The Wilds of Alaska

Back when I was working on the Morton slides from 1975, I sorted over 350 he took on a trip to Alaska. This was the most daunting and stressful sets of slides I have yet to organize — it appeared that they were thrown into the air and then put back into the boxes however they were picked up. I had all those slides spread out on a big light table for over a week, and there are still quite a few 1975 Alaska “orphans.”

There were some nice scenic shots of Denali and glaciers, but mostly what I remember are endless miles of pipeline (related to Williams Brothers operations, led by Morton’s good friend John Williams, pictured below).

Recently, I came to a batch slides from October 1986 and July 1987 labeled Alaska, and I immediately got a headache. Memories of the pipeline made me think of quitting. It didn’t help when I tried to determine if Morton had photographed caribou or reindeer (for those of you who don’t know, they are the same thing).

Luckily, most of this batch has been better organized and labeled. They appear to be pictures from a trip Hugh took with wildlife artist Richard Evans Younger (top photo), the subject of a series of Morton films. We’re not certain who the cameraman is (see picture below), any ideas? There are film reels from the trip downstairs in storage, still to be cataloged; some of these are labeled “McNeil River Bears” and “Wildlife Artist: Younger Alaska.”

I think Morton must have gotten a bit spoiled by his ability to cuddle and wrestle the bears at Grandfather Mountain. I don’t think the bears in the wilds of Alaska are going to react the same as Mildred, Jane, or Punkin. But this didn’t seem to stop him from getting some amazing pictures of grizzlies at McNeil Falls.

McNeil River State Game Refuge and Sanctuary becomes quite populated in July and August–with bears, not tourists. Every year these bears migrate to the falls to stuff themselves with dog salmon. There are no roads to the sanctuary and visitors must apply months in advance for a chance in the lottery. Only about 250 people get to see this spectacle each year, with a limit of ten at a time. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, up to 72 bears have been seen here at one time. I count 14 in the picture below!

Morton was a well-traveled man. I’ve shared with you the splendors of Hawaii and Alaska. Maybe before my assistanship is finished I’ll show you Arizona, California, or Florida. Or perhaps China, Japan, the Holy Land, New Zealand and Australia, Italy, or Austria? Let me know where you would like to travel next. Cozumel is beautiful this time of year.

Robert W. Scott, 1929-2009

Last Friday, Robert W. Scott, governor of North Carolina from 1969-1973, died in Alamance County, NC. He was 79. (See this memorial post from our partner blog, NC Miscellany).

As one of Hugh Morton’s many gubernatorial friends, he was photographed throughout the years in various outfits, scenes, and positions (you’ll see). In nearly all of the photographs, he wore a smile and often traded handshakes with many of North Carolina’s most prominent citizens.

Gov. Bob Scott and Hugh Morton shaking hands, at/near Grandfather Mountain?, circa 1971

Here Scott is administering one of these handshakes and laying on that trademark smile with none other than Hugh Morton, much to the crowd’s satisfaction.

Scott, famously the son of North Carolina Governor and U.S. Senator W. Kerr Scott, was one of the younger governors to have served in North Carolina, and presented the photographers who happened to be following him with photo opportunities a less vibrant occupant of the office would not.

Hugh Morton photographed Scott often, and featured him in a chapter of his 1988 book with Ed Rankin, Making a Difference in North Carolina (pages 222-227). As Morton/Rankin write, “Scott, a husky young man with boundless energy, enjoyed traveling across North Carolina and meeting its people. . . he had the ability to mix and mingle with average people and learned a great deal from their opinions and suggestions.”

Here Scott is mixing with some local young men outside a shop in Watauga County. Notice how he is able to blend in — one might even go so far as to say that he is ‘Hangin’ Around,’ in direct violation of the sign.

Gov. Bob Scott with young men outside Watauga County store, circa early 1970s

The picture below of Scott and a St. Bernard is another example of Scott’s youthful exuberance. Yet, this photograph also presents a minor archival mystery: according to an obituary of Boone-area photographer George Flowers, it was Flowers who took this famous image (or a very similar one), and was allowed by Scott to use it in print “as long as everyone knew it was a gag and if it was not run on a Sunday.” This is great context, but it doesn’t explain why the negative for this picture is in the Morton collection.

Gov. Bob Scott lying on his back beneath a Saint Bernard carrying a whiskey keg, circa early 1970s

The following photograph (by Hugh Morton) of Scott signing copies of the contested photograph lends credence to the notion that Morton did take the photo, or at least had a strong connection to it through Scott. Perhaps multiple photographers were on the scene at the time? Whoever took the picture(s), though, they captured and preserved for posterity the accessibility and warmth of Scott’s personal and political style.

Gov. Bob Scott autographing a photo of himself with a St. Bernard, circa early 1970s

Birds with “grit and saucy swagger”

Men weighing fighting cock, probably NC, circa late 1940s-early 1950s

“It is not a bad sport, legal or illegal. At a time like this when the ‘inferiority complex’ is stalking around loose seeking whom it may devour, to see a bird, stuck and stabbed until almost bloodless, rise in his might and make one more supreme effort that finishes his enemy is a useful life’s lesson.”

This stunning quote comes from Bishop Joseph B. Cheshire’s 1930 memoir titled Nonnulla: Memories, Stories, Traditions, More or Less Authentic (links to a fully-digitized version). Since I paid brief homage to turkeys in the last post, I thought I would shift over to chickens for this one, specifically gamecocks. A small cache of cockfighting images in the Morton collection piqued my interest, so I did a bit of research into the history of this illicit “sport” in North Carolina.

A pair of articles from The State magazine from 1953 (the July 11 and September 5 issues) shed some light, leading me to the Cheshire book quoted above and to another 1949 memoir by Paul B. Barringer entitled Natural Bent, both of which include fascinating accounts of and opinions about cockfighting. (Although Morton’s cockfighting photos were taken around 1953 or perhaps a few years earlier, they were not used in either of the State articles).

Cockfighting, probably North Carolina, circa late 1940s-early 1950s

The sport is as old as the state itself.  From “Cockfighting: an Early Entertainment in North Carolina,” a 1965 North Carolina Historical Review article by B. W. C. Roberts, I learned that the first published mention of NC cockfighting dates from 1737, and that Sir Walter Raleigh himself “enjoyed a favorable reputation as a cocker.” I also discovered that “the owners of cocks considered them treasures and bred [them]…as if they were thoroughbred horses.”

Attaching a gaff to a fighting cock's shank, probably NC, circa late 1940s-early 1950s

Roberts provides us with the unpleasant detail that “steel-pointed, razor-sharp gaffs, varying in length from an inch-and-a-quarter to over three inches, were fastened to the cocks’ shanks.” And as we can see from the cropped Morton image below, the fights, or “mains,” were not just entertainment for men, but for women and children as well.

Crowd watching a cockfight, probably North Carolina, circa late 1940s-early 1950s

Judging from these various accounts and images, it seems that cockfighting practice changed little from the 18th century through the mid-20th. Although outlawed for quite some time, the practice has obviously continued for centuries, and remains a problem (as evidenced by Governor Easley’s 2005 signing of a bill to make cockfighting punishable as a felony).

Does anyone know the story behind these extraordinarily vivid Morton images? Where and when were they taken, and for what purpose?

Turkey and Football

Turkeys in snow
I have often heard it said that turkey and football are the best parts of Thanksgiving. Hugh Morton loved to photograph both of them, so I’m sharing a few prize shots with you in honor of this week’s holiday.

The next image was identified as one of “Hugh Morton’s Favorite Ten” in the 10/1/1968 issue of The State magazine (along with this one and this one). The text that accompanied the image is included below (note that I cropped it roughly as it appeared in The State, on page 10).

Bill Dudley (UVA #35) touchdown run, UNC-UVA football game, Kenan Stadium, 11/20/1941

Morton’s most significant sports action picture is probably this one of All-America Bill Dudley running 80 yards in Kenan Stadium at Chapel Hill in November 1941 for what some University of Virginia alumni say was the greatest individual performance ever given by a “Cavalier” athlete. The picture was taken for the “Charlotte News,” and Sports Editor Burke Davis titled it “I’m coming, Virginia.”

Let me introduce myself…

My name is Amber, and I’m the newest student assistant at work on the Morton collection. One of the projects I’m working on is with what we call the “Machine Prints.” In the 1990s-early 2000s, Hugh Morton sent many of his rolls of film to local drug and grocery stores to be developed.  He would then look through those negatives and decide which ones he wanted to make prints of.  Unfortunately that meant that many negatives were separated from the rest of their roll, and quite often, the prints in an envelope don’t have matching negatives (or any negatives at all!).

Morton did label most of the Machine Print envelopes, but those labels don’t always match the pictures.  The first envelope I opened was of a game in the Dean Dome, but in the middle was a random picture of Prince Charles.  (Apparently it was taken at the Biltmore Estate, where he came to learn more about preserving historic structures—see Hugh Morton’s North Carolina, page 127).

Elizabeth had already done a preliminary sort with general categories such as Basketball, Grandfather Mountain, and Nature, and I then tried to narrow them a little more.  The first one I tackled was basketball and was able to sort those by date.  However, many envelopes were simply labeled “NCAA ’94,” and it was up to me to figure out which teams were playing.

UNC’s Vince Carter dunks against UC Berkeley, 1997

This photo stayed with me as I was going through the many others.  I was amazed at how #15 was defying gravity.  The sheer physics of what he is doing is incomprehensible to me.  This was in a roll labeled “2/98 NC State.”  However, the visitors bench sure doesn’t look red. According to Hugh Morton’s North Carolina, this is Vince Carter and they are playing Cal Berkley (p. 199), which probably would have put it during the Nov. 22, 1997 game at the Dean Dome.  At the June “Photo ID Party,” Fred Kiger said this was Morton’s favorite sports photo he ever took.

This next picture was in an envelope labeled “Groundhog Ice Cream.”  You can see the chocolate smeared on her nose.  But, what is the back story on this?  Is this from Grandfather Mountain?  Some February 2nd tradition?  If anyone knows, please fill me in.  The curiosity is killing me.

Groundhog eating ice cream cone, circa 1990s

I am currently in the middle of going through all the Grandfather Mountain pictures.  What an amazing place.  The sweeping vistas are beautiful, and that Swinging Bridge—I don’t know if I am brave enough to cross it.  I just finished with the Fall pictures and the striking reds and yellows against green grass and bright blue sky are so perfectly captured, and the pictures of bears with different families and local celebrities are a crack-up.

Grandfather Mountain in fall with golf course in foreground, circa 1990s

This has definitely made me want to visit Grandfather soon, to see the places depicted in these pictures and try to capture them with my own camera (although I know they can never be nearly as stunning). Hey, mom and dad, what are we doing for Thanksgiving?  They have golf there!

Sad news from Grandfather

My brother forwarded me an announcement from the Watauga Democrat that one of Grandfather Mountain’s bears, Elizabeth, had to be euthanized on Wednesday due to increasing pain from arthritis.

Mildred the bear with cubs Elizabeth and Walter on "adoption day," 4/14/1984

Sorting through Hugh Morton’s photos, Elizabeth the bear cub always sticks in my head, not only because of her fantastic name but also because she and her brother Walter had a fantastic story. Brought to Grandfather from Ohio as cubs, they were unexpectedly adopted and nursed by Mildred, in a year when she had no other cubs (according to Laurie Mitchell Jakobsen’s book The Animals of Grandfather Mountain). All three are shown above, on “adoption day,” April 14, 1984.

It’s perhaps a funny coincidence that Elizabeth the bear and I were both named after Queen Elizabeth I (and Walter, I suspect, after Sir Walter Raleigh). And it seems we had even more in common—in the Watauga Democrat article, habitat staff said that Elizabeth “loved to eat and was sweet and laid back.” The former part of that statement definitely applies to me (and the latter as well, I’d like to think)!

Smokies to celebrate 75th

Yesterday’s NC Miscellany post alerted me to the upcoming 75th anniversary (1934-2009) of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They’ve set up an interactive website to help celebrate. I was going to upload a Hugh Morton photo to their nifty “Family Album“—until I read their Photo Release agreement, that is. (Somehow I don’t think the library would appreciate my agreeing to those terms!).

So, I’m offering an independent, A View to Hugh tribute to the GSMNP. A cropped version of the following photo appeared on the cover of the October 1, 1968 issue of The State magazine, referencing an article by Jane Corey called “Hugh Morton’s Favorite Ten.” Included below is the text that accompanied the photo in The State.

Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, circa 1950s

Among Hugh Morton’s 10 favorite photos—of the thousands he has made—is this shot of a mother bear and three cubs walking across a road in the Great Smokies. It is a once-in-a-lifetime picture, says Hugh, because any time bears show up on a highway, a crowd quickly forms. “I know I will never again have the chance at a shot like this without people showing.”

Endangered Species Day

Just a quick post to acknowledge that today (May 16) is Endangered Species Day, “an opportunity for people young and old to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions that we can take to help protect our nation’s disappearing wildlife and last remaining open space,” according to the Endangered Species Coalition.

As we saw in the previous post about Venus flytraps, Hugh Morton was concerned about the preservation of native and rare species, especially later in his life. His greatest impact in this area was on Grandfather Mountain—Morton donated and sold thousands of acres to The Nature Conservancy, establishing a permanent, protected habitat for endangered plants and animals. (In 1992, the mountain was recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve).

[Azalea] Vaseyi [on Grandfather Mountain], 1955

Grandfather is home to several imperiled and rare species, including types of spiders, turtles, salamanders, flying squirrels, peregrine falcons, Heller’s Blazing Star (a vascular plant), and Azalea Vaseyi (pictured above—according to Sherpa Guides, Grandfather has the largest population of Vaseyi in the world).

Rare Bats [on Grandfather Mountain], Spring 1984

This negative was in an envelope labeled “Rare Bats, Spring 1984.” These critters could be Virginia big-eared bats, an endangered species found only on Grandfather Mountain and in one other location, the Cranberry Iron Mine. They could also be Northern Long-eared Bats or Eastern Small-footed Bats, which are both on the list as well. (I’m unable to tell from this image whether these bats have ears that are unusually big and/or long, or if their feet are exceptionally small, but at any rate, I’m glad they have a home on Grandfather).

“Of fine nose and beautiful voice”

A bell went off in my head when I read Eileen McGrath’s February 11 post on our sister blog, North Carolina Miscellany, about the official North Carolina State Dog, the Plott Hound. Evidently 2008 is the first year the breed has been admitted to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. A Newsday article provides some hound background: “Developed in the mountains of North Carolina by two German brothers who lent the breed their name, this big-game hunter was bred for baying boar and treeing bear. A true hunting hound, the Plott has a striking brindle coat, and is known for being intelligent, tenacious—and vocal.”

Strangely, Hugh Morton was known for those very same qualities (aside from the brindle coat). Seeing as how the Plott is the official NC hound, the only breed known to have originated in the state, and hails from the mountains, you might guess that Morton would have photographed it . . . And, you would be right.

Unidentified man with Plott Hounds on a bear hunt in Lake Waccamaw, NC, circa early 1950s

This gorgeous image is from a set of negatives labeled “Plott Hounds— Lake Waccamaw Bear Hunt.” My guess is they date from the late 1940s or early 1950s; the man is unidentified. Please let us know if anyone can provide additional context.

The hound group competed on Tuesday at Westminster, and I regret to report that the top prize went to an upstart beagle named Uno, who then went on to become the first beagle to win best in show. (The Plott didn’t even place). I guess recognition for this magnificent NC hound will come in stages.

Bear wrestling

In a new article about the Morton photographs from the Fall 2007 issue of UNC Friends of the Library’s Windows Magazine, entitled “Capturing Seven Decades of Life in North Carolina,” author Ginger Travis compares processing the Morton collection to “wrestling a bear.” I find this particularly funny because for the past few days I have been sorting through images of—you guessed it—BEARS!

Black Bear cub at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Old Well, April 1972One set of negatives caught my attention early on—a series featuring an adorable black bear cub up to hijinks at various North Carolina landmarks (Biltmore, the State Capitol, the NC Botanical Gardens, Orton Plantation, etc.). Since these film rolls were cut up and scattered throughout the collection, with no identification, I was a bit mystified as to their context. Did Hugh Morton just toss a cub in the car and drive around the state so he could take pictures of it? If so, um. . . why?

Black Bear cub at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, NC, April 1972Then, the other day, I came across some of the bear cub negatives in an envelope labeled “Negatives–Zoo Trip with Little Bear–4-72,” in Morton’s hand. So, I’m guessing that Grandfather Mountain gave this bear cub to the North Carolina Zoo in April 1972, and these photos were taken on the (somewhat circuitous) trip to deposit him/her there. Can anyone confirm or deny that? Were the images used in some sort of promotional campaign?

Black Bear cub with stone lion at Biltmore House, Asheville, NC, April 1972