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A step back in time

Man’s home is a personal museum of childhood memories

By Aaron Tanner Photos by Brad Daly

Tim Hollis gestures toward part of a sign from the Bob Sykes BBQ that was in Sumiton from about 1970 until the early 1980s.

Remember when songs were on old 45s, when children eagerly awaited Saturday morning for their favorite cartoons on network TV, and Rock City barns dominated the American roadside? Those memories are captured inside a time capsule that is disguised as a 1960s-era ranch house off of Alabama Highway 5 in the Walker County town of Dora.

Tim Hollis is a writer and collector who turned his childhood home into a museum of pop culture from children who grew up in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

 

Hollis’ parents’ bed, with his own Peanuts sheets and bedspread, which dates to about 1969.

The tour begins in a room with souvenirs from Six Flags over Georgia when the park first opened in 1967. Also on display is the typewriter on which Hollis learned to type; a coffee table filled with his 29 books on pop culture and Southern tourism; and the computer where he crafts his next book.

But the real magic is kept in the two-story addition that he added in 2008. A plethora of old toys, lunch boxes, kids’ bubble bath bottles, records, children’s books and even an old 1980s clothing rack from the McDonald’s McKids campaign, which Hollis relocated from the Sears department store in downtown Birmingham.

A trove of Muppet puppets.

Remember Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room, Bozo the Clown, The Flintstones and family shows like Hee Haw and Bonanza? Hollis has these items. Downstairs, you’ll find old grocery items, cereal boxes, restaurant menus, tourist brochures, road maps, a replica of Hollis’ childhood bedroom and even a Christmas display with a giant animated Frosty the Snowman and a moose with a rotating head.

After reading a magazine article in a dentist’s office in 1981 featuring a man who collected many of the same toys from Hollis’ childhood, Hollis was eager to start his own collection in an effort to recapture his youth.

“I thought it would be fun to rebuild the collection I had as a kid,” Hollis says. Although there are some items he wishes were in his collection, such as a Mr. Do Bee tricycle from Romper Room, Hollis gleefully says he has most of the items he had as a child in the museum.

Today, when he visits antique stores, he’s just looking for anything that catches his eye, or something that might make a good display piece. But he’s not collecting nearly as much as he once did, due both to availability and affordability.

“Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, there is much less material out there that I don’t already have,” he says, “especially for an affordable price. Back in 1985, I remember being able to buy metal lunch boxes for $2 each. Now the same lunch boxes would be $75.”

Among Hollis’ collections are coin banks, including this little pig bank purchased by Hollis’ dad at the Sears in downtown Birmingham when he was just 3 or 4 years old.

Part of the excitement of his travels involves not knowing what specifically to add to his collection until he gets to a particular antique store. Surprisingly, many of his “finds” are as likely to come from the Midwest as the South, likely due to the relative wealth of that region of the country compared to Alabama in the mid-20th century. In the South, many children were lucky to have just one or two toys, he says.

Tony the Tiger and other Kellogg’s cereal keepsakes.

The seeds of Hollis’ passions were sewn by his parents, whose desire not to throw away things were likely born out of growing up during the Great Depression. His dad was an English teacher for the Jefferson County school system and would save things collected during family trips. Hollis’ mom saved many of his items from when he was a baby along with his early drawing and stories, some of which can be seen on the bulletin board in the museum’s basement. “Even as a kid, she was preparing me to have a museum one day,” he says.

Though Baby Boomers are the target audience of this attraction, people of all ages enjoy visiting and interacting with Hollis and his treasures. Even the younger generations are able to connect with the Yogi Bears and Woody Woodpeckers of yesteryear.

Hollis describes one young girl who was left speechless after taking the tour. “She thought the collection would be limited to a bookshelf, not a whole house.”

Many children have complimented Hollis on his accumulation of his childhood memorabilia. “They say we had cooler toys back then than what we have now.”

Different visitors are attracted to different things in the museum, usually associated with happy memories of something that they played with as a child. Many Baby Boomers have the same experience as others who are their age, due to the limited entertainment options and more people spending time with family at home. “There were only three channels on TV at the time, so everyone watched what was on at the same time.”

Several Bozo the clown figurines.

Although accumulating and maintaining the collection is hard work, Hollis takes pride in conserving these memories for not just him but for other people and for future generations. “I want to preserve everyone’s culture,” he says. At the moment, Hollis is meeting with different organizations who will continue preserving his collection after he is no longer able to run the museum.

Tours are free but only by appointment and can be scheduled via email at hollis1963@aol.com.

USS Alabama ready for 75th anniversary celebration

The Battleship during wartime. PHOTO COURTESY USS Alabama Archives
The original ship’s crew, at the 1942 christening.
PHOTO COURTESY USS Alabama Archives

By Emmett Burnett

It seems like yesterday, or maybe not. But in 1942, teenagers danced to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, a World War was under way, and a proud naval vessel took to sea. The war ended and so did Glenn Miller, but the naval vessel is still here, still proud, about to celebrate 75 years, and you’re invited.

On Aug. 12, USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park will observe the 75th Anniversary of the commissioning of its iconic ship. Details are being finalized at press time. But currently, the day starts with an 11 a.m. commemoration service in the Aircraft Pavilion. It follows with literally all hands on deck.

 

Henrietta McCormick Hill, wife of U.S. Senator from Alabama J. Lister Hill, christens the USS Alabama in a 1942 ceremony held at Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, VA.
PHOTO COURTESY USS Alabama Archives

Free admission, historical re-enactments by USS Living History Crew, Big Band concerts, and return visits from former crewmen will rule the day. “I liken the Living History Crew’s re-enactment of ship life to demonstrations at Colonial Williamsburg,” says Shea McClean, Battleship Alabama curator. “History becomes real. The interaction is amazing.”

Interaction with those who were there is amazing too. “We won’t know exactly how many former crewmembers will attend,” adds Rhonda Davis, the ship’s director of sales and marketing. “But some have already expressed interest and intent to be here.”

And as for us landlubbers: “If you have not seen the Battleship in a long time, or perhaps only been aboard once, this is a great opportunity to re-visit,” says McLean. “Some people are under the impression. ‘If you’ve already seen it, what’s changed?’” Plenty.

The Battleship during wartime.
PHOTO COURTESY USS Alabama Archives

The Battleship’s upgrades since your last visit include modernized facilities, interactive kiosks, and newly restored artifact exhibits from two World Wars. More are coming. Just in time for the anniversary – when a 680-foot fighting vessel was pronounced “battle ready.”

Shea notes that for many, “The Battleship and our relationship to it is like New Yorkers who have never been to Statue of Liberty. But unlike ‘Lady Liberty,’ we are continuously changing and rotating exhibits.”

The ship has shifted from tourist attraction to a restored-to-original-condition museum on water, which required tremendous research.

The effort is justified. “It is a joy being here,” notes Battleship Park’s Executive Director Janet Cobb. “This is the best job in the world.” And emphasizing inclusion, she adds, “We all made it happen.” The journey was quite a trip.

 

Champagne bottle used to christen the ship in 1942. Photo by Emmett Burnett

On Feb. 16, 1942, “The Mighty A” launched from the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va. It was commissioned the following Aug. 16. During christening, Henrietta McCormick Hill, wife of the U.S. Senator from Alabama J. Lister Hill, broke a bottle of champagne over the ship’s bow. The bottle shards are intact and encased in the original braid, displayed onboard ship.

In war, the ship earned 9 Battle Stars, led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay, and earned the name “Heroine of the Pacific.” In retirement it earned the miracle of survival. “Most other ships of that era are no longer with us,” Cobb says. “Most were scrapped.”

But not the Alabama. It is still with us, one of very few. Many reading this story are the reason why.

In the early 1960s Alabama residents formed the USS Battleship Commission to raise funds to save the maritime masterpiece from the scrapyard. Donations included over $100,000 from school children in nickel and dime donations. In return, child benefactors were given tickets for free admission. Over a half-century later, Battleship Park still validates those very tickets from 1960s grade school scholars.

“We stamp their cards and give it back to the guests for souvenirs,” Davis says.

In 1964 the ship was awarded to Alabama on June 16, turned over to the State on July 7, and towed from Seattle into Mobile Bay on Sept.14. Battleship Park opened Jan. 9, 1965.

And it all started 75 years ago. Speaking at the Norfolk, Va., Navy Yard launch ceremony, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox said, “As Alabama slides down the ways today, she carries with her a great name and a great tradition. We cannot doubt that before many months have passed she will have had her first taste of battle. The Navy welcomes her as a new queen among her peers.”

USS Battleship Alabama, today. Photo by Emmett Burnett

Today, pointing out the galley entrance, surrounded by 44,000 tons of metal and very large guns, Cobb notes, “Our vision is to remind the people of Alabama, they brought it home. It is not a Mobile thing. It is not a Gulf Coast thing. It is a product of a statewide effort to save a namesake ship.”

Her words about the “namesake ship” echoed remarks made by Navy Secretary Knox, 75 years earlier: “In the future, as in the past, may the name Alabama ever stand for fighting spirit and devotion to cause.”

The name stands and so does the ship. Happy birthday, USS Alabama. Welcome aboard.ν

2017 Photography contest winners

Thank you to those who participated in Alabama Living’s very first reader photo contest! In the March issue, we asked you to submit photos that capture the essence of Alabama to our website.

We received more than 125 photos that reflect the diverse geography and beauty of Alabama, taken in every part of the state – from the mountains in the north to the beaches and Mobile Bay in the south.

The judges were Mark Stephenson, creative director at Alabama Living, and Michael Cornelison, former art director for the magazine, both of whom have taken multiple cover photos over the years; and Phil Scarsbrook, a professional photographer with more than 40 years experience who also takes photos for our annual Montgomery Youth Tour. We have plans to make next year’s contest bigger and better, so be sure to keep an eye out in Alabama Living early next year for details on the 2018 contest! We’ll also post other honorable mention photos on the magazine’s Facebook page over the next few months.

Forgotten ways: This was taken in Cleburne County near an abandoned farm. It signifies our past as a mostly agricultural society, raised on family farms, and how that has been largely abandoned and forgotten. Tony Coley, Oxford

Storm’s-a-comin’: Our barn, built in the late 1800s, has seen many storms through the years. The impending storm depicts the constant change in Alabama weather and changes in our lives. Melissa Welch, Wetumpka

End of the line: The rust on the boxcars at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera, and how they trail off around the corner, just seems to tell a story of trips from the past. Richard Brown, Prattville

Geese and windmill: These geese fly from a cove on Lake Catoma to a field next to our house every day. We are so fortunate to live in a community that is blessed with an abundance of wildlife and nature. Cathyrine Weaver, Cullman

Geese and windmill: These geese fly from a cove on Lake Catoma to a field next to our house every day. We are so fortunate to live in a community that is blessed with an abundance of wildlife and nature. Cathyrine Weaver, Cullman

Cotton field sunset: I live near Grace Farms in the Boldo community in Walker County and love passing their fields and seeing the various seasons of planting. This photo is special because it is timeless. Gina Scruggs, Jasper

SECOND PLACE Good eatin’: This photo, taken on the square in Ozark, captures the flavor and culture of a longtime tradition of our town. I found this vendor especially colorful and the man making the purchase especially brave! Carol Luckfield, Ozark

Roundup with Daddy: As my daughter, Mylee, stepped ahead to drive cows and calves through the gate on our family’s farm, I thought the scenery was so beautiful that I snapped a picture to remember the moment. Joey Furgerson, Fort Payne

Perched on a post: The bright blue plumage of the male Eastern bluebird makes it a favorite of bird-watchers. Diane Deshler, Oxford

THIRD PLACE Autumn sunbeams: I took this photo in the fall at Green Mountain in Huntsville. It was the first time I had taken a photo out on a trail in about a year after I broke my leg. It was great to get back out into nature. Alaina Brown, Madison

Peaceful morning fog: A cold misty fog blanketed the Fairhope Municipal Pier in the early morning in December 2011. I was quite taken with this view, as it was both mysterious and serene. Tracie Clarke, Bremen

Cahaba lilies: From early May to late June, as the Cahaba Lilies bloom, Alabama enjoys a flower show available in only a few places in the U.S. – and in fact ours is the most spectacular of all. Ty Dodge, Birmingham

Easley Covered Bridge: I live very close to this bridge and visit it daily. I can actually see it from my house, so it’s very special to me. It is the oldest and shortest covered bridge left in Blount County. Susan Johnson, Oneonta

Creek colors: I took this while trail running at Black Creek Trails in Gadsden. I’m always looking for a nice creek or waterfall picture, so I had to stop and take this one. Matt Brown, Boaz

September sunrise: We left our home early in the morning and saw this gorgeous sunrise in Trinity. The fog was laying just over the field and the cows. This was a perfect start to our day. Leah Grissman, Trinity

Editors’ note: The contest was open only to amateur photographers. First place prize is $100, second place is $50 and third place is $25. The other photos represent the honorable mention winners.

Alabama Snapshots

National monuments and landmarks

The Hoover Dam. SUBMITTED BY Travis and Nicole Presley, Uriah.
Chris, Isabella, Nicholas, and Sandra on an educational spring break to Washington, D.C.SUBMITTED BY Robin OSullivan, Dothan.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.SUBMITTED BY Michael Cornelison, Trinity.
Mark and Karen Pumphrey and Kingston Miller in front of the Washington Monument.SUBMITTED BY Karen Pumphrey, Foley.
North Bridge in Concord, Mass. The site of the first armed conflict that began the Revolutionary War. SUBMITTED BY John H. Allen, Huntsville.
Chimney Rock National Monument in Pagosa Springs, CO. SUBMITTED BY Faye Crews Massey, Russellville.

Alabama’s Health

Drug-induced deaths increase by 250 percent in just 15 years

By Dale Quinney

There would be great concern if we realized that the entire population of the city of Bay Minette or Greenville or 90 percent of the entire population in Greene County had died.  These are close comparisons to the 8,081 Alabamians that were lost to drug-induced death or mortality during the years 2000-2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug-induced deaths include all deaths for which drugs are the underlying cause, including those attributable to acute poisoning by drugs (drug overdoses) and deaths from medical conditions resulting from chronic drug use (e.g., drug-induced Cushing’s syndrome). A drug includes illicit or street drugs (e.g., heroin and cocaine), as well as legal prescription and over-the-counter drugs; alcohol is not included.

Drug-induced death and drug usage does not seem to be generating the attention in Alabama that is seen in many other states.  This could be because the rate of drug-induced death has increased to where it now exceeds the motor vehicle accident death rate in 37 of all 50 states, but not in Alabama and most other southern states.  However, without serious intervention, this will soon be the situation in Alabama.

Alabama lost 232 residents to drug-induced death in 2000.  By 2015, this had increased to 810, an approximately 250 percent increase.  There were 962 motor vehicle accident deaths involving Alabamians in 2015.

Alabama’s growing drug abuse crisis should be generating greater conversation and concern.  Perhaps a high-profile drug abuse summit, bringing together many different community components and stakeholders, could help increase public awareness of the status of this peril.  Perhaps information could be shared, needs identified, and a strategy identified to intervene in this destructive threat.

There are interesting demographic features involving drug-induced mortality that can help in identifying where intervention may be needed the most.  Several of these are as follows:

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher in north Alabama.  The rate is 17.8 deaths per 100,000 standard population during 2012-2015 for residents of the 37 northern counties in the Appalachian Region.  This compares to a rate of 12.4 in the 30 south Alabama counties that are not in this region.   Walker County has the highest rate in Alabama at 36.4, more than double the state rate of 15.9.  St. Clair County also has a rate nearly double that for the state at 31.4.  Escambia County has the highest rate among all south Alabama counties at 28.4.

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher among white residents.  Nearly 84 percent of all victims during 2012-2015 were white.  The rate for white Alabamians (19.5) is more than triple the rate of 6.3 for African American Alabamians.

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher among males.  The rate was 18.8 for males, compared to 13.1 for females.

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher among those aged 25-54 years.  The rates for those aged 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54 were all considerably higher than those for other age groups.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.

Social security

Can I keep this benefit payment?

By Kylle’ McKinney

Social Security is with you through life’s journey, securing today and tomorrow for millions of people. We know that reliability and dependability is an important part of your financial security. We use the same throughout the month eligibility rules for the first month’s Social Security check through the last month’s check, so it’s easy to know when checks are payable.

If you meet all the requirements to receive benefits, Social Security pays your benefit after you have lived throughout the month. At 62, the first month many people are eligible for benefits may be in the month after their birthday. Social Security follows an English law that says you actually reach your age the day before your birthday. So, if you were born on the first or second day of the month, your first month of eligibility will be your birthday month. If you were born on any other day in the month, the first month you could receive benefits will be the month after your birthday month. When starting benefits after age 62, people are eligible to be paid for the month they file, since they were previously age 62 throughout the month.

An example of this would be: if Michael is born on June 1 or 2 and is age 62, the first month he will receive his benefit payment is July. If Michael’s birthday is any other day in June, the first month he will be eligible for benefits is July and his first benefit will be paid in August. If Michael starts benefits at age 63 and files in June, he can be paid for June in July.

Benefits are always paid the following month for all types of Social Security benefits including retirement, disability and survivors.  This does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Being eligible throughout the month also applies to the month of death of a Social Security beneficiary. To be eligible for the payment, the person must have lived all month long to receive the payment that comes the following month. That includes throughout the entire last day of the month.  Your survivor may be eligible for a payment for the last month and should contact us at 1-800-772-1213. For information about applying for survivors benefits, visit our website at  www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/survivors/howtoapply.html.

Understanding how the benefits are paid gives you a sense of certainty about your payments.

You’ll know how to plan when starting benefits and what happens to the last check. We continue to secure your today and tomorrow by providing the Social Security information you need.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.