Debating Societies, Tally Ho Rides & the Birdmen Return

Memphis High School, 1909; historic-memphis.com
Memphis High School, 1909; historic-memphis.com

In the back of her 1910 diary, Jessie wrote:

“I belong to the —

1. Merry Maids Club of which I am president

2. Ellen Clapp Auxiliary of which I am treasurer

3. Junior Beethoven

4. L.H. Club of which I am treasurer

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.”

High School annex c.1910; historic-memphis.com
High School annex c.1910; historic-memphis.com

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.

A Tally ho, c1905
A Tally ho, c1905

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!

Il Trovatore, 1910; virtualmuseumofcinema.org
Il Trovatore, 1910*

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.”

Charles K. Hamilton c1910
Charles K. Hamilton, c1910*

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.

Satin evening shoes, 1910s
Satin evening shoes, 1910s

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.

1911HappyNewYear

 

*Photo credits: Memphis H.S. and High School Annex photos – historic-memphis.com; Il Trovatore – virtualmuseumofcinema.org; Charles K. Hamilton – General Aviation News.

A Japanese Musical Spectacle in Memphis, October 1910

Alphonse Mucha
Alphonse Mucha

A big event in October in Memphis was the huge production of Jappyland. As Jessie writes in her diary on October 21, 1910, “The cast includes 300 and oh! such acting. They all wore hobble skirts.” My impression is that a small professional cast of actors/singers were augmented by a huge cast of local people. A newspaper clipping about a production in Portland, Oregon in 1913 is headlined Society Folk To Be Seen In Spectacular “Jappyland.” Perhaps something similar happened in Memphis. Jessie and others she knew rehearsed all month for the production, which took place at the Jefferson Theatre on October 28 & 29, 1910. Jessie was a “Geisha maid,” as she put it.

Jessie in her costume from Jappyland
Jessie in her costume from Jappyland

It is very difficult to find, online at least, and from the comfort of my own home, much information about this musical.  Jappyland: a Japanese Musical Spectacle. It sounds disrespectful and completely politically incorrect, but we must remember the times. The world was just opening up through faster electronic communications. Airplane travel, which would make the world seem much smaller, was just at its naissance. From the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century a growing interest in the exotic was expressed in the visual arts (e.g., Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings) and music (e.g., Scheherazade, versions by Rimsky Korsakov and Ravel; the opera Turandot by Puccini). This fascination with the foreign and exotic made its way to the U.S and to our vaudeville and musical formats.

Jessie mentioned that the actresses all wore hobble skirts. Here are some examples.

Hobble Skirt, 1910
Hobble Skirt, 1910
Hobble Skirts, 1909-1913
Hobble Skirts, 1909-1913

Another example of exoticism in Alphonse Mucha’s work (and because I like Mucha so much):

Alphonse Mucha, 1896
Alphonse Mucha, 1896

The Memphis Music Festival, 1910

On April 26 & 27, 1910, Jessie was involved with the Memphis Music Festival at the Auditorium. On Tuesday the 26th she went with a friend and heard the Mendelssohn oratorio Elijah. In the next day’s performance, Jessie got to sing in the chorus. The soloists were world class, or at least well known in the U.S. — Corinne Kelsey, soprano; Janet Spencer, contralto; Daniel Beddoe, tenor; and Marion Green, baritone. The visiting orchestra was the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, now known as the Chicago Symphony.

Theodore Thomas
Theodore Thomas

Theodore Thomas, founder of the Chicago Symphony, was the first important American conductor. In 1890 he founded the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, which then became the Chicago Orchestra. Concert subscriptions increased yearly and were enough to fund the building of a permanent home, Orchestra Hall, on 220 S. Michigan Ave. The first concert in their new home was December 14, 1904. Thomas died on January 4, 1905, and the orchestra was renamed the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. In 1913 the title was changed to the Chicago Symphony.

Theodore Thomas Orchestra, 1897
Theodore Thomas Orchestra, 1897

Below is a modern photograph of Orchestra Hall at 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Notice the two plaques above the lower windows on either side, and beneath the engravings of the composers’ names. They read “Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall.”

Orchestra_Hall_Chicago

 

Entertainments — January 1910

IlTrovatoreLibretto1910sIt’s a different world in 1910, where a 15 year old girl goes downtown with her friend to dancing school, then to see the grand opera Il Trovatore, and finally meets up with some boys for sodas before going home. There were all kinds of cultural offerings available in 1910 Memphis. Jessie saw several plays in January. At the Bijou she, Sara, Emma and Othella saw Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. The next weekend Jessie, her mother and Emma went to Higbee School (for girls) to the Drama Club’s presentation of The Top Landing: a farce in one act by Robert C.V. Meyers.higbee-leftside

The day after that she went to the opera. Jessie says the opera was at Houck’s which was a piano store on Main Street. But right next to it was the Royal Theatre. Perhaps that is where she saw the opera. In the picture below (Main St., Memphis 1911), Houck’s Piano Co. can be seen at the bottom left. Right next to Houck’s is the Royal Theatre. (click/tap on photo to enlarge)  royal-1911-2

About a week later Jessie and Emma went to the Lyceum to see Little Nemo, which Jessie claims was the finest play ever seen in Memphis. Little Nemo was a fictional character in the popular comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland.LittleNemo In 1907 an extravagant production with a score by Victor Herbert, and costing an unprecedented $100,000, went on tour with good reviews and sold out houses. A mythical character, the Whiffenpoof, was introduced in the show, and the word itself became very popular with the public. A hit song came out with the same name, as well as a popular singing group.

Jessie continued to read the books in the popular Little Colonel series by Annie Fellows Johnston. First she read The Little Colonel in Arizona, then The Little Colonel’s Christmas Vacation, and at the end of the month The Little Colonel:  Maid of Honor.

LittleCol.XmasVacaLittle Colonel in ArizonaLittle colonel Maid of Honor

 

Entertainments 1909

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, pianist
Josef Lhévinne, pianist
Orpheum Theatre, Memphis
Orpheum Theatre, Memphis

 

 

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.

 

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

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
East End Park

 

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.

Poster design by Alphonse Mucha
Poster design by Alphonse Mucha