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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Who Took Your Picture At The Josephine Hotel?

Know matter who we are, at some point we've all had our portrait taken.  Most of us remember the photographer on school picture day lapping one hand on top of the other, while being told to sit up straight, smile, and don't move.  The back drops, usually blue, very plain and nothing like the ones they use today.  

Then there were those department store portraits like Sears, J.C.Penny's, K-Mart, and many others.  They had even nicer backdrops and even involve props like, armrests, fuzzy rugs, ladders, steps, chairs, toys and so on.  Oh they were nice, but as a kid I really didn't like getting my picture made. This involved getting all dressed up on a Saturday and going down to Sears, then being told where to sit, tilt my head, move over here, don't squirm, don't close your eyes.  Ugh, it was awful.  The only thing good that would come out of that was a trip to the candy counter, which was on the 2nd floor of the building.  I'm from Birmingham, so our Sears had a candy counter.  They also sold Coke Icees and popcorn too.  This made it worth having to endure the portrait sessions. 

I recently learned that The Josephine Hotel in Union Springs, Alabama was the primary place to get photographs made even as late as the 1980's.  So let me share what I do know.  
 The picture below was actually made at The Josephine on the 2nd floor porch by a photographer from the window on the other side of the railings you see in the bottom left.

I know that even in the early years of The Josephine, it was "the" place to get your picture made.  Who wouldn't want their picture made at the most beautiful hotel in Union Springs?

Portraits like these would have been typical at The Josephine

Wedding portraits 

Sisters or maybe best friends?

 And of course, children

Now, in 1932 a new portrait company began setting up traveling studios. You've heard of them... Olan Mills.  They would usually advertise in the local paper when they would be coming to town and would try to use the same place each time.  In this case, The Josephine became that place in Union Springs.  One or two times a year, they would be allowed to occupy space somewhere in the building.  It may have been in a room possibly.  

This is the camera Olan Mills used when they were getting started.

This is what the street scene would have looked like around that time...

This photo would have been made around the mid 1930's

The owner of The Josephine, has been told countless times by locals, that they remember having their picture made there. I would love to see some of those photos.  I bet Joyce would love to have some to display at The Josephine to remember all those who have had the Josephine be apart of their lives at some point.

Also made in the 30's, perhaps a Mother / daughter photo?

Now as I researched this topic for my blog on the subject of photography around the eras I mentioned before, I ran across some rather strange photos that, well for a lack of better words, baffled me. Most of these photos were made around the same time as I mentioned, 1880's to 1930's.  Since I do have a good sense of humor, I picked out some of my favorites and decided to share them with my readers.  I think you'll get a kick out of them and you'll wonder the same as me.  Why?

Whoever told her that hat look good on her... lied.

This woman is not having a good hair day.  She must be from the hot and humid south.

Was this a simple act of defiance or something more?

What do you expect when you put your arm in a storks mouth?

Is this your alligator little girl?

So that's what it's like to be photobombed by a giant stuffed bear.

Remember when we used to go the skating rink?  This is how it got started.  Get a load of those skates.  Early in-line skates?

See what I mean?  Not just why, but what in the world?

I don't even know where to start.  Which is more creepy?  The spear with the dead fish or the costume?  

Oh dear... do you think maybe they're clowns? In a circus?

And lastly...
Everyone one needs a photo of a rooster wearing overalls while his feet are tied to rollerskates.

As long as there have been cameras, there have been strange photos.  Photographs still manage to capture all the important moments of our lives.  We can relive moments from our past, remember the places we've been.  They even record some of the dumbest times in our lives.  

If you had your picture made at The Josephine as a child or adult, Joyce would love to have a copy just to display in a special section of the building, maybe on a wall, just to pay tribute to all those folks who's lives may have crossed paths with The Josephine Hotel. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Josephine's Masquerade Balls

I learned not long ago that The Josephine Hotel used to host Masquerade Balls.  Since I've never been to one, I was naturally curious as to what a Masquerade ball is all about.  My first thought was that it must have something to do with Mardi Gras.  But, I was wrong.  It actually has nothing to do with that at all.  

Masquerade Balls actually began way back in the 15th century in Venice, Italy. It was a Ball given in celebration of royal weddings and special occasions among the royals and their court.  Then it became part of the Carnival of Venice.  The Masquerade Ball spread throughout Europe in the 16th century and then sort of died off for a while. 

The masked ball made it's return in the late 1800's and that is when it made it's way to the United States.  The Masquerade became a nationwide craze in America.  Everyone wanted to hold these Balls. It was the fun and trendy thing to do in its time.  Remember, the 1880's - 1910's  was the "Golden Age".  This was a time of great opulence and the economy was booming.  I guess you can say there was much to celebrate and hey, who doesn't love a party?

By the time Masquerade Balls made there way to America, the Ball had changed a little.  Americans put a fun little spin on the traditional masked ball.  They often made it into a game of guess who?

 The idea wasn't to just wear a mask, but it was to wear a complete costume that would make someone completely unrecognizable and then hold a contest who see if anyone could guess ones identity.  I suppose the winner or winners would be the person who guessed the most identities and the other winner would be the one who never was identified.  It had to be fun!

Another spin on the Masquerade was themed costumes. Like in the examples below.  So it wasn't always about a mask, but sometimes about being something kind of outrageous or kooky. 

Below: Some of the typical 1880 - 1890's costumes.  

At the Josephine, there were such balls.  Perhaps the masked or the costume kinds.  Maybe even the traditional style. But I do know for a fact that the Josephine did host them as it is recorded in history.  In fact I learned that sometimes over a 100 people were invited to attend and with costumes brought in from places like Mobile and New Orleans for the attendees to wear.  They even brought in a large Orchestra from Columbus, Georgia. 

Standing on the second floor of the Josephine with Joyce, the current owner of the building, we both rub our chins and scratch our heads trying to figure out where they would have put so many people.  There is no obvious answer with the current floor plan. After all, some changes were made throughout it's 134 year history. But, the only conclusion the I can come up with is this...
The Lobby in those early days was quite large.  With the doors open to the balcony, it would have lent some additional space.  The very wide and long hallway could have been adequate for an orchestra.  I know the restaurant would have been in the back of the building and I know that the kitchen and staff quarters were located exactly where Amerifirst Bank sits today.  Yes, I do believe it was possible to pull off a rather nice ball in those days. 

The Masquerade Balls of today are just as lovely as they were then. Many are often held on New Years Eve which would be a fun celebration.  I've seen them advertised as fundraisers and awareness events too.  As a matter of fact, I just saw one being advertised as a fundraiser for the Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, AL. This one is a "Flapper" themed Ball.  You know, the "roaring 20's". They do this almost every year to raise money to keep up the museum.  It's quite the party, but fun and for a good cause.

The masks used for today's Masquerade are really something.  They are adorned with crystals, pearls, shells, gemstones, sequins, feathers, and brooches just to name a few items.  It really depends on the nature of the event.  Formal, informal, New Years, fundraiser, themed, costumed... it can be anything.  This is what determines the type of mask or costume needed.   

So the question is...

Could the Josephine do it today?  You be she could!  There's plenty of room.  As of now, the cafe could seat up to 100 easily.  With chairs and table cleared, the standing or dancing room could be more.  A Masquerade Ball may be exactly what the Josephine needs to help raise funds for renovations so the second and third floors could be opened up.  The facade with that beautiful balcony could finally be restored to her original glory.  Wow, what a sight that would be, huh? 

A Masquerade Ball at the Josephine...  
                                                                     Very Possible!

Josephine would be proud.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bird Supper & The Celebrities

So, what's a bird supper?  To answer that, one must know a little about what Union Springs, Alabama is famous for.  Ask any local in town and he or she will tell you it's the, Field Trial Capitol of The World.  Field trials have to do with quail or pheasant hunting.  The "bird dog" is wonderful and loyal dog that is well trained to track the scent of that particular bird.  The dog also retrieves the bird for the hunter. They are extremely smart and love what they do.

Below, the bird dog statue is situated in the center of mainstreet, and proclaims the name of Field Trial Capital Of The World.

The quail pictured here, puts the "bird" in bird supper.

Below, the bird dog, locked on his target.

Field Trials...

Below, another view of the statue, is actually the only bird dog statue in the whole State of Alabama.

Back in the late 1920's, L.B. Maytag, an avid hunter, purchased land that later became known as Sedgefield Plantation.  The plantation became a very popular place for bird hunting and prestigious field trials,which are still held today.

The plantation has also had its share of celebrity guests too.  Former guests that have indulged in the opportunity to hunt this great land include:
Dwight Eisenhower

Bing Crosby

Jackie Gleason

Also, Sam Walton and many others.  Below, bird hunting on the plantation.

Want to know more about Sedgefield Plantation?  I've provided a link to their website here:

Now, what does all of this have to do with a bird supper and where does the Josephine Hotel fit in?

It was back in May of 1951, The Gun Club, during bird season, would have a "Bird Supper" at the Josephine Hotel.  The wives and friends of the hunters would be invited to attend the dinner. Imagine, if you will, several hundred birds were brought in and piled up on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.  Each of the hunters would bring in anywhere from 50 to 75 birds. 

Now, I have know clue who did all the cooking of these birds, let alone, pluck and clean them.  Good grief, that is a lot of work!  My guess is the wives got roped into it.  I hope they got a nice fist full of money to go shopping after the work they put in preparing the haul for that dinner.  

The bird supper may not be held at the Josephine anymore, but the tradition of bird suppers still goes on from time to time, probably out at Sedgefield Plantation, or some other location.  

Around the time that the bird supper began at the Josephine Hotel, there was an old fashion ice cream parlor that occupied one of the retail spaces.  
Below is just example of what the parlor may have looked like.

It's possible that after the delicious bird supper, many would have gone over to the parlor and had a chocolate shake.  

 Still, bird suppers take place all over.  As I was researching "bird suppers", I found that many of them happen to occur as fund raisers, club events, and even political events that allow a politician to eat first, then meet, and greet his constituents, all while fund raising. Interestingly enough, the bird supper is a sporting tradition that still lives on even in these modern times and I have a feeling they will be around even longer. 

Wouldn't it be great if the bird supper could once again be held at the Josephine Hotel?  

Actually, it could. These days, Allen and Joyce Perrin, host dinners of all kinds right there at the Josephine.  They can seat up to 100 people just like they did in the old days.  Groups book dinners there all the time, only the members of the group don't bring their food to be cooked as they are participants in a sumptuous dinner prepared on-site.  I was stunned to hear they have served meals as simple as sandwiches to elegant prime rib and succulent pork shank.  The presentation is amazing.
See in these photos just a hint of what they do:

And yes... The Josephine has been visited by some pretty important people too, that is, since Allen and Joyce have been owners.
Like Alabama Senator, Jeff Sessions, pictured here with Joyce Perrin.

Alabama Senator, Richard Shelby with Joyce.

Alabama Chief Justice, Roy Moore with Joyce.

And yes, even State of Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley with Joyce

And most recently, yesterday, Alabama 2014 gubernatorial Democratic Candidate, Parker Griffin, stopped by for a cup of coffee and purchased a piece of handcrafted jewelry made by a local for his wife. 

Wow, this is really a great place.  A historical and fun place to be.  You can eat good food, have a party, shop, hold a meeting, enjoy a sundae, admire and buy art, and so much more. 
You know, if you haven't seen the Josephine lately, you haven't really seen the Josephine.
Stop by when you can or check out their website here to learn more about booking your next party there.