Never-Before-Seen Old Photos of Memphis Found at Local Estate Sale

My pal Blake Billings says his wife was digging around at a local estate sale and turned up some rolls of unexposed film. She bought them, had the film processed, and discovered that it contained some very interesting scenes of Memphis taken in the 1940s. Mainly downtown scenes, such as this fine image of the Shelby County Courthouse, but there are some other areas that he hasn't yet identified.

Blake posted the images on a photo-sharing website called, and I encourage you to visit it.

Here's what Blake says about his find: "My wife discovered a bunch of old nitrate 35mm at an estate sale a while back. We were shocked to find that the family had no interest in them, so we took them with us. I'm only now scanning some in. I thought I'd put a few up here to let others have a look at them and comment. Lots of pictures of sailors, etc. back from overseas, a picture of Memphis downtown (complete with streetcars), and what looks to me like a military barracks. Other than a bit of a contrast curve, the photos are unaltered and full-frame."

I'll warn you in advance that some of the photo IDs (provided by some viewers who aren't that familiar with local history — NOT by Blake) are wrong. The lovely fountain seen in one of the images is, of course, in Court Square. The totem pole was displayed in Confederate Park, and I've even written about it. The building with the columns and nice domed cupola is the old Marine Hospital, and those granite blocks with the plaques attached are in DeSoto Park (across from the Marine Hospital), not Chucalissa (though the plaques were removed — or stolen — many years ago).

Anyway, go there and see what places you recognize. Once again, it just proves what amazing things you can find at garage sales and estate sales, if you look carefully enough.


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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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