With so little ephemera from May Patterson Goodrum’s life, one is often left wondering about the milestone events in this woman’s personal history. Two items that captured my attention from her youth are a photo of a dinner taken at Hotel Biltmore the evening before her marriage to James Jefferson Goodrum in New York City on February 20, 1926, and their passport issued on February 10, 1926 presumably documenting their honeymoon trip. At the age of 35, it was May’s first foray into married life. Her fiancé, known as Jim or JJ by his friends, had been widowed ten years prior. Family oral history tells us that May refused to marry JJ until she’d repaid her father’s debts from a failed stone-cutting business. She’d worked most of her young adult life to support herself and her mother Mollie Huff Patterson, opting out of continuing her education to work as a shop girl in the cosmetics and pharmacy departments of Jacob’s and Rich’s.
In the photo, May is seated in the left middle ground, surrounded by her mother on her left and JJ on her right. She appears prim and somewhat ill at ease the evening before her wedding set to take place at 5:30 pm at the Church of the Transfiguration, also known as the Little Church Around the Corner on East 29th Street. One wouldn’t single her out of the surrounding people as the bride-to-be with her sedate dark satin evening gown and long string of pearls. While not everyone has been identified in the photo, Thomas K. Glenn, President of the Atlanta-Lowry National Bank and JJ’s best man, and his soon-to-be bride, Elizabeth Ewing Barnum Woodhouse are seated in the left foreground—TK looking boldly out at the viewer while Elizabeth looks to her left toward the groom. John and Mary Goddard are seated to the left of Mollie. Ernest Woodruff, Chairman of the Board of the Georgia Trust Company and principal broker in acquisition of Coca-Cola, is distinguished by his rather informal dress in an everyday necktie. Clearly JJ’s close friends were Atlanta’s elite; a far cry from May’s social circle. Ironically, the couple who appear the happiest, smiling and holding hands while looking directly at the camera, remain unidentified.
What we can be certain of is that May was unaccustomed to this life of luxury. In fact, this shop girl probably never traveled outside of Georgia. Perhaps she felt like a fish out of water now attended to by the peers of her not-too-distant past; or her impending trip on a luxury ocean liner across the Atlantic and three-month tour of Europe and the Middle East weighed on her mind. What we do know is that this trip ignited a lifelong love of travel in her soul.
The passport tells a tale of exotic locales mixed with the regular standbys; England, France, Italy and Spain along with Monaco, Algiers and Egypt. Some date stamps are too illegible to read; others are clear –entry into Monaco on March 20 and Naples on April 9. The 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter kicked off the cultural phenomenon known as Egyptomania which by 1923 had swept the United States. It’s little wonder that May and JJ decided to tour Egypt, doubtlessly exploring Cairo and the surrounding area of Giza with its mysterious Valley of the Kings, Pyramids and Great Sphinx. What must this woman have thought as she looked out over the surrounding desert landscape so different from her home? Did she and JJ have their photo taken with the obligatory camel and the Pyramid of Khufu looming in the background? Might they have spent a day gliding down the Nile on a felucca looking for exotic wildlife-hippos, gazelles and the ever-present threat of the Nile crocodile? With no extant photo album or travelogue, we can only hypothesize what sights they beheld. By early April, they landed in Naples, perhaps traveling to Pompeii to view the ancient ruins and recent eruption of Mt. Vesuvius before making their way to England and eventually boarding the sumptuous Cunard ocean liner Berengaria for the six-day return trip home.
Sadly, JJ and May’s dreams of future travel together were cut short. JJ was diagnosed with cancer and passed away two years after their honeymoon, leaving May to carry on without him. But JJ’s desire to care for May included a marital trust, ensuring her financial stability and allowing her to continue her love of travel with family and friends throughout the rest of her days.