“Driving through Time” project funded

Exciting news! A new two-year digital publishing initiative called Driving through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina has been approved for funding by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Work on the new collection begins July 1, and will be heavily based on findings and experimentation from other GIS (Geographic Information Systems)-based projects developed by UNC Libraries and their partners: Going to the Show and North Carolina Maps. (By the way, if you haven’t yet explored these collections, you simply must).

We’re especially thrilled because Driving through Time will include some of Hugh Morton’s Parkway photographs. Here’s a summary of the project provided by the Carolina Digital Library & Archives:

Driving through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina will present an innovative, visually- and spatially-based model for documenting the twentieth-century history of a seventeen-county section of the North Carolina mountains. The project will feature historic maps, photographs, postcards, government documents, and newspaper clippings, each of which will be assigned geographic coordinates so that it can be viewed on a map, enabling users to visualize and analyze the impact of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the people and landscape in western North Carolina.

Primary sources will be drawn from the collections of the UNC-Chapel Hill University Library, the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters, and the North Carolina State Archives. These materials are especially significant in that they document one of North Carolina’s most popular tourist attractions, but also in the way that they help to illuminate the way that the Blue Ridge Parkway transformed the communities through which it passed.  In addition to the digitized primary sources, the project will include scholarly analyses of aspects of the development of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, and an educational component designed for K-12 teachers and students.

Using digital technologies to open a new window on the history of the Parkway and its region is especially timely considering the approach of the Parkway’s 75th anniversary in 2010 and the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016.  This project is certain to be a valuable and popular resource for millions of tourists as well as for teachers, students, and historians, both within North Carolina and beyond.

A Magician’s Secrets Revealed!

Note from Elizabeth: Last Friday was Amber’s last day at work on the Morton project. We’d like to thank her immensely for her dogged, patient, and insanely organized work sorting through the slides, and her charming blog posts. We wish her all the best with the rest of her education!

I’ve learned a lot over the last ten months working on this collection. I’ve learned about archival procedure, making many mistakes along the way (the method for organizing the slides changed probably four or five times before I found one that worked). I have found homes for hundreds of “orphan” slides, and processed more than 72,000 slides in total. I’ve also been able to travel to amazing places: Grandfather Mountain, the Fern Grottoes of Hawaii, the McNeil River in Alaska, Galilee at Sunrise, Puerto Rican beaches, and Milford Sound in New Zealand.

I’ve probably learned the most, though, about photography. Hugh Morton was an artist, crafting amazing pictures out of everyday objects. On my two visits to Grandfather Mountain, everyone shared with me tips and tricks Hugh had taught them for taking great pictures. Now, I don’t feel I am betraying any of these secrets, because Hugh took all of the following pictures to document his process.

When I saw the Linn Cove Viaduct, I thought it was a pretty scene. But it lacked something that Hugh was able to capture. (Elizabeth touched on this in a previous post about her visit to the Mountain). I heard from two different people at Grandfather how Hugh would have helpers bring potted plants or hold branches of fall leaves to frame that perfect shot. Below, we can see how he positioned a rhododendron stem just out of frame to create the resulting beautiful picture above.

I also found slides of how he captured his amazing hummingbird pictures. I always wondered how he was in the right place at the right moment to capture that hummingbird going to that flower. Turns out it wasn’t always serendipity! The shot below shows how he set everything up on his deck at home. He would lure the hummingbirds in with a feeder, then add the bottle holding the flower. The feeder would be removed, leaving only the thistle blossom. (His camera was inside pointed out the sliding glass doors so that he wouldn’t scare the little darlings away). He could then snap as many shots as possible without having to wait all day for the right moment.

Some of my favorite shots of the bears were from when they had climbed to the top of the rock in their habitat or on a cliff by the Swinging Bridge. I thought they had done that on their own, maybe to enjoy the majestic view. Nope. Hugh would have a helper lay a trail of peanut butter up the rock for the bear to follow. Often, there would be someone just out of sight luring the bear with more treats. If you look at those pictures now, you can see that the bears are usually peering over the ledge at something.

On my last trip to the Mountain, I had to laugh when I saw a Morton postcard showing a beautiful red fox running through the snow. It was faked! I’ve seen pictures of that same fox, in that same pose, in many different settings — there’s even one of it chasing a taxidermied rabbit! And Julia Morton also shared with us that Hugh carried around moose antlers in Alaska to add scenic perspective.

So, to be a scenic photographer of Hugh’s caliber, I need helpers to stage the scene with potted plants and tree branches. I need some sort of treat to entice the models in my pictures (whether man or beast). And I need a stuffed fox. Oh, and some moose antlers.

I’m going to need a bigger camera bag.

World’s Largest . . .

Happening upon this CNN.com article about “world’s largest” roadside attractions, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the wacky or otherwise superlative NC tourist attractions represented in the Hugh Morton collection.

In the “world’s largest” category, we have, of course, the “World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree” in Wilmington . . . but my personal favorite has to be the “World’s Largest 10 Commandments” at the amazing Fields of the Wood Bible Park in Murphy. (Let me add that this website is DEFINITELY worth a visit). Some historical background for the park can be found here.

While it doesn’t quite qualify for the “world’s largest” superlative, Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head does boast itself as “the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States.”  This Morton image certainly captures its expansiveness:

Then we have Asheville’s Biltmore House, known as “America’s largest house”:

And the Blue Ridge Parkway, which qualifies as the “world’s longest, narrowest national park”:

Okay, I may be reaching a bit now (as perhaps are the promoters of these various attractions in their attempts to attract visitors). But there’s no disputing that this a perfect time of year to hit the road and explore our state’s many superlative treasures. May I suggest the fabulous website Roadside America to help you plan your adventure? I myself have always wanted to visit the Taxidermy Hall of Fame and Creation Museum in Southern Pines . . .

The Wilds of Alaska

Back when I was working on the Morton slides from 1975, I sorted over 350 he took on a trip to Alaska. This was the most daunting and stressful sets of slides I have yet to organize — it appeared that they were thrown into the air and then put back into the boxes however they were picked up. I had all those slides spread out on a big light table for over a week, and there are still quite a few 1975 Alaska “orphans.”

There were some nice scenic shots of Denali and glaciers, but mostly what I remember are endless miles of pipeline (related to Williams Brothers operations, led by Morton’s good friend John Williams, pictured below).

Recently, I came to a batch slides from October 1986 and July 1987 labeled Alaska, and I immediately got a headache. Memories of the pipeline made me think of quitting. It didn’t help when I tried to determine if Morton had photographed caribou or reindeer (for those of you who don’t know, they are the same thing).

Luckily, most of this batch has been better organized and labeled. They appear to be pictures from a trip Hugh took with wildlife artist Richard Evans Younger (top photo), the subject of a series of Morton films. We’re not certain who the cameraman is (see picture below), any ideas? There are film reels from the trip downstairs in storage, still to be cataloged; some of these are labeled “McNeil River Bears” and “Wildlife Artist: Younger Alaska.”

I think Morton must have gotten a bit spoiled by his ability to cuddle and wrestle the bears at Grandfather Mountain. I don’t think the bears in the wilds of Alaska are going to react the same as Mildred, Jane, or Punkin. But this didn’t seem to stop him from getting some amazing pictures of grizzlies at McNeil Falls.

McNeil River State Game Refuge and Sanctuary becomes quite populated in July and August–with bears, not tourists. Every year these bears migrate to the falls to stuff themselves with dog salmon. There are no roads to the sanctuary and visitors must apply months in advance for a chance in the lottery. Only about 250 people get to see this spectacle each year, with a limit of ten at a time. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, up to 72 bears have been seen here at one time. I count 14 in the picture below!

Morton was a well-traveled man. I’ve shared with you the splendors of Hawaii and Alaska. Maybe before my assistanship is finished I’ll show you Arizona, California, or Florida. Or perhaps China, Japan, the Holy Land, New Zealand and Australia, Italy, or Austria? Let me know where you would like to travel next. Cozumel is beautiful this time of year.

Series 1: North Carolina Places

In my new year’s processing update, I mentioned that I had begun the final pass through the Morton negatives, transparencies, and prints, with the goal of opening them for research use once I was finished. That process is nearing completion for what will be the first series, North Carolina Places, and it’s pretty exciting!

I now have everything in Series 1 re-housed in archival enclosures (see below), labeled, and described in a spreadsheet, and I’m beginning the process of turning my spreadsheet into an EAD-encoded finding aid. Compare these lovely boxes with the ungainly piles I was facing at the beginning of this project, and you’ll begin to understand my glee.

We’ve also been scanning and preparing metadata for a couple hundred images from this series (including those in this post), which we will make available online once we have the front end designed and the search/browse functionality worked out. (I’m hoping we’ll hear more about that soon from this semester’s incarnation of the SILS Digital Libraries class, who will soon be finishing up their work on the Morton project).

We’re aiming for a summertime launch of both the digital collection and the finding aid for Series 1. To tide you over, here’s the basic structure:

Collection “highlights”: NC Lighthouses

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, circa 1950s

As I’m currently making my third and final “pass” through the negatives in the “North Carolina Places” series, I couldn’t help but note the many fine Morton images of our state’s famous lighthouses (nor could I resist the pun in this post’s title — “high lights,” get it? Ugh, sorry).

All three of the images in this post are testaments to Hugh Morton’s artistic eye. Lighthouses are photographed so often, and usually in highly mediocre fashion. It is, admittedly, difficult to bring visual interest to a tall, skinny object — but Morton achieves it here through framing, pattern, and the use of models.

In the photo above of the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse (notably, the second oldest lighthouse in the U.S. in continuous service), the shadow, shape and texture of the tree in the foreground draw the eye powerfully to the image’s primary subject. Meanwhile, in the Cape Hatteras image below, the placement of the female models and the patterning of the foremost model’s bathing suit provide dramatic variation and contrast with the lighthouse’s famous stripes. (Ladies in swimsuits usually don’t hurt in terms of visual interest, either — as Morton was keenly aware).

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with female models, circa late 1940s-early 1950s

The Oak Island image below may be my favorite. There’s just something very charming about the stance and placement of the model (who I suspect is a young Jim Morton), the jaunty angles of his arms, and the way the stripes of his t-shirt echo the stripes of the lighthouse. Well played, Mr. Morton.

Oak Island Lighthouse, circa late 1950s

Wish You Were Here!

Postcards are an integral part of any vacation. Whether amid the urban sprawl of Charlotte or the peace and quiet of Sunset Beach, you will always find those spinning turnstiles advertising postcards, 10 for a dollar.  Grandfather Mountain is by no means immune to this phenomenon.

Grandfather Mountain postcard, circa 1990s

In our massive collection of images are quite a few postcards photographed, and often published, by Hugh Morton. Some of these postcards can be seen in the North Carolina Postcards collection online: 14 postcards for which Hugh provided the images can be found in the digital collection. Of the 7 Grandfather Mountain images, 4 are Hugh’s (of the Highland Games and pipe bands on the cliffs. Stephen found this collection quite useful about a year ago in helping to identify a specific pipe band).

Hugh Morton postcard, circa 1950s (subjects unidentified)

Most of the postcards donated with the collection are typical scenic views, cuddly bear cubs, or bubbly creeks and waterfalls — ones you might buy from Grandfather Mountain’s gift shop, including familiar images such as this one, this one, and this one. And then you have the one above, a crazy picture with no accompanying description, raising the questions: who are these men, and why would I want a postcard of them?

Grandfather Mountain postcard, circa 1960s
Some of the postcards are actually quite useful. Many times the descriptions on the back will help us to identify a location, date, or person. The description from the postcard above explains that this is Darby Hinton and Mildred the Bear at the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Darby played Daniel Boone’s son, Israel, from the television series running from 1964-1970. As we were looking for postcards for this blog, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Hey, I’ve seen this kid.”  She had run across pictures of him, but hadn’t yet connected them with a name.

The pictures Hugh Morton took for his postcards were used for more than just souvenirs. Grammy Award-winning banjo man David Holt used a Morton postcard to promote himself. Hugh used a postcard of the USS North Carolina to send out his change of address from Wilmington to Linville. It’s nice to see that the photos he took showed the beauty of the surrounding areas and didn’t stoop to the cheesy tourist gimmicks of bathing beauties or ski bunnies.

Hugh Morton photo postcard, circa late 1940s-early 1950s

Or did they?

New year, new processing update

Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel, Blue Ridge Parkway, circa late 1950s-early 1960s
I may have been remiss lately in keeping you updated on our behind-the-scenes progress on the processing of the Hugh Morton collection. The fact is that I’ve been on the job for over a year now, and some days I feel like nothing’s gotten done! So much is going on at once, and no task ever feels “completed” (at least not yet).

But on other, calmer and saner days, I can begin to see things coming together — a glint of light at the end of the tunnel, you might say.

So, in bare bones format, here’s where we are at the beginning of 2009:

  1. Negatives and transparencies: I have begun the third and “final” (grain of salt added) pass through these, with the goal of opening them for research use once this pass is completed. They’re organized into series (and sub-, sub-sub-, and sometimes sub-sub-sub series) and described (at varying levels) in an Excel spreadsheet, from which I will extract the metadata to create a finding aid and a digital collection in CONTENTdm (like the McCauley Collection I mentioned previously).
  2. Slides: these are Amber’s territory at the moment. She has plowed her way through the 35mm slides from the 1960s and 1970s (sorting, describing, and re-housing), leaving the 1950s (already partially plowed), 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s to be completed. However, like a slide ninja, Amber is moving faster and more efficiently as she continues to hone her methods.
  3. Prints: languishing a bit at the moment, still awaiting their third pass.
  4. Motion picture film: also languishing, but not for long — a new School of Information and Library Science (SILS) student will be joining our team soon to tackle the processing, preservation, and description of the films. I’ll introduce her when the time comes.
  5. Scanning: David’s domain, still continuing full steam ahead. We’ve been digitizing a somewhat haphazard assortment thus far (responding to various priorities), but are now ready to focus our efforts on the aforementioned CONTENTdm digital collection, which will feature a selection of “highlights” from the Morton photos.
    (David will probably be jealous that I called Amber a slide ninja, so let’s go ahead and proclaim him a scanning ninja).
  6. Photo Identification: an ongoing, constant, mammoth, and never-ending task. All I can say is, we’re doing the best we can. I don’t think this job will ever be truly finished; there will always be more detail to add, more faces to match with names, more people with knowledge and stories to share. Right now, we’re just trying to provide access to the collection as quickly as possible. Then, let the sharing begin!

Aloha Kalikimaka

Beach with lighthouse, Hawaii, 1978

After making it through a rather blustery November, I’m reminded of when I boldly decided to escape the cold Sierra Nevada Mountains and relax on the black sand beaches of Hawaii. The Mortons had the same brilliant idea over Christmas 1978, when they took a trip to the islands of Oahu and Kauai. There are stunning pictures of double rainbows over a misty Honolulu, the USS Arizona Memorial, and surfing crystal turquoise waters.

While in Hawaii, Morton visited the grave of Ernest Taylor Pyle at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Ernie Pyle was a journalist in both world wars, stationed in the Pacific Theater during WWII.  I’m guessing that their paths must have crossed during that time? I haven’t been able to find a connection, but if anyone can confirm this it would be appreciated.

Fern Grotto, Wailua River State Park, Hawaii, 1978
The photo above I found floating loose at the bottom of a box, one of the many orphans I have had to match to its roll. Once I found the Hawaii batch, I was able to easily recognize where it belonged. It shows the Fern Grotto in Wailua River State Park on Kauai — this is a large lava cave that ferns took over, growing on every surface. I’m not certain if Hugh had pulled this from the rest of the roll for a presentation, or because he felt it wasn’t up to par. (His “rejects” usually look pretty great to me).

Hang gliding, Hawaii, 1978

In the late 70s and early 80s, Hugh took numerous photos of hang gliding, mostly at Grandfather (the home of the National Hang Gliding Championship for a few years).  The comments we received on a previous post tell the exciting story behind one of the hang gliding photos from Hawaii, which shows Morton himself taking flight! The image above was one that was able to capture the beautiful waters, and the contrast between the white sands and dark coral reefs.

Maybe it’s the temps in the 20s forecast for Chapel Hill, or the thought of a Mai Tai, but Hawaii is definitely calling for me to visit again soon.  Right, Elizabeth?

Editorial Note from Elizabeth: I thought it was pretty funny when Amber said she wanted to write this post, because I am actually off to Hawaii myself next week! I’ll be doing, um, highly serious and intensive Morton-related research. No relaxing whatsoever. (Do you think the IRS will buy that?)

“A Magical Place, Part of Another World”

This past weekend, a weird and wonderful event took place at the top of Beech Mountain, NC: the 15th annual “Autumn at Oz,” a pilgrimage and tribute to the bygone Land of Oz theme park that existed there from 1970 to 1980. (Photos from the weekend, and previous Land of Oz parties, can be viewed here).

I don’t recall visiting Oz myself (I would’ve been pretty young when it closed in 1980), but I do remember seeing leftover artifacts at the now-closed Appalachian Cultural Museum in Boone, and thinking to myself, “what an odd idea for a tourist attraction!” (Along those lines, I recommend the article “In Search of Emerald City,” a fascinating history of the “strange urge to create a life-sized Land of Oz.”)

Hugh Morton took many a photo at Oz during the decade of its existence, most (or all?) of which were for promotional purposes. Here are a few, along with the Museum’s nice, brief summary of the park’s history.

Aerial view of the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

“The Land of Oz was a theme park based on the characters of L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Built atop Beech Mountain in Watauga County, North Carolina, the park was designed to capitalize on the rugged beauty of the Blue Ridge while providing the activities popular with modern tourists. The Land of Oz was called “exquisite” and an “adventure, imaginative and unspoiled” by the Washington, DC Daily News, which gave the park its annual award in 1970 as the best new tourist attraction in America.

Theater at the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

The park’s developers, Grover and Harry Robbins of Boone, NC, and Jack Pentes, the designer of Oz, were determined to preserve the natural environment of the sixteen-acre park. The Land of Oz attracted over 400,000 people in its first year and became the leading tourist attraction in North Carolina almost overnight.

Not only was the Land of Oz owned locally, its construction relied on local carpenters, stonemasons, and renowned craftsmen like Daniel Boone V, who created the wrought iron work for the park. Oz also provided summer employment for some 150 young people who worked as characters, guides, and in the concessions.

Dorothy's House, at the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

The Land of Oz closed in 1980, the victim of the changed resort economy. But for a decade it was what designer Pentes had hoped for — a magical place, part of another world.”

Scene at the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s