Tag Archives: Things Montgomery

Emory McCord Folmar (1930-2011)

“Perhaps the best way of encapsulating the gist of an epoch is to focus not on the explicit features that define its social and ideological edifices, but on the disavowed ghosts that haunt it, dwelling in a mysterious region of nonexistent entities which nonetheless persist, continuing to exert their efficacy.” – Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute

It’s difficult to write obituaries of people like Jesse Helms or Mayor Joe Smitherman of Selma. You’re talking about men who ended up on the wrong side of history. You’re talking about people who, whether their crimes were legal or moral (or both), or even forgivable, still leave this world with families that care about them. And even the most objectionable of that bad lot, say, Richard Nixon or George Wallace, still were, beneath the accumulated iconography, men who went into public service with an idea of improving their communities and working on behalf of those they saw as their constituencies.

This has always been true for the humble writer of the villain’s obituary, juggling historical perspective, balancing the good deeds with various atrocities, writing with an honest voice without seeming to be ghoulishly dancing on the graves of the recently deceased. That’s why some batch of scribes is going to soon have to parse through the reprehensible career of a highly-respected war criminal like Henry Kissinger. To have any ethics at all, we’ve got to make judgments about these fallible (and usually proud) humans.

This is especially dicey when you’re dealing with people who were famous back before social attitudes underwent some kind of massive transformation. There can be all sorts of quibbles with understanding someone’s life “within the proper context.”

Allen Tullos, in his book Alabama Getaway, writes about the ghost of George Wallace, making extended reference to the brilliant work of the Drive-By Truckers. Tullos writes about the Truckers’ song, “Wallace,” which posits that even if Wallace’s vile racism wasn’t genuine, pandering to evil in order to get votes is still sufficient to earn a person eternal damnation.

“Concerning Emory Folmar, the mayor of Montgomery, there is no middle ground. To a substantial majority of Montgomerians, he is the greatest thing ever to happen to their city. He attracts from them a Wallace-like loyalty. Then there is the vocal minority who see Emory Folmar as a power-hungry racist who would turn Montgomery into a veritable police state.” — Alabama Magazine, December 1980

Emory Folmar was a heavily decorated Korean War vet. He was a millionaire who made his fortune in construction. He built shopping centers. And he was mayor of Montgomery from 1977 until 1999.

He was a legendary hard worker. He was also no friend to free thinkers, nor to Montgomery’s African-American community. He was a constant nemesis of the city’s black leaders, notably Joe Reed, who was then on the city council, and was (and is still) the head of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the black wing of the state’s Democratic party.

Media accounts of Folmar’s tenure as mayor have mostly focused on his gruff personality and his incredible work ethic. He was a stickler for details and would often accompany city employees on their most routine tasks. And certainly there’s a double edge to the idea that he’d ride along with garbage crews, making sure they were picking up trash properly. On the one hand, he wanted the citizens of Montgomery to be receiving top-tier service from their tax dollars. On the other hand, there’s a certain point where “salt of the Earth” becomes Helicopter Boss.

Folmar and Race

It was 1982. No sitting president had been to Montgomery since Jefferson Davis. But Folmar was a Republican back before that was Alabama’s dominant political orthodoxy. So when Folmar backed Reagan in 1980, the Gipper repaid the favor by coming to Alabama and addressing the sitting Alabama Legislature. Rep. Alvin Holmes, who still represents Montgomery at the Statehouse, walked out of Reagan’s speech. The event seems like a microcosm of where Montgomery was in terms of racial harmony.

Still, Folmar valued law and order more than he valued white supremacy. The Mayor was on the scene in 1979 to order the arrest of nearly 200 Klansmen as they marched from Selma into the city limits without a permit. News reports from the time highlight the fact that the mayor, sporting his pistol, stood alongside the police in their riot gear.

Nonetheless, the city under Folmar remained extremely racially polarized, as noted by some electoral reporting in the Times Daily on Oct. 12, 1983:

“Supported by an organization of more than 3,000 campaign workers, Mayor Emory Folmar trounced challenger Franklin James Tuesday in an election that revealed a clear division between white and black voters.”

Folmar won that election by a count of 32,734 to 23,149 (58 percent to 41 percent), but it was a high-profile battle. Nearly 50 percent of the registered voters in the city voted.

Montgomery was then 40 percent black, but, according to the article, Folmar barely campaigned in the city’s black districts. Still, he somehow got 20 percent of the city’s black vote. The Times Daily article waits to the end to explicitly state the subtext of the campaign:

“While Folmar denied he was making an issue of race, his campaign literature and his radio ads repeatedly asserted that James would allow “radicals” to run the city. Those “radical forces” he named – city councilmen Donald Watkins and Joe Reed and state Rep. Alvin Holmes – are black.”

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was under Folmar that Montgomery experienced the notorious “Todd Road Incident.” An excellent 30-minute documentary about the incident can be seen here, but this racially-charged tragedy will forever be linked to Folmar, not just the officers in question. Folmar and the city went to court to try to force the officers to submit to questioning about the incident. Folmar ultimately fired the officers, but the city was torn apart by the fallout from the incident.

Development of the City

Folmar was defeated in 1999 by a prison guard-turned-lawyer named Bobby Bright. Bright and current mayor Todd Strange spent years of their terms (and millions of tax dollars) repairing downtown Montgomery. During the 1980s, the whole center of the city became a bombed out and abandoned wellspring of fear. Sure, some of that was caused by white flight and sprawl, factors too large to be caused by a single mayor. Yet, the focused efforts of Bright and Strange (which we admire and mostly support) demonstrate that concentrated leadership in the area of urban development can make a difference. When we moved to Montgomery, there was a near total consensus that downtown was just emerging from a time in which it was a decimated wasteland. Even if some of the credit for Riverwalk redevelopment goes to Folmar (as Mayor Strange said during some of the memorializing), it must also be true that Folmar could have stopped some of the creeping blight before it reached the tragic levels that it did.

One would think that a person from the construction industry would have seen and corrected the ongoing and worsening disrepair of Garrett Coliseum. One would think that someone who made a fortune building shopping malls would have been more attuned to the withering and death of the Montgomery Mall, which remains an abandoned eyesore at the southern entrance to the city.

Like Zizek says in the epigraph to this piece, Folmar (with his focus on the east side of the city) still haunts downtown’s boarded up buildings and the undeniably heart-breaking impoverishment of the city’s west side.

The First Republican

It is a now-familiar thesis in political science circles that George Wallace made people like Newt Gingrich possible. Although a Democrat, Wallace carved out a template for a brand of populism that Republicans used to engineer their 1994 rise to national power. Among the hallmarks of this political mode of being: a resentful contempt for softness, a chest-thumping support for a militant foreign policy, and a toxic distrust of elites, intellectuals, and “special interest” minorities.

Long before dimwits like Ann Coulter showed up on the public radar, Folmar was quoted saying things like:

“You turned the media people loose on me, saying that I had a Reagan-Bush sticker on my car as though it was a city car. I own that car. I furnish my own gas, my own tires … I can do with it what I damn please. I want to let you know that this was the beginning of a long war against what I consider liberals. And anytime one of you liberals gets in my sights, I’m going for the kill and I’m taking no prisoners. You liberal do-gooders have damn near destroyed this country and here is one who is going to do all he’s big enough to do to make damn sure you don’t get your hands on the throttle again. That’s what I told her … No, this war’s not ever going to be over.”

We already noted his stumping for Reagan, and it’s hard for young people to remember what the nation’s climate involved at that time: Afghanistan, ICBMs and the missile gap, AIDS, the explosion of crack cocaine, fear of the Japanese economy, Iran-Contra, the savings and loan crisis, and dozens of other issues that don’t make much sense to contemporary ahistorical minds.

Most Republicans in this era were exceptions to the political rule. Alabama, while conservative, was still part of the “solid South.” Democrats didn’t lose control of the Legislature until 2010. Republicans back then were simply ahead of their time, and it took a while for the national partisan trends to catch up to the groundwork plowed by men like Folmar.

As a Republican, Folmar ran against George Wallace in the gubernatorial campaign of 1982. Wallace had done his whole “repent and apologize” routine for the racist unpleasantness of previous decades and also was operating on some sympathy because a would-be assassin had put him in a wheelchair. In his indispensable book, Black in Selma, a legendary civil rights lawyer tells this interesting story about the Wallace-Folmar campaign:

When he beat MacMillan (in the primary), Wallace came seeking (the Alabama Democratic Conference’s) endorsement in the general election against Emory Folmar, the Republican mayor of Montgomery. Joe Louis Reed, the chairman of ADC, usually called the shots on the state and national endorsements, but this was one decision he didn’t want to make by himself. Joe called about twenty ADC leaders from around the state to come to Montgomery to meet with Wallace the next day in the boardroom of the Alabama Education Association, the state teachers’ union where Joe works. We were all sitting around the big conference table when Wallace — smoking a big cigar — came in with a black man pushing his wheelchair.

He started talking his usual stuff about how he was a populist. He and his family had been dirt poor. He’d built trade schools, raised teachers’ salaries. Emory Folmar was nothing but a damn “Republican chief of police” running around looking for some black heads to whip. He said he wanted us to make a statement endorsing him. He thought it would make a difference.

Somebody said they didn’t think the race would even be close. There weren’t that many Republicans in the state of Alabama except when electing a president.

“In all my years in politics, I’ve never taken a race for granted,” Wallace responded.

Wallace was correct that we weren’t going to ask black people to vote for Emory Folmar, who was so right-wing, some folk in Montgomery called him the mayoratollah. He liked to strap on a pistol and ride to the scenes of crimes with the policemen. More than one black had been shot or injured by the Montgomery police under questionable circumstances, and the black community there deeply disliked him.” — J.L. Chestnut, Black in Selma, p. 334-5

Statewide candidacy rebuffed, Folmar later threw in his lot with Fob James, running Fob’s failure of a campaign against Don Siegelman in 1998. Fob, the sitting Governor at the time, was famous for agitating for prayer in schools and two terms of states rights-themed meanness. James was trounced by Siegelman, the last time that the Democrats managed to win a race for the executive office. Among the highlights from that campaign, Folmar said he “laid a trap” for Winton Blount, James’ challenger in the GOP primary, by having Richard Arrington (the black mayor of Birmingham) endorse Blount. That’s right: For Folmar, it was a strike against you if a black person endorsed you.

Folmar was also famous for always being in shape. He was a high school football star and worked out regularly, maintaining a trim and muscular figure throughout his public life (as noted in the picture above). And in some ways, this is an appropriate metaphor for state partisan politics. The lean and trim GOP, made sharp by year in exile, ultimately destroyed, perhaps permanently, the state Democratic Party that had gotten over-confident, lazy, and bloated from years of control.

The Gun

And then there is the pistol. Every story about Folmar mentions the fact that he packed heat. He said it was because there were threats on his life. Evidently somebody shot out the windows of his car a couple of times. And there certainly seemed to be no lack of bravado from the Marine who killed Koreans during the Truman administration. Many folks seemed to cringe at the primitive Wild West image of a pistol-packing mayor. But others took pride. Folmar was a “man’s man,” showing up many mornings when police did their first roll call. He’d be out there at the scenes of traffic wrecks and crimes, embodying the idea that this was his city, and he had the loaded sidearm to back it up if need be.

Needless to say, it’s extremely difficult to imagine an elected official behaving in this way today. Nothing says “good place for economic development” like a city with a mayor always prepared to draw down on his many foes.

Moral Leadership

Also while running that James campaign, Folmar appeared on a local TV show called “Good Morning Montgomery.” According to an Associated Press article that ran in the Tuscaloosa News on Christmas Eve 1997, someone called into the show to complain about being harassed outside a Montgomery nightclub.

Evidently, the person was gay and the nightclub in question was a gay club. The Mayor called the person a queer.

“I said something to the effect of if you didn’t all hang out together there wouldn’t be a problem.”

To its credit, the Tuscaloosa News slammed Folmar’s comment in the opinion page of the same issue in which it reported the story. And Folmar, for his part, was fully unapologetic about using the slur.

A report complaining that Folmar refused to meet with gay residents or support city AIDS services quoted the Mayor as saying, “I used the word queer and I’ll use it again. I’m not going to call them gay. I don’t approve of their lifestyle one bit.”

Oh, and evidently at one point he described AIDS deaths as “self-inflicted wounds.”

Truly, it was a simpler time.

And then there’s this gem of an AP that ran in the Times Daily on March 5, 1988:

Police broke up a punk-rock concert that Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar described as a “Satanic event,” sending about 100 disappointed teenagers home without making any arrests.

Um, what? Wow. The ’80s were crazy. We wish there were punk rock shows at The Capri. Well, except for the part where the police raid the place and ruin everything.

The article quotes Capri Theater Director Martin McCaffery as saying, “The kids at the show had much better manners than the police.” He continues:

“After a fishing expedition through our trash cans — which the police videotaped — they found a few empty beer cans, most of which were in there because we confiscated them.”

Police said they showed up because McCaffery rented the theater to someone without a business license. “That’s not usually handled with 30 cops and a paddy wagon,” McCaffery said.

And that wasn’t the last clash between Folmar’s regime and the Capri. It’s hard to fathom now, but religious right protesters flipped out over a movie called The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese. Folmar and then-Gov. Guy Hunt led a “Stand Up for Jesus” protest march, although they declined McCaffery’s invitation to actually view  the film that they were making into political hay.

And that sort of thing was sort of par for the course under Folmar. Numerous people that lived in Montgomery under the Folmar regime remember a string of rock concerts that were ruined (if not banned) by the mayor. It wasn’t that Folmar hated music or the arts — he was partly responsible for bringing the Shakespeare Festival to Montgomery. It was just that he saw young people (and black people) as disrespectful troublemakers and he didn’t want their loud rock music happening in his town (to say nothing of the explosion of hip-hop that was sweeping the rest of the nation in the 1980s).

And in some ways, maybe that’s one of the good things about Folmar’s legacy. He created a counter-cultural opposition. Youth culture can be forged in some memorable fires when your mayor is a dour, gun carrying enemy of fun. Folmar, the glowering gay bashing Reaganite, may have unintentionally given rise to new and interesting forms of cultural opposition. It’s certainly a more revolutionary climate when your mayor is trying to use the city’s toolbox to actively suppress fun and art — versus having the mayor trying to use fun and art as mechanisms to fuel economic development.

Still, that seems like little solace to the actual victims at the time. If you were gay and felt like your mayor hated you, or were black in the birthplace of the civil rights movement and felt like you were still ghettoized, you’re not going to take a lot of comfort in the fact that some skateboarding teen has a convenient nemesis. Hunter S. Thompson got a lot of mileage out Nixon’s evil, but at the end of the day, those kids in Vietnam were still dead.

All told, I think the legacy of Emory Folmar shows us how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time. He seems to have run this town for over two decades in a manner similar to that in which the principal in The Breakfast Club ran the school. He was a hardline authoritarian who probably loved (parts of) Montgomery in equal proportion to his contempt for those who had differing visions of reality.

Good mayors like Bright and Strange seem to understand that it takes a lot of effort to ensure that rising tides lift all boats. The city has a heap of problems on its plate, many of which defy easy solutions. And every one of which will need more than a single mayor to properly tackle. We’re all in this together.

But reflecting on the life and times of Emory Folmar may well give us a map of where we’re going, as much as where we’ve been.

Since Folmar brought the Shakespeare Festival to Montgomery (lured it here from Anniston, where it ran from 1972-1984) perhaps it’s fitting to end this obituary with a quote from Mark Antony’s legendary eulogy of Caesar:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Reggy the Purple Party … Sigh

There was a confusing five-letter word on our minor league baseball tickets:

R-E-G-G-Y

“What does that mean? Is it like “Reggie,” like Reggie Jackson, or does it rhyme with “Geggy,” you know, from the band Geggy Tah?¹ You know, like someone who begs too much has gotten beggy?”

What? I don’t know. I mean, if the local NBC affiliate is sponsoring it, can it be bad? It’s WSFA. It’s the Montgomery Biscuits. I guess we’ll see when we get there.”

It turns out that Reggy is, in fact, pronounced like Reggie. It also turns out that he is a giant purple furry who attempts to entertain the public by loudly and stupidly expressing a desire to “party.”²

Reggy, as it happens, has a webpage and makes appearances at various minor league baseball stadiums across the south. And WSFA, home to the ever-trusted Bob Howell and Rich Thomas, inflicted Reggy on a stadium half-full of mostly unamused Biscuits fans. We would have been frankly better suited had they wrapped a drugged Huntington frat boy in several yards of dirty carpet and shoved him out over the firstbase line while blaring “Hot Potato” by The Wiggles.

Reggy, according to his Wikipedia page, evidently studied mascoting under someone who once performed as the legendary and awesome Philly Fanatic.³ We, as fans of mascotting — and particularly minor league baseball clowning, find this hard to believe.

Wait a minute! That's not the umpire!!

We, as much as anyone over the age of 5, appreciate quality pratfalls and the ancient art of harassing the other team’s base coaches. But Reggy seems like a smelly weirdo, emerging from his seedy-seeming basement to announce that he’s ready to “party” with the fans of the Lansing Lugnuts or Carolina Mudcats or whatever. He falls over, has an inflatable gorilla costume, dances around in drag, and takes a crotch shot or two. He got some decent play from an umpire that he draped with a feather boa, but mostly just left us (and several kids nearby) sort of uncomfortably shifting in our seats, wondering about the post-game rituals of sadness that Reggy must endure at some hotel bar.

And that’s not all we wondered about: What’s that thing dangling from his nose supposed to be? How did something as lame as Reggy become the spokes-mascot for the Mascot Hall of Fame? Why hasn’t the Mascot Hall of Fame updated its website since 2008? Are there no new inductees? How is a “mascot” different than this giant falcon, allegedly called a “skin character,” designed to promote debate in the nation of Qatar?

Reggy is at his worst when he grabs the microphone and uses his creepy “guy talking to little kids at a birthday party” voice. It was at this point, even before the Biscuits had taken the field, that we knew that we needed to blame WSFA for sponsoring this monstrosity.

Look, we understand that you have to spice up minor league baseball with crap like “fireworks night” and “clap your hands if you support the troops” night. The game of baseball is just too boring for the average modern ticket-buying rube, who can’t call a sporting event “family fun” unless it’s a Facebook Friday or a Limited Edition Porcelain Figurine Giveaway. God forbid people actually know who’s pitching or that the Biscuits are in dire need of a second baseman.

Even so, Reggy was taking things too far. His lame crotch gyrations certainly got the crowd around us talking … about how much we missed the decently-serviceable Biscuits mascot, Big Mo. Look, Big Mo may be a lame amorphous anteater-thing, so lumpy that he actually looks like a pile of poop wearing a baseball uniform. We get that. But he’s our pile of poop. He doesn’t do that much, shoots some biscuits out of a cannon at the crowd (the most important selling point, frankly, that I ever mention when describing our local game experience to out-of-town friends), and generally wanders around like a tolerable oaf, getting his picture made with the babies and whatnot.

We like Big Mo, especially in comparison to Reggy’s highly-contrived Spuds McKenzie antics, made all the worse by the fact that he shops said antics around the minor league baseball circuit like some kind of amethyst whore. Ideally, we’d have a mascot that was the actual team logo: a giant biscuit that would walk around and touch people with his butter-pat-tongue. And that tongue would taste like butter and it would also breakdance and have a better name than Big Mo.

But we don’t have that giant grunting edible biscuit walking around. We have Big Mo. And we like Big Mo. You know what you think about when the local TV station pays to bring in some imported teamless mascot when you already have a perfectly decent mascot at your minor league stadium? You think about the economy being in the toilet and outsourcing and how lame it must be to put on a suit in 95-degree heat and know that your employer is letting some guy from YouTube show up and throw frisbees to your crowd.

We like Mickey, the mayor of the Biscuit Bunch, doing their awful little line dances and Cupid Shuffling on top of the dugouts. We even keep quiet during his awful donning of the Indian headdress during YMCA. We frantically applaud his frantic waving of the Biscuits flag as Carmina Burana blares before each game.

Reggy? Well, we’ve already said it: WSFA, we blame you.

¹ It should be noted that as great and catchy as Geggy Tah’s song, “Whoever You Are” may be, the album on which that song appears is staggeringly weird. Hearing that entire album, it is no surprise that they could produce something so catchy and yet also disappear into obscurity.
² Your idea of what it means to “party” may, in fact, and likely will, greatly differ from Reggy’s idea about what “partying” seems to entail.
³ The Fanatic, while cool, is far from our favorite pro mascot. That honor goes to Youppi, formerly of the Montreal Expos (now of the Montreal Canadiens). One of many online looks at the world’s worst mascots can be seen here. This link is particularly good because it includes the reprehensible Izzy, but also several very strange and disturbing mascots from European soccer.

Midtown Montgomery Living

If things have been a little slow around here at LiM in the last few weeks (and they have), it’s because we’ve been putting together a new project. We’re proud to announce that we are writing and editing over at Midtown Montgomery Living (MML), a new blog launching this week. The project is a working collaboration with Sandra Nickel (of the Hat Team) and a diverse and interesting group of regular writers and occasional contributors.

We’ll be writing over there at least once a week and helping Sandra to manage the authors who will be posting on the site. We are hoping that all of you, loyal readers, will stop by over at MML from time to time. There will be writing about gardening, architecture, cooking, restaurant reviews, Midtown businesses and events and neighborhood news. We hope that the site will boost interest in living and working in Midtown, while still providing interesting reading for folks who aren’t lucky enough to live in this part of town.

This does not mean the end of Lost in Montgomery by any means. We will continue to bore you with our endless (if sporadic) chatter about recycling, insult the bad chain restaurants that infest East Montgomery like scabies on a flea market couch, document our day trips and restaurant reviews and even occasionally provide constructive or helpful advice. It’s just that some Midtown-specific content (like our new review of Tomatino’s) will now be put over at MML. And hopefully folks from over there will meet some folks from over here and it’ll be a real civic online hyper-local party session. Or something.

Thanks for your continued readership and please feel free to leave us comments at any time.

Greenwood Cemetery

We found Greenwood Cemetery the same way we find lots of things in town – just driving around. We had goneGreenwood entrance to Oak Park, and decided to follow Highland across Ann Street to see the neighborhood to the north of  and behind the Wal-Mart. That’s how we found the mid-century white gates and Old English font. We both love cemeteries. There’s the obvious essential humanity about mortality and its accompanying rituals; add in the history and culture of burial ceremonies and memorials, the poignancy of being surrounded by some of the last visible remnants of lives lived to their utmost (or not) and the inevitable weirdness you find in any place where folks have been visiting over an extended period of time, and a cemetery can be a great place to get a sense of a community, its culture, and its quirks. Greenwood didn’t disappoint us.

Greenwood’s been open since 1901 and spreads across 150 acres. I learned this from the cemetery’s parent company – it is owned and managed by Dignity™ Memorial (visit their bland corporate-looking website if you wish, although I can’t imagine why you would want to).

The actual real estate is divided into a variety of sections for sub-populations like the Jews, the Masons, and the veterans. And then there’s the super-creepy Babyland, tucked away in the back. Featuring no more than 30 graves or so, Babyland backs up against a chain link fence at the cemetery’s edge. When we were there, a dog was barking at us from a yard on the other side of the fence. We studied the tiny graves, many featuring Santas or toys. The stained toys add to the already tragic atmosphere. Curiously, the burials in this section seemed to end in the mid-70s. Did they run out of space? Was there some kind of problem with Babyland? Customers lost interest in the sales pitch? We may never know.

There are some famous people buried in Greenwood – people like Lister Hill, David and Dixie Graves, and Jim Fyffe. Greenwood’s most famous residents are George and Lurleen Wallace, buried at the “Circle of Life.” Their daughter Peggy wrote this affecting essay about an experience at Greenwood last year. I found their gravesite using the Find a Grave website, where George’s page curiously says that “The Virtual Flowers feature has been turned off for this memorial because it was being continually misused.”

A Walk through Oak Park

Oak Park. Montgomery, Alabama. A great history of the park can be found here. With roots tracing back to 1899, this park is the crown jewel of the Montgomery Parks and Recreation Department. It is without a doubt a landmark of the city and one of the most important parts of the collective civic fabric. It once had a zoo and pools. It was the crux of a major part of the battle to integrate Montgomery.

A really neat 2007 history of the park (which we have not yet read) is here. We may have to go to Capitol Books and get a copy. Looks great.

It boasts a planetarium (which we intend to review later). The City’s website describes the planetarium as such:

Located in Oak Park, the Gayle Planetarium is one of the city’s educational highlights. Jointly operated by Troy University Montgomery and the City of Montgomery Parks and Recreation Department, this intriguing attraction is open Monday thru Thursday 7:30am to 4:30pm, and Friday, 7:30am to 12pm. Public Shows are offered Monday thru Thursday at 3pm and every Sunday at 2pm.

This facility is one of the largest planetariums in the Southeast!

There’s a great postcard of the park from the early 1900s here. It seems unlikely that the city would produce and market a postcard of the park these days. We took a walk through Oak Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in August. Here’s what we saw:

The Bell Building and The Herald

bell.thumbnail

Read all about it in The Herald

The Bell Building downtown at the corner of Montgomery and Lee streets is a beautiful old landmark, a slightly decrepit and faded place that stands in marked contrast to the ugly turquoise splendor of the RSA buildings. It doesn’t have the exquisite detailing of some of the architecture closer to the Court Street fountain, but then again it’s not empty like those buildings. It has a marble entryway and brass elevators and a delightful mail slot that runs the height of the building, so you can have the pleasure of putting your letters in with a neat “snick” and hearing them tumble down, click, thump, to the post boxes on the first floor. Some people worry that their mail will get stuck between floors if they post it this way, but for me this has become the preferred mailing method – a little extra journey that makes even the mundane paying of bills feel special and baroque.

Beauvoir_Club_Montgomery_1907

The Beauvoir Club, circa 1907

ASL pamphlet

Would this convince you to quit drinking?

2010 will be the 100th year of the Bell Building. This past spring the Montgomery County Historical Society’s newsletter, The Herald, published an article about the history of the Bell Building (download it by clicking on the thumbnail image above). Turns out the 12th floor was once home to the Beauvoir Club (a name almost certainly inspired by the Jefferson Davis homestead), one of Montgomery’s premiere drinking establishments.  The building also housed (in suite 508) the local headquarters of the Anti-Saloon League (great website there – check out the Lincoln-Lee Legion Pledge – love that boys who signed the pledge were called “Lincolns” and girls were called “Willards”). I know so little about the temperance movement other than the usual Carrie Nation stuff (how amazing is it that she described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus”?), but it is pretty delightful to imagine drunken gentlemen carousing only seven floors above a collection of thin-lipped preachy types sorting through piles of pamphlets and newsletters.

For about 40 years, the Bell Building elevators were operated by a man named Ulysses Pride – the kind of name that would raise an eyebrow if you were anyone but Thomas Pynchon and used it for a character in your novel, but he was as real and is pictured in The Herald’s article. He retired when the elevators became automated, and I wonder if he was sad or relieved or some mix of both. What must it be like to spend your entire professional life riding up and down in a reflective metal box?

The article got me interested in the Montgomery County Historical Society, the organization that publishes The Herald. Sadly, only a few of their back issues are available on their website – but what is there is plenty fascinating, including the story of how the Court Street Fountain got built, in which the author repeatedly refers to the Montgomery Advertiser as “Old Grandma Advertiser.” Also it turns out that there was a Civil War prison near what is now Tallapoosa Street – more than 1,200 Federal soldiers died there and were buried in Oakwood. I had no idea, and question why there’s no marker available to commemorate the site of so many deaths.

The cicadas

They are the music of Montgomery in late summer, these horrifyingly ugly and stupid insects. Around 7 or 8 in the evening, their full serenade kicks in like a quivering opera whose deafening and reverberating aria entertains your dinner party, your “quiet” evening read outside, echoing even inside your house if you, like us, have the original windows in your old and poorly insulated house.

The day we moved in, assisted by brothers Jesse and James (the small poetry of rural Alabama working for us in sweaty shifts moving endless boxes of books from Tuscaloosa against the heat powered by Moe’s and a startling supply of Powerade), we were accosted by one in the front entryway to our house. It scared me, as large bugs often do, and I ran inside. Jesse (or James, I forget which – sorry, guys) said he’d take care of it and went after it with his shoe. I was inside watching his flailings through our red front door’s glass cut-outs, and I will never forget the way the bug screamed about being chased, and injured, and dying – it pierced me in a pecuilar way, seeming so alive, and tragic, and angry, and sad.

Our first month in Montgomery was August, when they are at their finest, this legion of silver-winged bugs. We would go for dog walks as soon as it got cool enough, and sometimes had to yell at each other to be understood in conversation about our new life here among the giant cicada-filled trees. None ever came near the house, as far as I know, after the grisly death of their original emissary. It’s weird not to see them, but to hear them constantly, loudly, especially in the evenings when you still sweat from sitting outside but welcome it as a kind of cool all the same. I find that I miss them in the other seasons.

Yesterday when weeding among our prolific tomato plants I found a wing, just one, silvery and clearly from a cicada, and I wondered at its death or rebirth here in our garden. Was it a predatory bird that found it? A disease or accident? Where was the rest of it? I chose not to look too closely, soaked the soil with the hose, and went inside.

I don’t know much about them, as I basically hate most insects even as I appreciate their value to the ecosystem, etc., etc. I particularly hate the blind squishiness of the cicada, its single minded straight flight that will as soon run right into you, seeming blind and impervious, perhaps driven by the desire to mate or sing or both. I do know that there are some that only emerge from the ground every 7 or 10 or 12 years, and remember a story a friend told on moving to Kansas in the year of emergence, wherein her porch was covered in their writhing bodies and eventual carcasses inches deep. She was afraid to go outside. Such power they have – the ability to shape our soundscape, to carve their way into our memories of summer like a love note on tree bark. I don’t want them in my house, but I’m happy they’re here.

LiM Explains: The Court Street Recession Billboard

Recession 101

Did you see it? On Court Street just south of Jeff Davis? Were you confused? Yep, us too. The Internets helped us figure out that this billboard is part of a nationally funded campaign by an “anonymous East Coast donor” who wants people to buck up about this whole recession thing and bounce back. Leaving alone the question of whether the money would have been better spent, say, feeding and clothing the recession’s newly homeless, it’s still hard to reconcile this billboard with its purported message. “It’s a test not a final?” Seemed to us like this might be more like a preview of the apocalypse.

No surprise that the designer of these things is also the guy behind those billboards purporting to quote God – remember those? In case you didn’t, the people behind that effort (who have helpfully trademarked GodSpeaks because that’s what Jesus was into – intellectual property rights) are maintaining a website where their billboards are grouped with the racing car they also, evidently, sponsor and use as a vehicle for their heresy advertising proselytizing.

It’s a puzzle, this billboard nestled in a super-shady parking lot just off the freeway. What are we supposed to do after reading it? I thought it was more scary than anything else – like “Depression’s next, people – time to melt down your gold and turn in your neighbors.” That kind of thing is just a few steps away from an exhoration to save our Confederate money, and in any case does not seem helpful for people who need real assistance rather than the kind offered by eyesore advertisements functioning as tax writeoffs for struggling outdoor advertising companies.

The alarm

It has been going off for five days now, going on six, the house alarm somewhere on the 3300 block of Norman Bridge, a whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop sound that carries through the humidity like a ribbon, surfacing every now and then amid the otherwise soothing sounds of the jazz I’m playing in the living room, polluting my Charlie Parker and upending my Stan Getz. It is of a piece with the power outages we’ve had at least twice a day all week (“squirrels” says our neighbor, who says he unplugs everything in his house before he goes to work – we know from other communications that he frequently circles back to check the windows and doors after leaving in the morning if he sees a “suspicious character” on the street).

Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop. We haven’t had a good night’s sleep since Sunday, when all this started – I think it infects our dreams, triggers tossing and turning somehow even though it’s so faint in the bedroom that it’s almost drowned out by the noise of the ceiling fan. Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop.

I called the police on Tuesday, finally. That was Day 3. I think I was the first person to call, though I don’t see how that can be so, and if it is so, it explains so much more about life in Montgomery than this humble blog can ever hope to. The enthusiastic officer arrived to chat, and I stepped outside, saying (by way of introduction) “Can you hear that?” He said he couldn’t, took a little reflexive step back as if identifying me with the tinfoil hat people, the Taos Hum people. I took him to the back yard, where it is easily heard. Whoop whoop whoop whoop. He went to investigate, and came back shortly thereafter with the news that “the lady who owns the house is in Michigan and is trying to get someone to fix it.” Also he said that “it seems to be running out of steam, so maybe it’ll just shut off on its own.”

This was not encouraging news. People get shot in Los Angeles for lesser transgressions, and sued, or both. But here in Montgomery it is almost Day Six of The Alarm and it shows no signs of stopping. The power keeps going out, but the alarm continues. How is that possible?

Whoop whoop whoop whoop.

The Capri — The LiM Interview

Martin

Mmmm....popcorn...

We at Lost in Montgomery are huge fans of The Capri movie theater. We link to it over on our side bar and consider it one of the most important institutions in the city. It is truly one of the things that the city can be proud of and is something that you can brag to your friends in other cities about. We were fortunate enough to get an interview with the director of The Capri, Martin McCaffery.

What’s your official title and how long have you been at The Capri? Have you always been into films and how’d you get into this current job?

Director. I’ve been here since Nov 1985. I’ve worked in the exhibition industry since I was an usher in HS (1974-75) and was a projectionist from 1976-1985. My getting the job is a long story involving a visit to Montgomery, rejection, subtrafuge, questionable decisions on many people’s part, and me being really bored with my previous job.

How are things going generally?

Worst attendance since 1991. Fortunately, unlike 1991, we have a nestegg to get us through, thanks to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

My totally uninformed guess would be that there’s some competition from Netflix, but that you have a pretty steady market of people who want to see fare that doesn’t come to The Rave.

A steady but way too small market of people. NetFlix isn’t really competition, more like where they go after they’ve missed it here. The whole indie biz is doing its much predicted (by me) collapse right now, so all art theatres are hurting bad this year.

We try to follow all of your various promotions and themes, like 80’s Week or the Summer Matinees for kids. Tell us a little about the responses to the various promotions.

The dreaded kids matinees got off to an above average start this week. We generally cater to daycare centers, but the last couple of years we’ve had a large number of walk-ins. There must have been a burst of reproduction in Cloverdale the last few years.

80’s week is the first time we’ve tried something like this in 20 years. Rep films don’t usually do much for us, but since no one is coming to what we are showing anyway, I thought we’d try to lure in some unsuspecting post-boomers. The theory is, they’ve seen these movies a million times on TV, but never in a theater. Sort of the Wizard of Oz approach. We’ll see what happens.

What do you think about the direction of Montgomery generally? We get a lot of negativity when we tell people that we live here, but we are excited to battle that and be civic boosters and improve the place where we live. Do you see hope or a city that is slowly rotting, or what?

Hope is not part of my vocabulary about anything 🙂 Montgomery is very different place than when I got here. I’m glad they are finally trying to save the downtown, too much of that’s been blown up in the last 24 years. You weren’t around during the Emory Folmar days (or were you?). Just imagine Montgomery being run by local talk radio.

We were excited to see that you were allowed to start selling beer. Was that a huge breakthrough or just one of a long string of improvements to the kinds of things you can offer? Any other goals on the horizon in that regard (or infrastructure, or whatever)?

Selling beer and wine (and tobacco and pseudophedrine if we want to) was a big breakthrough. Alas, there hasn’t been anyone here to drink it. The big improvement this year is to redo the concession stand and repair the bathrooms. We don’t own the building, and the owners won’t sell, so we can’t do any of the major work and renovation we’d really like to do.

When I was in high school, I remember there being a huge freakout about the movie Last Temptation of Christ. Were you here then? Any other moments when you felt like cinema was at the center of some sort of cultural moment? I doubt there were actual protests or people upset that you screened a film like Milk or Bill Maher’s Religulous, right?

Yes, I was here for Last Temptation. We were the only theater in the state to show the movie. We were personally condemned by the Mayor, the City Council, and the Governor, besides all of the petitions from people who hadn’t seen it. It was, of course, our number one movie for many years. No one has bothered us since. People do not like to be told they can’t see something. Our archives are at AUM and the Temptation files are entertaining, as are the Capri Raid files. A book about the national Temptation controversy came out last year and we get a few pages (though are not listed in the index!)

No problems with Milk, though I remember when the aforementioned Folmar regime tried to stop the AIDS Quilt from coming to town, and maintained an AIDS list. As I said, things are very different in many ways now. Picketters really boost business!