Some Late-Winter Desk Clearing

A London crime scene, Knoxville Gray, our almost-superlative statue, and a chronic building-naming dilemma

Librarian Tom Mayer is always thinking about something interesting, and recently he ran across the word Knoxville a couple of times in a pretty surprising place. He found it in a rather esoteric book published only in England, about some notably gruesome murders in London in 1888: The Jack the Ripper Location Photographs, by Philip Hutchinson.

You'd think we'd know all there was to know about the most-studied serial killer of all time, but elusive all these years have been clear images of the murder scenes as they appeared at the time. Few good location photos survive, and the East End of London was changing so rapidly that most of the crime scenes were unrecognizable by the time of World War I. Especially interesting was the true location of Dutfield's Yard, the London alley where the body of Elizabeth Stride was discovered in 1888, after the Ripper's bloodiest night. Depicted only in drawings at the time, Dutfield's Yard vanished in the 20th century.

The new book's highlight is the first known photograph of Dutfield's Yard. In a still-unknown tourist's scrapbook, noted Ripperologist Hutchinson discovered a 1900 photograph of it. Knoxville came into the story because he first showed the rare photo, extremely interesting to the select group who have been wondering about it for decades, at a Jack the Ripper Convention in Knoxville in October, 2008. There's even a photo of Hutchinson speaking at Fort Sanders' Four Points / Cumberland House hotel, which hosted the conference. A detail of the photo is on the cover of the book.

So far, the book's available only in England, at £12.99.

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A color connoisseur pointed out a reference to a peculiar shade marketed as "Benjamin Moore's Knoxville Gray." It's an official color, described on the Apartment Therapy website as "a mysterious and amorphous neutral that changes color throughout the day—greenish at night, bluish in the morning and more solidly gray in full sun."

That reminds me of myself, most days. I like the color, and I like the descriptions of it seem applicable to my hometown. Another source cites Knoxville Gray's "cool undertone."

Maybe you can make stuff cooler just by painting it Knoxville Gray.

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The new Martin Luther King statue in Washington has already become a pilgrimage destination, and I look forward to having a look at it the next time I take the Megabus up that way. But its erection takes Knoxville down a notch. Prior to its completion, the Alex Haley statue on Haley Heritage Square on Dandridge Avenue had been hailed as the largest statue of an African-American in the world. The late sculptor Tina Allen was proud of that fact, when I interviewed her about it a decade ago.

I don't know whether our tourism promoters ever made any hay with that superlative. But it is, alas, no longer. It's probably still the biggest one in the South. And, we assume, the second biggest in the world, and maybe the only one whose lap you can sit in.

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Finally, I'd like to propose that the next time we tackle a major downtown building project, we consider some different proper names. I don't know whether anyone else has noticed, but we keep using the same ones over and over.

We've got the big Howard Baker Center for Public Policy on Cumberland, and, if you walk down the Cumberland Avenue sidewalk about 13 blocks, on the same side of the street, you'll find another Howard Baker building, the two-square-block Howard H. Baker Courthouse. The University of Tennessee has the Stokely Athletic Center and the Stokely Management Center. The James A. Haslam II Business Building is right around the corner from the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center. Which one's the "Haslam Building"?

Thompson-Boling Arena is just a few blocks south of Thompson Cancer Survival Center. When newcomers ask me, "Where's the Thompson Building?" I ask, "Arena or Survival Center?"

And then we've got a real dilemma with all the downtown Duncans. Children, I'm old enough to remember when we suffered from a complete lack of John Duncan Buildings downtown. John Duncan was a mayor, and later a congressman, and later there was another John Duncan who was a judge and a completely different congressman, who happened to be a son of the first one. And, you may have heard, there's still another John Duncan who's a county trustee. But when I was first acquainted with downtown, John Duncan was not a building at all. Now it's several.

Not long ago, I was invited to a meeting at Duncan Station. I didn't know what it was, even though, as it turned out, I'd been there several times. It's the short name for KAT's transit center. But there's a KAT bus stop all KAT drivers refer to as "the Duncan Building." They're referring to the John J. Duncan Federal Building, which is several blocks away from "Duncan Station." And around the corner is the relatively new Duncan School of Law.

If downtown ever gets a Dunkin' Donuts, we'll be in a world of confusion.

Maybe a lot of big buildings named for you is just the spoils of an extraordinarily long career in public service, and if you give your son the same name, you double your chances of architectural immortality.

This is not an entirely new problem. Longtime Knoxvillians still have to stop and think about Lawson McGhee and McGhee Tyson, which is the library and which the airport. But in that case, they're both named after different people—who were kin but didn't even know each other.

Maybe Mr. C.B. Atkin had the right idea. In 1908, he built the building I work in. But when he did, he named it Burwell, to honor his Pennsylvania-born wife and her family. He'd been involved in several building projects, and naming it Burwell avoided confusion with his Atkin Hotel, which was also on Gay Street, a few blocks away.

So, gentlemen, if your wife has a pretty cool last name, consider the Burwell example.