station then became the TOP station in Memphis after switching to all-black programming and all-black on-air talent. In 1954, the station increased to 50,000 watts, which meant it reached into the MS Delta, a bit of Missouri, and down to the Gulf Coast… which reached the ears of 10% of the black population in the US at that time. The station would go on to be known as the Starmaker Station because of the amount of exposure it provided local talent.

One thing that was really instrumental in the station’s success was that Williams was friends with Rufus Thomas, and got him onto the station… Thomas actually kept up his show until his death in 2001. Their ties to Beale Street got BB King’s career off to a start on the station as well as many other musicians. After Beale began declining, WDIA was really a big source of musical influence (even inspiring good ol’ Elvis Presley).

Another famous show on the station was called Goodwill. It covered civic news, missing children announcements, and raised money for community projects like scholarships, a bus for disabled kids, little league teams, and an orphanage, to name a few. The show turned into big fundraisers hosted by the WDIA DJ’s called the Goodwill Revue and the Starlight Revue. Big time local and national musicians like BB King, Rufus Thomas, Bobby “Blue” Bland, the Spirit of Memphis, Elvis, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, and Ray Charles performed for free. The local black community received about $100,000 a year from all of the Goodwill efforts.

Even though black talent and programming made WDIA so popular, and the staff was integrated in 1950 (rare for the South), it wasn’t until 1972 that Chuck Scruggs became the first black general manager and vice president. Under his 12-year service, the station helped raise money to preserve the Lorraine Motel and create the National Civil Rights Museum, and participated in the revitalization of Beale Street and the creation of the Stax Museum.

For full show notes go to memphistypehistory.com/WDIA

The Memphis Red Sox

February 11, 2018
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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin talks about the Memphis Red Sox and you'll get to hear our best sports announcer voices as we talk about the prominence of the team in the city and it's eventual decline.

 

The Negro League Comes to Memphis

The negro leagues had been around for a long time before a team ever started playing in Memphis. Oftentimes, those teams became some of the strongest black owned businesses in the communities in which they operated. This business began to end when Jackie Robinson began playing in the white major leagues in 1945. 

For more details about the league generally, look for some more details in the links section at the bottom. 

There was a black team as early as the early 1900's. Lewis park was built, where the Red Sox played, in the 1920's. It was the first black ball park in America. The owner also owned R.S. Lewis & Sons funeral home with a long tradition of caring for well-known members of the black community at their passing, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after he was assassinated. Four brothers bought the stadium and the Red Sox. They were all successful business owners. The team was particularly profitable and well run... listen to the full podcast to find out how the Memphis ownership group was able to do so much better than many other teams.  

The Memphis Red Sox

The team played in various leagues throughout the time it existed. They were only considered a "major league" team for just one of those years. In 1938 was the team's most successful season. They played for the championship but while being 2 up in the series, it was canceled because of business conflicts with the other team, the Atlanta Black Crackers. The Red Sox never played for the title again. 

One of the brothers in the ownership group was run out of town for speaking up against Boss Crump and ended up going to Chicago where he owned another negro league team before eventually becoming the head of the negro league itself. 

The End of the Negro Leagues

The Negro leagues created spaces for the black community to use for many other gatherings, a social connection point, and they were often some of the most successful businesses in their communities and the country. However, that success began to falter after integration. With many of the best players going to "the majors" tickets began to slide and eventually, the negro leagues would come to an end. 

For full show notes visit memphistypehistory.com/sox

Robert Church: The South’s First Black Millionaire

February 5, 2018
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This week, Caitlin and Rebecca start a new series for Black History Month. In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca talks about a particular man who invested so much in Memphis, not only did he become recognized as the south's first African-American millionaire, but Memphis certainly wouldn't be the city it is today without him.

Robert Reed Church was born in Holly Springs Mississippi in 1939. His father, Charles B. Church, was a white steamboat owner-captain and his mother was one of his father's slaves. She died when Robert was only 12 years old.

Robert's father didn't treat him and his mother like slaves, yet he still didn't educate his son or ever formally recognize the relationship. His father did however train him in the steamboat business. Robert worked as a dishwasher, a cook, and a steward, which was the highest position for a black person.

In 1855, one of their luxury steamers caught fire and sank, though Robert and his father managed to survive. Then eventually, at age 23 while working as a steward on a boat, Robert gets dropped off in Memphis because the boat was captured by the Union Army.

Robert Church established himself as a successful Memphis businessman, owning a saloon, hotel, bank, restaurant and others that get discussed.

What we gather is, Church was invested in Memphis. And getting shot by a white mob and later on by a sheriff was not enough to make him leave the city.. nor was the Yellow Fever. In fact, he found that time as an opportunity to buy up real-estate when the property values were low. And when the time came that Memphis was reduced to a Taxing District, Church was the first citizen to buy a bond for $1,000, to restore the City Charter.

Rebecca then talks to Caitlin about some of her favorite Robert Church landmarks. The first is a hotel he owned in downtown Memphis on the southwest corner of South Second and Gayoso Streets. It was furnished with the best equipment of its day and advertised as the only first-class colored hotel in the city.

Another is the home he built for him and his family in the 1800s pictured above. It had 14 rooms, including a double drawing room (something that Caitlin and Rebecca try to guess is). The home was one of the first of the Queen Anne style built in Memphis. Unfortunately it does not still exist today.

Robert Church also founded the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company, the first black owned and operated bank in Memphis. 

Rebecca's personal favorite establishment of his is the Church Park and Auditorium that also does not exist today other than the landmark that is pictured above. In 1899, Memphis lacked public parks for black citizens so Church bought a tract of land on Beale St., and built an auditorium which seated 2 thousand people. It was a cultural, recreational, and civic center for African-Americans and the only of its kind in the U.S. owned and operated by a person of color for members of his race.

Fun fact: W.C. Handy was employed as the orchestra leader for the park and auditorium.

For full show notes, visit memphistypehistory.com/millionaire

Ghost Signs with Devin Greaney

January 29, 2018
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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin chats wtih Devin Greaney, Memphis’ very own ghost sign hunter. Sit back and relax because after this episode you’ll want to look up a bit more when you’re out and about! A ghost sign is a sign or ad created many years ago that no longer serves a purpose. Sometimes they peek out from renovated buildings, or can be found on the peeling paint of an exterior wall. In Memphis, we pass by many of these… and these are their stories.

Devin introduces himself as a freelance writer and photographer. He likes writing about a variety of topics including old Memphis in particular. And then jumps into exactly what is a ghost sign because really.. why is it called a ghost sign?

Whether a sign that was covered by a newer building or one that is faded, these ghost signs are signs or ads that were created many years ago and don’t serve a purpose other than peek the interests of a passerby. In Memphis, we pass by many of these. For Devin, he likes to dig into the history of these signs for local history and the story behind them. In particular, he recalls an old Dr. Pepper sign that was uncovered when a building was knocked down in ’86 on Evergreen and Poplar. 

What would making a sign from that time look like? In the past, there weren’t as many sign ordinances as there are now so there was less restriction on size and colors. What wasn’t uncommon was finding a few trends through the decades on these signs based on the types of fonts used and colors. However, the best way to date these signs is to look into the history of the building they belonged to and the businesses it housed.

Devin has researched many ghost sign such as Hotel Pontotoc, the Lamar Theater (hear a bit of a rumor on this landmark in this episode), and a sign for a beauty school downtown which also has a rumor that Devin talks about.

Caitlin asks which are the favorites uncovered and Devin says one in particular is Goodman and Son Jewelers which closed in 1989. Located between BB. King and Second Street it had opened in 1862. He also talks about several others, including a Bassoon shop (how often do you come across a bassoon shop?), a Firestone smokestack which Devin compares to what FedEx is to us now.

Though Elvis doesn’t make an appearance on this episode, we learn about how Memphis didn’t become the tourist destination that we know of it today until 1982 when Graceland opened for tours. Devin also gives us an insight into how the Heartbreak Hotel came to life in March of 83′ and how it was originally called the King’s Heartbreak Hotel and replaced a different old motel. The old painted, faded sign can still be found on the building.

One sign that was able to surprise Devin was the Hickman building on 248 Madison, across the street from the YMCA. It closed in 1971 was almost lost in in 1993 fire, and in 2017 began remodeling. It’s fascinating to think about the chapters of a buildings life and how far they survive. Devin also points out one of the unique characteristics of Memphis is that this city still holds a lot of natives that can remember significant events that occurred throughout the city, whereas in other big cities where many occupants are transplants, people can’t relate to things that have happened in years past.

If there’s anything you should gather from this episode, it’s that we shouldn’t keep things from the past just for the sake that they’re old. If they don’t serve a purpose, or are an eye sore, what is the point? Some things are better left re-purposed, like Beale Street when it revamped in 1983. People made comments about how it wasn’t the same Beale Street from the 30s but it really can’t survive to live like the 30s. At some point, we need to think practically about what parts of historic properties remain. Crosstown Concourse is a good example of this.

What other types of stories does Devin have to share about the uniqueness of this city? There’s a spot on the floor that is damaged and the Broom Closet, located in South Main. Story goes, in 1918, officer, Edward Broadfoot goes in to investigate something and was shot down in the store. The blood soaked the ground and that spot remains on that floor. Devin also talks about other historical markers with stories many are unaware of. It’s a good list, so make sure you take a listen. However, there is ONE historical marker that Devin does NOT approve for a reason that you probably wouldn’t guess.

Surviving the Bomb: Memphis’ Famous Fallout Shelter

January 22, 2018
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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, we talk about something that has come up more lately than many of us would've expected: fallout shelters. Learn about Memphis' history of one particular famous safe place and how it drew criticism from the state controlled press in Russia at the time. 

It was a time of terror and wonder. No, we're not talking about a few weeks ago when that accidental message made Hawaiians think a bomb was heading for them... we are talking about the Atomic Age when the Soviet Union was talking about building a bigger and better bomb to compete with the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. had picked a spot in a desert not too far from Las Vegas to test our own nukes. From 1951-1992 there were a total of 928 explosions at the site. 100 above ground tests of these nuclear bombs happened between 1951 to 1962.

This was a pretty big deal for Las Vegas because of the tourist attraction it became. People could watch the mushroom clouds blossom in the distance. Casinos offered mushroom cloud souvenirs, atomic cocktails, and the Miss Atom Bomb beauty pageant. 

So what would Caitlin do if there was a real bomb threat? You'll have to listen to find out.. but Rebecca does give her a brief history on the plans Memphis had during the Atomic Age, should a bomb threat arise. 

In the 1950s, the goverment printed millions of bright yellow pamphlets called, "Be Safe from the H-Bomb." These were inserted in copies of The Commercial Appeal and Memphis Press-Scimitar. All it basically said was to get out of the city quickly. Even with a two-hour notice of a bomb arriving (which is about the time they were able to give) this seemed like an impractical plan to have everybody try to pack up and leave the city in that time span.

So a new plan was developed to take shelter instead of run away. Memphis set up 279 shelters with 251 of them fully stocked with food. Special sanitation kits, water, toilet paper and other necessities were provided but not beds, chairs, or cots. And the instruction was to walk to one of these shelters, not drive.

One particular shelter has a quite a story. It was a built by Hoyt B. Wooten who full-filled his boyhood dream by building one of these in his backyard. 

Hoyt B. Wooten was the owner of the radio station WREC, member of the Kiwanis Club and director of the National Association of Regional Broadcasting Stations in the U.S. In 1958 he paid $12,000 for 27 acres to build a home in Whitehaven on Highway 51. The house was built in 1962 at a cost between $150,000-$200,000. 

He then designed and engineered the equipment of a shelter that was 5,600 sq. ft., made to house 56 people for up to 31 days following a nuclear blast. The ceilings were 9.5 feet high with foot thick steel enforced concrete. Wooten believed it would take a 20-megaton bomb falling eight miles away to disturb them.

The shelter had its own electrical supply, its own water supply (Water came from wells 93 feet below the ground. There was even a pumping system in case of flooding), its own air purification system (Wooten used this to pump Chanel No. 5 for his kids' events), a library with a collection of books, current periodicals such as LIFE and TIME Magazines, and Wooten's collection of National Geographic.

One Commercial Appeal article goes into even greater detail...

"There was a film library, a pool table, Ping Pong table and a dart board. There was a kitchen to prepare meals for all the guests and pantries to store food for the duration of the 31-day cooling off period.

The guests would be housed in dormitories with bunk beds, separate restrooms for men and women, and sliding panels in the dormitories to provide some separation for different age groups."

The heart of the shelter was a communications system including AM and FM radio receivers, a remote control TV set, a movie screen with 25 feature films, and telephones.

 

The shelter was lit by custom built fixtures with multiple switches. My personal favorite is the lighting in the kitchen window to give the ambience of daylight. If all the main lights were turned off, dim 7.5-watt bulbs automatically turned on so the rooms would never be completely dark. And then they also had candles in brackets along the walls in case of a black out.

In conclusion, this was not your average fallout shelter. In fact, it was so well publicized that it drew criticism from the state controlled press in Russia at the time. Perhaps they were upset because they want to break us. (Don't know that quote? Find it in this U.S. Cold War propaganda film from the 80's)

For full show notes go to memphistypehistory.com/fallout

 

The Memphis Mafia

January 14, 2018
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For full show notes go to memphistypehistory.com/mafia

Union & Madison with Storyboard Memphis

January 7, 2018
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In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin chats with Mark Fleischer, the man behind Storyboard Memphis. We talk most about Union and Madison Avenues, so that makes this show another good ol' piece of Memphis street history for ya!

 

When Mark first came to Memphis, he luckily landed in Midtown, an area which sparked a deep interest in everything about Memphis history. Being relatively new to the city, he has an outsider point-of-view that helps him put a fresh eye on everything he learns about the city.

Mark pretty much immediately dives right into the longtime Memphis controversy over where the Midtown borders are... and Caitlin chose not to weigh in, not one bit. According to Mark, it comes down to iffy geographic borders and the "Midtown mindset," which he describes as activist, eclectic, and diverse... with a belief that they have a say in what happens in their neighborhood and how it develops.

Here's the really shocking thing for all you Midtowners – you weren't always in Midtown. In fact, just a few decades ago, you would've been living in East Memphis.

Elsewhere in this interview, Caitlin learned that Mark is extremely unimpressed by Union Avenue. But he still appreciates the rich history of the street anyway. Back in the 1880s/1890s, Crump held out on putting a trolley line on Union, even though they went up and down other main streets, in hopes of putting in city-owned tracks (rather than a line owned by private companies like the others were). Before this happened, the city created a new plan that called for the widening of Union so that it would be the main thoroughfare out east... and the Peabody-like feel of the street was changed.

In recent times, city planning desires are sounding like a look back to the early days of Union when it was walkable and bikeable, which it was until as recently as the '60s when it was widened again. We then discuss the aspects of Union that lack a sense of place... something that he feels got lost along the way in Union's long lifespan.

If you go down Union today, you can still find some older, 20s and 30s storefronts, but you've gotta look closely. There are few of them and they're off the road because this street was built for car traffic, which means parking areas (although, of course, these spots are not as plentiful for today's traffic). Listen in to find out which corners to go explore... both on and off of Union Ave!

Mark also talks about Madison and how it compares to Union... the former is curved to match the old street car lines that were installed there, as opposed to Union which was built for vehicle traffic. You get the same curvature in Cooper-Young too! Finally, come along with us for a meandering little trip down Madison, full of fits and starts that tell the history of Memphis and demonstrates a strong sense of place.

Last but not least is a charming story Mark uncovered about a late 1800s/early 1900s Memphis character, Christopher Hottum. Hottum owned a saloon at 119 Madison and was a major daredevil. He once jumped off a bridge because everyone said he'd die if he did it. He promoted the last legal bareknuckle fight in Mississippi, too. Why did Mark find out about him? His tax man asked for a history of his home, and lo' and behold, this guy built it! Hottum is just one example of what Mark calls the "mythic quality" of Memphis.

We end with a few fun rapid-fire questions that Mark handled like a total pro. You'll learn which Memphis neighborhood he'd stay in for all eternity, what Memphis street name he'd make his own, and more!

For full show notes, go to memphistypehistory.com/union

 

Bonus Episode: Droppin’ On New Year’s Eve

January 1, 2018
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This bonus episode provides you with the history behind the New Years Day Gibson guitar drop on Beale Street in Memphis, TN... and a listing of a few other drops in the USA.

For other bonus episodes, visit memphistypehistory.com/bonus