Chang and Eng Bunker’s widows didn’t want to give away their husbands’ bodies after death, even when offered large amounts of money, even though they were left with many children to support. But the College of Physicians of Philadelphia convinced them it was ‘a duty to science and humanity that the family of the deceased should permit an autopsy,’ so the widows allowed the postmortem on the condition that the band between the brothers not be cut….

“If you go to the museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia – the Mütter Museum – today, you can see the conjoined livers of Chang and Eng displayed right below the plaster death cast the college made of their bodies while they were briefly in its possession. It isn’t clear if the Bunker widows knew that the livers would be taken, no less displayed. One of Eng’s descendants asked me, years ago, if I could help her figure out if there had, in fact, been permission from the Bunkers. She had been to the museum and found it a little strange to have people making fun of her ancestors’ organs. Not disgusting or upsetting or anything – just strange….

“I asked the descendant what she’d want to do if we did find evidence that the Bunker widows explicitly did not want the livers kept by the college. She laughed…. Should it be buried, she asked me rhetorically, at the gravesite containing the bodies, in Mount Airy? Should it be passed around the hundreds of living descendants, displayed on various mantels around the country in turn?

“I pictured an old conjoined liver treated like the Stanley Cup….”

— From “Visiting your leg” by Alice Dreger at Aeon (Nov. 16, 2016)


“As both Patriots and Loyalists recognized the war in the South as particularly violent, predictably, each side blamed the other. Among the most notorious rebels was Colonel Benjamin ‘Bull Dog’ Cleveland, who terrorized Loyalists in the Yadkin country. When [British Major Patrick] Ferguson‘s proclamation just before Kings Mountain men­tioned the rebels ‘murdering an unarmed son before the aged fa­ther, and afterwards lopped off his arms,’ he was referring to an infamous incident involving the ‘Bull Dog.’

“In another instance, Cleveland’s men broke out two Loyalists from a prison, stood one of them ‘on a log, put the noose around his neck, threw the end of the rope over a tree limb, fastened it, and kicked the log out from under him.’ Cleveland then gave the second Loyalist a choice: he, too, would be hanged, unless he cut off his own ears. The man grabbed a knife, sliced off his ears, and was let go.”

— From Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth” by Holger Hoock (2017)

Cleveland County is named for the ‘Bull Dog.’


On this day in 1938: Accepting an honorary degree at the University of North Carolina (three years after the school gave one to his wife, Eleanor), President Franklin D. Roosevelt shrugs off New Deal losses in the recent elections: “The liberal forces have often been killed and buried, with the inevitable result that they have come to life again more vigorous than before.”

In a phrase that will come to identify the speech at Woollen Gymnasium, FDR denies that his favorite breakfast dish is “grilled millionaire.”

[How a persistent UNC student managed to “land a whale on a trout hook.”]


“Forty-five days had passed since Charleston received the news of Lincoln’s election — forty-five days of a sustained, wild excitement….

“With secession accomplished, there could be no more anxiety that [South Carolina’s ] leaders would fail at this task. Whether other states would follow, and when, was a worry for another moment — and no matter if some thought, as a North Carolina planter wrote a friend in the city, that in Charleston, ‘everybody is drunk or crazy.’ ”

— From “Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860 and the Mania for War” by Paul Starobin (2017)

The blunt-spoken planter was James Cathcart Johnston of Edenton. Though Johnston owned 550 slaves, he was an unwavering Unionist and referred to secessionists as “wicked.” 


“By the end of the 1960 campaign Golden had made more than 50 speeches supporting a Kennedy presidency. When speaking to Jewish audiences in California, Golden was joined by Carl Sandburg, in Hollywood at the time serving as a consultant on a film. The two men on the stump together were a bit of genius.

” ‘I played the impresario by keeping him in the wings,’ Golden explained. He introduced his friend with a flourish: ‘I brought you a bonus — Carl Sandburg!’ Sandburg usually drew a standing ovation. The cheers would break out anew when the older man [Sandburg] paused and — as if he had just thought of the phrase — declared, ‘We are just a couple of North Carolina boys plugging for a young fellow from Boston who will make us a good president.’ ”

— From “Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights” by Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett (2015)


“Burlington’s original name, Company Shops, is a shortened version of Company’s Repair Shops, and in 1864 the townspeople — who hated the name — briefly changed it to Vance, only to have the North Carolina Railroad tell them to change it back to Company Shops.

“On February 1, 1887, after the North Carolina Railroad had made mass layoffs in Company Shops, the town held a meeting to discuss the name.

“Various names were suggested, including Carolinadelphia, but no one could agree — until one man spoke up.

“ ‘After hearing all of this arguing, former slave and former town commissioner John Lane remarked that he had not heard such a fuss since the stock law requiring all livestock to be penned up that had been passed a short time before, resulting in the confinement of Burlington, a tame Jersey bull belonging to [postmaster?] Daniel Worth, [local historian Walter] Boyd said.

“The townspeople’s ‘ears perked up’ at the name, and it was chosen as a compromise….”

— From “Historian finds Burlington’s story in the details” by Jessica Williams in the Burlington Times-News (Nov. 20)


“The name Company Shops was applied to the community until 1887, when a list of names suggested by local citizens was referred to a committee for decision. Burlington is said to have been suggested by Katherine Scales, daughter of Governor Alfred M. Scales.”

— From “The North Carolina Gazetteer,” edited by William S. Powell and Michael Hill (2010) 


“I was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., where my maternal grandmother is from. My mother took my younger brother and two younger sisters and me and relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., when I was around 6 years old for a better education. North Carolina had beautiful, natural surroundings. I would go back every summer….

“My friends and I would pay our 10 cents and go upstairs to the ‘colored section’ of the movie theater, the peanut gallery. I was there anytime I could get 10 cents. I was fascinated by the movies: Lena Horne, Bette Davis, ‘Tarzan,’ ‘King Kong’ — I loved it all. I internalized how these performers could do what they could do. I wanted to imitate them. ”

— From “What Ever Happened to Earle Hyman?” by Deanna Martin-Osuagwu in Jet (April 3, 2014)

“There was no library for Blacks when he left, but upon returning one summer, he found [Rocky Mount] had built a community center with a library for African Americans. ‘I asked the librarian, “What’s the biggest book you have?” and she said, “Well, I guess that would have to be the complete works of William Shakespeare.” And from there I was hooked.’ ”

— From “Earle Hyman: Longevity Through A Lifetime Of Learning”  by Carter Higgins at blackdoctor.org (


Despite his long-running, Emmy-nominated tour as Grandpa Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” Hyman was better known in Norway for his  performances in Ibsen plays. He died last week at age 91.


“Despite the company’s obvious influence in the state where it was founded [Arkansas], Walmart is also the largest employer across the South in general. Whether it is Texas (171,531 employees) or Virginia (44,621), there are Walmarts aplenty….

“One notable exception? North Carolina, where the University of North Carolina system employs 74,079 people. However, that doesn’t mean that Walmart has zero presence in the Tar Heel State – it actually has 218 retail stores and 58,525 employees in North Carolina, according to its website….”

— From “Walmart Nation: Mapping the Largest Employers in the U.S.” by Jeff Desjardins at Visual Capitalist (Nov. 17)


[Reynolds] Price hung a portrait of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, photographed a week before Lee died, almost at floor level in his office, where he could see it every time he rolled by. Lee’s portrait made Reynolds think of King Lear and stimulated both a dream and the long poem ‘The Dream of Lee’ (1979).”

— From “Dream of a House: The Passions and Preoccupations of Reynolds Price” by Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor (2017)

In his poem Price has driven Lee from Lexington, Va., to Duke, where he will conclude his visit with a speech to students: “He faces his crowd and says ‘I shall read from my poems tonight.’ Slightly chilled, I think ‘The Poems of Lee’ — is there any such book? Before I decide, the great voice starts — ‘First a poem I composed two days ago for  my friend Mr. Price’…. ”


Miscellany readers may recall this post from 2015 about an old photo, purchased for $10 at a Fletcher flea market, that the buyer thought depicted Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

By golly, it looks like he was right.


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