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Posts Tagged ‘The south’

Night Doctors

October 11, 2016 | by

Nineteenth-century medical schools plundered the graves of African Americans.


“I remember a colored lady was going to work early in the morning, about half past five o’clock. She was standing at Twelfth and Market Streets when an automobile came up. A man in the automobile spoke to her, ‘Mary, which way are you going? I’ll take you where you want to go in a hurry. The trolleys are all blocked.’ But the lady wouldn’t get in the automobile.” The story, collected in Tristram Potter Coffin and Henning Cohen’s 1966 Folklore in America, begins with a fair degree of menace but is otherwise unremarkable: a single woman harassed by a stranger in a car, the kind of danger women everywhere in America face. Only at the end does it become strange. “The man kept on insisting,” the unnamed respondent continues, “and the woman became frightened. Just then a colored man across the way saw her and started towards her. At that the man in the automobile left. He was a night doctor and was going to take the lady to the hospital.”

Shadowy, elusive, terrifying—for well over a century after the Civil War the night doctors moved through the cities and through American folklore, looking for their victims. Read More »

Silver Lining

February 11, 2016 | by

From Early Silver of Connecticut and Its Makers, 1913.

It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about Florence King after reading her famous memoir, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985). She’s … idiosyncratic, certainly. Brave, in certain respects. Independent-minded, yes, and not afraid of being disliked. But King, a notorious crank, was hard to pigeonhole: Where do you fit an openly gay writer who wrote a famously cantankerous and conservative National Review column for decades? Or a feminist who hated the women’s movement and an outspoken agnostic who regularly attended church? 

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is as singular as its author. King is at her best when she talks about the South in broad, acid terms. She offers a particularly adept explanation of the Southerner’s relationship to silver—one that I read with relish, as I come from a family that fetishizes silver. Read More »

Gore Vidal Visits Mississippi

November 3, 2015 | by

There is very little that can embellish the central fact of this clip: Gore Vidal discusses the South with Eudora Welty. Oh, wait, there’s one thing. Gore Vidal says the words “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and “McDonald’s” at 2:39, and it sounds like he’s speaking a foreign language.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Comfort Food

June 30, 2014 | by


Sally Bell’s started making box lunch in the 1950s, but the recipes used to make the salad, sandwich spread, deviled egg, cheese wafer, and cupcake that go into the box date back to the 1920s, when Sarah Cabell Jones opened her bakery in a building across the street. There is nothing singly spectacular about the immemorial meal you get here, except for its immunity to anything modern. Sally Bell serves the exact lunch it served a half-century ago, which is probably much the same as polite Virginians ate a hundred years ago. There are two salads from which to choose: macaroni, which is fine, and spicy-sweet potato salad laced with onions, which is memorable. Of the eleven kinds of sandwiches, we seldom can resist pimiento cheese, but we have not regretted chicken salad (on a roll rather than white bread), cream cheese and olive (talk about a bygone taste!), and thin-cut Smithfield ham. As for cupcakes, there’s no beating the orange-and-lemon, its icing sprinkled with little bits of citrus confetti. All the elements are neatly packaged in a cardboard lunchbox lined with wax paper.
—Jane and Michael Stern, Roadfood

Sally Bell’s Kitchen is hardly a secret. It is a Richmond institution, beloved by generations of Fan District denizens, and the subject of a lengthy profile, in 2000, in the New York Times. Saveur calls its box lunch “paradise in a box.” Its demure, upside-down cupcakes, twenties-vintage Colonial Dame logo, deviled eggs, and old-fashioned, pecan-crowned cheese wafers—described by the Sterns as “heartbreaking”—speak to a sort of timeless gentility most of us can only imagine.

Certainly I can. I have no ties to Richmond, no institutional memory of the place. The three times I’ve tried to visit Sally Bell’s, I’ve fallen victim to the bakery’s conservative hours. And yet my obsession with the place is so well known that friends have more than once taken the time to wait on line and rush me a box lunch up to New York. People have given me aprons emblazoned with the cameo logo and a picture book filled with mouthwatering images of deviled eggs and beaten biscuits. On occasion I have been known to print out a copy of their menu and quixotically check off the options that appeal to me: potato salad, ham roll, lemon cupcake. For a while I had this pinned over my desk at work. I imagine people found this eccentric; in fact, I found it deeply comforting. Sally Bell’s—or my dream of it, anyway—has somehow become my happy place: a magical, cozy, well-ordered, old-fashioned realm filled with immutable recipes and homemade mayonnaise. Never mind that these aren’t the foods I grew up with; they have somehow become, for me, the definition of comfort. When I’m sad or disoriented, I pull down my book and pore over those pictures. I watch this film again and again, and I cry for reasons I can’t even explain to myself. Read More »

The Wide World of Typewriter Art, and Other News

May 26, 2014 | by


Otto von Bismarck (1898), typewriter art published in George Mares‘s The History of the Typewriter (1909)

  • The Glasgow School of Art’s library, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, caught fire over the weekend, but the art school is confident that most of its holdings are intact.
  • A new anthology of typewriter art explores “the development of the typewriter as a medium for creating work far beyond anything envisioned by the machine’s makers.”
  • Remembering the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919: “Just after noon on January 15, 1919, a hail of gunshots rang out in the North End. The thunderous cascade of collapsing metal caused the ground to rumble and shake. Residents barely had time to register the sounds before an astonishing sight greeted them: a two-story wave of molasses barreling down the streets at thirty-five miles an hour.”
  • The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a number of utopian preconceptions of what would become the Internet. Among them was Paul Otlet’s plan for “electric telescopes,” which he hatched in 1934; the telescopes “would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films … Otlet also wrote about wireless networks, speech recognition, and social network-like features that would allow individuals to ‘participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.’”
  • The many lives of Aubrey Lee Price, “the Bernie Madoff of the South.”


Smoke Lingers

November 8, 2012 | by

My first encounter with Patrick Swayze was not, like many of my classmates’, in a suburban movie theater, watching his robust muscles seductively grip Jennifer Grey’s tiny pelvis to the sounds of Mickey & Sylvia. The night I met him on the small television in the kitchen, my mother washing dishes in the background, instead of a form-fitting tank top Swayze was wearing the distinguished gray uniform of the Confederate States Army. Before he played the Catskills dance instructor of teenage girls’ dreams, Swayze was Orry Main, a good ole fighting South Carolina boy whose best friend is a damn Yankee, in North & South, the melodramatic 1980s miniseries that reduced one of the country’s most devastating slabs of history to coquettish glances thrown from beneath floppy straw hats and above buxom gowns. At age six, too young to comprehend the definition of secession, much less the horrors of slavery, I watched the scenes of sprawling plantation estates with the same intensity as an afternoon fix of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It was the first time I heard the words civil war.

Years and textbooks later, the intricacies of this defining upheaval continued to compel me more than any other period in our country’s history. Each moment of the war—those first foreboding booms over Fort Sumter, the hundreds of thousands of lives replaced by bloody corpses, Abraham Lincoln’s searing call for freedom—seemed fraught with political, economic, and moral complexity. Patrick Swayze ushered me into this suspenseful drama, Ken Burns’s The Civil War took me deeper, and I didn’t want to leave. Read More »