The Crying Angel
What is the story of the “Crying Angel” — a terrifying creature that supposedly roams a patch of woods near Millington?
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Dear Vance: What do you know about the old Purity Bakeries Corporation? Their sign is still mounted on the front of the building that now houses South Front Antiques. — b.n., memphis.
Dear B.N.: I drive down Front Street at least once a week, on my way to the offices of this magazine to collect the suitcase of cash they pay me to scribble this column. I had never noticed the sign you mentioned, and even after I had the chauffeur stop the Daimler-Benz in front of the building, I still couldn’t find it. But after roaming around a bit, I found it — a nice cast-iron sign, mounted (oddly enough) around the corner on the south side of the building. Not only is it placed rather high, but as you can see, it was apparently attached to the bricks before the downspouts were installed.
So obviously a bakery once occupied this structure. But what was not so obvious was the listing for Purity Bakeries Corporation in old city directories. In fact, I couldn’t find any mention of such a company at all. I found a Purity Oil Company on Monroe, a Purity Drug Company on Trigg, and a Purity Seed Company on Front. In 1923, a Purity Bakery opened at 996 Jackson, but during its five years in business, it never moved to Front Street.
But here’s the answer to your mystery, and it involved out-of-town owners. The building at 374 South Front first opened in 1920 as the home to the Havana American Cigar Company. That’s interesting in itself, no? Two years later, the Grennan Baking Company moved in, a national chain with headquarters in Chicago. By all accounts, this was a giant operation, and I tracked down an old article that mentioned its “hundreds of branches in 26 states.” That same article described just one aspect of its business — eggs: “The eggs required in the Grennan plants run into such fabulous numbers that the company maintains its own egg-buying depot in the heart of Chicago’s wholesale market, where it buys eggs for the entire chain of Grennan cake plants.”
Meanwhile, another baking conglomerate named — you guessed it — the Purity Bakeries Corporation was thriving in New York City, and it began to buy up other, smaller bakeries around the country. I don’t have the exact date, but I know that Purity acquired the bakery on Front Street, because city directory listings say so; by the early 1950s the firm is listed as “Grennan Bakeries — a Division of Purity Bakeries.”
Grennan, by the way, kept baking its cakes in that building until the late 1950s, when the company closed most of its operations. Purity became part of an even larger group called American Baking Company, which is still in business (under various names) around the world today. Not in Memphis, though.