Greene County Arkansas

Paragould, Arkansas

Centennial Edition Section 5

   Monday, August 29,1983, Paragould Daily Press                                                                                                                   Section 5, Centennial Edition -5

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     I remember:  When five houses burned

 

The massive fire at the Magnolia Petrolium bulk plant Jan 4. 1951

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   A traveling hypnotist who made
                  the audience perform for itself


Looking back to the night the Isis Theatre burned, I realize now that it was my first "Towering Inferno." There was no wind, or it probably would have been much worse. Theflames shot straight up for hundreds of feet. The heat became so great that those of us watching from the alley across Second Street were backed half-way down the alley to the rear of Meritwether's hardware store. The Vandervoort Hotel was a half-block north of the Isis, and there was considerable concern for its safety.
   Uncle Ross Coffman, the owner of the Isis, or his agent provided some very nice entertainment there and I managed to attend some of the presentations. One was a hypnotist's comedy, using 15 or 20 young local peopled as subjects.
   After interviewing each one, he hypnotized them and told them what was expected of them in a voice loud enough that the audi-ence also knew what to expect.
   He had some of them swatting flies on the walls and told one fellow that he had a bug in his ear. The antics he went through, trying to remove that bug, should have loosened all of his teeth.
   He handed women's clothing to some of the men and told them to roll up their pant legs and put on the garments. They held the clothes up and then turned them over and looked at them again, trying to figure the best way to get into them. By the time they
finally were finished, the entire procedure -- plus the befuddled looks of the now-ladies -- had the audience in stitches.
   One lady, he to to feed her "baby" his bottle, rock him to sleep and sing him a lullabye. He put a baby cap on the biggest subject there and helped his little "mother" get him in her lap. She was rocking the "baby" and singing Rockabye Baby when she was told
to sing louder. She did, at the top of her lungs -- and I doubt that there was ever a more raucous rendition of Rockabye Baby in a Treetop.
   She had so much trouble holding him that the "baby" took the bottle and held it in his mouth himself.
   Then the hypnotist awakened the "mother," who looked down at the "baby," then stood and dropped him to the floor. He lost his bottle and crawling around on the floor, recovered it, rolled over on his back and resumed nursing his bottle. The hypnotist then awakened the "baby" --and was he angry.
   Other subjects were told that they were at the old swimming hole and to begin swimming. They went through  the motions, and one became so enthusiastic that he rushed up to the front of the stage and dived head first into the orchestra pit, skinning his face, head and other portions of his anatomy.

                                                                                                       Garnett Hills
                                                                                                       Berkeley, Calif.

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     A night in July, 1919, that I remember:
   Soon after midnight, I was awakened by the long, shrill wail of the steam fire whistle being blown from one of the Wrape's Mill boilers. My brother, Hardy, and I were sleeping in our parents' home at 400 W. Poplar St.
   About that time, we could hear the ringing of the bell and the loud siren on the fire truck that had recently been bought by our city. The truck went on past our house and stop-ped at the last house in the 400 block. By the time we got out on the street, we could tell the house was engulfed in flames.
  The hose from the fire truck was connected to a fire plug. As the valve opened, only a trickle of water came out. There was a fail-ure at the water plant.
   This house was the property of the Tom Fletcher family and soon burned to the ground, helped by a brisk southwest wind.
   At this time  --  and still no water pressure -- the Bob Gardner home was afire. A large crowd had gathered and people began going into the homes to carry out furniture and other items, taking them across the street. There was lots of talk about pilfering of small items.
   Still no water pressure. The Gardner, Lackey and Heaton homes all burned to the ground.
   A pow-wow was held by officials, who decided to send E. O. Newsome, one of the firemen, to a gravel pit and bring back enough dynamite to blow up the Crawford home, which was next in line, to stop the fire.
 Along came a town character named Ernest Smith, who suggested that the officials bring up the city street washer, which was a big tank of water on wheels with a Studebaker
engine on the rear, to build up the water pressure.
   Fire hoses were connected and the engine was started. The water started to flow and in a short time the fire was under control.
   By this time, things were being taken out of other homes along the line. Pilfering and vandalism were getting worse. The next house was the Maddox home. They were bringing out the lavatories and bathtubs. At the Hawkins home, two barrels of wine were found in the basement. Fruit jars and other glass containers were filled and the wine passed around freely for all whowanted to partake. The Weatherly home was next. By this time, the fire being under control, the officials stopped all from going into the houses.
   Our home was the next house down, the last house on the south side of Poplar Street. From the start of the fire, our father had sent to his wholesale grocery firm and brought out all the fire extinguishers, along with a stock of  #3 washtubs to fill with water to soak blankets, quilts and whatever to put on our roof. He also stated he was not going to have the vandalism at our home. To warn all, he loaded his automatic shotgun and sat on front porch with it in his lap.
   Soon it was daylight and the five houses burned left a nasty sight. It was not long until the mess was cleaned up and new houses were started.
   I was only 11 years old when this happened.

                                                           Joe E. Wilbourn

     

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          The First Methodist Church
                 catching fire during a service


   When I opened that "book" of memories of Paragould, the remembrances came flashing back with unusual clarity. This is not surpris-ing, however, because they were deeply
etched in my mind when a child.It was curious, though, to find how many of my memories involved fires.
  I was 4 years old when my parents moved to Paragould in 1910. They bought a two-story white house at 608 W. Main St. We lived there until it burned down in 1915.
   Then a contractor and builder, William Thomas Watts, built us a new home on that same lot. I was allowed to watch some of the inside work which interested me very much as a child-- especially the fireplace and the book-cases. I didn't know then that many years later, I would become his daughter-in-law.
   I remember that the West Side Elementary School on Court Street burned down early one morning in the winter of 1918. I attended school there in the seventh grade. When our school burned, we thought we would have an
unscheduled vacation. However, the churches and other elementary schools each took a class. Since the school I was assigned to was all the way across town, I was positive my
mother would never let me go that far. Again -- no such luck! She bought me a pair of high-topped boots and sent me on my way. We children missed only a few days of school be-
cause of the fire.
   I remember also that the First Methodist Church, located at that time on the corner of Third and Emerson Streets, caught fire one Sunday during the morning worship service. Our pastor, James Evans, calmly announced
to the congregation that there were photog-raphers waiting out in the cold weather to take our pictures and to go quickly as possible. We were on the second floor, which had stairs at each end of the hall. For some reason, none
of us seemed to think it strange that photog-raphers couldn't or didn't take pictures inside the church. We just  obeyed our pastor's calm suggestion and everyone was safe. Later, a new church was built at Fourth and Main
Streets.
   There is a large sign that still hangs in a special place for all to see -- new-comers and visitors as well as the permanent residents. The sign reads, "You'll like Paragould." The sign always interested me, even as a child.
First, I believed that what it said was true. And second, it taught me at an early age one of the rules for the use of the apostrophe and its application.

                                           Mary Louise Wood Watts
                                           San Diego, Calif.

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    A potato house without potatoes

In 1922, we were living in the little house at 801 Kingshighway.
  Across Eighth Street to the east was old man Lemon's corn and potato field, which took in the entire block all the way down to Seventh Street. Mr. Lemon was good at farming. His corn was full and the potatoes always looked good.
   The winter of 1922 came early in northeast Arkansas. The smoke rising from Lemon's potato house became a familiar sight, although you could hardly see the roof because it was so low -- like a cellar with a roof in the middle of a field.
   By Easter time the next year, quite some time after any danger of frost, smoke was still drifting above the little potato house. I guess that's what prompted the local revenuers to drop in for a look-see. And sure enough,
there was a full-size moonshine still, steaming away -- and not one sack of  potatoes!

                                                  James Harry Hysmith
                                                  St. Louis, MO

             

 

     My sister shouting 'storm' at the outdoor movie theater
                     

  
I came into the world Oct. 27, 1914. Our home stood on the property now owned by Foremost Dairy. We were only one block from Paragould's main street, Pruett, and had an orchard, garden, chicken yard, pig pen and big barn lot for our cows.
   Sometimes I would go to town with my father, Ross Coffman. He was 74 years old when I was born -- my mother was only 34 -- so he was very proud of me. Dad would sit me on the bar with a strawberry soda and he and his friends would have a 3.2 per-cent beer and discuss their favorite subjects -- cotton and timber.
   Dad owned two theaters. "The Isis" was named after my sister, Isis Ratton Highfill, and was located where the  parking lot of the First National Bank is now. The other theater was an open-top air-dome, located where the Hurt Grocery now stands. At the air-dome, my sister would sit on the front row and keep looking over her shoulder at the sky. Right in the middle of a picture, she would run up the row of seats, shouting, "Storm!" The people would leave and Dad would have to give them a rain check. Needless to say, that would be the end of her visits to the air dome for the summer.But by the time it opened the following summer, Dad would have forgotten the incident and would let her return.
   When I got old enough to go to town by myself, every Saturday I was given 25 cents. I'd leave home about 11:30 a.m. so I'd be first in line when the show opened at noon. This was at the Majestic Theater, and Winnie Baker sold tickets. They cost 10 cents and a bag of popcorn was a nickle. There was always a western, usually starring "Hoot Gibson."
   My mother died when I was 16 years old and my father when I was 17. My sister, Isis, moved back to Paragould with her husband, Ralph Ratton, and her daughter and son. I grew up and finished high school because of  the threats of Isis, so any achievements or honors that I received later in my life, I owe to my dear sister, who was both mother and sister to me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Jene J. Coffman
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Little Rock, Ark.

 

Woodworking Mills

                   

 

Transcribed by: PR Massey

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