On Monday, July 21, 1913, Jessie and about 30 of her friends left on the train for a house party at Moon Lake, Mississippi. It was given by Mary Carr in honor of her visitor, and included 18 boys and 10 girls. They spent three days full of of fun and games, food, ragtime dancing, boating, fishing, and playing pranks on each other, returning to Memphis on Thursday the 24th of July.
*Please remember that you can click on each photo to see a larger version. Captions in quotation marks are Jessie’s.
I get a little thrill when I can match up Jessie’s photos with her diary entries. Here is another example from Jessie’s diary written Saturday, March 22, 1913: “Winnie, Cooper and I were some sports in our silk kimonos and boudoir caps at breakfast this morning. We took more cute pictures. I hope they are good…”
In Jessie’s photo album she titled the following two pictures – “As they look in the morning.”
Glued into Jessie’s album right next to those two pictures are a photo of Dorothy Jane Kerr, who is either a cousin or a close family friend, and a photo of Jessie’s mother, also named Jessie.
On Wednesday, March 19, 1913, Jessie wrote in her diary: “I went to the Orpheum tonight with Elmo – the show was splendid. Saw and heard the talking moving pictures. They were wonderful. This is the first time they have ever been heard. Edison is certainly a wonderful man. You forget it was only pictures you were looking at and would think it was the persons themselves.” Five days later on March 24, 1913, she wrote again: “Went to the Orpheum to-night with William F. Had the talking moving pictures again, ‘The Temptation Scene from Faust.'” Jessie was a witness to one of the earliest public presentations of a moving picture with sound.
The first known public presentation of a projected moving picture with sound was in Paris in 1900. Thomas Edison had been working on this problem of adding sound to moving pictures since the late 1800s. The three basic problems that Edison and the other inventors who were working on this project had were 1) synchronization of the sound with the visual image, 2) amplification of the sound, and finally 3) producing a good high quality recording. In the late 1800s Edison invented the Kinetoscope. This was a device that a single person could look through to see a short moving picture. Edison had also invented a camera which took many pictures rapidly. Running the film of many separate images past a light source created the ‘moving’ picture. This was the same method used in all movies until the invention of video. Around 1913, using belts and pulleys, he devised a way to sync the sound recorded on a cylinder to the film projector, and this was now called the Kinetophone. The resulting films could only last 6 minutes, limited by the size of the cylinder upon which the sound was recorded. February 17, 1913, Edison debuted this new Kinetophone system (click here to see a Kinetophone film from this presentation) at four vaudeville houses in New York City. The audiences loved it! Jessie and her friends loved it when they saw these films one month later in Memphis. Why then did it take until 1927 for The Jazz Singer, the first talkie feature length film, to appear? In the case of the Kinetophone, a projectionist had to carefully keep the sound and visual images synced by the speed of their manual cranking. Most of the time this didn’t work and the results were sometimes hilarious, but finally frustrating and not worth the public’s money. With the start of World War I in Europe and a fire in Edison’s laboratory in 1914 which destroyed all the original recordings, the Kinetophone was finished after only a year. It took 14 more years until the three basic problems of synchronizing the sound and visual images, amplifying the sound so that it could clearly be heard throughout an auditorium, and making high quality sound recordings was solved. By the 1930s the talkies were everywhere.
On Friday, November 1, 1912, Jessie wrote in her diary that they had a grand time at the dance “…but didn’t stay long because they started ragging.”
This comment, that because the crowd started ragging Jessie and her friends felt they should leave the dance, really made me curious. A few months earlier in the year (on July 9, 1912) Jessie wrote: “Went to a picnic supper and dance at Riverside Pk. this evening with Richard in our car… All that ‘raggy’ bunch went. They are the *society* crowd but they sure do rag.” On July 18th she went to another dance and wrote: “…danced until 2 o’clock but later the crowd got a little raggy.” But on July 27th Jessie seemed to do a little ragging herself when she wrote that a bunch of her friends came over to her house. “We took up the rug in the parlor and danced. Had cake, some class. Sure did have a rag-doll party. Had a grand time.” (I am guessing a ‘rag-doll’ party was a ragging party.)
In 1912 and 1913 the craze that was sweeping the country was ragtime dancing. These were simple dances that anyone could pick up without special lessons, dances such as the Turkey Trot, the Bunny Hug, the Grizzly Bear and the Boll Weevil Wiggle. The “animal dances,” as they were called, shocked genteel America because couples danced alone and held each other, sometimes closely. President Woodrow Wilson actually cancelled the inaugural balls for January 1913 to avoid ‘ragging’ dancers creating a scandal. Even the Vatican got involved. Archbishop Henry Moeller announced that Catholics in the Cincinnati diocese who danced the Turkey Trot and other such dances could not be forgiven for their sins. Some cities banned the Turkey Trot and such at all dances. In Spokane they even considered banning the dances in private homes. At least one scholar wrote a book proclaiming that all these dances were imitating sex actions of the ‘lower animals’ and this is what the dancers are thinking of when they dance the Turkey Trot, Fox Trot, Horse Trot, Fish Walk, Dog Walk, Tiger Dance, Buzzard Lope and Boll Weevil Wiggle. But societal changes have a life of their own and everything is connected. Women’s clothing was becoming less restrictive, dating was done in cars and away from the home, and women would soon get the right to vote. The last remnants of the Victorian Age were disappearing and the cultural separation between men and women was becoming a little smaller. The way the dancers held each other and the energetic and almost improvisatory steps to fast, syncopated music fit the times. The ragtime dance craze would fade away with the onset of World War I to be replaced a few years later with the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties.
On August 19, 1912, Jessie wrote in her diary, “This afternoon we left on the Kate Adams for our boat trip to Arkansas City. I realize fully that I cannot begin to write what a perfectly wonderful time we did have. There are 31 in our party – Marie Louise, Winnie, Cooper MacFarland, Elizabeth Roston, Sara C., Carolyn H., Emma R., Mary Carr, & myself, Glenn, Mitch, Jack Burch, Joe T., Herbert H., Billy, Bernard, Perry, Milton, Monty, Julius, Shep, Hurley, Lee, Cecil, Canuck, Paul, Everette, Swayne & Lucious, Mother & Mrs. Buck are our chaperones.” Who’s counting? But there are 9 girls, 20 boys – all teenagers – and 2 chaperones, Mrs. Latham and Mrs. Buck. Those two women must have had their hands full! Family stories about my great-grandmother, Mrs. Latham, also named Jessie, were that she was hilarious and a lot of fun to be around. All the kids enjoyed having her as chaperone on their river boat cruises or house parties.
For much of the summer Jessie had a crush on Glenn. This understandably made her long-time boyfriend Richard quite jealous and they had a few arguments on this topic. Glenn went on the River Boat Cruise but Richard did not.
During the second day of the cruise the boys and at least one of the girls put on a circus.
Wednesday, August 21, 1912, Jessie wrote, “We reached Memphis late to-night. A bunch came home with us and we had a house party. Glenn, Monty, Perry, Lucious and Elizabeth P. spent the night here.”
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 thetheoldmotor.com, 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.
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.
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.”
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.
Without a doubt, the main event occurring in April of 1912 in Memphis was the Flood (see my previous post, The Flood of 1912). Luckily, Jessie and her family lived on the bluff on which much of Memphis was built and were protected from the ravages of the flood. Life went on, even though parts of the city remained under water.
Early in the morning on April 15, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic, on its maiden voyage, hit an iceberg and sank. The news went out over the wires and Jessie and her family read about the disaster later that morning in the newspaper, probably while they were eating breakfast and getting ready for the day. Jessie wrote in her diary: “Monday, April 15, 1912: We read in this morning’s paper about such a terrible thing. The sinking of the Titanic, the world’s greatest ship on which 1,595 persons lost their lives. Oh! it’s terrible to think of it. Most of the women and children were saved. John Jacob Astor the great millionaire was lost. How awful it is to think of the homes this has filled with sorrow.”
And finally, here is another cultural tidbit. On April 30th, 1912, Jessie wrote in her diary: “After my music [lesson] I went all over town looking at aigrettes. They sure are pretty but mighty expensive.” An aigrette is an ornamental head piece, often made of feathers, usually egret feathers.
The Flood of 1912 was one of the worst floods ever documented on the Mississippi River. It was also the first major flood on the Mississippi River to be photographed. Throughout March and especially at the end of the month, Jessie wrote several times in her diary of the rain. On Thursday, March 28, 1912 she wrote: Rain! Rain! Rain! Will it ever stop? Seems as though we have been swimming around for the last month. The River is awful high, highest it’s been in years. In fact, the Mississippi had reached flood stage (35 feet) several days before on March 24th and would not go below that mark for 60 days. There had been a lot of snow that winter in the northern U.S. It suddenly melted, flooding the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Levees all along the River failed. On April 1 a huge chunk of the levee failed at Greenfields Landing, just across the River from Cairo, Illinois. The water from that break covered most of Mississippi County in Missouri. I read that at one point during this flood, the Mississippi River was 60 miles wide in one section. Perhaps this was the area.
The River crested for 3 days (April 6-9) in Memphis at 45.3 feet. Levees on both sides of the River at Memphis failed. Because most of downtown Memphis is built on a bluff overlooking the River, much of the city was spared. But in the lower lying areas as many as 1200 people were driven from their homes, primarily from the flooding of the tributaries. In the northern part of Memphis near the Bayou Gayoso and Wolf River, homes were flooded by as much as 6 feet of water. People were camping out on the tops of levees. African Americans were disproportionately affected by the flood since many of their homes and farms were in these lower lying areas.
Here is another collection of cultural tidbits taken from Jessie’s diary. ~
Vaudeville was the biggest form of live entertainment in 1912. All kinds of acts were included in the traveling shows — magicians, dramatic sketches, opera singers, comedians, barbershop quartets, etc. etc. I think Jessie and her friends saw most of the shows that came to town. The Orpheum was one of the theaters she frequented, and it was there on February 6, 1912, that Jessie saw 1,000 Pounds of Harmony – the hefty men of the Primrose Quartette and thought they were “grand.” These gentlemen were quite popular for some years on the vaudeville circuit, and they got their name, as you might guess, because each of them weighed about 250 pounds.
On March 30th Jessie took her friend Willie Swift to the Orpheum to see the show. She especially enjoyed a sketch called The Woman Who Knew. Not everybody enjoyed that act though. A review in Variety (22:6, 4/15/1911) about a performance at the Keith Theatre in Philadelphia had this to say: “The bill at Keith’s was running smoothly and at a good speed until The Woman Who Knew came on stage. Mme. Besson is featured in the Victor H. Smalley piece. According to the program she is a famous portrayer of Zaza and Camille. If this is true, she might be able to get away with a similar role on vaudeville, but as The Woman Who Knew she is hopeless. The sketch has no merit and is badly played.”
Also on March 30th Jessie writes: “Enjoyed being with Willie so much. After the show we bumbed around and saw every-body sporting their new lids. I wore mine of course. It’s real mannish – English shape.” I would love to know exactly what that hat looked like, but instead here are some 1912 advertisements for women’s hats.
By the end of March Memphis was soggy with rain and the Mississippi River was higher than it had been in years. After church on Sunday, March 31st, Jessie and her family drove over to see how the River had risen. “It’s awful,” said Jessie. The Great Flood of 1912 was beginning, and I’ll look at that in my next posting.
I love to post pictures of the clothes and accessories of the day (see Women’s Fashion, Spring 1911). It helps me stay closer to the subject, my grandmother! The highly structured corsets and clothing of the Victorian era were being replaced by looser, less structured clothing and undergarments for women. As I mentioned in last year’s posting, the French clothing designer Paul Poiret was highly influential during the first two decades of the 20th century. Perhaps he was inspired by art nouveau ideals of women, especially as depicted by Alphonse Mucha — loose flowing hair and loose, sometimes exotic clothing. I hope you enjoy these pictures and fashion plates from 1912.