New Home for an Old Window

The Pink Palace’s newest acquisition is a stained glass window from T.H. Hayes & Sons Funeral Home, Memphis’s oldest continually operated African American business.  Thomas H. Hayes, Sr. began his career as a grocer before he founded the funeral parlor in 1902. It was originally located on Poplar Avenue, but it moved to 680 South Lauderdale in 1918. The family lived on the second floor of the building. The funeral parlor closed after the death of Frances Hayes, the daughter-in-law of Thomas, Sr., in 2010.

 The window1

The emergence of funeral homes in the early twentieth century was one of the most significant advancements in the modern funeral industry. This development made the business more efficient because it took the mostly decentralized and multistage funeral process and turned it into a uniform experience in one building. Funeral homes themselves also put “a positive face on funeral directing.” Funeral directing offered African Americans social respectability as well as financial security. However, the success of their businesses was also a direct result of Jim Crow segregation. This segregation created a paradox; discrimination limited their ability to succeed economically, socially and politically, but it also provided them with a “clearly defined consumer market.” Funeral directors also had the financial means and the social prestige within their communities to be leaders in the civil rights movement, which made many of them complex leaders.

T H  Hayes postcard courtesy of Birch Harms

T H Hayes postcard courtesy of Birch Harms

The Hayes family was undoubtedly Memphis leaders. The eldest son, Thomas Jr. (Tom), was an owner of the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League baseball team, from 1939 to 1951. He also served as Vice President of the Negro American Baseball League. The other son, Taylor, was a president of the Cotton Makers Jubilee, the segregated counterpart to the all-white Cotton Carnival. He was also a president of the National Funeral Directors’ Association and coached football at LeMoyne College from 1945-1952. Frances, his wife, earned her funeral director’s license and became one of the first licensed black women in the profession. The entire family was active in social and civic clubs.

From right to left: Thomas H. Hayes, Jr, Mrs. Thomas H. Hayes, Sr., Thomas H. Hayes, Sr., Taylor Hayes. Courtesy of Memphis and Shelby County Room.

From right to left: Thomas H. Hayes, Jr, Mrs. Thomas H. Hayes, Sr., Thomas H. Hayes, Sr., Taylor Hayes. Courtesy of Memphis and Shelby County Room.

When the building on South Lauderdale was torn down, architectural salvage companies bought some of the windows and pieces of the façade. During the demolition, a round stained glass window was discovered enclosed in a wall. The museum acquired the window from a firm specializing in antique stained glass. When it arrived at the museum, conservator Laurel Albrecht began to get the window ready for display. While the glass itself was in good shape, the frame was not. Laurel began by cleaning off roofing tar before moving on to repainting areas of the frame. The window’s new home will be in the redesigned mansion galleries and will be used to interpret African American businesses.

Information for this post came from Suzanne E. Smith’s To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, Memphis Magazine’s “Crews Demolish Hayes Funeral Home,” the August 8, 1968 Jet Magazine, and Rep. Steve Cohen’s remembrance of Frances Hayes.

Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.

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Greetings from Memphis!

When mail ruled the day, postcards were a popular way to communicate. Picture postcards first came on the American scene during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. They quickly grew in popularity, and the decade from 1905-1915 marked a golden age for postcards. People frequently mailed them to each other and then saved them in albums. By the end of 1913, the U.S. Postal Service estimated that over nine hundred million postcards had been mailed. This fervor died down with the start of World War I, but postcards did continue to be used. From 1930-1945, linen postcards, which were printed on paper containing higher cotton fiber content, were popular.  Today’s postcards are photocrom-style and feature colorful photographs. These postcards are frequently purchased as souvenirs and less often as a means to quickly communicate.

Overton Park playgroundMunicipal Swimming Pool at the Fairgrounds circa 1926

Postcards have historical value because they capture popular sites and attitudes of specific time periods. The messages that people wrote to each other can help us understand what mattered to them. The images on the front also show us popular fashions, the way places looked and the consumer goods that were available. Here are a few samples from the Pink Palace’s postcard collection. They show us buildings that have been torn down, a swimming pool that was filled in and companies that closed. They also underscore how young Memphis’ current skyline is.

Levee Scene with Memphis Skyline 1912 Dobbs House Luau restraunt closed in 1982

Information from this post came from The State Library of New York and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.

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Some Short Lived Memphis Football Programs  

Clarence Saunders’ Sole Owner Tigers  are not Memphis’s only defunct football program. In 1974, the Southmen came to town as part of the World Football League. The Southmen began as the Toronto Northmen; however, the Canadian Prime Minister was concerned about having American expansion teams compete with the Canadian Football League for viewers. He had a bill introduced which prohibited professional American football programs from playing in Canada. The team came to Memphis and changed their name to the Southmen, a name which most Memphians disliked. Fans called them the Grizzlies. The WFL collapsed in 1975 in the middle of the Grizzlies second season. The team owners pulled off a successful season ticket drive in an effort to convince the NFL to accept the Southmen as an expansion team. The NFL refused.

Showboats jacket

Memphis’s next professional football franchise was the Memphis Showboats, a team of the also short lived United States Football League. Initially, the USFL played its season during the NFL’s off season. The Showboats were an expansion team that came to town in 1985 and generated a fan following. Officials even covered some of the city buses with showboat facades. Despite the fan’s support, the team folded in 1986 when the USFL did not survive its attempt to compete directly with the NFL’s fall season.

Showboats bumper sticker

Next up were the Memphis Mad Dogs, an expansion of the Canadian Football League, which only lasted for the 1995 season. They were able to draw some crowds to the Liberty Bowl during summer games, but the CFL was unable to compete with the American college football season. The Mad Dogs folded ten months after it was created.

Mad Dogs schedule

In October 1995, the Memphis Pharaohs started up as an expansion team of the Arena Football League. They had the honor of being the first professional sport franchise to call the Memphis Pyramid home. The owners kept the team in Memphis for two seasons before moving to Portland, Oregon. Two years later, the NFL’s Tennessee Oilers called the Liberty Bowl home before moving to their permanent base in Nashville in 1998 and renaming themselves the Titans.

Most recently, the Memphis Maniax took part in the Extreme Football League (XLF). The XLF was a joint venture by the World Wrestling Federation and NBC. The target audience was young male viewers, who were encouraged to watch by screaming announcers, boisterous nicknames and changed rules. The league and the team only survived the 2001 season.

Information for this post came from Kiss ‘Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed, Forgotten, and Departed Teams by Dennis Purdy, The Business of Sports by Scott Rosner and Kenneth Shropshire, and www.funwhileitlasted.net.

Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.

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S.Y. Wilson’s Coffin

One of the Pink Palace’s newest acquisitions is a mid-twentieth century coffin that was donated by Susan Wilson Hoggard of S.Y. Wilson store in Arlington, Tennessee. S.Y. Wilson opened in 1893 as a general country store that sold provisions in eastern Shelby County. Samuel Young Wilson erected the store’s current building in 1912 in Arlington’s town square. Today, the family operates an antiques and artisan market in the three story building. When it was a country store, one of the more unusual offerings was coffins. State law allowed individual burials, and, especially in the country, family plots were not unusual. We can only assume that when these types of burials fell out of favor, Wilson’s store had a few coffins, in their original crates, remaining in the attic.

Susan Wilson Hoggard with the coffin crate

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, country stores sold clothing, farming equipment, food and other sundry items. Store owners or clerks served customers who requested items and waited while the clerk went to shelves to find them. The clerk also cut meats and cheeses. Then items were placed on the counter while the clerk added the total on available paper. One merchant remembered that his store was “where we put clothes on anything that had a back to wear them between the cradle and the grave, crowded their feet into something to keep them off the ground, and rammed food down everything that had a gullet to swallow it.”[1] Farmers were able to use their crops as collateral for supplies in a country store, which was known as the crop lien system. Many merchants gave farmers a yearly credit statement, divided into equal monthly portion. This system allowed the merchant to keep track of how much credit he was extending to an individual. Through this system, merchants frequently acted as bankers to their customers. Farmers brought in their harvest to sell, repaid their crop lien, and seldom had much money left. In his obituary, S.Y. Wilson was remembered as a kind man who “always carried people over” through the years to help them when they were having financial problems.

Getting the donated coffin from the attic to the museum took a team from the Pink Palace. The coffin was still in its original crate from the Memphis Casket Company, two steep wooden stairways from the street. We stood the crate on a handcart to move it to the top of the staircase and then laid blankets on the stairs. Supporters at the top and the bottom guided it down. Once we got to the bottom, we were able to reload it on the handcart and take it to the truck for transport to its new home at the Pink Palace where we plan to exhibit it in our new country store gallery.

Original crate label

Stairs

You can visit S.Y. Wilson Antique and Artisan Market and see exhibits about the store on the mezzanine. You can also visit a reproduction country store in the History Gallery at the Pink Palace.

Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.

[1] Thomas Clark, Pills, Petticoats and Plows, 15-6.

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