JCHA NEWSLETTER –JULY 2012

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Loafers Club

THEY CALLED THEMSELVES “THE LOAFERS” BUT THEY DIDN’T LOAF

Front row, left to right: David R. Solomon, Artemus Calloway, Eric Levenson, Octavus Roy Cohen, Perkins J. Prewitt and Henry Vance.
Back row, left to right: Jack Caldwell, Garrord Harris, James E. Chappell, Patterson Marzoni, Leroy Jacobs, Edgar Valentine Smith

Octavus Roy Cohen at Center of Loafers’ Club

—by: Craig Allen, Jr.


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he women’s club movement in Birmingham, Alabama began in the late 1880’s in the form of literary organizations. The early women’s literary clubs included: The Cadmean Circle (1887–1888), the Highland Book Club (1891), Clionian Club (1894) (originally a social and history club), The Novelists Club of Woodlawn and The Fenelon Club (1894). A group of younger women formed the Nineteenth Century Club in 1894. Several of the clubs still exist and thrive in the city today and their members are proud of their long histories.

Men also formed literary and debate clubs, although in much smaller numbers. In the early 1900’s students at the high school level and those attending local business schools enjoyed debates organized by the Yancy Club, an all-male club. The Quest Club, composed of twenty young men, was originated in 1900 for the purpose of enjoying the study of music, literature and the arts.

In the 1920’s a group of male writers and journalists formed a literary and writer’s club with the moniker, The Loafers’ Club. Although called The Loafers’ Club, the members were far from being loafers. They were a hard working and dedicated group of writers. At the center of the club was one of Birmingham’s most well recognized writers of fiction, Octavus Roy Cohen.

Octavus Roy Cohen

Octavus Roy Cohen

Octavus Roy Cohen was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1891. When in his early 20’s he pursued a career in the steel and railroad industry. In 1915, recognizing his own special writing skills, Cohen changed careers and began his new career in the writing field. He began writing short stories and eventually evolved into a nationally known and popular book writer.

Cohen’s works included: The Crimson Alibi (1919), Jim Harvey, Detective (1923) and the famous Florian Slappey series. His stories often involved fictional characters with a dialectal tone set in a mystery setting.

Octavus Roy Cohen’s 1925 novel

Octavus Roy Cohen’s
1925 novel was
published by Little,
Brown & Company

By the early 1920’s Cohen had moved to Birmingham. It was during this time that The Loafers, a highly respected group of writers in the city, began meeting Wednesday nights, usually at Cohen’s house where they worked on plots for their stories. Nevermore than 12 members (the membership limit), the participants were successful in authoring many stories and publications which were often sold to national book and magazine publishers.

When a publishing house rejected articles or stories by a member of The Loafers, the group would frequently help rework the stories, often successfully resubmitting them for publication in magazines such as Saturday Evening Post. The club worked as a group to develop plots and to pilot the construction process of the story.

Members of The Loafers’ club included: Perkins J. Prewitt, an editor of The Birmingham News; Henry Vance, News editor and columnist for The Coal Bin; Gerrard Harris, a former newspaper editor; Petterson Marzoni, a movie and drama critic for The News; and Edgar Valentine Smith, a copy editor and O. Henry Award winner. Dr. Charles Nice, at that time a retired Birmingham physician, was also a member.

After Octavus Cohen moved to Los Angeles in 1935 to write motion picture scripts, The Loafers’ Club held a less prominent position in the city. Cohen died in January of 1959 in Los Angeles at the age of 67, long after the demise of his beloved Loafers’ Club.

In 1959 James E. Chappell, a former News president and editor, and Loafers’ member stated on the occasion of Cohen’s death that &it was fascinating to see those brains [Loafers] click.& A group of talented writers, The Loafers’ Club held a most unique place in Birmingham’s early-literary club history.

 
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Recent History Center Acquisitions

—by: Jerry Desmond


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In 1938, the Engineering Department of The City of Birmingham, under the direction of J. D. Webb, City Engineer, developed a Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) project in an attempt to find work for the unemployed. It involved the setting up of an organization for the construction of new concrete street signs or markers to be placed at the four corners of all intersections.

70th street marker

Concrete Street Marker, 70th Street South and 2nd Avenue South, 1938 WPA project, donated by Megan Howland.


Mr. Webb estimated that the time required for the production and installation of 120 markers per day would take 75 laborers working 8 hours per day for 20 days a month for 5 months. The markers were 24 inches long and 12 inches wide. The tops had angular laces in which the letters giving the street number or name and the block number were molded in the concrete and painted with a black enamel paint. They were set in the grass plot between the curb and the sidewalk.

street markers workers

WPA workers molding some of the 14,514 street markers from the Manual of Beautification.


Blach's Marker

Street Corner Bronze Plaque Blach’s Department Store donated by Harold Blach.


The Blach’s Department Store was located on the northwest corner of 3rd Avenue North and 20th Street in downtown Birmingham. The logo Blach’s used was the image of a calla lily and a layman’s square which stood for the store’s motto: "Blach’s treats you fair and square." The store closed in 1987.

 
Coaldale Logo

Coaldale Brick Block

Letterhead and Paving Brick, Coaldale Brick and Mining Company, donated by Tom Maxwell.

To donate artifacts related to the history of the Birmingham region, please call 205-202-4146 or bring items to the History Center at 1731 First Avenue North, Birmingham, AL.

 
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Hottest Hot Spots


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everal Birmingham area venues made the Alabama Tourism Department’s annual ranking of the most visited attractions in 2011.

While the top admission-charged attraction in the state was the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville with 553,137, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near McCalla drew 540,125. Oak Mountain State Park recorded 402,000.

Lion

The Birmingham Zoo ranked third with 498,623, the McWane Science Center had 381,191visitors and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum 300,000.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens topped the list of free attractions with 350,000 followed by Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark with 180,000 visitors and the Birmingham Museum of Art 115,697.

The Alabama Tourism Department’s full list of tourism attendance is available at www.alabama.travel.


Britling Ad

Opening of Britlings, Western Hills Mall, Birmingham News, Birmingham Age-Herald, 1907. February 18, 1970.


New Books


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stack of books

annehill Ghost Stories & Other Selected Shorts by Jim Bennett, Seacoast Publishing Company, Birmingham, AL, 2012, 128 pages, heavily illustrated, $15 plus $2 s/h, order address: 112 Meadowcroft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242. Book includes area ghost stories, folklore.

Dunn & Lallande Bros. Ad

from Jemison Magazine, February, 1911


bessemer coal ad

Birmingham Age-Herald, 1907.


 
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When Babe Ruth Came to Rickwood

—by: Jim Bennett


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he filming of "42", the Jackie Robinson biopic at Rickwood Field in May, brought to mind stories of when Babe Ruth played at the historic Birmingham ball park in 1925 and 1933.

The Yankees visited Rickwood frequently, sometimes on the way back from spring training in Florida. In 1925, they played an exhibition game here with the Brooklyn Dodgers, a big league delight for the local fans.

Lewis Williams, a retired mechanical engineer with Southern Services, recalls shaking hands with the Babe during the 1933 exhibition game with Lou Gehrig and Dixie Walker in tow.

"My daddy took me out there," he said. "I didn’t realize he was that famous but I did get to shake hands with him."

Williams, about six at the time, said the home run king played about half the game and then came up in the stands to greet the fans. "He was slapping everybody on the back."

Ruth hit a grand slam at Rickwood during his 1925 appearance with the Yankees managed by Leo Durocher. Three decades later Stan Musial proved he was The Man, connecting on a 486-foot home run over the right field bleachers.

Both of these homers occurred during the frequent exhibitions held at Rickwood during the barnstorming era before television but there were plenty of Hall of Famers who played in Birmingham before becoming major league immortals, among them Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

Back then there was a reserved section in the outfield area between the score board and the right field bleachers, used by colored patrons. In 1925, Ruth hit several balls into this section during batting practice.

In one of Ruth’s appearances at Rickwood—or so the story goes—he reportedly hit what may be the longest home run in baseball history. The ball cleared the right field roof and landed in either an open boxcar or coal tender. It did not reach the ground until the train stopped in Atlanta a couple of hours later.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth with young fans in Birmingham, 1933: The Babe with young fans, Sam Burr, Jack Cunniff, Bob Leland and Tom Brown. The identity of the fifth boy is unknown.
(Family of Sam Burr).

While the story is undocumented, Ruth would have had to hit the longest home run in history just for the ball to reach the train tracks located at least 700 feet from Rickwood’s home plate. According to Allen Barra’s book, Rickwood Field, the Babe inspired so many whoppers it’s hard to keep fact from fiction.

Bull Connor, who later became Birmingham’s public safety commissioner, served as the public address announcer, telegraph operator and as a radio personality. By 1922 he was doing the Barons’ broadcast over WKBC in Birmingham and within a few years he was one of the best known personalities in the state.

The press had plenty to report on over the years, as most of baseball’s biggest stars showcased their skills at Rickwood. Notable among them were a pair that played for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues: Satchel Paige and a 16-year old boy who grew up minutes from Rickwood, Willie Mays. Jackie Robinson came here as a member of the visiting Kansas City Monarchs in 1947.

The Barons, now an AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, were a New York Yankees farm team from 1953–56.

 
 
 

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