Thanks for this morning’s update email. In checking out the material I came across *Ed Broughton’s mention that he and a friend made the “Thing.” It reminded me of a story one of my Fair Park classmates sent me of the things going on in his Shreveport neighborhood in the 50’s. Seems like boys will be boys anywhere they are. Bill Scott
( * ...see Places...THE TRIANGLE. )
TWO DUMMIES & A DUMB BULL
Two Dummies and a Dumb Bull
by Lionel Wright
[My stories were written for my children and grandchildren. Relating to them what it was like growing up in the '40s and '50s; a magical time in my mind. My father related his childhood of the teens and '20s verbally. But, in the hectic days of the '90s and '00s, there doesn't seem to be time enough for sitting and telling stories, so I write them instead. My descendants can read them when they have the time and the inclination. I shared them with Bill, and he thought that they might be of interest to others who grew up in the same era.]
This is a true story about incidents that occurred around our neighborhood one October in the early fifties. Primarily on Laurel Street and in the graveyard. This is being written from memory, without notes, and minimal research. I asked my momma some questions and she answered, "I don't remember exactly". That was the research. I remember it was October, because Halloween was not far away.
The main characters in this little story were a group of teenage boys who were about 16. Since at least one, maybe more, is still alive, they will be referred to as the culprits. During the events of this story there was usually 2 or 3 participants. Two other "characters" were Herman I and Herman II. These were life size dummies made by the culprits and their accomplices. The other character, not a main, is me. Since I was about 10, I was not allowed to fully participate, but was allowed to watch.
The first episodes involved Herman I, a primitive dummy made out of a khaki shirt and a pair of jeans stuffed with newspaper. The shirt sleeves and pants legs were simply tied off. For the life of me I can't remember what was used for a head. Probably a stuffed paper bag. I just can't remember, but do remember that the head was constantly falling off and having to be retrieved. These first adventures took place on Laurel Street, at the foot of the alley that ran beside my house, and in front of the garage that belonged to the Acme Grocery. The alley ran down hill from my house to Laurel Street which was the main drag through the area.
The scenario was pretty simple. We would gather in the alley next to the garage and when the coast was clear Herman would be placed at the edge of the street, usually leaning on the curb. When a car approached, one or two of the culprits would wave their arms and yell. In that era of the good Samaritan nearly every car threw on their brakes and skidded to a stop. With split second timing, just as the sucker got out of his car and started back, Herman was snatched up and we went running up the alley laughing like a bunch of loons. I learned a bunch of new vocabulary words that were shouted by the suckers behind us.
If a young person should read this, don't try it. First, no one will stop; they will probably call 911 on their cellular and before you know it the cops show up. A different time and a different mind set.
On several occasions the suckers attempted pursuit. All pursuit efforts were futile. At least one tried it on foot, trying to chase us up the alley. Imagine a grown man in dress shoes, trying to catch a bunch of kids in sneakers, running up "our" alley.
A few words about the alley. It was rough. It was also dark. There were no mercury vapor lights at the time. Only incandescent light bulbs with a shiny tin reflector, and not many of those. Those who walked up and down that alley usually used the path that ran along side the fence that enclosed the back of the Acme property. Of course this path was invisible at night, but we knew where it was.
The top of the alley, where it intersected with the one that ran behind my house was the split up point. One could go through the hedge that ran behind the church, if they knew where the opening was, another would turn right and vanish into one of the backyards, and another could proceed by my house and cut across our front yard and vanish into the front yards of Walnut Street. By the time a foot pursuer reached the top of the alley, there was not a soul in sight. All had vanished into thin air.
Vehicular pursuit was just as futile. To try to drive up that alley without intimate knowledge of it would almost guarantee a damaged oil pan. There was an exact path that had to be followed up or down that alley. The only people who drove that alley on a regular basis were my father, my brother, and in later years me. It was very rough and looked even worse than it was. If they tried to drive around the block to cut us off, we just wouldn't go as far as Walnut Street. The back of the church was a great hiding place. Blocked in by hedges and dark as a cave, no one could see back there.
After a few weeks, the novelty started to wear thin and Herman was not in the best of shape. There was also the fear of getting a repeat sucker, who might figure out how to catch us, or maybe a sucker lying in wait for us. Teens have very vivid imaginations. So, Herman was retired, and the shirt and jeans returned to their original owner.
One of the culprits, the one I knew best, was trying to think of something special to do for Halloween. He said something to the affect that maybe a new dummy was called for. And what better locale for a Halloween stunt than a graveyard. Dummy making expertise was at hand, and there was a graveyard very close by in the neighborhood. Should be able to come up with something.
The father of this culprit, a very nice gentleman that I knew quite well, suggested that if something was going to be done for Halloween in a cemetery, maybe a dumb bull would come in handy. His wife, the culprit's mother, just shook her head. She knew that her husband would be somehow involved, because he was a kid at heart and appreciated a good prank as well as anyone. Since none of us kids knew what a dumb bull was, he had to explain. I will go into that in just a minute.
A new dummy was planned, and one of the culprits' mother was enlisted to make the head. It was made out of faded khaki and cut and sewn in such a way that it had a perfect profile; eyes, nose, mouth, chin. Eyebrows, eyes and mouth were painted on. I think with black shoe polish. The head was sewn into the top of a pair of coveralls. For feet they used a pair of socks with soles. I don't know what they were called, but were for wearing in cold weather in the house. The body was stuffed with newspapers and religious tracts from the Yale Street Church of God. Herman II was born.
Now for the dumb bull. Since I never saw this in print, I'm guessing that it is two words. It could very well be dumbbull, or dumbull. Anyway, first a resonator had to be built. That was a box, made of wood, about 8" square, about 18" long and open on both ends. I can draw it easier than explain it, but will try it with words. One end was covered with rawhide. A hole was punched in the center of the rawhide and a long string was attached. To use it, the string was rosined and then the string was pulled so that your fingers slid along the string. If it had enough rosin, it made an awful noise. I cannot describe the sound it made in words. It was a combination growl, roar and scream. Indescribable, but LOUD and scary. It also changed with each pull as the rosin was rubbed off.
It was decided that a trip needed to be made to the graveyard well before Halloween to figure out what they were going to do. Where the dummy would be, where they would pull the bull, that kind of thing. But, as it's been said about the best laid plans of mice and men, things got a little out of hand. Though this was supposed to be only a look see, they took the dummy and bull with them.
Before going any further, it is necessary to describe the cemetery, or as we called it "The Graveyard". It was surrounded by a fence of stone to about 2 feet and then wrought iron. Inside the fence, was a hedge row that blocked all views to the inside except two places. The main gate, a double gate, faced Dove Street. This gate was kept locked at all times except when there was a funeral. The hearse entered through that gate. On the South end there was a pedestrian gate that was never locked. It was open 24/7. These two gates were the only way to see into the cemetery. Another important feature was a flag pole, centered East and West and in a direct line with the main gate. I never saw a flag on that pole. After I was grown I found out that the street running along the East side, by the main gate was named Elder. Since no houses faced it, its name was not important to us kids. We called it Buttermilk Alley, the same as the alley that ran by my house.
At this point I must say, that everything I know about what happened in the cemetery is second hand. I was NOT in the cemetery that night, but was in my own front yard, watching.
As the culprits were looking around for the best place to display Herman, pull the bull, etc, they heard voices. A quick look through the hedge showed two teenage girls walking south on Elder. They were in route to the Acme Grocery, we found out later. Someone said, "Let's scare 'em." Somebody grabbed the dumb bull and gave it a pull. In their rush they forgot to rosin the string and got only a mild squeak. The girls picked up their pace and continued on. As I said, some of this is kind of vague, because I wasn't there. Whether it was intended to scare the girls on their return, or just to see how it looked, I don't know, but Herman was attached to the flagpole and raised 6 to 8 feet off the ground.
It wasn't long before the girls were spotted returning home. They were on the far side of Elder, tiptoeing and whispering. When they got in front of the main gate someone pulled the bull. It was rosined properly and gave out a magnificent sound that could be heard for blocks around. The girls wheeled around to look into the cemetery and looked directly at Herman on the flagpole. They took off in a dead run screaming at the top of their lungs. Panic in the cemetery. "Get Herman and lets go!!" Either from their rush to get him down or from non use, the halyard jammed. Herman was stuck to the pole. They were pulling on the halyard and Herman's legs, but he wouldn't come down. When they heard the distant sound of sirens they abandoned Herman and took off. Probably as fast, or faster, than the girls had.
They came out of the gate at the south end of the cemetery at a dead run, across the vacant lot, across Walnut, through the yard of the apartment house and into the church yard. They laid down behind a hedge row that ran along the north side of the Church yard and watched. When I saw the culprits bolting I hit the front door of the house. I got on my hands and knees and watched out the window, under the blinds. My dad asked, "What's going on out there?" "Nothing," I answered. He never bothered to look.
In a few minutes Elder Street was a sea of red flashing lights, this being before the police discovered blue. There was also the flashes of what could only be camera flashbulbs. I was told that the culprits were as scared as they had ever been. Not only were the police there, they had Herman; evidence. They just knew that they would be arrested and sent to LTI in Monroe for a bunch of years and never see their families again. I've already said that teens have vivid imaginations.
The final act of this mini drama played out the next day. There in the Shreveport Journal, front page I think, was a picture of a policeman carrying Herman in his arms. My mother said the cop had an expression just like Herman. That isn't quite true. That cop looked mad and disgusted. According to the paper the police had received a report of strange noises coming from the cemetery, and the sighting of a "body". They responded as expected for a "body" report, with all available cars, and their adrenalin in overdrive. There may have been an ambulance there too, not sure. I can imagine how they felt after rushing into that cemetery, guns drawn, only to find poor old Herman hanging on that flag pole. My mother had that article for many years, but can't locate it right now. It would make a nice addition.
A new panic arose when it was remembered that a large part of Herman's innards were tracts from the Yale Street Church of God. We just knew that the police would be snooping around the church, and the fat would be in the fire. Never happened.
It was decided that the police could keep Herman. No one felt up to filing a claim for their property. There was no thought given to a Herman III. Hermans were a thing of the past. The newspaper article was the last anyone ever heard about this incident. It seemed to be forgotten pretty quickly by everyone except those who saw it first hand. No police visits, no trips to LTI, it just quietly went away.
As I said earlier, if a young person should happen to read this, DON'T try to emulate it. That was a different time with vastly different attitudes. In the case of Herman I, no one wants to get involved. They would just call 911. Also, at that time kids could and did run through yards and between houses at night without fear. Today you would be arrested, or even shot. At that time, 50 years ago, there was no TV, no computer games, no play station, no air conditioning so kids played outside, even at night, and were safe doing it. A vastly different time.
Submitted by Bill Scott, Class of 1961