Reflections

Watermelons Once Scarce In Chicago

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  
When some of you read this column you’re probably going to ask, “why doesn’t Cooper wait until  Water-melon Carnival time to write this?” Therefore, I’m  going to tell you why. Most of the time when I sit down at the keyboard I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m going to write about. So, when something comes to me, I start constructing the column.
The time is 1930 and the stock market had crashed, throwing  the country into a deep depression. Banks were failing, including the Peoples Bank in Water Valley; cotton was seven cents a pound, if you could find a buyer; and no one had any money.
Uncle Charlie Badley was fortunate enough to have a job in the IC freight house in downtown Chicago. On a mid-winter trip home, he happened to mention to Papa Badley that the year before he could hardly find a watermelon in the Chicago markets. He said it was too bad that they couldn’t get up enough to fill a box car. They would sell like hot cakes in  Chicago and bring more money per acre than cotton.  
Papa  was in Arthur Walker’s barber shop a few days later and mentioned that conversation and suggested that he didn’t have enough each year to fill a box car. But, if some of his neighbors would go in with him, they could get up a shipment large enough to interest the railroad.
It so happened that Herman White was in Arthur’s chair getting a haircut and he  spoke up. “I always raise a good crop but I’ve had to sell them in town which is a slow process and not very profitable.  What we should do is set up an association of local farmers and send someone to Chicago and set up orders for delivery when the melons are ripe.” Several in the crowd agreed, including Papa, and with that informal discussion the Yalobusha Watermelon Association  was born.  
Papa was always ready to try something new and he happened to meet Paul Ashford, John Ashford’s older brother.  He knew he was a good farmer, was married and starting a family so he struck up a conversation.  “Paul, I know you’re a good farmer and I think I’m onto something. We can grow watermelons on my sandy soil cheaper than cotton and  with this association they’re setting up, sell them in Chi-cago in larger quantities for   a better price than we can  get here.” Paul replied, “Mr. Badley, last year I worked from daylight to dark and made a good crop and barely broke even. This sounds like a great idea and if you have a house I can move my family into, I’m your man.”  
They struck a deal, Paul moved in and they started breaking ground for a large watermelon crop. In the meantime, Mr. White was signing up farmers in the surrounding area and contacting people in Alabama and  Georgia, then the largest watermelon producers in the country. They told him about a  melon called   “Cuban Queen” that was a hybrid developed from the “Georgia Rattlesnake” melon and a citron which gave it a tough rind making it ideal for long shipments.  The association ordered a large shipment of seeds and distributed them  among the members,  along with a warning, that since they were  hybrids,  do not save the seeds for next year.  
Being a hybrid many would revert back to citrons which were worthless on the market.  I see I won’t be able to cover this in one column so as the old time radio announcers would say, “tune in next week for this continuing story.”  
Feel free to jump in with your input on this or any subject at my email address cncooper1@hotmail.com or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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