It was mid-winter, 1892, and an illness known as lagrippe was exacting a grim toll in the Tuscaloosa area. The term “lagrippe” derives from an old French verb meaning “to seize or grasp” and was then used to describe what is now called influenza, or simply, “flu.”
One of the clichés of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American life was a city with an Irish police chief, Jewish merchants, Italian and Greek restaurants, and a Chinese laundry. In that sense, Tuscaloosa was the stereotypical city of the times.
Dr. Mary Walker is the only woman to ever receive the Congressional Medal of Honor – the highest, most prestigious personal military decoration awarded to U.S. Military service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor. Later this month, Walker will be recognized locally, along with several other area women, at a special event.
In late 1883, Tuscaloosans heard for the first time a sound that signaled profound change. That sound was the ringing of telephones connected to the area’s first telephone exchange. According to the Tuskaloosa Gazette, the exchange was quietly organized “by a few of our local business men to facilitate commercial transactions and in some instances social convenience.”
The history of the telephone is complicated and often confusing. There was a dizzying array of patents, claims, lawsuits, and mergers that lasted for decades. However, two basic patents upheld by United States courts became the foundation for modern telephonic communication. The first was an electric telephone that could send and receive understandable voice messages to another telephone along a wire. The second was a telephone exchange that allowed users to connect to different phones.
Beginning in the 17th century, a number of inventors worked on devices for voice communication over distances further than the range of human hearing. The earliest attempts to create a telephone were by mechanical means (vibrating strings or wires, speaking tubes, etc.) However, by the mid-19th century, several inventors were developing “acoustical telegraphy” or the sending of modulated audio frequencies by electricity over telegraph wires. Alexander Graham Bell, a native of Scotland, was a teacher of the deaf, inventor, engineer, and scientist. While working in Canada and the United States, Bell developed a device that received the first American patent for a telephone in 1876.
Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Miller were walking toward the end of Washington Street, now known as Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard North in downtown Tuscaloosa. It was Friday evening, September 21, 1900. In the darkness, the 68-year-old Mrs. Miller did not see the edge of a gully that had eaten into the street, and she fell to her death. Later, her husband received a settlement from the City of $2500—equal to about $65,000 over a century later.
It was Tuesday evening, and the Tuscaloosa Citizens Cornet Band was playing, when suddenly their practice room filled with fluttering birds. The “affrighted” creatures had been shaken from their roosts in trees outside an open window. All over town people fled outside, fearing their houses would fall.
A sharp succession of shots rang out, and a gray clad figure fell. It was February of 1883, and two cadets were fighting a pistol duel on the porch of Woods Hall on the University of Alabama campus. The integrity of a young woman had been questioned, and a challenge was issued in defense of her honor. Cadet William Alston of Selma succumbed to wounds inflicted by Cadet H. K. Harrison. Over a year later, Harrison was found not guilty of murder.
A new day began; it was about 1:00 a.m., Friday morning, Sept. 2, 1859. The city lacked streetlights and the crescent moon had set, but Editor W. H. Fowler of Tuscaloosa’s Independent Monitor noted that people could “read distinctly” in the soft light emanating from the sky. The northern lights, or aurora borealis, was making its “most brilliant appearance in many years.”
A large group gathered around a freshly dug grave in a small cemetery in eastern Fayette County, about 50 miles from Tuscaloosa. Reuben E. Powell, a native Virginian and early Alabama settler, was being laid to rest. The circumstances of his life that ended on July 23, 1836, were not unusual for the times. He was a 51-year-old planter/farmer whose marriage to his cousin, Sarah Powell Powell, had produced 12 children.
Congratulations to Jim Ezell, Druid City Living’s incredibly talented “Tales of Tuscaloosa” columnist. Ezell was recently named Writer of the Year for 2015 by the Tuscaloosa Writers and Illustrators Guild (TWIG).
Mr. Ezell, as many of our readers already know, is busily writing a collection of historical stories about the Druid City and surrounding areas, in hopes of publishing a book ahead of Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial celebration in 2019. Here are a few things you might NOT know about Jim Ezell and his wonderful family: