Morton Among the Movers and Shakers

Note from Elizabeth: I’m pleased to present the very first essay from Worth 1,000 Words project, written by journalist Rob Christensen. Rob has been writing about N.C. politics as a reporter and a columnist for 36 years for The News and Observer and The Charlotte Observer; his book The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics won the N.C. Literary and Historical Association’s Ragan Old North State Award for the best work of nonfiction in 2008.

Update 2/9/10: This post has now been converted into its own “page” under the Essays section of A View to Hugh.

Daniel Boone Days are here again!

This weekend (Sept. 4-5) marks the second annual Daniel Boone Days festival in my lovely hometown of Boone, NC. From the looks of it, the festival has really taken off since last year — they’ve attracted some big names and the schedule is “jam packed with activities for all ages and tastes, including children’s music and games, living history, arts & crafts, food & drink, dancing, poetry, storytelling and live performances.” The festivities kick off Friday with the Dr. Edwin Arnold Daniel Boone Symposium today (full disclosure: Dr. Arnold, a.k.a. “Chip,” is my dad, and he was heavily involved with organizing the first festival last year).

It’s a good bet that if Hugh Morton were still around, he’d be in Boone with his cameras this weekend. (In particular, he would NOT miss an opportunity to photograph the setting of a new World Record for the “Most People Dressed Like Daniel Boone at One Time”!).

Like many who live in the Western part of our state, Morton clearly had a Daniel Boone fascination. Besides developing a Boone exhibit for Grandfather Mountain’s Nature Museum, he photographed Boone’s Horn in the West outdoor drama from its early days, when Ned Austin played the famous pioneer (see above), and took many a portrait of Glenn Causey (below), the actor who took over the role in 1956 and played it for the next 40 years! (FYI, the portrait of Horn author Kermit Hunter on the “Horn History” web page is also a Morton image).

Morton also photographed the graves of Boone’s parents in the Joppa Cemetery near Mocksville, as well as Asheville’s competing Daniel Boone drama Thunderland, including the mysterious portrait below, taken circa 1952. (Does anyone know who this is? Thunderland author Hubert Hayes? Composer Lamar Stringfield?)

Hope those attending this weekend’s festivities in Boone will report back! I myself am headed to the opposite end of the state for one last salty taste of sand and surf, before the delicious crisp of fall sets in for good . . .

Battle for the Beacon

Note from Elizabeth: This is the fourth post researched and written by volunteer Jack Hilliard. Ten years ago today, on July 9, 1999, the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to its new location was completed.

It wasn’t difficult to recognize Hugh Morton when he came to Greensboro in the spring of 1982 for the annual Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism. He was the gentleman in the Carolina blue jacket and the yellow tie embroidered with an image of the Hatteras Lighthouse.  His lapel button identified him as “Keeper of the Light.”

A year before, Morton had formed the “Save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Committee,” in response to the growing concerns about the safety of the 129-year-old structure. His committee read like a who’s who in North Carolina: Morton was even able to get his friends (and political foes) Democratic Governor Jim Hunt and Republican Senator Jesse Helms to lead the project. (The two would engage in a 1984 Senate contest that Newsweek magazine called “the most colorful, expensive, and nasty Senate contest in the country,” but in 1981 they were on the same team).

This powerful group was able to raise $500,000 in a very short time, with Morton using some of the same techniques that he had used 20 years before to bring the Battleship USS North Carolina to Wilmington. The money was used for sandbags, sand fences, and Seascape synthetic seaweed. All of these measures were extremely helpful in building up the beach around the lighthouse.

Morton and Hunt were able to literally measure their success. In an interview for the December, 1997 issue of Lighthouse Digest magazine, Morton said:

“Governor Hunt and I took a tape measure; one of us stood at the base of the light and the other took the tape to the water’s edge–and it was not low tide either. The tape showed it was 310 feet from the water to the tower–quite an improvement over the less than 100-feet when the project started. The seaweed had trapped the sand moving south and built up the land under the water as well as the beach itself.”

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“The bear that didn’t know she was a bear”

“Mildred the Bear, the nicest bear that has ever been…”
–Hugh Morton

Note from Elizabeth: Allow me to introduce the author of this post, our newest Morton team member, Allison Wonsick. While not “Tar Heel born,” Allison considers herself “Tar Heel bred” as a resident of Hickory, North Carolina, a UNC-CH alumna, and a current graduate student attending Appalachian State University in Boone. She is interning this summer at Wilson Library in the Photo Archives as well as in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

When my family and I moved to Hickory in 1996, the first place we visited was Grandfather Mountain. We hiked the trails, explored the museum, saw the animal habitats, crossed the Mile High Swinging Bridge on a blustery day, and even saw snow in April (a shock in any month for a former Floridian)–but the most memorable aspect of the trip were the bears, both as residents of the mountain and as symbols of Grandfather Mountain itself.

Particularly iconic, of course, was legendary Mildred. It was clear then and now that she was special. Working with Hugh’s slide collection and family photographs, I can see the bond between Mildred and Morton (and have heard stories of picnics together with Fig Newtons and grape soda), but always wondered how the relationship began. Just how does one become friends with a bear?

Luckily, finding out more information about Mildred was not difficult. It turns out that Morton wrote her biography a few years after her arrival on the Mountain.

So here is a history of Mildred and the bears that followed in her paw prints, courtesy of former zookeeper Laurie Mitchell Jakobsen in her book, The Animals of Grandfather Mountain (published in 2001 by Parkway Publishers, Inc. of Boone, N.C.), and anecdotal tales I’ve picked up while working with the collection.

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“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.

World’s Largest . . .

Happening upon this 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 . . .

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?

“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

Mile High Milestone

Dedication of Mile High Swinging Bridge, Sept. 2, 1952

Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge was dedicated 56 years ago on September 2, 1952 by then-Governor William B. Umstead (pictured above at the ceremony at center, with his daughter, WBT Radio announcer Grady Cole on the left, and Hugh Morton on the right).

The bridge was one of several projects Morton took on during the early years of his oversight of Grandfather, designed to turn it into (according to the slogan he coined) “Carolina’s TOP scenic attraction.”

An Oct. 1, 1978 article about Morton from the Greensboro Daily News recounts the following:

The swinging bridge was one of two options when Morton decided to get visitors from the gift shop-museum parking lot to the rocky overlook. “We had to have some way to get them across, and we could either have a stationary bridge or a swinging bridge,” he said. “We decided the swinging bridge would be more fun, and would make a good conversation piece.” Some 30 percent of women visitors, and a smaller percentage of males, however, think it best not to cross the bridge.

Crossing the bridge is one thing (speaking as a “woman visitor” who has done it, in 95-mph winds, even!); building it is entirely another, as you can see in the picture below. This is NOT a job I would have taken on.

Construction of Mile High Swinging Bridge, 1952

The Mile High Swinging Bridge proved not just a promotional boon for Morton, but a photographic one as well. He took many beautiful images of the bridge over the years—enveloped in mist, framed by vivid fall leaves or blooming rhododendrons, encased in rime ice. I find the (cropped) image below particularly “striking.”

Mile High Swinging Bridge in lightning storm, circa 1950s

Highway 17

A couple of weeks ago, I went to spend a few leisurely days with my family at Sunset Beach, NC. The idea, of course, was to get away from it all—little did I realize that when one’s job centers around Hugh Morton, it’s impossible to drive on North Carolina’s highways without being constantly reminded of work! Highway 17 near Wilmington is especially bad. Nearly every road sign I saw reminded me of Morton—Castle Hayne, St. Helena, Holden Beach, Orton Plantation, the State Ports, and of course the USS North Carolina, which we drove right by (twice!) . . .
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The image below shows (I believe) Morton’s wife Julia and a little girl (maybe their daughter Catherine) in a field of daffodils at Castle Haynes (over time, it seems, the “S” has been dropped from the place name). Morton took many a portrait in these highly photogenic flower fields.

Julia and Catherine [?] Morton in daffodil field at Castle Hayne[s], NC, circa early 1960s

The story of Castle Hayne(s) and St. Helena is a fascinating one: Hugh MacRae, Morton’s grandfather, founded these two experimental colonies around the turn of the 20th century, with the goal of attracting European immigrants to introduce their systems of intensive agriculture to the Southeast. In a March 1934 article from The State magazine, MacRae is quoted as saying, “I feel sure that we have got to rebuild our economic structure beginning at the base, which means a reshaping of rural life.”

Hugh MacRae with calf, probably at Invershiel farm in Pender County, NC, circa 1940s

Farm families from countries including Greece, Russia, Italy, Holland, Germany, Poland, and Hungary transplanted themselves to New Hanover and Pender counties to begin new lives, and many proved highly successful. From the March 10, 1934 The State article: “While the cancerous depression was eating the core out of farming financially and otherwise all over the United States, these colonies were teeming with prosperity in comparison.” (Note: anyone interested in learning more about MacRae’s experiment and similar settlements should track down the following article: “A Reconnaissance of Some Cultural-Agricultural Islands in the South,” by Walter M. Kollmorgen, Economic Geography Vol. 17, No. 4, Oct. 1941, pp. 409-430.)

While the Hugh Morton image below is labeled simply “Dutch Girls,” I feel certain it was taken at Castle Hayne, sometime during the 1940s:

“Dutch Girls,” probably at Castle Hayne agricultural settlement, circa 1940s

I’m less certain about the following Morton image, which is one of a batch of negatives I found in an envelope labeled “Estonians.” It shows what I assume is a group of immigrants or visitors from Estonia, taken probably on the Wilmington waterfront during the 1940s. Were these people coming to settle at MacRae’s colonies? I have no idea. (If it helps anyone with identification, a building in the background reads either “Maffitt…” or “Haffitt…”).

“Estonians,” Wilmington, NC waterfront [?], circa 1940s

Later articles from The State (from the 8/11/1945 and 11/16/1957 issues), reinforce the notion that this particular experiment proved beneficial to the region’s economy. I don’t know much about what’s going on in St. Helena and Castle Hayne these days, other than what I learned from a recent article in the Wilmington Star News about the possible closure of the Castle Hayne Horticultural Crops Research Station. Can anyone help bring us up to date?

You see how easy it is to get caught up in just one of the roadside locations along Highway 17. Perhaps I’ll explore others in future posts.