Saturday, March 31, 2012

U-166 and the Robert E. Lee

In the summer of 1942, the SS Robert E. Lee, a 5,184-ton steam passenger ship, was heading northwest through the Gulf of Mexico toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and New Orleans. On this trip, the Robert E. Lee was escorted by the USN patrol vessel PC-566. The Robert E. Lee had sailed from Trinidad carrying 270 passengers, several of whom were survivors of ships that had been victims of German submarines. Waiting in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico for some unsuspecting prey was U-166.

This German submarine was laid down on December 6, 1940, at the shipyard in Bremen and commissioned on March 23, 1942. U-166 was commanded by Oberleutnant Hans-Günther Kuhlmann. Kuhlmann (left) was a native of Cologne and entered military service as a cadet in 1932. Accepted as a submariner, he was given command of his own U-boat in July 1941. When U-166 (above) was commissioned, Kuhlmann took command and sailed out of Norway to France and then headed for the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, where merchant ships still sailed unescorted and Gulf Coast residents generally felt immune to the threat of German U-boats.

U-166 got to work as soon as she entered the Caribbean, sinking two merchant vessels and a small fishing boat loaded with twenty tons of onions off the coast of Cuba. The fishing boat was named Gertrude, which happened to be Kuhlmann's wife's name. For the next two weeks, U-166 patrolled off of Cuba and slowly moved into the northern Gulf of Mexico, looking for larger prizes. By the end of July, U-166 was off the mouth of the Mississippi River, well positioned to intercept ships coming in and out of New Orleans. On July 30, the U-boat crew saw smoke off to the southeast. It was the Robert E. Lee. Unbeknownst to Kuhlmann, it was also the PC-566, and that meant trouble for the U-boat. Laid down in Houston, Texas, by the Brown Shipbuilding Company, the PC-566 was fitted with depth charges designed for anti-submarine service. Under the command of Lieutenant Commander H. G. Claudius, the sub hunter had been in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean for just a few weeks.

Firing a torpedo, the U-166 quickly sank the Robert E. Lee (right). Of the 270 passengers aboard, twenty were lost at sea. The escort ship responded by attacking the submarine with her depth charges. While the crew of the PC-566 claimed they sank the U-boat, there was plenty of doubt at the time, mainly because on August 1, a U-boat was spotted by Coast Guard aircraft 100 miles off the coast of Houma, Louisiana. Seemingly the same submarine, the plane attacked and appeared to hit the U-boat and the pilots were credited with the kill of U-166.

It was not until 2001, however, that the truth was revealed when the wreckage of the Robert E. Lee was located in 5,000 feet of water. Located less than two miles away was another, surprising discovery: the U-166. Fifty-nine years later, credit for sinking U-166 could finally be given to the crew of PC-566. The submarine spotted by the aircraft, it turns out, was another U-boat, and she apparently survived the attack. Hans-Günther Kuhlmann and 51 crew members of U-166 still lie at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and the location of the sub has been designated as a war grave, protecting it from any future salvage operations.

 As a postscript, the only vessel surviving this incident, the PC-566 (above), was decommissioned in 1947, named the Honesdale in the 1950s (serving in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet) and then sold to Venezuela. Renamed Calamar, she served in the Venezuelan navy until the 1970s.

Photo Sources:
(1) U-166:
(2) Kuhlmann:
(3) Robert E. Lee:
(4) PC-566:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Col. Robert A. Smith in Life and Death

Robert Alexander and James Smith were brothers. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, both Smiths emigrated to the United States. James Smith, the elder of the two, came to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1834 and over the next twenty years became a successful businessman. His younger brother Robert arrived in 1850. Unfortunately, James Smith had to return to Scotland due to his wife’s health, leaving his younger brother behind. Back in Edinburgh, the elder brother opened an iron foundry and within in a few years developed a great deal of wealth.

This is the cemetery monument in
Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson.
Based on the shape of the base and
the inscription, it appears to be the
same obelisk seen below in Edinburgh
in the stone-cutter's yard prior
to its shipment to Mississippi. Logic 

would lead one to assume that the
finely dressed gentleman admiring the 
monument is none other than James
Smith, perhaps inspecting it before
shipping it to Mississippi.
When the Civil War broke out, Robert enlisted in the Confederate Army, and was elected colonel of the 10th Mississippi Infantry in 1861 after the first colonel of the regiment unexpectedly died. Back in Scotland, James was doing his part, providing material and financial support to the Southern cause. After the battle of Shiloh and the siege of Corinth, the 10th Mississippi moved into Kentucky with Braxton Bragg’s army. On September 14, 1862, the regiment and the rest of James R. Chalmers’ brigade were engaged in battle at Munfordville, Kentucky. During one of the assaults, Robert Smith was mortally wounded and died a week later. Buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Robert Smith was all of 26 years old.

After the war, in 1868, James Smith erected a monument in Greenwood Cemetery to his brother’s memory. Another obelisk, this one located in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh (below, left), was apparently erected at the same time and is very similar to the one in Jackson. Both mistakenly identify the battlefield as “Mumfordsville.” Incredibly, these two impressive monuments were not enough to satisfy James Smith’s desire to memorialize his fallen brother. In 1884. he traveled to Kentucky to locate the place his brother died and purchased enough property there to erect a 25-foot-tall, limestone obelisk weighing 35 tons. This monument (below, right) is dedicated to the “sacrifice of Col. Robert A. Smith and his regiment.” Apparently, the family believed that Chalmers ordered the 10th Mississippi into a suicidal charge in order to eliminate Smith, a potential rival to Chalmers. Carved from a single stone, the only monument made from a single stone larger than this in the United States is "Cleopatra's Needle" in New York. The Munfordville monument is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

While James Smith made every effort to keep the memory of the gallant young colonel alive by erecting three separate monuments, it is James Smith that is perhaps best remembered in Jackson today. In 1884, the same year he traveled to Munfordville, Kentucky, he donated $100 to the city of Jackson to erect a fence around the grassy area just north of the governor’s mansion. Once among a number of green spaces originally designed for Jackson, the land was then mostly occupied by the livestock which freely roamed throughout the city. In appreciation for his gift, the city named the area 'Smith Park.'

Photo sources:
(1) Robert A. Smith:
(2) Greenwood Cemetery: Photo by author, taken March 29, 2012.
(3) Mississippi stone in Edinburgh:
(4) Edinburgh cemetery monument:
(5) Munfordville monument:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stein Mart

Stein Mart, a nationwide chain of department stores with roots in Greenville, Mississippi, was named for Sam Stein. A native of Amdur, Belarus,* Stein was born in 1882. Stein immigrated to the United States in January, 1905, arriving at Ellis Island. In New York City, Stein worked for a cousin in the coat manufacturing business. After several months, he had saved enough money to travel to Memphis, where he briefly worked as a peddler of costume jewelry. Soon, however, he went by packet boat to Greenville, arriving in late 1905 or early 1906. According to Stein’s biographer, he arrived in Greenville with $45 in his pocket. Initially, Stein moved throughout the Delta as a traveling salesman. In about 1908, however, he opened a store on Walnut Street. The Sam Stein Store remained at that location until 1924, when the store was moved to 207 Washington Avenue. For more than seventy years, a Stein retail store remained in the 200 block of Washington Avenue.

The original Stein Mart store in Greenville, opened
in 1964. Note the "Charlie Conerly" store next door.
Sam Stein had four children. Upon his death, the second generation of the Stein family assumed management responsibilities. Sons Jake Stein and Joe Stein ran the store on Washington Avenue until the mid-1930s, at which time Joe Stein opened ‘Jay’s,’ which specialized in women’s clothing. Jake and Bernie Stein, along with Julius Sherman, Sadie Stein’s husband, continued to manage the original store. In 1950, the store moved to 401 Washington Avenue. When the new store opened, the Steins ran a ten-page advertisement in the Delta Democrat Times. The new store retained the name “Sam Stein’s.” The store at the old location, focusing on closeout goods and lower-priced merchandise, would be known as “Stein’s Self Service Store.”

Members of the Jake Stein family
pose for a photo in front of the new store.
In 1964, Jake Stein bought all of the stores along the south side of the 200 block of Washington Avenue and expanded his enterprise to include appliances, furniture, auto accessories and other items. With its Grand Opening on November 12, 1964, Jake renamed the store Stein Mart. Later, Jake’s Stein’s son Jay joined his father’s business. In 1968, the two Stein stores separated into two corporations. The Sam Stein Store remained in Greenville until it closed in 1988. Stein Mart, however, expanded under the leadership of Jay Stein. The company first moved into Memphis in 1977. Other stores were opened throughout the southeastern United States, including the Jackson, Mississippi, location in 1982. In 1984, the corporate headquarters moved to Jacksonville, Florida. His father, Jake Stein, remained in Greenville and managed the Stein Mart location there until his death in 1996. Now publicly traded, Stein Mart boasts some 300 stores in thirty states. As of last year, Jay Stein was serving as CEO.

In 2004, historian David Ginzl published a history of Stein Mart called Stein Mart: An American Story of Roots, Family, and Building a Greater Dream.

* Amdur was once a thriving Jewish community. A devastating fire in 1882 destroyed much of the town, however, including the main synagogue, and thousands seeking a better life emigrated to the U.S. prior to 1924, when emigration to America was halted by the U.S. government. In 1942, approximately 3,000 people (what remained of the Jewish population in Amdur) were exterminated by the Nazis at Treblinka.

Photo sources:
(1) Stein Mart store:
(2) Stein family:  Courtesy of The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hattiesburg Zoo

In the early 1900s, folks in Hattiesburg started bringing animals on their outings to Kamper Park. Popular with locals and visitors alike, the animals soon became a tradition. Recognizing that, the Hattiesburg Optimist Club began raising funds to build an actual zoo in the park, and on Easter Sunday in 1950, the zoo opened with several small exhibits. Kamper Park, where the zoo is located, was named for the man who gave the property to the city. In 1902, John Kamper donated forty acres to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, led in Hattiesburg by Ida V. May Hardy, wife of Captain William Hardy, founder of the city. Mrs. Hardy apparently solicited the gift from Kamper. The UDC, in turn, donated the park property to the city in 1908. Interestingly, though, Kamper was not a resident of Hattiesburg.  
John Frederick Kamper, for whom the park is named, was a successful businessman and banker in Meridian. Born in Bremen, Germany, in 1841, Kamper emigrated to the United States with his family in 1853. Living at first in Mobile, the family eventually settled in Enterprise, Mississippi. During the Civil War, Kamper served in Co. D, 12th Alabama Infantry. The 12th Alabama fought in the eastern theater in the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war, he engaged in various banking and business activities, including investments in the timber industry. No doubt, he developed a close relationship with Captain Hardy in Meridian, where Kamper moved to in 1900 and where he was vice president of First National Bank at the time of his death. When Hardy moved from Meridian to establish what became Hattiesburg (named for his first wife who died in Meridian), Kamper invested in the developing piney woods area. In addition to his business interests in Meridian, Hattiesburg and elsewhere, Kamper was a prominent Freemason, as well as a member of the Order of Elks and Knights of Pythias. He died suddenly in 1917, surrounded by his family at his home near Highland Park. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian.

The llama exhibit at the Hattiesburg Zoo
Today, the Zoo at Kamper Park is home to more than fifty-five species of animals, including prairie dogs, monkeys, tigers, zebras and alligators, and includes a train, gift shop, etc. The first elephant arriving at Kamper Park seems to have been named "Mrs. Hattie," for Hardy's first wife. If Ida Hardy had any hand in bestowing this honor, one might consider the appropriateness of a second wife naming an elephant after her husband's first wife...

Photo sources:
(1) Zoo sign:                                                                       (2) Kamper:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Isaac Carman and the 48th Ohio at Vicksburg

The 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment (better known as the 48th O.V.I.) was organized in February 1862 under the command of Col. Peter J. Sullivan. The regiment fought at Shiloh, Corinth, Chickasaw Bayou, and in the expedition to Arkansas Post. Engaged in the Vicksburg Campaign as part of Landrum's Brigade, A.J. Smith's Division, XIII Corps, the 48th Ohio fought in all the major battles leading up to the Siege of Vicksburg.

On May 19 and again on May 22, 1863, Grant's Union Army of the Tennessee assaulted the Confederate defenses in hopes of quickly taking Vicksburg. On the 19th, only Sherman's Corps was involved, but on the 22nd the assault included all three army corps. One of the units participating in the assault on May 22 was the 48th Ohio. After an opening artillery barrage pounded the Confederate lines, the regiment, along with other units in the brigade, attacked the fortifications nearest the Southern Railroad (near the present-day Vicksburg NMP Visitor's Center. Men from several units in the brigade, including the 48th O.V.I., captured a portion of the Railroad Redoubt and bagged a number of prisoners. When the 48th's flag, along with those of the 77th Illinois and 22nd Iowa, was planted on the parapet of the fort, the flags immediately attracted the attention of Confederate artillery. Corporal Isaac H. Carman* of Co. A was pinned down near the top of the works and close to the flags. Using his bayonet, he dug in. Nearby, a soldier from the 77th Illinois crawled into a shell crater. Working together, Corp. Carman kept firing into the Confederate lines while the Illinois soldier reloaded their rifles.

In time, the Confederates, including elements of Waul's Texas Legion, organized a counterattack to retake the Railroad Redoubt. Carman and his comrade from Illinois could clearly hear the voices of Confederate soldiers as they gathered for the attack. Realizing the danger they and the flags were in, Carman ran back under fire to get permission to remove the flags from the parapet. After getting approval, Carman forward and grabbed the 48th O.V.I.'s flag just in time. At the same moment, the Confederates launched their counterattack. 

Securing the flag, Carman ran a hundred feet under enemy fire to his regiment. As Carmen later wrote, How I got down and paced the hundred feet to our ditch, through all that fire, I cannot tell. In my great haste I ran right into the bayonet of one of my own company, who was then in charging position, driving its entire length into my leg and thigh. Although severely wounded, Carmen planted the flag in front of the regiment as the men of the 48th pulled him into the safety of their lines. Carmen had saved the flag. For his actions that day, Corporal Isaac Harrison Carman was awarded he Medal of Honor. The 22nd Iowa's flag was also rescued. The 77th Illinois flag, however, was captured.

When the monument for the 48th O.V.I. was dedicated on May 22nd, 1905 (forty two years after the battle and six years after the military park was established), Isaac Carman was among the few veterans able to be present. In the photo at the top, he is the third person on the left, with his coat unbuttoned. On the far left is his son. The image below is a photo of the same monument at Vicksburg Military Park today. In the center of the page is an image of Sgt. Thomas William Wissinger, Co. E. Wissinger, from Miami, Ohio, who served as a flag bearer in the 48th O.V.I. He is shown here with the unit's flag, and it clearly includes battle honors for Vicksburg. Please note that he is wearing a distinctive Zouave-style uniform.

As for the regiment's service following the Siege of Vicksburg, the 48th participated in the Red River Campaign in April 1864, and the entire unit was captured at Mansfield, Louisiana. They were sent to prison at Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas. After being paroled, they were part of the Mobile campaign in the last year of the war, and were finally mustered out in May, 1866. To learn more about the 48th O.V.I., there is a superb website dedicated to the history of the regiment at

* Carman's name is sometimes spelled 'Carmin' or 'Carmen.' On this tombstone, however, it is spelled Carman. He died in 1919.

Photo sources:
(1) Monument dedication:
(3) Present day monument:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Robert "Rope" Boyd

Robert Richard "Bob" Boyd was born on October 1, 1919, in Potts Camp, Mississippi. Potts Camp is located in Marshall County, and Boyd attended high school in nearby New Albany. Nicknamed "Rope," Boyd played first base in both the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball. In the Negro Leagues, Boyd played with the Memphis Red Sox (1947–49). In the Majors, he played for the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Athletics, and Milwaukee Braves, all in the 1950s and early 1960s. Known for his line-drive hitting (thus the nickname), Bob Boyd was not a power hitter but was able to regularly bat .300+. He was a lefty, both in the field and at bat.
In 1950, at age 30, he made the big leagues and became the first black player on the Chicago White Sox roster. Although he was on the roster, he played only as a back-up and was traded to St. Louis in 1954, where he never actually played. Sent back down to the minors by the Cardinals, Boyd played for the Houston Buffs, the Cardinals farm club in Texas. In Houston, Boyd is remembered as that city's Jackie Robinson. In his first game in a segregated Buff Stadium (black fans sat in a separate section), Boyd hit a triple in his first at-bat in the second inning. "Even those whites who had been sitting on their wary haunches prior to the game," one writer remembered "rose to cheer for Bob Boyd and his first contributions to a Buffs victory, and, whether they realized it or not, to cheer for another hole in the overt face of segregation in Houston."* Based on his play in Houston, he was picked up by the Orioles at the end of the 1955 season. During the next season, he hit .311 and played in seventy games. Boyd finally made his mark in MLB history during the 1957 season. One of only eight batters to hit .300 in the American League that season, he finished fourth in batting behind Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Gene Woodling. Boyd also became the first Oriole starter in the 20th century to hit over .300 in batting average. The next year, he batted .309 and hit a career-best seven home runs.

In 1961, Bob Boyd ended his major league career, compiling a .293 batting average, hitting nineteen home runs and adding 175 RBIs in 693 games. As a first baseman, he committed only 36 errors out of 4,159 plays. He also finished with a .300 batting average during an early stint in Latin America with Ponce in Puerto Rico (1951-1952) and Cienfuegos in Cuba (1954-1955). After the majors, he played for a number of minor league teams in Louisville, Oklahoma City and in the Texas League. He finally hung up his cleats for good in 1964. Bob Boyd died in 2004 at age 84 in Wichita, Kansas, where he retired as a bus driver with the Wichita WTA. He and his wife had one daughter. Boyd is a member of the Negro League Hall of Fame and of the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.

* Quote from the Pecan Park Eagle blog: 

Photo sources:
(2)  Boyd photo: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum:                                                  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

S&H Green Stamps

For those of a certain age (as in, anyone alive in the 1960s), you probably remember S&H Green Stamps. S&H Green Stamps were distributed by the Sperry and Hutchinson company, founded by Thomas Sperry and Shelly Hutchinson in 1896. During the '60s, the S&H catalog distribution was the largest in the United States and there were three times as many Green Stamps in circulation as U.S. postage stamps. To be sure, there were other trading stamp companies, but none were ever as popular or successful as S&H. This is the way it worked: shoppers would get stamps from retail outlets for purchases, and then the stamps could be traded for items in the S&H catalog. Retailers, most often grocery stores and gas stations, purchased the stamps from S&H and then decided how many to give away per dollar spent. Those stores giving away more stamps generally got more customers. The stamps themselves were issued in various denominations, just like money, and were pasted into 24-page stamp books provided by S&H. Each book was worth 1,200 points. Stamp books could be traded for all sorts of things, most often small appliances. For those lucky enough to live in a place with an actual S&H Green Stamps store (called "Redemption Centers"), they were places of pure wonder (well, that's the way I remember it at least). The Green Stamps store in Meridian was located somewhere downtown. I distinctly remember the interior, filled with all sorts of nifty things like shiny new toasters, vacuum cleaners, glasses, and the like. Mainly, I remember it being a very bright store.

1971 S&H Catalog
The height of the Green Stamps phenomenon was during the mid-1960s and was part of the American cultural scene. For example, a whole Brady Bunch episode was devoted to trading stamps in the first season (1970). In the episode entitled "54-40 and Fight," the kids fight over 94 books of stamps that have to be traded in. Greg and the boys want to get a rowboat while Marsha and the girls want a sewing machine. To decide, Mike and Carol let them compete by building a house of cards. The girls win, but then they feel bad and decide to compromise on a portable color television set instead. The urgency of having to trade in the stamps was due to the fact that the stamp store was about to close, requiring that all the stamps had to be redeemed.

The threat of store closures by the time the Brady Bunch episode aired was a very real thing for many consumers. By the early 1970s, stamps sales declined due to inflation. In other words, it simply took too many stamps to get worthwhile items and stores were closed across the country. Also, S&H was hauled before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 by the Federal Trade Commission for unfair trading practices. Sperry and Hutchinson lost. Despite these setbacks, they are still around, although only online. Today, the almost irresistible notion of getting lots of things we may or may not need in exchange for spending actual money on things we may or may not need is alive and well in the form of coupons.

The American dream lives on...

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Store:  Located in Tallahassee, Florida. From Florida Memory, administered by the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services.
(2) Stamp book:  Image from e-Bay: 
(3) Catalog:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Evans Wall and the Swamp Girl

Evans Spencer Wall (1886-1963) was born at Richland Plantation, a cotton plantation near Fort Adams, Mississippi, in Wilkinson County. The plantation house (shown here in 1934) perhaps dates to the late 1700s.  Wall grew up at Richland and lived there with his first wife Violet Ashley and their daughter Betty. Writing about her father’s life on the plantation, Betty Wall Ward later wrote that her father “lived a quiet orderly life,” and that he “clung to old ways in almost seclusion. Food came from the farm and garden, except coffee bought in fifty pound burlap sacks (parched and ground in the kitchen) and flour and sugar in barrels. Dining was formal on Sunday, with the white damask cloth and family silver from England.” Evans Wall lived in this protected environment until 1930. By his own account, Evans Wall was descended from English nobility and was related to both Raphael Semmes, Confederate commander of the CSS Alabama, and Jonathan Letterman, chief medical officer in George McClellan's Army of the Potomac and known today as the "Father of Battlefield Medicine."
Professionally, he managed to have quite a varied career. He attended Soule' Commercial College in New Orleans for two years, one of the oldest private business schools in the South,  and briefly attended both Tulane Law School and Louisiana State University. He also worked in a series of jobs, including as a deck hand on a steamboat in St. Louis, as a wheat harvester in Wyoming and Montana, a railroader in Oklahoma, an automobile salesman, a deputy sheriff, a newspaper reporter and a lecturer on writing fiction.
A prolific writer, Wall published a book called No-Nation Girl in 1929. The novel attracted enough attention that it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The book is about a white Frenchman who goes to live in the swamps of Louisiana with a black woman. No-Nation Girl refers to their daughter. While the subject of the book was more about the setting of the swamp than about race relations, No-Nation Girl did not earn a Pulitzer Prize because the previous year’s award had also gone to a book about race, and in 1929 that was apparently just too much to ask. In later years, the critically acclaimed novel was republished in paperback form as Swamp Girl with a series of salacious covers. Other novels by Wall include Love Fetish (1932), A Time to Sow (1932), The Marriage Rite (1932), Danger (1933), River God (1934), Lovers Cry for the Moon (1935), and Ask for Therese (1952).
In 1936, Wall's first marriage was “dissolved,” and he soon thereafter married Mary Claire Berthelot, a poet from Louisiana. Wall never returned to Richland Plantation, preferring instead to live in the setting of much of his fiction, the dark swamps of south Louisiana. He died in 1963 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Baton Rouge with his second wife.

Photo and Image Sources:  
(1) Wall House: Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey (Library of Congress)
(2) Swamp Girl book: Pyramid Books
(3) Wall grave:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mississippi Pride Football and the RFL

In the late 1990s, Jackson was one of the sites chosen for a team in a newly formed semi-pro football league called the Regional Football League (RFL). Billed as a "major league of spring football," one of the RFL's marketing schemes was to include players from the area in hopes of attracting fan interest. Several football players of note signed up to play in the RFL, including former West Virginia quarterback and future College Football Hall of Fame inductee Major Harris and former Alabama and Dallas Cowboy running back Sherman Williams (not the paint store). Others included Josh Booty (LSU), Andre Ware (Houston), and Dameyune Craig (Auburn). The Mississippi team was called the Mississippi Pride and had a stylized lion head as its logo. The other teams in the Regional Football League were the New Orleans Thunder, Mobile Admirals, Shreveport Southern Knights, Ohio Cannon and the Houston Outlaws.
Playing its games in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Mississippi Pride featured several players who had name recognition in Mississippi. The team's quarterback was former Ole Miss QB Stewart Patridge (right). On the defensive side, the roster included Marchant Kenny from USM and former JSU Tiger Terrell Sutton, while the kicker was Mississippi State's Brian Hazlewood. League play began in March 1999 and was supposed to last for fourteen regular season games with a championship game around the Fourth of July. As it turned out, the inaugural season was the only season for the RFL, and even that was cut to eight weeks. One team, the Ohio Cannon, only made it seven weeks before folding. Still, the RFL did hold a championship game on June 13 in Mobile. In that game (very optimistically called the RFL Bowl I), the Admirals defeated the Outlaws 14-12 and were declared the league champions. Mississippi Pride quarterback Stewart Patridge was named as the All-RFL quarterback.
From the outset, the Mississippi Pride and the league as a whole suffered from abysmal attendance, as indicated by the almost vacant stands in the photo (although the Mobile Admirals regularly drew decent crowds). Only one game was ever televised: on May 8, 1999, the Mobile Admirals and the New Orleans Thunder game was shown on WHNO, a mostly religious local television station. In Jackson, a few hundred fans (including yours truly) faithfully attended the Pride games and saw some pretty darned good football in the process (although the punting seemed to be an insurmountable challenge for the Pride). It was a bit disconcerting one night, however, when the stadium lights went out in the middle of the game because the team owners had not paid the rent for the stadium. After some frantic negotiations with the stadium management, the lights came back on...eventually. Unfortunately, the lights never came back on for the Regional Football League. Faced with competition from the new XFL, backed by wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon, the Regional Football League passed into history with a whimper.

And all I have to show for it is a lousy t-shirt...

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Helmet logo:
(2) Stewart Patridge:
(2) Stadium view:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A very rainy day in Jackson

After experiencing heavy rain in the area today, I thought I would share a photo from April 16, 1921. This image of a flooded Town Creek was taken in the middle of Capitol Street in downtown Jackson, looking east. The area in this photo is in the vicinity of Farish Street. On the left is the very distinctive sign (in the shape of a diamond ring) for Carter Jewelers. Established in 1849 as the Carl J. von Seutter Jewelry and Art Emporium, the business was located in the Majestic Arcade Building. The store was purchased in 1918 by John C. Carter, one of von Seutter's employees. After Carter died in 1946, the new owner, Lee Letwinger, moved the business to its present location on High Street. Carter Jewelers is now owned by Jerry Lake. On the right of the photo is the Pantaze Cafe, whose motto was "Jackson's Pride - Best in the City." Although I do not know much about the Pantaze Cafe, it is interesting to note that there was also a Pantaze drugstore on Beale Street in Memphis during the same time period. As that is an unusual name, there may be a family connection. The Pantaze Cafe was apparently popular with the college crowd, as the establishment regularly advertised in the Millsaps Bobashela in the 1920s (as did Carter's).

Photo source
USGS Office of Surface Water - 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mann's Raid

Henry Gilbreath, a soldier in
Co. K, 5th Illinois Cavalry.
Although there is no record that
he was involved in the raid, he
was in the same company as
Capt. Mann. This image was
taken in the Washington
Gallery in Vicksburg.
During the siege of Vicksburg, Union General Ulysses S. Grant sent a small raiding party behind Confederate lines to disrupt communications and create havoc on the railroads. Forty men from the 5th Illinois Cavalry were picked for this mission, under the command of Captain Calvin A. Mann. The 6' tall, blonde, blue-eyed Mann graduated from the St. Louis Medical College in 1858. When he enlisted in September, 1861, however, he joined the 5th Illinois Cavalry as a 2nd Lieutenant.

The Pearl River at Monticello
The small expedition began by steaming down the Mississippi to Rodney. After landing at Rodney, the raiders rode to Brookhaven on June 24, 1863. There, they burned twelve railroad cars before moving on toward Monticello. After the Union cavalry left Brookhaven, they were pursued by approximately twenty-two Confederate soldiers and local citizens from the Brookhaven area under the command of 1st Lieutenant William M. Wilson of Co. B, 43rd Tennessee Infantry, a native of Rhea County, Tennessee. The group was hastily assembled by the commander of a Confederate training camp near Brookhaven.

Crossing the Pearl River at Monticello, the Union raiders cut the ferry adrift and headed for Ellisville. When Lt. Wilson arrived at the Pearl, he had to find another river crossing. He also had to spend valuable time recruiting more men and horses, as the Brookhaven home guard refused to go any further in pursuit of the Yankees. Captain Mann, meanwhile, proceeded east and crossed the Leaf River.

Thinking he had shaken the Confederates, Mann allowed his men to camp for the night. Wilson’s Confederates, however, were hot on the trail and rode hard for Ellisville. Arriving at Rocky Creek on June 25,  they were surprised to learn that the Federals had not yet arrived. As such, Wilson dismounted his force of approximately 35 men and boys and waited. When the raiders arrived, the fighting was brief and decisive. Allowing Mann's troopers to approach within a few yards of Rocky Creek, a single volley from the Confederates killed four men and wounded five. Captain Mann was thrown from his horse and captured. The remaining Federals scattered into the nearby woods but were soon rounded up and surrendered. Four of the wounded were left in Ellisville, while the rest were taken to Jackson as prisoners. The captured horses, guns and equipment were apparently taken by citizens from the surrounding area for their own use. Lt. Wilson wrote that they could probably be recovered but that it would take a force to do it.

Capt. Mann's broken gravestone
As a small engagement, few today are familiar with this episode of the Civil War in Mississippi, although it has all the elements of a great story. To mark the site of the skirmish, there is a state historical marker on Hwy. 588, approximately 3.5 miles west of Ellisville.

As a postscript, Captain Mann survived the war and practiced medicine in Perryville, Missouri, and in Illinois. He died in 1902 and is buried in the Diamond Cross Cemetery in Randolph County, Illinois. 

Photo sources
(1) Henry Gilbreath photo: Springfield-Greene County Library District and Wilson's Creek National Battlefield 
(2) Pearl River photo: 
(3) Marker photo by Don Troyka on Flikr 
(4) Mann grave photo:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bell Witch in Mississippi

A contemporary drawing
of Betsy Bell.
In rural Yalobusha County, there is a lonely graveyard that contains the grave of a woman once at the center of one of the most curious and terrifying stories of the old South - the famous "Bell Witch" of Tennessee. According to the legend, beginning in 1817, Elizabeth "Betsy" Bell and members of her family were visited by an "entity" at their farm in Adams, Tennessee. Known as the Bell Witch, the spirit seemed to focus its malevolent energy on Elizabeth and her father, John Bell, Sr. Apparently, the entity, who identified itself as "Kate," was chiefly opposed to Elizabeth's engagement a local boy named Joshua Gardner. "Kate" also indicated a desire to end John Bell's life. During the visitations, which mostly ended in 1821, the Bell Witch is said to have revealed "herself" to many witnesses, included Andrew Jackson (although not supported by any documentation whatsoever). The haunting continued until John died in 1820 (some believed he was killed by the spirit) and Betsy broke off her engagement to young Joshua. Betsy married a much older man (a local "professor") named Richard Rowell Ptolemy Powell in 1824. Powell, who would become a successful Tennessee politician, had apparently been interested in Betsy for quite some time, a fact the entity seemed not to object to. Betsy's marriage was filled with grief and tragedy, however, as four children died at a young age and her husband suffered a stroke. For eleven years thereafter, Betsy cared for her invalid husband until his death in 1848.

One of the Bell cabins has been restored
and is part of the tourist attractions
availiable in Adams, Tennessee.
In 1874, Elizabeth Bell Powell left Tennessee and moved to Mississippi to live with her daughter (Eliza Jane) and son in law (Zadoc Yelvington Xeres Bell) in Yalobusha County. By all accounts, Elizabeth had by that time gained a lot of weight and her health declined as a result. On July 11, 1888, Elizabeth died at age 82 and was buried in the Long Branch Cemetery near Water Valley, where she remains today. Buried beside Elizabeth are her daughter and son-in-law. Betsy's original gravestone, unfortunately, was the victim of vandalism years ago and has been replaced by a modern tombstone.

Although not nearly as famous as the Bell Witch legend in Tennessee, there are some accounts of supernatural occurrences in Mississippi associated with the Bell family. One such account, published in 1928, involves the sufferings of a girl named Mary at the hands of the Bell Witch (now a male entity, interestingly), who wants to marry her. None of the Mississippi legends seem to match up with the Bell Witch story in Tennessee very well, but no matter. A good story is still a good story, and whatever one believes about the Bell Witch, the tragic life of Elizabeth Bell bears repeating. There are several great websites devoted to the Bell Witch, the most comprehensive of which is In addition, there are a couple of recent film adaptations of the story, all on the heels of the very successful "Blair Witch Project," believed to be based in part on the Bell Witch.

The original gravestone of Elizabeth Bell at Long Branch Cemetery.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Madison's WWII airfield

Augustine Warner Robins
Known today as Bruce Campbell Field and located on Old Canton Road in Madison, Mississippi, Augustine Field conducted training for hundreds of pilots for the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. The airfield opened in March 1941 as Robins Field but was changed to Augustine Field in the fall of 1941 so that an airfield in Georgia could use the name Robins. Both names honored General Augustine Warner Robins, known as the "Father of Logistics" in the USAF. Robins (1882-1940) was the son of Confederate Colonel William Todd Robins of the 24th Virginia Cavalry and was related to both George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Before making his contributions in the Air Force, Robins participated in Pershing's 1916 expedition in Mexico against Pancho Villa. The city of Warner Robins, Georgia, is also named in his honor.

The PT-17 Stearman
The Fairchild PT-19
Augustine Field trained United States Army Air Corps cadets under contract with the Mississippi Institute   of Aeronautics, and was a support airfield to Hawkins Field in Jackson. The pilots in Madison were trained primarily on two types of planes: the Fairchild PT-19 and PT-17 Stearman. The Fairchild PT-19 was a single-wing aircraft widely used for training by the USAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the RAF. In 1943, there were a number of complaints about the plywood wings of the PT-19 warping due to the heat and humidity of training bases in Texas and Florida. From then on, all PT-19s had all-metal wing sections. The Stearman was a biplane. Also known as a Kaydet, more than 8,000 were built in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. The Stearman was the primary trainer for the USAAF and the U.S. Navy throughout World War II. After the war, thousands were sold on the civilian market and were converted for use as crop dusters, sports planes and saw wide use in airshows.
Several airfield support buildings still
stand on the west side of Old Canton
Road, south of The  Home Place.

Augustine Field was deactivated on June 30, 1944, and was later turned into a civilian airport. The City of Madison changed the name to Bruce Campbell Field in 1953 in memory of Campbell, a Civil Aeronautics Administration Engineer, who died in 1952. Today, three original hangars from the training field are still in use at Bruce Campbell Field, and several support buildings still stand on the west side of Old Canton Road. As one of the most intact World War II airfields in Mississippi, Bruce Campbell was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The lost town of Middleton

Located just west of present day Winona was the town of Middleton, long since passed into history. In 1841, however, Middleton was one of several towns under consideration for the site of the University of Mississippi. In pre-Civil War days, Middleton was a busy town of several hundred residents, with a stage line carrying daily mail and passengers. The town boasted a flour mill and cotton mill, a newspaper, and any business establishment one might desire (whether desirable or not). Of course, there were also Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Christians and Episcopalians who established congregations at Middleton. In other words, Middleton had all the trappings of a thriving Mississippi town, and was even at one time known as “The Athens of Mississippi.” So what happened? Well, as was the fate of many other communities in Mississippi, what happened was the railroad. In 1858-59, the Mississippi Central Railroad located east of Middleton, and Winona sprang to life to take advantage of the railroad, and Middleton rapidly declined.

Today, nothing exists to remind anyone where Middleton was except the Middleton Cemetery. In 1992, the Winona Lions Club took on the task of cleaning up and restoring what was left of the Old Middleton Cemetery. Neglected for almost a century, the cemetery was covered in trees and briars and most of the grave markers had been broken and scattered. Needless to say, the effort to restore the cemetery was a monumental undertaking. Since many of the markers could not be repaired or associated with a grave site, the Lions Club made the unusual decision to erect a monument to all those buried in the cemetery and to place all of the markers that could be salvaged on the monument plaza. The result is a very moving tribube to a lost community and a visit to this unique cemetery is highly recommended (the sign for Middleton Cemetery is on the south side of Hwy. 82 immediately east of the I-55 interchange at the Winona exit).

In looking at the list of those known to be buried at Middleton, I found two of particular interest. The first is Magn.(?) John Brown. Although no birth or death dates were found on his grave stone, the marker states that he “fell by derangement.” The second, that of Noah Gregory Wright, indicates that he was “mortally wounded” at Shiloh. Normally, that would mean that he died soon after the battle. However, Wright died in 1866. If he was mortally wounded and lingered for four years, he must have lived in a terrible state all that time. By the way, according to various geneology sites, Noah Wright came to Mississippi from Donelson, Tennessee, and was perhaps an orphan. He went to school in Lebanon, Tennessee and married his first wife in Pulaski. In Mississippi, he lived approximately nine miles southeast of Carrollton, apparently with his second wife Sarah Curtis, and they owned at least one slave (according to the 1850 census). So far, I have not been able to find that he served in the army during the Civil War, but given time I’m sure someone will be able to track that down.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Leprechauns in Oregon!

Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon

Since today is St. Patrick's Day, here's something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python). In Portland, Oregon, there is a city park that is considered the smallest in the world. Measuring just two feet across, the park was dedicated on St. Patrick's Day in 1948. In 1946, Dick Fagan had just returned from World War II and from his office above Front Street could see an unused hole in the median. Originally intended for a light pole, the hole had been taken over by weeds. So, Fagan decided to plant some flowers in the hole. Not just a good citizen, Fagan (right) happened to write a popular newspaper column in the Oregon Journal called Mill Ends, and he used his column to describe the "park" and all of the curious events that took place there, including the lives of a colony of leprechauns headed by chief leprechaun Patrick O'Toole (oddly, the leprechauns could only be seen by Fagan). According to him, the whole thing started Fagan looked out the window one day and saw a leprechaun digging in the hole. He ran down and grabbed the leprechaun, which meant that he had earned a wish. Fagan wished for a park of his own, but since he failed to specify the size of the park, the leprechaun gave him the hole. The hole was officially designated Mill Ends Park by the City of Portland. Dick Fagan died in 1969, but over the years the park has been maintained and improvements have even been made, including a small swimming pool with a diving board for butterflies, statues and a tiny Ferris wheel. In 2006, the park had to be relocated due to construction (by 7 feet) but was replaced in 2007. The re-dedication ceremonies (also on St. Patrick's Day) included bagpipers and members of the Fagan family, including Dick's widow Katherine.

Mississippi's Wizard of Oz

Lawrence "Larry" Semon was an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter during the silent film era. Born in West Point, Mississippi, in 1889, he was the son of a vaudeville magician known as "Zera the Great." Although the whole family participated in his father's traveling show, Lawrence, Jr. was encouraged by his father to get out of show business and pursue a career in art. When his father died, Larry went to school in Savannah, Georgia, to try and fulfill his father's wishes and then moved to New York City to work for the New York Sun and the New York Morning Telegraph as a cartoonist and graphic artist. He continued to do vaudeville acts on the side, however, and was offered a contract with Vitagraph Studios in 1915. There, he worked as a writer, director and producer and occasionally included himself in bit parts. When the “star” (Hughie Mack) left, Semon stepped in to play the lead roles, almost always in short (one-reel), slaptick comedies. Semon worked with many other well-known comedians of the era, including Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. 

As Semon’s reputation grew, so did the complexity and length of his films, and he was known for staging elaborate (and expensive) gags with special effects. He apparently loved chase scenes, with “airplanes…exploding barns, falling water towers, auto wrecks and/or explosions, and liberal use of substances in which to douse people.” With production expenses increasing with each film, Vitagraph demanded that he become his own producer and underwrite his own films. Among the films he produced was the silent film version of “The Wizard of Oz” (1925), in which Semon played the Scarecrow. Appearing as Dorothy in the film was Semon’s second wife, Dorothy Dwan (born Dorothy Illgenfritz in Sedalia, Missouri), who starred in a number of pictures as Semon’s leading lady. Oliver Hardy was cast as the Tin Man. Apparently, the film is pretty strange. One recent reviewer said that watching it could "make your brain melt and ooze out your ears." Whatever the quality of the film (or lack thereof), it is now available to new audiences on re-released DVD versions of the "The Wizard of Oz."

Unfortunately, he couldn’t match the financial backing of a studio and declared bankruptcy in 1928 after producing and starring in a couple of feature films. Returning to vaudeville to try and make a living, Semon suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to Los Angeles, where he was sent to a sanatorium at Gracelon Ranch in Victorville, California. Dwan was acting in a theater at the time of Semon's breakdown and rushed to his bedside when informed that his condition was worsening. Lawrence “Larry” Semon died on October 8, 1928, at age 39 from pneumonia and tuberculosis. According to one site devoted to silent films, however, there are some who think that his death was faked to avoid creditors, as his wife Dorothy never got to see his body after he died (he was cremated) and due to the fact that, at his request, only a few people were present for the memorial service. 

Because of his role in the development of the film industry, Larry Semon has a star on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. From 1915 to 1928, Semon produced, directed or starred in approximately 110 silent films.