Douglasville Patch where I have a column concerning Douglasville, Georgia history. I focused on a few different things including the many high school graduations occurring this weekend. I mentioned how I remember attending my sister’s graduation at Atlanta’s Municipal Auditorium at the intersection of Courtland and Gilmer. I wanted to verify a few facts about the building and that’s when an interesting fact got my full attention.
For over 70 years the Armory-Auditorium as it was formerly know was Atlanta’s premier event center for concerts, theater and opera events, professional wrestling, the old-time fiddlers’ convention among many others, and the Gone With the Wind ball held in 1939. The 179th field artillery drilled there and also stored their ammunition.
I found it most interesting that the very first event to be held at the Armory-Auditorium was a ‘possum dinner held for 500 in honor of President-elect William Howard Taft. Thereafter, the portion of the building where the dinner was held was called Taft Hall. More than likely it is the same portion of the Municipal Auditorium that survives today as Georgia State’s Alumni Hall.
My research indicates there was actually a committee for procuring the ‘possums for the Taft ‘possum dinner.
This site detailing certain historical events from Worth County history confirms the ‘possums were obtained free of charge from the plantation of Judge Frank Park
Telegrams that went back and forth tell the story:
Sylvester, Georgia, January 2, 1909 – E.C. Caverly and Mr. Wilkerson, ‘Possum Committee, Atlanta: Worth County asks the honor of being allowed to furnish free to the ‘possum and ‘tater supper, the one hundred fat ‘possums required. Answer promptly so we can unloose the ‘possum dogs.
and the answer:
Frank Park, Sylvester, Georgia: We accept with pleasure and gratitude your offer to furnish ‘possum and ‘taters. Unleash your discriminating ‘possum clogs. [I’m thinking clogs should be dogs, of course.]
The Worth County history also goes into detail regarding the ‘possums and what took place once they had been “gathered”.
The deed is done! The suspense is over! The slaughter of the innocents is accomplished! The largest and most varied collection of ‘possums ever accumulated in the ‘possum state of the South went to their fate Wednesday morning not exactly like the lambs to the slaughter because they were ‘possums; and a ‘possum is not like anything else under the sun, except another ‘possum, neither is there any other creature……
How the deed was done. The ‘possum grasped firmly by his rat-like tail, is flopped with some enthusiasm, upon the ground chin down. Across the nape of his neck, is placed a broom-stick, upon either end of which the executioner places a number 11 foot (the number is important) without delay (for the ‘possum does not take kindly to this procedure) the southern extremity of the animal is smartly elevated by means of that convenient handle, his tail, and - snick! It’s all over. Another ‘possum has been gathered to his father’s in the great beyond, where perennial persimmon trees flourish, and there is no happy hunting ground.
Levi Colbert, Annie Daniels and Mahala Bennett were sent from Judge Parker’s plantation to Atlanta to help with the food preparations at the Piedmont Hotel. Mr. Colbert was a consulting cook and apparently was an expert when it came to preparing ‘possum. His method was as follows:
Immediately after the execution, the ‘possums are plunged in boiling water to remove the hair, dressed and placed in a cold salt water bath for twelve hours “to kill de animal taste, and bring out de ‘possum taste,” says Levi. Then they are parboiled… after which they are baked with the time-honored sweet potatoes; being basted during this process with a special sauce prepared after a formula newly invented by Signor John Blocoki, chief cook at the Piedmont Hotel.
At article in the New York Times advised the menu also included Turtle Soup, Broiled Georgia Shad, spiced watermelon, Boiled Wild Turkey with Oyster Sauce, Quail en Casserole. One hundred gallons of persimmon beer made by Mrs. Watson of Richard Street was served at the dinner along with champagne and claret. This counters the Worth County history which advises they’ll be no champagne or other liquid from foreign vineyard-the Georgia Prohibition law forbids.
New Georgia Encyclopedia advises Georgia had statewide prohibition from 1908 until 1935, a period that began before and extended beyond national prohibition (1920-1933).
I guess at some point the law was overlooked for the special visitor. The New York Times advised Georgia was a Prohibition state but it was not a temperance event. I should add here persimmon beer is not intoxicating, but the New York paper advised champagne and claret was also served. Asa Candler, of the Chamber of Commerce and founder of the Coca-Cola Company acted as toastmaster.
Once the dinner was in full swing, the ‘possum was brought to Taft in a chafing dish. The New York Times advised, Five hundred eyes were on the President-elect as he lifted the top of the dish and gazed at the boast of Georgia. The best dish I have toasted in weeks, said he, and judging from his satisfaction the ‘possum will become a regular White House visitor.
I just have to wonder if ‘possum ever made it onto the White House menu….
You can find out more about Taft’s trip to Georgia in 1909 over at American Presidents where I published a few more details centered on the President-elect including a bit more on his trip to the peach….er……’possum state.
You can find images and more information regarding the Muncipal Auditorium at Atlanta Time Machine here, here and here.