By Deborah Burkett
Research is seldom conducted along a straight line. Many times as I begin to write a column with specific goals I often find myself pulled in multiple directions. As I travel along these divergent pathways I discover interesting side stories with historical relevance. Such is the case here.
While working on my current book about East Texas women (1830-1950) I've discovered many who lived a hard scrabble existence while others had a more gilded life, but all were spirited individuals who made a difference. I've researched stories of girls and women who worked in basket factories, who packed tomatoes in sheds. I've found beauty queens and models as well.
In this column I want you to meet two women who came to light as I studied the decade of the 1930's. Traveling down an off beaten path, I found Janice Jarratt in the state archives. I knew of Frances Carolyn Wood. She had been a Tomato Queen in the 30s's but I had no real in-depth information until her daughters, Carolyn Lesh and Mary Dublin, emailed me.
Then I certainly wasn't prepared to learn that Miss Jarratt and Miss Wood had crossed paths at the Jacksonville Tomato Festival. In fact both women were honored, their photographs published in newspapers throughout the state and beyond.
The year was 1936, Roosevelt was President. The Great Depression lingered on with unemployment at 16.9% and Hitler's Germany continued to show the world it was not scared of anyone.
In East Texas oil was discovered, festivals were held-Rose and Tomato-all done with great pageantry. These activities took the edge off the Great Depression. It was also the year Texas celebrated its Centennial.
Born March 25, 1920, Miss Frances Carolyn Wood graduated both Jacksonville High and Lon Morris College. She married Philip Pavletich, was devoted to family, church, civic clubs and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
But in 1936 at 16 years of age Frances was the 3rd Tomato Queen.
Miss Wood was crowned by Col. Ernest O. Thompson, Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. At her coronation were tomato princesses from Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas; as well as from Rusk, Frankston, Reklaw, Alto, Troup, Livingston, Houston, Lufkin, Huntsville, Palestine and more. In fact, princesses from 35 cities were in Jacksonville taking part in the ceremony.
Reportedly 15,000 plus attended the 4 day "Tomato Show" also called the International Tomato Festival and the National Tomato Festival. The schedule included a band concert and dedication service on Sunday. Monday was the day for the Queen's Coronation, a tea for the visiting princesses, the pageant presentation "Romance of the Love Apple" and the Queen's Ball. On Wednesday one highlight was the Folk Festival which officially opened the New Amphitheatre in Love's Lookout Park. In town, visitors were invited to inspect the packing sheds where tomatoes were being routed to all parts of the nation.
The next woman, Janice Jarratt, was known as the "Sweetheart of the Texas Centennial". Initially I saw her publicity photo taken at the Spanish Governor's Palace in San Antonio. The caption simply said she lived in San Antonio, graduated from high school there in 1931. But I knew the Jarratt family from the early days of the tomato business in Cherokee County.
It took a while but I made the connection. Janice was actually born in Jacksonville on October 19, 1914. Her father was C.D. Jarratt of Craft who shipped the first carload of tomatoes from our area June 14, 1897.
I soon found many more photographs of Janice. Of her and Clark Gable in a New York night club with the caption "the most photographed model in the world." She gained wide attention as the "Lucky Strike" cigarette girl. Her image was captured by the Los Angeles Times as she arrived there in 1936 from San Antonio. The paper noted Miss Jarratt's luggage included a rifle in a leather tooled case. She was in town for a movie contract with Universal Studios.
But the most intriguing photo announced that Janice Jarratt gets her G-Man, Melvin Purvis. The two of them were shown celebrating the announcement of their engagement.
Melvin Purvis was an FBI agent noted for leading manhunts that tracked down outlaws Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger.
They never married and the details of their broken engagement is really something! I'll save that story for another time.
Suffice to say, research is never boring. Jump in, there's so much to learn about East Texas, especially Cherokee County!
•Miss Wood, 1936 Tomato Queen.