photo courtesy “Memphis Press-Scimitar”
While perusing a 1941 edition of the Memphis Press-Scimitar — now really, how many times have you done the exact same thing on a Monday night in your Mansion? — I came across an interesting little story, the kind that newspapers used to run every single day, when they had pages and pages to fill with the most mundane news.
I’d like you to meet Dudley, the mascot and chief mouse-catcher for a little bookstore across the street from Court Square, owned by a local artist named Albert Wilckes. “He is a cat who has forsaken the alleys and back fences and bird-hunting that you’d expect a cat to love for the quiet dignity of a book store,” wrote Tom Meanley, a staff writer for our city’s afternoon daily. “And he resents intrusion.”
I halfway expected a sweet story about a big old lazy cat, the kind you’d expect to find lying around a musty old bookstore. But Dudley apparently had a rather fierce temper: “When Dudley glares down at you from a book shelf, twitching his white whiskers, you get the idea right away that he still prefers mice and books.”
The Wilckeses (that would be Albert and his wife, in the newspaper fashion of the day, the paper never gives her first name) originally came here from Bayside, New York. “His mother was a poor little black-and-white waif that came to our door in a snowstorm,” Mrs. Wilckes told the newspaper. Dudley, it seems, was born in a packing crate in the family cellar, and then came south when the family moved from New York to a farm outside Booneville, Mississippi. Albert Wilckes was a painter and book collector, and it was only a matter of time before he found space on North Second Street and opened a bookstore that he called, quite logically, the Court Square Book Shop.
The newspaper story doesn’t tell me much about the book shop, preferring to focus on the life of Dudley: “Dudley’s only recreation is chasing a little mouse that comes out at night in a back room of the shop. Dudley lies in wait. When the mouse appears there is a horrible commotion, and sometimes volumes of American Book Prices crash to the floor.”
But it’s all for nothing. It seems Dudley, “who has spent so much time sleeping on his books, has forgotten how to hunt. The mouse always eludes him.”
So there you go. I wanted to share this with you for two reasons: 1) just in case anybody (or their parents or grandparents) remembers the little bookshop that used to operate near Court Square. And 2) so you could read the kind of story newspapers would publish back in the days when it might take an hour to read an entire daily paper: a half-page story about a bookstore cat, complete with photograph of Dudley.
Those were the days ...