“Unto These Hills”

Note from Elizabeth: Sixty years ago today, the historical drama “Unto These Hills” premiered at Cherokee, NC. We’re thrilled to present a guest post on the topic by Worth 1,000 Words essay author Andrew Denson of Western Carolina University.

This month marks the sixtieth anniversary of the outdoor historical drama “Unto These Hills,” which debuted in Cherokee on the evening of July 1, 1950. A vivid recounting of Cherokee history from European contact through the Removal era, the play was an immediate success, drawing large audiences throughout its first season. “Huge crowds have been present,” The State magazine proclaimed in its July 15, 1950 issue, and “everyone who has seen it thus far is enthusiastic.” Drawing more than 100,000 viewers in its first season alone, the drama quickly became one of Western North Carolina’s premier tourist attractions. In a significantly revised form, it remains popular today.

Hugh Morton captured some of the excitement of those early performances in a series of striking color images, now preserved in the Morton digital collection. The play’s dance sequences, in particular, seem to have drawn his photographer’s eye. He documented the “harvest dance” seen at the beginning of the drama and meant to express the Cherokees’ respectful relationship with the land (they “possessed it with gentleness and humility, with peace,” reads the script by Kermit Hunter). He also recorded the athletic “eagle dance,” which reviewers of the drama invariably cited as one of play’s most arresting moments. With modern choreography by UNC drama professor Foster Fitz-Simons, these performances bore little resemblance to traditional Cherokee dance, but they certainly gripped viewers’ attention. Fitz-Simons’ version of the eagle dance, in fact, became an all-purpose emblem of the drama, appearing in advertising for “Unto These Hills” for years to come.

The original “Unto These Hills,” it must be said, was rather poor history. Kermit Hunter, who wrote the script as a UNC graduate student, knew little about the Native American or Appalachian past, and his research seems not to have extended much beyond a cursory reading of James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee. Hunter portrayed Cherokees sympathetically, as honest people who loved and defended their land, yet his Indian characters were little more than stereotypes. Seeking to appeal to a broad audience, Hunter relied on familiar images like the “noble savage,” turning fascinating figures like Sequoyah and the Cherokee leader Drowning Bear into flat caricatures. The play depicted real events, but only in a form devoid of historical complexity.

But perhaps that judgment is unfair. The creators of “Unto These Hills” transformed a somewhat obscure historical subject into compelling popular entertainment, which was no small feat. In the process, the drama may have accomplished something more. For all of its flaws, “Unto These Hills” ensured that several generations of visitors to the mountains departed knowing that Western North Carolina was the Cherokee homeland and that Cherokees had persisted there. That was a message worth broadcasting. Sixty years later, it remains so.

–Andrew Denson

REFERENCES

Beard-Moose, Christina Taylor. Public Indians, Private Cherokees: Tourism and Tradition on Tribal Grounds. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009.

Finger, John R. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the Twentieth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Hunter, Kermit. Unto These Hills: A Drama of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1951.

The State, July 15, 1950.

The Old Well, an enduring symbol

Note from Elizabeth: It seems as good a time as any to offer tribute to that storied Chapel Hill icon, the Old Well. Morton collection volunteer JACK HILLIARD does so below. Jack hypothesizes that Morton must have taken “dozens” of photos of the Old Well — in fact, there are more like 500 in the Morton Collection (see Series 5)!

On a beautiful November morning in 2004, several of us gathered at the Kenan Football Center to put in place the Charlie Justice statue for its dedication two days later. Once everything was in place and secure, we all went our separate ways.

Since I had parked in a parking deck downtown, I had to make the long walk across campus. As I crossed Cameron Avenue just behind Old Playmakers Theatre, I notice to my left in front of South Building, Hugh Morton was setting up his camera in order to catch one more shot of the Old Well. There must be dozens of Old Well images in the Morton collection, and each is unique; this one would show the late morning sun casting its rays across the famous landmark.

The Old Well is the most enduring symbol of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and it serves as part of the official UNC logo. It is at least as old as Old East dorm, and that dorm is the oldest public university building in the United States (dating from the 1790s).

Old Well, 1902, from the NCC Photo Archives' Collier Cobb Collection

For many of those early years the Well served as the sole water supply for Old East and Old West dorms. Then in the fall of 1897, UNC President Edwin A. Alderman, with the help of Professor J. W. Gore, ordered the Well be given its current decorative form, at a cost of 200 dollars. Some of his colleagues thought he was wasting money, but Alderman and Gore prevailed. The UNC Class of 1954 added the benches, brick walls, flower beds, and trees.

It is said that a drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes will bring good luck for the semester, and a final snapshot on graduation weekend will bring good luck forever. There must be something to that. On graduation/reunion weekend 2010, the line for pictures stretched all the way down Cameron Avenue.

Today UNC’s Old Well is recognized as a National Landmark for Outstanding Landscape Architecture by the American Society of Landscape Architects. (Thankfully, it is afforded special protection during weekends when State and Duke games are scheduled!).

–Jack Hilliard

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.

Capturing Cherokee, NC

The latest in our series of essays inspired by photographs from the Hugh Morton Collection focuses on images made of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, whose Qualla Boundary lands are primarily in eastern Swain and northern Jackson Counties, just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The essay, “More than Tourism: Cherokee, North Carolina, in the Post-War Years” is by Andrew Denson, Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University. Denson specializes in Native American history and the 19th-century United States.

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!

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.

An ongoing “miracle in the hills”

A few weeks ago I received a friendly call from Mr. Bob Martin, an Avery County resident, author, admirer of Hugh Morton, and former director of the Crossnore School, a private, non-profit home and school in the NC mountains serving (primarily) abused and neglected children. Bob’s call triggered a memory of a set of Morton images that had caught my interest a while back—two circa 1940s portraits of Dr. Eustace H. Sloop, co-founder (with his wife Mary Martin Sloop) of the Crossnore School.

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While perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing example of Morton’s work, I like these Sloop portraits because they show him engaged in his primary calling, medicine. Both Eustace and his wife Mary were trained as doctors, and arrived in Crossnore in 1913 planning to provide much-needed medical assistance in the Appalachian Mountains. Mary soon devoted herself to improving public education as well, founding the live-in school in 1917; it was re-incorporated in 1939 as “a child-caring institution, whose purpose shall be to provide a home and industrial and vocational training for orphan, half-orphan, and deserted children . . . preference being given to mountain children” (from p. 8 of Philis Alvic’s 1998 history, The Weaving Room of Crossnore School).

You can learn about Mary T. Martin Sloop’s remarkable life through her 1953 memoir Miracle in the Hills: The lively personal story of a woman doctor’s forty-year crusade in the mountains of North Carolina, written with LeGette Blythe. As Blythe described Sloop, “no mold shaped her, no die stamped her out. . . . She is one of our last examples of the sturdy, energetic pioneer women who played such an important role in the settling of America.”

I wish I had more illustrative material for this post, e.g. a portrait of Mary Sloop — but Morton doesn’t seem to have taken any. Bayard Wootten, however, did; she took this shot of the Sloops performing surgery in the field, circa 1917. (It was included in a 2005 exhibit put on by the North Carolina Collection Gallery entitled “Sour Stomachs, Galloping Headaches,” along with a few other early images from the Crossnore School, including Wootten’s photograph of outdoor surgery.)

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“The sweet music of those bells…”

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Note from Elizabeth: Thanksgiving Day marks the 78th anniversary of the dedication of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. Morton Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard explores the Bell Tower’s history below.

Late summer 1947 . . .”It was a dark and stormy night.”  Hugh Morton had set up his camera down the street from the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower to photograph the University landmark during a thunderstorm. Little did he know at the time that one of the photographs from that session would wind up on the cover of two prominent North Carolina magazines simultaneously. That shot of the Tower (above), shrouded in haze with lightning flashing above, would be featured on the front cover of The Alumni Review issue of October, 1947, as well as The State magazine for October 25, 1947.

Over the years the Tower became a favorite photographic subject for Morton. His Bell Tower shots graced the cover of The State at least two more times, February 25, 1950 and January, 1974.

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In the early 1920s John Motley Morehead III proposed the idea of a Bell Tower to UNC President Harry Woodburn Chase. As part of the post-World War I building boom on campus, South Building was remodeled and Morehead suggested putting a bell tower on top of the building. The University “powers that be” wanted to maintain the historical integrity of the old structure, so they declined the offer. Then, in 1926, the administration drew up preliminary plans for what would become Wilson Library. Again, Morehead offered to pay for a bell tower on top of the library, but University Librarian Louis Round Wilson had already decided that “his” building would be domed.

Later, when University trustees moved the flagpole from McCorkle Place to Polk Place, Morehead again suggested a bell tower, and again the administration declined his offer. At this point Morehead enlisted the help of Rufus Lenoir Patterson II, prominent New York businessman, and the two families, along with University officials, came to an agreement that the Bell Tower would be placed between Wilson Library and Kenan Stadium.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1931, Governor O. Max Gardner delivered the acceptance address, concluding with these words:

I dedicate this tower and the sweet music of these bells to the future upbuilding of this institution and this state, knowing full well that on this campus the sons of North Carolina will be inspired by the harmony of these chimes and will here catch the vision and follow the gleam.

Later that afternoon, as was the Thanksgiving tradition in those days, Carolina played Virginia in Kenan Stadium.

Originally the bells were rung manually, but now the 14-bell carillon operates electronically, and has been heard as far away as Durham.  The largest bell, which tolls the hour, is engraved with the name of Governor John Motley Morehead, grandfather of the bell’s creator.

The 172-foot Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower actually rises about 200 feet, since it is built on a knoll, and it is surrounded by a hedge and lawn designed by William C. Coker, botany professor and creator of the campus Arboretum.

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The photograph on page 94 of Morton’s 2006 book, Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer, shows the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower at sunset — the way it often looks as it serenades the dispersing crowd after a great Tar Heel victory in Kenan, like the 13 to 6 win on Thanksgiving Day 1931.

Jack Hilliard

Who is Singleton Anderson?

This is a question I was asking myself from the time I started working on the Morton collection until recently, when I happily discovered the answer. A particular batch of Morton negatives labeled “Singleton C. Anderson, Rocky Pt.” caught my attention when I was making my first survey of Morton’s photographs. I noticed them because 1) they were striking black-and-white images from the circa 1950 period, and 2) they depicted African Americans in a non-athletic setting (somewhat unusual in Morton’s work).

Pender County Training School

Some quick Google searches at the time were fruitless; I suspected the images showed scenes from a Rosenwald School, but I didn’t have time to look into it any further. But the images, and Anderson, stuck with me. I just had a feeling they were important. So when I came upon them again recently during processing, I figured “what the heck,” and tried another Google search. Jackpot!

The site I found, Under the Kudzu, is run by educator and writer Claudia Stack, who is now in the process of creating a feature-length documentary film focused on the Rosenwald school movement as shown through two schools in Pender County, NC: the Canetuck Rosenwald School, a primary school, and the Pender County Training School, a high school. PCTS was located in, yes, Rocky Point. I emailed Claudia immediately and attached jpegs of the images included in this blog post. The next day, I got this reply:

I am ASTOUNDED at these images . . . I have been researching PCTS and Singleton C. Anderson’s profound impact on the region for the past six years, but images are very hard to come by. That is partly, I think, because he was a humble man, and partly because a tragic house fire claimed the life of his wife, Vanetta Anderson, and also all of their papers and pictures.

So, who in fact WAS Singleton C. Anderson?

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