With their Heads Together as Lovin’ as Two Little Kittens

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 13, 2015

Major crime remained very rare in Noble County [OH], and the occasional exceptions made big news. One of the county’s more baffling murder cases began on November 5, 1905, when the family of William Leisure returned to their Carlisle home from Sunday church services and found Leisure sitting fatally wounded in his chair with two bullet wounds to the head.

One bullet, fired from inside the house, was found lodged in the door, but no weapon could be found. Subsequent investigations were apparently fruitless as well, because in December, the county commissioners offered a $350 reward for evidence leading to conviction of the guilty party. They later increased the reward to $500, and on January 10, 1906, the apparent breakthrough came.

On evidence gathered by T.P. Gidden of Caldwell and a Cambridge detective, officials arrested James Harvey Leisure, a nephew of the deceased. A few weeks after his arrest, a grand jury indicted Leisure for first degree murder. Meanwhile, rumors spread that the accused had a romantic interest in his uncle’s daughter, while others spoke of his alleged love for Leisure’s wife.

By the time the trial opened on March 13, interest in the case was intense. Courtroom spectators reportedly stood “on window sills, on the backs of seats, on the tops of desks and wherever a footing could be had.” They watched as over fifty witnesses told their stories in an epic two week courtroom drama.

The prosecution based much of its case on James Harvey Leisure’s alleged love for his uncle’s wife. They produced one witness, a neighbor, who testified, according to the Republican Journal, that she had once seen the accused and Mrs. Leisure “with their heads together as lovin’ as two little kittens.”

They were unable, however, to secure a witness to the crime. This aided the defense, which called a large number of character witnesses before both counsels addressed the jury one last time. With two weeks of testimony to consider, the jury deliberated 6 hours before finding Leisure not guilty. No subsequent arrests were made in the case. James Harvey Leisure died in 1908.


from A History of Noble County, 1887-1987, by Roger Pickenpaugh, Gateway Press, Baltimore, 1988

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Leo Finkelstein. Pawnbroker. Mensch.

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 12, 2015

Leo Finkelstein’s father came to Asheville, NC in 1903; Leo was born in 1905. “Kosher food and orthodox cooking was family tradition until my father died. I attended camp in Brevard and canoed on the French Broad to Arden. I left my lunch behind and ate the bacon and eggs with the rest – despite the Jewish rules. I used to take a car from the square to Biltmore and fish in the Swannanoa. The Asheville Power and Light ran an open air street car and rides cost 5 cents each way.”

“My father gave me a job in his pawn shop for 50 cents a week – out of this I was to save 25 cents. Because of the serial movie on Saturday, I did not work Saturday morning.”


Finkelstein was in the 1922 class of what is now Asheville High School. His high school principal called him into his office and said “You’re wasting tax payer’s money – go out and get a job!”

“When I graduated from high school I inspected watches for the railroad. Railroad workers’ watches could not vary over 30 seconds a week. They were purchased from my father’s store. There is only one person in the city who can work with wind-up watches today.”

He eventually took over the family business, and was successful during the Depression when other businesses failed. “We made smaller loans during the Depression but the same 80% of items were redeemed. Anything that had value and was portable was handled. I knew most of my customers and made about 100 loans a day – 50% black and 50% white. The most reliable were the prostitutes. A lady came to my shop to pawn something – she was drunk, offered me a drink and dropped dead.

“The customers had no credit and couldn’t borrow from the bank. They needed cash for doctor bills, to buy drugs, and to eat. My father gave loans on practically nothing. He gave $5.00 with no collateral to a man who bought a portable stove and chestnuts which he roasted. The man later opened a restaurant with two sections – one black, one white.”

Finkelstein was in charge of the Jewish Aid Society. “I gave a 50 cent meal ticket to Peterson’s on the Square and helped them leave town. There were no shelters. The Jewish Aid Society, later the Federated Charity, was run by women. A drive was put on every year. One man refused to give more than $5.00 and was finally induced to donate $500.00!”

Leo Finkelstein, 1905-1998
Asheville, NC


Source: http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/oralhistory/VOA/D_H/Finkelstein_L.html


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The shiny needle darted in and out of scallop and loop

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 11, 2015

At the first call of the robin in the spring, Aunt Emmie on Honey Camp Run, in clean starched apron and calico frock, dragged her rocker to the front stoop of her little house and there she sat for hours rocking contentedly while her nimble fingers moved swiftly with crochet needle and thread. “Aunt Emmie’s crocheting lace for Lulie Bell’s wedding garments.” Folks knew the signs. Hadn’t Lulie Bell ridden muleback from Old Nell Knob just as soon as winter broke to take the day with the old woman?

“Make mine prettier than Dessie’s and Flossie’s,” she had said.
Or, “I want the seashell pattern for my pillowcases.”
Or, “I want you to crochet me a pretty chair back.”
“I want a lamberkin all scalloped deep”–another bride-to-be measured a half arm’s length.
“I want my edging for the gown and petticoat to match.”

Kentucky lacemaker handsPassersby overheard the talk of the young folk. “Wouldn’t you favor the fan pattern?” Aunt Emmie offered a suggestion now and then while the shiny needle darted in and out of scallop and loop. Sometimes she dropped a word of advice to the young, how to live a long and happy married life, how and when to plant, what to take for this ailment and that. There were things that brought bad luck, she warned, and some that brought good.

“If a bride plants cucumber seed the first day of May when the dew is still on the ground, the vines will grow hardy and bear lots of cucumbers and she will bring forth many babes, too,” her words fell on willing ears of the young bride-to-be. “If you sleep under a new quilt that no one has ever slept under, what you dream that night will come true.” Many a young miss declared she had experienced the proof of the saying. There was something else. “Mind, don’t ever sew a ripped seam or patch a garment that’s on your back. There will be lies told on you sure as you do.” That could be proved in most any community in the Blue Ridge.

Yards upon yards of lace Aunt Emmie crocheted, the Clover Leaf pattern, the Sea Shell, Acorn, the Rose, and if a bride-to-be had no silver, the lacemaker was content to take in exchange a pat of butter, eggs, or well-cured ham. Her delight was in the work itself.


Source: American Folkways: Blue Ridge Country, by Jean Thomas, New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1942

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The boldest indecent passages I have ever seen

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 10, 2015

Publishers’ Weekly 145 (March 25, 1944):
“Strange Fruit banned by Boston booksellers”

Says a Cambridge adage: “Banned in Boston is the trademark of a good book.” On March 25,1944 Cambridge Police Chief Timothy J. O’Leary, Boston’s Police Commissioner Thomas F. Sullivan, and the Boston Bookseller’s Association all joined in squashing the sale of Strange Fruit, Lillian Smith’s recently published controversial novel about Southern racial problems, miscegenation and lynching. “The boldest indecent passages I have ever seen,” said Sullivan. The group asked the author to delete three lines of “sexual phraseology,” thereby adding the novel to the long list of Boston’s hallmarked books.

novel Strange FruitSmith, for many years director of the Laurel Falls Camp for girls in Clayton, GA, achieved national fame with the publication of Strange Fruit, which tells the story of the forbidden romance between a white man, Tracy Dean, and a black woman, Nonnie Anderson.

Commissioner Sullivan insisted that he had not banned the book, in fact “had no right to do so.” He had merely dropped in at Boston’s oldest booksellers, the Old Corner Bookstore (whose head, Richard F. Fuller, was also President of the Boston Board of Retail Book Merchants), and drawn an interested clerk’s attention to Strange Fruit‘s overripe passages. Soon all Boston booksellers received a notice from the Board of Retail Book Merchants asking them to withdraw the book.

Detroit was quick to follow Boston’s lead. Nor was the black community particularly won over. In 1945 Dean Gordon B. Hancock, editor of The Associated Negro Press wrote: “It is difficult to imagine a more subtle yet scathing indictment against the Negro race in general and the Negro womanhood in particular than that presented in Strange Fruit.”

Smith’s publisher fanned the flames. In response to the requests of some Boston booksellers to make “minor changes,” Reynal & Hitchcock issued a statement that they “have no intention whatsoever of tampering with a fine and important book in order to transform it to what official Boston might regard as acceptable. The book was published because Reynal & Hitchcock consider it an outstanding work of literature.”

Within 2 weeks of the ban, Smith’s book was selling 3,000 copies a day, while a new edition of 50,000 copies was tumbling off the press.

author Lillian SmithThanks to the ban, the novel created a sensation in 1944, going on to become a best seller, and was dramatized by Smith and her sister, Esther, for Jose Ferrer’s Broadway production of it the next year.

“In trying to shut the Negro race away from us, we have shut ourselves away from the good, the creative, the human in life,” wrote Smith about the response to her work. “The warping distorted frame we have put around every Negro child from birth is around every white child from birth also.

“Each is on a different side of the frame, but each is there. As in its twisting distorted form it shapes and cripples the life and personality of one, it is shaping and crippling the life and personality of the other. It would be difficult to decide which character is maimed the more–the white or the Negro–after living a life in the Southern framework of segregation.”


sources: “Overripe?” Time magazine April 10, 1944
Patton, Randall. “Lillian Smith and the Transformation of American Liberalism, 1945-1950.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly(GHQ). Volume 76, no. 1-2, p. 373-392, 1992.


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Rabbit and the ‘Possum after a Wife

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 9, 2015

The Rabbit and the ‘Possum each wanted a wife; but no one would marry either one of them.  They talked the matter over, and the Rabbit said: “We can’t get wives here. Let’s go to the next settlement.  I’m the messenger for the council, and I’ll tell the people that I bring an order that everybody must take a mate at once, and then we’ll be sure to get wives.”

The ‘Possum thought this a fine plan; so they started off together to the next town.

As the Rabbit traveled so much faster, he arrived first, and calmly waited on the outside until the people noticed him, and took him into the house.

When the Chief came to ask him his business, the Rabbit said he brought an important message from the council that everybody must get married without delay.

The Chief called the people together, and delivered the message from the council, whereupon every animal took a mate at once, and the Rabbit got a wife.

The ‘Possum traveled so slowly that all the animals had their weddings before he got there, leaving him still without a wife.

Then the Rabbit pretended to feel sorry for him, and said comfortingly, “Never mind, I’ll carry the message to the people in the next settlement, and you hurry on as fast as you can, and this time you will get your wife.”

So he went on to the next won, and the ‘Possum followed close after him; but, when the Rabbit got to the town-house, he sent out the word that, as there had been peace so long there that everybody was getting lazy and the council had ordered there must be war at once; and they began right in the town-house.

They all began fighting; but the Rabbit made four great leaps and got away just as the ‘Possum came in.

Everybody jumped on the ‘Possum, who had not thought of bringing his weapons with him on a wedding trip, and so could not defend himself.  They had nearly beaten the life out of him, when he fell over and pretended to be dead until he saw a good chance to jump up and get away.

The ‘Possum never got a wife.  He was always too slow, always behind; but he learned a good lesson which he remembers, and he always shuts his eyes and pretends to be dead when the hunter has him in a close place.

“Rabbit and the ‘Possum after a Wife,” from Cherokee legends and myths: Appendix to “Junaluska”, by Caroline Hawkins, 1916, online at http://perma.cc/SJ53-MC4E (Digital Library of Appalachia)

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