Dear Vance: A friend of mine claims that a totem pole once stood in a Memphis park, but I've never heard that before. Is it true? And if so, where was it, and what happened to it?
— L.C., Memphis
Dear L.C.: Your friend is indeed telling the truth, so I'm afraid if you had a bet riding on this, you just lost it. But don't blame me. Blame Boss Crump.
The totem pole stood in Confederate Park, of all places. The story goes that back in 1941, political boss E.H. Crump had journeyed to Seattle on a vacation. Like most travelers, he brought back a souvenir. Unlike most travelers, his keepsake was a 26-foot wooden totem pole, handcarved by a tribe of Indians somewhere in the Northwest, and purchased from the Hudson Bay Company. For some reason, $200 comes to mind, but I may be thinking of my monthly salary. I think about it a lot.
I have no idea how he crammed such an item in his luggage, but Crump brought the thing back to Memphis and since he was "Boss" he just told the park commission to stick it in Confederate Park. The commission chairman, a fellow by the name of John Vesey, wasn't one to argue with Crump, and tried to put a good light on the situation, telling reporters, "We decided to secure something that would attract attention to our earlier Indian history" — apparently not knowing, or caring, that Indians in this area did not erect totem poles.
Newspapers quickly mocked it, calling it "Totem Ed," and said that the totem pole "was profaning a park dedicated to the glories of the Old South." Everyone made a game out of trying to figure out which creatures represented local politicians, though most people agreed that big-mouthed Crump was the creature perched at the top.
It was finally pulled down in 1958, for reasons that I never discerned, and for almost 20 years it went into storage somewhere. Then, the totem pole was moved to Libertyland when the amusement park opened in 1976. That's what the newspapers said, though I can't recall seeing it when I visited the park. At some point, however, it came down, because I do remember seeing photos of it leaning against the wall of a storage building somewhere, but much shorter than its original 26-foot length. Apparently, somebody cut it in half during its Libertyland days.
And where is it now? I have no idea. Does anyone?
Now right about here is where, month after month, I entertain my half-dozen readers with fascinating answers to other questions. But since this is the end of the year — heck, for that matter the end of the decade — I thought I'd forgo the answers, and just list some of the most curious (in every sense of the word) questions that have stumped me in recent years. If anyone knows the answers to these, just let me know.
• Do you remember the smell of the old Sears Crosstown store? It had a distinct cold smell.
• The D.T. Porter Building downtown had the city's first elevators. Were those elevators operated by mules?
• Can you tell me who donated the land to the city of Memphis to build Court Square? It's for a school paper.
• What do you know about the Airborne helicopter service that operated here in the 1960s, maybe the 1970s?
• Just off the loop, between Lamar and Getwell, is a round-shaped pond with a booth in the middle. The booth is on an island, and the pond is a channel running around it. What is this?
• Can you tell me where all the Clarence Saunders Sole Owner — or CSSO — grocery stores were located in Memphis, and how many he owned?
• We recently bought a house in Central Gardens. When we opened up an upstairs fireplace, we found a faded old postcard saying, "There will be a meeting of the Racketeers on August 27 at 1884 Overton Park." Who were the Racketeers?
• Have you ever noticed the sign at the corner of Airways and South Parkway? It reads "Free Burials 0-85." What could that mean? Do they really not charge for funerals?
• I found an old card (below) for a chiropractor at an estate sale. Do you know anything about W.H. Rafferty and his "neurocalometer readings"?
• What can you tell me about a men's social club called the Yuletide Revelers? They were active from the 1940s through the 1970s.
• What do you know about the Cadillac dealership on Union Avenue in the 1950s run by Joseph Canepari (bottom center)? It was called Southern Motors.
• My grandmother, Marie Frances Holliday, was a hillbilly singer here in the 1930s. Can you give me information about her singing career or recordings?
• Years ago, I remember a store called Parks-Belk. What happened to Parks and Belk? For that matter, what happened to the "Roebuck" of Sears & Roebuck? Inquiring minds want to know.
• Who was Elizabeth Poulos? Her name is carved into a stone atop the State Farm building at Cooper and Peabody.
• When I was a kid, the Apex Laundry on Lamar burned down. What was the date of this fire?
• For years, I have searched for the recipe of a cookie I used to get from Seessel's called a French pinwheel. With your connections can you help me, pretty please? That cookie just haunts me.