Every artifact tells a story. One of the most dramatic stories represented by one of our artifacts is the story associated with our June Artifact of the Month: Elisha Mitchell’s pocket watch.


Elisha Mitchell was a professor of geology, mineralogy, and chemistry at UNC in the 19th century. In 1828 he observed a peak in the Black Mountain range that he believed to be the highest point in the eastern United States. He returned three more times to gather data in the 1830s and 40s.

In 1855, Mitchell entered a two-year public debate with state senator Thomas Clingman — a former student of Mitchell’s — about the resolution of the highest-mountain question. In an effort to settle the matter, Mitchell made a final, fatal trip to the Black Mountains in 1857.

On that trip, he slipped, hit his head on a rock, and fell into a pool at the base of a waterfall. The blow to his head knocked Mitchell unconscious and he drowned in the pool.

… And that’s where our artifact comes in.

Mitchell carried this pocket watch on his journey and it still tells the time of his supposed death: June 27, 1857, 8:19.

The Mitchell pocket watch and the state parks

Mitchell’s life was cut unduly short, but his legacy is part of the North Carolina landscape. The mountain Mitchell identified was eventually verified as the tallest peak in the eastern United States, and it was named Mount Mitchell in his honor.

In 1916, Mount Mitchell and the land surrounding it were purchased to become North Carolina’s first state park. This year the state park system celebrates its 100th anniversary with events at every park.

In April, Gallery staff took the Elisha Mitchell pocket watch to Fort Macon State Park for an event attended by 25,000 people. In August the watch will travel to Mount Mitchell — a homecoming of sorts.

We’re delighted to share one of our favorite artifacts with audiences beyond Chapel Hill, and proud to be part of the state parks’ anniversary celebration. If you’ll find yourself near Mount Mitchell at the end of August, please join us!


Image from Kitchen kapers.


Strawberry Jam from The country gourmet cookbook.


Muscadine Jelly from The Progressive farmer’s southern cookbook.


Sassafras Jelly from Red’s cook book : (road kill not included).


Marmalade from The Farmville cook book.


Bar Le Duc Jelly from Dixie dishes.


No-Cook Blueberry Jam from Pass the plate : the collection from Christ Church.

“From 1929 to the mid-1970s, North Carolina sterilized about 7,600 people in the nation’s most aggressive program of its kind. It was all in the name of eugenics, a coin termed by Francis Galton to describe efforts to ‘improve or impair the racial quality of future generations.’ The program stopped as opinions began to shift surrounding eugenics — and lawsuits were filed against North Carolina’s Eugenics Board on behalf of those who had been sterilized….

“Seventy-seven percent of all those sterilized in North Carolina were women…. Before the 1960s — when Black people became the majority of those sterilized — poor, rural white girls were the primary targets of authorities and women reformers. Girls were punished for engaging in ‘deviant’ behaviors, such as sexual activity or crossing racial lines in their romantic interests. Poor white girls who were sexually abused were also criminalized, labeled ‘feeble-minded,’ and institutionalized.

“Samarcand Manor, North Carolina’s ‘industrial school’ for girls, was a juvenile facility designed to keep troubled girls ‘in line.’ In reality, this whites-only institution in the town of Eagle Springs was a violent place where courts, social workers, and parents committed young white girls for not adhering to social norms or the rules of white supremacy….”

— From “White Southern Girlhood and Eugenics: A Talk With Historian Karin Zipf” by Tina Vasquez at Rewired (May 27)

Zipf, who teaches history at East Carolina, is the author of “Bad Girls at Samarcand: Sexuality and Sterilization in a Southern Juvenile Reformatory” (2016).



If your web browsing has included perusal of yearbooks or newspapers from North Carolina colleges and universities, then you likely have seen the work of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. Its mission includes scanning and publishing online materials from cultural heritage institutions throughout North Carolina. The center and its hardworking staff are headquartered in Wilson Library, here in Chapel Hill. And this month the Digital Heritage Center is celebrating a milestone. It just added its 200th partner institution. And those partners extend across 119 communities in 73 counties.

A big congratulations to the Digital Heritage Center. Its interim director, Lisa Gregory, is rightfully proud of the work that the center has accomplished since opening its doors in 2009.

On this day in 1931: To mark the opening of its first Charlotte drugstore, Walgreen offers 50 customers free rides in a Sikorsky twin-engine amphibian — said to be the first company-owned and -operated aircraft in the U.S.

“See Charlotte from the air,” the ad urges. “You’ll get a a great thrill — you’ll feel supremely safe — and you’ll enjoy an experience that you will talk about for months to come. . . . This is the same type plane used by the Prince of Wales on his South American trip.”


I just noticed on eBay a 1946 edition of the rare, important and viscerally affecting “The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide” (1936-1964).

As noted here almost six years ago by Jason Tomberlin, the North Carolina Collection is holding shelf space open for its first copy.

Current bid: $999.99.

Final price: $4,551.99


“John O. Dolson died in a military hospital in Gettysburg, Pa., on Sept. 3, 1863, two months after the Civil War’s bloodiest battle left him with a punctured lung while engaged in a critical Union counterattack on the rock-strewn hill known as Little Round Top….

“Dolson was wounded with a Minie ball to the lung on the second day of the Gettysburg clash, but we don’t know much more. In fact, history lost track of him for nearly 150 years.

“But in 2006, researchers unearthed a major typo as they combed through records from Camp Letterman, the military hospital where Dolson died.

“Dolson was buried near the hospital until 1871, when Southern states raised funds to disinter and return Confederate war dead. That’s when the sharpshooter from Minnesota headed south by accident.

“Dolson joined 136 Confederate soldiers whose remains were buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, N.C. A headstone in Oakwood was chiseled with the name John O. Dobson of Company A, 2nd North Carolina Infantry — even though muster rolls from the Confederate unit list no such man.

“When researchers a decade ago realized it was actually Dolson buried there, a new, rounded headstone — signifying a Union soldier — was added to the sea of pointed stones marking Confederate soldiers’ spots.

“At 2 p.m. [today] in Richfield’s Veterans’ Park [near Minneapolis], a ceremony will be held to unveil a new marker explaining Dolson’s mislaid remains. They still may be in North Carolina, but now both the old ‘Dobson’ gravestone and a new plaque tell his story at a park in his hometown….”

— From “Two Minnesotans at war, both teens, were witnesses to history” by Curt Brown in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (May 28)

Josh Shaffer of the N&O was on this story as it unfolded in recent years.


“WALLACE, N.C. — Wallace Klan No. 38 recently staged a big parade and naturalization ceremony. The parade was formed at the high school building in the light of a fiery cross and marched through the principal streets of the town, returning to the athletic field near the high school.

“A large class of candidates was naturalized [initiated], the impressive ceremony being open to the public. One of the National lecturers then discussed the ideals and principles of Klankraft. It was heard with interest by the large audience.

“After the ceremony and address, a banquet was served at the Klavern. The table was decorated with American flags and electric crosses. Several brief talks were made by Klansmen and music was furnished by the Wallace Klan band.”

— From “Stage Parade and Naturalization” in the Fellowship Forum (date unknown; clipping found at flea market)

The Fellowship Forum was a national Klan publication popular in the 1920s.


Memorial Day is just around the corner.  Flags will be flown, veterans remembered, and grills fired up.  Here are a few recipes to help you out with your weekend festivities.

Grilling - Progessive Farmer

Image from The Progressive farmer’s southern cookbook.

Balsamic Grilled Asparagus - Heavenly Helpings

Balsamic Grilled Asparagus from Heavenly helpings, seasoned with love : recipes collected from great cooks past and present of White Oak Baptist Church, Archer Lodge, NC.

Charcoal Roast - Favorite Recipes of the Carolinas

Charcoal Roast from Favorite recipes of the Carolinas : meats edition, including poultry and seafood.

Linda's Marinated Turkey Breast for the Grill - A Dash of Down East

Linda’s Marinated Turkey Breast for the Grill from A dash of Down East.

Bacon-wrapped Pork Kabobs - Mario Tailagtes

Bacon-wrapped Pork Kabobs from Mario tailgates NASCAR style.

Grilled Barbecue Chicken - Favorite Recipes of the Carolinas

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

Swordfish Kebobs - Flavors of Fearrington

Swordfish Kebobs from Flavors of Fearrington : the village where neighbors care and community is alive.

On this day in 1933: Sen. Josiah Bailey of North Carolina takes the floor to note that “Even the mules in the South wear shoes.”

Bailey’s is one of many indignant responses to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ characterization of the South as “an untapped market for shoes. . . . A social revolution will take place if you put shoes on the people of the South.”


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »