Today marks the discovery of the X-Ray . . . and a post that reveals the story behind A View to Hugh mystery from 2008. On this day in 1895, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen was the first person to observe X-rays. This important scientific discovery ultimately led to the Hugh Morton photograph seen above, cropped as it appeared in the Wilmington Morning Star on March 31st, 1954. (You can see the full-negative version with its descriptive information by clicking on the photograph.)
Back in April 2008, Elizabeth Hull included this photograph in a Who Am I? post for the Azalea Festival. Lots of comments from readers eventually led Elizabeth to discover that the woman was Neva Jane Langley, Miss America 1953. One commenter speculated that Langley and Grady Cole might be holding an X-ray related to a tuberculosis display at the 1954 Azalea festival.
Today’s science anniversary prompted me to search for the word “X-ray” in the online collection of Morton photographs. Two similar images of Cole and Langley were the only hits, so I turned to the blog post from four years ago. The unresolved speculation in the comments about tuberculosis and that the event could be from the 1954 festival led me to the microfilm room and the Wilmington newspaper for March 1954.
Langley arrived in Wilmington at Bluethenthal Field on Friday, March 26th around 5:00 p.m. Hugh Morton and Grady Cole formed the welcoming committee, with Morton at the wheel of the car that whisked away the reigning beauty queen from the airport. The next day, Langley was to participate in the Azalea Festival Coronation Ball, and Cole was to be its master of ceremonies, so it was a logical choice for Cole to be her official greeter.
Saturday evening was rainy at Wrightsville Beach, where the coronation ball was to take place at the Lumina Ballroom. Here’s the Sunday Star-News account of something that happened that night:
Cole’s Sir Walter Act Ends In Pain
Grady Cole—”Mr. Dixie” of Radio Station WBT Charlotte—did Sir Walter Raleigh one better with Miss America at the Azalea Festival Coronation Ball last night and was in the hospital today with what is believed to be a dislocated vertebra.
Hugh Morton, co-chairman of the festival’s invitations committee, said that during the downpour at Wrightsville Beach Cole carried Neva Jane Langley of Lakeland, Fla.—Miss America of 1953—over puddles of water and up the stairs of Lumina Ballroom. Miss Langley was an honorary celebrity at the crowning of the Azalea Festival Queen—movie and television actress Ella Raines—by Gen. Mark Clark.
Cole carried on his duties as master of ceremonies of the Coronation Ball, then was rushed by the highway patrol to James Walker Memorial Hospital. Morton said it is believed that Cole dislocated a vertebra with his gallantry.
A few days after the festival, the photograph above ran uncredited on the back page of the March 31st Wilmington Morning Star with the following caption:
POSITIVE PROOF — Grady Cole Radios’s “Mr. Dixie,” of WBT, Charlotte and the CBS Network, is shown holding an X-ray of his spine, which was injured at the Azalea Festival Coronation Ball Saturday night when Grady carried Miss Neva Jane Langley, “Miss America of 1953,” across a mud puddle in a heavy downpour of rain. Miss Langley is shown holding the X-ray which revealed that Cole sustained what doctors call “a compressed fracture of his sixth vertebra.” Doctors told Cole he could “never lift a pretty girl again,” and he philosophically replied, “we all have to quit sometime and I’m glad I quit with the best.”
Where in Wilmington did Morton take the photograph? On the right side of the full image, a few business signs are visible. One appears to be for the Cape Fear Dining Room, which was in the Cape Fear Hotel at 121–131 Chestnut Street. Today the building is home to the Cape Fear Hotel Apartments. In the background on the opposite side of the street, the shorter building on the left is the United States Post Office. The building on the right is the Southern Building, which sat on the southwest corner of Chestnut and Front streets.