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.
“Danny was one of the greatest Tar Heels to come through Chapel Hill having starred in both football and baseball, as well as playing basketball on the freshman team. . . . He was respected and loved by many and will be missed. On behalf of the Carolina Football Family, we send our deepest condolences to Danny’s family and friends.”
UNC Head Football Coach Mack Brown, January 19, 2020
The Tar Heel nation has lost a legend. In the early morning hours of January 19, 2020, Danny Talbott lost his nine-year battle with cancer. Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard has a look at the life and times of Joseph Daniel Talbott III . . . who everyone called Danny.
It was Wednesday November 26, 2014, the day before Thanksgiving. UNC football great Danny Talbott was in his third year of battling multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks plasma blood cells. He was being treated at the Outpatient Infusion Center of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill. He talked about his condition: “If I die, then I go to heaven. If I beat this, then I get to stick around and give my friends a hard time. It’s a win-win.”
Danny Talbott was noted for his sense of humor and is one of the most revered athletes in UNC history, having played football, baseball, and freshman basketball during his time in Chapel Hill from 1963 to 1967. Over the years, when books have been written about sports at UNC, Danny Talbott is included as an important part of that history. Author Ken Rappoport, in his 1976 book Tar Heel: North Carolina Football, describes Talbott as one of head coach Jim Hickey’s “most electrifying players.” Phil Ben, in his 1988 book Tar Heel Tradition: 100 Years of Sports at Carolina, calls Talbott “a brilliant all-round athlete.” And when Woody Durham compiled the book Tar Heels Cooking for Ronald’s Kids also in ’88, he included Danny’s recipe for peanut butter fudge.
In addition to the photograph above (not previously scanned before this blog post) during the second game of the season versus Michigan State, photographer Hugh Morton caught up with starting quarterback Talbott on opening day after the North Carolina State game . . .
and along the sideline during Carolina’s contest against Wake Forest the following Saturday on October 3.
Danny was the ACC football player of the year in 1965 with 1,477 yards of total offense, and was 11 of 16 for 127 passing yards to lead Carolina to a 14 to 3 upset win at Ohio State under their head coach Woody Hayes in the second game of the season.
On October 30, 1965, Georgia came into Chapel Hill for a game in Kenan. On that Saturday afternoon, Danny Talbott ran and passed for 318 total yards, eclipsing Charlie Justice’s single game offensive record (also set against Georgia back in 1948), by 14 yards. Talbott called it one of his greatest thrills.
When Carolina went into Duke Stadium on November 20, 1965, for the 52nd meeting between the two rivals, the Blue Devils dominated the game; but for a brief moment near the end of the first quarter, the Tar Heels took the lead thanks to Talbott. Author Bill Cromartie, in his 1992 book Battle of the Blues describes the moment: trailing 6 to 0 and “facing a fourth-and-one at the seven, Danny Talbott swung wide, broke a couple of tackles, leaped over defensive back Art Vann, and scored. Talbott also converted, giving his team a 7 to 6 lead.”
In September 1966, five years before he became “The Voice of the Tar Heels,” the late Woody Durham produced a Charlie Justice documentary at WFMY-TV in Greensboro titled “Choo Choo: Yesterday and Today.” I had the honor of being a production assistant for that program. In the program, Woody said:
Since the glorious days of the Justice era in the late 40s Carolina has searched in vain for Choo Choo’s replacement—the one player who might possibly possess his unique triple-threat ability. Every few years some outstanding Tar Heel player is compared with the legendary Justice, and this fall that comparison will be made of quarterback Danny Talbott. After outstanding seasons as both a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot, 185-pound Rocky Mount native stands on the threshold of what could well be a magnificent senior year…” [Danny was chosen] “as both the ‘Football Player and Athlete of the Year’ in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.
Talbott was Co-Captain in ‘66 as well as cover boy for the UNC 1966 football Media Guide and the 1966 NCAA Record Book. In the third game of that season, Talbott led the Tar Heels to a 21 to 7 upset win over eighth-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Daily Tar Heel banner headline from October 2, 1966 says it all:
In a later-life-interview Talbott would say, “that was sure fun . . . it’s a great thrill to think back on going to a place like Michigan and turning a crowd of 88,000 into total silence.”
Earlier in that year, Talbott had led the 1966 Tar Heels to the College World Series of baseball. He made first-team ACC three years in a row with a career batting average of .357. In 1967, Talbott was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but he decided to play professional baseball. He played one season of minor-league ball with the Baltimore Orioles’ farm team in Miami.
In ’68, he was back in the NFL, this time with the Washington Redskins as backup quarterback to Duke legend Sonny Jurgensen. After three seasons in DC, Talbott returned home to Rocky Mount and for the next thirty-three years he was a sales representative for Johnson & Johnson.
In the fall of 1999, UNC’s General Alumni Association presented a special series titled: “The History of Sports at Carolina: Football.” For six Monday nights, Woody Durham moderated a panel of Tar Heel greats talking about their time on the Carolina gridiron. On October 4, Danny Talbott joined Don Stallings and Junior Edge for a session titled “Moments to Remember.”
Health administrators at Nash UNC Health Care in Rocky Mount had planned for several years to build a multi-disciplinary cancer treatment center that could serve northeastern North Carolina. Early in 2017, they were brainstorming ideas to raise funds and target potential benefactors when the name Danny Talbott came up for discussion and one of the steering committee members said, “Why don’t we just name the center for Danny?” The idea took off from there for construction of a 16,100-square-foot cancer treatment facility.
On Thursday, February 1, 2018, UNC Cancer Care at Nash cut the ribbon that opened the doors to the Danny Talbott Cancer Center. “It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever received,” said Talbott. “I’ve never been so surprised in my life. It’s too hard to believe they would think enough of me and want to name a cancer center after me. It’s hard to put into words, it’s just amazing. I look forward to what the center will do in this part of North Carolina and maybe even Virginia. I can’t express enough what I think it’s going to do for this part of North Carolina.”
Twelve days short of the center’s second anniversary, Danny Talbott lost his nine-year cancer battle—a battle that he fought with courage, dignity, and a bit of humor. The UNC Tar Heel legend had given us seventy amazing years. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on January 20, 2020: “We mourn the loss of Rocky Mount native, UNC great and NC Sports Hall of Famer Danny Talbott. Great athlete and fine man who finally lost a courageous battle with cancer.”
Today, February 19, 2020 marks what would be Hugh Morton’s ninety-ninth birthday. It’s only fitting that an exhibition of his photography is currently on display at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum . . . but the exhibition closes this coming Saturday so you’ll need get there sooner rather than later. There’s another venue waiting in the wings, but it will be a scaled down version of the retrospective (about sixty of the eighty-eight photographs) and will be many miles from the mountains.
Not too long ago, on November 1, A View to Hugh hit the twelve year mark from our very first blog post. On this day next year we will mark Morton’s 100th birthday. What topics would you like us to write about in the coming year that leads up to a centennial celebration? We’ve covered a lot of ground the past dozen years, but there is still so much of the collection that has yet to be explored. We’d love to hear from you . . . and then set our keyboards in motion. Please leave a comment and tell us about a subject of interest to you.
“He is a coon hunter, a rich man, an ex-whiskey runner, a good old boy who hard-charged Stock cars 175 mph…he is the lead-footed-chicken-farmer from Rhonda…the true vision of the New South.” —Tom Wolfe in Esquire, March 1965
On December 20, 2019, America lost its “last hero.” Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson lost his battle with Alzheimer’s at age 88. Over the years, Johnson crossed paths with photographer Hugh Morton a few times. Morton included a picture of Johnson in his 1988 book “Making a Difference in North Carolina” and also his 2003 book “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina.” On this day, one month after his passing, Morton Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at the life and times of a NASCAR legend.
I remember hearing my dear friend the late Charlie Harville talk about having breakfast with Junior and Flossie Johnson on race days in Ingle Hollow. It was a tradition for media personnel to stop by and join racers, crews, and car owners for bacon, eggs and grits. Afterward, all would go down the road to the track where Junior Johnson entered his first race—a 100-miler—at age 16, in 1947 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Johnson finished second that day; six years later, he set up a race team in 1953. Johnson began his full-time NASCAR career in 1955, winning five races and finishing sixth in the Grand National points race. In 1956, Junior was caught firing up his dad’s moonshine still and became entangled in a barbed wire fence while trying to escape. The conviction that followed put Johnson on a forced eleven-month, three-day sentence that took him away from NASCAR. (Johnson always made it a point of pride that the federal agents never caught him on the highway).
Once back at the track, Johnson continued winning. By 1959 he was considered a master at “short-track-racing.” In 1960, he got his first “superspeedway” win at the Daytona 500. Johnson made an important discovery while preparing for that race. He and his crew chief Ray Fox were trying to figure out how to increase their speed and during a test run at the track, Johnson noticed that when he moved in close behind a faster car his speed would also increase due to the faster car’s “slipstream.” Following that Daytona win, other drivers picked up Junior’s technique and the term “drafting” became a NASCAR tradition that continues today.
When Johnson retired as a driver following the 1966 season, he had fifty wins—eleven at major speedways. He then became one of the most successful crew chiefs and car owners in NASCAR history. He teamed with drivers including Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, and Darrell Waltrip, among others. In all, his drivers won 139 races, which included six Winston Cup Championships: three with Waltrip and three with Yarborough. Darrell Waltrip said on December 21, 2019 on his Twitter account: “He became my boss and made me a champion. I loved that man. God Bless Jr. and his family. You were the greatest.”
On September 15, 1982 Junior Johnson was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Gardner-Webb College in Shelby, North Carolina. Photographer Hugh Morton was there that night when Master of Ceremonies Jim Thacker introduced Pat Preston, who in turned made the formal induction speech for Johnson. Morton’s picture of the hall’s Class of 1982 is in his 1988 book, Making a Difference in North Carolina, on page 160.
A little over three years later, on the day after Christmas in 1985, Junior Johnson received a full and unconditional pardon from President Ronald Reagan for his 1956 conviction in federal court for moonshining.
In 2004, he joined Michael Jordan, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Richard Petty and Charlie Justice by having a stretch of highway named in his honor. An 8.5-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 421 from the Yadkin and Wilkes County line to the Windy Gap exit is named the “Junior Johnson Highway.” And he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
It was May of 2007 when Johnson teamed with Piedmont Distillers of Madison, North Carolina to introduce a moonshine product called Midnight Moon. Johnson became part owner of Piedmont Distillers, the only legal distiller in North Carolina at the time. Midnight Moon followed the Johnson family’s generations-old tradition of making moonshine—every batch produced in an authentic copper still and handcrafted in small batches. The ‘shine is a legal version of his famous family recipe, and is available in eight varieties that range from 70 to 100 proof. Junior described his moonshine as “Smoother than vodka. Better than whiskey. Best ‘shine ever.”
It seems as though everybody who knew Junior Johnson has a favorite “Junior” story. Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer columnist, shared this story on twitter last month:
“NASCAR writer Tom Higgins once told me that Junior…was asked in the ‘70s if he ever went to the GM engineers for help. ‘Naw, but sometimes they come to me,’ he said.”
Greensboro News & Record columnist Ed Hardin added this story in the paper on December 21:
We were in Rockingham back in the late ‘80s, and a group of writers had followed Junior out to his pickup. Along the way, he stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures. . . . When we finally got there, he reached into the bed and dragged a cooler down to the tailgate. Inside was a big pickle jar filled with cherries floating in a clear liquid. . . . And to this day, I remember Junior looking at me and giving me words of advice I still pass on to folks not accustomed to North Carolina cherries from Ingle Hollow.
‘Son,’ he said, ‘don’t eat two.”
Finally, Hugh Morton, in his 2003 book, Hugh Morton’s North Carolina, (on page 185) says this about the “Last American Hero”:
. . . if you go to a race or a car show and are able to obtain Johnson’s autograph in indelible ink on the lid of a quart fruit jar, you have a priceless souvenir.
Rest in Peace, Junior Johnson. You will be missed.
Why, you might wonder, has it been so busy here in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives? Well among several other things, the thousands of Morton negatives selected for the first phase of a preservation digitization project have been returned from the vendor—along with 1.7 terabytes of image files. This topic will be a “Behind the Scenes” blog post for 2020.
On this day three years ago, September 19, 2016, the Tar Heel Nation lost an icon with the passing of Robert Vinsant (“Bob”) Cox. He was 90-years-old. Many Tar Heels remember Bob as a player on the UNC football teams of the late 1940s. While that’s true, there is much, much more to his resume, as Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard recalls.
In the Spring of 2004 when Hugh Morton put together a committee of former UNC football players to critique sculptor Johnpaul Harris’ Charlie Justice statue, Bob Cox (UNC Class of 1949) was one of the first team members selected. Cox would make two visits to Harris’ Asheboro studio during June, 2004 and was instrumental in the final statue presentation which was dedicated in November, 2004 and now stands at the west end of Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Cox was a team member of the Justice Era teams of the late 1940s, having arrived on the UNC campus in 1945 following duty with the United States Marines during World War II. He became a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and was a pass-catching end and place-kicker for the Tar Heels. His 18-yard field goal in the second half of the 1947 Sugar Bowl against Georgia gave Carolina a brief 10-7 lead. When Georgia returned to Chapel Hill for a rematch on September 27, 1947, the pass-catching Cox led a Tar Heel win. The sports headline in the Greensboro Daily News on Sunday, September 28th read:
“End Bob Cox Steals Show.”
Cox was second in team scoring in 1947 and 1948—second only to Justice—and was described as “Mr. Extra Point” by Harold Styers in his 1996 book Hark The Sound: A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey. He also joined Carolina’s golf team when it reformed in 1946 following World War II, and was a member of the 1947 Southern Conference Golf championship team. Cox became a favorite photo-subject of Hugh Morton and following UNC’s great 20-0-win over Duke in 1948, Cox helped carry Charlie Justice off the field. The Morton image of that scene graced the front cover of The State on December 4, 1948.
Following his UNC graduation on June 6, 1949, the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals drafted Cox but he chose to stay at Carolina and attend graduate school. He also became a member of Head Football Coach Carl Snavely’s coaching staff, working with the varsity ends and the freshman teams from 1949 thru 1951.
Cox has two degrees from UNC: a BA and MA in physical education. Following his time at UNC, he became a member of the Carolina Clowns, a basketball team featuring several former Tar Heel athletes. The Clowns formed in 1949, offering those Tar Heels an opportunity to stay in shape and at the same time raise money for various charity events.
Over the years the Clowns’ roster changed as new players became available while others moved on to different endeavors. Cox joined UNC football players Charlie Justice, Art Weiner, Joe Wright, Jim Camp, Kenny Powell, Sid Varney, Don Hartig, Hosea Rodgers, and Jack Fitch, among others.
About the same time he was playing for the Clowns, Cox operated a Chapel Hill clothing store on Franklin Street called “Town & Campus.” The store was a favorite for ten years. During that time, he was also a member of the Chapel Hill Junior Chamber of Commerce and in 1957 was elected President of the North Carolina Junior Chamber. Then, he was elected President of the United States Jaycees in 1958. As President of the U. S. Chamber, he was a judge at the famous Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the pageant on September 6, 1958, Cox and follow judges selected Mary Ann Mobley from Mississippi as Miss America of 1959 before a national TV audience of 60 million on CBS-TV.
In December of 1961, when the city of Asheville celebrated “Charlie Justice Day,” two former Justice teammates were part of the celebration: Art Weiner and Bob Cox. The Asheville Citizen published a picture of the three on the front page of its December 2, 1961 issue.
Bob could often be seen on campus during Graduation/Reunion weekends and in 1989 he led the annual “Saturday Morning in Chapel Hill” before a full house in Memorial Hall. The topic that May morning, “Why Did We Have it So Good and What Made Us Different?” The program featured a panel of 1940s and 1950s Tar Heel legends including Hugh Morton who presented one of his slide shows.
I remember calling Bob in the late summer of 1996 when I was working with him on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Golden Era teams. I didn’t get an answer when I called, so I called back several minutes later. When I told him I had called earlier, he said, “I was in the car and I don’t talk on the phone while I’m driving. Don’t want to put anyone in danger if my distraction might cause an accident.”
In 1999, Bob Cox was selected to head the class of 1949’s 50th reunion. In the spring of ’99, he wrote a letter to his fellow classmates. In that letter, he said:
“To do anything for 50 years is quite a feat. We are indeed fortunate to be in that elite group that makes up the Class of ’49, which allows us to ask ‘Do you remember when…’
“The walks were gravel; Justice was running rampant at Kenan; Woodhouse was enthralling us on the beauties of ‘Poli-Sci’; Graham, House, and Carmichael were doing their thing at South Building; and hysteria-in-the-wisteria made the Arboretum more than just a name on the sign.
“We are blessed and privileged to call ourselves ‘Alums’ of the University of North Carolina. The years there were absolutely magic; but, even though those years were a special time, appreciation for the contributions of UNC has grown. The UNC reward continues throughout and we should be grateful—emotionally, spiritually, politically, and oh yes, financially.
“Let’s all make a pledge to stay in touch and do what we can to ensure that Carolina’s greatness will continue to grow and prosper. After all, we’re the Class of ’49 and that makes us special. Don’t you agree?”
The letter appeared in the “50th Revised Yackety Yack: Carolina Class of 1949”
Bob was a financial advisor professionally, but he loved fishing, playing tennis, and gardening. He was often called “Rosebud” because of the beautiful roses he grew.
Finally, during one of those Justice statue visits mentioned earlier in this post, Cox provided the question that prompted one of my favorite Hugh Morton stories. It was during a visit on June 21, 2004. After all of the players had added comments for Johnpaul Harris to note, Morton decided it was time to take some pictures. As he was meticulously checking focus with his trusty 35mm camera, Cox asked, “Hey, Hugh, do you have one of those new digital cameras?”
Morton’s answered,” I sure do,” as he reached down in his camera bag and pulled out a digital camera. “This is a good one,” said Hugh. “It has all the bells and whistles.”
Morton then put the digital camera back in his camera bag and continued taking shots with his conventional 35mm camera.
I don’t know if Bob Cox ever met best-selling author Tom Brokaw; but I choose to believe Robert Vinsant “Bob” Cox could very easily be the poster-boy for “The Greatest Generation.”
Jump for joy! It’s amazing—though not hard to believe given the high-quality photographs—that the exhibition Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective, opens on July 4th at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. This marks the exhibition’s ninth venue since its debut in Boone, N. C. at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts back in 2013. The exhibition will be on display through October 25. And you can leap once more because I’ve just confirmed that Blowing Rock Art & History Museum will host the exhibition starting November 9 through February 22, 2020.
James Kern Kyser, better known as Kay Kyser, the “Ol’ Professor” of the popular radio program of the late 1930s and 40s, the “Kollege of Musical Knowledge,” retired and returned to his alma mater UNC-Chapel Hill in 1951 and started a second career. Earlier this week, on June 18th, 2019, Kyser would have turned 114. Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard briefly looks back at both of his storied careers.
Soon after his retiring return to Chapel Hill, Kay Kyser picked up where he left off on stage with far less fanfare but as a true friend to his native North Carolina. On April 14, 1951, Kyser, along with his wife Georgia, joined his friend Hugh Morton at the second annual Southern Short Course in Press Photography banquet.
Editor’s note: Kyser made an appearance at another short course banquet, probably 1952, seen below. The two scans from negatives shown here are the only photographs of Kay Kyser in the collection. Neither appear to have been made by Morton unless he used a long cable release and triggered the exposure from a distance. The photograph below probably dates from the April 1952 short course because Morton’s photograph of “Happy John”—likely made in 1951—can be seen in the upper right corner of the photographs on display.
Kyser’s participation in the photographic short course was just one example of his many contributions to his native state following his long career in show business. His enthusiasm, energy, and dedication were the prime forces for WUNC-TV to get on the air in January of 1955. His faith and his dedication to the Christian Science Church became his passion. From his office on Franklin Street, Kyser became the producer-director of the film broadcasting department of the Christian Science Church. Another Editor’s Note: While preparing Jack’s post and researching the Southern Short Course in Press Photography for an upcoming post, I encountered another Kyser contribution: a film titled, Dare: The Birthplace of America, produced by the University of North Carolina with its debut in May 1952. In a promotional news article printed in advance of the movie’s launch, playwright Paul Green wrote, “And anonymously behind [the film] was the imaginative dynamic of that gifted and devoted North Carolina citizen—Kay Kyser.”
The boy from Rocky Mount became one of the most famous faces of the swing era.
When James K. Kyser entered the University of North Carolina in 1923, his parents, both of whom were pharmacists, thought he would be a lawyer. But he had other ideas. He switched his major to economics because, according to Kyser, “the legal profession meant lots of work.”
Being selected a Carolina cheerleader gave him the opportunity to “perform.” He enjoyed riding around campus in a Model T Ford with the word “Passion” painted on its side. He excelled not only in academics, but he also excelled in extracurricular activities. He acted in Carolina Playmaker productions, was a Sigma Nu fraternity member, and was a member Alpha Kappa Psi, Order of the Grail, and the Golden Fleece honor societies. Because of his popularity on campus, he would, in 1926, inherit the job of leadership of the UNC campus band; although he couldn’t read music and he played no musical instrument. In addition, he was senior class president in 1928.
After graduation, he took the band on the road, but it didn’t really take off until the mid-1930s when he hired singer Ginny Simms and cornet player Ish Kabbible (his real name Merwyn Bogue). But when it did take off, it was in a league of its own.
Kyser was featured in several Hollywood movies. His first was That’s Right—You’re Wrong in 1939 with Lucille Ball; the last was Carolina Blues in 1944. He was often joined by such stars as Milton Berle, Dorothy Lamour, and Rudy Vallee.
He was called “The Ol’ Professor,” and he wore a short academic robe complete with mortarboard and tassel. He loved to clown-around with cornet player Ish Kabibble, plus he did a bit of dancing. At the top of his career, Kay Kyser’s band scored 35 top-ten hits, and appeared in Hollywood and New York. He played to 60,000 during one week at New York’s Roxy Theater.
The boy from Rocky Mount became one of the most famous faces of the swing era.
During the Depression and throughout World War II, Kyser offered his zaniness as a cure for adversity. At 9:30 on Wednesday nights, more than twenty million Americans would turn their radios to the NBC Red Network to hear Kay Kyser say, “Now we’re gonna have a little syncopation, so I want you to toddle out here and truck around the totem pole and sashay around the stage. What I mean is, C’mon, chillun. Le’s dance!”
Kyser also performed for thousands of World War II soldiers, feeling guilty that so many were marching off to their deaths while he was making big money. In a 1981 interview with Greensboro Daily News reporter Jim Jenkins, Kyser recalled being on a hillside in the Pacific Theater in the summer of 1945. “Countless thousands of GIs were sitting on these banks, and we could hear the firing in the background. They’d come up to you after and wring your hand, thanking you, completely oblivious to the fact that they were offering their lives so we civilians would have a good go at home. I thought, my, if that isn’t the ultimate of humility . . . I knew right then I’d never play another theater for money.”
Kyser returned to the UNC campus several times during his musical career. He often recalled in later interviews, how much he enjoyed the Carolina–Duke football games in 1939 and 1948.
In a Charlie Justice profile in Sports Illustrated magazine in October of 1973, Kyser stated: “It is simply a matter of thinking it through . . . all this glamour can end quite suddenly, so you have to think where you will be when the superficialities are through. I watched UNC football legend Charlie Justice when he was on top. I was up to here at the time with my own entertainment career, so I was looking to see if it was getting to him. It takes a thief to know one, you know. I tell you, when they recruited Charlie to play here, after his great football career in the Navy, it was a little like getting Clark Gable to appear in a local little-theater production. He was a star even before he got here.
“But Charlie was just the opposite of a prima donna. It never got to him, as it has to so many people in entertainment . . . .”
“Let me tell you a little story. I took Charlie to a big Hollywood party once. The Hollywood people were dying to meet him. Charlie was flabbergasted. His face must have fallen a foot when he walked into that place. He didn’t act like a football hero at all. He acted like the smallest of small-town hicks. He was the one impressed with them. All those movie stars. He’d never seen anything like it. I remember he came over to me and said, in that high voice of his, ‘Man, this is tall cotton.’ He just kept on saying it: ‘Taaa-lll cotton.'”
Kay Kyser passed away on July 23, 1985 in Chapel Hill. He was eighty years old.
Kyser’s wife Georgia Carroll remained in Chapel Hill until her death in 2011 at age 91. She donated Kyser-related photographs and papers to the university. You can still see Kay’s picture in The Carolina Inn on the UNC campus and he is enshrined in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. But for the most part, you won’t find many people who know the words to “Three Little Fishies.” Just so you know the words go like this: “Boop boop diddum daddum waddum choo, and they swam and they swam all over the dam.”
STARK NAKED — Almost everybody around Raleigh and elsewhere was caught with his pants down late last Friday afternoon when Gov. William B. Umstead, as calmly as a man reaching for a glass of water, announced that Al Lennon of Wilmington was his at-long-last choice to succeed Smith as junior U. S. Senator from North Carolina.
To be perfectly frank about it, most of us were not only caught with our pants down. We found ourselves stark naked.
So began Kidd Brewer’s “Raleigh Round-Up” column for the Thursday, July 16, 1953 issue of the Nashville Graphic (in Nash County, N. C.). We need to go back a handful of days to that previous Friday, July 10—actually back to June 26—for the start of this story. For that is the day that North Carolina’s junior senator in the United States Senate, Willis Smith, died while in office from a coronary thrombosis.
Smith’s term was set to end at the close of 1954. He was completing a term begun by J. Melville Broughton on January 3, 1949 that ended abruptly nine weeks later when Broughton died in office on March 6. Newly elected governor W. Kerr Scott appointed Frank Porter Graham to replace Broughton, but Graham lost his bid to retain the seat to Smith in a contentious run-off primary election on June 24, 1950. Smith then handily won the general election on November 7, 1950, earning him the right to complete the remaining four years of Broughton’s term.
Governor Umstead needed to replace Smith, and he kept his selection process very closed-lipped. The state’s then senior senator was Clyde R. Hoey from the western part of the state, so Umstead looked eastward for his appointee. The vacant seat had proved to be like the removable chair in the children’s game Musical Chairs, so Umstead sought an appointee who he believed could begin campaigning almost immediately for the primary that would take place in May 1954—just ten months away—win the primary, and then continue on for a full six-year term.
When Umstead announced that the relatively unknown Wilmington attorney and former state senator Alton Asa Lennon as his appointment—late on a Friday afternoon—there were few photographs of Lennon for the press to print in newspapers. Brewer noted that “there were only one or two photos of the new senator wandering around the State.”
Where on earth was the world going to get photographs of a relatively unknown Wilmingtonian who was destined for the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol? Fellow Wilmington native Hugh Morton, of course! How do we know this to be the case? Later in Brewer’s story we encounter a passage that launched me into a deeper dig to differentiate the numerous negatives made by Morton between Umstead’s announcement and Lennon’s send-off to Washington, D. C. that are extant in the Hugh Morton collection. Brewer wrote,
Hugh Morton, Wilmington photographer and tourist expert who had himself only two hours earlier been reappointed to the State Board of Conservation and Development, rushed to Lennon’s house and began flashing him in every pose but on his head. And the state editors and wire boys were already performing that act. The AP snapped up Morton’s pictures, got its wirephoto services on the ready, and in most late night editions of Saturday morning’s papers, there was old Al smiling out at you from a three-column photo.
Does Brewer’s description of the media blitz match the historical record? Is it an accurate account of how Morton’s negatives came into being? Upon searching the Morton collection finding aid, I found three listings for forty black-and-white negatives surrounding this event, with three broadly defined sets in the Morton collection finding aid:
Lennon, Alton: Wilmington sendoff celebration to U.S. Senate, 14 July 1953
Lennon, Alton: Various portraits, with family, etc., circa 1953
Lennon, Alton: With Governor William Umstead, circa 1953
The first two listings are a jumble of images that span from as early as the evening of July 10 through the “send-off” on July 14, officially proclaimed by the governor as “Alston Lennon Day.” It’s important to note here that many categories of images in the Morton collection are “a jumble.” When processing the collection after its arrival, the quantity of material in the collection and its lack of internal structure did not permit our archivist, Elizabeth Hull, to refine uncounted rough groupings and descriptions for tens of thousands of items. Even today, I am hard pressed to find the time to dig too deep. In this case I needed to sort through the negatives to see what they depicted for the Morton collection preservation digitization project. A fair amount of work went into it, and I needed to write down what I learned to make sense of it all. I felt I could turn that information into a useful and informative post, and so what follows is what I’ve gathered thus far.
Let’s start with the easiest listing first: the negatives depicting Umstead and Lennon together.
News accounts stated that the governor made a surprise visit to Wilmington to meet with Lennon on Monday, July 13 during an “open house” in the offices of Star News Newspapers, the publisher of Wilmington’s two major newspapers. The only update needed for the finding aid for that group of six negatives was a change of “circa” to the exact date.
There are six negatives of Umstead interacting with Lennon, including the following image published as an Associated Press Wirephoto:
The two remaining listings in the finding aid, however, is where confusion reigned. Looking at some newspapers (Wilmington’s Morning Star and The Wilmington News, and their jointly issued Sunday Star News, plus The Charlotte News (to which Morton frequently submitted work) proved to be useful. So, too, did an eye for fashion and a bit of knowledge about photographic film manufacturing. Let’s tackle the film manufacturing process first.
Film manufacturers use notches on one corner of the film so that photographers can quickly and easily determine the emulsion side of the film. Photographers need to know the emulsion is facing the outside of the film holder (i.e., toward the lens) when they insert a sheet of film into a film holder while doing so in complete darkness. As illustrated below (but always done in the dark), if you hold the film in your hand so you can feel the notch(es) with your index finger, then the emulsion is facing upwards. (Of course there wouldn’t be an image on the film when loading new film!) The notch is also is an indication of the specific film. For this information we turn to The Acetate Negative Survey by David Horvath in 1987. According to Horvath’s survey, a single V-shaped notch on safety film made by Kodak indicates that Morton photographed using Super Pan Press, Type B.
Most photographic archivists are familiar with notch codes. But also note the number to the left of the code. Not as many know what that represents, and sheet film negatives do not always have a number there. I’ve seen that number referred to both as a batch code and as a machine code: the former meaning that the manufacturer would be able to identify the emulsion batch, and the latter indicating what machine cut the film into sheets. For archivists, we can use that number to help (it’s not definitive) determine if a photographer made a group of images during the same general time period. How so? Most photographers purchased sheet film in boxes of 25 or 100, so each sheet in a box or boxes purchased at the same time will likely have the same batch/machine code. In this case all but four of the forty negatives have a single notch with the code number 97. For now, hold that thought.
The images made closest to July 10 that I found in the newspapers appeared on Sunday, July 12, meaning that photographers took them on either on the evening of the July 10 or some time on July 11. Here’s one, a “Staff Photo by Ludwig” from The Sunday Star News on July 12:
Morton took a similar group portrait of the family around the same table, but without Lennon’s parents. (You might not be able to tell from the scan from microfilm, but it’s clear in Morton’s negative that while there are rolls on the center platter, everyone’s plates and bowls are empty.) The caption identifies the location of the family portrait as Lennon’s summer cottage in Wrightsville Beach. As seen at the top of this post, The Charlotte News published a portrait of the family seated near a fireplace, wearing the same clothes, on the same page as it ran four portraits across a four-column-wide article. That setting (law office versus home) doesn’t seem to mesh with Kidd Brewer’s description. One of those single portraits may have been published in a Saturday morning newspaper that I’ve not had time to explore. If so, then Brewer’s account could be accurate.
All totaled there are nine of the similarly posed Alton Lennon portrait negatives extant in the Morton collection, and at least one other pose made it to print. Lest we forget about Hugh Morton’s other favorite go-to publication, The State, here’s another of the portraits . . .
Below is a photograph published in The Wilmington News on July 13, taken by Morton but uncredited, showing a smiling Lennon with “fellow attorneys” posed in what, after consulting various other negatives in the collection, appears to be his law office in the Odd Fellows Building at 229 Princess Street. Many attorneys had their offices there because it was only a short walk to the city hall and county courthouse. The steps of Thalian Hall were just across the street on North 3rd Street.
There are several negatives made in that room, where the same composite photograph of the 1947 North Carolina Senate members is visible. Lennon was an elected member of the 1947 North Carolina Senate. In some of the negatives, Lennon’s diploma from Wake Forest College can be seen hanging on the perpendicular wall to the left.
Your eye for fashion now comes into play. You cannot tell from the picture above (as reproduced here from microfilm) but what can clearly be seen in the negative is that Lennon is wearing a double-breasted suit jacket. It may be the same as seen in this detail of a negative made by Morton on the steps of Thalian Hall below:
It could very well be, then, that Morton photographed Lennon on that Friday evening after the announcement when he would have been in his office with his fellow attorneys, and also on the steps of Thalian Hall.
At this point in his life, Hugh Morton was the vice president of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. The chamber organized a special “send off” committee and named Morton as its chairman. Festivities on July 14 began with a parade through the streets to the train station. Lennon’s car stopped for him to pose for photographers:
Now what about those four negatives with a different batch/machine code number? Here they are:
The machine code for these is 419 (not 97). Note, too, a portion of a campaign poster on the side of the car (lower right image). And that eye for fashion? Note Lennon is not wearing a bow tie, which he wears in all of the negatives made during the appointment days except during his meeting with Umstead, when he wears a light-colored suit and not a darker shade. There is enough evidence to conclude that Morton did not make these four negatives during events surrounding the Lennon announcement and send off. Lennon began campaigning soon after his appointment so we can date them from 1953 or 1954, but we cannot presume Morton made these four negatives in Wilmington. The top left negative is part of the online collection, and the metadata for that has been updated to reflect the distinction. The finding aid groupings will also be revised to reflect the new findings.
Alton Lennon or his surrogates used at least two of Morton’s photographs during the 1954 primary. Below is a page from the April 24, 1954 issue of The State:
The image above is cropped from one of the many negatives Hugh Morton exposed in Lennon’s law office, one of two with that “Keep America Strong” illustration in the background. It’s the upper portion of a calendar, which explains the last letters of the word “COMPANY” next to his left arm.
Morton’s family portrait of the Lennons seated in front of their fireplace reappears in a political advertisement paid for by Rocky Mount Friends of U. S. Senator Alton Lennon in that city’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram, on May 24:
Lennon lost his bid for the full term. He and six other candidates fell to W. Kerr Scott on the Saturday, May 29 election day, with Scott securing 25,323 more votes than second place Lennon.