JCHA NEWSLETTER –FALL 2018

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PREVIOUS NEWSLETTERS

masthead edition


Mary Badham

Mary Badham


UPCOMING
PROGRAMS

October 11, 2018

Refreshments At 6:00 Pm. Program At 7:00 Pm.

Mary Badham
Making
"To Kill A Mockingbird"
and How it affected Alabama and the World.

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January 10, 2019

Cathy Adams

“How a Man and
his Mentor
Shaped Birmingham”

Robert Jemison, Jr. and W.P.G Harding.

OUR MISSION:

To Preserve And
Remember

Lake Wilbourn, air photo by Jim Griffin.

Lake Wilbourn, air photo by Jim Griffin.


Spectacular Changes at Brock’s Gap

—by: Dr. Ed Stevenson

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or those historians and history buffs who have followed the development of the Birmingham mineral area and its related cities, towns, and industries – and those members of the JCHA who have been reading this JEFFERSON JOURNAL for a few years – Brock’s Gap and its importance are well known.

Nitroglycerin and slave labor were utilized to try to dig a deep cut so that trains of that day could make the grade across. It was not deep enough to accomplish this goal during the war. But the railroad was completed and expanded and modified following the war. Today the gap, but not the original cut, is used by the main lines of the L&N and CSX railroads, thereby validating John T. Milner’s original choice. The old cut was abandoned and two new parallel cuts and a tunnel are now used by those railroads. Our association’s historic marker is on Shades Crest Road near Trace Crossings at one of those modern cuts and the old cut site.

So, what are the changes? The answer is that there has not been this much activity in that area for the last century. The land has been owned by U.S. Steel Corporation until recently. At one time, the small coal mine and mining village of Elvira was located about a mile south of the, but they have disappeared. A small paved country road, Elvira Road, has existed from Shades Crest Road to Helena, passing through the area, but is now closed. A small lake, Lake Wilborn, has been present.

 

At the south end of the cuts, including the old original and the new active cuts, a very large upscale residential development now is being built, with 1000 homes and lots. The area is now easily accessible by road, by going on Stadium Trace Parkway, passing Hoover Stadium.

There are two contiguous developments, Lake Wilborn, and Blackridge, both in the City of Hoover. A new dam actually forms a new lake, and the old Elvira mine and village appears to be under the water of the new lake. Remains of the old lake are visible on the southern edge of the new development.

The CSX railroad is just west of Lake Wilborn development, and the L&N is east. The old Brock’s Gap cut can be seen passing through the ridge from the north, and a bridge on the road in the new development passes over it where Blackridge is being developed. The former original railbed now enters the new Lake Wilborn.

Within the next very few years, there will be thousands of people obliviously living in a place that has had significant importance in the growth and development of metropolitan Birmingham. But, only a few inquiring minds will want to know.

Sources: The Jefferson Journals , 2011 and 2012. Articles by Dr. Ed Stevenson and by Weldon Buwe. Private research, discussions, and field trips of Weldon Buwe. Lake Wilborn Development office and the Internet.

JCHA historic marker at Brocks Gap

JCHA historic marker at Brocks Gap.


South end of old Brock’s Gap cut from the new road.

South end of old Brock’s Gap cut from the new road.

 

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JCHA Logo

OFFICERS:

Alice McSpadden Williams President

Dan Puckett
Vice-President

Harry F. Bradford
Treasurer

Jason Bains
Secretary

BOARD OF DIRECTORS:

Cathy Criss Adams
Craig Allen, Jr.
Leah Rawls Atkins
Thomas E. Badham
Jeanne B. Bradford
David Bright
Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr.
Walter Dean
Herbert F. Griffin
George L. Jenkins
Judy S. Haise
James L. Hahn
James H. Hard
Catherine Pittman Smith
Randall Pitts, Jr.
Edward W. Stephenson, MD Mary Ellen West

 

EX OFFICIO:

Herb F. Griffin
Edward W. Stevenson, MD

PAST PRESIDENTS:

J. Morgan Smith
Margaret D. Sizemore
Elmer C. Thuston, Jr.
Chriss Doss
Betsy Bancroft
Tillman W. Pugh
William A. Price
Thomas M. West, Jr.
Madge D. Jackson
Thad G. Long
Don G. Watkins
Fred M. Jackson, III
Thomas O. Caldwell, MD
Charles A. Speir
Craig Allen, Jr.
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
Jim Bennett
Alice McSpadden Williams
Thomas N. Carruthers

JEFFERSON JOURNAL

Tom Badham, Editor (thomase.badham@yahoo.com)
Jim LaRussa, Graphic Designer

Message from the President


Alice Williams

Alice McSpadden
Williams

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reetings to all of you. I hope by the time you get this, the weather is cooler and tree leaves are beginning to show some color. We all owe our officers and board members a huge debt of gratitude for the job they did in managing all of the details and programs of the Association during the five months I was out of commission, and absolutely no help. Thank you all!

I have some very good news to share from Vulcan Park and Museum, hereinafter noted as VPM. Since VPM acquired the Birmingham History Center and became steward of the History Centers’ Artifact Collection, a task force has been at work to create a 40+ page Collections Management Document which their board adopted at its May board meeting. It is extremely thorough, will last for a long time and be a large help going forward to strategically plan.

On the financial front, there is more goods news. Although the City of Birmingham had warned VPM their allocation for 2018-19 was going to be cut, in the end it was not and VPM will receive level funding for the fiscal year. The most exciting news is that in June they received a $93,500 check from the Barbara Ingalls Shook Foundation! These funds will cover salary, taxes and benefits for the Collections Manager and a for a portion of the Director of the Museum Programs positions. This is due to Garland Smith who made the connection and guided the official request. Thank you Garland!

Also, Representative Jim Carns has graciously sent $2000 to VPM out of his discretionary funds. In addition, a grant request has been submitted to the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand the work with the collection. If received, it will greatly speed up the work to photograph, identify and verify the provenance of each item as well as digitize and get it online. VPM should hear in time for the October meeting. Keep your fingers crossed.

Speaking of the meeting. There is a real chance the October meeting will run over. There is some business, there will be visitors, and we don’t want to cut the program in any way. It should be great. Plan accordingly and I really hope to see you there.

— Alice McSpadden Williams, President



Burger Phillips ad 1960

Birmingham News, January, 1960.

 

Did you know?

Geologists usually measure the natural resources of coal in tons. Birmingham has so much coal, that they measured it in years.
In the 1950’s - at a time when coal consumption was high - geologist said that the Birmingham area had enough coal to last another 3,000 years!

WBRC Radio ad 1974

Birmingham News, 1974.

 

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How Little Mary Got To Hollywood

—by: Tom Badham


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ctually, it was fate or an accident. When the book To Kill A Mockingbird became a smash best seller, Universal-International Pictures grabbed the movie rights. Early on, Gregory Peck decided he wanted to play Atticus Finch. He then decided to put his own money on the table by becoming the Executive Producer. He and Universal-International executives decided to find two unknown child actors from the South with authentic accents to play Jem and Scout, Atticus’s children. To do this they sent talent scouts to every little theater organization in the South.

In the spring of 1961, Alice "Boatie" Boatwright, who happened to be a Georgia native, arrived in Birmingham. She had written the Birmingham little theater group headed by James Hatcher to notify any and every child between the ages of seven or eight and thirteen in the area that had any acting experience. Tryouts at the then Clark Little Theater would be held that Friday and Saturday. Former local actress, Mary Badham (known in the family as "Big Mary"), got a call from Director James Hatcher.

All the old gang was down at the theater. There’s a talent scout down here doing try outs for two children’s roles in a movie. Come on over, bring your daughter, "Little Mary". Big Mary had Elizabeth "Bimi" Woodward with Little Mary for the weekend. Bring her too. You are just down Highland Avenue. We’ve got a little party going on here. It will be fun for the girls. So, Big Mary quickly got the girls presentable, and drove over to the theater. Little Mary and Bimi didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.

Little Mary, Big Mary, and Henry Badham flying to  Los Angeles International Airport.

Little Mary, Big Mary, and Henry Badham flying to
Los Angeles International Airport.

As Little Mary remembers it, everybody greeted Big Mary with hugs and everybody talking all at once. Big Mary introduced Little Mary and Bimi. Then as Big Mary was visiting and catching up on her old friends in the theater lobby, Little Mary and Bimi slipped into the cold theater. The old theater’s boiler had not been turned on. There were kids on an empty stage doing scenes that they had memorized and other set pieces while their parents sat quietly in the theater seats. Little Mary and Bimi slipped in and sat down in the theater to watch. After a while, their names were called!

Huh??!! Big Mary quickly came in and led them to the foot of the stage. On the way she whispered to them just to get up there and make up something, do "play pretend" like they did for Little Mary’s father, Henry L. Badham, Jr. Have fun. Do sorta what the other kids did.

Little Mary and her friends would "perform" for Henry and Mary on their patio on summer evenings when the weather was nice. The little girls would make up little skits or try to ballet dancing (they were all in beginner ballet class). It was all free-form and made up on the spot. Just little girls having a ball making play-pretend in front of an adoring (if small) audience.

Little Mary and Bimi stood there on stage for a bit, each of them sort of rubbing their arms like you do when you are trying to think and nothing is happening. Then Little Mary had an idea. She made up a little skit on the spot and led Bimi through it about how they were lost in the woods and needed to chop some wood to build a fire so they wouldn’t freeze.

Gregory Peck meeting Mary Badham at the Los Angeles airport.

Gregory Peck meeting Mary Badham at the Los Angeles airport.

So, they found some imaginary trees, chopped them with imaginary axes, dragged the imaginary wood and built an imaginary fire then warmed themselves by it while wondering out loud how they were going to find their way home out this imaginary forest. It wasn’t much, but it was all they had. Little Mary didn’t know about the book. She didn’t know that the character of the girl was a tomboy.

Mary Badham’s first arrival at Los Angeles International Airport.

Mary Badham’s first arrival at Los Angeles International Airport.

Ms. Boatwright saw immediately that the skinny dark haired eight-year-old could "play pretend" at will and that an audience didn’t bother her. She obviously was a tomboy. Besides she looked really cute in that haircut that almost looked like a depression era bowl haircut (How she and Bimi got their haircuts is another story.) and had a perfect accent, southern, but not country, for the part. Little Mary’s name was put on the short list.

The day before, Ms. Boatwright had watched Phillip Alford go through his paces. He seemed right for the part too, with the right kind of accent and look. The next step of the process was to send a carefully chosen expert still photographer, Leo Fuchs, to Birmingham to photograph Little Mary for a day or two. This was also to see if she was bothered by getting photographed, the increased attention and if she would be co-operative with direction.

The hard part would be to convince her father Henry to allow it. He did not want his princess to have anything to do with Hollywood. He finally gave grudging approval to having the pictures taken. What were the odds that they would pick this little girl anyway, a million to one? She had never shown any real desire to be on stage. She had no training. Universal would certainly pick some other little girl. Besides, Mary and Henry would get some nice photographs of Little Mary out of the deal.

Photographer Leo Fuchs and Mary in Birmingham.

Photographer Leo Fuchs and Mary in Birmingham.

Then Universal wanted to fly the family to New York City for three or four days to do a film test of Little Mary. They even included Bimi Woodward on the trip. They also arranged for Little Mary to do a small fashion spread in Vogue Magazine.

Henry and Big Mary were sent Little Mary’s movie contract. No contract in the state of Alabama was ever scrutinized more carefully. Henry was deeply conflicted. Universal expected Little Mary’s part in filming to last at least three months and would pay her a huge salary, for the time, plus all living expenses

Harper Lee and Mary Badham on the To Kill a Mockingbird set.

Harper Lee and Mary Badham on the To Kill a Mockingbird set.

I think Henry’s age, 68, and health – he’d already had one heart attack – finally decided the issue. He couldn’t take the future for granted. The state of California had laws about holding a certain percentage of child’s movie earnings in trust. Henry would long term invest all of her earnings in a trust fund. This would help make sure that his daughter was taken care of, even if he wasn’t there. His caveat still stood, though. If she decided she wanted to come home, he’d bring her home immediately and Hollywood could go to Hell!

 
 
 

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