Bell of the Bluff
Our trivia expert solves local mysteries of who, what, when, where, why, and why not.
Dear Vance: Was Memphis included on the 1915 tour of the Liberty Bell?
— F.N., Memphis.
Dear F.N.: I have to confess your query initially baffled me, because I never knew that the Liberty Bell went on a "tour," and I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to send such a big, heavy, and fragile thing around the country. After all, it was already cracked.
But I recently came across a website mention of the 1904 tour of the Liberty Bell, and then discovered that local historian Paul Coppock had devoted a few paragraphs to the Liberty Bell's visit here — not in 1904, but in 1915 — in one of his fine history series.
Early in the 1900s, the keepers of the famous Liberty Bell did indeed send it on tours of the country, so people could, I suppose, feel more patriotic. The 1904 tour shipped it to the World's Fair in St. Louis, with various stops along the way, which I don't think included Memphis. But in 1915, the bell was carried aboard the "Freedom Train" to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and on its return journey, it did indeed make an early-morning stop in Memphis at the old Poplar Street Depot. The date was Saturday, November 20th. Coppock reports, "Confederate veterans formed the guard of honor. The biggest unit in the parade was formed by 12,000 city school children, almost every one of them carrying a flag. They sang 'Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean' as they passed the bell."
It's hard to believe that 100,000 people — which would have been just about every man, woman, and child in Memphis back then — would jam downtown to see such a thing, but newspapers reported they did. Some in that crowd even demanded to touch the famous bell, and you can imagine how curators would feel about such things today, but anyone who wanted could get close enough to touch it, caress it, and do anything short of taking a big gong to it. Newspapers later proclaimed that some people actually managed to kiss the bell, and "afterwards were seen with a radiant glow on their faces, indicating that one of the ambitions of their lives had been satisfied."
I have quite a few ambitions still to be fulfilled in my short life, but kissing the Liberty Bell is way down on that list.
In the Lauderdale Library, I turned up a faded postcard showing the bell in Memphis. What surprised me is how it was carried aboard the train — just left out in the open, mounted on a flatcar with some kind of tiny umbrella over it, but otherwise left to catch all sorts of dirt and bugs as it rumbled along the tracks.
I know this photo was taken in Memphis, and not one of the many other stops along the 1915 tour, because at the bottom of the picture is a large banner reading "Maury." Readers today may not remember it, but the old building at 272 North Bellevue was one of our city's most distinctive-looking schools, built in an over-blown Beaux Arts style. In fact, we copied that design for the northwest wing of the Lauderdale Mansion — the only part of the home not presently covered in vinyl siding. But times changed, busing took away most of Maury's students, and the wonderful structure was demolished about 10 years ago. The only trace of it is a grassy lot and some crumbling steps.
Regarding the Liberty Bell, despite its rather careless method of transportation, it somehow made its long way back to Philadelphia, and has never left home again.
In the 1960s, Memphis had a boat manufacturer with an Indian name, I believe. Can you help me remember it?
— T.M., Memphis.
Dear T.M.: Oh, the mind works in very strange ways. At least that's what my doctors tell me on my weekly visits, when they scribble in their charts and look at me with pity. But in the 1960s, Memphis — like so many cities in America — jumped aboard the boating and waterskiing craze, and sure enough some entrepreneurs here began to manufacture a line of watercraft. But you remember the "Indian" name because it had an arrow as the logo, and the company was, in fact, called Arrowglass. The "glass" part refers to the fiberglass used to make the hulls and deck, you see. Here's one of their ads.
The company had a rather convoluted history. Arrowglass was started in 1960 by a group of fellows named Michael Ossorio, P.O. Tipton, and Harry Schmeisser Jr., who opened a manufacturing facility at 1764 Chelsea. After a year or so, they moved into larger space somewhere near the old Firestone Plant. At the time, Ossorio told reporters, "The boating business in this area is growing fantastically. Lack of good boating water is the only thing that could hold the business back."
They originally built only one boat a day, but by the mid-1970s, they were cranking out more than 5,000 hulls a year, and I believe the Lady Lauderdale yacht was a custom Arrowglass model. But for reasons I don't understand, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1979. Another investor, Memphis businessman Clarence Day, bought the sinking operation in 1979 and tried to keep it afloat, but — oh, I'm weary of these nautical metaphors. In short, Arrowglass sank, though the boats were so well-built that you may still find them on the water in Sardis, Pickwick, and other places, sporting their distinctive arrow-shaped logo on the stern.
Dear Vance: There's an old gravestone in Calvary Cemetery that has always intrigued me, because it carries a porcelain image of a beautiful little girl. Who was she, and why is she buried all by herself there?
— M.N., Memphis.
Dear M.N.: Queries from readers carry me (with my bodyguard, of course) to cemeteries all over the county. I had also noticed this gravestone, because it's such a striking portrait, rather prominently placed by a corner of the Chapel Hill section at Calvary, where the solemn little girl has gazed out across the other tombstones for almost 90 years now. But I hadn't thought to look into her past until you mentioned it. Here's what little I can tell you.
Theresa Annaratone (it's pronounced "ah-NAIR-a-tone") was born in 1913, possibly in Italy since I was not able to find a Memphis birth certificate. Italy is where her parents, Ernesto and Petronella Annaratone, were born, moving to Memphis in the early 1900s to work as truck farmers in this area. The family lived on Pendleton, and I believe Theresa had an older brother, Louis, and a younger sister, Iris.
At the age of 6, Theresa developed a condition that the doctors of the day called "pyelitis sepsis" — basically a kidney infection. Nowadays that might not be fatal, but in the days before effective antibiotics (penicillin wasn't discovered until 1928), any infection could be deadly. Theresa died five days later, at midnight, at home. The funeral service, as was common practice back then, was held at home, and the little girl was buried, as you know, at Calvary.
It's true that the rest of the family is not buried beside her, M.N., but don't think they abandoned her. They lived long after her, and the section where the little girl was laid to rest was filled by the time of their own funerals. But just around the corner are the gravestones of Ernesto Annaratone, who died in 1955, and Petronella, who passed away in 1984. Nearby are the graves of Louis Annaratone (1912-1992) and Iris (1916-1986). Their birthdates, you see, made me think they were siblings of Theresa. In fact, scattered throughout Calvary are a good number of gravestones that carry the Annaratone name, at one time a large Italian family in Memphis.
Got a question for Vance? Send it to "Ask Vance" at Memphis magazine, 460 Tennessee Street #200, Memphis, TN 38103 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.