Photo Mystery Solved — Well, Sorta

The mysterious sign in the old photo we ran in the May issue has been identified.



Image from Kitty Plunkett’s “Memphis: A Pictorial History”

In the May issue of Memphis magazine, I ran a “mystery” photograph sent to me by a reader. Sometime in the early 1900s, it seems, two of her relatives had somehow made their way to the rooftop of a building downtown, and she wanted to know where, exactly, the picture was taken.

There wasn’t much to go on. Buildings in the distance were too far away to be identified, and the best clue was what appeared to be a huge sign visible just over the edge of the building where they were standing. But WAS it a sign, and if so, where was it located?

Well, the grand prize first goes to Stinson Liles, head of Red Deluxe Brand Development, who sent me an old color postcard of South Main Street, which seemed to show this very sign far in the distance, apparently mounted atop one of the buildings in that area. But the sign in the postcard, just like the sign (if that’s what it was) in the old photo, was backwards, and even when I reversed the image, I still couldn’t make it out.

That’s when Randy Wright turned up the photo (above) from the book Memphis: A Pictorial History, a nice collection of images of our city compiled by Kitty Plunkett in 1976. It more clearly shows the old sign, which Plunkett says served as an advertisement for the F.W. Cook Brewing Company. I don’t know much about that establishment, but will get to work researching it, as soon as I have caught up on all my naps.

Okay, thanks to Stinson and Randy, we — well, actually, they — have established that it was indeed a sign visible in the old photograph, and the sign was located somewhere on South Main. But the reader who submitted the original photo wanted to know the actual building where her relatives were photographed, so I guess the mystery is only half-solved. So far.

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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. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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