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.

Loafer’s Glory, or happiness in the hills

I want to go back to Loafer’s Glory and have another cup of coffee in the small diner there, look out the windows at the wooded hills, maybe while away some time “just sittin,” as the mountain folk say. Watch the play of light and shadow on the mountains and perhaps discreetly observe the people as they come and go.

Thomas James Martin, 2001

In my last post, I mentioned a messy box of roll film I found, previously overlooked, in the stacks. As dirty and jumbled as the box was, I assumed it would be filled with, shall we say, less-than-premium examples of Hugh Morton’s work. I was (at least partially) wrong. Among the many rolls of the Morton sons’ high school basketball games I found shots of Terry Sanford’s 1961 inauguration as NC Governor, Kerr Scott at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, and Billy Graham preaching at “Singing on the Mountain” in 1962, among other high-quality scenes.

I also found an intriguing roll of 120 film depicting a North Carolina destination with which I was unfamiliar — a very small community in the NC mountains called “Loafer’s Glory.” To quote Mr. Martin again, “Loafer’s Glory is a wide place in the road in the mountains of western North Carolina. At last count less than a hundred souls live in the community, but at least there is a caution light marking the spot on NC Highway 226 where it it intersects NC 80 of this ‘gloriously’ named town near the Tennessee border perhaps 50 or 60 miles west of Asheville.” (Be sure to read the entirety of Martin’s lovely article on the importance of taking time to “loaf”).

According to a resource on Mitchell County Place Names, Loafer’s Glory “is probably Mitchell County’s most famous named place. Located at the bend of the river about three miles north of Bakersville, Loafer’s Glory was reputedly coined by the women of the community, who took a dim view of the men’s habit of ‘lollygagging’ on the porch of the community soter, rather than working.”

Hugh Morton appears to have visited the community sometime in the 1950s-early 1960s, on his way to or back from a “hillbilly festival” taking place in the middle of the road (the two shots below are on the same roll of film as the Loafer’s Glory images). The road signs for highways 64 and 28 in the bottom image would indicate a location of Highlands, NC, which then leads me to the distinct possibility that these are shots of “Highlands Hillbilly Days.”

According to Anthony Harkins’ Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, the Hillbilly Days were held each August between 1951 and at least 1957 — “participants dressed as hillbillies and participated in beauty contests, as well as the more traditional pursuits of wood chopping, square dancing, and ballad-singing” (263).

Can anyone verify this? Is this, in fact, “Highlands Hillbilly Days”? And, have you ever loafed in Loafer’s Glory?

“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


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’


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?)



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.


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.




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.


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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