On April 21, 1876, Congress passed the Turf Protection Law . . . or more formally, “An act to protect the public property, turf and grass of the Capitol Grounds from injury.” The act stipulated that “it shall be the duty of the Capitol police hereafter to prevent any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as play-grounds or otherwise, so far as may be necessary to protect the public property, turf and grass from destruction or injury.”
Pray tell why? Apparently Easter Monday egg rolling on the capitol grounds had grown to unsustainable numbers!
Easter Monday had become the favorite day of the year of children in the District of Columbia. On April 6 1874, the Washington, D.C. newspaper, The Daily Critic, estimated that 1,000 children were “in the Capitol and President’s Grounds, this afternoon, indulging in the amusement of egg rolling.” Two years later, the city’s Daily National Republican estimated there were at least 5,000 “lads and lassies, aye, and many older heads congregated to witness the pranks and capers of the boys and girls in rolling the eggs from the crest of the hill to the lawn below.” They also had their fun “at the president’s grounds and other convenient places.” Perhaps it was that day that prompted the Capitol grounds ban before April drew to a close.
Easter 1877 was a rainy day In Washington and there were no egg-rolling events. An 1878 news brief in the Washington Post a short time before Easter Monday noted that Capitol police would be enforcing the ban, but President Rutherford B. Hayes saved the day. He approved the use of the White House lawn for egg rolling that year—and is credited with establishing the event as it has become today—only today there will be no egg rolling at the White House due to the CORVID-19 pandemic.
Fannie B. Ward described the importance of Easter Monday in Washington in an April 1879 syndicated news article, so either the Capitol loosened its restraint or Ward recalled earlier times. Her description nonetheless captures the extent of the tradition’s popularity.
Easter Monday in the District of Columbia is a grand gala day for the little folk, what Thanksgiving is in New England or the Fourth of July in the West; schools are closed upon that day, and from sunrise to sunset thousands of children throng the hill upon which the Capitol stands, and the slopes and terraces of the White-House, all intent upon egg-rolling or egg-butting. Many bring their dinners and picnic on the springing grass—with hard-boiled eggs for every course; and there is no cessation of the sport till the purple gloaming falls, and “the blankets of the dark” shuts off the scene.
Nearly one hundred years later, Hugh Morton was on the White House lawn attending the Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 11 1977. The Grandfather Mountain Cloggers were part of the day’s celebration, which Morton photographed. There are six slides 35mm color slides in the collection, five of which are in the online collection. Two are a bit unusual: they depict Lillian Gordy Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother, seated in a wheelchair while watching the festivities from a White House balcony.
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.
This year, 2019, marks several special anniversaries for the United States space program. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch that carried the first humans to the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Morton Collection volunteer, Jack Hilliard, takes a look at these celebrations. Then, in an afterward, I’ll share my current thinking on Morton’s photographs made during the Apollo 11 launch.
Soon after NASA announced its “Mercury 7” astronauts on April 9, 1959, the agency selected Morehead Planetarium on the UNC campus as “the place” for celestial navigational training. Between 1959 and 1975, nearly every astronaut who participated in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz Test Project programs trained at the planetarium. All seven of the Mercury team and eleven of the twelve astronauts who walked on the moon trained there. Longtime planetarium director Tony Jenzano liked to claim that “Carolina is the only University in the country, in fact the world that can claim most all the astronauts as alumni.” So, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon launch and landing, we must give a tip of the hat to the folks at Morehead who played an important part in the most important peacetime undertaking of the 20th century.
Since I began working with Stephen Fletcher at Wilson Library in 2008, we have determined that Hugh Morton was a frequent visitor at the Kennedy Space Center for Apollo launches. We have determined that he was there for Apollo 9, Apollo 10, Apollo11, and Apollo 14. (He was likely at the launch of Apollo 8 and Apollo17, but we haven’t documented those images yet.) Over the years, we have written blog-posts about three of the Apollo fights: Apollo 9,Apollo 11, and Apollo 14.
In February of 1965, Morton visited the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, a part of Alabama’s Marshall Space Flight Center, but located in New Orleans. There he took several pictures of the Saturn 1B under construction. The Saturn1B would be used for the launch of Apollo 7, in 1968, three Skylab manned launches in the early 1970s and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.
About two years after Hugh Morton photographed the Saturn 1B at Michoud Assembly Facility, he and wife Julia were part of a fifty-person tour of Florida by the Travel Council of North Carolina. Mrs. Dan K Moore, the state’s First Lady, headed the tour. On Monday, January 23, 1967 the group visited the Kennedy Space Center—just four days before the tragic launchpad fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew. Astronauts “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died while training for the first Apollo manned mission, which had been scheduled for February 21, 1967.
The Apollo program would not make a manned flight until the launch of Apollo 7 on October 11, 1968.
Fifty years ago today, on July 16, 1969, Hugh Morton was one of the more than 3,500 accredited news reporters and photographers representing fifty-six countries, at NASA’s press site, three and a half miles across the Banana River from the Pad A launch facility at Kennedy Space Center. There are Morton images from the press site complex as well as the VIP viewing site where Morton took a photograph of former President Lyndon Johnson.
More than one million spectators jammed the Florida beaches and highways. Among the dignitaries at the VIP viewing site were General William Westmoreland, Chief of Staff of the Army, four members of President Nixon’s cabinet, sixty ambassadors, nineteen state governors, forty mayors, and two hundred congressmen. Vice President Spiro Agnew accompanied former president Lyndon Johnson and wife Lady Bird.
An estimated twenty-five million TV viewers in the United States watched the proceedings and the live coverage was available in thirty-three countries. President Richard Nixon viewed the launch from his office in Washington with NASA liaison officer, Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman.
As the launch time approached for Apollo 11, a few fluffy clouds could be seen, with the temperature in the high 80s and a slight breeze. NASA’s weather team at Patrick Air Force Base just south of the space center reported “flawless” launch weather.
At 9:32 am (EDT), on July 16, 1969, the mighty Saturn V (AS-506) rocket began fulfilling President Kennedy’s 1961 goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth,” with the historic launch of Apollo 11.
Afterword by Stephen
It’s struck me as odd that there are only seven 35mm slides from the Apollo 11 launch in the Morton collection, none of which depict blast off. Thinking photographically about the moment, I’ve come to believe that there are 35mm color negatives. Here’s why . . .
The 35mm slides that exist are from the end of a roll of film—slides 31 through 38, with slide 35 missing. Digital scans made from four of those slides can be seen online via the link in the story above. Sequentially:
slides 33 and 34 show the Saturn V rocket on the launchpad in the distance;
with frame 35 missing, slides 36 and 37 depict a sparsely populated grandstand; and
slide 38, the final frame, is the portrait of LBJ wearing sunglasses and looking like he may have been in the sun a bit too long (see the scans above),
At this point, Morton needs to reload his camera with a fresh roll of film. It’s either a between slides 34 or 35 and slide 36, or after frame 38 that I think misfortune struck.
I believe Morton may have had three cameras in operation—two positioned on tripods, and one carried with him. Why? There are two unidentified rolls of 35mm color negative film (i.e., not color slide film) in the collection depicting a rocket launch—one roll is oriented horizontally the other oriented vertically. Both are severely out-of-focus. From the street lamp positioned in the foreground, they appear to be from the same location as the slide above.
From a content perspective regarding the slides, why would LBJ be in the press section? More likely he would have been in the dignitaries section, which if that is what the grandstands above depict, then we can see was fairly empty. Is this because it was early before liftoff at 9:32, or after when people would have begun to leave? I think the later because the shadows are not long. Morton would have photographed around the press site, then switched his attention to liftoff, then wandered back to the dignitaries section.
Somehow or other, I think the cameras with telephoto lenses on tripods lost their focus. Or maybe there is another scenario. What do you think?
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.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival is in progress for the 72nd time in Wilmington. This year’s event takes place from April 3-7, 2019. Going back to 1948, not only is this event a celebration of flowers and golf, it brings celebrated guests from across the United States. From Hollywood movies, to TV stars, to celebrated sports heroes, the festival has seen them all. Over the years, many of the guests have made returned visits. This was especially true in the early years. As we celebrate festivalnumber 72, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at one of those guests, noted broadcaster Harry Wismer, who visited often during the1950s.
Hugh Morton crossed paths with legendary sportscaster Harry Wismer at the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1949 in New Orleans. Wismer was in town to broadcast the game for ABC Radio between the UNC Tar Heels and the Oklahoma Sooners. Of course Morton was in town to photograph the game which featured his dear friend Charlie Justice. And as one would expect, Morton took at pre-game picture of Justice and Wismer, a picture that Hugh often included in his famous slides shows. Morton also included the image in his 1988 book Making a Difference in North Carolina on page 257. Nearly two years later on December 10, 1950, Morton photographed the final regular season game between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns in Washington’s Griffith Stadium. Again, he crossed paths with Harry Wismer, the Redskins’ play-by-play man. At the time, Harry Wismer, who was known by many as “The Whiz,” was already considered the nation’s leading sportscaster, having broadcast numerous events like the National Open and PGA, the Penn Relays, and the National Football League Championship. Wismer was also a part owner of the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. In addition to his co-ownership, Wismer was “The Voice of the Redskins,” having called their games on the “Amoco-Redskins Network” since 1943. It was on those Redskins’ broadcasts that I first heard him. As a little kid, I listened to the Redskin games starting in 1950. When the game came to TV in North Carolina in 1951, Wismer was right there with the play-by-play. I remember those early broadcasts. Wismer’s commercial tag line went like this: “All around town, for all around service, visit your Amoco man, and Lord Baltimore filling stations.”
Starting in 1949, the Azalea Open Golf Tournament became a part of the spring festivities. Hugh Morton invited Wismer to the 1950 Azalea Festival in Wilmington, along with Southern Methodist University football hero Doak Walker and his wife Norma. Of course, Tar Heels Charlie and Sarah Justice returned in ’50, having been there in 1949 to crown Azalea Queen II, Hollywood starlet Martha Hyer. When Justice and Wismer returned to Wilmington for the 1951 festival, Hugh Morton had added a new event: a special golf match at the Cape Fear Country Club called “Who Crowns the Azalea Queen?” The match pitted two ABC Radio broadcasters, Harry Wismer and Ted Malone, against two football greats, Charlie Justice and Otto Graham.
The winner of the nine–hole–event would have the honor of crowning Queen Azalea IV, Margaret Sheridan. The ‘51 winner was the Justice/Graham team.
In addition to being part of the parades, flowers, and parties, Wismer broadcast the Azalea Open GolfTournament on ABC Radio. The 1951 Open winner was Lloyd Mangrum, and Wismer included an interview with him on his ABC Radio show which was also originated live in Wilmington.
The 1952 “Who Crowns the Azalea Queen?” event once again put Wismer’s team, which included writer Hal Boyle and band leader Tony Pastor,against a football squad of Charlie Justice, Eddie Lebaron, and Otto Graham and this time the Wismer team won.
According to Hugh Morton, the original queen selection for 1952 was actress Janet Leigh, but her husband Tony Curtis decided to cancel their trip to Wilmington. Morton knew that actress Cathy Downs was in town because her husband Joe Kirkwood, Jr. was playing in the Azalea Open. When Morton invited her, she accepted and became Queen Azalea V. Wismer continued his Azalea Festival visits during the mid-1950s. Charlotte broadcaster Grady Cole also participated in Wismer’s broadcasts. Wismer would later become one of the founding fathers of the American Football League, which began play in 1960; three years later, however, he gave up his football leadership. Wismer spent the remainder of his life trying to reclaim his glory days as broadcaster and team owner, but was unsuccessful partly because of his declining health. In 1965, Wismer wrote a book titled The Public Calls It Sports. In it he gives a “behind the scenes” look at professional football from a broadcast and ownership point of view. Harry Wismer passed away on December 4, 1967, the day after a tragic fall at a New York restaurant. He was 64-years-old.
Chancellor Paul Hardin was a visionary leader who is remembered in North Carolina and across our nation for his dedication to promoting the life-changing impact and benefits of higher education
— UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt, July 2017
One year ago today, July 1, 2017, UNC lost a giant: Chancellor Emeritus Paul Hardin III. Hardin led the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during its bicentennial observance, died at his Chapel Hill home after a courageous battle with ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 86 years old. On this first anniversary of his death, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at Chancellor Hardin’s time at UNC and his magnificent bicentennial leadership.
A Phi Beta Kappa from Duke University, Class of 1952, Paul Hardin led three schools—Wofford College, Southern Methodist University, and Drew University—before becoming UNC’s seventh chancellor on July 1, 1988. He was officially installed on October 12 during a University Day installation ceremony, where Hardin told those gathered: “The future belongs to those institutions and persons who command it, not to those who wait passively for it to happen.”
At UNC, Hardin established the Employee Forum, which gave non-academic university employees a greater voice. He was an advocate for UNC-Chapel Hill and campaigned successfully for greater fiscal and management flexibility for the state’s public universities. He aggressively led UNC through some of its most important events. When he stepped down in 1995, Carolina was ready for its third century.
One of those important events was Carolina’s bicentennial observance. On October 11, 1991, he officially launched the largest fund-raising effort in University history—the Bicentennial Campaign for Carolina.
“To command the future this university must compete successfully in the complex and highly competitive world of public higher education,” said Hardin as he announced that $55 million in gifts and pledges had already been raised. The bell in South Building rang out to mark the announcement.
It was October 12, 1793 when the University North Carolina laid the cornerstone for its first building, now named Old East. During the next two centuries, the university went from that single building to one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities. And on October 12, 1993 UNC celebrated that growth in a very special way under Hardin’s leadership.
Bicentennial planning had begun on August 28, 1985 when then Chancellor Chris Fordham sent Richard Cole, dean of the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications, a note asking him to chair an “ad hoc committee to assist in planning the forthcoming Bicentennial.” During the next eight years, plans were carefully put into place for the observance. Chancellor Hardin looked upon Carolina’s 200th birthday as an opportunity to “light the way” for Carolina’s future. “Dare to think big and to dream,” he told the numerous planning committees. They did.
A predawn rain fell on the UNC campus on October 12, 1993, the actual 200th birthday of the university, but that didn’t deter any of the planned celebration. As a crowd of 3,000 filed into McCorkle Place for a 10:00 a.m. rededication ceremony of Old East, the sun came out. UNC President C.D. Spangler then stepped to podium.
“I want to thank publicly Chancellor Paul Hardin for the excellent leadership he is giving our university. I feel quite certain that with such strong leadership now and in the future, 200 years from now in 2193 there will be an assemblage of people at this same location again celebrating this wonderful university.”
Following the Distinguished Alumni Awards presentations, President Spangler again came forward—this time to make an unexpected announcement. Holding up a gold pocket watch that had belonged to William Richardson Davie, the university’s founding father, Spangler explained: “Emily Davie Kornfield in her will . . . bequeathed to the University of North Carolina the watch . . . having the letter ‘D’ inscribed on its back. . . Chancellor, I take great pleasure in presenting William Richardson Davie’s watch to you for perpetual care by the University of North Carolina.” Chancellor Hardin accepted the timepiece that is now a part of the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library.
The University Day celebration continued with the planting of Davie Popular III from a seed of the original tree. Also, 104 two-foot saplings from the original tree were distributed to sixth-graders representing North Carolina’s 100 counties and the Cherokee Indian Reservation. UNC Head Basketball Coach Dean Smith handed out the twigs from a flat-bed truck. The young students took the twigs back to each county for planting.
The University Day Bicentennial Observance culminated with a celebration in Kenan Memorial Stadium, with Chancellor Hardin leading the proceedings. And just as he was thirty-two years before when President John F. Kennedy spoke on University Day 1961, photographer Hugh Morton was there to document the proceedings.
The University Day processional led by Faculty Marshal Ron Hyatt preceded the evening’s speakers: The Honorable James B. Hunt, Jr., Governor of North Carolina; Charles Kuralt, North Carolina Hall of Fame journalist; and Dr. William C. Friday, President-Emeritus of UNC. Then at 8:24 p.m., C.D. Spangler introduced William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America. Following Clinton’s thirty-five-minute speech, Chancellor Hardin conferred an honorary degree on the forty-second president.
Then Hardin closed the evening’s proceedings: “Tonight we have rubbed shoulders with history, and we stand with you—Mr. President—facing a future that baffles prediction but whose promise surely exceeds our wildest imaginings. We are profoundly grateful for your message of hope and promise and humbled to share even part of your day alongside matters of vast global consequence. . . May we set as our goal that our nation’s first state university may also be its best.”
Twelve years after Hardin stepped down from his post as Chancellor, in March of 2007, he and his wife, Barbara, joined with then-Chancellor James Moeser and Chancellor Emeritus William Aycock and former Interim Chancellor Bill McCoy for the dedication on south campus of Hardin Hall, a newly built residence hall named in his honor.
Also on hand that day was Dick Richardson, a retired provost and political science professor who chaired the bicentennial observance while Hardin was chancellor. Richardson said of his former boss, “There is no veneer to him. No pretense, no façade of personality to hide the real person. . . . If you scratch deeply beneath the surface of Paul Hardin, you will find exactly what you find on the surface, for this man is solid oak from top to bottom.”
A memorial service was held on Saturday afternoon, July 8, 2017 at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill; and on that day the university rang the bell in South Building seven times, to honor Paul Hardin’s role in UNC history as the seventh chancellor. The ringing of the bell is used to mark only the most significant university occasions. Correction: 2 July 2018
Linked to the correct blog post on William Richardson Davie’s watch on North Carolina Miscellany. The previous link led to a post on Elisha Mitchell’s watch.
On June 6, 1968—fifty years ago today—Robert Francis Kennedy died nearly twenty-six hours after being fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Seven years earlier—on January 5, 1961—Hugh Morton photographed Kennedy during a visit to Raleigh, North Carolina.
On that day, Kennedy sat on the platform in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium watching the inauguration of North Carolina’s sixty-fifth governor, Terry Sanford. Fifteen days later, Kennedy’s brother John would be sworn in as the country’s thirty-fifth president.
Hugh Morton also attended Sanford’s swearing-in ceremony. Morton had served as Publicity Director for the election campaign of outgoing governor Luther H. Hodges in 1956. During Hodges’ administration, Morton served as the chair of the State Advertising Committee and as a member of the State Board of Conservation and Development. His credentials provided Morton access to a likely restricted area for the event.
During the inauguration ceremony and Sanford’s ensuing address, Morton photographed with a 120 format roll film camera. He worked predominately from a distance, positioned high up on stage left. He mostly photographed the audience and other officials taking their oaths of office, and Sanford from behind while centered amid the crowd. There are ten negatives extent from the event. In Morton’s negatives, you can see another photographer on the dais in front of the podium during their oaths. Unbeknownst to Morton, his focus for those negatives was off badly. On the very last frame of that roll of film (frame 12), he captured the above close up of Robert F. Kennedy with his wife Ethel. They were seated on right side of the stage, suggesting Morton made the cross-stage trip specifically to make that photograph.
Outside, Morton switched to 35mm film. There are forty-seven surviving 35mm negatives from that day. Two depict Robert Kennedy, likely after the swearing-in ceremony but before Hodges and Sanford made their way into an awaiting convertible. One of the two those two negatives is shown below. Morton also made a 120 format color negative of the two governors seated inside the convertible (not scanned, but published in the book Making A Difference in North Carolina) that is also extant.
Why was Robert Kennedy attending the inauguration of a North Carolina governor? A four-part story in A View to Hugh from 2011 titled “A Spark of Greatness” recounts John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in North Carolina during the 1960 election, drawn mostly from John Drescher’s book Triumph of Good Will: How Terry Sanford Beat a Champion of Segregation and Reshaped the South.A Spark of Greatness—Part 3 sets the stage for RFK’s return to NC for Sanford’s inauguration. That account, however, is really only part of the story. In terms of the presidential election, Robert Kennedy stated that “North Carolina was the most pleasant state to win for me.” But he played a minor controversial role in Sanford’s election, too.
Sanford met with Robert Kennedy during his gubernatorial primary campaign—reluctantly, but he did so as a favor to Louis Harris, his pollster and a fellow UNC alumnus. (Sanford received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1941, Harris received his BA in 1942, and Hugh Morton was a member of the class of 1943.) Sanford had begun building a relationship with the Kennedys during the election season, but had not yet decided if he would endorse John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson. Their meeting was to be private. It took place during the first part of June in Raleigh at the College Inn. Sanford was impressed with Robert Kennedy’s organizational skills. Sanford left the meeting without making a commitment, but he was now convinced John Kennedy would defeat Johnson.
During a press conference on June 13, a UPI reporter asked Sanford if he had met with Kennedy. Sanford said he had not. Sanford thought the reporter asked about John Kennedy but realized he had meant to say Robert. Within a week newspapers carried stories about the meeting between Sanford and Robert Kennedy. Sanford later regretted that he did not give a more forthright answer, one that acknowledged that he had not met with JFK but had met with RFK. The political news was soon filled with stories that questioned, among various other scenarios, if Sanford had something to hide—particularly a promise to endorse Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention.
In his book Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress, and Outrageous Ambitions, Howard Covington recounts how Sanford made his way into the White House prior to the funeral service for John F. Kennedy. Sanford attempted to gain access to the White House, but police physically thwarted his attempt despite his being a governor. He finally convinced the police to escort him inside as if he was under arrest. Once inside, Sanford spoke briefly to Robert Kennedy, then left.
Three months before the JFK assassination, Robert Kennedy had written a letter to Sanford, according to Covington, “to commend him on his management of difficult times.” Kennedy wrote, “You have always shown leadership in this effort, which could well be followed by many chief executives in the north as well as in your part of the nation.” Kennedy had written a post script at the bottom of his letter: “I hope I am not causing you too much trouble down there. Just deny you ever met me. That is the only advice I can think to give you. Bob.” In a note back to Robert Kennedy, Terry Sanford wrote: “I haven’t denied you yet.”
This year’s holiday post looks back at once longtime tradition in Hugh Morton’s hometown of Wilmington. We hope it will bring back special holiday memories for many of our readers. The credit for writing this post goes to Jack Hilliard, with a little bit of filler from my keyboard including the lyrical pun for the title. For that you can blame me.
On Christmas eve 1928 in Wilmington, North Carolina, a new holiday event took place in Hilton Park opposite the city’s water works. At that time, at that place, “The World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree,”—a live oak believed to be 400 years old, between 75 and 100 feet tall (depending on where you measure) and 110 feet wide decorated with 450 colored lights—launched a Wilmington tradition that would span more than 80 years.
Wilmington’s living Christmas tree took root during the autumn of 1928 when James E. L. Wade, city commissioner of public works, staged a contest to select a favorite tree to be lighted. Two school kids chose that live oak in Hilton Park, and each kid was awarded a five dollar gold coin. From there, according to the Christmas Day edition of The Wilmington Morning Star, Wade “evolved the plan of a bigger community tree and attendant celebration than Wilmington had previously known.” The Wilmington Morning Star Sunday edition published two days before Christmas noted that the extensive Christmas Eve program would include the singing of “thirteen beautiful carols,” and that the Atlantic Coast Line’s general office band would play many Christmas carols, too. Also planned for the program was a “Biblical sketch” by Mrs. A. M. Alderman “depicting the life of Christ from manger to the cross” and the appearance of Santa to “distribute hundreds of bags of candy, fruit, and toys.” WRBT would be broadcasting the entire program “providing officials of the broadcasting station have recovered from the influenza.”
Unfortunately, “Sickness among the city’s musically inclined and a light misting rain” curtailed the evening’s program at “the living community tree” to a reading of the nativity story by Mrs. Alderman, who “wore a robe of white satin.” The newspaper reported that “sickness among members of the various choirs that were to have had a part in the exercises and the Atlantic Coast Line General office band, coupled with too damp weather caused postponement of that part of the program that included the singing of carols.” Nonetheless, the wet weather “could not take the joy of the evening away from the hundreds of youngsters, boys and girls, who trudged to the end of Fourth street and every one of them received a stocking filled with candies, nuts, and fruit.” Some of the evening’s events were to be reschedule during the week, and others were to be delayed until New Years night when, the article stated, “all Wilmington is asked to assemble there and pledge their faith in and efforts toward a bigger and finer and better Wilmington.”
We don’t have any evidence that seven-year-old Hugh Morton was there for the first event, but he was often there during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Seven of his “World’s Largest Christmas Tree” scenes can be seen in the online collection, three of which are included in this blog post.
Here are a few quotes taken from the ‘Wilmington Outskirts’ section of Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T. Moore by Susan Taylor Block that describe some of the early years of the living Christmas tree:
The Christmas Eve 1929 edition of The Morning Star reported that “Hugh MacRae’s Tide Water Power Company furnished all labor, most of the wiring and 750 light globes for the tree.”
“The moss in the tree, if it were carried away, would take three 2-ton trucks to do the work.”
“In 1930, the giant Hilton Christmas tree was declared ‘the most beautiful of its kind in the state and nation’ by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs.”
“On January 1, 1933, 5000 people gathered at the tree to hear ‘a program presented by African-American residents of the city.’ Participants from Williston High School Glee Club and St. Stephen’s, St. Luke’s and Central Baptist churches mesmerized the crowd; city fathers requested an encore performance the following evening.”
Susan Taylor Block was also there for the lighting ceremony often during the ‘50s and ‘60s. She recently shared some personal thoughts via email with me about how, as a little kid, she remembered the lighting ceremonies.
“People spoke softly or not at all – even in the parking areas which were distanced a bit.
“I think there was zero yelling or clapping. There was a reverence under the tree and around it.
“There was something happy and exhilarating about being there – but there also was a touch of something that made my hair stand on end, too.
“Every year, sometimes twice or 3 times, my father would drive my grandmother, mother, brother and me to see the Tree. . . Looking back again, I remember the glowing way the large Christmas lights lit portions of the hearty Spanish moss. Sometime carols playing softly in the background.
“For me, it was a private quiet religious experience that I cannot put into words. I have not experienced that exact feeling anywhere else…”
With the exception of the World War II years, Wilmington staged the tree-lighting event every year since 1928. By 1959, it was reported that 150,000 people turned out for the ceremony. From 42 states and 11 foreign countries they all came to marvel at the light show and to hear a 400 member choir.
By 1990, the old tree was supporting about 7,000 lights, using almost 4 miles of 12-gauge wire. Eighty years of ice storms and the like took a tremendous toll on the old tree and the final lighting ceremony was held in 2009. Amy Beatty, the superintendent of recreation and downtown services for the city of Wilmington, indicated several decisions prompted the tree’s retirement. “The tree itself was ‘very compromised,’ with a number of branches toppled by storms. Officials decided it could no longer support the light display. Also, the rerouting of Martin Luther King Boulevard to connect with North Third Street and made the (neighboring) water plant difficult to reach. Post 9/11 guidelines from the U. S. Department of Homeland Security outlining greater protection for water-treatment facilities added to the logistical difficulties.” Susan Taylor Block added, “The tree itself was enormous and beautiful then. The Hilton area had been well-known for its beautiful oaks. Then the city put offices and a plant nearby – and the dominos began to slant. . . A new highway configuration now makes it difficult to even find where the tree used to be.”
Sadly, the old oak that was “The World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree” for more than eighty years was taken down in November 2015. And though the live oak may be gone, it will always be remembered by those who saw it there . . . in that place . . . during this time of year . . . as a Christmas tree.
Diabetes Month is observed every November so individuals, health care professionals, organizations, and communities across the country can bring attention to diabetes and its impact on millions of Americans. A View to Hugh would like to relate an event from the past that raised about $20,000 for diabetes research while at the same time had some fun at the expense of a Tar Heel sports legend. But first, a bit of history . . . In 1970 a group of parents in New York City whose children had Type 1 diabetes founded an organization they called the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, or JDF. The group was defined by its commitment to research-funding and finding a cure for juvenile diabetes. In 2012, the Foundation changed its name to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or JDRF, putting a greater emphasis on the need for research. No one in the celebrity world came close to doing what actress Mary Tyler Moore accomplished with JDRF. Her efforts were tireless. She had but one goal when it came to diabetes: to bring to the attention of the world the battle of diabetes and how important it is to one day cure it. She attended events, met with elected officials, testified before congress, and was always available to help local JDRF chapters with local fund raising by offering her celebrity. And that’s exactly how she helped the Charlotte chapter of JDF in 1984 when they staged their fifth annual JDF celebrity roast. Moore recorded videotape spots for the local television stations to air promoting the importance of supporting the Foundation. Mary Tyler Moore died at the age of 80 earlier this year on January 25, 2017, but she will always be remembered in Charlotte for what she did to make the JDF Celebrity Roast of Tar Heel football legend Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice a success thirty-three years ago. Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back to Monday, April 30, 1984.
A celebrity roast is an event in which a specific individual, a guest of honor, is subjected to good-natured jokes at their expense and it is intended to amuse the event’s audience and in many cases to raise money for a particular charity. Such events are intended to honor the individual in a unique way. In addition to jokes, such events may also involve genuine praise and tributes. The individual is surrounded by friends, fans, and well-wishers, who can receive some of the same good natured treatment as well during the course of the evening.
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Charles Justice has contributed his fame to hundreds of drives and worthy causes and has generally and consistently served as a wholesome example to impressionable youth.
—Hugh Morton, May, 2000
In early January 1984, it had been almost thirty years since Charlie Justice played his final football game with the Washington Redskins and almost thirty-four since he played his final varsity game with the Tar Heels. Nonetheless, when the Charlotte Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation approached him about being the honored guest at the Fifth Annual JDF Celebrity Roast, Charlie’s reply was yes, “these things are for a great cause and I enjoy them.” Charlie had been guest of honor for two other celebrity gatherings, one in Greensboro on October 29, 1980 called “Dinner of Champions,” sponsored by the Central North Carolina Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and one in his native Asheville on January 27, 1984 sponsored by the Western Carolina Children’s Foundation.
Justice was in great company at the fifth annual event. The four who preceded Justice were Clyde McLean of WBTV in 1979, Kays Gary of The Charlotte Observer in 1980, Eddie Knox, former Charlotte mayor in 1982, and famed basketball player and coach Horace “Bones” McKinney in 1983.
If you didn’t know better, you might think this was a UNC reunion. The event’s Honorary Chairman was Johnny Harris, UNC Class of 1969. Two other Tar Heels who worked behind the scenes were Erskine Bowles ’67 and Ray Farris ’62. Tar Heel roasters included newspaper publisher Orville Campbell ’42; Woody Durham, Voice of the Tar Heels, ’63; UNC President Dr. William Friday, ’48; and UNC All-America football star and Justice’s classmate Art Weiner, ’50.
With Master of Ceremonies Bill Hensley in control (sort of), the “roasting” fun began. Charlie was ushered into the Sheraton Center with the singing of “All The Way Choo Choo” to the delight of the 450 guests. The singing was led by Charlie’s daughter Barbara Crews. Roaster: Orville Campbell
Chapel Hill newspaper publisher and the man responsible for recording “All The Way Choo Choo,” Orville Campbell then stepped up to the mic. “We always liked to take our songs over to Mr. W. D. Carmichael, then acting University President, and get his opinion. So when Hank Beebe and I finished All The Way Choo Choo, I went over to Carmichael’s office. He was extremely busy that day, but I went in anyway. His desk was covered with papers and he didn’t even look up.
“What do you want, Orville?” said Carmichael.
“I just wanted to know if you had heard our last song.”
“I hope the h— I have,” was Carmichael’s reply.
“Back in 1958,” Campbell continued, “I published a book which was written by Bob Quincy and Julian Scheer called Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story. We still have a warehouse full of those books over in Chapel Hill and I brought a few of them over here tonight to see if anybody here would pay $25 for a copy and if so, we’ll donate that money to JDF. And after we’re finished here, we’ll lock the door so Charlie can’t get away and have him sign ‘em.”
Campbell, who had been Charlie’s friend and fan since he arrived in Chapel Hill in 1946, then took out a letter that UNC Head Football Coach Carl Snavely supposedly wrote to Justice following that famous 1948 Texas game in Chapel Hill.
“In discussing your touchdown pass to Art Weiner, Charlie, Coach Snavely reminded you that, ‘Your wobbly pass to Art Weiner would have never been caught except that Art made a great catch and Texas had a poor pass defense.’”
Campbell then put on a number 22 college all-star jersey and modeled it for the crowd. Justice had donated the jersey to be auctioned with money going to JDF. The jersey went for $1,000. Roaster: Woody Durham
Next up was “The Voice” of Tar Heel football and basketball, Woody Durham. Woody told the story of how Justice had decided to go to the University of South Carolina, when his brother Jack talked him out of it and convinced him he should go to UNC. Durham then turned to Charlotte JDF Chapter President Cassie Phillipi and asked, “Cassie, how much money do you think we could raise if we were holding this gathering in Columbia tonight?” Then Durham said he wanted to relate a recent story from his visit to Atlanta and added, “This is the only story I’ll tell from that Atlanta trip . . . I promise.”
“I was in Atlanta covering Dean Smith’s 1984 Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament. The morning of the game, I was in the hotel room preparing for that night’s radio broadcast. The TV set was on but the sound was turned down real low and I wasn’t paying any attention to it. Then something caught my attention. The CBS program The Price is Right host Bob Barker had introduced a contestant form North Carolina. Then Barker said, ‘Who was the great All America football player from North Carolina back in the 1940s?’ Immediately someone in the audience shouted out, “Choo Choo.” Barker quickly added, That’s right, Choo Choo Charlie Justice.’”
“Folks it’s been 35 years since Charlie played for Carolina, but his name is still magic.” Roaster: Bill Friday
Up next . . . University of North Carolina President Dr. William Friday spoke of “the rightness of all he symbolizes in American Sports.”
“When thirty years pass, a haze often settles over memory but not the recollections of Charlie Justice on the football field. He could do it all and he did. . . . All of the adulations and publicity never increased his hat size. An unassuming and cheerful manner always has characterized this man of extraordinary gifts. He has been greatly blessed in another way, he has Sarah.”
The 52-page souvenir program book for the 5th Annual JDF Roast is, in reality, a Charlie Justice scrapbook with dozens of Hugh Morton photographs included. The book was designed by George Van Allen of G.V.A. Associates and the Justice cover-caricature was done by Gene Payne of The Charlotte Observer. Charlie must have approved of the caricature; there was a huge version of it on the wall of his Cherryville office. Also included in the book is a beautifully written Justice profile by Observer columnist Ron Green. Roaster: John Fraley
John L. “Buck” Fraley, President and Chief Operating Officer of Carolina Freight, was next up. Fraley’s company was a prime client of the Justice-Crews Insurance Company in Cherryville and had been so for many years. Fraley, a NC State graduate, talked about Charlie’s brief 1964 venture into politics. Also in the audience was Ken Younger who would take Fraley’s place with the company in 1985 following Fraley’s retirement. And if memory serves me correctly, it was Younger who bought the Justice All-Star jersey and then presented it to Charlie’s daughter Barbara. And by the way, Ken Younger, is a 1949 Duke graduate, who played football against Charlie and the Tar Heels. Roaster: Art Weiner
Hugh Morton and the Charlotte JDF Chapter had prepared several large Charlie Justice action pictures and offered them for sale—the profits, of course, going to the Diabetes Foundation. So when Justice’s friend, teammate, and business partner Art Weiner stepped up to speak, he commented on the pictures.
“Did you ever wonder why there are so many fantastic Hugh Morton action pictures of Charlie Justice? Well, Hugh Morton was a world class, fantastic photographer, but there is another reason. We had one member on our team who never touched the ball . . . never made a tackle . . . never threw a block. His only purpose in life was to let Charlie Justice know where Hugh Morton was on the sidelines.”
“Where do you suppose he had his first heart attack? At halftime at the Carolina-Pitt game a few years back. They were carrying him out on a stretcher and everybody was looking and there was Charlie, waving to the crowd.”
Weiner then looked over at Orville Campbell. “I didn’t know the ball was supposed to spiral until I got into pro ball. Charlie always threw it end-over-end.”
“I lived beside Charlie for four years and he got new Cadilacs all four years. There was always trucks backing up to his door and unloading things.”
“My scholarship was a piece of wood with a nail on it, and I was told that I could keep anything that blew across my yard.”
When the laughter died down, Weiner got serious.
“I can honestly say Charlie Justice is not only the best friend I ever had, but in my opinion he is greatest athlete North Carolina ever had.” Charlie Justice
When Justice finally got to the mic, he denied all, then thanked all for attending, and poked a little bit of fun at his “roasters,” telling his dear friend Art Weiner, “at least you had a scholarship at Carolina. . . I didn’t even have a one. . . Sarah had the scholarship in our family. And as for those four Cadilacs you mentioned . . . was really one ’48 Chevy.” He then related the importance of the fund-raising for diabetes research. At the end of the evening’s festivities, more than $20,000 had been raised for that research.
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Ron Green, writing in the May 2, 1984 edition of The Charlotte Observer under the headline “Highest Praise To Choo Choo,” said, “They came not to praise Charlie Choo Choo Justice but to roast him. They did both Monday night at the Sheraton Center. . . Others of his era are yellowed memories now, but Justice shines on, brightly, like a star . . . the long, rambling touchdown runs . . . the winning passes . . . the record-setting punts that took North Carolina out of danger. Almost campy. Almost as if he were playing himself in the lead role of a low budget movie with the title ‘Justice Rides Again.’ So good. So right.”
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WFMY-TV in Greensboro recorded the JDF roast in Charlotte on videotape for filmmaker David Solomon, the President of David Solomon Productions in Winston-Salem. Portions of the roast appear in Solomon’s Sports Extra TV production of All The Way Choo Choo. I had the honor of directing and editing the program, along with Larry Fitzgerald, the late WFMY-TV photojournalist. North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Broadcaster Charlie Harville narrated the program. And once again, Charlie Justice’s popularity across the entire state was shown when the TV documentary was sponsored by “Goody’s” of Winston-Salem. The President of Goody’s, Duke University Class of 1949 football player Tom Chambers, was an opponent of Justice’s during their college days. In addition to the “Goody’s” commercials, the program also included JDF-Mary Tyler Moore public service announcements.
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In closing, I would like to revisit words from Bill Friday:
“(Charlie Justice) is loyal. He has been on call when his alma mater needed him. He has lent his name in time and talent to a host of worthy causes since his jersey went into the trophy case.”
“He has shown in his personal life the same quality of courage and determination he exhibited in athletics. Charlie Justice was voted All-American for his exploits on those memorable Saturdays of another era.”
“I want to say, Charlie, that in the eyes of your legions of friends today, you are an All-American every day of the week.”