A “wee bit” of Scotland in NC

“Brawny athletes, delicate dancers, noisy bagpipe band parades, rocking Celtic music and a spectacular highland setting makes this colorful celebration of Scottish culture the ‘best’ highland games in America . . .” (or so says the visitnc.com website).

The 55th Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games were held this past weekend in MacRae Meadows, at the base of Grandfather. The continuing popularity of the Grandfather Games is perhaps the most visible indication of a long history of Scottish settlement and the continuing influence of Scottish culture in the North Carolina Mountains. In our latest Worth 1,000 Words essay entitled Scottish Heritage at Linville, anthropologist CELESTE RAY explores these traditions and the role of the Morton family in attempting to maintain them. (Did you know, for example, that Hugh Morton’s mother and brother Julian began the development of “Invershiel,” a replica 16th-century Scottish village in Linville?). Read Ray’s essay to find out more.

And finally, for those of you in the Wilmington area, I’d like to offer one last reminder of our Worth 1,000 Words event this coming Monday. Details below; hope to see you there!

Monday, July 19, 5:30 p.m.
New Hanover County Public Library, NorthEast Branch, Wilmington
Information: Paige Owens, powens@nhcgov.com, (910) 798-6327

Who Am I?—Highland Games edition

Every year, the second full weekend in July sees the arrival near Linville, NC of the largest collection of Scoto-philes in Eastern America . . . As North Carolina’s largest Tartan Jamboree, this Track & Field, Bagpipes and Highland Dance extravaganza must arguably be America’s ultimate spree in ethnic indulgence.

This quote comes from page 1 of a recently-published book, America’s Braemar: Grandfather Mountain and the Re-birth of Scottish Identity Across America, by Donald MacDonald (2007). MacDonald, first President and co-founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (with Hugh Morton’s mother, Agnes MacRae Morton), has written what surely must be a definitive history—at 487 single-spaced pages, I can’t imagine anyone having more to say! (I only wish it had an index.) The book, which is heavily illustrated with Morton photos, can be ordered online.

With the 53rd annual Games coming up this weekend, I’m hoping readers can help identify some of these Morton images. Perhaps, even if you don’t recognize the people involved (or they’re too small to see), you can tell us about the events depicted? What are your Highland Games memories? (I’ve only attended once, as a child, and pretty much all I remember is that it rained really, really hard). I do know that the two images below were taken at the very first Games, in 1956.

The man shaking the runner’s hand below I know to be N. J. (Nestor Joseph) MacDonald, President of the Games from 1962 to 1977—Morton photographed him often. Any ideas on the runners?

And lastly, I assume this man is singing? Or bellowing? Or doing some kind of highland yodel?

A Contemporary of Morton

I don’t have to go far to get “A View to Hugh”—all I have to do is literally look over my shoulder. Perhaps I should explain what I mean by first introducing myself. My name is Patrick Cullom and I was hired this past October as a Visual Materials Archivist; I share an office and processing space with Elizabeth Hull. I grew up in North Carolina and had seen images taken by Morton in books, posters, and other places without fully appreciating who he was or what his work had done for the state. Now I have the unique opportunity to be present while the collection is processed.

I have often heard my position in the photographic archives described as “Processing the photographic collections that are NOT Hugh Morton.” That’s sort of accurate, I suppose. The first collection I have been working with consists of photographic materials created by Edward J. McCauley, a newspaper photographer for the Burlington Times-News (NC). McCauley took photographs for the Times-News from 1949-1974 as well as running his own personal photograph studio. The collection consists of approximately 100,000 images and presents an encompassing view of Burlington from the 1950s-1970s.

Even though the scopes of our collections are quite different, Elizabeth and I often discuss similar topics and issues that arise when working with each of our collections. Morton and McCauley were contemporaries, so it makes sense that they might have been at some of the same events with statewide importance, including political and sporting events. At this point in my work, I cannot not say definitively that McCauley and Morton knew each other well, but it is clear from some of the images I have processed so far that they did cross paths at least a few times. I know that McCauley attended some of Morton’s famous camera clinics.

I have included two images in the McCauley collection that show a connection between the two collections. The first is a detail cropped from a group portrait of photographers attending the Miss North Carolina Pageant sometime in the 1950s. Morton is in the passenger seat of the car and McCauley is behind him next to the pageant contestants (third from the left).

Miss North Carolina Pageant Ca. 1950’s

To put the detail into its larger context, I have also included a full version:

Group portrait of photographers attending Miss North Carolina Pageant ca. 1950’s
The other image I have included doesn’t contain McCauley or Morton, but McCauley made the photograph at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games sometime in the late 1950s. He took this image at of one of the events at the games and it is part of a series that includes members of the McCauley family at Grandfather Mountain.

View of Grandfather Mountain Highland Games
Who knows where else these two photographers crossed paths (or cameras)? I will be sure to drop a note when such images surface.

“It’s a big noise.”

Carnegie Tech Kiltie Band on Grandfather Mountain, 1961

“They weren’t designed to be played in recording studios. They were designed to be played on the tops of mountains,” the voice-over said on the radio as bagpipes in the background played “Amazing Grace.” I stopped making my morning tea when I heard that. A Hugh Morton photograph just flashed in my memory. “There’s no escaping that collection!,” I thought (in a good way).

I was listening to NPR early Sunday morning when that promotional spot for Weekend Edition Sunday aired, but Ollie, my dog, needed to be walked and I missed the story. Fortunately NPR posts its news programs on its Web site so if you missed it too, you can hear “Royal Scots Dragoon Records ‘Spirit of the Glen'” featuring the album’s producer Jon Cohen. Cohen talks about the challenges of working with the military band, and how orchestrating the sound of bagpipes compares to producing recordings for bands as diverse as the Backstreet Boys and the OperaBabes.

The Hugh Morton photograph that came to mind Sunday morning is actually a postcard in the Durwood Barbour Postcard Collection. It depicts a group of bagpipers and drummers on top of Grandfather Mountain during the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. See the North Carolina Collection’s short history about the games in the “This Month In North Carolina History” entry written this past August. And now would be as good a time as any to mention the large ongoing project of digitized North Carolina postcards by the NCC staff.

You know, the strands of serendipity wend their ways on the strangest paths. I did a bit of fruitless searching for the original color slide, so I asked Elizabeth if one of those boxes you see on the table in her post, “A Processor’s Perspective,” had any Highland Games negatives. She pointed to the box and I grabbed the first envelope I saw with black-and-white negatives (easier to scan!) labeled “’61 Games—GMTN.” Inside were several 120 format (2-1/4 inch square) negatives, and one looked very similar to the post card. I scanned it, but the image had some lens flare across a bagpiper’s face so I dismissed it. I did noticed, however, that a bass drum in the upper left corner had on its skin: “Carnegie Tech Kiltie Band.” It was the last negative on a roll of film—the only image of the group on the mountaintop—and it’s not like Hugh Morton to command a group of people to very tip of the mountain only to make one exposure. So I went back to the box to see if there was another envelope from 1961. There was, labeled “Highland Games ’61”; it did not, however, have any more images of the band.

I started my search anew for a different image. Further down in the box was a blank envelope on which Elizabeth had penciled a note: “H.G. late 50s-e.60s.” (That’s archivist talk for Highland Games, late 1950s or early 1960s). I peeked inside and saw three 4×5-inch black-and-white negatives and some 120 negatives. Wouldn’t you know it? One of the 4×5 negatives was the Carnegie Tech Kiltie Band. I scanned that negative and prepared it for loading onto the blog, cropping the image to my liking.

For my post, I wanted to link to the Durwood Barbour postcard and draw your attention to that project, which includes several Hugh Morton postcards. I searched for the image and found it. Would you believe the postcard in the Durwood Barbour collection shows the very same Carnegie Tech Kiltie Band?! The postcard doesn’t state that, nor the date of the image. We can now add that information to the postcard’s descriptive information.

Do you think there’s any coincidence that my brother graduated from Carnegie-Mellon and that my father was an assistant football coach there for twenty years? I don’t know, but if my best friend from high school calls me up one day soon and says, “I never mentioned this before, but my father played the bagpipes on Grandfather Mountain during his Carnegie Tech days,” I’m going to get the shivers.

Carnegie Tech Kiltie Band on Grandfather Mountain, 1961