Excitement this afternoon. Mary Keeler and Estes Armstrong, Elizabeth Edwards and Guion [Armstrong] were married and went to N.Y. From there the boys, now aviators 1st Lieut., will go to France.
It was a double wedding that Jessie attended on September 25, 1917, probably rushed because of the war and the imminent departure of the brothers. As I was searching online for the maiden name of Mary who was marrying Estes, I came across a website (findagrave.com) about their future daughter’s death at 96 (in 2016). The short biography included in her listing told me more about the two brothers. Guion did not make it back from the War. He died in action and his niece, whom he never met, was named for him.
In this biography I also read for the first time about the Memphis Gang. This was a group of 24 men, including Frank (Bud) Latham, who all took their early aviation training together in Memphis, and who were some of the very first American aviators trained to fight in the war. When the U.S. entered World War I there were about 35 pilots in the country and 51 student pilots. During the war more than 40,000 men applied for the U.S. Army Air Service. 22,000+ were accepted, and of those only about 15,000 advanced beyond ground training school to primary flying training. After Frank did that, he went for advanced training in aerial combat at Issoudun, France, at that time the largest air base in the world. These young men were heroes and their bravery was without question.
Here is a link to Invader, the magazine for the 13th Bomb Squadron, which contains an article about a member of the Memphis Gang. The article is titled Hank, starts on page 6, and contains a lot of interesting information about the aviators.
Though I posted this photo recently, I am doing it again to point out Frank’s aviator wings on his chest. His brother Swayne served in the American expeditionary forces in France.
I just love it when I’m reading about something in Jessie’s diary and realize I have the corresponding photograph(s). For that reason I am adding another post, short on words but with lots of pictures.
Saturday, September 8, 1917: Bud sailed this morning for France. He is going to some flying school just out of Paris. I can’t bear the thought of his being gone. Still, one of his greatest ambitions is being fulfilled. Swayne to-gether with the 1st Tennessee left Nashville to-day for Greenville, S.Car. They will soon leave for France. Deep in my heart I feel as though they will both come back. Good-bye, Good-luck, God bless them! On September 22, 1917 Jessie received a letter from Bud (Frank) that he had written while still at sea on the Adriatic. She had no idea whether he was yet in France.
On September 19th Jessie received a letter from Hartwell Temple (whom she always called ‘Temp’) with some Kodak pictures of her recent visit to Nashville.
On September 22, 1917, Jessie took part in a large pageant called Armageddon given at the Fair Grounds for the benefit of the Red Cross. In her words, It presents the struggle between good and evil. Upon the world stage is Hope, Faith, Love, Song, Peace, Charity, Joy, Truth and others from Elysium, all the dwellers of Arcadia and Eutopia (Zephyrs, Sunbeams, Flowers, Fairies, Pipers, Gypsies, Shepherds and Shepherdesses, Lords and Ladies). Then Discord comes through the gateway of Pandemonium. He is followed by Ambition, Hate, Jealousy, Envy, Greed, Lust who try to destroy the Court of Love. War enters the scene, followed by Disease, Famine, Pestilence and Death. And on the instant a company of Red Cross knights dash forward to repel them, the Sons of America (boy scouts and home guards) rush into the fray, the victory is won! War is banished. The dream of the ages is realized. Costumes for the pageant were supplied by the participants. Jessie was a Medieval Lady with a high pointed hat. Her costume was back and yellow and made by Jessie, her mother, and her auntie.
In the winter and spring of 1917 Jessie was 22 years old. Her life has been pretty much about dating, dancing, partying, and just having fun. She reads lots of books, she teaches Sunday School, she does some “good works,” but mostly she is just having fun. Life is about to change though. The war in Europe will soon spill over into Jessie’s life and become very personal. Not just yet though. So here is another ‘slice of life’ posting, or what I like to call cultural tidbits from Jessie’s life during February and March of 1917.
Parties! Parties! Parties! Jessie wrote so many wonderful descriptions of parties and dances in her diaries, but only in the last few months of 1916 and the beginning of 1917 does she mention alcohol at the parties. It is always with code words, she never actually says alcohol or whiskey, etc., but it is obvious what she meant. On February 6, 1917 Jessie went to a wedding reception/dance that was “certainly a memorable party – absolutely wet, simply flowing, with lots of funny little happenings.” But on March 26th Jessie wrote that she went to a dance at the Tennessee Club where there was “such a world of stags. Am afraid they were rather disappointed for they all expected some glad water and there was none.”
On February 15th Jessie mentions that the government has moved the national aviation school to Memphis. Aviation shows were already popular in Memphis, so going out to the airfield to watch the aeroplanes becomes a popular activity.
The fancy dress Mardi Gras Ball was held at the Chickasaw Guards Club on February 20th, 1917. Jessie and her date ‘Coach’ are in the top right corner in the above newspaper clipping (The Commercial Appeal). Jessie and her mother made her costume. She was a “green leaf,” so her dress must have been green. Coach (R.L. Sullivan) was dressed as “a small town sport.” As you can see from the clipping, the costumes were quite creative.
It seems like Jessie’s picture was always showing up in the local newspaper! On February 28th Jessie and some other young women posed in Grecian style costumes for a newspaper spread on an upcoming pageant. The feature was published on March 11, 1917. The above pictures are the two halves of the top of the newspaper page. Jessie is in the photo of three women on a sofa. She is on the left.
On March 18, 1917, all the young men who had been sent to the border as part of the Mexican Border War returned home. No doubt the U.S. was preparing for entry into a larger conflict, World War I. The returning soldiers included the Chickasaw Guards in Memphis, of which Bud (or Frank), Jessie’s older brother, was one. All of Memphis seemed to turn out for the parade welcoming the young men home. Jessie described the scene: “1100 soldiers led by the old Confederate veterans and boy scouts. Six aeroplanes flying above, dropping messages of welcome.” On March 23rd was the final regimental review of the First Tennessee Regiment, another parade down Main Street, and a march to Russwood Park (home of the Memphis Chicks baseball team). Jessie was among a group of girls chosen to pin medals on the soldiers, and once again had her picture in the paper.The descriptions of the pictures note that Jessie (top picture) is pinning a medal on one of the “Chicks” Frank Dooley.
And here are some random final notes. On March 6, 1917, Jessie had a date with Rabbit Curry. Irby Rice (Rabbit) Curry was an honored quarterback for Vanderbilt University from 1914-1916. He would have graduated in 1918 but enlisted in the military when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Some time between going out with Jessie and leaving for Europe, Rabbit married Dimple Jenna Rush. He joined the 95th Aero Squadron and on August 10, 1918 was killed in aerial combat over Perles, France.
‘Coach’ (R.L. Sullivan), one of Jessie’s best friends, was the football coach at Memphis High when Jessie’s younger brother Swayne attended high school and played football there. On March 11, 1917 Coach returned from a visit to Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi. He told Jessie he liked it fine. Perhaps he was interviewing for a job, because he was the head football coach at “Ole Miss” from 1919 to 1921, and the head basketball coach there from 1919 to 1925.
5. Basket ball team or club of which I am “captain”
6. Literary Society of which I am secretary
7. Debating Society
8. Amateur Musical Club.”
Jessie was busy, and as the end of the year holidays and parties approached, her life seemed to speed up. As for the Debating Society, Jessie wrote on November 11, 1910, “The decisions are getting quite monotonous as the affirmative wins every time.” On the day before Thanksgiving 1910, the Debating Society met at the High School for its final debate of the year. The opposing sides would argue either in the affirmative or the negative. The topic: “The Thanksgiving turkey is more important than the Christmas turkey.” Jessie spent the night before plotting the argument for the negative, and was the champion of the evening, winning the judges’ decision.
The next day, Thanksgiving, was an exciting whirl of activity for Jessie. Football games were popular on Thanksgiving, even in 1910. Jessie’s high school team was playing a game and she was chosen as a sponsor for one of the players, and so was in on all the activities for the day. Beginning early in the morning, the players and the sponsors met at the High School and all rode together in a tally ho to the game. After the game they rode in the tally ho all over town giving their “yells.” They ended up at a big supper given by the football team, followed by a show at the Orpheum. No mention of a Thanksgiving turkey with her family. She’s a busy teenager!
Going to musical and theatrical performances, either with friends or her mother, was an important part of Jessie’s life. In early November she saw the famous soprano Bernice de Pasquali, whom she thought “perfectly grand.” About a week later she saw Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore peformed by the Aborn English Grand Opera Co. It was performed in English and Jessie loved it. In December she saw the play The Traveling Salesman with the comedian Frank McIntyre in the leading role. “It was grand… Frank McIntyre was the funniest thing.”
On December 16th, Jessie, her mother, Sara and her mother Mrs. Campbell went to the Fairgrounds to see the return of the Birdmen, as many people called the aviators of the new flying machines. Cosmopolitan magazine called them “Wizards of the air” for their daring feats. One of the aviators who took part in the December Aviation Exposition in Memphis that year was C.K. Hamilton, known to some as “the crazy man of the air.” He was a daredevil and became famous for thrilling the crowds with his stunts. That year in Memphis, Hamilton set a speed record of 79.2 mph, besting his own record of 64.6 mph. Check out this article from General Aviation News for more information about C. K. Hamilton.
December 18, 1910 was Jessie’s 16th birthday. “My birthday! Just think, I am 16 to-day and — never been kissed.” She celebrated by having a dinner party with all her girlfriends. Most of her friends gave her handkerchiefs and books. She received some little gold pins from Swayne and Granny, a book from Bud and a gold necklace from her father. Her mother gave her a pair of blue satin dancing pumps with silk hose, a party hat and a cloak.
Christmas came and went with a swirl of parties and shopping. But when New Year’s Eve came, Jessie turned down all invitations to go out. Instead, her whole family stayed home and welcomed the New Year in.
*Photo credits: Memphis H.S. and High School Annex photos – historic-memphis.com; Il Trovatore – virtualmuseumofcinema.org; Charles K. Hamilton – General Aviation News.
On Wednesday, April 6, 1910, Jessie writes in her diary, “Had half holiday at school. We all went to the Aviation Meet at the Fairgrounds to see the aeroplanes fly. They were grand. It was simply wonderful. Had a swell time.” The Wright Brothers had made their first flight only 7 years earlier in North Carolina, and interest in the possibility of human flight was spreading. Several American aviators took part in the very first aviation meet to ever take place in August 1909. It was in France near Reims and officially known as Le Grande Semaine D’Aviation de la Champagne (The Champagne Region’s Great Aviation Week). The American pilots returned home with the idea of forming teams and having aviation meets across the country.
The Memphis Aviation Meet was one of the first of its kind in America (the first one was in Los Angeles in January of 1910). They were incredibly popular with the public, and often at these meets, as in Memphis, it was the first time an airship or aeroplane had flown in the region. There were accidents and some fatalities, and though no one was killed in Memphis, it was an accident that brought the event to a close. Nevertheless, the fact that so many people got to see the aeroplanes and airships fly with their own eyes, a thing that most people thought was impossible, helped to convince the general public that flying was possible.
Thanks to Antique Airfield – Website of the Antique Airplane Association and the Airpower Museum.
Thanks also to Memphisflyer.com – Ask Vance, the blog of Vance Lauderdale: “The 1910 National Aero Meet in Memphis.”