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Mary Francis Plummer Interview - 21 June 1983


Mary Francis Plummer Interview - 21 June 1983


Oral history interview of Mary Francis Plummer at the Haunted Bookshop


Mobile Public Library


Mobile Public Library




Tommy Oberding
Frank McClowsky


Descriptions of Oral History Interview Tapes




Growing-Up-in-Mobile-Mary Francis Plummer Interview-1983


Reeve Carlson


Mary Francis Plummer


The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, AL


R.C. : Today is June 21st, 1983. This is Reeve Carlson. I'm interviewing Mary Francis Plummer at the Haunted Book Shop. This interview is part of the Growing Up in Mobile Oral History Project. Tommy Oberding is assisting with the interview today. We're going to be talking about Ms. Plummer's experiences growing up in Mobile during World War II. We'd like to thank you for talking to us today about your experiences during the time you were in Mobile. To begin, would you state for the records your full name and when you were born.
M.F.P. : My full name if Mary Francis Young Plummer and I was born in October, 1913.
R.C. : Who were your parents?
M.F.P. : My mother was Frances Fuller Thompson, my father was James Madison Young, and they were in Henderson, North Carolina.
R.C. : What were their occupations?
M.F.P. : My father was a druggist and my mother kept house.
R.C. : Did you have any brothers and sisters?
M.F.P. : I had three brothers and one sister. My sister was older than I and my three brothers were younger than I.
R.C. : When did you move to Mobile?
M.F.P. : In September of 1940.
R.C. : What was Mobile like when you moved here?
M.F.P. : When I came, I knew only one person, he was the Episcopal minister at Christ Church, and I was going to be the Director of Religious Education at Christ Church. I knew most of the people in Mobile at that time soon after I was here for a week. But every time I would go to town I would see nobody I knew, and it was a strange feeling.
R.C. : What are some of your memories of World War II?
M.F.P. : Well, first of all, as I said, I knew practically mobody and then all of a sudden I knew everybody in town. I was given a map of the city and a list of parishioners, and told to call on the people, and I knew everybody, and I would go to the post office and I would see my friends, and I'd go through the park and I'd see my friends, and all of a sudden World War II came along and we were flooded with strangers.
R.C. : Do you remember any changes during this time?
M.F.P. : Loads of changes. You couldn't find a house to live in; you couldn't find food to eat; you couldn't find tired to put on your car; you couldn't find gasoline to ride around on. Everything was short, and Mobile just began to grow and grow and grow.
R.C. : Did you know any of these newcomers who came during World War II?
M.F.P. : I met quite a lot of them. Brookley was established and a couple of people from Brookley Field would come in the Haunted Book Shop. I might back up a little bit and say that at Christ Church my husband was a Boy Scout master over there and I married him, and I left my job as Director of Religious Education to help him with the Haunted Book Shop. And there I met a lot of strangers.
R.C. : Did any of the newcomers move into your neighborhood at this time?
M.F.P. : Well, our Book Shop was in the little building over on Conception Street with a driveway through it. Upstairs we rented rooms to people who came to work at the shipyard, so we saw lots of people.
R.C. : Did people in your neighborhood rent rooms to newcomers?
M.F.P. : Yes, they did. One night we went out, we were going to dinner with a stranger who was in Mobile, showing him the city, and we just walked out and left the door open to the Book Shop. When we came back we found a sailor in there selling books. He had taken over, the money was all in the cash register and everything was fine. He said he had a grand time running the Haunted Book Shop for us while we were out. Never saw him before.
R.C. : How did people feel toward the newcomers?
M.F.P. : I think there were mixed emotions. My husband and I, we used to enjoy meeting them and sometimes we would take them home for the weekend. I remember one of my prettiest china dishes, a boy from Australia was fixing us a Sunday dinner, and he sat this platter on the stove and it cracked. But, we used to take people out to ride and all the girls would go down to the USO Hall and entertain the soldiers and dance with them and feed them. All in all, we tried to make them welcome.
R.C. : Were the fathers and mothers of any of your friends in the military or working at Brookley Field during this time?
M.F.P. : No, I had a brother in the military service, but he was stationed in Germany. He never did get to Brookley Field.
R.C. : Do you recall seeing a lot of servicement or military personnel during this period?
M.F.P. : Yes, they were all over the streets of Mobile and the stores would stay open late at night, and you'd see them on Sunday. The town was just floating with military people.
R.C. : Did you know anyone who worked in the shipyards or in other defense industries?
M.F.P. : I did indeed. One of the girls that I lived with just before I was married (I had an apartment), she was a welder at the Mobile shipyard. Some people would think that she was just as pretty as she could be and she was doing a patriotic job, and other people would say "I don't think that women ought to be in the shipyard welding."
R.C. : At this time were you working here at the Haunted Book Shop?
M.F.P. : Yes, I was.
R.C. : Do you remember people in Mobile volunteering for war work?
M.F.P. : Yes, as a matter of fact, before I was married, when I was working at Christ Church, I used to work all day and then I would go down to the Scottish Rite Building, for the "Command Center" (we called it), and we would plot airplanes and where they were, and we'd work there every night from nine until twelve o'clock.
F.M. : I have a question. Since you worked at Christ Church, do you feel that religious involvement is greater now or less now than it was when you first came to Mobile?
M.F.P. : In my particular church I think it's less than it was. Caper Thadley (Capers Satterlee?) was a very civic-minded person and he had a nursery school upstairs for the mothers who were working during the war. The church parish house was always open to organizations that wanted to meet there, entertain the soldiers, or have dinners. The people from the auxiliary were made aware of the men being in town and were really working for them.
R.C. : Do you remember any of the rationing during World War II?
M.F.P. : I surely do. You couldn't get tired and you couldn't get gasoline. My husband had tuberculosis, and right after we were married he went to get some insurance and they told him his other lung had gone bad on him. My minister advised us to go back to the doctor who had done the surgery on him to begin with, which was in Tennessee, and I can remember crying all night long because I didn't have enough gasoline to go and I couldn't get enough gasoline to go back to Tennessee. Finally, I guess my heart took over, and people loaned me stamps, which, of course, was strictly against the rules, you didn't borrow ration stamps, but I did and we went to Tennessee to see the doctor.
R.C. : What was Mardi Gras like?
M.F.P. : There was no Mardi Gras during the war. It was completely stopped.
R.C. : Do you recall any unusual or outstanding persons in Mobile?
M.F.P. : I don't know that you would call them unusual, it seemed rather queer to me though. I remember distinctly a man coming in one day to buy some Pocket books, and while I was selling him Pocket books he was telling me about wanting guns out of Mobile into the foreign countries. Another funny story was, a girl was working for us in the book shop and somebody came to my husband and said "Do you know this girl? She's a spy," and so my husband felt duty-bound to go over to the FBI and talk to them about the girl working there and tell them that she had been reported as a spy. It turned out the girl was working for the FBI.
R.C. : Do you remember any other ways in which the war affected everyday life in Mobile?
M.F.P. : Yes, everybody went to the seventh grade at Barton Academy, and of course every seventh grade child knew every other seventh grade child, and after the war the schools sprang up all over Mobile. Not only was there just one big Murphy High School or one bid seventh grade, there were many different schools. Now there were a lot of people that didn't even know each other any more.
R.C. : What were some of the changes in the appearance of Mobile?
M.F.P. : Well, every business place was busy, the LeClede Hotel was where I move d my shop from Conception Street to Government Street. It was a busy, buzzing street. The old courthouse was there, the Alabama Hardware and Sears Roebuck. Of course they tore down the Alabama Hardware, they tore down Sears Roebuck and moved it over on Royal Street. Then, in the sixties they built that Springdale Plaza and all the stores from downtown, Sears Roebuck and Hammels and Kaysers and Raphaels, and all of those stores moved out to Sprindale Plaza. And then of course they built Bel Air Mall right across the road from it, and downtown was almost a ghost town.
F.M.. : Mrs. Plummer, why did you move your shop the first time?
M.F.P. : Because the building we were in on Conception Street was leaking, and water and books don't mix very well. So we found out that Government Street, on account of where the Railway Express Company had been at Government and St. Emmanuel Street, was available, had enough space and it was a good location.
F.M. : And how long were you there?
M.F.P. : Twenty seven and a half years.
F.M. : How did your bookstore get its name?
M.F.P. : My husband and Adelaide Trigg, Adelaide Marsten Trigg, opened it in 1940, and about that time Christopher Morley was a very popular writer. He wrote his first book, Parnassus on Wheels, an old book-seller had a book shop in a covered wagon, and they traveled up and down the eastern seaboard selling books. They could produce the right book for the right person at this right time. When he married, he and his wife settled in Boston, and they ran the Haunted Book Shop and it was haunted by the ghosts of all great literature. They lived in the house and the books were right there; it's a good spy story because they had a wall in the Haunted Book Shop and a spay came in and left messages for other spies. Quite entertaining, you ought to read it sometime. We wrote him and asked him if we might name our shop after his story and he wrote back a real cute letter and said other shops had tried it and they'd all gone broke but it'd be brave to try.
R.C. : Did Mobile look different or seem different after the war?
M.F.P. : Very different. With the coming of the war there were so many people. When you;d drive through the Bankhead Tunnel they had built a school over there called Blakely School, and they had built houses all over there, people lived on Blakely Island. Of course, after the war they tore the houses down, and people all moved out on the western side of town, but there were houses all down Conception Street and people actually lived right downtown. Now of course people would come down in hats and gloves, and meet at the Battle House.
R.C. : What kind of hats did the ladies wear?
M.F.P. : Good, big, floppy hats with flowers on them, and gloves.
R.C. : Were feathers on the hats popular at that time?
M.F.P. : No, I think there were flowers more than feathers.
R.C. : Did Mobile change during the war?
M.F.P. : Changed very much.
R.C. : What things changed and stayed the same?
M.F.P. : To tell you the truth, I don't know that anything stayed the same. Goldstein's is still downtown, and the Haunted Book Shop is still downtown, and Gayfers, I think they're the only things that are still here that were here before.
R.C. : Did you or your friends ever discuss the war?
M.F.P. : Oh we would get together and talk about it, in fact, we still do get together and talk about going riding on Sunday afternoons and taking the soldiers and working at Interceptor Command and some of the things that used to happen down there.
R.C. : Did you know any of Mobile's writers or artists?
M.F.P. : I expect I know most of Mobile's writers. Caldwell Delaney has written a good many books, in fact most people give his book Remember Mobile, as a gift book to people who come to Mobile, move away, and they want a gift to take with them. But, he has written about ten different books. Evelyn Dahl wrote a book called Belle of Destiny, and Judy Rayford used to write books ( Judy died about a year ago), but he was known all over the United States. Eugene Walter has written books and he lives here now and writes for the Azalea City News. Mobile has always had a lot of writers; Erwin Craighead and Ernest Spinoloza, and Kathleen Johnston; of course, now they have Terri Cline and Roy Hoffman, Jay Higgenbotham; we have quite a lot of authors.
F.M. : Did you know ......?
M.F.P. : Yes, indeed I did. In fact, my husband offered to build a building for him to store his papers in if he would just let Mobile have them, he never would agree to let Mobile have them. I'll tell you another story about him: he sold the Gutenberg bible in New York, which was not a Gutenburg bible, and it sort of ruined the name of mobile booksellers for a while.
R.C. : Are there other things from the war you might want to add?
M.F.P. : Right this minute I can't think of anything except the only thing we're sure of is change.
F.M. : The boys here were fascinated with the blackouts and that sort of thing. Why don't you add one or two things about air raid drills and so on.
M.F.P. : All the cars had black paint over the top half of the lights. Of course, you would have to turn your lights out at certain times. You could hear a whistle going off and you'd run for shelter. It was quite exciting.
R.C. : Was there were an air raid?
M.F.P. : Not an actual air raid, just practices/
R.C. : How many air raid drills were there in a day?
M.F.P. : There would only be one in a day, in fact they would only have on in maybe a month. But sometimes, they would have an air raid and the sirens would go off and you'd have to lock up your business and go out of town. They had evacuation routes, and they'd tell you which streets you could go out and where you were to meet. Then you would leave.
R.C. : What would happen if you were in an airplane at the time when the siren went off?
M.F.P. : I never had that experience, I don't know. Of course, we were all supposed to keep a certain amount of food on hand in case anything happened, to be ready.
R.C. : Were you ever caught in a car when an air raid siren went off?
M.F.P. : No, I was usually in the book shop. I did have to close the book shop and get in the car and go to the edge of town.
F.M. : Where was the edge of town?
M.F.P. : I think I went to Spring Hill, I'm not sure.
R.C. : You've been very kind to give us your time and to share with us your memories of World War II. Listening to you will add to our record of this time. Thank you very much.
M.F.P. : Thank you for coming, it was a joy.

Original Format

Cassette tape


19 min. 39 sec.



Mobile Public Library , “Mary Francis Plummer Interview - 21 June 1983,” Mobile Public Library Digital Collections, accessed June 22, 2021,

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