A few answers have appeared regarding the “mystery car” that was the subject of last Saturday’s column.
The mystery about the car, which is pictured in an old photograph found in the former photo darkroom of The Greeneville Sun, is that it doesn’t look much like any other car common in the early decades of the 20th century, when the photo was made.
When Elizabeth Joan Shipley (the “Joan” is pronounced like “Jo Ann,” and that is the name she goes by) left me a phone message earlier in the week, she told me she knew some things about the mystery car, but not everything.
She knows what she knows because the woman in the photograph was her aunt, Annie Miller, who married Theodore “T.J.” Holt when Annie was still in her teens. T.J. Holt, who was a good deal older than Annie, is the man behind the wheel of the roofless car in the photo, and also the man responsible for the car being in Greeneville.
I called Joan back and had a fun conversation about the car, the people in it, and more.
I asked her if T.J. Holt built the car himself, like an automotive Dr. Frankenstein, from parts from other cars, or did he buy it already modified?
Joan said that is one of the questions she can’t confidently answer. There are conflicting family stories about the car’s origin, she indicated. Some say he assembled it, others that he bought it as it was.
It also is possible that he bought the car already modified, then added further modifications of his own. In fact, Joan does know that the hood ornament on the car was an addition made by T.J., because he talked about it.
He wasn’t fully happy with the hood ornament and said so. He’d wanted an ornament with long wings stretching back over the hood of the car, but found the cost of materials to make such a large ornament was more than he was ready to pay. So he settled for something smaller.
The reason the car has no roof is that T.J. wanted it that way, believing that a roof would mar the looks of the vehicle. So when rain came, those in the car used umbrellas.
And what of the name “City Taxi” written on the side of the hood, with phone numbers?
T.J. painted that on himself, Joan says. And yes, despite what seems to be a lack of seating in the car, it was actually used as a taxi. There were two other seats in the rear part of the car that are not visible in the photo.
Those seats made for cramped riding, according to Joan, but she added that being carried around town in a taxi was enough of a novelty to many Greeneville people in that era that they didn’t mind a little crowding.
What kind of car was modified to create the taxi? That’s another answer Joan said she doesn’t know. Somebody who looked at the photo since last week’s column had suggested to me it could have been a Ford Model T, but in looking at pictures of Model T front grills from that period and comparing them to the one on the mystery car, there seem to be subtle differences along the top.
What became of the car after T.J. Holt’s death? “It just disappeared after he died,” according to Joan.
My guess is it probably is rust in the soil of some old junkyard now.
What of Joan’s Aunt Annie, T.J.’s wife, beside him in the car in the photograph? Joan knows several details about her aunt’s life, including the fact that she left Greeneville and moved to San Diego after T.J.’s death. Annie remained in California the rest of her life.
Annie’s maiden name was Miller. According to Joan, she was the daughter of Jackson Miller, a local bricklayer.
A family story that Joan shared says that Jackson Miller once passed a location in Greeneville where several people were working with bricks, or trying to.
He stopped and asked them what they were doing.
“We’re building a church,” he was told.
“Not like that, you’re not,” he replied, having detected that the people had no clue as to how to put up a brick wall. So he picked up a trowel and stepped in to teach and help.
Joan gave me some help herself in providing an answer to an entirely different question I’ve long asked, and which others have been asking lately as well, due to upcoming parking development in downtown Greeneville.
The question is, where did Greeneville’s Crowfoot Alley get its name?
Joan, who in her mid-80s seems to possess a great deal of knowledge of the Greeneville of years gone by, said that she always has heard that the name derived from the smaller offshoot passages that branched off the main alleyway like the talons of a crow’s foot.
That seems a believable enough name-origin story to me. Joan doesn’t claim it to be the final word on the question of the Crowfoot name, saying simply that it is what she has heard.
If anyone else has heard the same thing, or anything different, as the source of the alley’s name, I’d be pleased to hear it. Email me at [email protected] .
For what it’s worth and whatever the name’s origin, I’m going on the record to say that I think the words “Crowfoot Alley” are so lyrical that I have every intention of using it as a book title.
I have no idea what the subject, premise or plot of a novel titled “Crowfoot Alley” would be. It won’t be about Greeneville’s Crowfoot Alley, though. I’ll attach the name to a fictional location, which will give me freedom in creating a story about it.
That’s future writing, though. For now I’m content merely to write words of gratitude to Joan for her help in learning a little about that mystery car, and to thank as well the several people who emailed or told me their own theories about it.
I’ve especially got to thank my coworker and friend Darrell Buckner, a true car guy, for helping me look through online images of old Model T front grills, to see if any looked like the grill on the car in the photograph. We couldn’t find an obvious match.
I’ll close by noting that I plan to make a walking tour of Crowfoot Alley with a camera very soon, and photograph what it looks like today, warts and all, simply because it’s soon to change. And even though it isn’t a very visible location, and certainly not scenic, it is a remaining piece of an older Greeneville that somebody might want to remember someday.
Besides, I want to photograph it because it has that wonderful, poetic name.
Crowfoot Alley. I just love that.