The first installments of Old News will feature a series that ran 80 years ago in the Nashville Banner, from late September through early December 1930. “The Colorful Eighties in Nashville” offered up the reminiscences of Marmaduke B. Morton (1859-1943), longtime managing editor of the paper, who reflected back on the city he encountered as a cub reporter a half-century earlier.
I compiled this material in 2005 as a text for an evening class on local history at Montgomery Bell Academy. (Compilation copyright 2005.)
If you’re not accustomed to reading newspapers from the 1930s and earlier, or even if you are, you may be dismayed by some of the stereotypes and terminology that turn up in the old gentleman’s prose, especially as regards racial matters. I have made no attempt to sanitize his writing of jarring, offensive and occasionally just badly written passages. You will see footnotes, however, to explain some of the more obscure references made in his text.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mr. Morton:
21 Sept. 1930: ”South’s Reawakening — Confederate Brigadiers in Saddle —The Old Maxwell House — Noted Orators”
The dining room was a specimen of architectural beauty, and there viands fit for the gods were served by a small army of Negro waiters. Men loafed in easy chairs and talked politics, and discussed other subjects, while the impact of billiard balls and the clinking of ice in cut glass tumblers, as the spotless bartender stood behind the speckless counter and poured amber mixtures from decanters, could be heard. Upstairs on what would now be called the mezzanine floor the curly heads and bustled bodies of women, with all the witchery of the Old South, could be seen peeping over the railing into the rotunda to see what their husbands and sweethearts were doing.
28 Sept. 1930: ”Horse Racing and Sportsmen — Scenes During Race Meetings — Old Saloons and Livery Stables”
The livery stable keeper, like the man who dispensed drinks in white collar and immaculate shirt, with hand-painted necktie, was noted for his wisdom. The loafers around the stables referred all disputed points to him. He delivered his dictum with becoming gravity. He looked horsey, and had an unutterable contempt for anyone who did not “know” a horse. He had sleek, blood bays, sorrels, grays, blacks — a dappled black was a star beauty — rich chestnut sorrels and occasionally a star, milk white.