Several months back, Twin City native E. Vernon F. Glenn released his first novel, “Friday Calls”. I note that the only Triad area media outlet that has mentioned the book is the Greensboro News & Record, which published a review by Linda Brinson. I find it amazing that no Winston-Salem news outlet has checked in, since the novel is set at the heart of the Twin City, ranging from Buena Vista and the Old Town Country Club to City Beverage on Burke Street to a Fourteenth Street drink house in East Winston.
And since the two incidents at the core of the book are real events, most of the characters are real people, who lawyer Glenn chooses mostly to identify by their real names: mayor Marshall Kurfees; Mclean Trucking executive Jack Barnes, who was married to a Reynolds/Lybrook/Lasater cousin; police chief Justus Tucker, whose given name the author intentionally misspells as “Justice”; superior court judge James A. Harrill, Jr.; the legendary Madge Roberts, the Madam who wasn’t a Madam (blog post on the real Madge Roberts coming soon); Oscar Alexander, better known as “Daddy-O at the Patio” on WAAA radio; Frank Cuthrell, the majordomo at Old Town Country Club, and so on. Even Ralph Hanes, perhaps the classiest man ever to live in our town, makes a cameo appearance while ordering a hamburger at the country club. Oh, and don’t overlook Harry Davis, the founder of City Beverage, who ran a popular sports betting operation on the side, from which the book derives its title.
For reasons of his own, the author changes some names, most notably Gene Vogler of Voglers Funerals, who becomes Bobby S. D. Freunde, and Old Town Club golf pro Purvis Ferree, who becomes “Farrior” and is found playing tennis instead of golf.
With all these highly recognizable names, some might be inclined to think they are reading a true history of Winston-Salem. But one must remember that this is a novel, and the author has exercised his artistic license to mix and match characters and events from different times, ranging from 1951 in to the 1970s/1980s, to create a compelling story. When Archer Glenn died in a train wreck on Franklin Boulevard east of Greensboro in September 1951, Madge Roberts was a mere slip of a girl, attending a Christian college in Tennessee. Daddy-O was six years short of his first appearance at Ray’s Roadside Restaurant on US 311 North, which he liked to call “The Patio”. And nobody styling himself “Bo Diddley” was yet fronting a drink house in East Winston.
All that is OK, because fiction is fiction, and the author has the right to present things as he pleases. But for those looking for true history, here is a bit of reality.
In the late 1940s early 1950s, there was a group of prominent local middle-aged men who had set up a little routine to “enrich” their lives. Whenever the UNC football team played a Saturday home game in Chapel Hill, on the previous Friday afternoon they got down their bets with Harry Davis at City Beverage, then embarked for “Charlie May’s” farm in Alamance County, for a night of fine dining, dancing and other activities with much younger women who were not their wives. Charlie May’s farm was a real place. And so were the activities, carried out by a group of wealthy middle-aged men acting like frat boys.
On Friday, September 28, 1951, all of that was happening. Arthur Bennett “Archer” Glenn, an officer of the wildly profitable Quality Oil Company in Winston-Salem, set off for May’s farm, driving a company car. In the front seat next to him was a young woman named Mary Sue Marshall. For reasons unknown, since she has been dead now for 68 years, the author changed her name to Mary Sue Martin.
The normal route from Winston-Salem through Greensboro would have been along East Market Street to the Burlington Road, all a part of the new US 70. But for some reason, Archer was driving north on Franklin Boulevard, approaching the point where East Market became the Burlington Road.
As the car crossed the railroad track, a westbound train struck the passenger side of the car. It dragged the car about forty feet until the car struck a railroad signal post and was sent spinning into the railside brush. Archer and Mary Sue were killed instantly.
The word spread rapidly, and the Winston-Salem men sprang into action. Jack Barnes was ordered to bring the other young women at Charlie May’s farm back to the Twin City at once, where they were permanently abandoned, as in “we don’t know them”. And stories were prepared. By the time the local press found out what was going on, Mary Sue’s neighbors in the West End were saying that she was probably visiting her sister, May, a student at Women’s College in Greensboro. And one of the men told a local reporter that Archer had agreed to give Mary Sue a ride as far as Greensboro for that very purpose, which the newspaper obligingly published. That worked for the lazy thinkers, but the more astute realized that Franklin Boulevard was well east of Women’s College or any other part of Greensboro that a single 26-year-old woman might be inclined to visit.
You can be sure that Archer’s wife Louise and the wives of the other miscreants were not fooled. Most of them probably already suspected misconduct, but now they knew for sure. We can only imagine the husband-wife dramas played out in Buena Vista over the next few days. Both Archer’s and Mary Sue’s funerals were conducted at Centenary Methodist Church. But you can be sure that there was a significant difference in the atmosphere at each. The Friday night parties came to an end, at least for a while. And poor Mary Sue Marshall was quickly swept under the rug and forgotten.
Who was she? In the book, Glenn changes her surname and gives her a fictitious biography. But we have dug up the real Mary Sue.
She was born April 5, 1925, in Alexander County, NC to a farming couple Rome and Lona Burgess Marshall, the fifth of seven children. In January 1931, her mother Lona, who was fourteen years younger than her husband, died suddenly. Mary Sue was only five years old. Two years later, her father Rome, who unlike most farmers in the early 20th century, owned his own farm, hanged himself. Soon Mary Sue and some of her siblings were living at the Methodist Children’s Home in Winston-Salem.
In those days, Children’s Home residents attended R.J. Reynolds High School but maintained their own sports teams. As a teenager, Mary Sue joined the RJRHS music club, the travel club, the salesmanship club. She served as a Senior Marshall, a prestigious position at the school. She was a basketball and softball star for the Children’s Home teams. The 1942 Reynolds High School Black & Gold yearbook described her as being athletic and having black hair and a flirtatious smile. Perhaps it was that smile that led her to that railroad crossing in east Greensboro.
Upon graduation from RJRHS, Mary Sue went to work as a clerk for the Commercial Credit Company on North Main Street in downtown. She lived, with other young working girls, in a nondescript brick apartment house near Hanes Park. But she applied herself, and by the late 1940s was the bookkeeper for the firm. And by then she was living in a very nice apartment at 1012 West Fifth Street next to Grace Court. Among her neighbors in the building were two architectural engineers and Marjorie Hunter, the women’s editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. Mary Sue’s life was on the rise. And then she got into Archer Glenn’s car and her life was over.
“Friday Calls” is not a threat to win the National Book Award. It needs some serious editing, especially to reduce the outrageous number of adjectives…nine in one seventeen word sentence, for instance. But it is an interesting story set in the heart of Winston-Salem featuring many well known local characters. And it draws a stark contrast between the way mindless deaths have always been portrayed depending upon the social status of those who died. I am at a loss to explain the lack of interest on the part of the local media.