Pacific discoveries

The handwritten label — “Original Leyte” — on the negative envelope immediately caught my eye.  It was the second envelope in the box, just after the envelope labeled “Fort Benning.”  Leyte, an island in the Philippines, might possibly have a connection to Hugh Morton, who served as a photographer and film cameraman in the United States Army’s 161st Signal Photographic Company.  Morton’s tour of duty ended in the Philippines after being injured by an explosion near Balete Pass on the island of Luzon.

Marking its place, I pulled the “Leyte” envelope from the box, peered inside, and saw five negatives.  I pulled one negative out of its protective Kraft paper enclosure.  I couldn’t believe it—the very first item that I examined in the collection and I immediately recognized Hugh Morton’s face in the image: a copy negative of a photograph of Morton leaning over fellow signal corps photographer Conway Spanton!

Why was this so exciting?  Because I was not looking at an envelope in the Hugh Morton collection.  I was nearly 400 miles away from Chapel Hill.

Hugh Morton and Conway Spanton

Photograph of Hugh Morton (wearing sling) and Conway Spanton held by the United States Army Military History Institute in the Thomas L. Wood Photograph Collection. This photograph is the exact same pose as that in the Hugh Morton Collection. The negative in the Morton collection appears to be the original, but it has been trimmed along the left side and the bottom edge.

Early Tuesday morning of Thanksgiving week, I set off for Carlisle, Pennsylvania (about 190 miles east of my final destination of Pittsburgh), taking a busman’s holiday to conduct some research at the United States Army Military History Institute, which is part of the United States Army Heritage and Education Center.  Exploring its website and catalog the previous week, I discovered that the institute held several items on Camp Davis—where Morton was stationed before heading to the Pacific theater—and 1,982 photographs made by another 161st Signal Photographic Company photographer, Thomas L. Wood, who also served in the Pacific.  Given the dozens of photographers who traversed the Pacific islands, I considered the Wood photographs to be a long-shot, and held more hope of finding useful material on Camp Davis.

When I arrived Tuesday afternoon, I first looked at the Camp Davis items, which turned out to be either too generic or too specific for my purposes.  Next on my research cart was a document case containing envelopes and boxes of prints and negatives from the Thomas L. Wood photograph collection.  The Wood collection comprised two photograph albums and a box; because of their large size and storage location, however, the albums could not be brought out to the research room without approval.  While awaiting permission to use the albums, an institute staff member had pulled the box—the document case that held the negative envelope labeled “Original Leyte.”

“But wait,” you may be saying: a copy negative isn’t an original negative.  What was the original?  After the excitement of my initial discovery subsided, I removed the remaining four negatives.  One was a second copy negative of the Morton/Spanton portrait; the scene depicted in the remaining negatives (one original, two copies) I also immediately recognized from the Morton collection: a group of men, including Morton, seated around Spanton as he lies on a cot or a stretcher.

From the research room, I was able to check Wood’s negative against the group portrait in the online Morton collection.  Unlike the Spanton/Morton portrait, the group portrait was not the same image as the one in the Morton collection (below).

Conway Spanton group portrait from Morton collection.

Negative in envelope labeled "HMorton wounded with Photo Tean" (sic) from the Hugh Morton collection. The Spanton/Morton portrait was found in the same envelope when the collection was being processed. Hugh Morton is on the far right wearing a sling as a result of injury sustained on March 18, 1945 near the Balete Pass.

I wasn’t able to get too far into the collection before the research room closed, so I stayed overnight and returned Wednesday morning.  I methodically launched into the box of photographic material—starting on the opposite end from the Leyte negative with the photographic prints stored in Wood’s numbered and labeled original envelopes.  After reviewing all the material in the document case, I did get to see the photograph albums.  Lo and behold, in the second album . . .

Conway Spanton and group

Group portrait with Conway "Connie" Spanton from a photograph album in the Thomas L. Wood Photograph Collection, United States Army Military History Institute.

. . . a print of the group shot with an identifying caption.  Well, now there’s a problem . . . “Luzon” (in the caption) and “Leyte” (on the negative envelope) are two separate islands!  Two mysteries solved (Wood being the likely photographer and when he made the photographs), but a new mystery added (location).  Luzon makes more sense to me at this point, but more research will be needed to confirm that.

Some other place names on the envelopes and captions in the albums overlapped with places where Morton had ventured, but many more did not.  I was able to identify a previously unidentified Morton landscape photograph made in the Pacific from a different image in the Wood collection: Mount Bagana on Bougainville Island on what is now part of Papua New Guinea.  Using Google Earth, I was able to come pretty close to the spot where Morton likely made the photograph, and I recorded the latitude and longitude in the descriptive metadata.  Morton was not portrayed in any of Wood’s Bougainville photographs that were dated from December 12, 1943 going forward, including a New Year’s Eve party at the close of 1943.

The location common to both Wood and Morton that proved to be the most rewarding was Noumea, New Caledonia.  One print of Noumea with Mount Dore in the background labeled “Our camp upon hill” was taken from practically the same vantage point as a Morton negative featured in a previous blog post.  Wood’s photograph identifies the central portion of the photograph as the headquarters of the 161st Signal Photographic Company.

Thomas Wood's envelope #42: "Tent 14 - Noumea - N.C- " (New Caledonia)

A print of the Spanton/Morton portrait was in Wood’s envelope #42 (both shown above).  Envelope #43 — “Tent 14 – Miss/N.C.” — contained a group portrait of Wood, Spanton, and two others.  From the images in these envelopes, it seems that Wood and “Connie” were good friends and tent mates.

Thomas Wood (left) and Conway Spanton (to Wood's left) at Noumea, New Caledonia.

Thomas Wood (left) and Conway Spanton (to Wood's left) at Noumea, New Caledonia. Thomas L. Wood Photograph Collection, United States Army Military History Institute.

Another photograph in the envelope, labeled “New Caledonia/June 44″ on the verso, shows Thomas Wood (easily recognizable by that point in my research) and two other men.  I knew a completely unidentified print of that photograph was in Morton collection (below).

Thomas L. Wood and two others at 161st HQ Noumea

Thomas L. Wood (left) and two other soldiers pose in front of the 161st Signal Photographic Company headquarters at Noumea, New Caledonia.

In the second photograph album, however, there was an even more interesting group portrait . . .

161st Signal Photographic Company, New Caledonia, probably Noumea in June 1944

Group portrait of members of the 161st Signal Photographic Company in New Caledonia, probably Noumea in June 1944. Hugh Morton is second from the right first row; Thomas Wood is third from the right, middle row. United States Army Military History Institute, Thomas L. Wood Photograph Collection.

This group portrait, presumably members of the 161st Signal Photographic Company, places Morton and Wood in Noumea at the same time.  There appear to be differences in the foreground landscaping, so the date may not be the same as the portrait of Wood posing with two others.

After finishing with the Wood collection, I had very little time left to look at photographs in the institute’s Signal Corps Photograph Collection.  The views of Camp Davis predated Morton’s assignment there, so I moved on to a group of images arranged by location.  I had asked the staff to pull images from a handful of locations, but the clock was poised at less than five minutes until closing time on the day before a holiday.  I chose the folder labeled “Balete Pass.”

Inside was the biggest find of the trip.

Hugh Morton photographing near Balete Pass

Hugh Morton, on right, making a photograph just moments before he was injured by an explosion. Notice the Signal Corp number in the lower right corner of the 8x10-inch print that is part of the United States Signal Corps Photograph Collection, United States Army Military History Institute. That number is NOT on the much smaller print in the Hugh Morton collection.

In the Hugh Morton collection, there is a photograph with the following caption:

A US Army Signal Corps Photographer is shown photographing infantrymen of the 25th Infantry Division as they are in process of knocking out a Jap pillbox position near Balete Pass, Luzon. The enemy is fiercely defending Balete pass because it is a key route to Baguio. The Japs set off an explosion which wounded both Infantry men and Cameraman shortly after this picture was taken. Photographer: Allen”

That caption does not name the photographer in the scene; the descriptive metadata we had for this image online did not include that caption.  Both of these shortfalls have now been corrected.  Who is the photographer in the scene?  The faded but legible caption on the back of the print at the United States Army Military History Institute states: “Hugh Morton.”

A previous View to Hugh post, Saved by his camera, tells a bit more about that day.

A special note: Leyte is where General Douglas MacArthur famously proclaimed, “I have returned.”  Many thanks to the staff at the Army Military History Institute for their assistance during my visit.  I shall return.

Hundred-picture-a-week Morton

Front page article from the November 16, 1941 issue of The Daily Tar Heel written by Hayden Carruth featuring Hugh Morton.

Seventy years ago today, on November 16th, 1941 The Daily Tar Heel ran a front-page article entitled “Morton Got an Illegal Start Now Gets 100 Shots a Week” by a fellow classmate Hayden Carruth.  The article begins . . .

The marble pillars bristled with dignity., the be-robed judges bowed with solemnity, all was hushed and reserved.  In a word, the Supreme Court of the United States was met for the historic session to decide the fate of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration.  To furtive figures crept into the hall, sat down with their hats on their laps, stayed throughout the session, and departed with the crowd afterwards.  As they were standing on the sidewalk outside, an authoritative looking gentlemen approached and eyed them severely.  He had heard the click of their cameras beneath their hats.

Fortunately for Hugh Morton, and his school mate from the Episcopal high School, Alexandria, Virginia, the gentleman was only Thomas McAvoy, who had been unable to dodge the law restricting cameras in the court.  His identity was common knowledge, and the guards had been warned to watch him for taking illegal photographs.  McAvoy equipped Morton’s friend with high speed films, and the pictures he took in the next session appeared in Life [magazine].

Trying to unpack the above has led to one interesting revelation and a brick wall.  First the revelation.

Many may recognize the name of Hayden Carruth, a 1943 UNC graduate with an A.B. in journalism.  Carruth, who died in 2008, served in Europe in the Army Air Corp after graduation.  In the years after the war he obtained a M.A. from the University of Chicago and became a notable poet who won many awards, including (according to the University of Vermont Special Collections finding aid to his papers) “the Bollingen Foundation Fellowship, the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (twice), the Lannan Literary Fellowship (1995), the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (three times) and Senior Fellowship, the Vermont Governor’s Medal, the Ruth Lily Prize, the Whiting Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, the Lenore Marshall/The Nation Poetry Prize (1991), the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry (1992), The Paterson Poetry Prize (1994), and the National Book Award in Poetry (1996).”  Carruth was an assistant news editor at The Daily Tar Heel at the time he wrote the feature on Morton.

And the brick wall? I cannot verify the veracity of the photograph being published in Life.  I found only two possible Supreme Court cases when the story Carruth conveyed could have occurred: United States v. Butler, argued on December 9 and 10, 1935 and decided on January 6, 1936; and Mulford v. Smith, argued on March 8 and decided on April 17, 1939.  Reading through issues of Life around those dates (on microfilm, which is no fun and voids the experience of looking at a photographic magazine!), only the latter revealed a photograph on a page of Life—the May 1, 1939 issue, which was the second issue of the magazine after the ruling.  That photograph depicts William Orville Douglas, and the caption states that he is entering the building to take his constitutional oath on April 17.  The court building’s columns dwarf Justice Douglas, with his back to the camera, as he walks into the shadows beneath the portico.  Life credits Thomas McAvoy for the photograph.

One of Carruth’s sentences reads as if Morton’s friend, not Morton himself, made the photograph as McAvoy handed the film to Morton’s friend.  Another reads as if both Morton and his friend made photographs because McAvoy “heard the click of their cameras.”  Either way, it seems neither had one of their photographs in Life.

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.”


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.”


– 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.