My Great Uncle and One of Hollywood’s Pioneering Moguls

The 93rd Oscars ceremony is tonight … which got me wondering about my great uncle’s possible connection with one of the movie industry’s most important pioneers.

George Louis Ross (1884-1949) was my paternal grandfather’s oldest brother. He was an eye, ear, nose & throat doctor in Milwaukee, Kenosha & then Racine, Wisconsin, but was also very active in other pursuits, notably aviation (he created Racine’s “Air City” airport & development) and real estate investments. (In 1930, during the Depression, my grandparents moved their family from Kenosha to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas to manage one of his citrus orchards in Edinburg, Tex., for a salary of $10/week!)

Family Photo (~1903) — My grandfather: 3rd from left, young child; George Louis Ross: tallest child; middle back)

“Uncle Louie” (as he was called) and his wife didn’t have any children, and since he died when I was only 1 year old, I learned nothing about his life in Wisconsin. But now, through various webpages and online newspapers, I’m finding some pretty interesting things.

These two newspaper articles from late 1927, for example, tell parts of the same story: One day in 1902, George bought a coat at a store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and then went across the street with the salesperson and some other friends to view a “flicker” motion picture, which featured a 9-year-old future movie star, Mary Pickford.

Nov. 9, 1927, Racine (Wisc.) Journal Times, p.4

Dec. 11, 1927, Wisconsin State Journal, p.41

Merging quotes from both articles, all but that salesperson agreed “that ‘flickers’ were terrible. …(He) realized…that they could be improved and made the most popular form of entertainment. He went from acquaintance to acquaintance trying to interest them in his idea. But they…shrugged their shoulders and turned away.”

The salesman was Carl Laemmle (1867-1939), a German immigrant who found his way to Oshkosh, where despite his stable job managing that clothing store, he felt that as he approached his 40th year he was not becoming the successful man of his dreams.

In January 1906, Laemmle quit his job at the clothing store and with his wife and young daughter moved to Chicago to start following his dream.

And what a dream-come-true life he had!

There are too many important milestones in Laemmle’s later life to list here – because they are unrelated to my Uncle Louie – but know that Carl Laemmle ultimately broke Thomas Edison’s monopoly on the moving picture business, founded Universal Studios and became known as “The Father of the Hollywood Star System”.

Here is an Associated Press photo of Louis G. Mayer (left) presenting Laemmle (right) with the “Best Production” Oscar (now called “Best Picture”) at the 3rd Oscars awards event (1930) for “All’s Quiet on the Western Front.”

But while Laemmle became an acclaimed Hollywood mogul, are these two 1927 newspaper articles accurate regarding Uncle Louie’s participation?

While it may be impossible to know for sure, I’m concerned about some clear inconsistencies.

1) An unpublished autobiographical manuscript commissioned in 1927 by Laemmle makes no mention of that 1902 event or his unsuccessful touting of “Laemmle’s Lure.”

(Manuscript URL – – Free registration required to read)

Rather, Laemmle’s manuscript said that when he left for Chicago his dream was to create a chain of five-and-ten-cent stores, which were becoming popular. It was only after he saw a crowd lining up to pay 5 cents each to watch short films at a nickelodeon that Laemmle said he realized that moving pictures should be his future.

2) In 1902, Louie would have been 18 years old, surely too young to have already graduated from medical school and “struggling to obtain a practice in Oshkosh,” as the Racine paper’s article said.

3) While both articles mention Louis attending Rush Medical College, the Madison paper’s one, datelined “Oshkosh,” said he was attending that college “here” … i.e., in Oshkosh. But since it opened in 1843, Rush has been located in Chicago. I’ve not found any mention of an Oshkosh branch, and Uncle Louie is not listed among Rush’s graduates (through 1913 – URL: )

4) Moreover, I have found that Louie graduated from Marquette University’s School of Medicine in 1914 … long after any 1902 meeting with Laemmle.

On the other hand, I do note that in the 1905 Wisconsin State Census, Louie is listed as being a student (aged 22) living with in a cousin’s home in Oshkosh. But it doesn’t say where or what he is studying.

And I’d think that some of the inconsistencies noted above would have been so obviously wrong at the time, if they were not true, that the local newspaper would surely have corrected them before publication.

Like many aspects of family history research, I’m learning some very interesting things … some of which are surely true, and others that may instead be tall tales.

– – – – –

FYI, Here are some URLs of interesting articles about Carl Laemmle’s life:

The 75th Anniversary of V-E Day!

Friday, May 8, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe – V.E. Day.

My grandfather happened to be in Germany on V.E. Day. He was between assignments in Yugoslavia and Austria for the U.S. Army’s Civil Affairs Division, in which he had the rank of Captain and then Major.

(As I mentioned in an earlier blog post,, his job was to organize providing food and other necessities to local populations after the fighting had moved on. he served in North Africa, Italy, Yugoslavia and Austria.)

During his 2-1/2 years of service, Grandpa wrote some 80 letters to his older sister, who saved them. I’ve been transcribing these letters and thought that parts of his first post-V.E. day letter would be interesting to share.


“I spent V-I day in Italy and V-E in Germany. I doubt if there are a great many folks who had such an opportunity. Just to keep the record perfectly clear — I do not want to spend V-J in Japan.”


“V-E day was not a very joyous one over here as far as I was concerned. I drove hard the whole day. We saw natives messing around in the rubble of what had at one time been famous cities. There were no church bells ringing here. The only festive air at all was that scores of bombers flew around at low altitude most all day long — splashing around much as a group of children would do on a beach. I suppose they enjoyed coming over once without being shot at. Then, too, they had a chance to see close down the results of their efforts. The results were there — they had done it.

“I don’t know what mistakes we have made this war, but they are not the same as last war. I am sure that from one end of Germany to the other their country has felt the devastating effect of modern war. They have been well pasted day and night after day and night. And then their armies have been cut to pieces right here on their own soil. One place I drove through the other day had the greatest destruction of guns, tanks and trucks that it is believable could take place. They shall not tell our children that they were not beaten …

“Not since the time of Napoleon has Germany really been invaded although she has at one time or another torn up every country in Europe. I believe every large city in Germany is worse than London. It really did me good to see that it could and did come home to these folks at this time.

“I am sure the Germans hate us for all they are worth. This is a second time in a generation that we have upset their little schemes. I am sure that those of us who stay for awhile shall have few pleasant experiences with them. As far as I am concerned I am hunting none. I shall do what I can the best I can …

“Right now we are living in a house of the head Nazi of this section. He was fixed up pretty well. Of course, no place is quite like it was a few weeks ago in this neighborhood, but we are pretty well cared for. Hitler used to visit here a bit* and I dare say was comfortable enough. The inhabitant decided to take a little trip a couple of weeks or so ago – but he didn’t get very far I understand. It was nice of him to leave us such a nice place though. I think we shall find it very pleasant as summer comes on.”

* (Hitler considered Linz to be his hometown.)


While he was in Austria, Grandpa Jackson also took some silent home movies of Vienna and the Austrian countryside, which I’ve had digitized and uploaded to YouTube:

Below is a list of places I could identify, with their timecodes. (I welcome in the comments any corrections and additional IDs/information about the places shown in this movie.)

0:10: Mountains/Lake
1:20: Votive Catholic Church (,_Vienna)
1:35: City Hall (Rathaus) (
1:46: Austrian Parliament Building & Pallas Athene Statue/Fountain:
2:18: Empress Maria Theresia Monument (
2:33: Hotel Métropole at Morzinplatz.  (Opened in 1873, this hotel was confiscated for use as the Nazi Gestapo (Secret State Police) Headquarters in 1938.  An estimated 50,000 victims, mostly Jews, were interrogated or tortured there before being sent to concentration camps. During the war the building was hit by a bomb and burned down. The ruins were torn down to eliminate any memory of the building. A memorial stone erected in 1951 by concentration camp survivors was replaced in 1985 with a bigger monument financed by the city of Vienna.)
2:42: St. Stephen’s Cathedral:,_Vienna
2:51: Goethe Statue (
2:58: Neue Burg wing of the Hapsburg Imperial Palace (
3:14: Mountains/Boat/Lake
4:13: End

Baseball Spring Training in Florida – 1950

Since the coronavirus has robbed us of baseball this Spring, I offer this look back as a partial substitute.

Seventy years ago this week, my parents left our home in Oak Ridge, Tenn., dropped my 1-year-older brother and me off at my mom’s parents’ home in Decatur, Ala., and drove south to Florida on their first post-kids vacation.

In addition to seeing the then-popular tourist spots of Weekiwachee Springs and Cypress Gardens, my parents attended seven Major League Baseball Spring Training games in Clearwater, St. Petersburg (Al Lang Field) and Lakeland.

Dad bought programs, kept score and clipped newspaper articles for each game. An avid photographer, he also took movies and still photos of some of the action. Dad developed the still-photo film, printed 8x10s and sent several of them to the teams, which had players sign the prints before mailing them back to Dad. I’ve had his movie digitized.

Joe & Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan “The Man” Musial and Yogi Berra were among the many All-Stars and future Hall of Fame players that my parents saw that week.

My mom (a native of Selma, Ala.) was also delighted to meet fellow Alabamian Mel Allen, the Yankees’ famous play-by-play announcer, who was born Melvin Allen Israel in Birmingham.

Here’s a list of the games they saw:

March 21 @St. Petersburg: Yankees 4-2 Boston Braves
March 22 @Clearwater: Tigers 10-8 Phillies
March 23 @Clearwater: Boston Red Sox 12-7 Phillies
March 24 @Lakeland: Tigers 10-6 Yankees
March 26 @St. Petersburg: Cardinals 3-2 Boston Braves
March 27 @St. Petersburg: Cardinals 8-7 Yankees
March 28 @Clearwater: Phillies 21-6 Cardinals

Digitized video of two 1950 Spring Training games & Mel Allen:

Here’s a YouTube link to the baseball portion of the home movie my Dad took that week, which I’ve had digitized:

Based on the score books and news articles that my parents saved, here are the time-coded highlights shown on the video:

1 … (0:37 – 2:30) — Boston Red Sox vs. Philadelphia Phillies (March 23). Boston won, 12-7. Action includes: (1:08) Ted (“Theo.” in the program) Williams at the plate in the 1st inning with a runner at 3rd; he popped out to the 3rd baseman. (1:48) Next up was Bobby Doerr, whose single plates Boston’s first run. #2 is seen ready to hit next. He’s “Babe” Zarilla, who hit two home runs in Boston’s 8-run 9th inning — the second a grand slam that completed Boston’s scoring. (1:55) The second of back-to-back Philadelphia triples — by Eddie Waitkus — drives home Granville Hammer in the Phillies’ 1st inning. Dick Sisler drove in Waitkus, and then scored to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. (2:18) In the top of the 2nd inning, Dom DiMaggio hit a 3-run homer, driving in Louis Stringer and pitcher Joe Dobson (who had walked).

2 … (3:37 – 7:06) — St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees (March 27). St. Louis won, 8-7. Action includes: After Chuck Diering walked and Red Schoendient’s doubled him to 3rd base to open the Cardinals’ 1st inning, Stan Musial (5:41) hit a bouncer to 1st base, and Diering is called out on a close play at the plate. (6:08) Joe DiMaggio triples to lead off the Yankees’ 2nd inning. The next batter, Yogi Berra, promptly singles Joe in.

(7:07) Mel Allen, the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer. (Can any lip readers tell me what he’s saying in this silent movie?)

Photos and Autographs:

March 21 game: New York Yankees beat the Boston Braves, 4-2 …

Sam “The Jet” Jethroe (the Braves’ first African-American player) bats against Yankee pitcher Tommy Byrne. Autographs by Yogi Berra (catcher), Hank Bauer (center field) and Byrne … and a closuop of Jethroe’s autograph. (Dad sent a copy of the same photograph to each team for their players’ autographs.)

IMG_0001 1950-JoeTheJet-JETHROE-AutographCloseup

– – – –

March 26: St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Braves, 3-2 …

Stan “The Man” Musial faces Braves pitcher Johnny Sain. Autographs by Bob Elliott (3rd base), Sid Gordon (left field), Sain and Buddy Kerr (SS):


Closeup of Musial’s autograph (on another print of the same photo sent to the Cardinals):


Detroit Tigers’ 1st baseman Dick Kryhoski signed this photo showing him scoring in the 6th inning of Detroit’s 10-6 win over the New York Yankees’ B team. (Charlie Silvera is the Yankees’ catcher.) Kryhoski went 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs that day:

Autograph by Al “Zeke” Zarilla, the Boston Red Sox’ right fielder who hit two home runs in the 9th inning of the Red Sox’ 8-7 comeback win over the Phillies on March 23:

My Dad’s boxscore, showing Zarilla’s monster 9th inning:


And the news story:

Autograph by Vern Stephens, an 8-time All-Star shortstop who played for the Boston Red Sox in 1950:

Autograph by Yankees’ 6-time All-Star pitcher Allie Reynolds:

My mother with fellow Alabamian Mel Allen, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer:

Mel Allen’s brother, Larry, who served as a Yankee statistician and booth assistant:

Here are covers to the programs sold in Clearwater & St. Petersburg:

Below are my Dad’s box scores for both teams in  St. Louis’ 8-7 March 27 win over New York. (Someday I hope to figure out WordPress’s illogical formating.)


… and the Cardinals:

And the news story:
= = = =

FYI, while today was supposed to be the first day of the 2020 season, in 1950 the season started on April 18. In the 1950 World Series, the Yankees swept the Phillies 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 & 5-2.

PLAY BALL!!   (Soon, I hope.)

“Please burn this letter as soon as it reaches you.” — Our Grandfather and the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, our maternal grandfather (Walter Mahan Jackson, Sr.) served as a nurse tending to flu victims at Georgetown College (in Georgetown, Ky.), where he was a student 1916-1920.


Walter Mahan Jackson, Sr. (Georgetown College Yearbook-1920)

Below is the text of a remarkable letter that he wrote to his older sister (Edna Pearl Jackson Overstreet) during the night of October 8, 1918.

It’s long and at times rambling. But given the current COVID-19 crisis, I thought it would make interesting reading.

Mom also remembered seeing a picture of her father in his nurse’s uniform. But we’ve never found or seen that photo.

– – – – –

Letter from Walter Mahan Jackson, Sr. to his sister Edna Pearl Jackson Overstreet. Dated “Oct. 9: 1918”. Handwritten in pencil on Georgetown College stationary. (Transcribed (as is, including errors) by his grandson, Michael Ross, on March 8, 2020.

Dear Sis;

Please burn this letter as soon as it reaches you, for more than one reason. I got your letters all in due time and should have answered before now but I have been rather busy and so torn up I have hardly had either time or inclination to write any thing. Possibly I should not write this letter and mail it to you, as you will find later on, but I am doing so. As the folks haven’t the least idea what I am doing they cannot tell you. Also I implore you say not a word to them. If worst comes to worst they will find it out in plenty of time.

1918-10-18-JACKSON-WalterMahan-SpanishFluLetterToHisSisterFrom what goes before I guess you have noticed there is something unusual going on. You are right. For my writing table I have a cracker box perched on my lap. My cushion seat consists of a little fold up chair, straight as to its back and hard as to its bottom. I am H…(??) with space as the parlor, reception hall, and living room are all three crowded into one kitchen of an old dwelling place.  Old trunks are piled high on my left side as I sit facing two windows. To my back is a door on the left, and shelves, on the right, and other such kitchen decorations. At my right side is a kitchen stove giving forth its warmth day and night, giving the bare(??) room its all and trying to make the fore(??) room comfortable rooms to live in.

The clock strikes, and OH! It peals forth but one lonely note. A restless, lonesome, dog barks across the way as though all was not right in his world. A train passes by and as the echoes of the wheels rumble through the still crisp air, they seem to indicate they are in a hurry to pass on; pass on more quickly still. The frost settles to the earth quietly and there lies flat as though it feared it would be destroyed if it raised its head. The stars nervously bat not an eye but their attention is drawn to something. What is that something? God only knows.

And what am I doing? I am trying to do what I hope I will be doing when Gabriel shall place one foot on land and one foot in the sea and shall call forth through that ever bearing(??) trumpet “Time shall be no more.” And what is that I desire to be doing? Easying (sic) some our pain and try to do a little good and help other spend spend (sic) their brief sp…d(??) of existence more pleasantly.

Am I dreaming? AH! If but I were dreaming only. Dreaming? No! When I hear the groans of pain breaking the still silence and the deep coughs I hear to the left of me, behind me, and over me, make me fully realize that I am not dream(sic) but am actually living a nightmare. Just now as I write some one calls for my humble assistance and I drop everything to go and find a fellow with a bleeding nose caused by a high fever.

What is it all? It all is this! Sunday morning Georgetown College woke up in the grasp of the Spanish “flu.” Although the variety we have here is rather mild sixty of the students have fell victims to this plague. There are only a few cases among the girls and even those that are sick are not serious. So for even the boys have not been very dangerously ill although many have sufficient unspeakable pain. Monday morning things looked bad and school closed down by order of the State. The college put the worst 18 cases, among the boys, in a house off by themselves. I am living with those 18 boys and am nursing them day and night. The doctor calls three or four times a day. Our food is brought to us. I fix the boys and then eat myself. Last night it was between 10:30 and 11 before I had a chance to eat supper.

I have had a shot in the arm and gargle my throat rather frequently and take other precautions but if I escape having this stuff it will be a miracle. I have been right here in the house since Monday forenoon and if I hold out until Thursday or Friday I will be doing good. My day is coming of course, but I hope to do a little good before it gets around. Before each meal all 18 get their hands and faces washed. Yesterday each man got a bath. Monday night I got three hours sleep. …(??)… I curled up on top of a trunk before the stove and slept about an hour and half each time. Now it is 2:30 and I have not closed my eyes and do not expect to all night as I have been good and busy and expect I will be so the rest of the night. It is time for me to make another round so I will stop for the time being.

Back again. I sure have seen a few different kinds of folks in the last couple of days and also a good deal of suffering. It seems the worst cases we have are among the freshmen some of them are young and a(sic) scared to death as well as being pretty sick. Some of the kids who have never been sick before without their Momma’s,(sic) make things pretty hard. There is one kid who I can not pass by without he just has to be rubed(sic) or patted or something of the kind.

Last night some guy suffered so he threw a fit. Another one got up to use a mug and fainted in the middle of the floor. Some one is bleeding most all the time and if it isn’t one thing it is another. Many throw up on all occasions while others pull equally weird(??) stunts. Several are getting better now while others are not doing so good. Most are resting fairly well while others have not closed their eyes yet.

The odors I have to deal with are equal to any gas mask. In the day time I have a negro man to carry out mug and pans where fellows have thrown up but at night I have all that to do myself. Even the breath of several fellows nearly ruin my stomach every time I smell it. Well I could write a good deal more about what happens around here but as my brain is not as clear as it could be, I will make things short.

I have been rejected for the S.A.T.C.(1) and also for the draft. I went to Dr. Leigh(2) the other morning and told him to get me in some branch of the army just as soon as he could. The mere fact that I have been rejected will make it a little difficult for me to get in anywhere but I think surely I can get in the Chemical Warfare Service, I hope to be in the army and away from here in two weeks. I have not said anything to the folks and hope you will not. I am not going home, however, until I am either in the army or the war is over.

I have an offer to a job in Cuba with a big sugar concern paying about $2,000 a year and living expenses; board and room. If I can not get in the army I may take that up. I certainly am undecided about what I can do and what I am going to do.

If I am not sick I am going on a sort of a week end houseparty Saturday. One of the girls is going to take me and two other girls home with her Saturday. The girl lives in Harrodsburg, knows Dude(3) and several other such points. One of the other girls going is a rather good friend of mine and I like all of them real well. I certainly hope nothing happens to our plans.

Sis, I got that five dollars you sent me soon after I got over here and I want to thank you for it. I was ashamed to spend it but it did come in so handy I could hardly help it. However, I wanted(??) to see that you get it back before the year is over. I will be glad when I get so I can tend to my self and not have to ask anyone for anything. If it had not been for my knees(??) (no fault of my own) I would be all right now. I expect to be fixed up pretty well anyway before long.

Dr. Leigh and I have been working on a smoke bomb for the past two or three weeks. As yet we have hit upon nothing entirely satisfactorily but have several promising ideas. I hope we may get something fixed up before long.
The other day I had a small explosion. A very small amount of stuff let go in my hand. It ripped up my left thumb a good deal and my middle finger on the right hand but both are nearly healed now.

Mother came over Saturday before last and as David(4) was rather sick she took him back with her. He could neither enter college or the S.A.T.C. and why she ever sent him over in the first place is more than I can see. Some folks have their own ideas about things, and sometimes they are very hard to change.
I am not planning on seeing N. Dak.(5) Christmas. I do not know what I am going to do tomorrow – much less Christmas.

Saturday we had a football game here and we beat the tar out of one of the army camps. I guess this sick business will call off most of our games for awhile. I declare this year has been one thing after another.

You know now why I said burn this up. It may carry a germ and I do not want the babies(6) or the rest of you to go through with what I have seen a few folks do around here. Write me when you can. I suppose you had better send it in care of the College …(??)… house as this is about what I am in.

Love to all,


(1) – S.A.T.C = Student Army Training Corps
(2) – Dr. Townes Randolph Leigh, the chemistry prof with whom grandpa was working on smoke/fog screen technologies for hiding naval vessels at sea from German submarines.
(3) – “Dude” is Walter’s aunt, Lucy Lee Mahan Spilman
(4) – David is Walter’s younger brother, David William Jackson (1901-1945).
(5) – Edna lived in Enderlin, North Dakota, at that time.
(6) – Edna’s children, Kathryn and Brack Jr., would have been 5 and nearly 3 years old, respectively, when this letter was written.

– – – –
1918-10-08-GeorgetownTryingToKeepFlu-less-GeorgetownTimes-p1Here are two articles from the Georgetown Times. The first (left) was published on Oct. 9, 1918, the day Grandpa wrote his letter. It says that while there are some 50 cases of “colds,” none are thought to be influenza. Yet the sick have been removed to the Jameson House, where they are attended by Miss Lambert, superintendent of the hospital. Note also the eight tips on “How to Keep Flue-less,” most of which look remarkably similar to today’s recommendations.

The second (below), published on Oct. 30, 1918, said Grandpa had just been released from the hospital. So it seems that he eventually got sick with this flu, too.

Mom & Football Coaches

Our mother was an English & history major in college and became a noted oral historian after our youngest sibling started school. One of her most-persistent professional gripes was that, to her perceived detriment of our society, history was not sufficiently understood or appreciated by the American public. And a big reason for this, my mom was convinced, was that many high school history teachers were — first and foremost — football coaches.

Indeed, my older brother and I, who attended different, high-academic Catholic high schools in the Washington, D.C. area (Good Counsel & St. John’s) were taught history by our school’s head football coaches (Joe Cardaci, Sr. and Joe Gallagher, respectively). But while we ended up loving and appreciating history, the practice was still a persistent bee in my mom’s historian’s bonnet.

One event in May 1979, however, was notable with respect to this issue. My parents and all six Ross children came to Mountain Brook, Ala., for the wedding of our oldest first cousin (the daughter of my mom’s sister). It was a huge wedding with an impressive display of iconic Southern Hospitality, especially for the bride’s & groom’s families and out-of-towners. There were many delightful pre-wedding parties, lunches, teas and get-togethers.

Vince Dooley

Vince Dooley

At one outdoor lunch, my mom and I found ourselves sharing a small picnic table with Vince Dooley, known to all but my mother as the University of Georgia’s legendary head football coach and athletic director. (He was the Auburn roommate of my cousin’s future father-in-law.) When mom learned that Dooley was a football coach, she started into her complaint about how football coaches as history teachers are hurting America. Dooley listened calmly, then replied that he was a big fan of history … and, in fact, had earned a masters degree and was working on his PhD!

My mom was taken aback … and impressed at the same time. A major college football coach with an advanced degree in history. That was a new one for her! Then they got to talking about history. Both his and mom’s masters theses, it turned out, were about Alabama segregationists: James Heflin and George Wallace, respectively. Her anti-coach zeal was significantly muted thereafter.

Jump to today, and I’ve come to discover that for five years early in his distinguished career as a high school teacher, principal and school-district superintendent, my mom’s father was also a head football coach!


Walter Mahan Jackson, Sr., wearing what may be a Dinkins uniform.

For three seasons (1920-22), Walter Mahan Jackson, Sr., coached the football and basketball teams of Dinkins Training School (aka Dinkins Military Academy), where he taught science. He was the football coach for one season each at Selma High School (1924), where he also taught science, and Camden High School (1926), where he was principal.

“He is an athlete; and he will have charge of athletics,” said the Selma Times-Journal article announcing Grandpa’s arrival to join the Dinkins faculty. (According to his senior-year (1920) Georgetown College yearbook, Grandpa was known as “Little Jack … owing to his small stature,” but he did play on class football, basketball and baseball teams.)

I don’t recall my mom ever mentioning her father’s athletic abilities and activities. (I was not yet 8 years old when he died in 1956, so I had little opportunity to ask him myself.) If she had known this about her father, I can’t imagine that mom would have then been so outspoken in her disdain for coaches teaching history.

Someday, on the other side of the pearly gates, I’ll surely raise this issue with her. But if it’s news to her even then, I’m sure she’ll be delighted to know that as Selma High School prepared to face Camden in the fall of 1926, the local newspaper praised “Capt. Jackson,” as he was known then, for his teams’ innovative and deceptive plays.

“All who saw his games while he was here (in Selma) remember that he has his team to play a colorful game. Delayed and freak forward passes, criss-crosses, unusual formations and the pass and end runs are expected.”

The fear of a potential disaster must have motivated the Selma team, however, as they won that 1926 game, 46-0, despite three Selma players getting injured and sent to a local hospital!

But maybe that was because Selma was always the stronger team. Two years earlier, Grandpa coached Selma to a 26-0 win over Camden, scoring first after just 25 seconds of play!

Grandpa’s three-year record at Dinkins was 4-10-1, but he had 4-3 winning seasons at both Selma and Camden.

Way to go, Coach Grandpa!


Grandpa Jackson’s career high school football coaching record, according to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society’s website (

= = = = =
> Selma Times=Journal: Aug. 28, 1920, p3:
> Selma Times-Journal: Nov. 2, 1924, p2:
> Montgomery Advertiser: Nov. 5, 1926, p8:
> Montgomery Advertiser: Nov. 6, 1926, p7:


Josephine America Pardue Wallis Chappelle (1859-1940)


Josephine America Pardue was my mother’s favorite old relative. She was Mom’s maternal great-grandmother: her mother’s mother’s mother. And although Josie, as she was known, was already 65 when my mom was born, her fresh, independent thinking inspired my mom.

My mom’s favorite story about Josie came when she was in her late 70s and twice a widow, and my mom was a newish teenager. Looking back at her life – her love-life, actually – and yet still ahead toward her future, Josie told mom this:

“My first husband … I was too young. I didn’t know what I was doing.

“My second husband, I married for LOVE!  (Pause)  BIG mistake!!!

“Now I’m looking for MONEY!!”

Mom loved Josie’s spunk, especially coming from an elderly lady. But she didn’t know Josie’s family history that underlaid her reflection.

Josephine America Pardue was born March 2, 1859, in Summerfield, Alabama, which is a few miles north of Selma. She was the youngest of six children born to George Washington Pardue and Jane Bell. Their 4th and 5th children died before they reached 2 years old. The 5th child and Josie were each born 13 months after the deaths of their immediately younger siblings.

On Dec. 4, 1873, the Pardue’s second child and oldest daughter, Miranda Parilee Pardue, married William Thomas Wallis, who was two years her senior. Within a year, however, she died, on October 14, 1874. Her obituary gave no cause.

Nearly 9 months later, on July 7, 1875, Josie married Mr. Wallis, her sister’s widower. She was 16 years old.


On Sept. 22, 1876, Josie gave birth to Alma, my mother’s grandmother. In all, Josie and William had five children in 10 years.

In 1880, they lived on a 115-acre farm in Perryville (75 in cultivation, 60 in unimproved woodland) with their first two children, Alma and Oscar.

By 1900, they had moved into Selma, where they lived at 501 Mabry St. with their three youngest children, Edgar (19), Otis (16) and Ada (14), and Josie’s 77-year-old mother, Jane Bell Pardue. William’s occupation given in the census was clerk at liquor store. No occupation was listed for Josie.

1899Abt-4Gen-JaneBell-AlmaWallis-Alma Seymour-JosephineAmericaPardue

>> A four-generation photo taken about 1899 showing (left-to right) Jane Bell Pardue, Alma Wallis Seymour, Alma Seymour and Josephine America Pardue Wallis. <<

In 1910, they lived near the corner of Selma’s First Ave. and Broad St. William was listed as a retail grocer in the census; Josie as a dressmaker at a dry goods store. Their son Otis (27) was the only other person living in the household. His occupation was a driver.

William Wallis died on July 10, 1917.

In the 1920 census, Josie is recorded as living at 1131 First Avenue. On March 11, 1922, in Calhoun County, Alabama (which is near the Georgia border), Josie married George C. Chappelle, a clerk. They lived in Atlanta. City directories gave their residences as 64 Dill Avenue (in the 1923 and 1926 directories) and 1375 Beatie Ave. SW (1928, 1929).

CHAPPELLE-George-(fromFrankiePardue)>> A young George C. Chappelle <<

George died March 5, 1930, and Josie moved back to Selma, into the house at 1131 First Ave., which my mother recalls that Alma’s son – John Michael Seymour, Sr. – had built for her. She died in Selma at age 80, on Jan. 4, 1940.

One of Josie’s favorite activities was writing poetry. In her will, she gave her poetry book to Bettie Jo Hurley, thought to be one of her granddaughters. Her Selma Times-Journal newspaper obituary said “she penned many charming verses which received special recognition.”

She was most proud that one of her poems, “Alabama,” had been – as described in that obituary – “included in an anthology of poetry which was exhibited at the (1939-40) World’s Fair in New York City.”

It turns out that this was not true.

“Alabama” was published in “The World’s Fair Anthology of Verse” (Exposition Press, 1938, Eastern Edition). But that book had nothing to do with the actual New York World’s Fair. Rather, it was one of the first successful productions of the new subsidized (aka “vanity”) book publishing business created by Edward Uhlan.

On page 42 of his 1956 autobiography, “The Rogue of Publishers’ Row,” Uhlan said that shortly after he’d purchased his business certificate in 1936, NYC and Fair executives insisted that he could not use the words “Exposition” or “World’s Fair” as part of his business. But Uhlan steadfastly refused to concede and got away with it. (I’ll put into a future blog post much more information about Mr. Uhlan and this anthology series, which consisted of 11 volumes published over three years (1938-40).)

For your enjoyment, here is a photo of Josie’s poem as it appeared in the anthology:

Alabama-Poem by JosephineAmericaPardueWallisChappelle

“Remember where you heard it first!”

My mother was often way ahead of the curve in recognizing the future significance of things, such as events, people or innovations.

We grew up with frequent family discussions about the news or other happenings. Often she would cap a prediction — or her recollection of a past prediction come true — with one of her favorite phrases: “Remember where you heard it first.”

Last week I heard about the 40th anniversary of the historic 1977 broadcast of “Roots,” the extremely popular television mini-series adaptation of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The book recounted Alex Haley’s searched for the names and histories of his ancestors, who were Africans sold into slavery in the American South, and also for his post-slavery relatives, some of whom had mixed-race heritage.

The anniversary reminded me of when Mom met Haley. He was the featured speaker at the Oral History Association’s 7th Annual Oral History Colloquium, which was held November 10-12, 1972, in Austin, Tex., at the Thompson Conference Center adjoining the LBJ Library.

Here is what Mom wrote in her Nov. 15, 1972, family letter*:


This was some four years before the August 17, 1976, publication of Haley’s book and the Jan. 23-30, 1977, airing of the 8-part mini-series on ABC, but Mom knew that Haley and his findings were special.

After the “Roots” mini-series aired, Mom retyped that entire section into her Feb. 2, 1977, family letter — there was no simple cut-paste operation back then, of course.

At the end, she added a variation of her favorite phrase: “Remember where you read it first?”  🙂

She then added three more paragraphs relating subsequent events and opinions:


I don’t recall if Mom ever wrote about the several controversies that occurred regarding the originality and genealogical accuracy of “Roots”, which are described in Haley’s Wikipedia page.  If I find any other Haley-related stories in other family letters, I’ll add them to this post.

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* Throughout her life, Mom wrote hundreds of letters that gave comprehensive accounts of her — and our — life and experiences. She typed multiple carbon copies, mailing one to various relatives and, in time, children away at college or later. These “Family Letters,” as they came to be called, were a wonderful and cherished method of communication and history. Mom saved one copy of each. Some 495 letters now occupy five thick binders in my office. They are a treasure-trove record of our life. Over time, I hope to digitize them all.

Ross Family Christmas Cards (1)

1946 – 1957

From the very beginning of their marriage, our parents combined their strengths in recording and communicating their life together. Emblematic of this are their photographic Christmas cards.

Beginning in college, Dad was an active amateur photographer; Mom was an enthusiastic and creative story-teller and historian. Working together, they produced nearly each year from 1946 through 1975 an annual photographic Christmas card that featured each of us.

The first three editions were actually not cards, but rather a small (8 by 7 inches) “Little Visits with the Rosses” photo album that the newlyweds (they were married in August 1946) sent to close family members. Dad took the photos and Mom wrote captions in white ink on the black album pages. In the next few autumns, the relatives were asked to send their albums back so the next year’s pages could be added. (In the future, I’ll produce a separate post on this album, which was featured in the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial Folklife Festival on the Capitol Mall.)

Beginning in 1949, Mom conceived a standalone Christmas card design. Dad took the photos to her specifications and made one print of each. She then cut out the faces/bodies from those prints and pasted them into her design. Dad then photographed that master and printed hundreds of copies, which they mailed to their long and every-growing list of relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances. Mom had the masters framed, and for years they adorned a place of honor on their home’s wall. Now, each child has a few of them.

This blog post will feature the 11 oldest that I have … from 1946 to 1957.  (Right-click on any photo to choose to see a larger version in a new tab.) I’ll soon prepare a page for the 1960 to 1975 cards in a separate blog post … and will update these pages if I find any of the missing cards.



This is the first page of the initial 17-page edition of the “Little Visits” album. It contains a a single, simple Christmas tree scene photo with “Christmas Greetings” handwritten onto the print. Each album was personalized to the relative(s) who would receive it; this album was for Dad’s parents. The album contained many scenes from their homelife and Mom’s extensive captions.



The 1947 edition of the “Little Visits” album did not have any specific Christmas greeting. Its first page announced David’s July 27 arrival. The page above show photos taken of David just before and after Christmas. (It may have been that the 1947 update was produced substantially before or after that year’s Christmas.)



This page from the “Little Visits” album is the first of Mom & Dad’s Christmas greetings that includes a photo of the entire family. I think it was taken in front of the fireplace in their little home at 103 Tucker Road in Oak ridge, Tenn. (It has 768 square feet, according to its Zillow page, which also shows that the fireplace bricks are now painted white.)

Of course, this was my first Christmas, as well, maving been born in July 1948. A notable present I got then was a plush Panda, whose button-eyes, I’ve been told, I promptly ripped out. I do still have this beloved toy, though.



This was our family’s first composite and standalone photo Christmas card. Mom and Dad made it by taking individual photos, cutting out the people and pasting them and added lettering and/or decorations onto a master that was then photographed and printed by the hundreds for distribution.

I had not seen this card before recently going through Mom’s Christmas card file folder for this blog post. I have never seen the master. I suspect that the background is the same fireplace at 103 Tucker Road that was as a backdrop for the 1948 family Christmas photo. As you will see below, Mom often cut out letters from magazines for her card-master designs. One can imagine the tedium of making so many precise cuts over the intricate outlines of all of the letters is this card!



Moop stepped up her creativity with this design … less cluttered and more elegant.



Mom created an even more-modern design this year. While the graphics were simpler, the cutouts for each person were more complex than last year’s, with its all-obscuring black background.



Katy was a new arrival in April 1953. This picture is a more traditional family portrait, with cutout magazine letters for the text. However, I believe that Doop’s camera did not have a delay timer — had they even been invented yet? As a result, Mom took the photo of Dad and us three children. Dad then took a photo of Mom standing alone behind our beloved butterfly chair. Mom then cut-and-pasted herself into the master. If you look closely, you can see a dark line around Doop’s head where an edge belies the cut that, I presume, was then obscured with ink on the master.



This is my favorite of the early Christmas cards.  Mom cut the holly border and bow from magazine ads and simply pasted the “Merry Christmas” — also magazine text — atop it. Each person’s photo was taken separately and cut-pasted into the master.



I don’t recall ever seeing this ball-ornament-style photo card until I went through Moop’s file folder of Christmas cards. I don’t have the master, so I don’t know if the photo was a single shot or cut-and-paste from two or three images. I do suspect that with its more-or-less circular shape and string attachment, this card took a lot more time to produce than the others, which were simple prints of the master. Maybe that why Mom & Dad never produced any other cards with complex chapes.



Greg was born in January 1956, so he was nearly a year old when this card was made. I remember taking this photo, popping out from behind a flat barrier that would be cut out when Mom made the master. I believe Mom & Dad were photographed simply sitting at a table.



John was born in January 1957, so he, like Greg last year, was nearly one year old in this photo. (For the record: Katy had nicknamed Greg “Deggy-deg.”) This was Mom’s first heads-only Christmas card design. Note Mom’s clever letter font, which she hand-drew onto the master.

That’s it for now. Soon I’ll add a second post with 14 cards from 1960-75.

Nicknames (Seymours & Jacksons)

My mother’s family — especially her mother’s family, the Seymours — used nicknames for nearly everyone. Many of their origins are lost now, but Mom had told me that quite a few came from her baby utterances, since she was the first grandchild in her generation on both sides of her parents’ families.

I’ve known most of them and have been thinking about a “Nicknames” post for some time. But I was spurred into action when I found this in Mom’s 1938-9 “School Days Memories” autograph book (click on the photo for a better view):


It’s a list of nicknames … first three (Jean, Dorothy Chappelle & Evelyn) are classmates, I presume; the next eight are family members.

Here are the family nicknames, as written by my mom, followed by my understanding of their origins.  (I welcome any corrections or additions.)

My mother – Bubber. Anna Bell Seymour Jackson (1902-1978). This came from Mom’s first attempt at saying “Mother”.  My siblings and I used it. But it was transformed further to “Biboo” (BYE-boo) by the Cardwell children of Mom’s younger sister, Edna Louise.

Aunt Josephine – Dodie, Dodo.  Josephine Louise Seymour (1900-1991). These came from baby Mom trying to say “Josephine.” One can only imagine what this distinguished aunt, who was a noted high school math teacher in Selma, thought about being called “Dodo”. (One of the many questions I’d wished I’d asked her.)

Aunt Alma – Shorty, Tickle, Wer. Alma Seymour Wright (b. 1898; I must look up her death date). Alma’s siblings caller her “Shorty.” (She was the shortest of her siblings.) But my Mom and our family called her “Wer”. I don’t know its origin … or that of “Tickle”, which I don’t recall ever hearing her being called.

Aunt Mary E – Nunchie, Nunu.  Mary Elizabeth Seymour Thrash (1904-1984). I don’t know the origin of this nickname.

Aunt Mamie – Dukie, Duka. Mary Pauline Seymour (1873-1943). Sister of John Michael Seymour, Sr. “Mamie” is, of course, a common nickname for “Mary”. But I don’t know the origin of her Dukie/Duka nicknames.

Aunt Fannie – Scarlet, Chew. Frances Seymour (1971-1943). Another sister of John Michael Seymour, Sr. “Fannie” is, of course, a nickname for “Frances”.  But I don’t know the origin of these nicknames. to my mother’s astonishment, both Fannie and Mamie, who were unmarried, lived in John Michael Sr.’s home for their entire adult lives.

Uncle Wallis – Rocky. Wallis Andrews Seymour (1909-2004). I don’t know the origin of this nickname, but he was an athlete growing up, so that might have been an influence.

Aunt Edna – Bunchie. She is Edna Pearl Jackson Overstreet (1890-1960), the older sister of my mother’s father, Walter Mahan Jackson, Sr. I don’t know the origin of this nickname.

Other family nicknames that are not listed in that autograph book page include:

Alma Wallis Seymour (Maternal grandmother, 1978-1945) – Boowah.

John Michael Seymour, Jr. – Son. (1907 – must look up his death date) The fifth child in his family was the first son … and received this no-nonsense nickname.

Edna Louise Jackson Cardwell – Ese. (1933-2009) My Mom’s younger sister. Pronounced “ease”, this nickname seems to be a compression of “Edna Louise”. But Mom was 10 years old when her sister was born, which seems a bit old for this to be a baby-like utterance. But with their proclivity for nicknames, it’s certainly possible that her parents or another adult was responsible. “Ese the Weeze” was a later derivation.

Clifford Thrash Sr. – Dump. (1901-1950). Husband of Nunchie (Mary Elizabeth Seymour). His family had the coal delivery business in Selma. I don’t know the origin of his nickname.

Here is a photo of John Michael Seymour’s family. It was taken in front of the screened porch at their Selma home probably in the 1930s. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

The family of John Michael Seymour, Sr., of Selma, Alabama. Left-right: John Michael Sr.; his wife Alma Wallis; Wallis Andrews (Rocky); Josephine Louise (Dodo); Ed Wright, Wer's husband; Alma (Wer); Clifford Thrash (Dump); Flora O'Flynn (Son's wife); Mary Elizabeth (Nunchie); John Michael, Jr. (Son); Mary Pauline (Mamie); Anna Bell (Bubber); Frances (Fannie).

The family of John Michael Seymour, Sr., of Selma, Alabama. Left-right: John Michael Sr.; his wife Alma Wallis; Wallis Andrews (Rocky); Josephine Louise (Dodo); Ed Wright, Wer’s husband; Alma (Wer); Clifford Thrash (Dump); Flora O’Flynn (Son’s wife); Mary Elizabeth (Nunchie); John Michael, Jr. (Son); Mary Pauline (Mamie); Anna Bell (Bubber); Frances (Fannie).

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Amid all these nicknames, it’s no surprise that Mom was also called by some nicknames of her own while she was growing up. But I had no idea that there were so many as she listed on the next page of her 1939-0 autograph book:


Here she lists 10 different nicknames that others called her, including four different ones that her dad used:

  • Stonewall (Rocky)
  • Sugar (Bubber)
  • Pie (Chew)
  • Hunk-o’-cheese (Wer)
  • Bug (Margie)
  • Mot (Daddy)(Mr. Eggar)
  • Toad (Daddy)
  • Toadfrog-Mot (Daddy)
  • Squat (Daddy)
  • Gorgeous (Chas. H. Morris) (sp?)

“Mot” is short for “Martha”, and Southerners commonly refer to younger friends and relatives as “Sugar”.  But I’m not aware of how the other nicknames came about.

(I also don’t know who Margie or Mr. Morris are. I may be able to figure them out after reviewing all the entries in her autograph book. Mr. Eggar sounds familiar, but I don’t recall his relation to the family.  I’ll edit this post when I have more definitive information on them.)

With this lush background, my next post will be about the nicknames given to me and my siblings … and our parents. Stay tuned.

John Michael Seymour, Sr. (1875-1939)

My great-grandfather, John Michael Seymour, Sr. was the patriarch of the Seymour family in Selma, Alabama. He was born Oct. 9, 1875, in Claiborne, Alabama, the third of four children born to Charles Franklyn Seymour and his wife, Emma Pettibone.

John Michael married Alma Wallis on October 7, 1896. They had six children: Alma (“Shorty”, “Wer”), Josephine (“Dodie”, “Dodo”), Anna Bell (“Bubber”, “Biboo”), Mary Elizabeth (“Nunchie”), John Michael Jr. (“Son”) and Wallis Andrews (“Rocky”).

John Michael, Sr., was very successful in the insurance business. His youngest son said he’d annually write $1 million of policies annually for the Union Central Life Insurance Co.

A highlight of his career was being chosen to be the company’s first vice president of the his company’s convention of agents held in San Francisco, in conjunction with the World’s Insurance Congress (Oct. 4-14, 1915) that was conducted under the auspices of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.

The “Insurance Field” newspaper noted this on page 12 of its July 2, 1915, issue:


Here are images from the company’s program for its convention:

johnmseymour1915 johnmseymour1915a

Rocky’s wife remembered that John Michael (Sr.) was also musical, leading and playing the bass violin in a 30-person orchestra that played for the movies in the Selma theater. His wife, Alma Wallis, played the piano and they both encouraged their children to play musical instruments. Daughter Alma played the organ and piano, and Josephine played the violin. But when Rocky wanted to play the saxophone, his father said that was trash and refused to let him.

He also taught Sunday School.

Martha Jackson Ross remembered that her maternal grandfather had become senile before he died in 1939. He is buried in Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery.

Here is a photo of him, cropped from a family photo that was probably taken in the 1930s:

John Michael Seymour, Sr. (1930s)