Archive for the ‘Memphis’ Category

Tomb of Doom (now Boom)

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

Sidney Shlenker descended on the city of Memphis like a character out of “The Music Man.”

He talked a big game, but he had the credentials to back up the talk.

He once owned the Denver Nuggets.

He once was the chief executive of the company that ran the Astrodome in Houston.

He was born in Monroe, La., in August 1936. Two years later, his family moved to Houston. Shlenker’s father became wealthy in the liquor business and real estate, eventually purchasing Houston National Bank.

Shlenker headed to Tulane University at New Orleans but had little interest in his studies. He returned to Houston without a degree and worked his way up the ladder at his father’s bank, moving from teller to the vice president in charge of installment loans.

He teamed up with an insurance salesman named Allen Becker in 1966 to convince a client to sponsor a boat show at a new facility known as the Astrodome. Becker and Shlenker earned about $9,000 each and decided to form a company known as Pace Management Corp. It produced events at the Astrodome that ranged from demolition derbies to motorcycle races.

By 1990, the renamed Pace Entertainment was producing multiple Broadway touring shows, hundreds of rock concerts, dozens of motorcycle races and even tractor pulls. The company invested in Broadway shows and owned several theaters.

Shlenker owned 45 percent of Pace until the early 1990s, but he let Becker run the day-to-day operations beginning in 1968. That allowed Shlenker to concentrate on sales and marketing of the Astrodome.

“He brought in heavyweight fights and other events to the world’s first domed stadium,” the Los Angeles Times reported after Shlenker died at age 66 in April 2003. “But his promotional piece de resistance may have been securing the rights to the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The so-called Battle of the Sexes drew 33,000 paying customers to the Astrodome, one of the largest crowds ever to watch a tennis match.

“After the Astrodome’s builder, Judge Roy Hofheinz, suffered a stroke in 1975, Shlenker was made chief executive and president of Astrodomain Corp., the Astrodome’s parent organization. In so doing, he became president of the Houston Astros baseball club. In 1982, Shlenker became minority owner of the Houston Rockets basketball team. Three years later, he sold his share of the Rockets and purchased the Denver Nuggets for $20 million from fellow Texan Red McCombs, a friend and sometimes business partner. The deal was consummated during a 30-minute phone call. Four years later, Shlenker sold the Colorado basketball team for $65 million.”

Flush with money, he turned his eyes to Memphis and the idea of The Great American Pyramid, a 20,000-seat facility on the banks of the Mississippi River.

It was to include a Grammy music museum, the College Football Hall of Fame, a Hard Rock Café and an amusement park known as Rakapolis. Mud Island would be renamed Festival Island.

Shlenker told The New York Times: “It’s going to be a monument like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, a signature for the city. The difference is, this will have something inside it.”

Memphis magazine named Shlenker its Memphian of the Year for 1989 and put him on the cover.

The project, however, had problems from the start.

In the 1950s, Memphis artist Mark Hartz had come up with a plan for three pyramids to be built overlooking the Mississippi River. Years later, Hartz’ son resurrected the idea and convinced entrepreneur John Tigrett to take it on. It was Tigrett who brought Shlenker to town. Tigrett and Shlenker later would have a falling out and were no longer speaking by the time Shlenker left Memphis.

The groundbreaking ceremony was in September 1989, and The Pyramid opened in November 1991 without the amenities that had been promised by Shlenker. There was no music museum, no College Football Hall of Fame, no Hard Rock Café, no amusement park.

It was owned and operated by the city of Memphis and Shelby County. The county sold its share to the city in April 2009.

“Shlenker left town, leaving Memphians holding a bag full of past-due construction bills,” The Memphis Flyer later wrote. “In 1991, our former Memphian of the Year earned a Memphis magazine Kudzu Award (our version of Esquire’s Dubious Achievements) and was featured on the cover as a comical Humpty-Dumpty figure atop The Pyramid that had been his downfall.”

Things only got worse for Shlenker.

He moved to Los Angeles and found himself entangled in 1995 in the Heidi Fleiss affair. Shlenker, Mexican businessman Manuel Santos and actor Charlie Sheen testified in the Hollywood madam’s trial that they had written the checks produced in court by Fleiss’ prostitutes.

Three years later, Shlenker was involved in a highway accident that left him a paraplegic.

Back in Memphis, The Pyramid came to be known by locals as the Tomb of Doom.

On opening night, the arena floor flooded. The acoustics and sight lines left much to be desired. The surrounding Pinch neighborhood never fully developed into the tourist attraction that had been promised to Memphis taxpayers.

There were a few bright spots. Some good Memphis Tiger basketball teams played there. Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson boxed there in 2002. A huge concert marking the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death occurred there in 2002. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament held first- second-round games there in 1995, 1997 and 2001.

When Memphis landed an NBA team, the new tenant declared that its stay at The Pyramid would only be temporary. The truly world-class FedEx Forum was built adjacent to Beale Street at a cost of more than $250 million and opened in 2004.

The Pyramid went dark.

So what would go there?

Some said it should be a casino.

Others proposed the nation’s largest aquarium.

An outlet mall?

An indoor theme park?

Enter Johnny Morris.

Morris had started his career selling fishing supplies in the back of a liquor store owned by this father in Springfield, Mo. Fishermen on the way to Branson would stop and buy supplies.

Bass Pro Shops was incorporated in 1971. Morris added a catalog business three years later.

Bass Tracker boats became part of the growing Morris empire in 1978.

In 1984, Morris began construction of a giant showroom in Springfield that would become one of the state’s top tourist attractions.

His Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake opened near the Arkansas border in 1988.

The first Bass Pro Shop outside Missouri opened at Atlanta in 1995.

The company Morris founded now has more than 20,000 employees and annual revenues of more than $4 billion.

Morris saw potential in the empty Pyramid and began talking to Memphis officials in 2005. In 2008, the city announced a tentative agreement with Bass Pro Shops. But negotiations bogged down, and it seemed the facility would forever be the Tomb of Doom.

Miracle of miracles, the city and Bass Pro announced in June 2010 that they had signed an agreement for Bass Pro to lease The Pyramid for 55 years and redevelop the structure. The city committed $105 million to help with seismic retrofitting and other improvements. Bass Pro invested another $30 million.

Finally, something was going right at The Pyramid.

The Tomb of Doom became the Tomb of Boom.

Almost 700 employees were hired. A replica of a cypress swamp was built between the retail displays. There are archery ranges, gun ranges, a Ducks Unlimited museum, a 30th-floor observation deck, aquariums, restaurants, a bowling alley and even a 103-room hotel.

The 500,000-square-foot facility opened in April, and the turnstile count reached 1 million by July. That’s far more people than visit Graceland.

Morris said the facility has been such a success that he’s considering adding a second hotel downtown and perhaps a zip line.

All of downtown has benefited.

The owner of The Majestic restaurant on Main Street said May was the best month in the nine years the restaurant has been in business.

“Bass Pro is not cheap,” restaurant owner Deni Reilly said. “People coming to see Bass Pro and experience Bass Pro are people with money to spend. They’re advertising The Pyramid in places like Washington, D.C.”

Morris told The Commercial Appeal: “We think we’ll continue to thrive as a regional destination and experience. Only time will tell, but our goal is to keep fueling the fire.”

Almost a quarter of a century after it opened, The Pyramid appears to have found (as the real estate folks like to say) its highest and best use.

From Crump to Liberty

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Clarence Saunders of Memphis, the founder of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain, owned a semiprofessional football team called the Saunders Tigers.

He proposed that a large football stadium be built at Memphis, thinking the city eventually could attract a National Football League team. What’s now the NFL had started in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association and changed its name to the NFL in 1922.

Saunders never achieved his football dream. He lost a fortune during the Great Depression, thus beginning decades of futility when it comes to the Bluff City and professional football.

The city did, however, get its new stadium.

In 1932, a group of business and civic leaders in Memphis presented the board of the Mid-South Fair Association with a plan to build a 25,000-seat stadium. The Memphis Park Commission gave its approval for a stadium at the fairgrounds that summer, but the plan was set aside in favor of a competing proposal at Central High School.

Construction of the stadium at the high school was completed by the WPA in 1934 with seating for 7,500 fans. The school board voted to name the stadium for former Mayor E.H. Crump, who continued to rule the city even after leaving the mayor’s office. He was known across the Mid-South simply as Boss Crump.

A 1936 game at Crump Stadium between Ole Miss and Tennessee drew a standing-room-only crowd of 11,000 fans, leading the city to remove the original wooden bleachers on the south side and replace them with concrete stands. That increased the capacity to 15,000. Control of the stadium was transferred from the school board to the Memphis Park Commission.

A release from the WPA said: “California has its Rose Bowl, Louisiana has its Sugar Bowl and now Memphis is to have its Cotton Bowl.”

Instead, a Texas oilman named J. Curtis Sanford funded the game out of his pocket, and the Cotton Bowl went to Dallas for its Jan. 1, 1937, inaugural.

Back in Memphis, 40 games (high school and college) were played at Crump Stadium in 1936. By 1939, the Crump Stadium capacity was 25,000.

The Delta Bowl was played there in 1948 and 1949. In 1947, the Arkansas-Texas game was played at Memphis. John Barnhill, the Arkansas athletic director at the time, moved the game to Memphis to make the point that a stadium with more seats was needed in Arkansas. When War Memorial Stadium opened the following year, the Crump Stadium manager (Allan Berry) was hired to run the new facility at Little Rock.

Ole Miss and Tennessee played each other at Crump Stadium until the 1960s. Mississippi State also was a regular visitor.

The city released plans in November 1962 to expand Crump Stadium to 45,000 seats, but that project fell by the wayside in favor of building a stadium at the fairgrounds to be known as Memphis Memorial Stadium.

Crump Stadium was transferred back to the school board when the new stadium opened in 1965. High school games were played there through 2004. The old stadium was torn down in 2006, and a new high school stadium that kept the Crump name opened in 2007 on the site. It retained the original outer brick wall, gates and entrances. The new stadium seats 7,000.

Other famous events in the history of Crump Stadium included a Billy Graham crusade in 1951 and an Elvis Presley performance in 1957.

Memphis Memorial Stadium was constructed at a cost of almost $4 million. It shared the Mid-South Fairgrounds with the Mid-South Coliseum and the Libertyland amusement park. The first regular-season game in the stadium was between Ole Miss and what’s now the University of Memphis.

Liberty Bowl founder Bud Dudley moved his game from Atlantic City to Memphis that year, where it has remained. The stadium was renamed Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1976.

In 1987, a renovation project increased the stadium’s capacity from 50,160 to 62,380. Another renovation project two years ago decreased capacity to 59,308. Changes since the last time the University of Arkansas played in the Liberty Bowl in 2009 include new lights, two new video boards, new elevators, new turf and extensive painting.

In addition to hosting the Liberty Bowl each year, the stadium has hosted the Southern Heritage Classic since its inception in 1990. Tennessee State and Jackson State draw about 50,000 fans for that game, ranking it in the top three in attendance among historically black college football classics.

The University of Memphis has played home games at the stadium since 1965 after having played 28 seasons at Crump Stadium.

And it seems as if almost every professional football league has called the Liberty Bowl home at one time or another.

During the 1974-75 seasons, the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League played there and drew good crowds. Owner John Bassett changed the name of the team to the Grizzlies and made a bid to join the NFL as a 1976 expansion team. More than 40,000 season tickets were sold in the Memphis area. The NFL refused to add Memphis. Bassett filed a lawsuit against the NFL that was dismissed.

The best Memphis could do from 1978-80 was a North American Soccer League team known as the Rogues. That team moved to Calgary after the 1980 season.

Bassett had hooked up to start the league with Gary Davidson, who helped start the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association, which later were absorbed by the NBA and the NHL. Bassett was a Canadian tennis prodigy who came from a wealthy family and went on to become a movie producer. He owned the WHA’s Toronto Toros, and his family owned the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, two Toronto newspapers and several television stations.

His WFL football team in Toronto would be called the Northmen. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced that under the Canadian Football Act, no U.S.-based football league would be allowed into the country to compete with the Canadian Football League. So Bassett moved the team to Memphis.

The 1974 home opener against Detroit drew 30,122 fans. Elvis Presley was there to watch, and Arkansas native Charlie Rich sang the national anthem.

Rich sat down next to Presley at the start of the game, and Presley said: “That’s a tough song to sing, ain’t it?

Rich replied: “It ain’t no Behind Closed Doors.”

Memphis finished with the league’s best record at 17-3 but lost in the playoff semifinals to the Florida Blazers from Orlando.

Bassett received nationwide media attention when he signed Miami Dolphin stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield for the 1975 season. Memphis was 7-4 when the league folded in the middle of that 1975 campaign.

Professional football was back in Memphis in 1984 with the Showboats of the USFL. Pepper Rodgers spoke to seemingly every civic club in the Mid-South to promote the team, and attendance was decent by USFL standards.

New Orleans businessman David Dixon had been dreaming of a new professional league since the 1960s. His idea was to have teams play during the NFL offseason. Dixon, an antiques dealer, had helped bring the NFL Saints to New Orleans. During a news conference at the 21 Club in New York City, Dixon announced in May 1982 that the league would begin play in 1983. Chet Simmons left ESPN to become the first USFL commissioner, and the USFL soon had television contracts with ABC and ESPN.

The league expanded from 12 to 18 teams after the 1983 season, and Memphis was among the expansion cities. Logan Young Jr., one of the most colorful businessmen to ever grace the Bluff City, was awarded the Memphis franchise.

Young’s father had made a fortune on margarine during World War II, and the son inherited the family’s Osceola Foods Inc. in Osceola along with a Pepsi distributorship when the father died in 1971. Young Sr. was close friends with Alabama’s head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. Bryant would spend vacations at the Young house in Palm Beach. Young Jr. was born in Arkansas, attended college at Vanderbilt and then moved to Memphis. But his football passions were with Alabama due to the family ties to Bryant.

Family friend Phillip Shanks once said of Young Jr. and Bryant: “Coach was fond of Logan and for good reason. Logan was somebody he could be himself with, let his hair down. And I think they just enjoyed each other’s company. There was a huge age disparity, but Logan just made Coach Bryant feel comfortable.”

“Coach loved to go to Palm Beach,” Young once said. “After the season, we would go down and hang out. He liked to hang out around the beach. Just the two of us. He would just come there, bring his golf clubs. Sometimes he would play, sometimes he wouldn’t.”

Like his father before him, Young helped steer high school players from the Memphis area to Alabama.

When Young was investigated for illegal recruiting in 2000, Alabama banned him from the campus, pulled his 24-seat private box and cut ties to a life insurance policy that would have paid $500,000 to the Bryant Museum on the Alabama campus upon Young’s death.

An assistant coach at Trezevant High School in Memphis claimed that Young paid Lynn Lang, the school’s head football coach, about $150,000 to get defensive lineman Albert Means to sign with Alabama. The school received a five-year probation, a two-year bowl ban and a reduced number of scholarships. Young was convicted in 2005 in federal court of conspiracy to commit racketeering, crossing state lines to commit racketeering and arranging bank withdrawals to cover up a crime.

On April 11, 2006, Young was found dead in a pool of blood by a housekeeper in his English Tudor-style home in an exclusive Memphis neighborhood. He had been sentenced to six months in prison but was free pending appeal. A heavy drinker for years, Young also was recovering from an October 2005 kidney transplant.

The police ruled that Young had tripped while carrying a salad and soft drink up a set of stairs, hitting his head on an iron railing. The police concluded that he had walked, while bleeding profusely, through several rooms of the house before ending up in his second-floor bedroom.

Many believed Young, who was known to carry large sums of cash, had been murdered. One newspaper writer called it “a Mid-South mystery better suited for a John Grisham book than a newspaper story.”

Back in 1984, Young was all about getting the Showboats to Memphis. He brought in the flamboyant Rodgers, a Georgia native who had played as the backup quarterback at Georgia Tech from 1951-53 and then served as head football coach at Kansas from 1967-70, UCLA from 1971-73 and Georgia Tech from 1974-79.

Before the start of the 1984 season, Young told the league that many of his assets were tied up in a trust that he couldn’t access. He was forced to take on partners, and the controlling interest soon passed to cotton magnate William “Billy” Dunavant. The family company, Dunavant Enterprises, had been taken over by Billy Dunavant following his father’s death. The younger Dunavant was just 29 at the time but turned the company into the world’s largest privately owned cotton marketer.

Dunavant helped the team capture the heart of many in the Memphis area with players such as future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Reggie White and future professional wrestler Lex Luger. The Showboats finished 7-11 in 1984 and missed the playoffs.

In 1985, Memphis won its division with an 11-7 record and advanced to the playoff semifinals before a loss to Oakland.

USFL officials announced that they would move their games to the fall in 1986 rather than playing during the NFL offseason. Arizona, Baltimore, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Memphis, New Jersey, Orlando and Tampa Bay were scheduled to play an 18-game fall schedule. The league filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. The USFL later was awarded a judgment of just $1. The USFL owners had been banking on a big settlement to finance the 1986 season. On Aug. 4, 1986 — just four days after the verdict was announced — the owners voted to suspend football operations.

Dunavant, though, tried to keep professional football in Memphis alive. He was an investor in the proposed Memphis Hound Dogs, which sought an NFL expansion team. Steve Ehrhart — who now runs the Liberty Bowl — had come to town from the USFL offices in New York at Dunavant’s behest to run the Showboats. His office on Ridgeway Loop near Poplar and Interstate 240 is still filled with Showboats’ paraphernalia. Rodgers and Ehrhart remained on board to try attract the NFL, but the league decided to expand to Charlotte and Jacksonville instead.

As part of the attempt to lure the NFL, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium underwent a $12 million facelift and 12,000 seats were added.

The next professional team to play in the stadium was part of the Canadian Football League. Ehrhart managed the Memphis Mad Dogs in 1995, and Rodgers was the coach. The CFL season runs from July to November. Due to the dimensions of the stadium, the Canadian game in Memphis was basically a hybrid being played on a U.S. field. Crowds late in the CFL season — when Memphis fans were going instead to watch college games — fell below 10,000.

One season was all the CFL would last in Memphis.

The NFL finally arrived in 1997, but it was just for a single season. The Houston Oilers announced that the team would play two seasons in Memphis while a new stadium was being built in Nashville. The players would live and practice in Nashville and commute to Memphis on Sundays for home games.

Memphis residents, bitter that the NFL had chosen Nashville over their city, stayed away. And folks from Nashville refused to make the three-hour drive to Memphis, especially since construction on Interstate 40 meant that drive sometimes took four to five hours. None of the Oilers’ first seven home games attracted more than 27,000 people, ranking them among the smallest NFL crowds since the 1950s.

Rather than playing in 1998 at Memphis as first planned, team owner Bud Adams decided to play the home games at Vanderbilt’s 40,000-seat stadium in Nashville.

The next professional team to show up at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium was a team in Vince McMahon’s XFL, the Memphis Maniax. The league folded after its inaugural season in 2001.

So the WFL, USFL, CFL, NFL and XFL all have had a presence at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium through the years.

Who’s next?

We’ll wait and see as the long saga of Memphis and professional football continues.

Give me Liberty (Bowl)

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Bud Dudley had a dream.

At a time when there were far fewer bowl games than there are now, the former athletic director at Villanova wanted a bowl in Philadelphia. Its name would be the Liberty Bowl, and its logo would be the Liberty Bell.

Dudley was the only person in college football history to create and then become the sole owner of a bowl game. Dudley, a Notre Dame graduate and a World War II veteran, died in June 2008 at age 88.

The game was marred by poor attendance during its five seasons in Philadelphia. The first game in 1959 drew 36,211 fans as Penn State defeated Alabama by a final score of 7-0. The crowds got smaller in each of the next four years.

“Spectators were lashed by icy winds as they huddled in Municipal Stadium for the inaugural Liberty Bowl,” Frank Fitzpatrick later wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Piles of snow impeded their trips to concession stands. And several swore their coffee froze before they could return to their seats.”

Penn State graduate Bill Jaffe told the newspaper, “That was the coldest I’ve ever been at a football game.”

“Overhead, an airplane, tilting in the heavy gusts as it dragged an ad for General Copper & Brass, provided shivering spectators with perhaps the afternoon’s most entertaining moment,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “Wind tore away the sign’s second S, an act of alchemy that instantly transformed metal to lingerie.

“On the field below — far, far below in a stadium notorious for its poor sight lines — the football played by Penn State and Alabama never really thawed out either, the teams combining for just seven points. But had those frostbitten Penn State players and fans been aware, they might have been warmed by the knowledge that what that first Liberty Bowl lacked in amenities, it made up for in history. Until that 7-0 loss to Penn State, Alabama had never faced an integrated opponent in its 67-year football history.

“The first of 24 consecutive Alabama teams that Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant would take to bowl games was all white. The Nittany Lions’ roster included a handful of blacks, including tackle Charlie Janerette, a Philadelphian. Janerette would be shot to death during a 1984 confrontation with a Philadelphia policeman. A jury later found police to be negligent and awarded the ex-player’s family $188,000.”

When Alabama accepted the bowl invitation, the chairman of the Tuscaloosa Citizens Council wrote to Frank Rose, the Alabama president: “We strongly oppose our boys playing an integrated team. The Tide belongs to all Alabama, and Alabamians favor continued segregation.”

Bryant, however, ignored the segregationists back home.

Dudley would say years later, “Every year the weather would be fine until the day of the game. I was looking for a way to merge patriotism and football. And I still think it could have worked in Philadelphia if only it weren’t for the cold.”

The other eights bowls at the time — Cotton, Sugar, Rose, Orange, Gator, Tangerine, Sun and Bluebonnet — were all played in warmer locations.

The 1959 game’s only score came on a trick play. Alabama finished 7-2-2, and Penn State finished 9-2. The teams passed for a combined 68 yards on the windy day.

Dudley had scheduled a dinner for the players that night at a downtown hotel. Longtime Philadelphia Daily News writer Stan Hochman, who covered the game from an unheated press box, said Dudley “was working on a shoestring, a tattered shoestring. They ran out of food early in the buffet line.”

Hochman’s future wife was doing public relations work for the downtown hotel. She ran to the kitchen and convinced the staff to cook some hot dogs for the players. Dudley, meanwhile, had talked his friend Ed McMahon into bringing a relatively unknown comedian named Johnny Carson to perform after dinner.

By 1963, Mississippi State’s game against North Carolina State drew just 8,309 fans in Philadelphia.

Tourism promoters in nearby Atlantic City, looking for a way to bring people to town during what normally was a slow period in December, convinced Dudley to move the 1964 contest to Convention Hall (long the home of the Miss America pageant) for the first bowl game to be played indoors. Two inches of burlap was placed on top of the concrete floor, and sod was laid on top of that. Utah defeated West Virginia, 32-6. There were 6,059 people at the game.

Dudley decided the indoor venue would no longer work. He also decided that Philadelphia was too far north. He looked south, and Memphis greeted him with open arms.

Memphis had spent $4 million to build a stadium in 1965 to replace aging Crump Stadium. The original seating capacity was 50,160, and what’s now the University of Memphis would play its home games there. It was to be known as Memphis Memorial Stadium and would be at the Mid-South Fairgrounds along with the Mid-South Coliseum and the Libertyland amusement park.

The mayor of Memphis had a sports committee charged with finding other events for the new stadium. The committee’s chairman, Early Maxwell, learned that Dudley wanted to move the Liberty Bowl. Maxwell sent Memphis businessman Bill McElroy Jr. to Chicago in the summer of 1965 to meet with Dudley during the annual convention of the College Sports Information Directors of America. McElroy invited Dudley to attend the first regular-season game in the stadium between Ole Miss and Memphis. Dudley agreed to attend the game, and he was treated like a king by a who’s who of Memphis business and civic leaders.

Just a few months later, the 1965 Liberty Bowl was played in the new stadium. Ole Miss beat Auburn, 13-7.

Dudley’s intention was to move the bowl game every year or two to a city that didn’t have a bowl.

“After I got to Memphis, I never got to the other cities,” he said.

Coaches who have taken teams to the Liberty Bowl through the years include the likes of Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Tom Osborne.

Four Heisman Trophy winners — Ernie Davis, Terry Baker, Doug Flutie and Bo Jackson — have played in the game.

Archie Manning played in the Liberty Bowl in December 1968, leading his Ole Miss Rebels to a 34-17 victory over Virginia Tech. Manning would lead the Rebels to a win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl the following year.

Holtz brought his North Carolina State Wolfpack to Memphis in 1973 and saw his team beat Kansas, 31-18.

Three years later, Bryant was back with the Crimson Tide, which posted a 36-6 victory over Terry Donahue’s UCLA Bruins.

Tom Osborne brought his Nebraska Cornhuskers to Memphis in 1977, and the Huskers beat North Carolina, 21-17.

In 1979, Joe Paterno brought his Penn State team and it edged Tulane, 9-6, in the only game in Liberty Bowl history in which a touchdown wasn’t scored.

The most notable game in Liberty Bowl history came on Dec. 29, 1982, because it marked Bear Bryant’s final game as a coach. Alabama came from behind in the second half to defeat Illinois, 21-15. Less than a month later, the most famous former Fordyce Red Bug was dead.

Arkansas lost in its first three visits to the Liberty Bowl — 14-13 to Tennessee in 1971, 21-15 to Auburn in 1984 and 20-17 to Georgia in 1987. In the game against Auburn, Bo Jackson ran for two touchdowns, including a 39-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter.

Arkansas finally got a Liberty Bowl win on Jan. 2, 2010. A field goal in overtime gave Bobby Petrino’s Hogs a 20-17 victory over East Carolina as the second-largest crowd in Liberty Bowl history — 62,742 — looked on in frigid weather.

With this being its fifth Liberty Bowl, Arkansas will now have more Liberty Bowl appearances than any other school. Ole Miss, Louisville, Mississippi State, Air Force, Alabama and East Carolina have been four times each.

The Liberty Bowl affiliated with Conference USA in 1996. The opponent in 1996 and 1997 was from the Big East. Beginning in 1998, the Liberty Bowl had second choice behind the Cotton Bowl between the WAC champion and a Southeastern Conference team. From 1999 to 2005, the Conference USA champion played the Mountain West champion all but two times. From 2006-13, the Conference USA championship game winner was contracted to play an SEC team. The game now features an SEC team against a Big 12 team. That contract, which began last year, runs through 2019. In the first game under the arrangement, Texas A&M defeated West Virginia, 45-37.

In February 2014, AutoZone extended its title sponsorship agreement through the 2019 season.

Were he still around, Bud Dudley would be smiling. With an SEC team, a Big 12 team, a presenting sponsor, an ESPN television contract and an ESPN radio contract, the Liberty Bowl has never been stronger.

It has come a long way since that cold afternoon of Dec. 19, 1959, in Philadelphia.


The Most Southern City on Earth

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

In 1992, historian James Cobb’s book on the Mississippi Delta came out.

The title: “The Most Southern Place on Earth.”

Having spent four years as one of the two presidential appointees to the Delta Regional Authority, I have no doubt that Cobb got it right.

The city at the heart of the Delta — the place that serves as a regional hub for east Arkansas, north Mississippi, west Tennessee and the Missouri Bootheel — is Memphis.

That must make Memphis the Most Southern City on Earth.

Thousands of Arkansans will descend on Memphis next week to watch the University of Arkansas football team play Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Many of them — especially those from the northwest part of our state — will have no idea of the strong ties between the Bluff City and eastern Arkansas.

For decades, those who lived in the eastern half of the state read Memphis newspapers.

They listened to Memphis radio stations.

They watched Memphis television stations.

They went to Memphis to eat out and have a good time.

They went to Memphis to visit the doctor.

They went to Memphis to do their Christmas shopping.

A friend who grew up in the Arkansas Delta was fond of saying, “We thought that when you died, you went to Memphis.”

The connections between east Arkansas and Memphis have frayed some in recent decades.

As the newspaper war between the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat heated up in the 1980s, people who once had subscribed to The Commercial Appeal from Memphis began getting one of the Little Rock newspapers since subscription prices were steeply discounted.

Cable television opened up new worlds.

The perception became that Memphis was a dangerous, crime-ridden place. People in small towns in the northeast quadrant of Arkansas who once had driven to Memphis to go to the doctor and shop now went to Jonesboro to do those things. As a result, Jonesboro prospered as a regional center.

The late Willie Morris, who’s among my favorite writers, joked that the two most important cities in Mississippi are Memphis and New Orleans.

In some ways, despite the growth of Jonesboro, Memphis remains the most important city for east Arkansas.

It was 1935 when writer David Cohn from Greenville, Miss., penned these words: “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz, the Cairo Shepheard’s, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby … ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta.”

Those words still ring true. I can’t count the number of famous people I’ve seen in the Peabody lobby through the years.

Razorback fans will hang out there in force next week, turning that ornate lobby into an Arkansas family reunion.

Julia Reed, the talented New Orleans-based writer who grew up at Greenville, describes the Peabody as a “legendary hotel where my great-grandfather stayed when he came to town to get hot-towel shaves and meet his cotton broker — and where he once dropped a pint of contraband liquor (this was when Tennessee was still, supposedly, dry) on the marble floor of the grand lobby. The doorman swept up the glass so fast no one was the wiser, and the current staff remains now as attentive.”

Reed went on note that the Delta “probably doesn’t officially begin at the Peabody’s address on Union Street, but there is no mistake that Memphis was the Delta’s spiritual capital and the Peabody its clubhouse. Jackson, our actual state capital, was two hours south of my hometown of Greenville, and therefore an hour closer, but we never even thought of going there. Like the bluesmen before us, we headed north, following the river on old Highway 1, before cutting over to the blues highway, U.S. 61, that takes you almost directly downtown.

“To us, the difference between the two cities could be summed up with a line from Peter Taylor’s excellent novel ‘A Summons to Memphis,’ with Jackson standing in for Nashville: ‘Nashville … is a city of schools and churches and Memphis is — well, Memphis is something else again. Memphis is a place of steamboats and cotton gins, of card playing and hotel society.’

“We knew exactly where we’d rather be, and we made the three-hour trek to Memphis with astonishing regularity. We went for school clothes and allergy shots, the Ice Capades and trips to the zoo. We saw movies, got our hair cut, ate barbecue. When we felt especially festive, we’d go just for dinner at the late lamented Justine’s, a justifiably famous Frenchish restaurant in a gorgeous old mansion, where we’d eat lump crabmeat swathed in hollandaise sauce and run into everybody we knew.”

The first Peabody Hotel was built by Robert Campbell Brinkley in 1869. He named it in honor of philanthropist George Peabody. The two men had met several years earlier on a ship bound for England. Brinkley’s reason for going to England was to find financing for a railroad linking Little Rock and Memphis. Brinkley later gave the hotel to his daughter, Anna Overton Brinkley, and her fiancé, Robert Snowden, as a wedding gift.

The Snowden family would have a connection to the hotel for the next 96 years (in addition to developing the Horseshoe Plantation across the river in Arkansas and building a home on Horseshoe Lake).

“The hotel was magnificent,” a history of the Peabody states at “It had 75 gas-lit rooms with private bathrooms, a first-class dining room, shops, entertainment, a large and beautiful lobby and a grand ballroom, where lavish balls were held. It was the place to see and been seen. The hotel was highly successful. Guests paid $3 to $4 for a room with meals included in the price. … After the turn of the century, the Peabody constructed a $350,000 addition at the back. It was an all-steel structure, the first of its kind in Memphis. But it wasn’t enough. In 1923, hotel management decided it was time for a new and larger building and closed the Main Street Peabody. They had negotiated with Lowenstein’s, who wanted to take over the corner and build a grand new department store.

“A block away at Second and Union, a new, bigger and better Peabody was scheduled to open within two years. Construction began on the new Peabody within a month after the old Peabody on Main closed. The new hotel was designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager with a plan for 625 rooms with baths. … The cost in 1925 was $5 million. For the 1925 opening of the Peabody, 1,200 preview party invitations were sent to the who’s who of the South. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be seen at Second and Union during the event. Once again the hotel established a reputation as the center of social life for the entire region. The grand new Peabody saw a steady stream of the wealthy and prominent congregate to dine and dance. It was the largest and most elegant hotel in the South.”

The story then picks up in the early 1950s: “During the 1950s, a nationwide move to the suburbs began. Memphians were no longer shopping regularly on Main Street, and downtown Memphis began to feel the pain. The Peabody was no exception. The hotel had many vacancies, and the restaurants were almost empty. The building was beginning to be in need of repairs, and by 1953 it was known that the Peabody was for sale. There were two bidders. … The hotel went to the Alsonett Hotel Group.

“It soon became obvious that the hotel would never be the same. Alsonett set aside tradition in favor of economy. Cost-cutting practices were evident everywhere. Downgrading was the name of the game. And any profits were used to upgrade Alsonett properties elsewhere. The profitable convention business completely disappeared. The hotel faced huge debts and was unable to get financing. In 1965, the grand old Peabody was forced into foreclosure.

“The auction began in December 1965. Robert B. Snowden placed the winning bid. Within 48 hours, he sold the Peabody to the Sheraton chain. … Snowden knew that Sheraton was going to improve the hotel. And Sheraton assured Memphis that all Peabody traditions would remain the same and set about restoring the old building. But they neglected to mention there would be a name change. For the next nine years, the hotel would be called the Sheraton-Peabody. Memphians felt this was better than nothing.

“Sheraton really tried. Unfortunately the steady decline of downtown Memphis continued, at a much faster pace after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In December 1973, Sheraton-Peabody closed the doors and posted a for-sale sign. … The Peabody had a short reprieve in 1974 when a group of Alabama investors reopened the hotel. But it was doomed to failure and by April 1, 1975, this group was forced to declare bankruptcy, and the Peabody was put up for public auction by the county.”

Belz Enterprises bought the hotel for $400,000 in July 1975. Six years and $25 million later, it reopened and has been going strong ever since.

A number of those Razorback fans next week will leave the Peabody lobby, cross the street and walk down the ally to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous for ribs. Though it has become fashionable for foodies to turn their noses up at the Rendezvous for being too touristy, it remains a Memphis landmark.

Vergos cleaned up a basement below his diner in 1948, discovered a coal chute and decided that it would give him a vent, allowing him to smoke ribs in addition to serving sandwiches. Vergos was a major force in the revival of downtown Memphis. When he died, the city’s mayor described him as an “icon for saving downtown.” His three children continue to run the restaurant.

The famous Peabody ducks even have an Arkansas connection.

Frank Schutt, the hotel’s general manager from 1925-56, and one of his friends had been duck hunting in east Arkansas one day in 1932. They had too much to drink that evening at the hotel and put their live decoys (which were allowed in those days) in the lobby fountain.

The guests loved it.

Schutt decided to train mallards to walk into the fountain each morning and exit the lobby each evening. The daily tradition continues.

Have fun in Memphis next week, Hog fans.

The Most Southern City on Earth has a knack for welcoming visitors from Arkansas.

Jeremy Jacobs: Hall of Famer

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

This is the third in a series of profiles of the 2013 inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Southland Park Gaming and Racing, formerly known as Southland Greyhound Park, has been part of the Arkansas sports scene since 1956 when it became Arkansas’ only greyhound racetrack.

Originally owned by the Upton family and others, Southland has been owned for decades by the Delaware North Companies. The chairman and chief executive officer of Delaware North, Jeremy M. Jacobs, is best known nationally for his role as chairman of the board of governors of the National Hockey League. Jacobs, though, long has been an important part of the Arkansas sports scene.

The Jacobs family was the original concession operator when Southland opened. West Memphis had a tradition of greyhound racing. The Riverside Kennel Club once had been at the Arkansas end of the Mississippi River bridge.

On the evening of Friday, March 8, Jacobs will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Jacobs was born in January 1940 at Buffalo, N.Y. When he was just 16, Southland expanded its business hundreds of miles to the southwest in Arkansas. The dog track at West Memphis was the only legal gambling operation in the Mid-South and drew patrons from Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri.

When Delaware North bought the track outright in the early 1970s, it was one of the top dog racing operations in the country.

“Through the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, a typical Saturday night at Southland might see the parking lots full with 20,000 people in attendance,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Annual wagers on the greyhound races at the time generally exceeded $200 million, and more than 600 people were employed at Southalnd.

“All that changed in 1992. To spur their local economy, residents of nearby Tunica County in Mississippi approved ‘riverboat’ gambling. They welcomed gaming establishments in the early 1990s as long as the casinos could show that they were at least in part physically housed on the Mississippi River. Large, nationally known resort casinos mushroomed around Tunica until it became the third-largest gambling venue in the country after Las Vegas and Atlantic City, drawing gamblers away from Southland.

“Southland fell on hard times with daily attendance ebbing to about 500. Its annual revenues dropped from more than $200 million in the 1980s to less than $35 million in the 1990s. More than half of its employees lost their jobs.”

In 2005, the Arkansas Legislature approved a bill allowing Southland and Oaklawn Park at Hot Springs to install video games known as “games of skill” as long as local voters approved. Local approval was granted in both Crittenden County and Garland County.

Under Jacobs’ leadership, Delaware North began a huge renovation effort at Southland costing more than $40 million. A gaming room, an events center, a lounge with live music, a buffet and other restaurants were added. Since then there have been additional expansions.

Delaware North’s reach extends around the globe. The company is a global leader in the hospitality and food service industries with more than 55,000 employees serving more than 500 million customers each year. Annual revenues exceed $2 billion. The company owns Boston’s TD Garden, which is recognized as one of the country’s finest entertainment venues.

Delaware North traces its beginning to 1915 in Buffalo, where its headquarters remain. That was the year that brothers Marvin, Charles and Louis Jacobs established a popcorn and peanut vending business. They worked in theaters during the fall, winter and spring and then turned their attention to ballparks during the hot summer months.

Jeremy Jacobs is the son of Louis Jacobs.

Jeremy Jacobs’ three sons — Jerry Jr., Lou and Charlie — now hold executive positions with the company.

By 1926, the family-owned company had contracts with minor league ballparks in Buffalo and Syracuse. Four years later, it moved into the major leagues when an agreement was signed to handle the food service for the Detroit Tigers.

In 1939, the Jacobs brothers expanded into the racing business with the purchase of a thoroughbred track. By 1941, Delaware North also had moved into the transportation arena following a contract to provide food service at Washington National Airport.

Following his father’s death in 1968, Jacobs took over the company at age 28. Major developments under his leadership include:

— The 1975 acquisition of the Boston Garden along with Jacobs’ purchase of the Boston Bruins, one of the six original NHL franchises

— The 1987 acquisition of Sky Chefs to increase Delaware North’s airport business

— The 1993 awarding of a contract to provide visitor services at Yosemite National Park, moving the company into the parks and resorts business

— A 1995 contract to run the visitors’ complex at the Kennedy Space Center

— A move into the hotel business in early 2002 with the purchase of resorts at the entrance to Yosemite and in British Columbia

— The 2006 entry into the European market with a contract at Wembley Stadium in London

Jacobs’ company now has:

— Contracts at more than 50 professional sports venues for teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Bears

— More than 10,000 video gaming machines at tracks across the country

— Contracts at tourist attractions ranging from the Grand Canyon to Niagara Falls

— Contracts with airports from Los Angeles to Detroit to Buffalo

Jacobs ranks 151st on the Forbes 400 with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion. His Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 following a 39-year drought.

Jacobs also was a pioneer in the regional television sports industry, transforming NESN into a model for regional sports networks nationwide.

Southland has donated millions of dollars to charity in Arkansas through the years. Recent donations include $1 million to Mid-South Community College at West Memphis for the Southland Greyhound Science Center, $1 million to Mid-South for its hospitality program and kitchen incubator project and $250,000 to Mid-South to start an athletic program.

Jacobs also has been a tireless advocate for tourism in the United States. He served four consecutive terms on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. The board, appointed by the U.S. commerce secretary, created a national tourism strategy that has been championed by President Obama.

Jacobs received widespread national publicity during this season’s NHL lockout. At a news conference held when the lockout ended, he said: “I’m coming off winning a Stanley Cup. I’ve got a sold-out building. I have a financially sound business — no debt. I’ve owned the team for 37 years. I’m the last guy who wants to shut this down. … Unfortunately, I play in a league with 30 teams, and when I step back and look at what’s going on with the broadest sense of the league, I’ve got to play a role that is constructive.”

Jacobs has been playing constructive roles for decades now, including on the Arkansas sports scene. He’s a natural for induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

The rampage of the mighty Mississippi

Monday, May 9th, 2011

The Delta Council in Mississippi is a venerable (and powerful) institution.

Wealthy Delta planters organized the group in 1935 with a focus on three areas — agriculture, flood control and transportation.

During the years I worked for the Delta Regional Authority, I attended the annual meeting of the Delta Council each spring on the campus of Delta State University at Cleveland, Miss.

If you want to see a lot of people wearing seersucker suits, I direct you to two places — the downstairs dining room of Galatoire’s in New Orleans on a summer Friday and the annual Delta Council meeting in Cleveland.

Jim Barksdale, the Mississippi-born businessman who rose to the top of Netscape prior to its merger with AOL, was scheduled to speak Friday at the Delta Council annual meeting.

At the 1947 Delta Council meeting, Dean Acheson unveiled the outline for the Marshall Plan.

In 1952, William Faulkner spoke.

Other speakers through the years have included David Rockefeller, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Werner von Braun.

Changing the speaker for the annual meeting at the last minute isn’t something the tradition-bound Delta Council does lightly.

But that’s just what happened last week for the 76th annual meeting. The day still ended, as it always does, with a catfish fry outside, but Barksdale was asked to come back another year. That’s so a flood update could be given by officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The rare change in plans is a testament to the historic nature of the Great Flood of 2011.

The Delta Council president, Cass Pennington, said: “At a time when so many of our citizens and businesses are facing the greatest flood threat of their lifetime and their property and safety are compromised, it is imperative that we allow all members of the public to hear a thorough briefing from the Corps of Engineers and the emergency management agencies.”

Do you need another example of just how massive this flood is?

Consider this fact: Later this week, the Corps likely will open the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana for the first time since 1973, diverting huge amounts of water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin.

The Morganza Spillway is north of Baton Rouge.

Today, the Corps began opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway just north of New Orleans for the first time in three years.

Louisiana officials are even planning to move inmates from the famous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Here’s how Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put it today: “If you got wet in 1973, you’ll get wet this time. If you nearly got wet in 1973, you’ll probably get wet this time.”

The governor has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to assist people from Vidalia south to the mouth of the Atchafalaya near Morgan City.

Once the floodway is opened, large parts of Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia, Iberville, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes will be covered with water. Five to even 25 feet of water will rush into some areas.

This flood leaves the Corps with little choice. If the spillway isn’t opened, the river could top the floodwalls that protect New Orleans and immense pressure could cause levees to break, resulting in a repeat of the floods we saw following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I spent part of the weekend reading a lengthy (almost 50,000 words) piece that Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John McPhee wrote for The New Yorker back in February 1987.

That story — which led to a 1989 McPhee book titled “The Control of Nature” — chronicled the Corps’ efforts to keep the Atchafalaya from capturing the flow of the Mississippi.

“By the 1950s, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it,” McPhee wrote. “By the route of the Atchafalaya, the distance across the delta plain was 145 miles — well under half the length of the route of the master stream.

“For the Mississippi to make such a change was completely natural, but in the interval since the last shift Europeans had settled beside the river, a nation had developed, and the nation could not afford nature. The consequences of the Atchafalaya’s conquest of the Mississsippi would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans. With its fresh water gone, its harbor a silt bar, its economy disconnected from inland commerce, New Orleans would turn into New Gomorrah.”

The Corps’ efforts to prevent this from happening are centered at Old River near Simmesport. The Corps dammed Old River back in 1963 to limit the flow of water from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya.

“The Corps would have to build something that could give the Atchafalaya a portion of the Mississippi and at the same time prevent it from taking all,” McPhee wrote. “In effect, the Corps would have to build a Fort Laramie: a place where the natives could buy flour and firearms but where the gates could be closed if they attacked.”

The Atchafalaya had already captured the Red River, which had once flowed into the Mississippi, in the 1940s.

Would the Big Muddy be next?

There remain those who believe the day will come when despite all of the federal government’s efforts, the Mississippi will have its way during a flood such as this one and change course.

Bonnet Carre (pronounced Bonny Carey in south Louisiana) was the first of the major spillways constructed after the Great Flood of 1927. It was completed in 1931 and designed to divert water into Lake Pontchartrain.

What’s known as the Old River Control Structure upstream is constantly in operation to allow 30 percent of the Mississippi’s flow into the Atchafalaya.

The Morganza Spillway, completed in 1954, extends for 20 miles  and is designed to be used far less frequently than the Bonnet Carre. The Morganza is for extreme emergencies. And this appears to be an extreme emergency.

Here’s how the news release put out by the Corps on Friday night stated it: “As floodwaters progress through the Morganza Floodway to the Gulf of Mexico, the height of the water could reach between 5 and upwards of 25 feet above ground elevation, causing widespread flooding and inundation.”

The head of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said residents should expect to see bears, deer, wild hogs and other wildlife fleeing the dense Atchafalaya swamps.

“It’s like hurricane season,” Jindal said. “You hope for the best, prepare for the worst. We haven’t seen flooding like this in quite awhile. The water will be higher and the duration will be longer.”

John Barry, the author of “Rising Tide,” an account of the Great Flood of 1927, is now the vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

In a piece last month for The Wall Street Journal, Barry wrote: “If recent events in Japan were not enough, the news of the past week has reminded us that nature can make our efforts to control it seem like nothing more than hubris. A historic swath of tornadoes has ripped across the South, and now a potentially major Mississippi River flood is gathering. The tornadoes have done their damage already. The rising waters of the Mississippi are about to test human judgment and engineering anew.”

Barry wrote his essay just before the Corps chose to blow up a levee at Birds Point, Mo., and flood much of the Bootheel in order to protect residents on the other side of the river at Cairo, Ill.

Barry called plans to dynamite the levee “one small piece of a carefully thought-out and engineered plan to control the immense forces of the Mississippi. The river drains 31 states and stretches from Olean, N.Y., to the Rockies, from North Carolina to Taos, N.M.”

This water from much of the nation eventually finds its way to Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“A great flood can easily fill the entire 35,000-square-mile area with water,” Barry wrote. “The last time the Mississippi did so was in 1927. … The problem of protecting against river floods is complex. It requires a broad view of the river system as a whole, a narrow focus on local protection and constant maintenance and monitoring down to almost infinitesimal detail.

“Nature is perfect; engineers are not. As recent experience in Japan demonstrates, if humans make a mistake against nature, nature will find and exploit it.”

It’s evident that the Mississippi desperately wants a shorter route to the Gulf of Mexico — the Atchafalaya.

Will the works of man keep the Old River Control Structure in place and thus keep the river flowing past Baton Rouge and New Orleans?

A major test lies ahead.

Dinner with Brett and George

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

During the four years I worked for the Delta Regional Authority, I spent a lot of time driving around the Arkansas Delta, the Mississippi Delta, the Missouri Bootheel and west Tennessee.

Much of that time in the car was spent listening to WHBQ-AM, 560, in Memphis, a famous old radio station that has had an all-sports format for a number of years.

In the 1950s, though, WHBQ was famous for its music. It was owned by RKO General, and one of its disc jockeys was Dewey Phillips, who had a show each night known as “Red, Hot and Blue.” In 1954, Phillips played a recording by a young man named Elvis Presley. It was the first Elvis song ever played on the radio.

Phillips, who often went by Daddy-O, was a Tennessee native who began working at WHBQ in 1949 when he was just 23. He became legendary for his frantic delivery and his propensity for showcasing the music of both black and white artists.

Memphis was booming in those days, and musicians flocked there from rural towns in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Phillips introduced many of them to the listening audience. He wasn’t afraid to mix it up on his show, playing not only rhythm and blues but also country music and even jazz.

The station let Phillips go in late 1958 when it adopted a Top 40 format. He died in 1968 at the age of just 42 following years of alcohol and drug abuse.

WHBQ was a bit of a farm club for the bigger RKO stations. DJs such as Rick Dees and Wink Martindale would pass through on the way to the company’s stations in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Boston.

RKO sold WHBQ to Flinn Broadcasting in 1988.

During those years I spent driving through the flat Delta cotton fields and listening to the sports talk on WHBQ, I felt as if I knew all of the station’s on-air personalities.

Fortunately, I actually do know some of them. Those of you who listen to my Sunday morning appearances with Bill Vickery on KABZ-FM, 103.7, in Little Rock know that a frequent guest on Bill’s show is Arkansan Brett “Stats” Norsworthy.

Brett began working on the air in Memphis with George Lapides in 1992 and has become a Mid-South radio fixture during the past two decades. He’s making the trip to Little Rock on Saturday to watch UALR’s 3 p.m. basketball game against Middle Tennessee State. We’ll then have an early dinner at Doe’s.

It will be great fun since Brett and I share the same interests — sports, politics, Southern culture and good food.

What could be better than eating tamales followed by a steak at Doe’s, discussing politics and maybe even telling some old Paul “Bear” Bryant stories?

That’s another thing we have in common: Coach Bryant was a childhood hero for both of us.

Even though he lives in Forrest City, Brett helps host the pregame and postgame shows on the Ole Miss football radio network. Nobody knows Southeastern Conference football better. If you’re headed east, you can hear him each Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. on 560 AM.

I mentioned George Lapides, who’s indeed a Mid-South legend. Back in the fall, my friend Keith Ingram of West Memphis invited George and me to speak to a meeting of the West Memphis Chamber of Commerce. George talked about sports. I talked about politics.

George could just as easily have talked about politics. He’s highly opinionated, well read, articulate and funny. We shared a delighful dinner afterward, which leads me to perhaps my most important point — George loves to eat out and knows the best restaurants across the South and in other major U.S. cities.

We each choose Galatoire’s in New Orleans as our favorite restaurant in the country.

Go to the website Ignore the fact that parts of the site haven’t been updated in years. Click on “Places To Eat” and enjoy yourself. You can find George’s opinion on restaurants in Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Fayetteville, Houston, Kansas City, Knoxville, Little Rock, Louisville, Mobile, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City (which George describes as a terrible restaurant city), Orlando, Oxford (the one in Mississippi, of course), Phoenix-Scottsdale, St. Louis (George shares my love for eating Italian food on The Hill), San Antonio, Shreveport and Tuscaloosa

The best part of listening to George from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. on WHBQ is hearing him do live ads for various Memphis restaurants. I’m always hungry when I turn off the radio.

Be advised that a few of the restaurants listed on the website are no longer in business.

In his Fayetteville listing, George says his favorite is Herman’s Ribhouse. When it comes to Fayetteville itself, I agree with him. Give me a single rib for an appetizer, a gear salad and a New York strip with hashbrowns at Herman’s. But as far as northwest Arkansas as a region, I’ll usually make the trip to Venesian Inn in Tontitown for fried chicken and spaghetti or to the Monte Ne Inn near Rogers for fried chicken.

When the Memphis Tigers came to North Little Rock to play in the 2008 NCAA basketball tournament, George became a fan of Capeo in downtown Argenta. We agree on that. He called it a “don’t-miss place.”

On the Little Rock side of the river, George likes Ferneau, Brave New Restaurant and Ashley’s.

Here’s how the WHBQ website describes him: “When you think Memphis and sports, you instantly think of George Lapides. George is a native Memphian, his parents were Memphians, their parents were Memphians and his great-grandparents were raised in the Mid-South. In fact, George was part of the first-ever graduating class at White Station High School. George attended the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis. There aren’t too many people who have the firsthand knowledge of the history of this area that George does.

“George has spent nearly 50 years in the sports business , whether as sports editor of the Memphis Press Scimitar or sports director at WREG-TV. … He is in his 40th consecutive year of doing sports talk on radio. It’s the longest-running sports talk show in the country and, according to some, the second longest-running radio show of any kind.”

Though the Press Scimitar is long gone, I still cherish my copy of the afternoon newspaper that came out the day of Bear Bryant’s final game as head coach at Alabama in the 1982 Liberty Bowl. George’s column ran on the front page that day.

In 2006, George donated his sports memorabilia collection to the University of Memphis

“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do something to which I first aspired when I was in the fifth grade at Vollentine School — that is, work in journalism,” George said at the time.

Here’s a sample of the kind of history George remembers. He was asked about his memories of Russwood Park on Madison Avenue in Memphis, which was destroyed by fire in 1960. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Stan Musial had all played there at one time or another.

“It smelled,” George told The Commericial Appeal last year. “The minute you walked into the guts of the entry plaza, you could smell the hog dogs and the popcorn. I have two strong memories, and that’s one of them.

“The other memory is the unbelievable noise because everything was wood and when people started clapping for a rally, they also stomped their feet on the wood, and it was just unbelievably loud when they did that. They’d do this rhythmic clapping and stomp their feet.”

Good memories. Good stories. Brett and George — two Memphis radio personalities who make fine dining companions.

Vision (or lack thereof) for Little Rock

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I’m honored to have been invited to Chenal Country Club in Little Rock for Friday night’s 30th anniversary celebration of the Arkansas Preservation Awards. The event, presented by the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, should be a nice one as legendary philanthropist and preservationist Theodosia Murphy Nolan receives the Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement.

A number of other awards will be presented. I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that I had been chosen for the Outstanding Preservation Reporting in the Media Award for my efforts to save Ray Winder Field.

I would be less than honest, though, if I didn’t tell you I have mixed feelings.

I appreciate having the efforts of those of us who have worked to save Ray Winder recognized. But I feel I’m being honored for an initiative that failed. And that’s sad.

To be clear, no one at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has come right out and said there’s no way for part of the park to be saved. On the other hand, I certainly haven’t been given any encouragement. I’ve not found anyone in a position of influence at UAMS who shares my vision.

I’ve written about this subject before, and I won’t go on at length here. To sum up my feelings: UAMS is missing out on a golden opportunity to add something the campus badly needs — green space. Wrap a building around the current field from first base to third base. In left field (if indeed UAMS is successful in purchasing the Ricks Armory property), build up rather than out with that tall building looking down on the diamond.

Can you imagine the uniqueness of looking out of offices and clinics onto a baseball field — one that’s actually used for amateur games. When not being utilized for baseball, UAMS employees could take advantage of a walking trail that would be built inside the fence. The field itself could be used for various employee wellness programs. Think about the possibilities.

UAMS is supposed to be all about promoting good health, right?

I suspect all that will result for now is an ugly parking lot until UAMS can decide what else to do with the property. A great opportunity — one that could draw national media attention and win architectural awards — will have been wasted.

But we’re used to that in Little Rock, aren’t we?

Far too often, we settle for less than the best because of a lack of vision. We talk a good game about being the next great Southern city, but time after time our leaders fall short of the mark, taking the easy way out rather than tackling projects that require imagination, patience and perserverance.

That’s just what Little Rock city government did when it came to Ray Winder. A private foundation had been formed to help the city operate the historic facility for the residents of a place that’s horribly lacking in sports facilities for its youth. But City Hall took the easy way out — sell it to UAMS, take the money and run. Operating a ballpark would have actually taken some work, you see.

I fear we’re facing the same situation with a much newer facility, the 15-year-old Aerospace Education Center. It recently was announced that the nonprofit Arkansas Aviation Historical Society was closing the center because it could no longer afford large annual deficits.

To my knowledge, no one has yet stepped forward to say: “This is an important part of the city’s cultural fabric, and we’ve come up with a creative way to save it.”

As is the case with Ray Winder, that would take some hard work.

Last week, I wrote a column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which I suggested that the embattled Little Rock Airport Commission use the Aerospace Education Center to turn the tide of public opinion and better position Little Rock National Airport in the public’s mind as an economic engine for our state.

Here are four steps the commission should take:

1. Take over the Aerospace Education Center. Allow the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society to sell its collection to pay off debts. Replace the old exhibits with exhibits that tell the story of the work being done adjacent to the airport by Hawker Beechcraft Corp. and Dassault Falcon Jet Corp. Despite layoffs during the Great Recession, these two companies still employ almost 3,000 people in Little Rock. Erect additional exhibits on the companies that operate in the nearby Little Rock Port Industrial Park.

2. Enter into agreements with Hawker Beechcraft, Dassault Falcon, the industries at the port and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to help operate the center in exchange for publicizing the work private companies do. Continue to show films in the IMAX theater and operate the domed Episphere planetarium as a way to draw visitors, but focus the exhibits on the economic engine that the airport, the port and the businesses that operate there have become.

3. Work with the Little Rock School District, the Pulaski County Special School District, the North Little Rock School District, Pulaski Tech and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to ensure a steady stream of people who will come to the facility to learn about the jobs available in the area.

4. Use the center as a marketing tool to attract new businesses. Tell them, “If you put your facility near the airport, we’ll publicize you each day inside the Aerospace Education Center.”

As I noted in the newspaper column, Memphis has done a far better job than Little Rock in marketing its airport as an economic development powerhouse, not just as a place to catch a plane. Memphis now describes itself as America’s Aerotropolis.

“All of this emerged in a haphazard fashion,” Arnold Perl, the chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, told the Memphis Business Journal last year. “We’ve had these different modes, but they’ve been silos. They haven’t been connected. … To me, aerotropolis is a compelling world brand. It visualizes the greater Memphis region in the 21st century.”

Andy Ashby of the Memphis Business Journal wrote last year: “In 2009, the Greater Memphis Chamber started changing marketing efforts from America’s Distribution Center to America’s Aerotropolis. In fact, it has trademarked the logo and phrase Memphis: America’s Aerotropolis. … Several cities worldwide have seized on the aerotropolis concept for their economic identity. In March, economic development officials from France, including some from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, came to Memphis for a three-day tour of the area’s four transportation modes.”

In addition to having the busiest cargo airport in the world, Memphis boasts five Class I railroads, the fourth-largest inland port in the nation and the third-busiest trucking corridor in the country.

While Little Rock is no Memphis in that regard (remember, we let Fred Smith and FedEx get away), we are the place where Interstate 40 and Interstate 30 meet, we’re on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and we’re well-served by Union Pacific. There are some similar distribution advantages.

Here’s how the head of the Memphis Chamber, John Moore, put it: “People who come to visit the community have to have a first impression and last impression of our community. Those are important to the chamber because we need positive impressions in order to attract attention to our community, to get people to come and recognize our brand and see what we can do for their business.”

What kind of impression will we be making in Little Rock if we allow the Aerospace Education Center to sit empty?

What if we were to use it as the platform to promote the things being accomplished in that part of the state’s largest city?

Does anyone on the Little Rock Airport Commission, which has been bashed so relentlessly in recent weeks, share the vision?



The most Southern city

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Errol Laborde is among my favorite New Orleans writers.

I have long subscribed to both New Orleans and Louisiana Life and enjoy reading Laborde’s work  in those magazines (he edits both). I’m also signed up to get his columns e-mailed to me each week (

Last week, Laborde made some interesting points about south Louisiana.

He notes that Time was planning a special issue about the South several years ago and invited readers across the region to send in brief essays about what the South means.

Laborde says he saw it as an opportunity to boost his writing career until “I sat and thought about the proposition. The South, I realized, is just not something I relate to. That was not meant to be a putdown but just an acknowledgment that New Orleans is a cultural experience in its own. I feel more New Orleanian than I do Southern. I could write volumes about what New Orleans means to me — but the South, to me, is a distant place.”

As an example, Laborde addresses kudzu and sweet tea.

“Throughout the woods in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, the vine covers fallen trees, abandoned Chevys and anything else that did not move fast enough to get out of the way,” he writes. “Yet in Louisiana, kudzu hardly grows at all, as though there is an invisible shield along the Pearl River stopping its spreading. Nature concedes that Louisiana is a place apart.

“Why kudzu stops at the border is a mystery — another mystery is sweet tea. Travel east of New Orleans and order iced tea at a restaurant, and the waiter will invariably ask if you want the tea sweetened or unsweetened. Real Southerners, I suspect, always get their tea presweetened without flinching. Louisianians traveling through the South, however, are more likely to ask for unsweetened, just because that’s what they are used to, as they reach for the pink or blue packets next to the real sugar.”

Though Laborde refers to Louisiana as a whole, I think he’s really talking about south Louisiana, which indeed is a world apart.

North Louisiana is just like southwest Arkansas, where I grew up. In fact, I always figured that southwest Arkansas, east Texas and northwest Louisiana should be its own state with the capital at Shreveport or Texarkana.

Each state provides stark contrasts.

East Texas towns such as Tyler and Longview are without a doubt Southern (remember that Lady Bird Johnson Southern accent? She was from east Texas). But the South ends somewhere between Dallas and Fort Worth as you head west.

We’ve debated where the South ends in Arkansas on this blog. Little Rock is without a doubt a Southern city. Fayetteville maintains a few Southern tendencies. But Rogers and Bentonville are the Midwest.

In Louisiana, I used to think about how things changed when I would cross the O.K. Allen Bridge over the Red River between Pineville and Alexandria. To the north were pine forests. To the south were fields of sugar cane and cotton. To the north were rolling hills and red clay. To the south were cypress swamps and rich, black soil. To the north were lots of Baptists. To the south were lots of Catholics. To the north were barbecue and fried catfish. To the south were gumbo and boiled shrimp. To the north it was, yes, sweet tea. To the south it was Dixie and Jax.

Laborde says a prominent Southern writer once told him that the sweet tea areas of the country were those areas filled with Baptists.

“He explained that since Baptists do not drink liquor, they have more of a fondness for sweetened drinks,” Laborde writes. “There was a sense of discovery at the dinner table as it was noted that the presweetened tea states tend to have larger Baptist populations than does Louisiana, where the Catholic culture sees wine as a sacrament, not a sin. In Louisiana it is perfectly normal to sell bourbon at a drugstore; in Mississippi it is a crime. The South is identified with mint juleps sipped on a veranda or at the racetrack, but for poor folks after those sweltering Southern days of working the red dirt soil, a chilled sweetened tea was their champagne.”

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the world. But Southern port cities like New Orleans are a world apart from the inland South. I also love Savannah and Charleston. All of those cities exhibit some Caribbean and even Mediterranean characteristics. Like I said, port cities are different.

So let’s put them in their own category.

And then let’s decide what’s the most Southern inland city of any size.

Little Rock? Birmingham? Jackson? Nashville? Montgomery? Lexington? Columbia? Richmond?

All are Southern.


No way.

Remember the words of the late, great Lewis Grizzard, who said Atlanta is what we fought the war to prevent.

My vote goes to Memphis.

Despite the crime, the history of crooked politicians and the pothole-filled streets, you have to love Memphis if you love the South.

Another of my favorite writers is Greenville, Miss., native Julia Reed. She recently published a piece at about her frequent trips to Memphis as a child.

“The Delta probably doesn’t officially begin at the Peabody’s address on Union Street, but there is no mistake that Memphis was the Delta’s spiritual capital and the Peabody its clubhouse,” Reed writes. “Jackson, our actual state capital, was two hours south of my hometown of Greenville, and therefore an hour closer, but we never even thought of going there. Like the bluesmen before us, we headed north toward home, following the river on old Highway 1, before cutting over to the blues highway, U.S. 61, that takes you almost directly downtown.

“To us, the difference between the two cities could be summed up with a line from Peter Taylor’s excellent novel ‘A Summons to Memphis,’ with Jackson standing in for Nashville: ‘Nashville … is a city of schools and churches and Memphis is — well, Memphis is something else again. Memphis is a place of steamboats and cotton gins, of card playing and hotel society.’

“We knew exactly where we’d rather be, and we made the three-hour trek to Memphis with astonishing regularity. We went for school clothes and allergy shots, the Ice Capades and trips to the zoo. We saw movies, got our hair cut, ate barbecue. When we felt especially festive, we’d go just for dinner at the late lamented Justine’s, a justifiably famous Frenchish restaurant in a gorgeous old mansion, where we’d eat lump crabmeat swathed in hollandaise sauce and run into everybody we knew.”

Wasn’t it the late Willie Morris who said the two most important cities in Mississippi are Memphis and New Orleans?

If I can’t be eating dinner at Arnaud’s, Antoine’s or Tujague’s in New Orleans, then just place me in the Peabody lobby at Memphis.

Reed describes the Peabody as a “legendary hotel where my great-grandfather stayed when he came to town to get hot-towel shaves and meet his cotton broker — and where he once dropped a pint of contraband liquor (this was when Tennessee was still, supposedly, dry) on the marble floor of the grand lobby. The doorman swept up the glass so fast no one was the wiser, and the current staff remains now as attentive.”

So my vote for the most Southern city goes to Memphis.

How do you vote and why?

The Great Delta Bookstore Tour

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I’ve led my own version of the Great Delta Barbecue Tour several times. You can never get enough barbecue, after all.

I’ve also led my version of the Great Delta Tamale Tour (I hope you saw the feature on AETN regarding that memorable trip with Kane Webb and Bill Vickery).

Next, I want to do the Great Delta Bookstore Tour.

There’s something special about independent bookstores. And we’re blessed with some fine ones in the Delta. Along the way, we can also eat barbecue and tamales. A man has to eat while visiting all of these bookstores, right?

Here are our stops:

1. We’ll start in Blytheville at perhaps my favorite bookstore of all, Mary Gay Shipley’s That Bookstore In Blytheville.

Mary Gay opened her store in 1976 in historic downtown Blytheville. There are 2,400 square feet of space and about 25,000 titles in stock.

As her website points out, “Browse while sipping a cup of coffee. You can relax in a rocking chair next to a wood stove, engage in conversation about the book you’ve just read or enjoy a spontaneous reading of the new favorite children’s book of the day.”

Sounds like heaven.

2. We head south from Blytheville and cross the Mississippi River to Memphis. The destination is Burke’s Book Store, which opened in 1875. Its oldest book in stock is from 1866: Two volumes written by Bayard Taylor titled “Northern Travel: Summer and Winter Pictures.”

Cheryl Mesler and her husband, author Corey Mesler, own Burke’s. They are only the fourth family to have owned the store in its 135 years of existence. Bill Burke was the third and final member of the Burke family to own the store. Diana Crump (got to have a Crump in there somewhere when you write about Memphis) owned the store from 1978-84. Harriette Beeson owned it from 1984-2000.

“Independent bookselling is never an easy thing to do, but we love it,” Cheryl recently told the Memphis Flyer.

The Flyer goes on to report, “The Meslers met in the store when both were staff members in the late ’80s and bought it in 2000. Though Burke’s has carried a variety of products over the years — toys, newspapers and literary journals and magazines — the Meslers have expanded what they feel is at the core of the business: buying and selling used books. … Their devotion to old books has served them well, as has the store’s most recent move, from a building on Poplar at Evergreen.”

The move to the funky, artsy Cooper-Young neighborhood gave them foot traffic again. People spend hours browsing there.

“Though they do stock some new books and magazines, it’s the couple’s attention to customer service that is a focal point,” the Flyer reports. “Burke’s carries textbooks for three local private schools, devotes an entire section to Southern writers and buys all their used books from people in the community.”

“I have no fear that the printed word is going to go out,” Cheryl says. “My husband says it’s the perfect little invention. You can’t improve on that.”

3. Our next stop is Square Books in Oxford. OK, OK, I realize that Oxford isn’t in the Delta. It’s in the north Mississippi hill country on the edge of the Delta. But it’s close enough for our purposes. The town square in Oxford is quite simply one of the best places in the South to spend the day.

Square Books was opened in September 1979 by Richard and Lisa Howorth, who had worked for two years at the Savile Bookshop in Washington, D.C., before returning to Richard’s hometown.

Here’s part of the history as published on the Square Books website: “While the Square Books customer base was centered in the Oxford and university community, the selection and display of books was focused upon literature about Mississippi and the South. Customers were pleased to find such books as a hardover edition of ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’ or Shelby Foote’s ‘Civil War,’ books that at the time were not commonly available in a retail setting anywhere. Square Books also hosted book signings and readings as soon as the store opened. …

“Around the same time Square Books opened, Bill Ferris came to Oxford as the first director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, immediately creating great enthusiasm for academic and cultural interest in the South and Oxford. Ferris was a great friend of Square Books and was key in bringing such writers as Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, Alex Haley and Alice Walker to the store for readings and book signings.

“Willie Morris became writer in residence at the university in 1980 and also was a great friend to the bookstore who brought to town William Styron. … In 1981, Barry Hannah moved to town, a writer who was to literary fiction as Morris was to literary journalism. Hannah had an enormous effect on his students — Donna Tartt among them in those early days — and many writers came to town to visit Hannah and thus Square Books.”

The store expanded to its current location, the former Blaylock Drug Store, in 1986.

4. Returning to the real Delta, the next stop is Turnrow Book Co. on wonderful Howard Street in downtown Greenwood. You should spend the night just down the block at the Alluvian Hotel, visit the Viking store across the street and make an appointment at Viking’s spa while you are there. There also are antique stores and furniture stores on Howard Street. Head to Lusco’s for dinner and let them pull the curtain on your booth.

5. Head next over to Greenville and McCormick Book Inn. I discussed this delightful store in a previous post that I hope you’ll read if you have not already done so. While you’re in the store, make sure and ask Mr. McCormick what he thinks of John Barry’s “Rising Tide.”

6. Go south on U.S. Highway 61 to Vicksburg and spend some time at Lorelei Books on Washington Street in the historic downtown district. Stay at one of the bed-and-breakfast inns in Vicksburg to end your tour — Anchuca or Duff Green perhaps.

I’ll close with something that’s posted on the Lorelei Books website. It’s part of what novelist Howard Frank Mosher wrote about independent bookstores:

“A good independent bookstore always puts good books and good customers ahead of the bottom line. Interestingly, by doing so, passionately and knowledgeably, many (though, sadly, not all) independent bookstores have managed to stay in business in this economically depressed era when even chain stores are suffering.

“Of course, one of the reasons that chain bookstores are having their own difficulties is that many of them do not place a top priority on books and customers. In fairness, though, I have to say that, from time to time, in chain stores, I meet very independent booksellers who love books and respect customers and like to match them up.

“Good independent bookstores — like Tolstoy’s families — are all different. But they are very happy places. When I walk into one, the colorful jackets of books that are my old friends or may become new friends excite me the way walking out of the dim concourse of a major league baseball stadium onto the bright, geometrical familiarity of the diamond below excites me.

“Good independent bookstores are always welcoming. Customers are invited to browse. Booksellers make time to talk about — books! Go into any university English department at the end of the day. All you hear is people grousing about poor students, parking restrictions, pay freezes. Booksellers should be so lucky. Still, they’re as enthusiastic about Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Committed” and the new Raymond Carver collection at the end of the day as at 10 a.m. They just plain love books.”

At all of the above stops, you’ll find people who indeed love books.

These are six excellent independent bookstores in six historic, interesting towns.

Happy travels and happy reading.