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
Speakers:

“Some of those holy rollers really cut shines…”

This past Sunday, the joyful hordes descended on MacRae Meadows at the base of Grandfather Mountain for the “Singing on the Mountain” gospel festival, just as they have done every year since 1925. If you read this blog, you know that we’re all big fans of Hugh Morton’s evocative photographs of the “Sing” throughout the years. From the wonderfully-bearded Shelby Ever Gragg, to George Pegram, Johnny Cash, “Happy John” Coffey, Robert Harris, Jerry Falwell . . . they’ve all been to the Sing, and Hugh Morton was there to photograph them.

For more information on the Sing (and some choice quotes, such as the title of this post), please have a look at our latest WORTH 1,000 WORDS essay by authors DAVE HANEY and LISA BALDWIN entitled The Singing on the Mountain. Haney and Baldwin (recent exports from Appalachian State University to the faraway lands of Black Hills, South Dakota), offer unique interest in and perspective on the topic as traditional musicians themselves. Enjoy!

New essay, and upcoming events!

Today’s first order of business is to proclaim the availability of our newest Worth 1,000 Words essay, written by plant ecologist ALAN S. WEAKLEY and entitled Hugh Morton and North Carolina’s Native Plants (one of which can be seen at left). Weakley, Curator of the University of North Carolina Herbarium, a department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, brings a unique perspective to our essay project as a scientist who worked closely with Hugh Morton on projects related to plant conservation at Grandfather Mountain. Please take a few minutes to read and respond to Weakley’s reflections.

Secondly, and speaking of Worth 1,000 Words, we’d like to announce two upcoming Morton Collection events, FREE and open to the public, to be held in Wilmington on July 19 and Boone on August 10. Further details available on the Library News and Events blog here. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll take this opportunity to come say hi to those of us who work on the collection, as well as to hear from and chat with some of our essay authors. See you there!

Food for thought

I noted a recent announcement from Grandfather Mountain that as of next week, they will be closing the “Bear Hut” (where visitors have been able to purchase food to feed the bears in the Mountain’s black bear habitat). Among other reasons cited for no longer allowing the public to feed the bears, staff say that the closure should improve the bears’ health (as they will receive a more consistent diet) as well as their temperament (as they will no longer have to compete with each other for food).

This reminded me of Morton photos I’ve seen from a time when ideas about the diets of bears in captivity were perhaps less enlightened.

It’s a little tough to make out, but in the photo above, the famous Mildred is enjoying a refreshing Orange Crush soda. (I cropped the original to make it easier to see).

Granted, this was a special occasion, but I suspect bears in the wild don’t have much opportunity to feast on birthday cake (except for perhaps the occasional trash-can raid):

And finally, here’s Mildred enjoying a more nutritious snack (again, cropped for full effect):

Here’s to the new plan for happier, healthier and more “natural” bears at Grandfather.

The Mountain: before, during, and after Morton

As I hope you noted in my last post, the almost 71,000 Hugh Morton images from the Grandfather Mountain Series are now part of the collection’s online finding aid and are open for research. These images date from the late 1930s through the early 2000s, and thoroughly document Morton’s intimate, life-long connections to the Mountain.

In the latest essay in our Worth 1,000 Words series, scholar DREW A. SWANSON explores this relationship and also reminds us that the Mountain was there long, long before the man, and will exist long, long after. How did tourism and development affect the Mountain’s ecosystems before Morton inherited it? What impacts did his actions, in the areas of both development and conservation, have? What can we expect in its future as a state park?

Read Drew’s essay, entitled Grandfather Mountain: Commerce and Tourism in the Appalachian Environment, and let us know your thoughts about these issues.

New series available, plus a semi-fun photo-related activity

Imagine my excitement when I went to the cnn.com homepage a few weeks ago and saw an article entitled “Connecting the past to the present tougher than it looks.” This is a story from CNN’s iReport feature, where they “outsource” their reporting to regular folks — CNN assigned their iReporters to try their hand at a neat, low-tech photography technique that involves lining up historic photos with the same current-day scene. (There’s a great Flickr group devoted to this practice, called “Looking Into the Past” — however, some of these people are obviously cheating with Photoshop).

Let me back up for a minute to make two BIG behind-the-scenes announcements: 1) the Grandfather Mountain and UNC-Chapel Hill series (Series 4 and 5) of the Morton collection are now available online and open for research; and 2) the digital collection has reached (and rocketed past) 5,000 items.

In honor of these developments (particularly the availability of the UNC-CH photos), Sam and I decided to try our hand at the “lining-up” trick, right here on campus: we printed out a few of Hugh Morton’s photos from when he was a student here (1939-1942), and went out with the digital camera. As you can see from the results below, it is indeed “tougher than it looks”! (Especially when it’s windy outside).

Here we are attempting to situate a Morton photo of a group of unidentified gentlemen (UNC faculty?) standing on the front steps of Wilson Library (view the original here). Close, but no cigar. . . finding the exact right spot and angle to successfully line up the print with the real world is quite difficult, and you also look and feel ridiculous as you fumble around for that perfect perspective.

Equally poorly-aligned is this portrait of a wild group of hooligans posing on the steps of South Building. If anyone knows what’s going on here, please fill us in… the original can be viewed in much greater detail here. (I assume this gathering is World War II-related, because one of said hooligans is holding a button that reads “To Hell with Hitler”).

We did a little better, but not much, with this Morton portrait of 1941-1942 UNC senior Frances Bonkemeyer, publicity chair for the YWCA and member of the UNC Coed Senate (see the original here).

So to sum up, let me first reiterate that Series 4 (Grandfather Mountain) and Series 5 (UNC-Chapel Hill) are now included in the online finding aid and available for research! And, the Hugh Morton digital collection contains more than 5,400 items!

We hope our little exercise inspires you to try “linking the past with the present” using historic photos. Send us your results if you do.

Happy Birthday, Parkway

In case you haven’t heard (perhaps you’ve been hibernating), 2010 marks the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Numerous events throughout the year will help mark this occasion, including a symposium next week at Appalachian State University, at which UNC Libraries’ Natasha Smith, Elise Moore, and faculty advisor Anne Mitchell Whisnant will unveil the exciting Driving Through Time digital project! (More on that after it’s launched).

Luckily, we were able to steal Dr. Whisnant (author of the 2006 book Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History) away long enough to write an essay for our Worth 1,000 Words project. It’s now available, and is entitled Roads Taken and Not Taken: Images and the Story of the Blue Ridge Parkway ‘Missing Link.’

It’s no secret that determining the route for the last leg of the Parkway was a protracted, complicated, and divisive process, but one that ultimately resulted in the much-celebrated (and photographed) Linn Cove Viaduct (shown from the air at left). In her essay, Whisnant uses some of Morton’s own images to shed new light on this conflict. She also provides a crucial backdrop for some of Morton’s later environmental work, which will be examined in future Worth 1,000 Words essays.

We look forward to receiving your thoughts and comments!

Daniel Boone was a man. Yes, a big man!

The entertainment community is mourning yesterday’s passing of actor Fess Parker (1924-2010), best known for his portrayals of manly pioneers Davy Crockett and (most relevant to the Morton collection) Daniel Boone. According to Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker,

In his prime, Parker was a big, rangy man who grew up in a small farm in Texas; his voice retained a warm Texas twang. He shot to a singular pop-culture fame in 1954, when Walt Disney’s Disneyland series broadcast “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter.” With his buckskin jacket, long rifle, slow drawl, and his coonskin cap, Parker was an immediate sensation. Kids could not get enough of his unique mixture of warmth, toughness, humor, and taciturn wisdom.

After his Crockett years, Parker went on to embody the role of Daniel Boone from 1964 to 1970. When I saw Turner’s article, I couldn’t help but steal the embedded YouTube video he included, of the opening credits of “Daniel Boone”:

In July or August of 1966, Parker paid a visit to Boone, NC’s own “Horn in the West” outdoor drama, and of COURSE, Hugh Morton was present with his camera. (Parker is shown below with Horn actor Glenn Causey; more images of his visit can be viewed here).

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Parker and the Horn crew apparently took a trip up Grandfather Mountain during this same visit (more images can be viewed here). You may also recall from a previous post that Parker’s TV son “Israel” (Darby Hinton) also visited Grandfather — whether it was at the same time as Parker, I can’t say.

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If anyone knows additional details from these events, please share!

A Springtime ‘Variety Vacationland’

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Here in Chapel Hill, the daffodils are blooming, the world is mud-luscious, and the sweet sound of  sneezing floats on the breeze. It must be spring!

As the buds begin to blossom, so too does the tourist season in North Carolina. To provide some perspective on the development of the tourism industry in the Old North State (and Hugh Morton’s role in it), we offer our newest essay in the Worth 1,000 Words series: Selling North Carolina, One Image at a Time, by Richard Starnes.

Starnes is an historian specializing in southern history and Appalachia, Associate Professor and History Department Chair at Western Carolina University, and author of the 2005 book Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina.

Read, share, discuss, and enjoy.

Grandfather Mountain’s new “Top Shop”

Recently Elizabeth told me about the demolition of the old “Top Shop” and the ongoing construction of a new shop on the summit of Grandfather Mountain. I grew up in North Carolina, and my childhood was full of visits to Grandfather Mountain; I loved searching through the gift shop after I walked over the Mile High Swinging Bridge. So to honor the transition from old to new, this post will be dedicated to the progression of development on the summit of Grandfather. (This is just a brief summary; perhaps the staff at Grandfather can provide a more detailed chronology?)

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Originally, the gift shop/visitors center on the summit of Grandfather was just a little wooden building, with a stone bathhouse next door, as shown above. The first picture is a view of the first visitor’s center. I like this picture because it shows the quaint nature of the original design of the Grandfather summit.  The second picture shows golfer Billy Joe Patton (left) and others at a trophy ceremony for the “Sports Car Hill Climb” event that used to be held annually. The wooden visitors center is in the background. I chose this picture because it shows how the summit was used as an outdoor gathering space.

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Morton inherited the land at Grandfather Mountain in 1952. In the 1950s (according to the book Grandfather Mountain by Miles Tager), “the postwar economic boom had by this time returned visitors to the region, opened up by the Parkway and other roads,” after the scarcity of visitors during the Great Depression. Morton took advantage of the prosperity of the 1950s by constructing a new road to the summit, a new parking lot, and a new gift shop. The picture above shows construction of the road to the summit.

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The new building, dubbed the “Top Shop,” was constructed in 1961. The first picture is of construction of “Top Shop” visitors center, right before it was completed in 1961. The next picture is of the “Top Shop” soon after it was built. And the last picture is of tourists browsing the new gift shop.

Grandfather Mountain has gone through many phases to become the popular attraction that it is today. The new shop will have many advantages over the old one, will be less of an obstruction to the view of Grandfather’s profile, and is much needed because of the weather damage that happens to buildings on the summit. (To see pictures of the construction of the newest “Top Shop,” click here). But though these transitions at Grandfather Mountain are all for the best, it is nice to look back at the simple beginnings of the wooden gift shop sitting on a barely developed piece of land.