On this day in 1965: Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, recuperating at Fort Bragg from a punji-stick wound suffered in Vietnam, records “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” The tribute to his Special Forces comrades (“Fearless men who jump and die. . . . Men who mean just what they say. . . . “) will spend five weeks atop Billboard’s Top 40 list and become the best-selling single of 1966.

The Special Forces, an elite unit created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, are headquartered at Fort Bragg. At the height of the Vietnam War they number about 15,000 men.

Despite the success of “Green Berets,” the nation is fast losing its appetite for war, reinforcing Sadler’s prediction that “In two years I’ll be forgotten.”


A Moravian Christmas

Possibly nothing is more festive during the holiday season than making a special trip to a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in Germany, filled with fragrant firs, twinkling lights, and warm Glühwein. Short of booking a trip to Germany to experience this first-hand, the next best thing may be to witness something akin to German Christmas traditions right here in North Carolina among the Moravians of Old Salem, in what is now Winston-Salem, Forsyth County.


Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. — Christmas, 1907

The Christmas Eve Love-Feast

The Moravian traditions are described in numerous histories and with particularly wonderful detail by Winifred Margaretta Kirkland in her pamphlet about Christmas in Old Salem. She vividly explains the Children’s Love-Feast ceremony, as well as other visual and aural sensations of the holidays in Salem. The Love-Feast is a Christmas Eve ceremony where candles are distributed, songs are sung, and sweet buns are eaten with milky coffee or tea. Particular attention is given to children of the church, providing them a central role in the proceedings. Recipes for the special coffee and other holiday treats can be found in cookbooks such as those published by Friedland Moravian Church and Fries Memorial Moravian Church.

Music is central to the Moravian Christmas traditions. Special hymns are sung at the Love-Feast and at Christmas Day services. One example from 1798 is completely in German, with a translation of a verse below.

Zur ChristnachtSecond Choir: 

Oh venerable night, a thousand suns shine upon you!

You brought the baby Jesus, so that we can reconcile with God.

That day is today, as my healing lays in swaddling clothes.

And a hymn from 1813, in both German and English, with a translation:

Zur ChristnachtCongregation:

Full of heaven’s glory and splendor, praise that night, which brought us salvation.

The spirits of that world, their light surrounded the shepherds’ faces;

For a lifetime, our thanks were also sung in their praises!

The Christmas Putz

As the caption of the photo below explains, “Every Christmas tree has its Putz:”

A typical Christmas Putz

The Putz is another central component of the Christmas holiday celebrations and a means for the community to come together, both in its construction and its display. The Putz is comprised of model buildings, small figures, and in modern times, sometimes lit with electricity. It typically has a nativity scene at its center, and can be small to accompany a tree, or large enough to even fill a room. Some are so elaborate, admission is charged for viewing.

These are a few of the traditions practiced by the German Moravians who settled in North Carolina, with their origins in Europe dating back to the 18th century. And while the inspiration may have come from Germany, the implementation has a new American – and North Carolinian – flair.

Thanks to Joe Elliott of Asheville for this response to my query about the fate of the aluminum house conceived and built (circa 1951) by his father-in-law, Thomas Edison Westall of Marion:

“Ed built onto the structure later, converting part of it into a popular local restaurant called the Pilot House. Sometime after the restaurant was sold, it suffered fire damage and eventually was torn down.

Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott

Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott

“Ed Westall was a truly remarkable man; one who, had he been more materially ambitious, might have become a rich man. However, his real passion was for design and invention. It was something that brought him great joy. In addition to the restaurant, Ed worked for many years as a mechanical engineer for American Thread, during which time he patented several inventions. He was also a licensed small-engine pilot.

Ed Westall with his family on a boat he built. Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott

Ed Westall with his family on a boat he built. Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott

“Ed was a quiet man with a mind that never stopped. He was, I think, most alive & at peace in the wide open spaces. Maybe that’s why he loved Emerson so much. He was a generalist in the best since of the word: he loved learning about everything.

“Someone once told my wife, ‘Your dad was the smartest man I ever knew’….
Ed’s family, the Westalls, were from the mountainous Toe River region of North Carolina. Thomas Wolfe’s mother’s maiden name was Westall, and she belonged to the same extended clan. Ed sometimes talked about his great Uncle Bacchus (BACK-US). I believe Wolfe incorporated Bacchus into some of his stories. When I told my old English professor Frank Hulme (who won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award back in the 1970s) that I was marrying a Westall, Frank (whose sister also married a Westall) raised his hand to stop me. ‘Say no more!’ he declared. ‘Say not a word more!’ Frank had been acquainted with Wolfe in Asheville back in the 1930s.

“Like Wolfe’s mother, the Westall clan is an interesting lot….”



“Plantation tours offer an abundance of learning opportunities, but they can also offer a stereotypical, even anachronistic, portrayal of slavery and life in the Old South. …

“At Latta Plantation, near Charlotte, North Carolina, during our 2016 tour, students inquired toward the end of the tour about the slaves who had worked on the plantations, since the tour guide had not mentioned anything on the subject. The tour guide asked the students to wait until the African-American family, who had been on the tour, left, at which point, he answered in vague and circumscribed terms….”

From “The Plantation Tour Disaster: Teaching Slavery, Memory, and Public History” by Niels Eichhorn in the Journal of the Civil War Era (Dec. 5)

Eichhorn isn’t the first to take issue with Latta Plantation’s depiction of slavery.


“The historic pumping station next to Lake Mattamuskeet could become a privately run lodge, tourist attraction and economic engine for one of the state’s poorest counties.

“Set next to North Carolina’s largest natural lake, the state would spend $7.4 million for renovations and lease the property to a private operator to run a lodge with about 14 rooms and a conference center and host educational programs, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said.

“ ‘This finishes a story that needed to be finished many years ago,’ Rich said. ‘It’s going to happen.’

The renovated lodge built 100 years ago could open in 2018, he said….

“Volunteers and officials have attempted to renovate the lodge at least since 1990. Originally built to drain Lake Mattamuskeet for farmland, the 15,000-square-foot facility was called the largest pumping station in the world at the time, drawing 1.2 million gallons of water per minute.

“ ‘The private owners of the lake planned to sell farms, residential lots and commercial real estate in the reclaimed lake bed and create a utopian community unlike any agricultural community in the world,’ said Lewis Forrest, founder and director of The Mattamuskeet Foundation.

“For a few years, it worked, until the Great Depression ended the enterprise….”

— From “Historic pumping station could be key to pumping money into rural Hyde County” by Jeff Hampton in the Virginian-Pilot (Nov. 30)

Mattamuskeet’s troubled history, from the failed town of New Holland to its seriously deteriorated water quality, doesn’t inspire great confidence in the latest trip from cup to lip.


“The word ‘bucolic‘ has a powerful connotation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When RJ Reynolds Tobacco, a company that began and grew in Winston-Salem, bought Nabisco in the ’80s, its new head, F. Ross Johnson, moved the company headquarters to Atlanta, because it was ‘nouveau riche’ and Winston-Salem was too ‘bucolic.’

“ ‘Proud to be bucolic’  became a bumper sticker in Winston-Salem, which isn’t actually that bucolic, but the whole nasty business, chronicled in the book Barbarians at the Gate, became emblematic of the ’80s corporate frenzy to merge, fire people, extract capital and move to cities where CEOs could show off their multi-million-dollar salaries to each other.”

— From a letter to the A.Word.A.Day newsletter by Stephanie Lovett of Winston-Salem (Nov. 27)

Newbern progress. volume (Newbern, N.C.), 31 Jan. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Newbern progress. (Newbern, N.C.), 31 Jan. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Just how does one spell this city’s name? This was once a question of considerable debate.

Founded in 1710 by Christoph von Graffenried of Bern, Switzerland, New Bern was so named by the Swiss baron for the city of his birth. Graffenried, seeking to enrich himself through mining, led a group of German Palatine and Swiss colonists to the Province of North Carolina. Like its namesake, New Bern sits on a peninsula. The town was settled where the Trent and Neuse rivers converge. The settlement was laid over the Tuscaroran village of Chattoka.

In 1723, the General Assembly enacted that the place be “Incorporated into a Township, by the Name of New Bern.”

Over time the town came to be known by various spellings. Some of the variants included New Bern, Newbern, New Berne, and Newberne. Printed in newspapers, referenced in official documents, and used in every day correspondence, the true spelling of this colonial port town’s name became ever more obscure.

From Petersburg to New Bern

From Petersburg to New Berne, Published in the State Records of North Carolina, volume 15, North Carolina Maps, North Carolina Collection

During the Civil War John L. Swain, a Confederate army captain, used the spelling Newbern as he wrote of his movements in the area.

In 1891 Henry Gannett, a renowned geographer and father of government map making, sparked an orthographical debate when he wrote the city clerk with an inquiry as to the true spelling of the “Eastern metropolis on the Neuse.” Gannett was writing on behalf of the United States Board on Geographic Names, which he had pushed to establish a year earlier. The clerk, William Oliver, responded that Newbern was the proper spelling, and sent Gannett “a bound copy of the Acts of the General Assembly published in 1793” as proof. Consequently, Gannett settled on Newbern as the official spelling. The State Chronicle published the full exchange between Gannett and Oliver in its July 23, 1891 issue.

Six years later, in 1897, the General Assembly established “that the coroporation [sic] heretofore existing as the city of Newbern shall hereafter be known and designated as the city of New Bern, and all laws in conflict with the above are hereby repealed.”

The spelling of the city’s name was still a matter of interest in 1902 when Graham Daves, a New Bern businessman and an avid amateur historian, penned a letter to the editor of the Semi Weekly Messenger on the “Proper Way of Spelling the Name.

Perhaps the persistent debate as to the name of the city has it roots in Christoph von Graffenried’s own 18th century account of the settlement in the Colonial Records of North Carolina or in its translation? In Graffenried’s Narrative by Christoph von Graffenried concerning his voyage to North Carolina and the founding of New Bern in the Colonial Records, the name of the city is spelled at least three different ways.

Now uniformly known as New Bern, the study of the normalization of the city’s name is a fascinating slice of the state’s and nation’s history.

On this day in 1928: Buncombe County dedicates its new 17-story courthouse on Asheville’s Pack Square. “The motley crowd that sauntered back and forth through the ornate $1,750,000 structure were awed by the lavishness,” reports the Asheville Times.

The courthouse remains the state’s tallest.


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.

Before the era of “Big Soda,” regional soft drinks occupied a greater share of retail shelves than they do today. Our November Artifacts of the Month offer a window into that time.

Sun-Rise and Smith's bottles

bottle backs

We found these two rather ordinary looking vintage soda bottles last year at an antique store in Burlington, N.C.  These brands are no longer made but serve as a reminder of the many different carbonated beverages once sold alongside soft drink giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola. We’ll add these bottles to Gallery holdings related to North Carolina and the history of carbonated beverages.

Sun-Rise Beverages began selling soda in 1910 in North Tazewell, Virginia. The Sun-Rise line offered root beer and fruit-flavored drinks such as Black Cherry and Lemon Sour. The company was sold a number of times in the twentieth century before Coca-Cola took over bottling and distribution in the 1950s. This bottle from the 1960s or 70s comes from the Burlington, N.C. Coca-Cola bottling plant. 

Our research into the story of the Smith Beverage Company has been less fruitful. The company was located in Burlington, but little information exists about it. An advertisement in the Burlington Daily-Times News of January 24, 1950 indicates that the Smith Beverage Company also distributed Cheerwine, a soft drink introduced in Salisbury by Lewis D. Peeler in 1917. 


Before Cheerwine, Peeler first held a bottling franchise for a short-lived brand of soda called Mint Cola, which was headquartered in Tennessee. 

Mint Cola bottle

Peeler developed the less sweet cherry-flavored Cheerwine in response to sugar shortages during World War I.   

Do you know anything more about Smith Beverage Company in Burlington? Please tell us in the comments!

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