A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Dallas History

The True Story of the Dallas Secretary Who Invented Liquid Paper

| 2 weeks ago

Spoiler alert: the contents of this blog post will answer one of the trivia questions in the May edition of D Magazine. It has to do with Liquid Paper and the Dallas secretary who invented it. Her name was Bette Nesmith — later Bette Nesmith Graham — a single mom who, in 1956, tried to find a simple way to make her life at work easier.

In her Richardson garage, Nesmith Graham mixed a concoction consisting largely of white tempura paint. The solution could blot over typewriter mistakes and dry quickly, allowing for fast changes. But it wasn’t the invention of the substance that was Nesmith Graham’s real genius. As this piece in The Hustle explains, it was her flair for marketing.

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Dallas History

Tales from the Dallas History Archives: When Hollywood Came to Dallas

| 1 month ago

With the Academy Awards only weeks away, now is a great time to take a look at some notable female actors who have visited North Texas.

The following photographs are part the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Collection and many are available through the library’s online catalog.

Among the images are a visit to Bishop College by multi-talented singer songwriter Oscar nominated actress and activist Eartha Kitt. Decades later, I can still recall the awe I felt as a small child in the 1980s, watching Kitt’s portrayal of Catwoman in reruns of the 1960s Batman television series. Actress May Wynn was photographed on a jet at Dallas Naval Air Station (Hensley Field) to promote a film opening in 1954.

There are images of Casablanca star Ingrid Bergman. Tina Turner and Gladys Knight visited Dallas in 1962 and 1968. Vertigo star Kim Novak was once spotted at Union Station around 1956. Horror legends Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, and Morticia Adams were all here, too.

So take a look at the gallery and see a few times Hollywood came to Dallas.

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In Fort Worth, a Bike Tour Brings Awareness to the City’s History of Racist Violence

| 1 month ago

Trigger warning: this story contains references to racial violence.

Adam W. McKinney remembers the first time he encountered the name Fred Rouse. It was in a book he had bought at the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio, while on tour with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater troupe. He read the book later, in 2007, after he’d moved to Fort Worth to become an assistant dance professor at TCU, conducting research and choreographic work that delves into racism. That’s when he learned that on December 11, 1921, a badly beaten Rouse was seized from the Tarrant County hospital by a mob of White men, who then hanged him from a tree.

The Fort Worth Telegram report at the time contained gruesome details, but as McKinney tried to find out more about the story, he soon discovered that few knew the details of Rouse’s life, and even fewer remembered the manner of his death. So he enlisted theater artist and activist Daniel Banks to help rectify the situation. “It became clear to us as artists that we needed to share this history together as a community,” McKinney says.

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Dallas History

CBS This Morning on Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation

| 2 months ago

By now, most tuned-in Dallasites are familiar with the story of The Accommodation, our friend Jim Schutze’s landmark study of Dallas’ racial history. Over the weekend, CBS This Morning brought the tale to national audiences. In the report, Schutze and civil rights activist Peter Johnson speak about Dallas history, segregation, and the resurgent popularity of the long out-of-print book that will be republished by Deep Vellum later this year. Schutze bashfully admits to being somewhat flabbergasted about the whole ordeal.

“I feel like this book is this weird stone tablet that somebody found,” Schutze tells CBS News producer Rodney Hawkins. “When this regeneration of interest started ten years ago, I just didn’t get it at all. All the people who wanted to talk to me about it were young, 20- and 30-year-olds.”

CBS does well to note that the network’s fabled newsman Walter Cronkite was hired by Dallas civic leaders in the 1960s to create a piece of propaganda intended to tamp down on civil rights protests in Dallas. They fail, however, to note that Schutze’s book will be brought back by Will Evans’ non-profit publishing house after a bootleg .pdf version of the book floated around youthful circles of Dallas history and politics wonks for years (thought its Twitter handle gets a shout out).

Instead, Hawkins reports that “John Wiley Price fought to republish it.” Schutze, you may remember, sold the rights to Price decades ago, before the two had a falling out. Price also features in the report, and he has a new forward in the Deep Vellum edition. The CBS clip is after the jump:

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: Art Has Always Been Part of the City

| 4 months ago

Art and artists have always been part of the Dallas landscape, and the Dallas Public Library photograph collections have examples of how cultural offerings helped shape the city. The following photographs are some of the images of the arts I have encountered in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Collection and are available through the library’s online catalog.

The late Dmitri Vail shows his paintings and photographs in 1952. Expatriate German artist George Grosz visited Dallas to create a series called “Impressions of Dallas” on behalf of Leon Harris, Jr., vice president of the A. Harris and Company department store. Sculptor Horace Foxall and his works are depicted as part of the Marion Butts collection, as well. The Dallas Public Library’s historic connection to Dallas art is represented by photographs such as the Art Room of the original 1901 Carnegie Library, the contents of which later helped form the Dallas Museum of Art.

Classroom art instruction, art competitions, and influential artists like Everett Spruce and Ruth Uhler are among these historic photographs. Prominent public sculptures occupy other photographs. Take a look in the gallery below.

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Dallas History

Of Art and Failed Socialist Uprisings: The Wild Story of Dallas’ First Painter

| 5 months ago

Charles DeMorse, a newspaper editor, checked into a room at the Crutchfield House, a modest two-story inn on Dallas’ courthouse square. The year was 1852. DeMorse was crisscrossing North Texas on horseback, covering court cases for his paper. In the morning, he would ride on to Denton, but that evening he wanted to unwind. From his hotel window, DeMorse spotted on the far side of the square something called The Arts Saloon. It was a curious name. “Looking again, I tried to read it ‘The Ark Saloon,’ ” DeMorse later wrote, “not understanding what a gallery of the fine arts should be doing at the city of the Three Forks, but rather supposing that a drinkery had been so termed.”

DeMorse headed over and discovered that The Arts Saloon was, indeed, more salon than saloon. Part art gallery, part dance hall, part photography studio, The Arts Saloon was run by a peculiar Frenchman named Adolphe Gouhenant. Close readers of Dallas history will recognize the name.

Gouhenant makes cameos in a dozen or so Dallas volumes, though his story is often muddled or misrepresented. Gouhenant has been lumped in with the French settlers of the La Réunion colony, even though Gouhenant arrived in Dallas years before the socialist utopians. Some Dallas historians, like DeMorse, mistake Gouhenant’s Arts Saloon for a frontier bar. In Dallas: The Deciding Years, A.C. Greene notes that Gouhenant’s establishment was “something more significant”; it was a daguerreotype studio responsible for most of the earliest photographs of Dallas. But even calling Gouhenant the city’s first photographer sells him short.

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: The Crowds In Our Past, From Bonnie Parker to JFK

| 6 months ago

This year will be remembered. With the COVID-19 pandemic, protests against systemic racism, and a presidential election with the highest voter turnout in United States history, 2020 is clearly historic.

As I find myself looking through archival collections at the Dallas Public Library through the lens of social distancing and this year’s events, many from our past stand out.

The crowd photos depicted in the following gallery are from the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Collection and are available through the library’s online catalog. Plenty seem unusual in these days of isolation, like the bank robber Bonnie Parker’s funeral and the crowd surrounding the subsequent 1935 “harboring trial” of her family and friends.

Also depicted are photos of Dallas segregation in travel and State Fair gatherings, images of horse-drawn transportation and Love Field aviation generations ago, as well as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson visits in Dallas. As this month is the anniversary of the JFK assassination, those images have an additional timely significance. 

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Dallas History

The First Black Dentist in Texas

| 7 months ago

Marcellus Cooper was born into slavery, in Dallas, on February 12, 1862. His mother was Black, his father was White, and his owners were the Caruth family. He went to grade school in a freedman’s town in what is now Lake Highlands. He was the treasurer of a Black library association and worked in a Jewish-owned department store while saving money for dentistry school. He opened a practice in a sanitarium operated by Texas’ first Black surgeon before moving to a building designed by Texas’ first Black architect.

Now, 91 years after his death, Cooper is set to get a historical marker on land that once belonged to his former owners.    

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Dallas History

The Amateur Sleuths Who Found a Missing Piece of Dallas History

| 8 months ago

In the Lowest Greenville area, between Lakewood Heights and Vickery Place, there is a little neighborhood called Belmont. The accepted history for many years has been that the neighborhood got its name from August Belmont Jr., a prominent New York financier and the son of the man who founded the Belmont Stakes. The accepted history has been wrong.

Awhile back, a couple that owns a 100-year-old Craftsman in the neighborhood began researching the history of their house. Geyden and Barry Sage found far more than they were looking for. I love stories like these, pieces of our history that lie at our feet as we walk past them every day without noticing. So of course I wanted to publish it, especially when Geyden showed me all the cool early 1900s ads for the Belmont Addition that ran in the Dallas Morning News.

Thanks to the Sages’ doggedness, the Belmont Addition Conservation District has (quietly) updated its official history, and the September issue of D Magazine contains a fascinating story about the city’s history. That story went online today. Discover the truth for yourself.

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Dallas History

The Rise and Fall of the Million Dollar Saloon

| 9 months ago

Allegedly, the Million Dollar Saloon was the world’s first “gentleman’s club.” That may be a bit of a boast, but it certainly was the first and most famous topless bar to serve mixed drinks in Dallas. Though it had a good run, as with all wild rides, it couldn’t last. For a decade the peach-​colored monolith on Greenville Avenue, across from The Shops at Park Lane, has slumped into oblivion. Finally fed up with complaints from neighbors about vagrancy, the city of Dallas in June filed a lawsuit against Furrh Inc., the owner of record, and Nick Mehmeti, the company’s president and director, seeking to force them to secure or dispose of what has become a hazardous site of exposed wires, human waste, and filth. Here’s how it came to that.

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Dallas Civil Rights Legend Peter Johnson Talks John Lewis, Police Violence, Protest, and Hope

| 9 months ago

Over the past few months, Dallas residents have filled the streets to protest police brutality. Civil rights icon John Lewis passed away. All the while, I kept thinking of Rev. Peter Johnson. Johnson is Dallas’ preeminent veteran of the Civil Rights Movement. He began his work when he was 18 as a student organizer with the Congress of Racial Equality, and, later on, for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He helped organize civil rights campaigns throughout the South.

In 1969, he arrived in Dallas ostensibly to show a documentary about Martin Luther King. Jr. that had been made to help raise money for the cause. Johnson’s bosses back in Atlanta told him to tread lightly in Dallas. In those days, Dallas had a fierce reputation, and the city could be dangerous for a young Black civil rights agitator. But Johnson didn’t like what he saw in Dallas, so he stuck around and started causing trouble. Good trouble.

If you’ve read Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation then you will be familiar with Johnson’s role in organizing residents around Fair Park, whose homes were being stolen by the city, and his work launching Operation Breadbasket, which campaigned against structural inequality and urban hunger. Now 75, Johnson has spent his entire life fighting racism, inequality, and all their symptoms—from homelessness and housing to workplace discrimination and voting rights—often at the risk of his body and well-being.

Especially after reading the Dallas Morning News’ recent report of the abject brutality exhibited by some Dallas police officers during the recent protests, I wanted to hear what Johnson thought of it all. I found that—in addition to being disheartened by the cancellation of the college football season—Johnson is equal parts enraged and hopeful about the state of our city and the nation. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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