Memphis and the Vietnam War

American involvement in Southeast Asia began in 1954 when the United States government offered support to a corrupt but pro-American democratic government in South Vietnam and lasted until the fall of Saigon in 1975. While Congress never officially declared war, thousands of American soldiers died and billions of dollars were spent in attempts to contain the threat of communism in North Vietnam and prevent its spread to other parts of Southeast Asia. President John F. Kennedy began sending military advisors to Vietnam during his presidency, and in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson escalated the conflict under the auspices of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. By 1968, there were over half a million American troops fighting in Vietnam. President Richard Nixon announced a plan for the Vietnamization of the war, and in 1970, he ordered troops to invade Cambodia in order to cut off enemy supply lines. Public support for the war declined, and in 1973, Nixon began to withdraw troops. The United States did not intervene when North Vietnam successfully invaded the south in the spring of 1975 and unified the country under a communist government.

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These fatigues were worn by Platoon Sergeant Larry Pickens, an observer in an OH6A (Loach) helicopter, in Vietnam from August 1969 to November 1970. After his tour, Pickens remained a member of the Nation Guard while also working as curator of Lichterman Nature Center. He donated his fatigues to the museum in 1998.

After the war, a group of Vietnam veterans led by Jan C. Scruggs established the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The group raised money and sought Congressional support for a national memorial. In 1980, they announced a national design competition for the monument. Maya Lin, a 21-year-old architecture student, created the controversial winner. When the design was unveiled, many felt it was not monumental enough. However, it has become an icon. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is located along the National Mall in Washington D. C. and serves as a symbol of sacrifice and healing for Vietnam veterans and their loved ones. It bears the engraved names of the men who died or remain missing. According to the National Archives, approximately 253 soldiers from Shelby County died during the war. An additional nine Memphis men are still listed as unaccounted-for since their bodies were never recovered.

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Though millions of Americans visit the Wall each year, few realize that Memphis played a crucial role in its creation. The Glasscraft division of Binswanger Glass, a Memphis company, won the contract to etch the names of 58,261 fallen soldiers into the polished black granite slabs that make up the Wall. The company submitted the pictured Architect’s Sample to the Memorial Committee in order to win the contract. When the company sold, they generously donated this sample to the Pink Palace. It is currently on display near the entrance to the museum’s mansion.

For more information about the Wall, please visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website

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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  Welcome Home

In September of 1975, Miss Lynne Dishier, a recent graduate of Memphis State University, attended the Pink Palace’s second auction held at the Willow Road Community Center. Miss Dishier had just returned from a year teaching in France. She attended the auction out of curiosity; she had no expectations of placing a winning bid. The auction was starting to wind down after a few of the bigger pieces sold. That was when she saw the lot of three dolls, male and female “Chinese servant” dolls or “puppets”, and a “Chinese boy” doll. The doll’s owners loaned them to the museum in 1938. In 1968 Mr. Joseph Shirk formally donated them in memory of his mother, Mrs. Milton Shirk.

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The late 1960s saw a change in leadership at the museum. Mrs. Ruth Bush, a former teacher who had been the director since 1950, retired and Robert P. Sullivan, the museum’s first professionally trained director, was hired. Mr. Sullivan was very clear that he wanted to focus our collecting efforts on objects from the Mid-South area. The museum was also in dire need of funding for exhibit expansion.  These reasons culminated in the Spring and Summer auctions of 1975.

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Miss Dishier remembered seeing the female servant doll on display when she was visiting the museum as a child in the late 1950s. She loved the female servant doll with her blue dress and her kind face.  When she saw that no other auctioneers were bidding on her, she knew she had to have her. She won the bid—the dolls were valued at $25 apiece; she won all three for $12.50. They remained on display in her glass cabinet for almost 40 years. In 2015, the Pink Palace’s Collections Department began searching for items sold at the auctions for a new exhibit. When museum staff asked Mrs. Lynne Dishier Hamlin if she still had the Chinese dolls, they were astounded (after calling dozens of people, who no longer had the auction items in their possession) that she did! She came to visit the Museum with all three dolls in tow. She was willing to part with the boy doll, but not the two servant dolls. In her words “I’m so glad somebody wanted him [the Chinese boy doll]. I never felt like I fully appreciated him. He was a little too fancy for me.”

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After forty years, Mrs. Lynne Dishier Hamlin returned an auctioned artifact back to the museum. It was definitely a happy homecoming.

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The Victorian Art of Hair Work

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Although it may be hard for those of us living in the 21st century to believe, human hair was a greatly desired art material for the Victorians. Hair could be acquired from one’s own hairbrush, or small locks of hair might be gifted from friends and family members. Hair was used to make jewelry, such as watch fobs, pendants, rings, and brooches, or it could be wire woven into hair wreath decorations for the home. The art of hair work was a growing trend during the mid-19th century and many jewelers contracted with hair artists to meet the increasing demand. Instruction books were printed for those interested in DIY crafting, and, eventually, a number of mail order companies sprang up to accommodate those less artistically inclined.  Competition was often fierce among these companies and those with too fast of a delivery time might be accused of substituting cheaply obtained hair for the customer’s treasured locks. In a 1908 catalogue, Sears issued a disclaimer stating that hair services were contracted out and the company could not guarantee the authenticity of the hair used, which suggests there was some truth to the accusations. Over the following years, journalists published shocking exposés about the real origins of mail-order hair art, which ranged from European peasants to the unclaimed deceased, and the popularity of the craft waned.  Strangely enough, hair art has enjoyed a small revival on the Internet in recent decades, and those wishing to view an example of this curious and fascinating art medium can do so for free at Magevney House this summer.

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Batten Down the Hatches!

The “window repair project of colossal proportions” is about to descend upon the historic Mallory-Neely House!  The contractor, along with his entourage of workers and equipment, will be arriving shortly.  But before their work can begin, the house must be made ready – and this involves no small to-do list.

At an average house before the start of an average repair project, preparations might involve sliding a few chairs and tables out of the way, scooting a vase or two aside, or laying a drop cloth on the floor. The Mallory-Neely House, however, is not average and neither are the preparations for the monumental repair project that will return its 91 windows to their original, 19th-century glory! This project involves a 16,000 square foot mansion filled with original furnishings, and artifacts and treasures from around the world!  There are 25 rooms lined with 91 masterpiece windows that are awaiting their transformations.

So – the hatches should, indeed, be battened down!

One:  Protecting the House and Everything In It.

For starters, we brought in the experts, conservators from the Memphis Pink Palace Museum.  For the past 30 years, the Collections staff from the Pink Palace has overseen the preservation of artifacts that inhabit the Mallory-Neely House. These conservators know “more than a thing or two” about the safekeeping of a historic house and its contents!  They prescribed the following:

Special Movers.  The Collections Staff, who specializes in handling artifacts, will be the group designated to move, remove and protect all the items involved.

Accessioned Inventory.  Each accessioned piece of furniture, each painting, photograph, book, pin cushion, letter opener, hairbrush and comb, knife, fork and spoon, and the like – will be logged in inventory and carefully packed away into storage.

Special Protection – Stained Glass.  Large pieces of stained glass which adorn two of the windows in the house do not require repair, but will need to be protected – protected from ladders and equipment being moved past them on a daily basis.  One permanently-installed stained-glass piece will remain in place, guarded with a custom-built encasement.  The other piece of stained glass, which is a removable panel, will be detached and moved to a storage area. There it will be encased inside a carefully, measured-to-fit plywood case.

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Special Protection – Carpet.  The floor of one particular room, the Double Parlor  – the “showcase” of the mansion – contains original 1890’s rare, wall-to-wall strip carpet which cannot be removed. During the repair of that room’s windows, the carpet will be covered with 2 layers of protection – a bottom layer of Tyvek* and over that, a layer of 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood.  (*Tyvek  is a strong, rip-resistant, water-impermeable material that is typically used as a house-wrap, installed during the first phases of new construction.)

Two:  Keeping the Museum Open for Quality Tours During The Project

Phasing. It was determined that the repair work must be done in phases in order for the House to remain open to the public during the course of the project.  Each repair phase will affect only a small area of the house at a time so that the visitors will still be able to thoroughly enjoy everything our tours regularly have to offer.

Coordination of Rug Removal.  The dismantling process of artifacts and furniture in each room needs to be coordinated with Joe Remmers, who owns J. Remmer’s Rug & Specialty Cleaners.  As described in a recent issue of The Museum Scope newsletter from the Pink Palace, Mr. Remmers has graciously donated his services to clean each rug in the Mallory-Neely House.  The perfect time to have each rug removed for cleaning is in conjunction with the removal of that room’s contents during the window repair project.

Photography Disiplay.  An easel will be placed outside each room that is under repair.  The easel will display photos of the room and its contents so that guests may still be able to see the room as it appeared before it was dismantled. Photos of the stained glass mentioned above will also be displayed on easels.

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Three:  Creation of a Workshop.  The disassembly and restoration of 91 windows with utmost historical accuracy requires an on-site workshop for the contractor and his crew.  In order to accommodate this, a good portion of the 3rd floor of the Mallory-Neely House has actually been transformed into a temporary machine shop and set of workrooms.  Furniture and other items had to be moved and stored.  Temporary walls of stud framework have been constructed with plastic sheeting attached as “temporary sheetrock.”  This will keep much of the dust and debris confined to the third floor where the carpentry, construction and assembly is taking place.

This post was written by Jamie Boelter, Mallory-Neely Staff.

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Flappers Roaring in the Twenties

One of the enduring images of the 1920s is of young women with bobbed hair wearing loose-fitting dresses and dancing the Charleston. These “flappers” were breaking the restrictive Edwardian styles and norms that embodied the previous decade. Where fashion had once featured full coverage and constricting gowns, flappers embraced dropped waists, uncovered arms, and knee length dresses with rectangular silhouettes. Previously, women wore corsets to emphasize their curves, but flappers chose undergarments like step-in chemises that flattened their chests and backsides.

Step-in

Step-in

The flapper lifestyle was about more than fashion. Women gained the right to vote in 1920. More young women worked outside of the home and had disposable income. They were able to drive cars, attend dances at speakeasies that flourished under federal Prohibition, and date without chaperones. Some smoked and wore heavy makeup. Although this was a time of flourishing female independence, there were still societal standards of proper behavior that were more restrictive than expectations for males. Not all young women embraced every part of this lifestyle, but many did adopt aspects of it that suited their needs.

One of the flapper dresses in the Pink Palace’s collection is a sequined dress from 1923-1926 that was worn by Elizabeth Mallory Litton. When Elizabeth was nineteen, she competed in the second annual Miss Memphis pageant at Loew’s Palace Theater. Her prizes included a complete wardrobe furnished by local department stores, a round trip to Europe and an appearance in the national Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. She was also an athlete who won a Mississippi River swimming race and showed up at one of her Miss America events with wet hair after escaping for a dip. Elizabeth did not win the overall title, but she did win the Southern division bathing suit contest, beauty contest and Rolling Chair Parade. Family lore is that she may have worn the pictured dress during one of her contests.

Elizabeth Mallory Litton’s dress is on the left.

Elizabeth Mallory Litton’s dress is on the left.

The step-in shown here is currently on display in the changing textile exhibit in the museum mansion. A period wedding dress is also on display.

Information for this post came from a May 8, 1997, Commercial Appeal article and a series of articles in Smithsonian Magazine.

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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