Well, I'm Stumped
supermarket photograph courtesy Janis Shirley
One reason I avoid public appearances — besides the obvious risk of kidnapping — is because I am weary of playing the game of “Let’s Try to Stump Vance.” On those rare occasions when my bodyguards let commoners approach me, it seems folks only want to see if they can trick me with a question I can’t answer. It rarely happens; after all, they are not Lauderdales, and never will be.
But I have to admit that over the years several readers submitted questions that have proved rather pesky, and my accountants pointed out that I get paid the same pitiful wages whether I correctly answer queries at all. As long as I dictate enough words to fill up these two pages, I can laugh all the way to the bank. [And straight to the unemployment line, Lauderdale — Ed.]
So here are readers’ questions that have gathered dust in my “in” box for quite some time. If anyone can answer them for me, not only will I be grateful, but I’ll post the responses on my “Ask Vance” blog.
Dear Vance: I have attached a 1941 photograph of my grandfather’s grocery store, which was located on either Chelsea or Ayers. Can you help me locate it? — J.S., Memphis
Dear J.S.: This photograph intrigued me. It’s a beautiful building, with various members of the reader’s family posed out front for the photographer — perhaps to celebrate opening day? I admired the handsome art deco ornamentation, and the keystone at the top showing the date of construction (1934), but I was somewhat puzzled by the name of the establishment. Why would anyone call a grocery store “Victory Little”? Or was it supposed to be “Little Victory”? At any rate, I thought a quick glance through the old city directories from the 1940s would reveal its location.
Well, I was wrong. Searching for Little Victory, or even just Victory, turned up nothing. Scrolling down the street listings for Chelsea and Ayers turned up nothing. Even looking up the store owner’s name — I learned from J.S. that it was her great uncle, Harold Wiginton — still nothing.
But I finally found something that only added to the confusion. The 1943 city directory shows a Victory Little Super Market — but located at 613 South Highland and operated by two brothers, Joseph and James Montesi. J.S. insists her family never operated a store on Highland, and the phone books for the next year, 1944, show this property has now become a Liberty Cash Grocery, a chain owned by the Montesi family.
So I’m at a loss. The building in the photo seems to have a parking lot to the left and an old house to the right, and the sidewalks are considerably wider than normal, with a metal light pole (not to mention an old car) planted smack in the middle of the sidewalk. But I can’t find any other clues in the photo, such as a street number on the store, that would suggest its location.
Dear Vance: Where was the Poor Man’s Store in Memphis? I found this old photo online. — G.L., Memphis
Dear G.L.: I’ve seen this interesting photo (below) before on sites like eBay, and some sellers claim that it originally ran in Life magazine in the 1930s. Wayne Dowdy at the main library showed me similar photos of old Memphis businesses that appeared in a local history book, From Cotton Row to Beale Street. The Poor Man’s Store wasn’t included — or mentioned — in that book. So who took this photo, where was this tiny store, and how long was it in business? I just don’t know.
After several half-hearted attempts to skim microfilmed copies of Life, I gave up trying to find the original article, and once again turned to city directories. A dead end. I found no listing for such a store in any phone books from the 1920s through the 1960s. And, just as with the Little Victory store, I’m puzzled by the name of this little establishment: Did “Poor Man” refer to the owner — or to the customers?
I’ll let you ponder that for a while, along with several other “stumpers.” And yes, these are all genuine questions from readers. I can’t make this stuff up.
What’s the story behind the gravestone for “Old Robby” in the cemetery at Central and Lafayette, with the curious inscription: “Renowned golfer and bridge player / Tone bidder and oral specialist / Who dealt? What’s the score? / Don’t think. That’s a funny thing. The hell with it.”? — A.H., Memphis
When I was in high school in the 1980s I watched a cable-access TV show, The Fabulous Billy Bob. A man with a jambox took phone calls while dancing and wearing longjohns, a vest, and some sort of mask. It was very strange, even for Memphis. Please help me find Billy Bob. — J.B., Memphis
Where was the Tiny Tot Studio, where this cute portrait was taken? — B.E., Memphis
When I was young, I heard about a terrible storm in Memphis. Someone was in a tall building looking out a window, and lightning hit the window and burnt their face in the glass. For a long time, you could look up and see the burnt face etched in the glass. Is there any truth to this tale? — M.G., Memphis
Can you provide me with information about an old velodrome that operated in Memphis in the 1890s? The design for the old Vailsburg board track in Newark, New Jersey, was inspired by the one in Memphis. — M.G., Clifton, New Jersey
I understand that Winchester Park is the site of the second cemetery in Memphis. Is it true that Mayor Winchester is buried under what is now the city garage? — D.P., Memphis
I can’t help wondering about the “S” curves on the north-south streets between Summer and Poplar, such as Goodlett, Perkins, Mendenhall, and White Station. Did our city employees “party too hardy” at Leon’s the night before they laid out those streets? — G.H., Memphis
In 1963, I lived in a beautiful Victorian home that was called the Elizabeth Club. It was located on Carroll Avenue, and was for young women going to business college. Have you heard of it? — B.R., Bartlett
Years ago, my dad’s favorite restaurant was Bill and Jim’s. I would love to get him the recipe for their beef tenderloin, and while you are at it, how about the rolls too? — K.F., Cordova
I am a volunteer at the Memphis Zoo and need information about the “Round Barn.” All I know is that it was stables for the Memphis Police Department Mounted Unit and was donated to the zoo in 1923. — L.A., Olive Branch
Do you have a picture of the Greenlaw Opera House? I remember my grandmother mentioning it many years ago. — P.W., Rogers, Arkansas
My dad says a statue once stood in the middle of the intersection of East Parkway and Summer. It was struck by traffic more than once, and that was the reason for its removal. I think the vastness of the Lauderdale Library holds answers: who it was, when it was removed, and where it went. — P.K., Sardis, Mississippi
I heard there was a specific reason John Cougar Mellencamp hasn’t played Memphis in the past 20 years. A friend told me Cougar appeared at a concert here in the 1970s wearing pink leotards and was booed off the stage. Where was the concert, and can you find a picture of Cougar in his pink leotards? — C.B., Marion, Arkansas
I’m told that an area of Memphis was once known as Hollywood, Tennessee. Can you tell me what time period and where that was? — T.P., Memphis
A friend asked me why there isn’t an exit #19 on I-240. It jumps from #18 at Perkins to #20 at Getwell. I told her if anyone knew, it would be you. — P.C., Millington
An old billboard on Poplar advertised “The Phantom Bed.” The slogan was, “It comes and goes with the night.” It was the first moving billboard I ever saw. Do you remember it? — L.D., Blue Mountain, Mississippi
Do you know anything about a hot tamale company in Memphis owned by A.D. Hickel and called Hickeleats? They were sold in a can. — B.I., Columbus, Mississippi
I am looking for the name of the local dance studio/teacher for children where Happy Hal Miller (above) began his dance training. My dad was there in 1939. Any clue? — G.F., Memphis
Happy Hal photograph courtesy Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries