The Hidden Gems of the Nashville Tennessean Magazine
One of the hidden gems in Metro Archives is the collection of Nashville Tennessean magazines in bound form.
Of the various books and materials that sit on our shelves in Metro Archives, the following bound magazines are perhaps one of the least-used resources that contain feature articles, advertisements, and other clippings that provide context into the daily lives of Tennesseans, during each timeframe. So I'm spreading the word now of some of the most intriguing articles I've found when I scanned through the magazines from 50, 60, and 70 years ago.
Here's a quick overview of what was published in these magazines...
I've had zero luck finding out a little more information about the magazine, like when it began, what its purpose was, and if it's still being published (I don't think so, but I haven't received a physical copy of the Sunday newspaper in years). But here's what I can tell you about the bound copies we have:
- We have in bound volume, October 1946 - December 1971. After that, we also have the Nashville Tennessean magazine & Young World (I'm unable to figure out what this part of the magazine was - a section for teens?).
- They were published once a week on Sundays
- While the majority of their material include feature stories spanning a variety of Tennessee's people, places, and things, the magazine also includes other ads and columns that provide an educational view of the state's citizens, businesses, and natural wonders.
Best of the Feature stories...
"Mr. X' Takes a Bride"
Published in the April 19, 1959 edition
The story that first caught my attention when I was flipping through the pages was the one below that seems like a cross between The Bachelor and Nashville's own version of Sleepless in Seattle. It was published in the April 19th, 1959 edition, and is a follow up to an article published in the February 15th (assumably of the same year) edition in the "Down to Earth" column.
"Mr. X" (an alias for Jack R. Pittman revealed in the April article) was introduced to Tennessean magazine readers as "a lonely widower who was thinking about getting married again." He told readers that he was looking for "widows in their 40's' who might be thinking along the same line."
Both "Mr. X" and staff around the magazine thought that he'd receive maybe a small showering of letters, when in reality, he received a "gullywasher" of letters. On the Monday after the column appeared, "Mr. X" received about 25 letters. The next day though, he received over 100.
This deluge of letters continued for the next 8 weeks, and included letters from 7 different states.
When Pittman/Mr. X was asked about his response to the letters, he said...
"I'll tell you honestly, that thing got out of hand. They were every one nice letters from real nice people and it worried me not being able to answer all of them personally."
Before meeting the woman that became his second wife, Pittman said that he tried to respond to all of the letters (while it was pretty difficult, I'm sure), but ended up writing back to or calling about 50 correspondents. He met about a dozen of them, and had dates with a few of them as well. He went to a few of the ladies' homes and a few came to his. One came to his place of employment (he worked as a bookkeeper and manager at Johnson Auto Painting & Supply Co. that was located at 112 15th Ave N, which is now property owned by Country Delite Farms) and took him to breakfast in her new car. He also apparently flew to Georgia to visit another one of the correspondents.
Some letters, he read til 11 o'clock at night, which led him to feeling very confused and wishing that he'd never opened his mouth about getting remarried.
He also said that despite the fact that quite a few of the letters expressed a real need or loneliness on the part of the letter, they were also an inspiration to him.
"Those were the letters that touched me most,' he said, 'because I know just how they feel. Perhaps that thought in the letters had an indirect bearing on me getting married. I know it made me wonder if it is good for man-or woman-to live alone."
The article goes into a little more depth about Pittman's life (he had 3 children) and more about his experience with the letters, but I'm going to skip ahead to where he met "the one." The woman that finally stole his heart and apparently had "the spark" was Mrs. Irene Gilmer. As if this story couldn't get any more intriguing, here's how they met: they were introduced through a mutual friend on a Tuesday and 4 days later, they were married.
The new Mrs. Pittman didn't even know about the letters until after they were married. Her response? "I guess things were going in such a whirl he just forgot to tell me." Sure, we'll go with that.
When she did learn about them, she said that all the letters seemed to point to a "real need."
And this next quote is a little bit of foreshadowing for the current world of online dating...
"I think there ought to be some reliable organization that would bring lonely people together. You just can't go out on the street hunting new friendships."
I'm not sure what came of this couple after this article; obviously their story ends here in terms of the magazine. They knew people would judge them for getting married so soon, but also said they knew what they wanted at their ages (he was 53, she was 47), so my romantic side is going to believe that they lived happily ever after.
Pittman received a last batch of letters (about half a dozen) even after he married, but destroyed them before reading any because he didn't feel he had a right to open them. He had found his answer, and ironically enough, not with the help of a letter.
"Charms for the Goddess"
Published in the April 3rd, 1949 edition
Another story that caught my eye was about a unique shop on Charlotte Ave that sold various potions for whatever the buyer's needs were (for luck, love, to keep people away, etc.). It was a voodoo shop, according to the article, and it was run by a man by the name of S.A. Tisdale.
According to the 1949 City Directory, it was listed as a "curio shop" and it was located at 1106 1/2 Charlotte Ave - an address that appears to no longer exist because it's right where the interstate runs. But for reference, see the Sanborn map below (date approximately 1940's - 1968).
The article talks about the effectiveness of Tisdale's merchandise (though Tisdale apparently was skeptical of his own products) through a few of his customers and the results they experienced. The first customer the article discusses is a man by the name of Moses Becklin who ran into an unlucky streak when he was throwing dice.
"For three months Moses barely had been breaking even with the dice. No matter how he cajoled them, no matter how he berated them, the number cubes refused to turn in the right direction."
So he decided to visit Tisdale's shop, and purchases what sounds like Felix Felicis (for us Harry Potter fans) a.k.a. Liquid Luck. In reality though, he purchased a 30-cent bottle of "Lucky Dice Oil." This concoction was advertised by its Memphis makers as "a perfume of powerful and attractive odor which will bring notice." While luck isn't guaranteed, it was pointed out by the manufacturer that the product was sincerely believed by many of "the sporting crowd" to bring "Great Good Fortune".
So Moses took it home and used it for his next game at a dice joint he went to in North Nashville. But sadly, luck did not come his way.
"He lost two dollars on the first roll; four on the second when he tried the old doubling system, Moses was flat broke. One of the boys gave him a dime for bus fare, bought him a beer, and urged him to come back on the following Saturday night."
In the meantime, while Moses was hoping for a good fortune, Moses' wife tried a different product that she purchased from the same shop. She purchased a container of what was called "Come to Me" powder. And to directly quote this product's purpose..."[it] is believed by some to exert infinite attraction over just about anybody whom you care to attract."
She tried to use the product on her husband, but that's when he left to test out his luck oil. So instead, she tried the powder's power out on the game of dice and actually had luck! When she came home in the early hours of the morning, with Moses at home waiting on her, she was smiling broadly and offered to make an early breakfast for them. Afterward, she started pulling from her purse many bills of various value - 1's, 5's, 10's, and even 20's - until the amount totaled about $300.
So maybe the potions worked, just not on what the user originally purchased them for.
The article discusses a few more customers and the products they've used, but I'm simply going to recommend that you come in and read the article yourself instead of lengthening this blog post even more.
Ads and other columns...
Other fascinating details of the magazine are the old advertisements (those are an educational lesson of various degrees), recipes, and "Jean Bruce" advice columns which are like prehistoric social media posts. Check out a few samples below...
I think they meant "shortening" here - the ingredient that used to be used in practically everything.
So this little comic gives you an idea of when credit cards began to be used, and apparently quite regularly. Whereas simply charging things to an account when you didn't have cash was the fad before that, as we see in the advertisement below this cartoon.
How to use them for historical research...
If these magazines were cataloged and indexed, they'd be a great source for genealogical research for people who may have relatives included in any articles. But sadly, they're not. But that's definitely a project idea for us in the future.
But for historical research, these magazines are anachronisms of each of their own decades and years. They show firsthand through the vernacular used and images, what the racial, cultural, and gender-related atmosphere was like in Tennessee at the time. For example, in almost all of the advertisements for washing machines, clothing, and kitchen-related merchandise, women were obviously the target for the ad. Seems like this goes without saying, but especially for the 1949-59 magazines, a woman's role as the carer of the home (and husband) was her sole priority (see example below in the ad for "Duz"). You start to see subtle changes in the 1969 magazine though since this was around the time that women began looking for different futures for themselves rather than what their parents had.
But that's one example of what these magazines can provide for you - evidence of a different time. But they're also evidence of physical places throughout the state - like locations of businesses, restaurants, homes, etc. When researchers come in to Metro Archives looking for where a previous business used to be located, sometimes we can only offer an approximate address. The ads in these magazines provide a little more context.
And while my favorite part of the magazines are the feature stories because they provide a snapshot into Tennessee's history, the best part of the magazines are that they seem to have something for everyone to enjoy. So if you ever visit us here in Archives, please ask us where these little gems are located and we'll gladly take you to them.
With the NFL Draft going on this weekend (by the time this posts, it'll be almost over), I wanted to inform readers about what Metro Archives is doing to celebrate the occasion. For the past month or so, we've had an exhibit on display here highlighting the construction of the Titans' Stadium. I wrote a blog post about it a couple of years ago too, so if you'd like to read about it, click on this link. Otherwise, I welcome you to come check out the display before it's taken down on May 19th.
But wait, there's more. I also wanted to honor the event by posting a before-and-after of Nashville's riverfront. We have many, many photos of the riverfront in downtown Nashville. But this photo below from 1922 is from our Foster-Creighton Collection (the company that built a lot of buildings in Nashville), and it's one of my favorites. I couldn't really tell you why - could be the "Uneeda Biscuit" sign, or the dirt roads, or that it's a black and white photo - which reminds me of calmer, less traffic-filled times. But I digress. Check out the 1922 photo and then see a photo I took just this week of the riverfront.
Almost 100 years ago...
'Til next time,