Image of Thomas Wolfe smoking a pipe. The photo reportedly shows him during his senior year at UNC.

Thomas Wolfe during his senior year.

One hundred years ago today the tall, rather awkward, not quite yet sixteen-year-old Thomas Clayton Wolfe boarded an early morning train in Asheville bound for Durham. There he was met by his brother-in-law who drove him the twelve miles over to Chapel Hill to enroll at the University of North Carolina. Wolfe had longed to attend the University of Virginia. But his father had insisted he go to Chapel Hill, foreseeing a possible legal career and future in politics for his youngest child. Once at Chapel Hill, however, Tom quickly dove into both coursework and campus activities with a passion and focus that quickly made him among the most prominent and popular students on campus.

Upon arrival in Chapel Hill, Tom signed up for room and board at the three-story rooming house of Mrs. Mattie Eva Hardee, a widow originally from Asheville–$15 a month for board and $7.50 for a student’s half of a room. Writing to his brother-in-law a few days later, he declared the food “splendid” but the room rent “exorbitant.” His professors were “all fine fellows” for whom he hoped to “do well in all my studies and my guess is that I’ll have to ‘bone’ up on math.”

During the next four years, Wolfe would do well in his studies—as a junior winning the prize in philosophy for best student thesis and earning multiple A’s that same year from favorite professors Edwin Greenlaw in English, Frederick Koch in dramatic literature, and Horace Williams in philosophy. His achievements in student publications and as a leader of campus organizations were equally outstanding—assistant editor, then managing editor, and finally editor-in-chief of the Tar Heel student newspaper; assistant editor, then assistant editor-in-chief of the University Magazine; associate editor of the Yackety Yack yearbook; member of student council; author of and sometimes actor in plays performed by the campus Carolina Playmakers campus theater company; and class poet.

After graduating from UNC in 1920, Wolfe studied playwriting at Harvard, then moved to New York where he initially did some teaching at New York University. But soon he turned his legendary intellectual energy and passion to fiction writing. In 1929 his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was published, winning wide praise among literary critics and creating a sensation because of the thinly-veiled autobiographical nature of the book. The life and experiences of the book’s protagonist, Eugene Gant, are often unmistakably similar to those of Thomas Wolfe. In Look Homeward, Angel, however, young Gant attends the state university at Pulpit Hill, not Chapel Hill. But the sense of adventure, excitement, and intellectual stimulation he experienced there as described in Look Homeward, Angel, echo loudly the fond memories of Thomas Wolfe for a place and time he would later describe as being “as close to magic as I’ve ever been.”

Points of interest clumsily extracted from “The Most Detailed Map of Gay Marriage in America” by in the New York Times (Sept. 12):

Same-sex marriages account for 1.29% of all marriages in the 288 Zip code region (Asheville). This rate is highest in North Carolina, ahead of the 277 Zip (Durham) at 1.03.

No other Zip in North Carolina breaks 0.50. Lowest, at 0.12: 279 Zip (Elizabeth City and environs).

Statewide: 0.26

Nationwide: 0.35

Durham also ranks 15th nationally in percentage of same-sex female marriage — 0.68.


On this day in 1962: Carl Sandburg, age 84, makes his final public performance, reading poetry, singing and playing the guitar at Flat Rock Playhouse. To cap off the evening he waltzes in the wings with Maria Beale Fletcher of Asheville, who has just finished her year as Miss America.


Several new titles just added to “New in the North Carolina Collection.” To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the “New in the North Carolina Collection” tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

“More than 100 years ago, when few states had road departments [North Carolina’s dates to 1915], a group of women planned one of our country’s first transcontinental highways, a good deed that over the course of a century has become controversial.

“The road was planned in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  [The Jefferson Davis National (sometimes Memorial) Highway, conceived as a rejoinder to the earlier Lincoln Highway] would run from Washington state, through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, ending in Washington, D.C. It would be ‘beautified and historic places on it suitably and permanently marked.’

“Today, portions of that historic highway remain, dotted with UDC historic markers….”

— From “The twisted history of the controversial Jefferson Davis Highway” by Kelly Kazek at al.com (June 6)

As this 2013 account suggests, not much evidence of the Davis highway remains in North Carolina.  Here’s how it once wended its way through Chapel Hill

(Want to have a North Carolina road, bridge or ferry named for that special someone? Start here.)


“[Author and blogger Joe] Haynes asserts that the popular North Carolina style is the result of a culinary crime, noting in [“Virginia Barbecue: A History”] that, among other things, ‘When settlers first moved into what is today North Carolina, it was known at that time as Virginia’s Southern Plantation.’

“In person, Haynes is more direct: ‘North Carolina kidnapped Virginia barbecue.’ “

— From  “Where did barbecue begin? Virginia, he says” by Jim Shahin in the Washington Post (Aug. 28)

Curiously, Haynes’s book neglects to mention uber Virginian William Byrd’s backhanded acknowledgement of North Carolina’s barbecue primacy.


“The worse it gets, as I wade and stumble through the Great Dismal Swamp, the better I understand its history as a place of refuge. Each ripping thorn and sucking mudhole makes it clearer. It was the dense, tangled hostility of the swamp and its enormous size that enabled hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of escaped slaves to live here in freedom.

“We don’t know much about them, but thanks to [Dan Sayers], the archaeologist hacking through the mire ahead of me, we know they were out here, subsisting in hidden communities, and using almost nothing from the outside world until the 19th century….

“ ‘I was such a dumb-ass,’ says Sayers. ‘I was looking for hills, hummocks, high ground because that’s what I’d read in the documents: ‘Runaway slaves living on hills….’ I had never set foot in a swamp before. I wasted so much time. Finally, someone asked me if I’d been to the islands in North Carolina. Islands! That was the word I’d been missing’….”

— From “Deep in the Swamps, Archaeologists Are Finding How Fugitive Slaves Kept Their Freedom” by Richard Grant in Smithsonian magazine (September 2016)

This weekend has Labor Day and football.  What more of an excuse do you need to get those grills out?

Shrimp and Hot Sausage Kabobs - Mario Tailgates

Shrimp and Hot Sausage Kabobs from Mario tailgates NASCAR style.

Margarita Grilled Shrimp - Outer Banks Cookbook

Margarita Grilled Shrimp from The Outer Banks cookbook : recipes & traditions from North Carolina’s barrier islands.

Kareem Kabobs - Hornets Homecooking

Kareem Kabobs from Hornets homecooking : favorite family recipes from the Charlotte Hornets players, coaches, staff and special fans.

Grilled Eggplant - Supper's at Six

Grilled Eggplant from Supper’s at six and we’re not waiting!

Grilled Maple Pork Chops-An Appetite for Art

Grilled Maple Pork Chops from An appetite for art : recipes and art from the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Grilled Hamburgers - Favorite Recipes of the Carolinas

Grilled Hamburgers from Favorite recipes of the Carolinas : meats edition, including poultry and seafood.

“Once again, Maine Gov. Paul LePage is in trouble, and race is at the heart of the matter….  Talk is once again circulating about removing the governor from office.

“Over the course of American history, there have been 17 instances of gubernatorial impeachment, with eight convictions resulting. The last governor to be impeached [was] Rod Blagojevich of Illinois….

“While the power of impeachment has been a feature of state constitutions since the founding of the republic, it was never used until the Civil War….

“The first conviction of an impeached governor occurred in the post-Civil War period, when North Carolina’s Democratic legislature convicted Republican William Holden for using martial law to protect the rights of freed slaves against white racial terrorists. (Back then, the Republicans were the party of civil rights.) This era, during which Southern white supremacists engaged in a political insurgency against the victorious Union government for control of Reconstruction in the defeated Confederate states, witnessed nearly half of all gubernatorial impeachments in American history….”

— From “A LePage impeachment would repeat — and reverse — impeachment’s race-based history” by Patrick Rael in the Bangor Daily News (Aug. 29)


Several new titles just added to “New in the North Carolina Collection.” To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the “New in the North Carolina Collection” tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »