“My grandfather on my father’s side owned Monte’s Drive-in restaurant across the street from Leahy’s Motel. My brother and cousins worked at the restaurant every summer. My grandfather and Mr. Leahy were friends and after working all day we walked across the street to Leahy’s to go swimming. My grandfather on my mother’s side is Frank Balton as in Balton sign company who brought neon to Memphis.” -Randal Balton Robinson
It shouldn’t be any wonder why Leahy’s Trailer Park produces so many memories around the city. Since the early 1900s the 13 acres of ground served as a temporary and permanent living residence for so many people. Yet, when Caitlin and I chose to make Leahy’s our first landmark of discovery it was still a surprise just how much would be uncovered the day we stepped foot on the park. The office, while dated, was warm with spirit. Betty Davis, one of their long time residents but not to be confused with THE Betty Davis, sat inside and spoke of all her fondest Elvis memories. In fact, she wrote a book entitled I Got Ya Elvis, I Got Ya! She claimed Elvis read the manuscript and got a kick out of it. That Elvis.. sigh…
The manager told us the park had seen a number of famous visitors such as Lassie the dog and the production crew of Great Balls of Fire who used Leahy’s property for site shooting. Rumor had it at one point regular visitations were made to the park’s bordello by Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly, perhaps for a little de-stressing before a trip to the hot springs in Arkansas.
But even after our little trip to the Leahy’s office, more stories came and still come to surface. JoAnne Jenson was the first to take a dip in the once existing pool. It was November and a time she can recall well because of how cold it was. Love between her and a fellow she met at Leahy’s ignited like a roasted marshmallow to a campfire. (Read about it in the Leahy’s chapter of out book, Rated G.) And grammy winner, Charlie Musselwhite recalled of Leahy’s, “Itinerant-type people were always passing through.There were carnival people, too. And there was a lot of music.”
Perhaps the most well-known and famous connection to Leahy’s is a man by the name of James Jones who completed his novel, From Here to Eternity in August of 1950 while living at the park. Not having much money, Leahy gave Mr. Jones occasional jobs hauling trailers for other trailer court residents. The book Published in 1951 and won the National Book Award in 1952. It was also ranked 62nd on the “100 Best Novels” list by the Modern Library board.
Just last year, the park, still owned by the Leahy family, claimed they were not able to pay the utility bill owing MLGW around $50,000 which was said to be the result of an undiscovered water leak. While many of Leahy’s residents moved out, around 20-15 were able to stay thanks to new ownership. Harold Crye purchased the property and has plans to create a newly developed community. Currently, they are in the process of tearing out the old and installing a new sewage system. Ronnie Baer, the new manager, says they plan to build about 100 new units and tells us to come back in November when renovations are expected to be complete. I asked him if there were any plans on building a pool out front. He smiled but shook his head “no” suggesting it would be a bit much to have to keep up with.
Though the family name has departed from the grounds and all signs have been removed, we’re happy to say there still continues to live a 13 acre place of warmth on Summer to produce memories for so many Memphis residents.