THE NEW BEGINNING--THE MEMPHI
While there were thoughts and ideas put forth before 1933, it is probable that the main impetus for formation of Memphi began in that year. Just as in the problem years of the 1870s, Memphi was formed again to ease the problems of the 1930s. Cotton was selling for about ten cents a pound, farm land could he purchased for less than $100 an acre. and the largest manufacturing businesses in Memphis were the hardwood sawmills. The city was largely dependent on the agricultural community for its support. The nation was in a depression and Memphis probably suffered worse than a lot of other cities.
It was in this environment that a small group of men, members of an organization who called themselves the "Goat Feathers," came together. It was this group that was the forerunner of the present-day Memphi. Some of the members were Brinkley Snowden, Dave C. Gaut, A. Arthur Halle, Edward H. Crump. Jr., Hayes Flowers, E. R. Barrow, Natie Sawrie, Philip Pidgeon, Andrew J. Donelson, Frank Hays, R. W. Bailey, Frank M. Gilliland and others.
MEMPHI IS REORGANIZED
0ne afternoon five of the "Goat Feathers" members paid a call on J. Malcolm Semmes, then past 90 and the only surviving member of the original Memphi. Mr. Semmes was blessed with full remembrance of its organization and, as the only living member, then gave to these gentlemen his blessings and full permission to reactivate Memphi. He explained to them the use of the Memphi symbol UEUQ which legend states is the ancient Egyptian word for Memphis (modern scholars have been unable to confirm this legendary meaning).
The "Goat Feathers" had a few hundred dollars on deposit, and in 1931, a meeting was called and it was unanimously agreed that the "Goat Feathers" charter would be taken over by the revised Mystic Society of The Memphi and the money transferred.
While it was then agreed that the Memphi should be reactivated, and as a matter of fact the charter was created, no further action was taken that year because of some disagreements among the members.
DOCUMENTING MEMPHI'S HISTORY
In 1933, A. Arthur Halle was elected President of the Memphis Cotton Carnival Association, and the first thing he did was to call a meeting of the "Goat Feathers" and tell them this was the year to reactivate the Mystic Society of The Memphi. In the meantime, Mr. Halle had paid several visits to the Cossitt Library, searching through old newspapers and files, and one day the librarian told him there was a box, down in the basement, that had been sent over in 1884 by General Colton Greene and which had never been opened. Halle requested permission to see its contents, and the box was brought up and opened. The treasures revealed were the same to him as opening a tomb of the Ancient Pharaohs. There were mother-of pearl programs, samples of silks from Nonan of Paris, the membership list of the original Memphi from 1872 through 1881 which had been kept secret throughout the years, and many other historic mementos and keepsakes of General Colton Greene, who organized the original Mystic Society of The Memphi at a time when Memphis was cursed by yellow fever and its population had been reduced to some 16,000.
Probably this find so motivated A. Arthur Halle that he never forgot it and as a result of his efforts and his enthusiasm the modern Cotton Carnival and The Memphi were started at almost the same time. In November of 1934, invitations were sent out for a meeting at the Peabody Hotel. The names signed to the invitations were:
|Sidney W. Farnsworth
McKay Van Vleet
W. W. Robinson
Everett R. Cook
Donelson M. Lake
R. Vance Norfleet
A. Arthur Halle
Dave C. Gaut
Henry H. Haizlip
Hubert K. Reese
|W. Neely Mallory |
Robert B. Snowden
S. Toof Brown
Andrew J. Donelson
Edward H. Crump. Jr.
Frank M. Gilliland
Of the 150 invited, 141 came, and by unanimous vote decided to go ahead and reorganize the Mystic Society of The Memphi on a full scale. They adopted the proposed Constitution and By-Laws. and asked Chairman Everett R. Cook to appoint a secret committee to select an Ouro and other officers. This secret committee selected A. Arthur Halle as Sublime Ouro, Donelson M. Lake as Python, H. Price Curd as Signet. Henry Haizlip as General Chairman, and plans were immediately begun for two grand parties.
MEMPHI'S COMMITMENT TO CARNIVAL
President Toof Brown, of the 1935 Carnival, thereupon petitioned Memphi to have a parade out Union Avenue for all their members and ladies, and the committee not only agreed to do that but they contacted the Krewe of Comus of New Orleans and arranged to have its entire 1935 parade sent up to Memphis. This parade was held on Thursday night before the Grand Memphi Balls. Another parade, called the Mummers and Maskers Parade, was held on Saturday afternoon. On Wednesday night of that same week, a dance was held at the Peabody Hotel for the Memphi members, and thus the project to have two parties for Memphi was accomplished.
This was also the year that modern day Memphi's strength and commitment to the Memphis community were first felt. While the Cotton Carnival had been financially successful, its events were closely tied in with a new group promoting cotton called the National Cotton Show. The show was a success but incurred a deficit of almost $11,000. If this debt was not immediately handled, the Carnival would have a difficult time operating the next year. To keep things in terms of the times, the dues that year for Memphi were $20 per member. To add to the small treasury that Memphi had, and in order to help cover the deficit of the Carnival, a letter was sent to a group of 70 selected members by the Ouro asking for $100 as a special gift to the Carnival. All but one of these requests were answered in two days and the money was turned over to the Carnival. The deficit was no more. The Carnival that Memphi saved that year is still going on today.
In 1937 Memphi again came to the aid of Carnival when a fire burned all of Carnival's floats and the 1938 Carnival was in jeopardy of not being held. Memphi provided the leadership and effort to rebuild and the Carnival was held on schedule.
In 1951 Memphi assisted Carnival by taking on the major sponsorship of the Crown and Sceptre Coronation. Memphi underwrote the major part of this cost and the other secret societies were invited to join to the extent that they were able. This custom has been continued every year since, with the members of Memphi and their ladies appearing in formal attire at the Crown and Sceptre Coronation. The Memphi queen makes her first public appearance that same evening. escorted by the General Chairman and a guard of honor of Memphi members in Memphi costume.
In 1968 a tragedy in the city, occurring immediately before the scheduled Carnival, caused the cancellation of the celebration and left Carnival $15,000 in debt. Memphi again came forward and provided the funds necessary to retire Carnival's debt and restore Carnival to economic health.
The Mystic Society of the Memphi has continued to grow In prominence and strength since those early years of the mid-1930's. Today it has a membership of approximately 250. This membership a composed of Memphians prominent in every walk of life, the members being the leading business, professional, civic and social men of the city and the surrounding Mid-South area. In the context of Carnival, the roster of Carnival Presidents and Kings is heavily flavored with Memphi members.
The financial strength that has been built into the Memphi organization over the past several decades is pledged to the continued support of Carnival in the event that Carnival should again need extraordinary or or emergency support.