A Memphis City Beautiful Parade in 1941 — What's Going On Here?



Photo courtesy Benjamin Hooks Central Library

The Memphis Room at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library contains a marvelous collection of old photographs: buildings, streets, people, and events. Many of the images are so well-known — to history buffs anyway — that they are immediately recognizeable.

And then you'll occassionally turn up things like this.

This photo is identified only as "Memphis City Beautiful Parade - 1940." But I just keep looking at it and wondering what it was really all about. I mean, here you have three women in rather bizarre outfits (look at those hats!) pushing what are obviously fake garbage cans. Well, they might be real garbage cans, but they are clearly wrapped in shiny foil and mounted on what seems to be push lawnmowers.

Not exactly on par with a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float, is it?

Was this part of a larger event — a Cotton Carnival parade, for example? Or was this the highlight of a City Beautiful Commission parade? Whatever it was, it attracted plenty of people; just look at the crowds lining the street behind them (though nobody seems to be looking at them — was something even more thrilling coming down the street behind them?)

Perhaps we were just easily entertained in the early 1940s, and Memphians had nothing better to do than drive downtown, gather along the curbs, and watch women push garbage cans down the street.

It boggles the mind.

PHOTO COURTESY MEMPHIS ROOM, BENJAMIN HOOKS CENTRAL LIBRARY

Reader Comments:
Aug 14, 2012 09:47 am
 Posted by  memphisborn

I remember marching with my dance class in a similar parade in the early 1960s. It was part of Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix Up Week activities. Memphis won awards for being the cleanest city many years ago, but by the 1960s, we were already starting to lose the battle.

Aug 21, 2012 12:14 pm
 Posted by  warbirdali

Not that I would be so crude, but If you zoom in to look at the pointy-chested lady in the light shirt (in background on the far right)you can see she is on her cell phone! Either this whole thing is an elaborate V.L. Photoshop hoax, OR maybe she was showing off the very first smart phone, and the onlookers were looking at her to figure out what on earth she was doing? Unfortunately she was way ahead of her time, and since there was no cell coverage yet it was all a total flop. Apparently nobody could hear her now.

Aug 23, 2012 11:15 am
 Posted by  TOM PAINE

That could be a walkie talkie, which have been around a lot longer than cell phones and were often used for events like parades. My husband's aunt was in this graduating class and she tells us that she is in the background of this picture so it is not a hoax. Check your facts ma'am.

Mar 27, 2013 04:51 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Yes! This is The Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix Up Parade! The young woman farthest away is Pauline Walmsley Arnett. She was Deputy Register of Vital Statistics for the Memphis and Shelby Co. Health Dept. for 23 years. The middle young woman is Arthemise Walmsley Fisher. Mrs. Fisher was her sister's assistant at the Health Dept. for 20 years.(Nepotism I'm sure!) The other young lady I believe was the Mayor's secretary. ( Just can't remember her name!)
Mrs. Arnett signed everyone's birth certificate for those years she served in that position. I have had folks tell me..." is that your mom's name on my birth certificate?
Mrs. Arnett was interviewed many times on the "radio" and was in Eldon Roark's column numerous times about statistics and "odd names folks gave their children". ( She has a chapter in "Memphis Brag Abouts" found in the Memphis Room of the library. ( my favorite name is "Forceps". Seems the mother heard it in the delivery room...and just liked it!)
Mrs. Fisher was a real beauty for her time, and whenever they needed a pretty lady for an article in the newspapers...my Aunt Artie got the gig! She and mother were featured once on a big spread about a "coon hunt" that mayor Overton arranged. There stood my delicate mother holding a dead coon by it's tail. My mother was mortified...but, was so happy to have a good job in those days...she never turned down an invitation!
From the stories I was told...those days in Memphis were not unlike politics of today in some ways. Mother lived through the "Crump Machine"...the ups and downs of the time!
I have this photo and treasure it...a Memphis of long ago and far away!
Johnnye Arnett Eure

Post Script: To Mr. "Vance"...tell my buddy Frank I send greeting from Vermont!

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: 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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