Sister Suffragette

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A major political battle that took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the fight over women’s right to vote. In Memphis, Martha Elizabeth Moore Allen was one of the city’s most prominent suffragettes. She was born in in 1851 in Plymouth, Indiana, and later married Jacob Davis Allen. Mrs. Allen first got interested in the women’s suffrage movement after she heard Susan B. Anthony speak at a rally in the 1870s. Her active involvement in suffrage work began in 1889 after she and her husband moved to Nashville. After they moved to Memphis, Mrs. Allen joined the Equal Suffrage Association in 1904. The organization folded shortly thereafter, and she became the first president of a suffrage group called the Equal Suffrage League from 1906-1912. Her involvement was not limited to the city, but rather extended to organizing the suffrage movement throughout Tennessee, and one of the organization’s first moves was to enlist the support of state newspapers.

These activities culminated in the final fight over the ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Congress passed the amendment in 1919, but it need to be approved by 36 of the 48 existing state legislatures by the spring of 1920. As the deadline approached, 35 states had ratified the amendment and six had rejected it. Of the remaining seven states that needed to vote, only Tennessee and Delaware were potential yes votes. In a special legislative session, Harry Burn, a representative from McMinn County in east Tennessee, voted for ratification despite having previously voted twice to table the amendment. He changed his mind after receiving a letter from his mother that read, “Don’t forget to be a good boy,” and urging him to vote for ratification. With his yes vote, Tennessee became the “perfect 36,” and women throughout the country gained the right to vote.

This victory was possible because of the work of suffragettes who rallied, fundraised and lobbied for decades. While some of these women, including Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt, became national leaders and household names, there were also many women like Mrs. J.D. Allen who worked on the local and state levels and whose efforts were crucial in getting the 19th amendment ratified. Many artifacts in the Pink Palace’s women’s suffrage collection belonged to Mrs. Allen.

Information for this post came from the J.B. Mann Suffrage Collection at the Memphis Public Library and Information Center as well as the Tennessee4me website.

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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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The 2015 Geminid Meteor Shower

Late autumn offers us an astronomical event that nearly anyone could observe if the conditions are right. The Geminid meteors make their annual appearance on the night of December 13. If the skies are clear, and you are willing to brave the cool temperatures for a few minutes, you should be able to see anywhere from 30 to 50 or more little streaks of light coming out of the direction of the constellation Gemini the Twins. Gemini, named for the brothers who accompanied Jason in search of the Golden Fleece, is easily visible in the east northeast by 9:00 p.m. Under perfect conditions the numbers (based on past observing) could be up to 120 per hour. But due to our location so near a bright city, we rarely have the perfect conditions needed to see them at their best.

I am sometimes asked how we can predict the appearance of relatively small rocks (many only as big as a grain of sand) entering and burning up in earth’s atmosphere. The answer is in their regularity. We see them every year. Of course they aren’t the same exact rocks, but since they appear when the earth returns to the same place in its orbit, it tells us there is a large cloud of them crossing earth’s path at this location. They don’t just stay here in wait for the earth’s arrival. The cloud is in motion too, and its path intersects the earth at this time and place. The ones that get directly in our way strike the atmosphere at high speed, heat the air around them so it glows brightly for a short time (usually only a fraction of a second). These quickly moving points of light looked like fast moving stars, giving us the misleading term “shooting stars”.

GeminidsWhere does this cloud come from? By studying the direction of the shower particles as they enter the atmosphere, we can determine the motion of the parent cloud. This reveals something interesting about the source of the Geminid shower. While most such clouds are found to follow the path of a known comet, the Geminids instead trail the orbit of an earth-crossing asteroid known as Phaethon. It turns out that it is one of several asteroids of a class called Apollo asteroids, characterized by paths that take them in close to the sun. In fact Phaethon gets closer to the sun than any other in its class. This leads many astronomers to believe that it is actually a dead comet, one that has lost most or all of its frozen gasses.

Although it crosses earth’s path along with its dust cloud, we needn’t worry. It’s barely 3 miles across and will not get within 2 million miles of us until a fairly close pass on December 14, 2093. Until then we can look for pieces of this asteroid to streak across our sky for several hours on the evening of December 13 and continuing through the early morning hours of the next day.

The best place to view them is away from the city lights, but even city dwellers might see a few of the brightest ones. Dress appropriately for the temperature, settle into a lawn chair with a warm drink and look up. There’s no need to watch any particular part of the sky, but you should commit at least half an hour for the best chance to see some of the show, which will last through the night and into the morning. This year the Moon is just past New and will not interfere a bit, making this a great chance to see one of the two biggest meteor showers of the year.

For more information about meteors, meteorites and other wonders of the universe come to the Sharpe Planetarium set to reopen late next month.

David Maness, Sharpe Planetarium Supervisor
Pink Palace Museum

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A Trumpet and an Entertainer

W.C. Handy is one of the most recognizable names in Memphis music. Handy was born in 1873 in Florence, Alabama, to freed slaves. He was a literate man who wrote down the songs of black workers, which formed the basis of the blues. Handy moved to Memphis in 1903 and kept an office on Beale Street. In 1909, E.H. Crump hired Handy to play music as part of his mayoral campaign. He wrote “Boss Crump,” which he later renamed “Memphis Blues,” that became the campaign’s theme song. He moved to New York City in 1917 and worked there until he passed away in March 1958 at age 84.

In September 1958, Memphis hosted a “Blues of Glory” show at Crump Stadium to honor Handy and raise money for a memorial statue to be placed in Handy Park on Beale Street. One of the night’s special performers was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Mrs. W.C. Handy presented her husband’s trumpet to Mayor Edmund Orgill who accepted on behalf of the city and had the trumpet placed in the Memphis Museum (now the Pink Palace). Before the trumpet was retired, Luther Steinberg of the show’s orchestra played “Memphis Blues” one last time on the instrument.

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Two years later, entertainer Danny Thomas was in Memphis to lay the cornerstone for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Back in March 1955, Thomas put on a show at Crump Stadium to raise money for the hospital. He played a song that he wrote titled “Bring Back Our Beale Street Blues,” which called attention to the fact that the name had been changed to Beale Avenue to conform to the city plan that all east/west thoroughfares be avenues. However, after Thomas’ song, Mayor Frank Tobey had it renamed Beale Street. During his October 1960 visit, Thomas visited Handy Park and was invited to play a few notes Handy’s trumpet, which was on loan from the museum for the occasion. Newspaperman Clark Porteous noted, “He’s not so good on the trumpet, yet…it was the sentiment that counted.”

W.C. Handy’s trumpet is on permanent display in the Pink Palace mansion exhibits.DSCN0031

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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Total Lunar Eclipse Totally Visible September 27, 2015

lunarEclipses once filled our primitive ancestors with fear and foreboding. Science has changed that, we no longer fear eclipses, in fact, lunar eclipses can be fun! Sunday night, September 27, present-day Memphians will see one of the best total lunar eclipses in years. The most visible phases of the eclipse begin at 8:07 pm. “You need to go back to October, 2004, to find a comparable eclipse at such a convenient hour,” says Sharpe Planetarium supervisor, Dave Maness. The Sharpe Planetarium has been under renovation for over a year and reopens early next year.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon moves into the earth’s shadow. One might think the moon would completely disappear when shut off from the light of the sun. While this does happen sometimes, more often the fully eclipsed moon appears an eerie red or orange color with shades of blue or grey being possible as well. The colors you see depend on the weather conditions and the clarity of the atmosphere around the edge of the earth at the time of the eclipse. If you were an observer on the moon, you would see the earth appear to move in front of the sun causing a solar eclipse. While the earth blocks the sun’s direct light, some of that light is filtered through the earth’s atmosphere. This usually filters out the blue colors from around the edge. This scattering of blue light is essentially why we see a blue sky during the day. It can then be said that the totally eclipsed moon reflects the colors of every sunrise and sunset taking place at the same time around our planet. If the sky around the edge is clear, then we should see various shades of orange and red. If the sky is very cloudy all around the edge of the earth, the moon could become nearly invisible. Of course, what we see from Memphis also depends on the local weather.

We have come far since our primitive ancestors observed eclipses with fear and foreboding. While a solar eclipse is dangerous to watch without protection, a lunar eclipse is completely safe. No eclipse is exactly like any other, which makes them even more interesting to watch. Dress appropriately for the temperatures, bring bug spray and snacks, and enjoy one of nature’s most awesome events.

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Let the Repairs Begin!

The long-awaited moment has arrived!  Our contractor, D.W. McAlister, and his crew have “set up shop” and have been hard at work at the Mallory-Neely House. Saws are buzzing, drills are whirring, sanders are smoothing, and hammers are pounding.

Repairs are finally underway, and big changes are taking place!

If you drive past and take a gander, you may see plywood substitutions for empty window frames, or a large crane hovering above a sky-high tower window.  You may even spot a brave craftsman perched upon the sill of an upper-story window executing his artistry.

But the scene outdoors only tells part of the story . . .

Inside the historic mansion, windows are being ever-so-carefully and painstakingly removed and disassembled; their single parts are being labeled and kept in proper order; the parts are being measured, patched, repaired, reconstructed and reinstalled as the top-notch windows they once were at their installation 163-years ago.  Other windows that are totally beyond repair are being rebuilt with historically-accurate wood and parts, creating exact replicas of the originals.

Even that doesn’t totally describe the unbelievably overwhelming process and requirements involved in these repairs.

The National Preservation Standards for historic window repair have been adopted as our strict requirements and are outlined in our contract. They describe the correct way to repair historic windows from start to finish, and they do so in minute detail.

What is Described in the Standards?  Below are a few examples:

  • Proper way to disassemble and reassemble each window. Instructions are given piece-by-piece, down to the putty and nails.
  • A double-hung window, for example, has close to 30 main parts and pieces, not including the hardware and individual panes of glass; so it is easy to imagine the lengthy instructions involved.
  • Identification and labeling of the disassembled window pieces.  By doing this, each piece is sure to be reinstalled into its original position. (If any part is put into a non-original position, the window would be ill-fitting, resulting in gaps, spaces and incorrect operation.)
  • Correct placement of plywood sheets, which act as a stand-in’s for temporarily-removed windows:  Two pieces of plywood will be used for each window – the upper piece must overlap the lower piece on the outside of the lower piece, to keep rain water from entering where the two pieces meet.
  • Exact replacement materials (when replacements are absolutely necessary) are specified down to the last detail.  For example: Sash cords for double-hung windows must be made of cotton-polypropylene and must be approved before purchasing; only approved linseed oil or soybean oil putty may be used for glazing (pieces of glass) installation.
  • Exact techniques and tools are specified for softening and removing putty, scraping and removing paint from surfaces, and re-creating exact profiles of original moldings and muntins (wood pieces that separate and hold in glass panels in place)

The instructions listed here are only the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they put into perspective the tremendous task the entire project team – especially the contractor and his crew, has been given.  Let me assure you, they are up to the task! Repairs are proceeding nicely and the work is looking quite impressive!

What part of the process are we in now?  The repairs were started a while ago on the top floor of the mansion and will be working their way down to the first floor where the grand finale will take place.

Yes, our visitors will see drop cloths over pieces of art and furniture, and may hear the occasional strike of a hammer or buzz of a saw, but the work is being limited to a few rooms at a time, so that our tours can continue as regularly scheduled, and we have provided pictorials outside each dismantled room so that our guests can still experience that room and its contents.

Visit us this Friday or Saturday and witness history-in-the-making as we proceed with a major “once-in-163-years” repair phenomenon!

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The Case of the Missing Pygmy Hippo

In the 1970s, the Pink Palace Museum was changing from an eclectic collection of oddities to a museum with a cohesive mission to preserve and exhibit the cultural and natural history of the Mid-South. Staff members started the zoo salvage program to build up the museum’s natural history collection. When an animal died at the Memphis Zoo, the zoo director decided whether or not he wanted the zoo to keep the animal. If not, the zoo’s vet notified the Collections Department at the Pink Palace where the curator of collections or the staff biologist decided if the animal would further the museum’s educational goals, which included teaching anatomy and evolution. The museum tried to pick up available carcasses within four hours of being notified. The animals were brought to the museum to be prepared in the biology labs. Carcasses were frozen on premises and later processed for use in exhibits or education programs. Some of these animals were taxidermied while others were defleshed so that their skeletons could be used.

In November 1971, a pygmy hippopotamus and a wooly tapir died at the zoo and were transported to the museum. Staff decided that their skeletons would be a valuable addition to the collection, so the decision was made to bury the bodies outside the basement level animal room of the mansion. The idea was that the soft tissue would gradually be stripped from the bones and then the skeletons could be recovered. Unfortunately, the exact locations of the burials were not recorded and the pygmy hippo and wooly tapir’s exact whereabouts remain a museum mystery.

King Vulture

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Trout Fishing in Memphis

When Clarence Saunders planned his palatial estate, Cla-Le-Clare, it was to be a showplace, his sanctuary of superlatives. It would to be the largest house in Memphis, with self-sufficient electrical power and its own ice factory. There were stables, tennis courts and the country’s largest private golf course. There were to be riding trails and log cabins on an island in his private lake. Saunders’ audacious estate was just outside of the Memphis borders and located directly across Central Avenue from the Memphis Country Club, sure to be viewed by the city’s gentry. But few knew how far his dreams for the property extended. Saunders transformation of the former farmland into his dream manor included a technological makeover of the landscape.

Saunders asked engineers to design a mountain trout stream and a shoreline with rolling surf on his property south of Poplar Avenue in the flatlands of the Mississippi River Valley. Trout prefer cool water running streams to insure the maximum amount of oxygen in the water. When water temperatures rise above 70 degrees, the ability of the water to carry dissolved oxygen lowers and trout become lethargic and stop feeding. Because Saunders hoped to fly fish, this would be a problem.

Electric World, the electrical engineers’ journal, reported in 1922 that Saunders planned to have ” … a crystal-clear brook flowing over a rocky bed, its course interspersed with falls and with the gamut of mountain trout inhabiting its stream… Although Mr. Saunders is transporting a complete stream from Colorado, bringing boulders, moss, ferns and the fish, he had to reckon with the natural temperatures of Memphis… To care for this he has arranged a duplicate electrical refrigerating scheme, one system to operate in case the other is interrupted, and thus will insure his trout that they will remain as cool as in their Colorado home. Engineers are at work…designing electrically operated agitators concealed beneath the surface [of an artificial beach]…to create an artificial surf.”[i]

Electric World did not say how this was to be accomplished or at what expense, but their breathless account of Saunders’ plans reiterates his ability to convince anyone of nearly anything. Like everything but the Pink Palace building, Saunders’ dream of a Memphis trout stream and surf-filled beach evaporated along with his first fortune.

[i] Electrical World, Volume 80 Number 13 Page 682, McGraw-Hill, 1922

Steve Masler is the Manager of the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. He has a graduate degree in Anthropology from Northern Illinois University and has lived in Memphis for 35 years. He has been the manager of the Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island, Chief Curator of WONDERS: The Memphis International Cultural Series, collected objects for the Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum and managed the replication of the Ramesses the Great statue, all proving that he can’t seem to hold on to a job. His favorite artifact at the Pink Palace is the 300 million year old Pennsylvanian Fossil Plant Slab.

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