Cars, Comedy & Names – June 1914 to January 1915 in Memphis

Jessie, younger brother Swayne, mother Jessie Swayne & father F.S. Latham

We all know that names become fashionable and go out of style. A naming trend that must have been common in Memphis at the time, at least among Jessie and her acquaintances, was names that can be used by either sex, or names that are typically used for one sex being used by the other sex. Jessie herself has a name that has always been a female name in her family’s history, but it can also be a male name when spelled ‘Jesse.’ Here are some people that Jessie knew:

Ethel – She is Jessie’s cousin and was named for her uncle Ethel (who died young) and grandfather Ethel.

Clinton (called Clint) – a girlfriend from Deeson, Mississippi and the sister of one of Jessie’s beaux.

Aunt Jim – I don’t know who this is, but Jessie mentions her from time to time.

Freddy – a girl in Jessie’s circle of friends who has dated….

Blythe – a guy in Jessie’s circle of friends.

Ashley – a guy.

Jessie’s older brother Frank (“Bud”) at 20. He was named after his father.

Bernice – a boy Jessie knows in Gates, TN.

Carroll – a Memphis boy that Jessie knows.

There was another interesting naming tradition in Jessie’s family. Her brother Swayne’s given name was his mother’s maiden name, Jessie Gray Swayne. When Swayne married, that tradition was carried on in his family. One of his sons was given the name Davant, his wife’s maiden name.

The first roof top night club in Memphis opened in 1914. It was the Alaskan Roof Garden on top of the Falls Building, Memphis’ tallest building at the time. Quickly it became a favorite place for Jessie and her friends to go dance. The music was great – W.C. Handy and his band played there regularly and premiered St. Louis Blues there in 1914 – and the breezes off the Mississippi River were cool on those sultry summer nights in Memphis.

Many automobile companies lived and died in the early 1900s. Since I like to keep track of all the kinds of cars Jessie rides in, here are a few more that she named:

Lozier 1914

Lozier – The family car for one of Jessie’s friends, the Lozier was the top of the line in luxury cars  from 1900-1915, and for a time was the most expensive car produced in the U.S.

The American – the American Motor Car Co. was founded in 1906 and went bankrupt in 1913. This car company pioneered the underslung design with the chassis below the axles rather than perched on top.

1914 Buick

Buick – Jessie talks about her friend Babe’s big 6 cylinder Buick.

Packard 1916

Oakland Roadster – From 1909 to 1932 the Oakland Motor Car Co. operated in Pontiac, Michigan. In 1914 the roadsters the company produced were large 6 cylinder vehicles on a 130″ wheel base.

Packard – A luxury automobile produced by the Packard Motor Car Co. of Detroit, MI. Packard autos were produced from 1899 to 1956.

Ford – Ford produced the Model T from 1908 to 1927. It was advertised as a more affordable automobile. Several of Jessie’s friends drove Fords. Coach Sullivan, one of her beaux, must have driven a large Model T because she calls it his “mighty Ford.” Max Sansing can carry several people in his Ford, but Doug (one of her most serious boyfriends) drives a 2-seater.

Model T Speedster 1914
1914 Model T 2-seater






If you read Jessie’s diaries, you know that she goes to the  “moving picture show” a lot, most days in fact and sometimes more than once a day. She loves the movies. In December 1914 and also in January 1915 Jessie remarked that she had gone to see a Keystone Comedy. Mack Sennett founded the Keystone Studios in 1912 in California. He was the originator of the slapstick comedy routines seen in the Keystone Cops films. Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, W.C. Fields, and Carole Lombard, among others, all worked with Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios early in their careers.

Mack Sennett, known as the King of Comedy, founded Keystone Studios (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

And finally, on Sunday, January 10, 1915, Jessie’s brother Swayne, who was two weeks away from turning 17 years old, got his first real job. Jessie wrote in her diary: Swayne decided he wanted to get out in the woods – to go to work. At noon today Mr. Kerr gave him a splendid position – as rodman for a surveyor across the river from Cairo, Ill. Chappy was over all afternoon and we all helped Swayne pack up. He was gone by supper time. Mother just cried and cried, in fact we all did. Sure will miss Swayne, he is always so bright, and he certainly is a sweet good boy. I sure love him. 


Automobiles, Summer of 1912

In the summer of 1912, going out for rides in “the machine” was one of the favorite activities for Jessie and her friends. So I decided to take note of the different makes of automobiles that Jessie mentions in her diary during June, July and August. On July 3rd she writes that “Rex Clark brought us home in his electric (Flanders).  Awfully sweet of him.”  The Flanders Company was in business from 1910 to 1914, based in Detroit. In 1912 an electric model, the “Colonial,” was introduced and produced for only three years – 1912, 1913 and 1914.  According the, there were 3000 orders for the electric model, even though the price of $1775 was fairly steep for the time. Unfortunately, fewer than 100 of those orders were delivered before the company went under.

1912 Hudson Torpedo

On July 9th Jessie mentions a couple of autos by name. “Richard & I sat on the river bank until the skeeters ran us off, then we got our Hudson & went riding.” The Hudson, of course, is the Latham’s black Hudson Torpedo, which Jessie sometimes called the Black Maria. In that entry she also mentions that her younger brother Swayne sprained his wrist cranking a friend’s Pierce Arrow.

1912 Pierce Arrow
Marathon 1911

On July 28, 1912, Jessie wrote: “I sure had some auto rides this evening – four. First I went out in a Marathon with Jack Jones & Dick – Winnie & Charlie G…”  The Marathon Motor Works company was based in Nashville, Tennessee and was in business from 1907 to 1914.   Jessie continues: “Then I went with Bud (in the Latham’s Hudson Torpedo), then Walter H. & Everette P. came by in J’s racer & I went riding with them until 6:30 then Glenn came & I rode with him until 8 (per diary entry 6/23/1912 – in his “big Cadillac”). A grand ride.”

1912 Stutz Bearcat racer
1912 touring Cadillac

Jessie mentions many times that her boyfriend of several years, Richard, has a Thomas Flyer. Edwin Ross Thomas, who started the Thomas Motor Company, began his career in 1896 selling small gasoline engine kits for bicycles. In the early 1900s the Thomas Company was selling motorized bicycles and various kinds of motorcycles. From 1902 to 1919 the Thomas Motor Company built cars. The first Thomas “Flyer” came out in 1904.

Thomas Flyer, Salt Lake City, 1909
1912 Thomas Flyer







Road Trip! July, 1911

The start of the road trip.
The start of the road trip

On July 19, 1911, Jessie, her mom, Swayne, Bud and Jessie’s friend Kathleen left on a road trip to Mississippi. They were going to Tupelo to visit Antoinette, or Aunt Nettie, a dear friend and college roommate of Jessie’s mother, and to tour Mississippi. Incredibly, they did not have a single flat tire on the trip, but they did have a couple of “narrow escapes.” The roads were terrible, sometimes impassable, and of course there were no motels. The first mishap occurred on the first day, way out in the country in Mississippi. The road was so bad that the car ended up stuck in a ditch. They got help from a family that had a farm nearby who gave them a delicious country dinner, put them up for the night and helped them pull the car out of the ditch the next morning. The family had five children, all Vs:  Vera, Vesta, Velma, Victor & Virgil Luke. And finally, on the way back to Memphis near Grand Junction, Tennessee, late at night out in the middle of the woods, the car became hopelessly stuck in the sand. They walked until they found a house. It was a beautiful old colonial home with (as Jessie points out) hand carved woodwork throughout. The very nice people by the name of Pulliam gave them a late dinner, put them up for the night and helped them get the car out of the sand the next morning. Sandwiched in between these events was a lot of family, friends, fun, food and frivolity.

Red banks along the way. Kathleen, Swayne, Jessie (L-R)
“Red banks along the way” L-R Kathleen, Swayne & Jessie
The first accident
“The accident”







Jessie & "Black Maria"
Jessie & “Black Maria”
The Luke family
The Luke family






Jessie on a mule at the Luke's
Jessie on a mule at the Luke’s
On the way again
“On the way again”




House party in Tupelo. Bud has his arm on Swayne. Jessie is 2nd from left.
House party in Tupelo. Bud has his arm on Swayne. Jessie is 2nd from left.
"It's only brother." Bud between Jessie & ?
“It’s only brother.” Bud with Jessie &






"The coming lawyer." Bud, Swayne to his right.
“The coming lawyer.” Bud with Swayne
House Party in Shannon, Miss. Jessie in middle.
House Party in Shannon, Miss. Jessie in middle


The Latham’s First Car


1911 Hudson Torpedo Touring
1911 Hudson Torpedo Touring

May 15, 1911:  “Well I think Dad has ordered our machine.”

May 18, 1911:  “Oh! I just simply feel like shouting. Dad has bought a machine. It is a big ‘Hudson Torpedo.’ It sure is a beauty. Just looks as if it could cut the wind.”

The automobile industry was just taking off in the United States. The first production of practical cars with gasoline powered internal combustion engines were built by Karl Benz in Germany in 1888. By the early 1900s mass production of automobiles had begun in the U.S.  More and more of Jessie’s friends and acquaintances were buying cars.  A few of her friends even had electric cars. “Joy-riding” became the thing to do. But it was not all fun and games. Flat tires and blow-outs were common. Headlights burnt out. No fuel gages in the car meant drivers often ran out of gas.  Unpaved roads and no windows often meant a rough and dusty ride. Most states at this time did not require driver’s licenses and driving tests, so practically everyone was learning to drive on the road. Hilariously, Jessie writes on June 6, 1911, “… Went out in the machine right after supper. It was dandy riding. I do believe Dad just got by his special post without running into it [again].” Jessie’s father, F.S. Latham, ended up purchasing a Hudson Torpedo, but they also test-drove an EMF.  Though I don’t think the Lathams test-drove an electric car, those autos were also competing with the gasoline powered machines in the early decades of the 20th century. Since they lacked the gasoline engine, they tended to look more like carriages, as you can see from the picture below.

1911 Hudson Torpedo 33
1911 Hudson Torpedo 33
1911 EMF
1911 EMF
1911 Baker Electric
1911 Baker Electric