It continues to be difficult for me to write in-depth blog posts during the pandemic, so today’s offering simply provides an opportunity to explore the online collection of images by Hugh Morton. Today is Arbor Day, so I made a quick search for the term “tree,” which produced 130 results. Some photographs feature trees, others only have a tree in them (such as an animal in a tree).
Why not take a few moments to browse through the Hugh Morton’s tree photographs? Have a favorite? Please share it in the Comments. (The best way to do that is to click on “Reference URL” found on the lefthand side under the Search box, then copy and paste that URL into your comment.)
Williams has not been a focal point of a blog post here on A View to Hugh, but his name appears in a dozen or so posts. If you would like to revisit any of those posts, simply enter his name in the search box and see if any of the results looks like interesting reading to you.
I’ll be working in Wilson Library next week, so I will look to see what I can assemble for a fitting blog post. In the meantime, please explore the online collection and A View to Hugh for glimpses into the stellar career of Roy Williams.
“Are you familiar with the photographer, Hugh Morton?”
Bob Anthony, Curator of the North Carolina Collection posed this question to me early in the process of being interviewed for the collection’s Photographic Archivist in mid December 2002. I don’t recall my exact answer, but it was an interview-appropriate, “No.” On my return home after the interview, I carried with me a copy of the booklet Sixty Years With a Camera. And now, after eighteen years in the position, I can happily answer that question, “Yes, very much so.” And yet, there is still so much to learn.
Unlike Jack Hilliard, I never had a chance to develop a friendship with Hugh Morton. I did meet him briefly twice: the first time was in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in Wilson Library prior to an exhibition opening in the North Carolina Gallery coinciding with the publication of Hugh Morton’s North Carolina in October 2003; the second was on Grandfather Mountain near the Mile High Swinging Bridge in May 2004 when I was a participant on the Tar Heel Bus Tour. At least my two encounters were on grounds sacred to Morton: UNC and GFM. (Unfortunately, the digital photographs I made during the bus tour became corrupted several years ago and I can no longer open them.)
I’ve been watching Ken Burns’s television documentary series Jazz the past several weeks. I missed the series the first time it aired in 2001, so its all new to me despite being twenty years old. I would have loved to have lived during the music’s evolutionary years! Instead, I have come to love jazz through recordings and documentaries. I can still remember where I was the first time I heard Billie Holiday’s voice more than three decades ago.
Equally, I would have loved knowing Hugh Morton during the 1930s and 1940s, experiencing the music and photographing the concerts. I would have gladly skipped the World War II years, but the post-war period through 1960 or so has become my favorite period of Morton’s photography. Much like Morton, a lot of my own photographs are the result of wandering the countryside with cameras in the back of my car. Instead, I have come to known Morton through his photography, my research and writing about it, and through the design and production of the “uncommon retrospective” exhibition.
Curatorship and historical writing require objectivity, but luckily, I’ve been able to develop a “virtual friendship” with Morton by exploring and investigating his photographs and negatives, and by sharing those experiences with those who regularly read or have chance encounters with A View to Hugh. The opportunity to do so is a cherished gift, one worth remembering on Morton’s 100th.
It was late summer, 1958. I was getting ready for my first year at UNC. In the mail one afternoon, my dad got a UNC General Alumni Association newsletter. Inside was a list of several UNC authors who had books coming out soon, including Bob Quincy and Julian Scheer and their biography of my all time hero Charlie Justice. The newsletter said the book, titled Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story, would be out on November 29, 1958.
I left for school on September 18th and soon after I arrived on campus, I visited the Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street. (It was the original “Intimate,” the one with the squeaky wooden floors). The man at the store said they expected to have the book in time for Christmas.
November 29th was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was at home in Asheboro, so I went downtown to see if Scott’s Book Store had the book. They didn’t, so as soon as I got back to school on Monday I went to the Intimate, and they had the book. I got it, went back to my room in Cobb Dorm and read it in one sitting. It was great and I could not believe the magnificent pictures taken by Hugh Morton. I knew who Morton was. I had seen his name under sports pictures in the newspapers, many of which I had clipped and pasted in a huge scrapbook. And my dad and I had also visited Grandfather Mountain in August of 1953 and had walked across the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
I wanted to send Mr. Morton a letter and tell him how much I liked the pictures, but I didn’t have his address. I thought I had heard he lived in Wilmington but, since I had no address, I decided to call Grandfather Mountain and leave a message with the switchboard operator. So, on Tuesday afternoon, December 2, 1958 . . . I called.
When the operator answered, I introduced myself and told her why I was calling. Much to my surprise she said, “Mr. Morton is here in the office, would you like to speak with him?”
“Yes” is all I could get out.
And then a few seconds later . . . “Hello Jack, this is Hugh Morton.”
We talked for almost ten minutes. Turns out we were both huge fans of Charlie Justice. And because of that connection, Hugh Morton and I became friends—a friendship that lasted for almost forty-eight years, from December 2, 1958 to June 1, 2006.
Every time I sat down to write about the significance of today I got serious writer’s block, becoming a bit overwhelmed about needing to say something, well, significant. I kept digging through the Morton collection’s finding aid and period newspapers available online, looking for something that had yet to be said. In short, there is just too much to say about a person’s seventy-one years with a camera without writing a book for a blog post.
Photographers work one frame, one exposure, at at time. They often explore a subject by creating multiple images—varying their distance, changing their angle of view, switching to a different focal length lens, and altering the plane or depth of focus.
A View to Hugh launched on November 1, 2007, more than fourteen years ago. During that time, we have deliberately focused on stories told through Hugh Morton’s photographs. I decided during the blog’s early days to “focus on the photographs, not the person.” The arrival of one’s one hundredth birthday, however, finds one looking more at the person. Enough time has passed since beginning the blog. Our distance from the subject has lengthened. We can now change our angles of view, switch lenses, alter our focus. A 100th anniversary provides the space to do so.
Over the course of this coming year we hope to bring more biographical perspective to our writing. It befits the celebration of someone’s 100th birth year—and it is certainly less daunting than trying to squeeze a tome into a short story. Our subject will still be the photographs of Hugh Morton, but we aspire to bring more biographical perspective to the storytelling. For example, I have been exploring how and when Morton began his involvement with the Carolinas Press Photographers Association, eventually becoming its vice president and then president. Another example will be a story on the newspaper column he briefly wrote.
And what about next year? Shall we get back to basics and call it Morton 101? We shall see.
During his seventy years with a camera, we believe Hugh Morton photographed eleven United States presidents—from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Then, on January 20, 2021, we added a twelfth name to the list.
Morton wrote in his 1996 book, Sixty Years with a Camera,“Ed Rankin and Jesse Helms were roommates when they got out of school and worked for newspapers in Raleigh. So when Ed and I authored the book, Making a Difference in North Carolina, the senator spread the red carpet for us in Washington.” Morton photographed Helms in different settings, including a hearing by the European Affairs subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on March 5, 1987. On that day the subcommittee debated Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Jack F. Matlock Jr. to be ambassador to the Soviet Union. Matlock was a native of Greensboro and a Duke University graduate. (The Senate confirmed Matlock’s appointment later that month.)
Morton also photographed other senators during the subcommittee hearing, one of whom was Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. Biden began his first term in the Senate in January 1973, just thirty years old after being elected at the age of twenty-nine. Two years later, Biden’s fellow senators elected him to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Morton also photographed Lugar that day. A photograph of Biden, Helms, and Lugar by Morton appears on page 290 of Making a Difference in North Carolina. That negative is in the collection but has not been digitized, so here is a similar scene from the hearing:
Nearly thirty-four years after Morton made these photographs, on January 20, 2021, the United States inaugurated Biden as its forty-sixth president—thus bringing Morton’s list of presidential photographs to twelve. Here’s Morton’s presidential list, with links to online images:
Happy New Year, 2021! It has been essentially impossible to maintain A View to Hugh during the past ten months during the coronavirus pandemic. Our blog entries are stories centered around photographs and negatives from the Hugh Morton collection, but I did not have access to the physical collection while working from home. Also, I have been creating an online exhibition with a team of co-workers that has been very research intensive. As a result, this blog has been hibernating like a bear . . . but during the time of year when bears are not in hibernation.
The good news for 2021 and A View to Hugh is that I will soon be able to access the Morton collection negatives and prints every three weeks on a cyclical schedule starting January 11. During those weeks I will be working inside Wilson Library on the “Digital First” team digitizing Special Collections’ materials requested by remote researchers. After my four-hour shifts, I will have a few hours in the afternoon to work on my typical tasks.
This change in my work environment comes on the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of Hugh Morton’s birth on February 19. As the calendar continues, my next work week inside Wilson Library will be February 1–5. That schedule provides two weeks to prepare blog posts ahead of Morton’s centennial birthday.
Are there new topics you would like us to explore or previous posts you’d like us to revisit? Please let us know and we’ll do our best to cover the topic this celebratory year.
In early 2004, when Hugh Morton selected a panel of “Golden Age” UNC football athletes to help sculptor Johnpaul Harris in preparing the Charlie Justice statue, Joe Neikirk was first on the list. After all, Neikirk had originated the statue idea. On this day, May 29, 2020 Neikirk would have turned 92 and Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at the life and times of Joseph Randolph Neikirk, a friend of Carolina like no other.
Joe Neikirk arrived on the UNC campus in the fall of 1946 and went out for the football team. He played center and was a kickoff specialist for the freshman team at first, but late in the 1946 season, when varsity center Chan Highsmith was injured, Neikirk became the varsity back-up center . . . just in time for the 1947 Sugar Bowl game. During the ’47, ’48, and ’49 seasons, Neikirk became an extremely important part of what would become known as “The Golden Era” of Carolina football. During the 1948 season, Neikirk was included in one of the most famous Hugh Morton pictures taken during the era. The image was taken following Carolina’s historic win over Duke on November 20, 1948. All-America Charlie Justice’s 43-yard-touchdown run set the stage for the 20-to-0 win and following the game Neikirk, Bob Cox, and Bob Mitten carried Justice off the field.
Morton’s image is one of the most reproduced Charlie Justice pictures and was featured on the cover of The State magazine issue of December 4, 1948. Morton always included the picture in his slide shows and in his 1988 book, “Making a Difference in North Carolina” (page 256), and his 2003 book, Hugh Morton’s North Carolina (page 165). The image is also in the 1949 UNC yearbook The Yackety Yack (page 259).
Neikirk graduated from Carolina on June 5, 1950 receiving a BA degree in Education. On July 29, 1950 he married the love of his life Eleanor (Nonnie) McClure. Following his graduation, Neikirk became the head football coach at Mooresville High for three years. In 1955, he began his career at an entry-level position with the Norfolk and Western Railway and progressed through numerous positions.
During his time with the railway, he always kept his eye on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, and returned often for reunions and special events honoring his time and his teammates at UNC. One of those special reunions came during the weekend of October 30th, 1971 when the teams of ’46, ’47, and ’48 celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary, highlighted by the return of their head coach Carl Snavely to Chapel Hill after almost twenty years. Joe and Nonnie Neikirk traveled for the reunion from Chagrin Falls, Ohio where Joe was Vice President of the Erie Lackawanna Railway Company. Part of the celebration was a Hugh Morton slide show.
When Joe and Nonnie came back to Chapel Hill for graduation/reunion weekend in May of 1989, Joe had advanced to Vice Chairman of Norfolk Southern Corporation and he took part in the 1989 edition of “Saturday Morning in Chapel Hill,” before a full house in Memorial Hall. Neikirk’s teammate Bob Cox conducted that morning’s program, “Why Did We Have It So Good and What Made Us Different.” Nine Tar Heel legends shared stories of their time at Carolina in the program, and once again, a Hugh Morton slide show kicked off the proceedings.
In 1993, Neikirk retired from Norfolk Southern, and he and Nonnie moved back to Chapel Hill. Soon after their return, Joe began working on a major project celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Carolina’s first bowl trip, the 1947 Sugar Bowl. He arranged for a Norfolk Southern train with twenty-two cars to transport ninety UNC team members, managers, wives, and special guests to New Orleans to meet up with about forty members of the University of Georgia’s 1947 Sugar Bowl team.
That Sugar Bowl reunion trip was one to be remembered. Gus Purcell, a tailback on the ’47 team said, “the Sugar Bowl trip was a dream come true.” Said Hugh Morton, “It was really a fun trip, and I would not take anything for having gone on it.” And UNC All America end Art Weiner said, “Our trip was great and we are still marveling that Joe Neikirk could put it together.” Author and artist Harold Styers, in his book, Hark the Sound: A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey declared Neikirk the “Most Valuable Player” of 1997.
Two years later, UNC’s “Voice of the Tar Heels” Woody Durham paired with the UNC General Alumni Association to present a series of programs called “History of Sports at Carolina: Football.” On September 27, 1999 he featured “The Justice Years 1946-1949.” Neikirk, Paul Rizzo, a blocking back on the Golden Era teams, and Art Weiner, the All America end did a marvelous job of reliving that fabulous era. It was at this gathering that I met Joe Neikirk’s wife Nonnie, a delightful lady. We talked at length about films from the Golden Era. Over the next few months, I sent her and Joe several cassettes with game film from the era.
On December 7, 2000, I received a letter from Joe with holiday greetings, and then he said,” Jack, I’m laying the ground work on a project that I’ll be in touch with you about after the first of the Year.” That project turned out to be the Charlie Justice statue project. He teamed with Hugh Morton, who in turn brought sculptor Johnpaul Harris to the project. Morton also selected a team of Justice Era players to aid Harris. The team made two visits to Harris’ Asheboro studio. Of course Morton brought his camera on each of those visits. One of those pictures is in his 2006 book, Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer (page 155).
On Thursday, November 4, 2004, the Morton team gathered at the Kenan Football Center to put the 900-pound-statue in place.
The following day, under a beautiful Carolina blue sky, the statue was dedicated. Moderator UNC’s Athletic Director Dick Baddour introduced Tar Heel dignitaries and former players. Of course, one of those players was Neikirk. It was during his remarks that something happened that will never be forgotten.
Just as Neikirk said, “I can’t help but believe that Charlie and Sarah are looking down with pride,” the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower chimed out the quarter-hour. Neikirk raised his hands and looked up into the Carolina blue sky. In describing the incident UNC football historian Lee Pace said “No one present believed there was anything coincidental about it.”
In addition to his sense of humor and quick wit, Joe Neikirk was a great story teller. On March 30, 2006, the late Dr. Ron Hyatt teamed with the GAA to present a look back at Carolina’s Golden Era. Neikirk teamed with fullback Walt Pupa, and ends Bob Cox and Ed Bilpuch to tell some stories from the era. Neikirk’s story initiated a standing ovation from those gathered at the Hill Alumni Center. The story goes like this:
Four days after Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey for the Presidency, Carolina played William & Mary in historic Kenan Memorial Stadium, on November 6, 1948. Carolina was ranked third in the country and had won thirteen straight games, but William & Mary came to play. With the score tied at seven and time running out, Carolina had the ball at its own 21 yard line. Billy Hayes went back to pass. He spotted Max Cooke at the 28 and let it fly, but William & Mary’s Joe Mark cut in front of Cooke and made the interception. When Hayes finally got Mark on the ground, the ball was at the Carolina 8 . . . just as the gun sounded to end the game. William & Mary’s All-America Jack Cloud immediately ran up to referee Mr. Dandelake pleading for a time out. Neikirk was standing beside the referee, as he said, “Son, the d— game is over.” Neikirk added “the tie wrecked our season,” but Carolina went on to a 9-0-1 season. By the way, that 1948 Tar Heel team was just last week ranked as the second best UNC football team of all time by the website Tar Heel Illustrated.
Joe Neikirk served on numerous civic and philanthropic boards, including Virginia Institute of Marine Science and William and Mary’s Board of Visitors. He also served as a board member of the UNC Educational Foundation. In gratitude to the University for his opportunity, Neikirk endowed a football scholarship, and in recognition for his distinguished career, Norfolk Southern Foundation established a professorship in the School of Education in his honor.
Joseph Randolph Neikirk passed away on December 22, 2012—two and a half years before the love of his life Eleanor McClure Neikirk passed on June 3, 2015. During their sixty-two years of marriage they raised four sons.
Joe Neikirk will forever be remembered as a member of the greatest generation, who never forgot his UNC Tar Heel roots.
In these stay-at-home days, cultural institutions are pursuing various avenues to stay engaged with their communities. One such effort launches today on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: #MuseumVacation. This virtual vacation tour springs from an idea by Eileen Hammond at UNC’s Ackland Museum. The tour works like this: you travel around the world on a virtual vacation, visiting locations via an image from a museum’s collection. A link will lead you to the next stop on the tour that features another image from a different cultural institution. The North Carolina Collection will be participating in this tour, and its tour stop is atop Grandfather Mountain using the above photograph. The North Carolina Collection will be extending this idea through July with a spinoff under the hashtag #VacationNC. We hope you’ll following along!
Why this image? Well, it is beautiful for one. Secondly, 2020 marks the tenth full operation year of the Grandfather Mountain backcountry becoming a state park, officially established in the spring of 2009 . . . and we like anniversaries at A View to Hugh. Thirdly, state parks reopened last weekend as part of North Carolina’s first phase of reopening, so you can actually go to the park. (Remember that Grandfather Mountain, the scenic tourist attraction which includes the Mile High Swinging Bridge, is a separate entity run by the Grandfather Mountain Foundation.)
Do you have a favorite Hugh Morton photograph that we can feature during the North Carolina Collection’s #VacationNC virtual summer vacation? If so, please let leave a comment!
Had the novel coronavirus pandemic not besieged the world, the southern part of heaven—like many college campuses—would be celebrating commencement this weekend. At UNC, commencement weekend also marks the alumni reunions for several anniversary years.
Each year for the past decade or so, I’ve assembled into a digital slideshow about 50 to 100 images from the “UNC Photo Lab” collection for the fiftieth anniversary class. Whenever possible, I’ve added images from the Hugh Morton and, more recently, the Durham Herald Company collections. The slide show is part of Wilson Library’s offerings for visiting alumni and anyone who happens to find themselves on campus that day. Each slideshow has been paired with a selection of songs drawn from the Southern Folk Collection for the same reunion year. Both run on a continuous loop through the afternoon. Also on display are the yearbooks for the featured reunion years. People wander into the building, have some cookies and a cold drink, and take in the architecture, the exhibitions, and our special slideshow and musical walk through memory lane.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary for the Class of 1970. With the campus closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, I was not able to go through the collections and select images for digitization. Graduation ceremonies are not going to take place, and the General Alumni Association’s weekend celebrations have been postponed. Not to be deterred, Wilson Library created an online version of our Wilson Library open house event. In some ways it is better because there is direct access to digitized issues of The Daily Tar Heel and Black Ink, neither of which would get placed on display due to the fragility of newsprint. The above photograph of Charlie Scott is featured in the online event because it is one of the few previously scanned photographs from the 1969–1970 academic year that I can access from home. In the online collection, there are four images from the contest between the Tar Heels and the Demon Deacons played on January 17, 1970.
A search through the Morton collection finding suggests that Hugh Morton was not on campus much during that academic year, and that he did not photograph many athletic events. He photographed the UNC versus NC State football game in Raleigh on September 20. The only other basketball games with photographs in the collection were the North Carolina State on February 9 (although there is a note in the finding aid that says “all same game?”), and the ACC Tournament in March.