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200914 September 14, 2020

My Personal Top 10 
Important Places While Growing Up in Huntsville
The Countdown From 10 To 1 
#10 The Grand News Stand
#9 The Lyric Theatre
#8 Central Presbyterian Church 
Last Week - #7 Goldsmith-Schiffman Field
This Week - #6 The National Guard Armory

#6 The National Guard Armory
Sometimes called The Dallas Street Armory
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    The National Guard Armory was built on Patton Street in two phases. The first phase was done by the W.P.A. in 1937-1938, and the second phase was done in 1941-1942. Many of us who grew up in Huntsville never thought about why the Armory was built and what its real purpose was. We only knew it as a place that had a big auditorium and was the location of many activities that had nothing to do with the National Guard. It was the site of many of our teen dances, but for many of us it was famous for another reason.

    There have always been some of those “Doubting Thomas” folks in our society who think wrestling is and was fake – and they’ll never change their minds. Don’t put my grandmother into that class – she was a true believer and as such had me, her Thursday night wresting date, convinced as well. Each week we’d walk the six or seven blocks from our house to the National Guard Armory and watch the excitement take place in the ring. I even had an autograph book, and still do, with many of the wrestlers’ autographs on the pages. I remember the bleachers in the Armory, as well as the folding chairs that were used more often as weapons by the wrestlers than for sitting in comfort by the spectators. My mind also conjures up the smell of the sweaty mat and the sounds it made when the heavy bodies of the participants were thrown upon it.  The aroma of freshly burned popcorn rounded out the olfactory sensation. I can still hear the sounds made when a participant was pinned by an opponent and the ref would whack the mat with a loud counting cadence of “one-two-three.”  More often than not, the count was interrupted by the man on the bottom unpinning himself just in time to stay in the match and often come back to win.


    Photos of Jackie and Don Fargo, Irish Mike Clancy, and Tojo Yamomoto, who were regulars on the Thursday night bouts were commonly used in the newspaper ads and posters designed to drew us to the matches each week.

    Tex Riley and Irish Mike Clancy were my favorites, and thanks to a tip from John Drummond, I now know that the Japanese wrestler I hated so much was Tojo Yamomoto. He was known for throwing ceremonial salt to the four winds at the beginning of the match and later rubbing the salt into his opponent’s eyes. I think it would have ruined it for me back in the late Fifties to know that he was not really Japanese, but actually a Hawaiian. Websites dedicated to Mid-South Wrestling state that Tojo was the most hated man in wrestling back then. Next to him I very much disliked the two calling themselves Jackie and Don Fargo. They usually fought in the tag team bouts, but Jackie often fought alone as a bad guy. There were also various bad guys that wore masks which spectators always wanted defeated and unmasked. Not all masked men were like the Lone Ranger.

Speaking of the Lone Ranger, I still can remember Cyclone Anaya who wore an Indian costume and did war dances when he really got mad and then lit into the bad guys with a fury that would have made famous Hollywood Western director John Ford envious.  I had forgotten about the midget wrestlers until I did some research for this story. They didn’t show up every week, nor did the women of that profession. They were there often enough to bring back memories once I thought about it.
    Nick Gulas and Roy Welch were the promoters out of Nashville that set up most of the Huntsville matches. I even remember when Roy Welch would don his own tights and become one of the “good guys” on some Thursday nights. The admission price was $1.00 for adults, 50 cents for children and 25 cents for ringside seats.
I think one of the greatest and longest lasting lessons I learned by watching wrestling was good guys and bad guys inhabited this world and life was not always fair. Unlike the Saturday morning Western movies, in Thursday night wrestling matches sometimes the bad guys cheated and won. In the end, the heroes would somehow find the strength to come back in a match farther down the line (but not necessarily immediately) and good would eventually triumph over evil.
By the time I entered high school I was no longer going to the armory to see the wrestling matches. Instead it was one of the many places which sponsored teenage dances. 

    On a Saurday in January of 1964 the trip to the armory was the beginning of an interesting evening.  After all these years, the band that was playing that night is lost forever.  I went stag but would find enough girls to dance most of the dances with once I was inside the building.  It was typical of many Saturday nights of the early Sixties, but some of the events of that night seem as fresh as last week.  Of curious note, and without doubt, the most interesting episode to me was the side trip with Mary (name changed in this story) to the store, and the reason for the trip.

    The dance was going great, good rock-and-roll music, lots of friends, and lots of dancing.  I was really enjoying myself when Mary came up and asked me if I had my car with me.  When I told her I didn't she seemed disappointed and upset.  My inquisitive mind pursued the matter and finally Mary told me that she desperately needed to go to the store, but could not tell me why.  She continued to ask around the dance and finally found Dag, who had his car, but who did not want to leave the dance.  Using her best diplomatic skills she finally arranged to borrow Dag's car, if I would be the only one to drive it.  I really didn't want to leave the dance either since I was having a great time.  I quickly changed my mind when I learned of the possibility of driving the '63 Impala SuperSport.

    As we started out of the door we were told that if we left we would have to pay $1.00 each to get back in.  That didn't seem like such a big deal, except that I did not have another $1.00.  Mary did though and said that she would pay my way back into the dance if I left with her.  She still had not divulged what was so important about the trip, but it was beginning to look like a matter of life and death to her.  It was a short drive to the nearest store, and a fun one.  I had never driven a floor shift before, and really never driven the ultimate "four-in-the-floor" that the SuperSport had.  This was not just any SuperSport, it was a convertible.  It was the car of the day.  This was the very same car I rode around in one night in such glory and now I was getting to drive it, with a pretty blond girl sitting by my side.

    Stopping at the store, I kept the engine running and the radio playing while Mary went inside.  When she returned, she was carrying a medium-sized brown paper sack held closely under her arm.  She told me to drive to the nearest gas station, and upon our arrival there she made a mad dash to the Ladies' Room.  When she returned she was ready to go back to the dance.  On the way back to the armory I had to stop at a red light.  When I did Mary opened the door and tossed the paper sack and its contents into the gutter.  I thought it was a strange action.   Although she never confessed a word of it, it was obviously "female trouble" and I knew it and she knew I knew it.  It was one of those unmentionable things that was beyond etiquette ever to mention, and neither of us ever did.  I admit that I felt a little honored to be trusted by the cute girl with such a deep secret of personal concern.  

Saturday January 11, 1964
    "The Contentials" and "The Tempest's" alternated at the dance.  It was great fun.  Spent most of my time with Mary Ann B., Toni I., and Barbara S.  It was over at 12:00."

    Taking three girls to the same dance could get a person into trouble in some circles.  Unfortunately my role was in the transportation department more than the escort department.  In the spirit of most of the dances of the time there were always plenty of dancing partners, and on that night, there were also plenty of bands.  With two groups alternating, the night went long and hard.  Most of the music was good old rock-and-roll with a lot of beat.  The group of kids I spent most of the night with, was neither my normal group nor was it the group I took to the dance.  In the spirit of the music of the day I just had to go along with the idea behind The Drifters' "Save the Last Dance For Me":

But don't forget who's taking you home,
And in whose arms you're gonna be,
So darling, save the last dance for me.

    Although we went our separate ways for most of the night, when the dance was over, the three girls didn't forget who was taking them home, even though they wouldn't be in my arms.  By that time, Bob and Paul had finished work and joined us for the trip out to the strip.  Their addition to the group made it a car full, three boys and three girls, nice even numbers it would seem.  Even though the numbers matched, it still didn't add up to three couples.  When the night was over, I ended up taking Bob home with me.  Even though I liked Bob, he was not my first choice of the crowd in the car for a roommate.

Tuesday, June 2, 1964
154th Day - 212 days to follow

    Up at 9:00 A.M. today.  Did a lot of packing.  David brought me a gift from him, Bob, and Paul.  It was a big box of English Leather.  Went back to the Times office then came home.  At 4:00 P.M. I took a nap.  Mother took some pictures of me in my cap and gown after we got back from taking some junk to the junk pile.
Janice picked me up at 7:15 P.M. and we went to the stadium.  The commencement exercises began at 8:00 P.M.  I got my diploma at 8:55 P.M.  There was a senior party at the armory at 11:00 P.M.  

    Almost as quickly as it had started, the ceremony was over.  Except for Bob, the seniors had graduated.  He would have to wait until the end of summer school, thanks to English literature.  He did not begrudge those who had participated in the ceremony that night, and he joined them at the senior party at the National Guard Armory.  The party was designed to keep the graduates off the streets and out of trouble.  Its lack of impression on me can be noted by the lack of the band's name, an element recorded about every other dance I had attended during the period I kept the journal.

        Memphis, TN - I go to extreme lengths to avoid including controversial topics as well as to fact check the stories I include each week in Lee’s Traveller. However, sometimes I also try very hard to get “the rest of the story” in an effort to share interesting items on a topic. Last week my story about how much I enjoyed Goldsmith-Schiffman Field also included a mention of the fact I had just discovered about how the field was given to the city to be used by white schools. That information was innocently included as a fact and not meant to advocate any pro or con stand about the integration issue surrounding the donation or to start a debate on the subject.

    One of our readers forwarded a copy of the story to Margaret Anne “Mag” Goldsmith, a descendant of the original donors, perhaps to show her the importance I had placed upon the field in my youth. As a result, I was subsequently contacted by her in an effort to get me to help clear up some of the background on that stipulation. She asked if I would be willing to publish some more of the story on the inclusion of the “whites only” phrase which has been a sore spot to her family since it was once again brought to the public attention.

    Mag said there was no one still alive in her family who was involved in the original donation of the land for the playing field, and hense anyone left who really knows the complete truth behind the addition of that condition into the gift of the land to the citizens of Huntsville. She posed an interesting question to me as to why one would think her grandfather would personally add such a restriction. It seemed unlikely that a Jewish immigrant who had personally known and felt discrimination because of both his faith and his national origin would want to pose similar discriminative  restrictions on another race.

    My further research on this subject leads me to believe it is more likely than not that the local politicians were responsible for the "whites only" verbiage  of the deed giving the park to the city. This was an example of many Jim Crow Laws wording.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Mr. Foley

Cecilia Watson


Thanks to Curt Lewis (my homeroom Buddy) for the article about the band. Mr Foley was one of a kind. I quit band before high school because Mr Foley said there was no hope for my musical talent or lack of it .. Thank always for the memories of Lee !! 

Subject:    Last Week's Issue

Bryan Towery


    Thanks very much to Curt Lewis for sharing his experiences with the Lee Band.  Although not a very good instrumentalist, I also enjoyed the camaraderie experienced during those long summer practices, the satisfaction of putting on a well-drilled halftime show, and so much more including the spring concerts and occasional trip to Tuscaloosa.

     And thanks, Tommy, for sharing the pleasures associated with Goldsmith-Schiffman Field.  That was a place that was in each walking distance for my brothers and I, so in the summer, we were able to visit the playground field that was situated across Beirne Ave from the field.  And, of course, 5-Points was only a hop, skip away from that point.

    I may not get on this site to express my views much (my natural reticence) but I want to gratefully thank you and all the other contributors for keeping my days filled with wonderful memories.  Warmest regards to all.

Subject:    The Goldsmith Family
Joel Weinbaum
LHS '64

    The Goldsmith family still continues with its generosity toward the contribution of public use lands. Being Jewish as I am in some part may be neither here nor there but in 1934 to give over valued land for use by the “white” students of Huntsville is not only heart felt but it is a display of the business acumen of the family, not being too far removed from immigrant status. Quite an achievement considering the depression years were on, full bore. Even in earlier times the Jews who migrated into the southern clime have made significant contributions across all lines of its many citizens. We as a community don’t do it in “bell ringer” fashion, but its there. A relative of mind, a civic leader in B’ham, Samuel Ullman, author of the poem “Youth,” was instrumental in establishing the first black HS in B’ham. I think it became the first building of the fledging UAB campus. Its still in use. His poem is notable by the historic fact that during the occupation of Japan with Douglas MacArthur being essentially the new emperor had three framed pictures on his office wall, George Washington, the poem “Youth,” and Abraham Lincoln. The Japanese dignitaries visiting his office inculcated that poem into the upper management structure of Japan recognizing the significance given over by MacArthur, and its content, that even today, every upper manager in Japan and the US knows that poem. 

    I think I have told the story of my family relating to the birth of Douglas MacArthur in Little Rock, AR. The doctor in attendance was Jewish, Jacob Deutsch. He had a  daughter. Don’t know the year but when one of my grandmother’s brothers from Tuscumbia was ready for marriage someone connected him to the Deutsch family, and he married the good doctor’s daughter. A another front row seat to history. My family has had the gift of nearly unlimited tickets, always the front row.

    And in 1934, segregation across the South was a harsh fact. They obviously were’t looking to changing the culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found similar things done for the minority class of the time, maybe on a smaller scale. I have never looked. But we all come from somewhere, and do the best with what we have. 

    I remember coming to Huntsville, likely 10th grade before moving to Huntsville, 1961, to watch Sheffield play Huntsville in football at Goldsmith-Shiffman Field. I distinctly remember the rock walls. I think that was a specialty of Huntsville’s from a nearby quarry.



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