Monthly Archives: August 2013

Signs of the Times

Claude Gentry TheatreLast weekend, Thursday through Sunday, the Claude Gentry Theatre & Simon Spight Auditorium opened its doors on Main Street for the first time, and with great success – four sold-out shows.  The new 90-seat venue presented a Relay For Life, fund-raising variety show, produced by the 1st Baptist Church RFL Team, entitled “A Really Big Show.”

As the 500 or so visitors to Baldwyn’s Historic District – a total including audience, cast and crew – enjoyed the reemerging nightlife of Main Street, they passed under two new signs erected on the theater’s front, signs that had been carefully designed to evoke feelings of both nostalgia and progress. 

The Claude Gentry TheatreThe Claude Gentry Theatre sign is an internally-lighted, steel replica of a neon sign that once hung just across the street at Audie Coggins’ Baldwyn Theatre.  When Claude Gentry purchased the theater in 1944, he changed its name to “The Ritz Theatre” and operated it into the 1960’s.  It was Mr. Gentry who changed the T-shaped sign to read “Ritz,” rather than “Baldwyn,” horizontally across its top, but he retained the “THEATRE” lettering running vertically down the leg of the “T” as it was originally created. 

The sign that now shines over the new theater, 20-feet above the street, was matched to old pictures during its design process, and the exact perimeter shape and coloration was mirrored as closely as possible to Coggins’ original, the clear intention being the re-creation of an iconic sign on the street in Baldwyn.  Even the sign’s aesthetic effect on other storefront features, especially the historic Tom’s Drug Store sign hanging three buildings to the east, was considered before its final position was set.  As Baldwyn-ites pass on Main Street for decades to come, the Claude Gentry Theatre sign, shining bright white through acrylic panes, will provide a reminder of eras past while ushering patrons into new creative entertainment of the here-and-now.

Simon Spight SignAlongside the Gentry sign, just to its west, a Simon Spight Auditorium marker was erected on the same brick storefront last week.  The late Simon “Buddy” Spight, more than anyone, carried the torch of Baldwyn history into the present with his writings and collections of artifacts.  Donations from Mr. Spight’s estate, in fact, made the accelerated opening of the Claude Gentry Theatre even possible as curtains, lights, sound equipment and other theatrical necessities where specifically acquired with funds left for those purposes by Spight.  Simon Spight loved to write, not just for content, but to show off the flourishes of his penmanship.  The sign erected on the western side of the theater front is a burned steel duplicate of Simon Spight’s actual signature nested on top of the word “Auditorium,” presented in a western-style font.  Simon’s autograph was taken from the funeral registry of long-time Baldwyn alderman and post master Bruce McElroy.  A digital picture was made and copied into a mechanical design program at Quail Ridge Engineering.  The signature was carefully digitized with only a minor adjustment or two being made to hold all the pieces of the name together.  QRE then fabricated the sign in its Guntown facility, and Quail Ridge Properties erected it last Friday.  Now when people say that Simon Spight left his mark on Baldwyn, they can look at the south-facing wall of 110 West Main Street and point to the literal proof.

Tom's Neon SignThis week the Tom’s Drug Store sign is coming down – but not permanently.  The most iconic symbol of Baldwyn needs a make-over, and Quail Ridge Properties will begin refurbishing the sign immediately, along with the two building facades at 104 and 106 West Main where it has been posted for more than half a century.  It is unlikely that the broken neon tubes which once lit the pharmacy entrance will be restored at this time, but an original paint job, a more stable erection method, and supplemental external lighting will all be a part of this renovation.  The ultimate, overall goal for this property is the recreation of Tom’s soda shop which would operate hand-in-hand with a new Baldwyn History Museum.  More details are just around the corner on this project.

Soon signs for The Claude Gentry Theatre, The Simon Spight Auditorium and Tom’s Drug Store will all stand in an orderly row on the north side of Main Street, inspiration from the past, shining towards a bright future in Baldwyn.

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Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Happening Now, Mississippi History

Mrs. Putt Called, Cow’s Out Again

As our group of friends drove to the Como Steakhouse last Thursday, we encountered a bull, free-ranging along the two-lane road between Holly Springs and Senatobia.  His herder/retriever, stick in hand, was not happy and trailed a good hundred yards behind the well-horned Angus-mix that had decided to go on the lam.  I felt his pain.  Loose livestock was one of the banes of my childhood.

Loose Cows In the early 1970’s, to hear it said that ‘So-and-So’ had just called and our cow/horse/pig was out again meant that, in short order, I would be joining my father, brother, uncle and grandfather in pursuit of some dumb beast who felt the other side of Gordon Road had more to offer than did his home pasture.  Hours later, we would finally shoo the escapee through the gap in the barbed-wire, pull it closed and walk the entire fence to find the weak spot.  We weren’t farmers, but most of the males of our clan did like to have a few animals on hand to try and trade for a small profit every now and then.  This male – the sweaty, fat kid in the Husky blue jeans – had no such desire.

We slowed and moved to one side as we motored past the black bovine.  “Uh oh, somebody’s cow got out,” my lovely wife pointed out from the back seat.  “Yep,” I said and sped away towards Como.

FFA MississippiAs a freshman in high school, I was a full-fledged member of the Future Farmers of America, even participating with the FFA parliamentary procedure team that won district.  I was on the dairy judging team, too.  I knew nothing about dairy cows, but the other choice available to me was poultry judge, and although I liked large eggs, I had no desire to manually confirm which hens could produce them.  Our Ag class had two teachers – C. Q. Hoover taught shop, hands-on, and Mr. Earl Lofton was classroom instructor.

The class’s all-male environment, coupled with the shop being located a significant distance from the main school building, led to, shall we say, shenanigans.  The best stories about Ag under C.Q. Hoover and Earl Lofton – goats in the library, etc. – can only be told by “career” Ag guys, not the students who took only the mandatory 1st year class but the lifers who followed it up with Ag 2, Ag 3 and Ag 4.  Nevertheless, here are a couple of tales in which I was either involved or had a front-row seat.

#1:  A close friend, who I won’t name, thought it would be a good idea one day to casually set a broom on fire and slide it under the tables where we sat during Mr. Lofton’s lecture period.  The slow burn became a blaze while we all sat there as though nothing was going on.  Finally, Mr. Lofton, sniffing, spun around from the blackboard to find a dozen blank-faced innocents with smoke boiling up between their legs.  I can still see his wild eyes as he slung the table to the side and stomped the broom out.  “Whatever [expletive deleted] did this is lower than a [expletive deleted] lizard’s belly!  I’m going to find out who did it, and I’m going to tear his [expletive deleted] up!” he gracefully pointed out.  True to his word, two days later, Mr. Lofton did find out, and he did tear his [expletive deleted] up.

C. Q. Hoover and the Ag boys working on a rat control device#2:  On a field trip to prune a local farmer’s fruit trees, this same friend, in either a bold act of defiance or a blatant act of stupidity, got our entire class, including Mr. Hoover, physically ejected from said farmer’s property.  As we sprinted away from the farmer, who ran after us yelling curse words that I didn’t realize adults knew, I looked back over my shoulder to see the tree my friend had “pruned.”  It had been a peach tree.  It was now a “pole” with a single, naked limb about 6 feet off the ground on its right side.  There was not a leaf, nor even a small branch, left on it anywhere.  I picked up the pace and dove through the doorway of the old yellow school bus, just as Mr. Hoover scratched off.  I think the farmer actually threw rocks at the bus until we were out of range.

Our group finally arrived at the famous Como Steakhouse.  I wouldn’t have made a very good farmer, I concluded, but I did wonder if the guy back on Highway 4 ever got his bull up.  “What would make that darn cow want to get out anyway,” I pondered as I bit into an excellent 10 ounce filet, medium rare.

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Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Happening Now, Just For Fun