Dear Vance: I know you like odd tombstones, and I've discovered a strange one in the Edmondson Cemetery on State Line Road in Southaven (below, right). Who is this fellow who claims he has "no flag or country since 1865"?
-- G.V., Memphis.
Dear G.V.: This is indeed an odd marker, with the inscription wrapped completely around it. My own imposing monument, though currently in the works and being revised and updated semi-monthly - will hardly be as wordy.
The fellow's name is Robert Bruce Bowe, and the inscription on the front reads: "Born in Petersburg, Va., Feb. 29, 1836. Raised in Hanover Co. Moved to Miss. Feb. 1, 1860. Died Oct. 11, 1907."
Now comes the interesting part, on a second panel: "I have no Flag or Country since 1865, an Alien in the land that my forefathers defended in war since 1624. Providence taking side with the strong and oppressive against the weak and just has caused me to live in doubt the past forty years and fear I will die so."Ê
The next panel reads, "Company A, 7th Tenn. Cavalry CSA, July 1861 - April 1865. We rode from Vicksburg to Nashville, from Atlanta to Corinth, to Fort Pillow and to Belmont, Mo. Many a day and night nothing to eat, our bed the cold sod. The Stars and Bars and dear Mal were the idols of my heart." The last panel is inscribed, "My aim through life was to do unto others as would have them do unto me, though sometimes had to fight old Nick with fire."
It's apparent that Bowe was a Confederate cavalry rider, who took part in many battles and who ultimately "lived in doubt" when Providence let those damn yankees win the Civil War. Beyond that, though, I couldn't have told you more about Bowe and his family until I discovered a handy book called Mississippi Back Roads by retired professor Elmo Howell, part of a series that includes Mississippi Home-Places and Mississippi Scenes.Ê
"Robert Bruce Bowe's tombstone has long been an object of wonder," writes Howell. "An expression of religious doubt, as some have imagined; or only grief at loss of the war?" Howell discovered that Bowe came from an old Virginia family and met his future wife, Malvina (the "dear Mal" of the inscription), while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Although not much is known of his life after the war, Howell reports that Bowe retired to a farm near Plum Point, Mississippi, where he died in 1907. His wife had died two years before, and the old soldier's will decreed that his property be divided among his nine heirs, with his longtime servant getting "a fifty-dollar horse."
Dear Vance: My dad played baseball years ago in Memphis and Mississippi, and I'm sending you a tattered photo of him with the Orgill Brothers company team. He's at the bottom left in the picture, and was a pitcher for the team. What kind of company was it?
-- P.J., Dothan, Alabama.
Dear P.J.: Before my parents enrolled me in the finest private schools in Belgium, my athletic endeavors (in this country at least) were mainly confined to shrieking like a banshee as my thuggish classmates pelted me with Dodge-balls on the dusty playgrounds of Memphis. And those were the girls. So, reluctant to dredge up those horrible memories again, I asked one of my capable assistants to investigate the old baseball leagues that your father played for.Ê
Here's what she found out. According to Johnny Rudd at the Memphis Division of Park Services (formerly the Park Commission), the All-Memphis Baseball League was organized here in the 1940s, composed of "mostly former college and ex-pro players, and guys who just wanted to play ball." The teams were sponsored by local firms, including Orgill Brothers, a hardware company founded in 1847 that is still in business today - in fact, it's the oldest family-owned firm in town. In the early days, Orgill sold hardware, cutlery, and guns - everything a pioneer town would need. By the 1900s, the company branched out with Tettenborn refrigerators, Jewel gas ranges, Radiant home heating stoves, Yale locks, and all sorts of other stuff. Today, Orgill, Inc., is a hardware wholesaler.
The All-Memphis Baseball League played its last inning in 1997. Now, Rudd says that adult amateur baseball is organized into several leagues around here, which are affiliated with the American Amateur Baseball Congress, the National Amateur Baseball Federation, and the United States Baseball Congress. Some of the teams playing today are the Memphis Royals, Memphis Blues, and DeSoto Giants, who play in leagues named after veteran baseball players - Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Connie Mack, and others. If you want to learn more, visit the Royals Web site(www.eteamz.com/memphisroyals) or call Rudd himself at 454-5200. It's way too complicated to go into here, and I'm still smarting from all those terrifying days of Dodgeball.
Dear Vance: While at Mr. Pride Car Wash on Poplar, I looked to the east. Painted on the back of the facade of a building on Mendenhall is "1967." I know that building once housed a store called the Yellow Submarine, where one could buy a waterbed, albums, incense, and other things that I was too young to know about. Correct?
-- R.B., Memphis.
Dear R.B.: Yes and no. The little brick store you've noticed did indeed house an interesting "alternative" establishment called the Yellow Submarine, which had a magnificent mural across the facade painted by a talented artist named LeRoy Best, if I remember correctly. But that establishment didn't open on Mendenhall until late 1970 or early 1971, several years after the date you spied on the bricks.Ê
In 1967, the little building actually housed a lawn mower repair shop, owned and operated by a fellow named Joseph Bianchi, who had started his business there in the early 1960s. When Bianchi moved out in 1968, a Coleman-Taylor transmission repair joint moved in, and remained there until the Yellow Submarine took over.Ê
It's funny that quite a few people remember the Yellow Submarine, but it stayed there only about five years. After that came Vic's Auto Repair - the building seemed destined to be a repair shop for something or other - though today it's used for storage. I stuck my little face up to the mail slot in the front door and tried to peer in. I swear I caught a whiff of patchouli and thought I could make out an old Blue Cheer poster, dimly fluorescent under the flickering glow of a black light - nah, must have been my imagination.Ê
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