This is the house (above) where Jessie was born and spent her childhood. It officially belonged to her Granny (Mary Catherine Porter Swayne) who inherited it from her father, Col. J.T. Swayne. This was a second home to Col. Swayne, his primary residence being in downtown Memphis. The Lathams lived there until Granny died in January 1911, and then moved closer into town on Overton Park Avenue. (See photos below)
But as we have noted before, nothing stays the same, and Jessie and her mother were about to get an unwelcome surprise. Wednesday, March 7, 1923: A sad day, for Dad signed a contract to-day to sell the house. Somebody offered him the price he asked for it so he thought he better take it. I’m going to try and not think about it ’cause “home” is the dearest thing in the world to you next to your family. Mother and I had just gotten new curtains and draperies for down stairs – coincident we were putting them up to-day.
From my modern perspective, I find it quite odd that Jessie’s father would sell the house without letting his wife or Jessie know anything of his plans. There must be a story there. Nevertheless, Jessie spent much of the next month and a half going through drawers, thinning out clothes, making plans to store furniture, and house shopping with her mother since they had be out by the end of April. On April 26th they left their home at 1759 Overton Park Avenue and moved in with a family friend Mrs. Elliott. By June they still did not have a place to live, so on June 6th the Lathams moved again. This time they moved in to the Kerr’s house. Mrs. Kerr and Dorothy Jane were going to California for the summer and Mr. Kerr and Leroy were staying in Memphis. Incidently, while the Lathams were staying at the Kerr’s, Jessie did a lot of swimming. Mr. Kerr liked to get up early and get to the city pool at 6am, and Jessie was one of the regular swimmers.
Finally, there was a deadline for the Lathams to find a home. Mrs. Kerr and Dorothy Jane would be returning at the end of August and the Lathams needed to find their own place. Jessie and her mother looked and looked at houses and even apartments. One day while out looking, Jessie and her mother suddenly and simultaneously fell in love with the cutest little white clap-board Dutch Colonial. Looks like a little doll house. Dad wanted to run get it when we said we likedit. (Thursday, August 9, 1923). Unfortunately I don’t have a photograph of their new house, but perhaps it was similar to this 1923 Dutch Colonial bungalow design shown below. On August 31, 1923, after months of living with friends, the Lathams moved in to their new home on Dickinson Street right off of Overton Park Avenue in Memphis.
Nothing stays the same. To Jessie it seemed everyone was passing her by and she was somehow standing still. This first month of 1923 especially, when three of her best friends married, must have been an emotional roller coaster for her. It wasn’t all bad though.
New Year’s Eve 1922, Jessie had dinner at the Gayoso Hotel with her good friend Jimmie Sloan. Then she returned home for a late date with Dr. Percy Perkins. She had been out with him a few times in the last five years, most notably to the recent debutante ball in November. On New Year’s Day 1923 Jessie also had dates with Percy, first to a round of eggnog parties and then to the New Year’s Cabaret Dinner Dance at the Gayoso.
Then the next day, Tuesday, January 2, 1923: Never have I had such a shock as I did this morning. A letter from Dorothy Sanford telling me she was in Dallas buying her wedding clothes. Marries Buddie Erwin tomorrow. Decided all of a sudden. Had told no one but her mother and father. The little monkey. Made me feel real sad to know she was leaving me all alone, but I know she’ll be happy. She wired me last week to please come visit her. Wonder if she would have decided to marry had I gone. Dot Haverty’s wedding invitation came this morning too, so I went to town and got a present for both of them.
Two weeks later Jessie wrote in her diary, Wednesday, January 17, 1923: Had to bid farewell to one of the best friends I ever had in my life to-day, for he took unto himself a wife. He has given me more pleasure [than] most any one for nine years now. And I hope they’ll always be happy. Went to Miriam Fleming and F.D. Gardner’s wedding at Calvary Church this afternoon. It was lovely. F.D. had been Jessie’s best friend for so many years, always so supportive and generous. She would miss F.D.
The next day, January 18, 1923, her good friend Dot Haverty married. Another good friend deserted me today. Dorothy Haverty married Dr. Lon Grove in Atlanta tonight. They are going to tour the West Indies, stop by Florida on the way back.
Meanwhile, Jessie is still trying to figure out Dr. Percy Perkins. On January 8th she wrote, Percy and I had quite a talk when we got home. I like him, though sometimes I wonder if he is conceited. Still I don’t think he meant to be bragging tonight when he said he never had asked a girl to marry him. I like to be with him and I guess I don’t know just what I think of him yet.
Swayne brought Nathalie over tonight. I’m in love with my sister to be. They are so happy that I am too. (Jessie’s diary, September 24, 1922) Swayne was marrying Nathalie Davant, and there was much excitement and activity in the Latham house, along with many luncheons, bridge parties, and dinners to celebrate the young couple.
In past times a bride to be would buy (or make) all sorts of new clothes for her new life as a married woman and this was her trousseau. Jessie had an amusing diary entry regarding trousseaus. – I didn’t realize before that a groom has a trousseau as well as a bride. But everyday more packages come that Swayne has ordered and we can hardly wait to open them – suits, shoes, hats, silk dressing gowns, and oh! the baby blue and lavender silk pajamas. It’s all very interesting. (September 16, 1922)
On September 29 Jessie went over to the Davant’s and saw Nathalie’s bridal veil and train.I couldn’t find a photo of Nathalie in her wedding dress and veil, but perhaps they were similar to some of the wedding costumes below that were from that time period.
The next three weeks were a whirl of parties and activities related to the upcoming wedding. There was at least one party every day, and sometimes there were two. The party that seemed the most fun to me was given by Grace and Bob Snowden on October 15th at their house and property which sat right on Horseshoe Lake. The guests (the bridal party) arrived about 1 pm. There was swimming, canoeing, or just relaxing. Dinner was served about three. So much good to eat and such a crazy bunch. We were all laughing continuously. JL
Finally it was the day, October 18, 1922. Jessie wrote in her diary, Swayne’s wedding day! How I hate to have him leave us, but how happy I am to have Nathalie for my sister and his wife…The wedding came off beautifully tonight. The boys didn’t disgrace Swayne and everything and everybody looked so pretty…Had reception and supper at Davant’s after the wedding. Cut a wedding cake…The mob of us were down at the train to bid the bride and groom a fond farewell...and they were off for Chicago soon after ten.
For a while Jessie called him Mr. Gardner. Then she called him Douglas. After they had known each other for some months and had become good friends he asked Jessie to call him F.D., so she did. I wish I had a picture of Francis Douglas Gardner for I would post it right here. My grandmother Jessie never once described his looks, only his acts and the ways in which he was such a loyal and generous friend to her, a gentleman in every way.
Francis Douglas Gardner (F.D.) came from a wealthy family in Liverpool, England. His family’s timber trade company, Joseph Gardner & Sons, had been operating since at least the middle of the 18th century. F.D. was in Memphis working in the timber business along the Mississippi River and often traveled to New Orleans or New York on business.
Jessie’s first date with F.D. was on May 22, 1916, and she wrote in her diary, “Had an engagement with Mr. Douglas Gardner to-night – direct from England and he is certainly a typical Englishman. I dearly love to hear him talk. He is very deliberate in his manner…. I think Mr. Gardner’s hobby is finding misspelt words. He showed me at least a dozen to-night – those signs in curios shops. He is a walker alright. We had such an interesting talk after we got home.” They continued to go out once or twice a month, and as they got to know one another and became closer friends, they went out more frequently.
F.D. was a little bit of a ladies’ man, according to Jessie. He had a group of girls/women in Memphis that he took out regularly, gave parties for their birthdays, and bought them gifts and flowers. On June 15, 1917, Jessie wrote in her diary, “Had an engagement for lunch to-day with Douglas Gardner. We had lunch at the Gayoso and had quite an interesting time. He told me tales of Borneo. He leaves to-morrow for Florida. How ‘the girls’ will miss him.”
The birthday parties he gave for Jessie and his other friends were lavish affairs with dinner for 12 or more at the Gayoso Hotel, the Country Club, or the Peabody. F.D. was also an accomplished and trained artist, and the place cards at his dinner parties were portraits of the guests (drawn by F.D. himself) in some fanciful setting, and included a bit of original prose or poetry. Every woman had a different corsage at their place, and the delicious dinner was a multi-course affair. After dinner and perhaps some dancing (live bands often played at the hotels), all the guests would drive out to someone’s home for games and wonderful prizes for everyone from F.D.. As Jessie said after her birthday, “It was all like a storybook party.”
Jessie often remarked how she’d never known anyone like F.D., that he was one of a kind, and that he was a wonderful friend. He was incredibly generous to Jessie and his friends. He almost always sent a corsage of beautiful flowers to Jessie if they had a date, and after a while every date ended with F.D. buying Jessie two boxes of candies (or rather, one box of chocolates and one box of salted almonds). After they had known one another for about a year, he began giving her very nice gifts from time to time. Sometimes Jessie would tell him that he shouldn’t give her so much, but he always said it made him happy to give gifts. When Bud died, F.D. was working in New Orleans, but he sent flowers to Jessie’s home every day. And whenever he came home to Memphis from a trip to New York or Liverpool or New Orleans, he came loaded down with presents for Jessie.
Not only was F.D. a sophisticated international traveler and businessman, an elegant gentleman from Liverpool, an artist and a poet, he was also an accomplished tennis player and an amateur golfer with club titles to his name. But most of all he was one of Jessie’s closest friends. I know that F.D. died in 1959 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, so I hope that he and my grandmother Jessie remained friends throughout his life.
A final interesting note: Francis Douglas Gardner (F.D.) had an older brother, Gerald Brosseau Gardner, who is known internationally in pagan and occult communities as the “Father of Wicca.”
1918 was not a funny year, just like 2020 will go down in history as a most unfunny year. In January of 1918 the deadly ‘Spanish’ flu had yet to strike the U.S. (the first case would be reported in September of that year in New York), but our country was at war and the public was sacrificing for that effort. On January 21, 1918 Jessie mentioned “Heatless Monday” in her diary. All stores and offices were closed and people stayed home. There was a coal shortage in the country, partly because of transportation issues. The weather had been so cold in December 1917 and January 1918 that the Mississippi River had frozen across in places and blocked all shipping traffic. But the government also wanted to conserve coal and food to ship to Europe in the war effort and so the public sacrificed in these ways for about a month. The next day (January 22, 1918) was “Meatless Tuesday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” followed (January 23, 1918).
All was not grim though and here’s a funny story from Jessie’s diary, written on Wednesday, January 30, 1918.
…Had to go to the chiropodist then went out to Clara’s (Mrs. Exby). The funniest thing happened. She was showing me some letters from her ‘godson’ (the lonely soldier she is writing to at Greenville) and lo! and behold he had sent Swayne’s picture to her and said it was him. She nearly died laughing when I told her that her godson John had sent Swayne’s picture. She said “That’s not the funniest part. He kept writing for a picture of me. I didn’t want to disappoint him so I sent him a picture of you.” Then she showed me the letter where he had thanked her for her ____ picture.
Jessie and her younger brother Swayne were quite attractive.
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.
It was the weekend of March 30, 1917, and Jessie was visiting close friends in Covington, Tennessee. Monday, April 2nd she wrote, “J.O. and Drew both wanted dates to-night but the country is so unsettled, so much war news going around that I refused to stay longer. [I] want to be home when war is declared.” Jessie’s train left Covington fairly early that day and arrived in Memphis soon after noon. That evening Jessie wrote in her diary that President Woodrow Wilson had asked the U.S. Congress to declare war.
Monday, April 16th, “Some how ever since I got home I’ve been sad – so much war talk. Then too seeing both Swayne and Bud in their uniforms. Swayne has joined the Chicks and Bud has been transferred to the aviation corps. Here is where I become a red cross nurse.” She didn’t become a nurse, but I feel sure she thought about it. Seeing both of her siblings preparing to depart for war in France made Jessie emotional, sad and lonesome ahead of time. She loved her brothers.
Thursday, April 26, “The night the soldiers left! Swayne came out this morning to tell us good-bye. He seemed such a man when he kissed me good-bye, the tears just streaming down his dear cheeks. Bud got excused this afternoon and came out to tell us good-bye. Never before had I realized what their going really meant. No one knows when they will ever come back. Dear Sweet Bud, how I’ll miss him, for he would always come into my room at night for a talk.” The times were somber. “I’m so sad,” Jessie wrote on May 5th. “Every-body is going away. Every-body I’ve been with lately is planning to leave and it seems all my dates are ‘farewell dates’.”
The 5th of June, 1917 was the first national registration day for the newly reinstated draft. All young men between the age 21-30 had to register. “I was at some of the booths and assisted in pinning red, white, and blue ribbons on all the men who registered,” and according to Jessie, more than 10 million men across the country registered for war service that day. The mood in Memphis that day was extremely patriotic, starting with a parade downtown in the morning that included 30,000 participants, according to Jessie.
In the meantime there were Theda Bara movies to see, and Charlie Chaplin movies always made Jessie laugh. There were fine cars to ride in. In fact, on May 1st, Jessie had a date with a fellow who drove a Peerless auto. The Peerless Motor Car Co. built high quality luxury autos and were one of the Three Ps of luxury automobiles – Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow.
During this time Jessie also became better acquainted with a young businessman from Great Britain, Douglas Gardner. He often brought her gifts when he came back from business trips or vacations, and on June 28th he brought Jessie an alligator purse from his vacation in Florida. Once in her diary Jessie speculated that Douglas was probably enjoying himself during this time in Memphis. All the local young men were leaving for the war, and he being British and 32 years of age (and wealthy – he was from an old family whose lumber business had been in operation for over 400 years at that time, since 1590!) was ineligible to serve. So he became a reliable and welcome date for Jessie and a number of other young women of Jessie’s acquaintance in Memphis during this time.
On July 17th Swayne came home on a 5-day furlough, leaving again for Camp Andrew Jackson in Nashville on July 22nd. Jessie then decided to take a train tour of military camps/forts where some of her friends and Swayne were in training. On July 31st she took the train to Nashville and within a few days ‘fell in love’ with Lieut. Temple (whom she called Temp). In her diary she declared,”I can’trealize it all happened. I was so very happy, it all seems like some wonderful dream. But at present I surely think Temp is the person I’ve been looking for all these years. He said such beautiful things…” (August 4, 1917). After nine days in Nashville Jessie headed to Signal Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee and her soldier friends at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. She spent a few days there. On her way back to Memphis the train stopped in Nashville and Jessie had one last meeting with Temp before he left for France. August 14th was the day of their parting, “We had so much to say and so little time that the principle thing I can remember is Temp’s saying “I love you” over and over… How I did want to go with Temp but I’m going to try and wait until the war is over before I marry him…” So sad! So romantic! Oddly Jessie never mentioned his first name. Then she was back to Memphis and her regular life.
August 20th Swayne came home on furlough. The next day, the 21st, Bud came home thinking he had 10 days with his family, but the very next day he received a telegram telling him to report immediately. “Bud got a telegram this afternoon to report at once so he had to leave to-night. How I hated to see him go. He is nearer to me than almost anybody in the world. I love him so much. He is so wonderful that surely he will come back.” Bud’s (Frank’s) telegram telling his mother not to worry came on the 23rd.
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.
On November 24, 1916, Jessie gave a luncheon in honor of the debutantes. She had several activities planned. During the luncheon and after each course, the girls each received a favor which represented a prediction of the future or a personal insight of some kind. Jessie drew a dipper – for the dippiest debutante. It was also predicted that she would marry a farmer, and that in the winter of 1917 she would have a love affair that would almost break her heart, but all would end well. Next, all the girls had their palms read. Jessie was told she “was fickle, but very sincere and frank.” And finally, as Jessie said, “we saw the Ghosts of my friends.” The Ghosts of My Friends was a novelty autograph book. The directions at the front of the book were: “Sign your name along the fold of the paper with a full pen of ink, and then double the page over without using blotting paper.” The ghost of your friend would then be revealed. Jessie must have bought this book especially for this luncheon, and the ghosts of all the debutantes were revealed in it that day!
After Jessie’s signature in 1916, the next entries were her husband’s signature in 1934 (Percy A. Perkins), followed by her children. My 9-year-old mother Frances signed in 1935, and my uncle Percy signed as an 8 or 9-year-old boy. The next date listed in the book is with my signature (Jenny Klein) in 1960. I was 8. My brother Vic, who was 12, signed on July 6, 1960. My sister Karen signed in June, 1964. She was 10 at the time and is the last entry, and because we no longer had good drippy fountain pens, Karen designed her own ghost. (My youngest sister Judy missed all the fun, being too little to sign.)
There was an earlier similar book titled Your Hidden Skeleton. Jessie must have gotten this book around 1910. She began having people sign her book, friends and family, on June 1, 1910. By June 4th the book was full. But inside, I was thrilled to see her mother’s beautiful penmanship and ghost, and also her father’s signature, F.S. Latham, and her brother Swayne’s autograph. A clever, but a dead entertainment.