Some of the tiniest things turn into the biggest mysteries. It just drives me crazy.
Just the other night, alone in the Mansion, I picked up a 1933 issue of The Commercial Appeal, which just happened to be lying nearby (someday I really do need to clean up the place), and at the bottom of a page I noticed this rather mysterious ad.
For those of you who can’t read, let me tell you that it announces “The International Walkathon Marathon” which you might think would be a specific event that would take place on a specific date. But no, there’s no day (or date) mentioned, and whatever this is, it is “open 24 hours daily.” At the same time, it offers “thrills — spills — laughs” and “something different.”
This doesn’t tell me much, but it’s certainly intriguing. A walkathon that’s also a marathon, with an international flavor. What to make of it?
And look — whatever this is (or was), you have to pay to attend it: 25 cents for matinees, and 40 cents in the evenings.
So I checked the 1933 city directories for clues. Was this a roller rink, or a movie theater, or some kind of sports venue that would provide space for such activity, whatever it was? And not a clue. That year, 234 Jefferson was occupied by a fellow named Charles Devlin. The phone books don’t say who he was, or what he did for a living, or what kind of establishment was located at this address.
Turning to the “name” section of the city directories, I looked up Charles Devlin, and yes he is listed in 1933, but the books provide no occupation, just what is apparently his residential address: 234 Jefferson.
What kind of “International Walkathon Marathon” offering “thrills — spills — laughs” could be held not just once, but twice a day (and still be “open 24 hours daily”) at somebody’s home? And what kind of “home” was located downtown at 234 Jefferson in 1933?
I can’t make sense of it. The previous year (1932), that address on Jefferson was home to a car dealership, and in 1934 it was home to a bakery. Neither place seems like a good location for the kind of event advertised here. Charles Devlin, our mystery man, appears in the Memphis city directories for only that one crucial year, 1933, when he apparently just showed up in Memphis to run an “International Walkathon Marathon” and then he is gone. Vanished.
As I said, sometimes the little things — a tiny ad for a rather unusual event — remain the biggest mysteries.