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Susan Roullier’s “South Mobile: 1699-2018” is a richly researched, locally focused, oral and photographic history of the area from the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley to Dog River.
Local photographer Susan Roullier spent six years on a paperback labor of love titled, simply, “South Mobile: 1699-2018.” This straightforward title encompasses a photographic volume that is charming, moving and incredibly detailed.
It is like a photo album for a part of the city people don’t focus on as much as downtown, but that means a great deal to a great many. For these folks and anyone interested in local history, “South Mobile: 1699-2018” captures a quaint and richly storied area in an idiosyncratic, anecdotal way that is truly extraordinary.
The book is organized by history, places, events and people, and you can read it straight through or browse for topics of particular interest. Maybe, like me, you had a grandparent who worked at Brookley Field; this extensive chapter will shed light and give context to a fascinating time in a deeply local story, brimming, as in virtually every page of the book, with historical photos.
Other highlights include a number of nightclubs, bars and yacht clubs, from Radio Ranch and Elvis, The Beachcomber and Happy Landing to The Buccaneer Yacht Club and Alba Club. It’s so richly evocative you can’t help but wish you had been there, and if you actually were there, I can’t imagine what a goldmine this book would be.
All of this work begs the question, how did Roullier capture these stories? The process took six years of extensive and hands-on research and, according to Roullier, “We would spend every Wednesday together for years tracking down information. We spent days in the USA McCall Archives, the History Museum of Mobile, Mobile Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Library, Mobile Municipal Archives, public school libraries and churches. We dug through old Press-Register articles, and combed through old maps looking for anything interesting … Sometimes casual conversations would bring gold. Then deciding what to include was difficult. I struggled with the question ‘Who am I to decide what is important?’”
This humble question clearly informed a meaningful experience for the author and now for readers. Says Roullier, “I met Harriet Dykes at a community meeting. She has lived here since 1949 and took me to some of the people who lived here longest. We talked to a lot of people. We would listen, take notes and check out the things they said. Sometimes I would literally find myself crying while typing the stories. There is a sadness, but a sweetness to them, and they are worth remembering, I believe.”
Spend some time in these carefully transcribed pages and you will find them worth remembering, too. I think any region in the world would richly benefit from such a locally focused, oral and photographic history such as this one, and we are so lucky that South Mobile, defined here as the land area from the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, south of Mobile, to Dog River, was the subject of so much love and hard work. This book is fascinating, valuable and an absolutely unmissable gift for anyone.
This 265-page paperback book is available to order from Amazon for $18.95 and, ironically, it is those who might not necessarily know how to use the internet who would most love it. You owe it to them to get a copy.
Copies are also available at Page & Palette, 32 S. Section St. in Fairhope, and Chez Giselle Hair Studio, 54 Upham St. in Mobile.