Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thomas Southworth, Memphis Photographer

Thomas Southworth Logo

Thomas Southworth was born in England in 1877.  He came to the United States and made his home in Tennessee where he was a photographer/artist. In 1901 he married Gertrude Dyer in Smith, Tennessee.  The 1910 - 1930 Census records show him living in Union City and Memphis with his wife Gertrude and their children Elizabeth, Luther, Thomas, John, Margaret and William.  The 1940 Census lists his wife as Edna.  He died on April 1, 1960.

This undated article was among the papers of Virginia Shumate Moran.  There are two connections that come to mind. The first is that the Southworth's lived in Union City and the second is the photography connection..  Marion Moran and her husband C.H. Cobb lived in Union City as well and their son-in-law Joseph Linton Godown was a photographer. In the small world of photography I'm betting that Joseph and Thomas new each other and they both ended up owning their own photography studio's in Memphis.

At the end of the article I've included a photograph of a young girl taken by Mr. Southworth.  We don't know if she's a relative or friend of the family.

Strolling with Eldon Roark Down an English Lane of Memory

Don't let anyone tell you time can't be turned backward in its flight.  It can be, all right.  And when it is done artfully--done as Thomas Southworth did it--what mellow, nostalgic happiness one finds in the process.

For several years Mr. Southworth, Memphis photographer had been promising himself that if he ever made another trip to his native England, he would go to the town where he lived as a boy and visit the school of his earliest remembrance.  And recently he started out to keep that promise.

The long-anticipated day came; and as he approached the little school he once more became a lad of 10, tense and a bit panicky, sitting in a class that was being quizzed by a Mr. Bostick, assistant inspector of public schools.  The official had dropped in unexpectedly, and had decided to find out how good they were at mental arithmetic.

One problem he presented, expressed in terms of American money, was :"divid $12 between two boys so that one boy will get $3 more than the other boy.  How much will each get?"

Five or six hands went up.  One boy said $3 and $9, another said $6 and $9, and still another said $3 and $6.  They were just guessing wildly--and embarrassing their teacher.

Young Tommy sat in his seat, his head a-whirl.  Then, all of a sudden, an idea hit him.  He followed it up in his mind:

"Pull off $3, lay it aside, split the $9 and back up the $3 laid aside to either of the halves and that must be it."

Up went Tommy's hand.

Mr. Bostick, the assistant inspector, gave him the nod.

"One boy got $7.50 and the other boy got $4.50," Tommy said.

"That is correct," Mr. Bostick said.  "Come forward, Tommy."  And he presented Tommy with half a crown, a coin slightly larger than half a dollar.

Ah, that was a day of great triumph!

He Makes History Repeat Itself

Small boys were playing in the school yard where Mr. Southworth had played 60 years ago.

"A charming young lady advanced on me, and I told her my story," he says.  "Then I asked permission to talk to the boys.  She immediately rang the bell, and all formed in lines.

"Next thing I knew I was in the same old classroom of my youth, facing those boys at their desks.  I sprang my problem on them, and the incident of the long ago was repeated.  Several boys made wrong guesses, and finally one boy gave the right answer and won the half crown I had promised them."

In presenting it to him, Mr. Southworth suggested that when he is 70 he should come back to the old school and pop the same problem to the 10 year olds.  The young man thought it was a good idea.

Spelling of Time and the River

As Mr. Southworth thanked them for the happy privilege he had enjoyed and turned to leave, the teacher said please stay and talk to them a little longer.  He was glad to entertain them further.

"Well boys," he said, "as you probably know, I now am an American.  In America we have one more division of land than you have.  While you jump from counties to all of England, we have counties, then states, and then the entire country.  My state is Tennessee, and it's on the banks of the Mississippi.  If there is a boy here who can spell Mississippi, raise your hand."

Several hands went up.  The teacher designated one to spell.

"And he didn't hem or haw or ah," Mr. Southworth says. "He just started spelling without the suggestion of a surplus sound.  But he took his time.  He must have been a full minute in spelling the word, but he didn't make an error."

Mr. Southworth gave him a "tanner" (12 cents in silver) as a prize.  That made the boy proud and happy.

As Mr. Southworth left the school, he stood and gazed at the old church adjoining it.  It looked just the same as it did when he was a lad.  Not so much as a single brick had changed as far as he could see.

The teacher and some of the boys waved to him as he turned and walked on down Brook Street.  He felt both sad and happy.  Memories surged thru him--and then came quiet, mellow satisfaction.

"Tommy," he said to himself, "you kept your promise.  Now you can add this event to others, drag 'em out in your lonely hours, and have a good time."

Unknown girl
Thomas Southworth Photographer

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