Never Leave a Good Friend Behind

The man from the suitcase was buried three times.  First in 1995 at Woodlawn Cemetery, surrounded by his loving wife, Juanita, his extended family, and his remaining friends and colleagues.  It’s a beautiful spot; I’ve shed my own tears there.

I don’t know who presided over his next burial, who selected the much smaller coffin he occupied for a  year after Juanita was put to rest by his side, but I presided over his first exhumation. Continue reading

Here’s to the Happy Old Maids – Amende Honorable

Amende Honorable is a poem typed on thin vellum.  It’s been folded into uneven quarters for so long that the creases refuse to lay quiet and tug at the page, like unfolded origami trying to snap back into shape. Continue reading

Queensberry All-Services Club Programme – From the Archive Library

In the summer of 1944, Glenn Miller and his Army Air Force band travelled to England to play over 800 performances for service men involved in the war effort.  After the U.K. tour, they were scheduled to head to France to begin a six week tour of American air force bases and field hospitals.

That tour never happened. On December 15th, three days after his last performance, Glenn Miller’s aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel.  He was not missed until his band landed in Orly on December 18th.

Glenn Miller’s last performance before his dissapearance was at the Queensbury All-Services Club in London on December 12th, 1944, and the man from the suitcase was there.

Learn more about the Queensbury All-Services Club and the mystery that surrounds Glenn Miller’s disappearance in the archive library.

20160320-Glenn Miller_

From Girl Friday to Woman of the Year – Meet Juanita Jones

You know, I think everyone has a place in this world which they make for themselves.

-Juanita Jones, 1969

Last week, we set aside John Paul Jones and turned our attention to the Lady from the Suitcase: Mrs. Juanita Jones.   The beginning of the post focused on Juanita’s childhood and her conservative education at the Southern Junior College.  We were introduced to a young woman who, in her youth, met the camera with a bashful blush.  Later in age, we were served up a cool reserve.


Then I pulled a M. Night Shyamalan move on yer butts and dropped this picture.

Juanita and Chet

That’s a picture from the Tennessean in 1969, taken at a Country Music Association awards ceremony where Chet Atkins (left) was named Instrumentalist of the Year.  Next to him, Juanita Jones, Nashville’s representative for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

The only link I had between these two women was Juanita’s obituary, which appeared in the November 12th, 2004 edition of the Tennessean.

November 12, 2004. Preceded in death by her husband, John Paul Jones. Her husband had been employed by the Seventh Day Adventist Southern Publishing Association before his death in 1995. Mrs. Jones was a private secretary for Chet Atkins, and after that, worked for a number of years for CASH BOX, which was a music industry magazine. She had resided in the Mariner Health Care Center, as a result of a stroke, which occurred approximately 2 years prior to her death.

That was 100% my John Paul Jones, but could that be my Juanita?


Obituaries can not be relied on.  Unless the deceased was a prominent figure (and even then, it’s up for debate) the accuracy of obituaries are always in question.  The obituaries published in your local rag are the result of paid submissions from family members or acquaintances.  They can be inaccurate, purposely deceitful and they are definitely NOT fact checked as proven in this incredible correction from The New York Times in 2013.

An obituary on Sept. 20 about Hiroshi Yamauchi, the longtime president of Nintendo, included a quotation from a 1988 New York Times article that inaccurately described the Nintendo video game Super Mario Bros. 2. The brothers Mario and Luigi, who appear in this and other Nintendo games, are plumbers, not janitors.

If you want to make a genealogist’s head explode, tell them “I read it in their obituary, so it must be true”.  I learned my lesson early on while researching the death of John Paul Jones, and my new genealogist friends pointed me in the right direction with tender affection.

With only one secondary source linking Juanita-from-the-suitcase and Juanita-from-the-celebrity-pages, my intention with this post was to present them side by side.  We were going to compare pictures and pick up every name that was dropped in connection to Juanita Jones of ASCAP and lay them all out on the table next to my scratchy negatives and laser printed census records.  We were going to hum and hah, compare cheekbones and maybe muse on how a conservative wife of a preacher’s son ended up rubbing elbows with the stars.

We certainly weren’t going to crack the case.

That was, until this showed up in the inbox of, courtesy of TK at Before My Time.

Meet Juanita Jones

This article appeared in the December 7th, 1969 edition of the Tennessean newspaper.  Within the article, we are introduced to her husband, John “Boxer” Jones.

Boxer Jones

John Paul Jones was an accountant at the Southern Publishing Company, a SDA publication business.  Seeing as there are two John Paul Joneses in Nashville, active within the same organization, it’s possible Juanita’s obituary could still be inaccurate and that our JPJ from the suitcase is still not this John “Boxer” Jones.

I had a lot of circumstantial evidence, but I needed the final nail in the coffin.   After hours of reading through every article about Juanita in the Tennessean and in Billboard Magazine and re-reading every single piece of source material I had found on JPJ, not to mention several manic pacing sessions littered with bursts of profanity (don’t judge, I am re-watching HBOs The Newsroom)…I think I found it.

The 1960 Nashville City directory lists Juanita Jones and John Paul Jones along side their Kennel Club colleague, John “Monkey” Jones.

The entry for John P (Juanita P) lists John’s occupation as an accountant for the Southern Publishing Association and states their address as 1911 Lone Oak Circle.

Another excerpt from the Meet Juanita Jones article:

Lone Oak Circle

Although I had a stack of articles on Nashville’s Juanita Jones, I didn’t have one that mentioned her husband or any personal details.  TK spied the missing jigsaw piece under my coffee cup and graciously pointed it out to me.  After that, the whole picture made sense again.


It’s not the first time a fellow research nerd has lent me a helping hand.  A dear friend from high school reached out very early on and knocked down my first brick wall.  Jeremy made the connection between JPJ’s conscientious objector status in WWII and his faith.  He pointed me in direction of the online Seventh Day Adventist Archives, which provided me with a wealth of family information on the Joneses and the Pipkins.  We wouldn’t be here today without that tip.

It must be noted that Jeremy is a gem of a gentleman and years from now, when his family are researching their roots, they will be delighted to find out that both Jeremy and his first born are both leap year babies.  Read more at Raleigh’s News and Observer, which featured a story on this adorable coincidence after the birth of his son in March. Congratulations, Jeremy!


I’m still working on a full timeline of Juanita’s accomplishments, but I’ll share just a few more things with you for now.

The first mention of Juanita I can find in print:

toe toasters 1958

The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) · Mon, Feb 3, 1958 · Page 7

Almost two years later, she appears listed as Chet’s Girl Friday.

billboard cover 2Gal friday 1959

November 30th, 1959 edition of Billboard Magazine

10 years later, Juanita had this to say in the Meet Juanita Jones article:

Many Jobs


I never thought I would ever be a person who would pump my fist the air and say “you go, girl!” but I can’t stop myself.  In 10 years, from Girl Friday to Woman of the Year…and she didn’t stop in 1969.  I wonder if she ever looks back at her 1934-1935 Southern Junior College’s School Catalog and laughs and laughs and laughs.

Students are expected to refrain from all improper behavior; from profane or unbecoming language; from the use of tobacco and alcoholic drinks; from card playing; from attendance at pool rooms, theaters, dances or places of questionable amusement; from having or reading pernicious literature; and from having or playing cheap popular music.

I know I do.  Cheap popular music for the win!


Featured Image caption – The green thumb of this Music City USA executive, Juanita Jones, is evident in the blooming plants in the greenhouse at her home on Lone Oak Circle.  mrs. Jones is company representative for ASCAP.

Featured Image source – The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) · Sunday, Jan 8th, 1967 · Page 11F

The Puzzle of Juanita Jones – The Lady from the Suitcase

You get a new jigsaw puzzle for Christmas.  Excited to start, you extract the box from the hermetically sealed plastic wrap, jostle off the lid and dump the pieces out on the dining room table.  First, you locate the corners and start to build the edges.  Little by little, the picture begins to form and you pretty much know how the rest is going to turn out…you just have to keep plugging away.  Then you realize you have more holes than remaining pieces.

The desire to complete the puzzle might tempt you to cram in any old puzzle piece and be done, but we know that doesn’t work.  So you get on our hands and knees and look under the rug to see if any of those missing pieces ended up down there.  Your search becomes increasingly bizarre and despairing. After checking the dog bed, the box (again) and the microwave, you abandon the puzzle for a while although you still scowl at it when you pass by your dining room table.

Ultimately, you may decide to manufacture your own pieces and jam those in. After all, you know what the picture should look like.  That feels a little like cheating to me, especially when the remaining pieces don’t even look like they came from the same box.

Since December, the mystery of Juanita Jones, the wife of my man from the suitcase, has kept me awake at night.  I’m going to do my best to describe the Juanita puzzle I started…maybe you can see where I have gone wrong.  Perhaps you will spy the edge of a jigsaw piece underneath my coffee cup.


Juanita Pipkin was born on August 9th, 1918…we were born 62 years and 2 days apart.  When you met her we were at her graveside, next to her husband of 56 years at the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville.  When I first met her, she was a young woman, captured forever in mid-blush in the film negatives from the suitcase.

The lovely Juanita

My understanding of Juanita was limited to the intersections between her and her husband, recorded in marriage and census records.  She was the wife of a conservative member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, connected by marriage to a family with a long history of involvement with the Church.  Her own family, the Pipkins were also long standing members of the SDA.  A devoted Christian wife, who in her younger days, lowered her head and blushed whenever a camera was pointed at her.  In later pictures, she met the camera lens straight on; the blush is gone, but the reserve remains.

The lovely Juanita

Let’s dive in a little to the family history I know, although it’s the sort of history you would get at a dinner party, or a funeral, by way of a gossipy aunt.  This aunt, who has taken it upon herself to give you the scoop on everyone from the corner of the room, passes along the facts with no real context, but waggles her eyebrows quite a bit, hinting at juicer information, unspoken but acknowledged.

Juanita, or Wyneda as she is listed in the 1920 census, was born to Dewey and Helene Pipkin in 1918.  In 1920,  Juanita and her parents lived in the house on 24th Ave with Juanita’s two aunts (Irene and Ophelia) and her Grandparents (Lenora and Thomas).  In 1921, they would be joined by Juanita’s younger brother, Richard.  Somewhere between 1922 and 1930, Helene and Dewey divorced. When Juanita was 12, Dewey married Clera Mae Keaton in 1930.

Divorce in 1920’s America was rare – 8 couples per 1000 divorced.  If you enjoy tables and charts, feel free to explore 100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics, provided by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, based on data collected by the Bureau of the Census.  Between 1916 and 1930, the majority of divorces were granted to the wife.  In Tennessee, the percentage of divorces granted to the wife was 69-73%.  The most frequent grounds for divorce were ‘cruelty’ and ‘desertion or abandonment’.

I don’t know the reason Helene and Dewey divorced, but I hope they were both happier for it.  Thanks to my friends at the census bureau, I know by 1930 Helene was living in Palm Beach, soaking up the sun and working as a seamstress and later as a beautician.  Enjoy those beach pajamas, Helene!


Models in Palm Beach wearing beach pajamas via – 1930’s.

In 1933, Juanita and her family moved to Collegedale, Tennessee, where she attended the Southern Junior College in the college preparatory program.  Today, the Junior College is known as the Southern Adventist University and is considered the most conservative of the Seventh-day Adventist schools in North America.  

“I will develop high standards of personal health, wellness, and entertainment and will promote the same for other members of the university community. I will avoid alcohol, tobacco, improper drug use, and sex outside of marriage.”

-Excerpt from the current SAU’s Student Commitment to Responsible Conduct 

Eighty-three years ago, during Juanita’s enrollment, the Southern Junior College was a tad more specific about the expectations of the student body. Let’s take a closer look at the rules and regulations that Juanita was expected to live by.  The following are taken directly from the General Regulations section of the Southern Junior College’s 1934-1935 School Catalog.

Students are expected to refrain from all improper behavior; from profane or unbecoming language; from the use of tobacco and alcoholic drinks; from card playing; from attendance at pool rooms, theaters, dances or places of questionable amusement; from having or reading pernicious literature; and from having or playing cheap popular music.

I believe I experienced all 13 of the above delights within my first two weeks at college.

Improper associations, flirting, strolling together, surreptitious meetings, escorting on the campus, loitering about the buildings or grounds cannot be permitted since these things militate against success in school work. Young ladies may receive gentlemen callers in the home parlors with the permission of the Dean and the approval of parents or guardians.

This privilege is granted only to students who are sufficiently mature, and whose general conduct and record of scholarship are satisfactory. Note writing and sentimental correspondence between students in the College is a violation of the principles of the institution.


A fine of five dollars will be assessed against any student who without permission is found on a fire escape or roof of any building, or who enters any room or building by window, transom, or by use of pass keys or other improper means.

Now I am thinking about it, the majority of the time I was violating these rules, I was on a roof or a fire escape, usually the roof of my dorm or the roof of my friends house and the fire escape outside the theater building.  Maybe these guys were onto something…

No jewelry such as bracelets. rings. or lockets may be worn. All extremes in thin waists, length of skirts or sleeves, high heels, and low necks should be avoided and in the whole wardrobe health, good taste, modesty and economy should be considered.

The overall health of my wardrobe in comparison hovered around ‘just getting over the flu’.  I wore pyjama pants and overalls for all four years, although this may have been something to do with being a theater major.

In case an enterprising young student realized that all the pleasures of life could legally be obtained off college grounds, this gem was snuck in at the end.

Students are advised not to bring automobiles or motorcycles to the College. Experience has demonstrated that in many cases irregularities detrimental to the student’s progress have resulted from the use of automobiles while in school.

“The College does not accept those students whose main purpose in attending college is to increase their earning capacity, nor those who seek primarily social enjoyment or competition in intercollegiate sports. It desires rather those students whose purpose is to achieve high excellence of scholarship combined with a deep and unaffected piety.”

-Excerpt from the Southern Junior College’s 1934-1935 School Catalog

Doesn’t that sound like fun?  I realize college is not supposed to be all fun and games, and I expect a conservative religious school would frown upon booze, sex and general exploration, but I was surprised about the ‘job’ part. It was made very clear to me at age 13, when I was introduced to the American public school system, that for the next 5 years  every decision I made would directly affect my ability to go to college, obtain a college degree and get a well paying job.


In her four years in the college preparatory program, Juanita would have completed the following courses:

  • New Testament History
  • English I – IV
  • Algebra
  • Word History
  • Home Economics (required for girls)
  • Bible I-IV
  • Geometry
  • American History and Problems of Democracy
  • 4 of the following: Music, Printing, Bookkeeping, Chemistry, Latin, Physics, Shorthand, Typing or Home Economics II

Course Description – Home Economics I

Home Courtesies; the house-selection, care and use of furnishings and equipment; the family laundry; child care; health of the family; personal grooming; care of clothing; construction of undergarments and school dress; preparation and serving of breakfasts and of suppers or luncheons; the normal diet.

Confident in the construction of her undergarments, Juanita Pipkin graduated from the college preparatory program in May of 1936.

Juanita Graduation


Three years later, she married John Paul Jones.  A description of their ceremony appeared in the March 15th edition of the 1939 Southern Tidings, an SDA newspaper based in Collegedale, TN.

Juanita Wedding Bells

This is where the Juanita trail started to fade.  There were mentions of her here and there in The Triangle, the Southern Junior College’s campus newspaper and she was named as the attendant of Miss Mildred C. Wood in the “Wedding Bells’ section of a later issue of Southern Tidings.  Incidentally, Miss Wood also included “The Sweetest Story Ever Told” in her prenuptial music, so Juanita may have been a trendsetter in the ‘simple but attractively decorated’ wedding scene.

As I continued my research on the Joneses, Juanita faded further and further into the background, spotted in print alongside her husband in various directories, but very few personal documents other than her entry in the Social Security Applications and Claims Indexes.  I was able to verify her date of death as November 12th, 2004 from the U.S., Social Security Death Index and her grave marker in Woodlawn Memorial Gardens.

I knew more about her death than I did her life after marriage. There are no letters to or from her in the suitcase, and based on her clothes, the pictures in the suitcase depict her into the 1940’s but no further.

I hoped her obituary would give me a little more information about her life…and, boy was I surprised at what I found.




This is Chet Atkins.  He was the recipient of 14 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (as the youngest inductee in history) and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

In the late 1950’s, Chet became Manager of Operations at RCA.  He opened RCA Studio B, the first permanent record-company office on Music Row in Nashville, considered the building that spearheaded the music industry’s migration to Nashville and birthplace of the Nashville Sound.  By 1968, he was the Vice President of RCA records.  During his tenure at RCA, he produced hits for the majority of RCA’s Nashville acts, including Elvis Presley, played for JFK at the White House in 1961 and recorded 48 studio albums.

He is considered one of the most successful guitarists in history and one of the most influential producers in Country Music.  Here is another picture of Chet from 1969, named Instrumentalist of the Year at the CMA first annual awards presentation, sharing a joke with a lovely lady directly to his left.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce to you…Juanita Jones.

Juanita and Chet

I know.  I know!  

My Juanita Jones? Surely not.



I found Juanita’s obituary in the November 13th, 2004 issue of the Tennessean.

November 12, 2004. Preceded in death by her husband, John Paul Jones. Her husband had been employed by the Seventh Day Adventist Southern Publishing Association before his death in 1995. Mrs. Jones was a private secretary for Chet Atkins, and after that, worked for a number of years for CASH BOX, which was a music industry magazine. She had resided in the Mariner Health Care Center, as a result of a stroke, which occurred approximately 2 years prior to her death.

I realize that an obituary can be less than accurate.  It’s entirely possible that the last half of this obituary is about another Juanita Jones, paired with our Juanita due to a lazy copy-writer’s hasty Ask Jeeves search.

In my next post, I will detail everything I have found out about the Juanita Jones who started her career as the private secretary to Chet Atkins and went on to manage the first Nashville ASCAP office, serve on the first Country Music Association Board, become Second Executive Vice President of the Nashville chapter of the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Services, and serve as member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and the Gospel Music Association.

With that tease, I will leave you with a song recorded by Stu Phillips and produced by Chet Atkins.  From the Nashville Scene section of Billboard Magazine, Oct 7, 1967: The new Stu Phillips release rings a recognizable bell in this area.  It’s titled “Juanita Jones.” Nashville’s Juanita Jones heads the ASCAP office in this city.  Naturally, the tune is licensed by ASCAP….”

I fear I am at risk of constructing my own pieces to fit the puzzle.  The Juanita I thought I knew was a shy conservative, lower-middle class housewife.  We are halfway through and the pieces that remain don’t seem to fit.  Next week, we’ll compare the pictures of Juanita published in various magazines and newspapers with my collection of photographs.  We’ll read every snippet from the celebrity magazines and Billboard articles.  You’ll come to your own conclusions and I welcome them in the comments. Hopefully, someone out there can accurately confirm or disprove my findings.

Personally, I am still struggling with the feel of it…but there’s something in these images that makes me wonder whether the picture on the front of the box was entirely accurate in the first place.

Junaite CMA billboard2-Suitcase-8

Flowers for his Grave – Catching up with John Paul Jones

Over the past couple of months, I have been immersed in Armchair Genealogy, researching John Paul Jones from the comfort of my home via the convenience of the internet.  As my newly found Genealogy pals say, online research only gets you so far before you hit the fabled ‘brick wall’. My research on and had provided me with a lot of secondary sources that cited the death of JPJ, but it was imperative that I find his obituary.  The reason was two-fold: An obituary, also known as a death notice, is what genealogists define as a ‘primary source’. which guarantees that my research is up to snuff.  More importantly, I knew it would provide the answer I’m most compelled to find – does the man from the suitcase have any surviving relatives?

It’s important to me to find someone in John’s family that might treasure  the artifacts he left behind.  I hate to think that these items may have been abandoned by mistake.  Of course, it’s entirely possible that they have no value to anyone but me.


A brief history on the obituary: The obituary as a standard feature of news publications started in 17th century England, but became popular in the United States in the 19th century. Published obituaries of the 19th century were typical for prominent members (translation:male members) of the community and focused on character traits.  They did not detail the cause of death, preferring euphemisms to avoid the macabre.  In fact, the root of the word obituary is a common euphemism for death, coming from the Latin obitus, meaning ‘departure’.

The Funeral Consumer’s Information Society, (who, in my opinion could stand to work on their name a little…who exactly are the consumers of funerals?) cites that in the early 19th century there was a brief period of rhyming obituaries.  I applaud this, as I believe all people benefit from a moment of quirky creativity in their day, especially if your job is to pen obits for the local rag.  The result of the obituary verse period, aside from the neurological benefits of all those those creative synapses firing, is that we are left with this little gem from the March 17th, 1917 edition of The Delaware Gazette (Ohio). A tribute to Guy Swain, who fell to his death while trying to chase a raccoon from a tree at night.

A precious one is gone,
A voice we loved is still,
A place is vacant in our home
Which never can be filled.
O Guy, it seemed so bad,
The way you had to go …

Nearing the turn of the 20th century, the focus shifted to a man’s accomplishments.  Newspapers published lengthy memorials to famous figures as a way to boost circulation.  P.T. Barnum’s obituary, published on April 8th, 1891 in the New York Times, ran 6347 words.  I highlight P.T. Barnum as during my obituary research (which can get quite macabre if you follow too many links on the internet) I was delighted to find out that he had requested that his obituary appear in the paper before he died, so that he could read it!  The New York Evening Sun obligingly printed his obituary on March 24, 1891, two weeks before his actual death.  His memorial in the Sun was titled The Great and Only Barnum – He Wanted to Read His Obituary – Here It Is.


Today, there are no rules.  The modern obituary can be as flowery and euphemistic as their Victorian counterparts or as direct as a bumper sticker.  Meet a man who embraced Shakespeare’s proposition that brevity is the soul of witDouglas Legler. A man who’s obituary was shorter than his name.

doug died

In response to his last joke, Doug’s daughter Janet said,”I’m sure he’s laughing up there now.”


The Special Collections Division at the Nashville Downtown Library serves as a repository and research center for historic Nashville materials. They have a substantial catalog of the Tennessean, the principle daily newspaper in Nashville, on microfilm.  With the help of a librarian, I loaded up the roll of microfilm of the March 31st, 1995 publication of the Tennessean.


The Social Security Death Index on records the death of John Paul Jones on March 30th, 1995.  One day later, his obituary was printed in the Tennessean.

obit JPJ

He worked at the Southern Publishing Company from his early 20’s until the day he retired.  He and Juanita had no children.


Woodlawn Memorial Park is one of the largest cemeteries in Nashville and is the final resting place of many of our Country Music stars such as Tammy Wynette, Little Jimmy Dickens and, most recently, George Jones. The office will provide you with a printed map of these legendary singers and songwriters if you want o make a day of it.  Other notable Nashvillians include Rob Bironas, kicker for the Tennessee Titans and Owen Bradley, the father of the famous “Nashville Sound”.

As the Italian’s say, once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box; Woodlawn is also home to over 12,000 people who have never won a Grammy or broken several major NFL records. While there’s no mass-produced map printed for those souls, the wonderful staff at the Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home made one of John Paul Jones, especially for me.

Grave Map JPJ

John is laid to rest in the Companion Garden C, next to his wife of 57 years, Juanita Pipkin Jones.

Both graves-1


The day was clear and bright and although the temperature was hovering around 45 degrees, the sun was warm and it wasn’t uncomfortable to sit for a spell.  I brushed away the leaves on the grave markers and settled down on the grass in front of them both.

My Grandad on my mother’s side died when I was very young, and although I have faint, shifting memories of placing a wreath on a grave, I don’t remember much.  I was a little older when my father’s dad passed after fighting Leukemia for many years.  Both my Nan and Grandma died after my family had moved to the States, and although my parents were able to attend the funeral, I could not.  I have no family graves of my own to visit, except now I have John and Juanita Jones.

Not knowing he was buried next to his bride, I had only brought a picture of John to place on the grave marker.  The staff at the funeral office told me that the groundskeeper would throw it away if I left it, so I temporarily propped the picture up on the flowers I had brought.  I had enough to share, so I broke the bunch in two.

JPJ grave-1


Juanita Grave-1

I sat with them in the sunshine.  I introduced myself.  I asked them questions.  I cried.


I tend not to think about death very often.  I’ve only been to one funeral in my life, the funeral of my Gentleman Caller’s father.  I feel completely unprepared for the death of a loved one…not that anyone ever can be, I suppose.  As an adult, my brushes with death have been almost nonexistent – no family members, no pets I’ve considered my own. I worry that when it does happen, I will be completely destroyed with the loss.

Neither my sister or I plan to have children.  My parents will never be grandparents, and I am sure that makes them sad. It makes me sad! Not sad enough to want children, but sad for the collapse of our family stories.  The precious photos we do have, my Nan’s ceramic zebras I inherited, my Grandma’s charm bracelet…where will they go?  Who will want them?

Perhaps I will put them in a suitcase.



Saxon, A. H. (1989). P.T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man (rev. ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 326. ISBN 9780231056878. Retrieved June 30, 2015.

This Old House – An Open Door to the Past

I have an advantage over some of my new-found genealogy friends, I live in the same area as the family I am researching. I can stroll down their sidewalks, visit their houses and lay flowers on their graves. This past weekend, I did all three.

My last two posts have focused on John Paul Jones’s early life in Massachusetts and New York. There are many more treasures I’ve found from these years and I look forward to sharing them with you, but today I am going to shift forward in time and focus on his life in Nashville.

Between 1930 and 1935, JPJ moved from Union Springs, New York (pop. 794) to Music City, USA. Nashville was booming in the 1930’s, with a reported population of 153,866 at the beginning of the decade. I wonder if 20 year old John was as overwhelmed as I was when, at the age of 13, I moved from a very small village in Norfolk, England to the substantial Southern metropolis of Raleigh, N.C. When my family emerged from the chilly cocoon of RDU’s baggage claim, struggling with two uncooperative wheely-suitcases a piece, the humidity hit us like a sopping wet dishcloth to the face. When JPJ stepped off the train at Union Station in downtown Nashville, was he also rocked back on his heels by the sticky heat?

An artifact from his suitcase provided my first piece of evidence of the move. Tucked inside an envelope postmarked 1938, is a letter to JPJ from his mother. The return address is Decatur, GA, so he wasn’t the sole member of the Jones family to leave New York state after 1930.


In February of 1938, JPJ lived in an area of north Nashville called Buena Vista Heights.  Almost a year to the day the above letter was mailed, he married Juanita Pipkin on February 23rd, 1939.

Marriage License

The marriage was officiated by John’s father, John Kelty Jones.

marriage license 2

Since I had a letter addressed to John at 2112 23rd Ave N in 1938, I was surprised to find a record in the 1940 Census, listing his residence as just a block away at 2115 24th Ave N. The column that lists a person’s 1935 residence is marked “same house” for JPJ. I suppose it could have been easier to answer the census taker’s question this way, or maybe the head of the household, 73 year old Lenora, just got the facts wrong.

1940 census pic

The 1940 census tells us a lot of useful information about John, including his occupation and salary. He held a full time job as a clerk at a publishing company, drawing an annual salary of $800. The average yearly income in the US in 1940 was $1,900. JPJ was barely above the minimum wage mark,  which was $0.30/hr. The job at the publishing house brought in a little over $15 a week for the newly-weds. Even when gas was only $0.18 a gallon, bread could be bought for $0.08 and a gallon of milk would run you $0.34, his salary would still be considered a very low wage.

Reading past the facts and figures, the discovery that intrigues me the most is his living situation. He is the sole (and dare I say hen-pecked?) male in a house of three generations of women.

Lenora, a 73 year old widow, is listed as the head of household. Although 21 year old Juanita is listed as her daughter on the census, I don’t believe this to be the case. Most likely is that Irene (age 43) is Lenora’s daughter, and Juanita’s mother. John had a full house of in-laws, including June, his sister in law. My heart goes out to him.

His mother-in-law, Irene, is also listed as working in a publishing house, but as a binder earning $500/year. Is this how he and Juanita met?  Did Irene pick him out at work and introduce the young, handsome clerk to her daughter?

JPJ is too cool for school

The pieces came together when I started to trace his family’s activity in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The SDAC has an extensive online archive in which I was able to find Lenora’s obituary, as well as many other records of John and his biological family.

Lenora obit

Lenora’s obituary was published in the April ’53 edition of the SDAC publication Southern Tidings. While her obituary may be short, there’s a rich story hidden between the lines. She was parted from her husband of 56 years the same year that Juanita and John wed. I can’t find an obituary for Thomas, so I don’t know whether he attended his daughter’s wedding, or whether he passed just before. Lenora also lost three children during her 87 years. While I have filed many of these notes away for later exploration, this short text does tell us that it’s likely John worked with his mother-in-law at the Southern Publishing Association, a Seventh Day Adventist organization.


Fall weather in Nashville is a series of flukes – you could be shivering your way around the neighborhood, hurrying along the dogs in 36 degree weather on one morning and the next day, find yourself basking in the sunshine on your back porch. Last weekend sat between the two extremes, yet had it’s own quirks – bright, warm sunshine that made you strip off your jacket only to struggle back into it again when you stepped into the shade. After two solid days of nastycold rain, the sky had cleared, so I took a ride over to John’s old neighborhood.

Buena Vista Heights is only a 15 minute drive from my house, but it feels like a world away from my snug neighborhood that sits on the edge of Vanderbilt University. Buena Vista Heights is half empty lots, half broken down houses. A couple of houses seem to be fighting for survival, some wilted flowers in a raised bed here, a new paint job there, but the majority of the houses are unfriendly and sagging. There are a series of photographs in the suitcase of a house that’s covered in white siding. One of the photographs in this series has the house number 2112 in the frame.

dog and step - 2112-1

I turned onto 23rd Ave, passing the broken windows at a crawl, and rolled to a stop outside No. 2112. The siding is gone, but the front porch looks the same, although the numbers are posted on the other side.  As I turned the corner, a young dog jumped at the fence, barking and snapping. Just past the dog run, I could see the back porch, pictured below in a photo from the suitcase.


The same crazy paving on the side and the long first step onto the grass.  While I was squinting back and forth between the photograph and the house, the dog had worked itself into a frenzy. I moved on without pausing to take a new photo, and his barks followed me down the block.

I drove a couple of circles around the neighborhood, not sure what to do next. I had naively pictured myself walking up to the front door, perhaps leaving a note if no-one was home. Instead, I had driven away, scared by the dog and the neighborhood. I’ve returned to a couple of my old haunts before, visited houses I uses to live in. My heart always broke a little bit when I saw how things quickly things had changed or decayed. I imagine that John’s heart would have sunk a little had he seen that young pup throwing himself at the chainlink fence and pacing around the small run that was installed in the same yard where his own dog once ran free.


There was one other house I wanted to visit, the home John lived in with his wife, her sister, his mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law.  Although only a couple of city blocks away, 24th Ave North had bigger lots and green open spaces. Dominating the crossroad of Simpkins St. and 24th was the House of Estrogen: No. 2115.

2115 House-1

I pulled into the large driveway and surveyed the scene. There were a couple of people picking through broken furniture on the front lawn. The front door was open, and there was a contractor’s van parked behind the house. A gentleman wearing paint splattered jeans was talking into his cell phone. I decided to make a move.


Daryl has been restoring houses for over 20 years. He recently purchased No. 2115 and plans to live there while he restores the house to her former glory. Over an embarrassed shrug, Daryl told me he “fell in love with her”.  We were standing next to the trash heap on the front lawn, and he nudged an empty  beer bottle with his foot, waiting for me to call him crazy.

My house was built in 1898 and there’s not a floor that’s level or a door that doesn’t stick. I love the glass doorknobs, even though they rattle in my hand when I shut the doors. I love her creaks and mysterious groans, her tall ceilings and her dusty corners that even my long handled feather duster can’t reach. I avoid going down to the basement as much as possible, but when I do, I always touch the faded pink rose wallpaper that hides at the back of the shelves above the stairs. She’s an old girl, but she’s got character. We fell in love with her from the street. My Gentleman Caller had lived in the neighborhood for 3 years and we passed her everyday when we walked the dogs. The moment we saw the ‘Coming Soon’ sign in the front yard, we knew we were in trouble. Two years later, she still as charming as ever.

I told Daryl that I have my own old biddy of a house. His eyes sparked and he laughed. “You know what I’m talking about then”.

Looking up at 2115 I said,”I think she’s lovely”. Both of us stood, hands on hips, acknowledging our shared slushiness with slow nods.

I told him about the suitcase and about the young man that used to live here in the 40’s with his family. I asked I could take a picture.

He said, “Sure! Hell, do you wanna take a tour?”


The inside of the house is in rough shape, but the original hardwoods remain and the sun coming through the tall windows paints the walls and lights up the empty rooms. I can see why he fell in love. Like all old houses, she has a floorpan that keeps going and going, disguising the almost 2000 sq. ft  interior from the street. The first space is the foyer, and from there you can either enter the living room with attached dining room, go left into a downstairs bedroom or up the stairs to the second floor.

2115 House foyer-1

As we walked through the house, Daryl told me his plan for each room, pausing to touch the door frames and run his hand along the walls. He showed me a series of awkward built-in shelves that were lodged into random corners, one of my favorite features of old houses.

2115 House interior-1

As we wound through the house, I felt relieved for JPJ.  At least he wasn’t crammed into a tiny house with 4 other females, they had room to stretch out a bit.

Climbing to the second floor, I wondered how many times had JPJ walked up and down these same stairs. Did he instinctively reach out for the banister post as I did? There were nail holes on the wall that accompanied the stairs up to the second floor. Were family portraits hung along the stairs in the classic manner? Did he pause and look at them, or did they fade into the background as he passed?

2115 House stairs-1

The upper floor had been made into a second apartment, accessible from the backyard from a rickety wooden stair case built in a boxy spiral.  Touching the walls again, Daryl said “I can’t decide whether to rent the top floor out, or keep it to myself”. He fiddled with an old fashioned rope pulley that was laid into the window frame. A look in his eyes told me he had already decided, this lady would be his alone.

After the tour, we walked around the exterior of the house, stepping around the trash and broken bottles. In the back, there are three huge trees, a decayed rope swing was attached to a study branch. Daryl patted the trunk and said “I bet this old tree has some stories to tell”.

I bet, indeed. Don’t we all? Doesn’t everything?

We shook hands by the front door and I wished him luck on his restoration. “I’m glad you found her, treat her well”. Daryl smiled and said, “I’m planning on it. Good luck with your project”.

As I drove back to the main road, I thought about the first house I visited and wondered about my reaction. One house scared me and the other, sitting a couple of blocks away, was charming…that seemed worth pondering. I made a U-turn in a Save-A-Lot parking lot and turned back around.  At 2112, the dog leapt up from a doze and resumed his shouting.

I had looked up the area before I visited, and I was aware of the stats.  Buena Vista Heights is not a safe area, the crime statistics are well above the national average. Upon arrival, it didn’t surprise me that I was intimidated by the neighborhood and didn’t want to spend much time there, yet I had just spent 20 minutes touring one of it’s houses.

I feel close to John and his family, increasingly so since I have been to their house and visited their graves. I’ve started to understand them as living, breathing people, not just grainy faces in candid snap shots. Although they are decidedly alive to me, they are all very much preserved…and that makes me considerably more comfortable. The artifacts in the suitcase were protected; the most delicate of notes written 77 years ago were still intact, like the petals of a pressed flower in a book.  The negatives, while damaged and faded in some cases, kept their scenes intact, waiting for someone to hold them up to the light. Even the house John and his gals lived in 70 years ago remained for me to explore, stripped of all signs of modern life, like a full-sized doll’s house from a time capsule. That’s all very nice and neat and safe, isn’t it?

No. 2112 wasn’t preserved in a scrap book. It was still breathing. It had been re-sided, re-painted and was sheltering another family. A family with their own stories of celebrations, arguments and grief. That’s considerably more messy to think about. I suppose behind all this confused huffing and puffing of mine is a fear of change, and hiding behind that little goblin is the most universal fear: the fear of death. The end of our bodies, yes…but even more jarring to me is the decomposition of our stories.

When I first began researching John Paul Jones, I was concerned that what I was doing was wrong. Specifically, that it was voyeuristic and exploitative. What gave me the right to publish this blog? I’m not related to these people and these aren’t my things. After a couple of weeks of debate, I gave myself permission to press on for one simple reason: The suitcase had ended up in my possession. This meant whoever cleared out Juanita’s house after she died in 2004 either didn’t care enough to keep it, or they didn’t know what they were tossing out. Either way, I believe the act of publishing this man’s story is permissible. If no one objected to discarding his memories 11 years ago, then no one should have a problem with me dusting them off and taping them back together. If the abandonment of the suitcase was a mistake, then I hope my research will eventually lead to a living relative or a friend of the family that would care for these objects as much as I do.

I’ve dug enough to know that John and Juanita didn’t have any children.  There’s hints in the records of a niece and I’m tracking down those leads. Until I reach the end, I’m going to continue telling John’s story, which in time, will become a part of my own.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

-Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees