Saved by his camera

"Morton Wounded with Photo Team," circa March 1945

Hugh Morton, on right wearing sling, with Conway “Rosebud” Spanton (on cot), and other soldiers in a field hospital in the Philippines during World War II.

On the fifth anniversary of Hugh Morton’s passing (June 1st, 2006, funeral June 9th), today’s post is a remembrance of March 18th, 1945—the day Morton’s camera probably saved his life.  On that day, Morton peered through the Speed Graphic 4×5 camera that he held up to his face, about to photograph American soldiers attacking a Japanese “pillbox” bunker with flamethrowers,  Suddenly the mountainside before him exploded with a horrific force that propelled Morton down a slope, wounding him in twenty places, the camera ruined.

Morton later received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, the citation for which read, in part, that Morton’s wartime photography placed him almost

exclusively with elements in contact with the enemy, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire on many occasions in order to make exceptionally fine close-up pictures. [His] superior professional skill and utter disregard for his personal safety enabled him to depict the heroism of the front line soldier . . . [and] that his courage contributed greatly to the morale of nearby troops.”

Thankfully the loss of one camera allowed Morton to hold many more during a long lifetime, cameras that exposed more than 200,000 future photographs from the eye and soul of Hugh Morton.

Islands of the Pacific revisited

Hugh Morton in Manila Chinese Cemetery

Hugh Morton with camera, Manila Chinese Cemetery, Philppines, circa March 1945.

During the Memorial Day weekend, I looked online through the numerous photographs made by Hugh Morton during his tour of duty in the South Pacific during World War II as a photographer (still and moving image) with the United States Army 161st Signal Photographic Company.  The idea was to have a military post related to the holiday.  I must confess that the exercise consumed the greater portion of my holiday weekend, but it was enjoyable and educational!  It also was rewarding because my journey through the collection, using the geographical subject heading “Islands of the Pacific,” led to several corrections with some interesting new identifications.  Unfortunately it has taken some time to update the catalog records, plus some of the master scans were “M. I. A.” so I needed to rescan those negatives.  That extra work meant that this post got pushed into June—and there’s enough material to merit more than one post.

The delay turns out not to be a such bad thing, however, because significant events in the war in the South Pacific took place during the month of June 1945—particularly on Luzon that lead to the liberation of the Philippines, declared on July 5th.  Ironically it was through that country’s two national heroes from the Spanish-American War—Andrés Bonifacio, and José Rizal—that I was able to identify the actual locations depicted several photographs.

Our first stop on this virtual expedition, however, is 4,000 miles southeast of Manila: Nouméa, New Caledonia.

Noumea, New Caledonia

Nouméa with Mount Dore in the distance, New Caledonia, circa late 1943–1944.

Many of the “misidentified” images are from a batch of negatives that Morton originally labeled “Noumea, New Caledonia.”  Nouméa is the capitol of New Caledonia, a country formed from a group of islands that are more than 900 miles east of Australia.  Nouméa is located on the southwestern coast near the southern tip of a long slender island called Grande Terre and situated on a protected harbor with a small island, Ile Nou, just offshore.  In 1942 the Allies needed to relocate the center of their Pacific operations from Auckland, New Zealand to a place closer to the “front.”  New Caledonia had been a French colony since the mid 19th century, and Nouméa was significantly closer to the action.  During the summer and autumn of 1942, the United States Navy and Army constructed extensive facilities at Nouméa, and on 8 November 1942 Nouméa became the official headquarters of the Allied Commander of the South Pacific.  New Caledonia also became home to many USO performances by Bob Hope and others, which Morton photographed in 1944.

When the army shipped members of the 161st Army Signal Corp to the Pacific, including Hugh Morton sometime in late 1943 or early 1944, they likely landed first in Nouméa.  Above is a scenic photograph by Morton of Nouméa with Mount Dore in the distance, scanned from the original negative with a U.S. Army Signal Corp identification number 22-16 along the left-hand edge.  Another scan in the online collection is from a cropped print.  The snapshot photograph below, with Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in the background, is the only other positively identified view made Nouméa. The original 2.5 x 3.5-inch negative is in the Morton collection, but it has not been scanned.

Street scene, Noumea, New Caledonia

So far, these are the only two images positively identified as Nouméa.  When Elizabeth Hull processed World War II material in the Morton collection, she made a note in the finding aid alerting users that many of the images in that the batch of negatives may not be of Nouméa.  Many of those negatives can now be assigned their proper place on the map: the Philippines, where Morton’s military service concluded in the spring of 1945.  The next post (or posts) on this trip back to the South Pacific will be a reflection of Morton’s tour of duty: “island hopping” our way to the Philippines.

Charlie and Sarah and Life After Football

In an interview with Tom Sieg of the Winston-Salem Journal in September 1987, UNC’s great All-America football star Charlie Justice said, “I’d like to be remembered more for what I’ve done for humanity and the state of North Carolina than for my athletic abilities.”

On this day, the day that Justice would have turned 87 years old, Morton Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at some of the many ways Charlie and wife Sarah carried out his wish.

Charlie and Sarah Justice, and Norma and Doak Walker at Airlie Gardens during the 1950 Azalea Festival The drive down Interstate 85 from Greensboro to Lexington took only about 50 minutes, but it was long enough for me to let my mind wonder back to a time in 1984 when Charlie Justice came to a sporting goods store in Winston-Salem to sign books and tapes for the Charlotte Treatment Center.  Many of the folks who came to greet the UNC football legend brought treasured souvenirs for him to sign.  One man brought a newspaper from Bainbridge Maryland when Charlie was playing service ball.  Another brought a 1948 issue of Varsity magazine, an issue that featured a Hugh Morton photograph on the cover.  The man opened the magazine and pointed to a picture of Charlie standing on a street corner in Chapel Hill talking with two young boys.  “Do you remember that,” he said to Justice, “that’s me.”  The parade of admirers and memories continued for a couple of hours.

I was brought back to reality by the announcer on the radio saying, “go out and see UNC football great Charlie ‘Choo Choo’ Justice this afternoon at Frazier’s Bookstore.  He’ll be there all afternoon.”

When I arrived at Frazier’s in downtown Lexington, the line snaked all the way through the store.  Seated at a table in the back were Justice, author Bob Terrell, and Sarah Justice, Charlie’s wife of 53 years.  It was not unusual for Sarah to be there.  She had been there for him since their high school days at Lee Edwards High in Asheville.  In the stands at Kenan, Sarah could be seen in her special good-luck hat during the late 1940s.  She was among the 88,885 fans at Soldier Field in Chicago on the night of August 11, 1950 to see her husband’s MVP performance in the College All-Star game.  She could often be spotted in old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. at Redskins’ games during the early 1950s.  UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour said at the dedication of the Justice statue in 2004, “I always thought of them as a team.”

It had been forty-six years since Charlie played his final varsity game for UNC, but the front page headline in the Lexington paper on April 19, 1996 read, “Choo Choo Justice Comes To Lexington.”

His name was, and still is, magic to many North Carolinians.

On the football field, Charlie Justice was a hero of epic proportions.  After football, his legendary status grew even more.  Said Dr. William Friday, President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina in Hugh Morton’s 1988 book, Making A Difference In North Carolina:  “The Charlie Justice I knew best is the civic leader, the great humanitarian, the great giver of himself.  I have never seen anybody that did as much as he did for causes from the American Heart Association to Crippled Children to Christmas Seals to the University itself.”

You didn’t need to be around Charlie for more than a couple of minutes, before you became aware of the importance of his storybook marriage to Sarah Alice.  Charlie Justice and Sarah Alice Hunter were married on November 23, 1943 . . . a time when the rest of the world was at war.  How miraculous it must have seemed then to find a reason for happiness and hope for the future.

Jane Browne, a Justice family friend, described Sarah this way:  “She was definitely a person in her own right, but she was always thought of as Charlie’s wife.  She was always in the background, not in the spotlight, but was always there, so dependable. . . .  She was an angel on this earth.”

So together Charlie and Sarah offered their name, their time, their talent, and their money to just about every cause in the Tar Heel state.

In 1989, when the Charlotte Treatment Center named a wing of its facility for Charlie, he said, “I had one goal in life set way back in high school . . . to win the Heisman Trophy.  Well, I came close twice.  But this honor makes up for the Heisman I never won.”  The Center also named a wing of the facility for Sarah Justice as well.

Justice was named general chairman for the American Heart Association in Greensboro and he made numerous appearances to help them raise money.  He had a special connection with this group.  In the twenty years between 1974 and 1994, Justice had three heart attacks and three open heart surgeries.

Be it a fundraiser for Special Olympics in Cherryville, celebrity roasts for Multiple Sclerosis in Greensboro and Juvenile Diabetes in Charlotte, or a March of Dimes Event in Winston-Salem, Charlie and Sarah were always ready to lend a hand.

Hugh Morton's last photograph of Charlie Justice

Sarah and Charlie Justice.

Made on an unknown date at the Justices’ home sometime around Christmas, the above photograph is the first of three similar exposures—likely Hugh Morton’s final portraits of Charlie Justice.

In September of 2000, Charlie Justice granted his final interview. . . it was with Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer.  Fowler describes his day in Cherryville with Charlie and Sarah Justice this way.  “Gosh, it was fun.”  Toward the end of the day, Justice was relating the story of his famous jersey #22, when he suddenly paused in mid story.  He had thought of something extremely important.

“I’ve had quite a life, I guess,” said Charlie.

Sarah gently patted his shoulder.

So, eleven football seasons have come and gone since that special fall day in Cherryville in 2000 . . . a lot has happened.  Charlie and Sarah Justice are no longer with us but I choose to believe that:

Somewhere in a Carolina Blue Heaven,
The Spirit of #22 is once again running free.
And so it is, as it has been for almost 70 years now,
His Special Angel Sarah continues watching over him
just outside the spotlight.

The many faces of the past

As Susan Taylor Block notes in her recent essay, the port city of Wilmington, NC is known not only for its mansions, azaleas, and beauty queens, but also for its powerful, enterprising white men including Pembroke Jones and Hugh MacRae, grandfather of Hugh Morton.

A darker, lesser-known, and certainly lesser-discussed chapter of Wilmington’s history is that of the 1898 race riot, the only instance in American history of an elected government being overthrown. Spearheading the violent uprising was a group of elite Wilmingtonians, strong opponents of the “fusionist” coalition, strong believers in the supremacy of the white race . . . and outspoken among them was Hugh Morton’s grandfather, a young Hugh MacRae.

Four years ago this week, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission (a state-appointed panel tasked with studying the rebellion and recommending reparative actions) released its official report, available in full here.

Back on the occasion of the 1998 centennial, historians David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson put together a seminal volume about the events entitled Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy. While they learned much about MacRae’s role in the uprising, they never put a face to the name — that is, until Hugh Morton’s photographs became available online.

What Cecelski and Tyson discovered when they looked into that face is the topic of our latest Worth 1,000 Words essay, entitled Hugh MacRae at Invershiel.

We hope you’ll take some time to read this thoughtful exploration, and to consider the many layers of meaning that can be hidden in a single portrait. Let us know what discoveries you make.

A View or Two of Hugh

Note from Elizabeth: In honor of what would have been Hugh Morton’s 89th birthday today, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard wanted to offer this tribute to Morton’s life and work.

Hugh Morton has been called the dean of North Carolina photographers. During his career he  photographed 11 Presidents of the United States, the Queen of England, the future King of England, dozens of governors, senators, congressional representatives, generals, movie stars and ordinary folks.  His work appeared in national magazines…Life, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, and Collier’s.P081_NTBR0_003101

For almost 70 years he was a fixture on the sidelines of Kenan Stadium and courtside at Woollen, Carmichael, and the Smith Center.  From Justice to Jordan . . . McKinney to McCauley . . . Weiner to Worthy . . . he was there and he photographed what he saw. His sports photography can be found on magazine covers, post cards, calendars, bubblegum cards, the facade in the west end of Kenan Stadium, and tabletops in Lenoir Hall.  His classic shot of Charlie Justice leaving the field at Kenan for the final time has “become” a statue on the UNC Campus. That list could go on.

Along the way he photographed the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the World Series, the Final Four and the Kentucky Derby, as well as Democratic National Conventions and NASA space shots.

His photographs of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Arnold Palmer, Mia Hamm, Bill Dudley, Catfish Hunter, Billy Joe Patton, and Dale Earnhardt are just part of his sports portfolio. That list could go on as well.

Dr. William Friday introduced Hugh Morton at a Charlotte gathering of UNC alumni and friends in November of 2004 as “a  man who can move battleships, make Grandfather Mountain the greatest attraction in the world . . . (and) defy the federal government and build a viaduct around the mountain.” The May-June, 1941 issue of Carolina Magazine called him “Rembrandt with a camera.” CBS News Correspondent Charles Kuralt once compared his work to that of Van Gogh.

The manner in which Hugh Morton lived his life defined the term “public service.” Again, in the eloquent words of Dr. William Friday;

“His good works were many, and the great joy of his life, after his family, was his camera and those thousands of moments he captured that help us all define ourselves and our great state and nation. He was a true patriot.”

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Hugh Morton’s place in history is secure and I choose to believe he is looking down on us today, his 89th birthday, as we work with the photographs and films that have become his legacy. So, if I may, let me close with Dr. Friday’s words from June 9, 2006 as he concluded his eulogy at Hugh’s memorial service at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro.

“We shall remember, old friend, we shall always remember.”

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– Jack Hilliard

Morton Among the Movers and Shakers

Note from Elizabeth: I’m pleased to present the very first essay from Worth 1,000 Words project, written by journalist Rob Christensen. Rob has been writing about N.C. politics as a reporter and a columnist for 36 years for The News and Observer and The Charlotte Observer; his book The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics won the N.C. Literary and Historical Association’s Ragan Old North State Award for the best work of nonfiction in 2008.

Update 2/9/10: This post has now been converted into its own “page” under the Essays section of A View to Hugh.

Morton the “movie man”

Note from Elizabeth: This post was written by Kyla Sweet-Chavez, a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science here at UNC and an employee of Wilson Library. Kyla is an experienced filmmaker and film archivist, and we’re very lucky to have her as a member of the “Morton team,” processing the motion picture films.

You can tell a lot from what a person has left behind, or perhaps you can just conjecture a lot. I never met Hugh Morton, but as a student assistant working on processing his film collection, I visit with him each workday. As I work my ways through the cans of film, I’ve come up with some words that I think could describe him:

Dedicated: There are boxes and boxes of film and most fall within several categories: Grandfather Mountain; Mildred the bear; Hawks and Hang Gliding; (37 variations on the) Grandfather Mountain 30-second spot; Highland Games. Morton obviously had a passion for his part of the world and didn’t often stray from it cinematically.

Thorough: Morton was a film archivist’s dream, labeling most of his boxes and cans with exactly what he shot and even making value judgments: “Ravens–good” or “Hawk, Reject.” He kept many of the films in their original boxes, which I’ve photocopied, so archivists of the future can make informed preservation decisions.

Dogged: Morton knew what he wanted. Notes and letters were often included to the film labs and TV stations, telling them exactly how his film should be printed or broadcast. He must have been on a few VIP Customer lists (and that of the USPS), so many films did he send off to the lab. He seemed to want his films to reach a broad audience. Films he sent to TV stations included typed-up perfectly timed narration to “help” them deliver his message. Many prints are in cans that have been returned by TV stations and schools from around the nation who showed his films.

You might think a film archivist sits around watching films all day but truthfully, I haven’t seen any of the Morton films in motion. I take the film from its can, inspect its overall condition, do some cleaning or repairing as necessary and if the film is unmarked, try to determine what it’s about and when it was made. (Kodak and Dupont had a system to date their film stock, using series of symbols imprinted on the edge of the film, which is how I determine the date if it isn’t marked on the can or leader). Surprisingly, many of the films from the 1970s look worse than those from the 1950s. An element of their chemicals made them “fade to magenta,” leaving them pink and washed out.

So, when can you see the Morton collection on YouTube? It’s a long journey from the original film to an online streaming copy and realistically, most won’t make that journey. The film has to be in good shape with minimal shrinkage, thoroughly cleaned and repaired, head and tail leader attached and then digitized. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re dealing with over 1000 films, even the most basic processing like I do takes time.

But one of the best parts of archives work is the feeling that you have accomplished something tangible. Even as Thorough and Dedicated and Dogged as Morton was, there were still a few messes to clean up, and going from this:

to this:

is incredibly satisfying. I think Morton would be pleased.

–Kyla Sweet-Chavez

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

Consider this just a brief View to Hugh tribute to legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, who was laid to rest this week. Blog commenters have noted Cronkite’s primary connection to Hugh Morton: he lent his authoritative voice and reputation as narrator for Morton’s 1995 PBS documentary, “The Search for Clean Air.” As commenter and Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard already recounted:

I recall Hugh telling the story of how Cronkite was selected. Morton said he had originally wanted his long-time friend Charles Kuralt for the program, but since the program was scheduled for PBS, Kuralt’s CBS contract would not permit him appearing on a competing network. So when Morton told Cronkite this story, Cronkite said, in his unique deep voice, ”Well, you got me.”

Julia Morton described Cronkite as “lightening in a jar.” We’re lucky to have had him for so many years.

Battle for the Beacon

Note from Elizabeth: This is the fourth post researched and written by volunteer Jack Hilliard. Ten years ago today, on July 9, 1999, the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to its new location was completed.

It wasn’t difficult to recognize Hugh Morton when he came to Greensboro in the spring of 1982 for the annual Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism. He was the gentleman in the Carolina blue jacket and the yellow tie embroidered with an image of the Hatteras Lighthouse.  His lapel button identified him as “Keeper of the Light.”

A year before, Morton had formed the “Save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Committee,” in response to the growing concerns about the safety of the 129-year-old structure. His committee read like a who’s who in North Carolina: Morton was even able to get his friends (and political foes) Democratic Governor Jim Hunt and Republican Senator Jesse Helms to lead the project. (The two would engage in a 1984 Senate contest that Newsweek magazine called “the most colorful, expensive, and nasty Senate contest in the country,” but in 1981 they were on the same team).

This powerful group was able to raise $500,000 in a very short time, with Morton using some of the same techniques that he had used 20 years before to bring the Battleship USS North Carolina to Wilmington. The money was used for sandbags, sand fences, and Seascape synthetic seaweed. All of these measures were extremely helpful in building up the beach around the lighthouse.

Morton and Hunt were able to literally measure their success. In an interview for the December, 1997 issue of Lighthouse Digest magazine, Morton said:

“Governor Hunt and I took a tape measure; one of us stood at the base of the light and the other took the tape to the water’s edge–and it was not low tide either. The tape showed it was 310 feet from the water to the tower–quite an improvement over the less than 100-feet when the project started. The seaweed had trapped the sand moving south and built up the land under the water as well as the beach itself.”

Continue reading

Remembering WW2, part 2

It’s Memorial Day again on Monday, and I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight more of the remarkable images Hugh Morton brought back with him from his World War II service in the Pacific Islands, as a member of the 161st Signal Photography Corps (see my first WW2 post for background).

We recently scanned a batch of about 100 WW2 prints for inclusion in the Morton digital library we’re currently developing. These images are truly unlike anything else in the Morton collection — they include not only soldier portraits and combat scenes, but also some stunning views of Pacific Island people, culture, and scenery.

As with most of the Morton collection, I only wish we had better documentation! Details are maddeningly scarce.

Thankfully, there is ONE labeled photograph which allows us to identify some of Morton’s fellow enlistees, though where or when these were taken, I can’t say. Shown below enjoying some Schlitz, from left to right, are Henry van Baalen, Hugh Morton (with cat), (woman unidentified), “Lt. Shepherd” (sitting), Steve Leakos (standing), Pat Boyd, Eddie Seliady, and Frank Ilc (sp?). Maybe someone out there Googling for their relatives will find this and make a meaningful discovery?