PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Beale Street Surprise

A. Schwab Dry Goods Store is a great stop to make when you stroll Beale Street as we did last week with niece Shannon and her hubby, Hassan. It was Shannon, who lived in Memphis for a while some years ago, who spotted it and yelled that they were going in.

Schwab’s is the oldest family-owned and operated general store in Memphis and the Mid-South. Discovering what treasures or amusements might reside in the downstairs bins is a fun challenge. There will always be tacky tourist souvenirs, Elvis mementoes and voodoo accessories. The rest – well, there will always be surprises.

The goods are much different from the flour, sugar, seed and other basics that drew farmers to town to stock up back in 1876 when the store opened, but the wonderfully creaky wooden floors are the originals.

Upstairs is a museum of sorts. There are old cash registers and office equipment, quite a few school yearbooks, and nearly historic photos on the walls.

I wasn’t expecting it when Mike called me over to check out a photograph saying that it was of my school. And there it was: Bruce Elementary School.

And it’s not just that I went to school there. Bruce is a very old mid-town school. My father, who was nearly 20 years older than my mother, was born in 1907, and he attended the sturdy brick school when students were there through the eighth grade before graduating and going a few blocks down the street to Central High School. (My father graduated from Central and it’s still there.)

The framed photo Mike was looking at was taken in 1918. There was a group of students in front of the wide stairs to the front doors. They were in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes and were the 1918 eighth grade graduates. Mike quickly did the math and unfortunately my father wasn’t going to be in the photo. On the day that picture was taken, my dad was an 11-year-old sitting inside that building in a sixth grade classroom. I know that he was inside that building at that moment.

I attended Bruce from the first through sixth grades when we moved and I entered junior high at East High. My fifth grade teacher was related to the man who was principal when my father was there.

You got a glimpse of Bruce if you saw the movie Great Balls of Fire about Jerry Lee Lewis. It was in the scene where Jerry Lee drives his convertible to pick up his young cousin Myra from school, and she runs down those front steps. That was my school, my dad’s school.

I wanted that photograph.

Mike had to tell me repeatedly about the signs upstairs declaring that none of the items were for sale. We finally walked out Schwab’s front door with me still muttering, “I want that photo.”

A few years back, there were school district mutterings about tearing down Bruce because the expense to refurbish it was too great. I don’t know if it’s still there, and I don’t know if there are any other old photos that are available for purchase. But now I have a mission.

In the meantime, Schwab’s generally closes at night when the street is packed with partygoers, so make a day trip to Beale Street to visit this historic building. And take a look at the upstairs photo of that special school. Here’s a link to more info about A. Schwab.


Lacy said...

Funny you should mention Bruce. My finance mentioned just yesterday that he would love to find the high school in the "High School Confidential" scene. I told him that I thought it was Bruce, from remembering the momentary glimpse of it. So, to see you write about it today was neat! Could you tell me what street it happens to be on, so next time we're there, we could hunt it up....if the area isn't too shady these days.

Love your posts!

Scarlett said...

Hi Lacy,
Thanks for reading the Plunk Chronicles. I started my Bruce School mission today by placing a call to the school district. They had gone home for the day so I'll try again tomorrow.

What I've learned online leaves many questions. THE Bruce School is/was on Carr Avenue at Bellevue, about one block south of Peabody. The online list of Memphis schools shows Bruce at 581 S. Bellevue. That would be around the co5rner and south about another block.

I fear that means that my sweet school is gone and they've renamed something else. I don't know that there will be anything for you to see on your next visit. I'll find out more and post the results.

In the meantime, we're going to rent High School Confidential to see if that's Bruce.

Thanks for reading!

Lacy said...

You're welcome! The scene from "GBOF" where Jerry Lee (Dennis Quaid) picks Myra up from school and starts singing "High School Confidential" is where I remember seeing Bruce, not the 1957 (?) movie "High School Confidential, which Jerry was featured in. (I'm sure you knew that, but I was hoping you didn't make a trip to find the "High School Confidential" movie.)

"Great balls of Fire" has been on CMT a lot lately. They like to run it over and over during some weeks and weekends, I've noticed, lol.

Keep up the interesting stuff! I am from Arkansas (born in Memphis) and live about an hour from Jonesboro and work at the Batesville Daily Guard newspaper.

Have a great day!!

Scarlett said...

I thought that might be you. I think you posted a comment some months ago, and we both mentioned that we had journalism backgrounds.

Thanks for clearing up the "High School Confidential" piece. I didn't recall what song Jerry Lee/Dennis Quaid sang in front of the school, so I did think you were talking about the other movie.

For the record -- and for anyone else who's reading this thread -- Jerry Lee Lewis and everyone who knows him, including Mike, hates the movie Great Balls of Fire. They say the same thing: Dennis picked just one of Jerry Lee's characteristics, used it in every aspect, and made Jerry Lee look like a moron.

This is particularly surprising since Dennis went out to a gig with JLL and the band and hung out with them to get the "flavor." Mike was with JLL at the time and has some snapshots of JLL with Dennis.

Lacy said...

That is interesting, and I have heard that JLL never liked it. I didn't like the fact that the movie exsasberated the drinking milk and chewing bubblegum thing or that they heightened the Elvis/JLL rivalry. I personally think both men had a deep appreciation for one another.

I recognized Mike at Fitzgeralds a few weeks ago with Rob. My fiance, who is a 1950s, Jerry Lee style piano player and Rob met at Spin Street Music on Poplar a few years back. (

I would have said something to Mike (about knowing him through here), but I thought he might find it odd, lol.

I still think that is so neat that he got to go overseas with James.

Good luck finding out about Bruce. I'd love to hear what you discover.


Scarlett said...

This is crazy. I was out with Mike at Fitzgerald's a couple of weeks ago. I was there Saturday night sitting at the bar. Please say hi to either or both of us if you see us out again!

More on the JLL-Elvis situation. The movie didn't overdo the rivalry. JLL was on his way to being as big as or bigger than Elvis. A lot of people, I'm told, thought it would happen when Elvis was inducted into the Army. But then, there was Myra. The outcry over marrying a 13-year-old second cousin ruined him for a long time.

JLL had very strong feelings about Elvis. It's documented that he was arrested one night ramming his car into the gates at Graceland, and he had a gun in the car. Elvis wasn't even in town at the time.

Cool that your fiance knows Rob. Maybe we'll run into each other some time.

Lacy said...

you might have been there that night then that I was there. :)

George Klein, DJ and friend of Elvis, tells the story of Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee visiting Elvis at Graceland in 1957 (after the SUN studio impromptu session). both men jammed and played at the piano in the living room. When asked why there were never ay photos or audio, GK never really answered except to say it was never thought about. After Sam and Jerry left that night, Elvis told George that Jerry was a musical genius.

Jerry Lee said in a few accounts that Elvis was the reason why he went to SUN. I guess with that, I like to think that they did admire each other and if things had been different, then they might have been close friends.

I do think Elvis would have given anything to have been able to play like Jerry, lol. :)

Sorry for the memoir-length comments, lol. I am really wanting to make a venture to Memphis really soon. :)

Have a wonderful Tuesday!!

Scarlett said...

No apologies needed. We like good stories and that was a good one. Yep, everybody know George Klein. He's a host now at the Horseshoe and has a local tv show in which he interviews musicians. Rob Haynes has appeared on it.
Let me know if you're going to Tunica sometime when Mike is playing.