Lost Memphis: Boss Crump's Totem Pole in Confederate Park

Over the years, Confederate Park in downtown Memphis has acquired a lot of curious things that have nothing to do with the Civil War.

The most bizarre example of this was the totem pole that political boss E.H. Crump brought back to Memphis after a trip to the Northwest, and plunked down right in the middle of the park.

Most people find this hard to believe until I show them an actual photograph of the thing, such as the old color postcard shown here.

The story goes that back in 1941, Crump had journeyed to Seattle on a vacation. Like most travelers, he brought back a souvenir. Unlike most travelers, his keepsake was a 26-foot wooden totem pole, handcarved by a tribe of Indians somewhere in the Northwest, and purchased from the Hudson Bay Company. For some reason, $200 comes to mind for the price, but I may be thinking of my monthly salary. I think about it a lot.

I have no idea how he crammed such an item in his luggage, but Crump brought the whole thing back to Memphis and since he was "Boss" he just told the park commission to stick it in Confederate Park. The commission chairman, a fellow by the name of John Vesey, wasn't one to argue with Crump, and tried to put a good light on the situation, telling reporters, "We decided to secure something that would attract attention to our earlier Indian history" — apparently not knowing, or caring, that Indians in this area did not erect totem poles.

Newspapers quickly mocked it, calling it "Totem Ed," and said that the totem pole "was profaning a park dedicated to the glories of the Old South." Everyone made a game out of trying to figure out which of the carved creatures represented local politicians, though most people agreed that big-mouthed Crump was perched at the top.

It was finally pulled down in 1958, for reasons that I never discerned, and for almost 20 years it went into storage somewhere. Then, the totem pole was moved to Libertyland when the amusement park opened in 1976. That's what the newspapers said, though I can't recall seeing it when I visited the park. At some point, however, it came down, because I do remember seeing old photos of it leaning against the wall of a storage building somewhere, but much shorter than its original 26-foot length. Apparently, somebody cut it in half during its Libertyland days.

And where is it now? I have no idea. Does anyone?

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Famed Memphis trivia expert Vance Lauderdale answers reader questions weekly here on his blog!

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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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