In 1909 Memphis, going to see a fire was big entertainment, and there seemed to be quite a few of them. It wasn’t until around 1912 that Memphis got its first motorized fire engine, so the horse-drawn steam pumper wagons and ladder wagons were still in use. Large hoses for fire-fighting had been developed in the late 19th century, and fire departments also used chemicals and large extension ladders to help douse fires.
The week of October 18, 1909, seems to have been ‘Shakespeare Week’ in Memphis. Jessie went to two lectures by Shakespearean actor, Frederick Warde. He spoke on “Hamlet” and on “The Wit and Wisdom of Shakespeare’s Fools.” This took place at the Goodwyn Institute, followed later in the week by performances of “Julius Caesar” and “The Merchant of Venice.”
Jessie read “St. Elmo” by Augusta Jane Evans, originally published in 1866. Later in October she began reading “The Little Colonel at Boarding School” (1904). This was one from a series of “Little Colonel” books. The character became popular to later generations with the Shirley Temple movie “The Little Colonel.”
*Credit to George Whitworth for the photo of Engine House 1, and to historic-memphis.com for the two other fire fighting photos.
The school year is in full swing and Jessie’s days are getting more and more busy. This month she just became a member of the Junior Beethoven Club, an offshoot of the Beethoven Club, for which her piano teacher, Mrs. Tobey, was one of the early organizers. The Junior Beethoven Club was one of the first music clubs for young musicians, and from the beginning the purpose of the the Beethoven Club was (and is) to promote classical music and performance. Follow this link to the modern day Beethoven Club’s history page.
Jessie’s gotten her team uniform and spends many afternoons practicing basketball. She plays center on her school team. Unfortunately, I can find no picture of her in her uniform, so I am including some photos of girls basketball teams from 1909 so you can see the kinds of uniforms they may have had.
Nickel shows were very popular during this time, and there were several theaters in competition for customers. Short silent films were popular, and sometimes they were interspersed with live vaudeville type entertainment. Jessie mentions going to the Majestic Theatre in some of her diary entries.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was touring in 1909. Jessie and her friends went, escorted by one friend’s father, and they had a ‘fine’ time. The cowboys in the the cabinet card photo below were performers in the Wild West Show.
*Credit to historic-memphis.com for the photo of the Majestic Theatre’s lobby.
The last days of summer for Jessie and her family were spent on vacation in Colorado, mostly Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. They hiked, rode burros into canyons, had picnics, went to the nickel shows, and visited relatives who were also in Colorado Springs (Aunt Imogen and Cousin Mary Katherine). In the picture above, Jessie is the last girl on a burro on the right. Her mother is standing to Jessie’s right.
The picture on the left looks like Jessie and her Dad on burros. The photo below is probably from their burro ride through south Cheyenne Canyon and to Seven Falls where they had a picnic. From left to right — Jessie, Swayne, and cousin Mary Katherine(?).
When the weather was bad, they stayed in their hotel rooms and played games or read. While she was in Colorado, Jessie read another Horatio Alger book, “Paul the Peddler.”
The last few days of their time in Colorado were spent in Denver. They stayed at the Drexel Hotel.
Jessie mentions in her diary that they saw the Gentry Brothers Parade while in Denver. Between 1885-1934, the Gentry Brothers had one of the most popular dog and pony circuses in the U.S. By 1910 they were the largest traveling show in the country with an 18 piece band, a steam calliope, trapeze artists, trained dogs, ponies and monkeys, 7 elephants, and 4 camels. Jessie also visited Denver’s White City in Lakeside. White City was a common name of dozens of amusement parks in the United States and Australia, all inspired by the White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Denver’s White City opened in 1908. According to Jessie, it was beautiful and had 60 amusements.
August 14, 1909, Jessie and her Mother have just left for Colorado on the train. There were several train stations in Memphis, and Union Station would not open until 1912. The Calhoun Station, which was the first depot in Memphis, may have been the terminal they left from.
Jessie read “Joe’s Luck” by Horatio Alger during August 1909.
She often mentions playing with C.S. I think this was one of her cousins who lived in the neighborhood, perhaps Aunt Sallie’s little boy (Jessie does not spell this out in her diary). Here is a photo Jessie took of Swayne playing with C.S. (in white) and a white rabbit. Another photo from Jessie’s scrapbook that I like — her Mother carrying a doomed chicken (or is that a rabbit?).
Just before Jessie and her mother left for Colorado, they went shopping and purchased Jessie a new suit for the trip. The Edwardian styles were becoming less frilly and cumbersome and more tailored at this time.
*Credit to historic-memphis.com for the photo of the Calhoun Street Train Station.
Things were slower in Memphis in the middle of the summer. Jessie kept up with her music lessons and and her clubs, Merry Maids and Mystic XX. There were band concerts in the parks many nights of the week — Gaston Park, Bickford Park, and Overton Park all had frequent band concerts. Jessie and her friends gave a concert themselves at Jessie’s house, for which they built a stage and sold tickets (making $27).
Jessie’s mother, Jessie Swayne Latham, was well known in Memphis for her civic and church and leadership. For many years she served as President of the Board for the Porter Home and Leath Orphanage. Jessie followed in her footsteps a bit, often going to the Home for Incurables to play the piano for the residents.
There were some birthdays in July. Dorothy Jane had her 10th birthday party, which Jessie attended. I don’t know if Dorothy was a cousin or just a little girl in the neighborhood that Jessie was fond of. Jessie’s dad had his 55th birthday in July as well.
Quite a few times in 1909, and maybe 1910 too, Jessie ends a diary entry with “burned wood.” I couldn’t think what this meant. Did she build a fire in the fireplace or somewhere else? Was she smoking cigarettes and using “burned wood” as a euphemism? Finally, I remembered that I have a decorative wooden disk that came from Grandmother. It was made with with a woodburning pen to make a picture, a picture that looks a little like Jessie, or at least like a girl of her period. If you look closely on the bottom right, you can see her name that she burned into the wood. I remember these kinds of kits from my childhood, and you can still buy them today. I’ve also added a postcard of Memphis from 1907.
Memphians in 1909 had many ways to entertain themselves. Theatres such as the Lyceum and the Orpheum were popular for vaudeville acts, musical and theatrical performances, and silent movies. There were even large entertainment complexes such as East End Park.
Josef Lhévinne was a Russian pianist and teacher who performed in Memphis in January, 1909. Jessie went to see him with her mother and thought he was “fine.” Lhévinne was around 29 at the time.
Jessie mentions in her diary that she went to a “box party” and saw Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. This was a popular book first published in 1901, made into a theatrical production and later a film.
East End Park was a very popular place to go. There were rides, vaudeville shows, dancing, food, and it wasn’t too far from home.
I’ve added this last image because I love Art Nouveau, and it was popular in the early 1900’s. Alphonse Mucha was one of the most popular artists of the Art Nouveau style. This poster was for an International Exposition in St. Louis (not far from Memphis) in 1904.
This time I added most of Jessie’s March diary entries just so you can get an idea of the typical way she is spending her time. Social clubs like the Merry Maids (MM) and the Mystic Twenty or Mystic XX (MXX) are popular. At this time Jessie is 14.
The top picture is the Lyceum Theatre in Memphis. Below is a page from one of Jessie’s scrapbooks. It shows her home and her playhouse. Jessie is the girl in the front seat of the wagon, on the left – always smiling!
Jessie led a very busy and happy life. She had lots of friends and they were always going places and doing things. Favorite activities were going down town and ‘bumming,’ playing various games outside, dancing, playing the piano and singing popular songs, going to concerts, plays, moving pictures (silent ones, of course), having various club meetings, and so on.
I think these are some sort of ‘fast’ photo images that Jessie and her friends had developed. Taking pictures was another pastime. In the photos on the left, Jessie may be the girl in the top. The blue photos (probably another ‘fast’ photo image of some kind) are family shots again. In the top image, standing are Frank (Jessie always called him ‘Bud’), an unidentified girl, and Jessie. Her grandmother and mother are seated. The bottom image is Frank with the unidentified girl.