Smokies to celebrate 75th

Yesterday’s NC Miscellany post alerted me to the upcoming 75th anniversary (1934-2009) of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They’ve set up an interactive website to help celebrate. I was going to upload a Hugh Morton photo to their nifty “Family Album“—until I read their Photo Release agreement, that is. (Somehow I don’t think the library would appreciate my agreeing to those terms!).
So, I’m offering an independent, A View to Hugh tribute to the GSMNP. A cropped version of the following photo appeared on the cover of the October 1, 1968 issue of The State magazine, referencing an article by Jane Corey called “Hugh Morton’s Favorite Ten.” Included below is the text that accompanied the photo in The State.
Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, circa 1950s

Among Hugh Morton’s 10 favorite photos—of the thousands he has made—is this shot of a mother bear and three cubs walking across a road in the Great Smokies. It is a once-in-a-lifetime picture, says Hugh, because any time bears show up on a highway, a crowd quickly forms. “I know I will never again have the chance at a shot like this without people showing.”

"A glorious place to praise the Lord"

This coming Sunday marks the 84th “Singing on the Mountain,” the gospel convention held annually at the base of Grandfather that over the years has featured such well-known personalities as Johnny Cash and the Reverend Billy Graham. As you may have gleaned from my earlier post on Happy John Coffey, Hugh Morton’s photos from “the Sing” are some of my very favorite in the collection.
The early images (from the 1940s-50s) are especially striking—beautiful, black-and-white portraits of old time mountain musicians and preachers that are so evocative of a particular time, place and culture. I just wish I knew more about the performers, speakers and attendees of the Sing. (Shouldn’t somebody write a book? I’ve got illustrations for you!)

The image above came in an envelope labeled as follows:

SINGING ON THE MOUNTAIN: Crowd shots, Grandfather Mountain in background. Significant fact of location at Grandfather of the Sing is that the mountaineers hold the mountain in high regard kin to worship. It is ‘The Mountain’ as far as they are concerned, because it is likely the most rugged in the East. The mountain folks get a feeling of altitude on it since Grandfather juts right up into nowhere with no other comparable mountains nearby to dwarf it. It’s [sic] altitude is 5964, which is 600 less than Mitchell, but Mitchell and others taller are rolling mountains with tall ones near, not jagged rock like Grandfather.

Can anyone help with identifications for the following two images?

The image below (which I love) shows Joe Lee Hartley, founder and longtime Chairman of the Sing, with an unidentified tiny performer. (This is a cropped version of the original). The poem below that (first and last stanzas only) was written by Hartley and appears in his “History of the Great Singing on the Mountain,” a circa 1949 pamphlet held by the North Carolina Collection.

Morning on the Grandfather Mountain
Composed by J. L. Hartley, Linville, NC
Morning on the Mountain
And the wind is blowing free
Then it is ours just for the breathing.
No more stuffy cities where we have to pay to breathe
Where the helpless creatures move and throng and strive to breathe.
Lonesome—well I guess not
I have been lonesome in the towns
Yes the wind is blowing free
So just come up into God’s beautiful country—
Get a breath and see.

Remembering WW2

Memorial Day seems a most appropriate occasion to highlight some of the images documenting Hugh Morton’s World War II experiences. The broad strokes of the story are well known: aware that he would end up in the military and hoping to receive an assignment in photography, Morton enlisted in October 1942 and was first posted at the U.S. Army Anti-Aircraft School at Camp Davis, taking pictures for training manuals.
When he was sent to New Caledonia to report to the 161st Army Signal Corps Photo Company, he was surprised when his captain looked at him and said, “Morton, you look like a movie man.” (This was the first time he picked up a movie camera, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last—future blog posts will explore some of Morton’s later adventures in filmmaking). Since his wartime film footage went directly to the Army, we don’t have any of it in the collection here at UNC—but we do have a small number of still images taken by and of Morton during these eventful years.
Here’s Morton, in a photo by an unknown photographer, with his movie camera atop a B-24, the “Go Gettin’ Gal“:

Hugh Morton with movie camera atop plane “Go Gettin’ Gal,” World War II, early 1940s

In 1944 Morton obtained an enjoyable assignment covering Bob Hope, Frances Langford, and Jerry Colonna as they entertained the troops at New Caledonia. In the booklet Sixty Years with a Camera, Morton described these as “three of the happiest days of my life…I rode in the same car with Bob and Jerry…during which they were cracking jokes and practicing their lines. It was a fun time.”

Frances Langford and Bob Hope entertaining military personnel in New Caledonia, 1944 [cropped]

From there, he was sent briefly to Guadalcanal and Bougainville, which may be when the following images were snapped (the first is by Morton; the second shows Morton with his camera and a group of Pacific island children, taken by an unknown photographer):

Man climbing palm tree in the Pacific islands, possibly Bougainville, during World War II (early 1940s)

Hugh Morton showing his movie camera to some Pacific island children, possibly at Bougainville, during World War II (early 1940s)

Morton then got his most intense assignment when he was sent to photograph the 25th Infantry Division as they invaded Luzon, in the Philippines, in early 1945. He obtained a few still shots of combat, and covered General Douglas MacArthur when he came to Luzon to inspect the 25th Division:

General Douglas MacArthur conferring with field officers, Luzon, Philippines, January 1945

Shortly after MacArthur’s visit, Morton was wounded in an explosion—an incident for which he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, with citation, for exposing himself to danger in order to obtain high-quality, closeup images of the front lines. Morton recounts the incident in UNC-TV’s “Biographical Conversations” (video available online), claiming that the Speed Graphic camera he held in front of his face helped save him from further injury.

Hugh Morton (right, arm in sling) wounded, with photo team, March 1945

A note of interest: the Library of Congress holds the papers and photos of another member of the 161st Photographic Company, Charles Rosario Restifo. Be sure to check out Restifo’s detailed autobiography, wherein he discusses his training, camp life, and experiences in the Pacific, many of which would have been similar to or the same as Morton’s. I don’t believe Restifo is in the picture above, and he doesn’t mention Morton by name in the memoir, but it sounds like they were on many of the same assignments—in fact, if you look on page 98 of Restifo’s book, the image of MacArthur appears to be the exact same image as Morton’s (above)! Not just similar, but identical. Not sure how this happened.

One last Memorial Day musing: Morton didn’t leave his WW2 experiences behind him when he left the Pacific. As I discussed in a previous blog post, he deserves a lot of credit for the establishment of the USS North Carolina as a memorial to North Carolinians who died in WW2 service.

This sounds familiar. . .

It’s been an exciting few weeks in North Carolina politics! Not only did last Tuesday’s primary inspire huge numbers of new voter registrations and shatter voter turnout records, for the first time in seemingly forever, it appears the state may have played a very important role in determining the Democratic nominee for President. I suspect these events would have thrilled Morton—a lifelong, committed Democrat and onetime gubernatorial candidate.
So it seems like a good time to share these two Morton slides, scenes from the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, showing supporters of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, respectively. Despite heated clashes between the two during the primaries, Kennedy and Johnson ended up forming a joint ticket (with Kennedy on top), which went on to (narrowly) defeat Richard Nixon in the general election.

John F. Kennedy supporters at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles

Lyndon Baines Johnson supporters at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles

Here’s an interesting quote from the Wikipedia page about the 1960 election:

Kennedy was initially dogged by suggestions from some Democratic Party elders (such as former President Harry Truman) that he was too youthful and inexperienced to be president; these critics suggested that he agree to be the running mate for a “more experienced” Democrat. Realizing that this was a strategy touted by his opponents to keep the public from taking him seriously, Kennedy stated frankly ‘I’m not running for vice president, I’m running for president.’

The dreaded "miscellaneous"

As I near the end of my initial sort through the Morton negatives, I am forced to confront that evil category: “miscellaneous.” Most archivists hate that word, and try to avoid using it in their descriptions, because it is so very useless in terms of letting people know what a collection or grouping actually contains. But the fact is, some images just don’t fit into any of the subject categories I’ve established. Photos of car accidents . . . unidentified living rooms . . . a piece of needlework . . . half a sandwich and a cup of soup. How to classify these? I’ll have to figure that out at some point, but for now they’re resting under the nasty M-word.
Also under the M-word (for now) are images I’m unable to identify well enough to know whether they might fit into one of my existing categories. The intriguing image below is one such case. It dates probably from the early 1950s, is in an envelope labelled “Atom Artillery Bn.,” and shows men in uniform boarding a large ship. I’m guessing it has something to do with atomic artillery (first tested in 1953), but what does “Bn.” stand for? (Battalion, perhaps)? Where was it taken? Does anyone know the 1,000 words behind this one?
“Atom Artillery Bn.,” late 1940s-early 1950s

The Klan in NC

It’s another of those “1,000 word” moments, where a Morton image sends me off on a journey of discovery. On my recent visit to Grandfather, Hugh’s wife Julia told me the following story: she and Hugh got a speeding ticket in 1945 while driving through Columbus County, NC, on the way back home after their honeymoon. A few years later, Hugh was assigned to photograph the arrest of a supposed K.K.K. leader in Columbus County—Morton went to the jail, and to his surprise the man being arrested turned out to be the same man who had given them the speeding ticket. Mrs. Morton couldn’t quite recall his name, but thought it was “Early Bird” or something odd like that.
So, when I saw the negative envelope labeled “K.K.K.,” I thought to myself, maybe these are the negatives Mrs. Morton mentioned . . . and indeed, they do show a man being fingerprinted. I noted that the calendar on the wall read Whiteville, NC (in Columbus County), February 1952.

Accused/arrested Klansman being fingerprinted, Columbus County NC, Feb. 1952

Accused/arrested Klansman being fingerprinted, Columbus County NC, Feb. 1952

To my surprise, a quick web search for the K.K.K. in this time and place returned a bounty of fascinating information. First I learned that the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in Journalism had gone to the Whiteville News Reporter and Tabor City Tribune, two weekly newspapers, “For their successful campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, waged on their own doorstep at the risk of economic loss and personal danger, culminating in the conviction of over one hundred Klansmen and an end to terrorism in their communities.”
Then I read about something called the Carter-Klan Documentary Project, being run right in our backyard at the UNC Center for the Study of the American South. This is an effort begun in 2003 to create a documentary film and other multimedia elements about the work of W. Horace Carter (then editor of the Tabor City Tribune) and others to combat the early 1950s Klan insurgency in Columbus County, led by Grand Dragon Thomas Hamilton. The timeline on the project’s detailed website describes the events of February 16, 1952, whenmore than 35 FBI agents, working in close coordination with state and local law enforcement officials in Columbus County, N.C., arrest 10 Klansmen for the kidnapping and flogging of Ben Grainger and Dorothy Martin on October 6, 1951,” and says that several other area Klansmen were arrested from February to May of 1952.
Far down on the Thomas Hamilton page, I found a photo (below, from the Raleigh News & Observer) and description of Early Brooks, a former Fair Bluff policeman who led “the most vicious and active klavern” in Columbus County. “Eureka!,” I exclaimed to myself, a former policeman named “Early”—this has to be the guy. But when I compare the photos, I actually don’t think it is the same person. What do you think? If it’s not Early Brooks, who is it? And who is the arresting officer?

Early Brooks, ca. early 1950s? (courtesy the Raleigh News & Observer)

One last note about all this: in searching the UNC libraries catalog for information about W. Horace Carter, I found an oral history interview conducted with Carter in 1976 as part of the Southern Oral History Program (available online, both audio and transcript). Turns out Carter and Hugh Morton went to UNC-Chapel Hill at the same time—Carter was editor of the Daily Tar Heel in 1944, and Morton took photos for campus publications . . . surely they knew each other. Did Carter give Morton the assignment in 1952? Was the photo published? I hope someone can fill in the details.

Who Am I?–North Carolina Azalea Festival Edition

Azalea blossomsWilmington’s 61st annual North Carolina Azalea Festival kicks off next week (April 9-13). Hugh Morton played an integral role in the event’s founding: while only in his twenties, he was selected to serve as president of the inaugural festival in 1948. (A letter from Morton on the festival’s website explains that when he missed a committee meeting, they responded by electing him president). As Susan Taylor Block writes in “Clan MacRae,” an article in the 4/2007 issue of Wrightsville Beach magazine, Morton deserves credit not only for Wilmington’s Azalea Festival, but also many of its azalea plants:

Morton had worked diligently since 1946 to make the 1948 Azalea Festival debut a success. He encouraged Wilmingtonians to plant azaleas, persuaded the local government to plant an additional 175,000 azaleas at Greenfield Lake and recruited garden clubs to transplant azaleas from their own private gardens to public spaces. Morton encouraged the festival fathers to be careful stewards of the event’s ticket take, seek out quality in celebrity guests and make the azalea itself the guest of honor. He knew that if the first festival ended up in the red, it would be the last.

North Carolina Azalea Festival negatives in the Morton collection are numerous and mostly in good shape, but not well-documented. The early years of the festival (from 1948 to about 1958) are best represented, but little identifying information is provided other than the year (if that). Fortunately, we have at least one good source to work from—historian Block’s 2004 book Belles & Blooms, heavily illustrated by Morton’s photos. Block’s time line will help us pin down some of the major details, like who was queen in what year, what celebrities attended, etc.
In the meantime, though, we’re asking you to help us put names to faces in some of these early shots.
Unidentified celebrities at the Azalea Festival, Wilmington, NC, ca. early 1950s
Judging from the enormous fur coat and all the cameras pointed at them, I’m guessing that these people are famous. But who are they?
Azalea Festival group at the airport, Wilmington, NC, 1950
The image above was taken at the 1950 Azalea Festival. I can’t read any of the name tags, but I do see that the man on the far right (in the headdress) has a program from “Unto These Hills” (an outdoor drama performed at Cherokee, North Carolina) in his pocket.
Grady Cole (L) and unidentified woman holding up an X-ray, Wilmington, NC, ca. early 1950s
The man in this photo is Grady Cole, talk radio celebrity with WBT Radio in Charlotte, North Carolina (and frequent Morton photo subject in the early 1950s). But who is the woman—and is she the same woman from the previous photo? Most importantly, why are they holding up what looks like an x-ray of somebody’s spine?!

"Happy John": Not that happy?

Scene from “Singing on the Mountain,” Grandfather Mountain, ca. 1957
I recently had this fantastic image scanned as a possible submission for the cover of College & Research Libraries News, as (yet another) way to publicize the Morton collection—but I thought it was too good not to share on the blog as well. Morton took this photo on Grandfather at Singing on the Mountain (“the oldest ongoing old time gospel convention left in the Southern Appalachians”) in about 1957. I love the colors, the hats, the bustle of activity, and the variety of people’s postures and expressions— especially the fact that neither Happy John nor his assistant (with the microphone) look particularly happy.
In “History of the Great Singing on the Mountain,” a circa 1949 pamphlet held by the North Carolina Collection and written by Joe Lee Hartley, longtime Chairman of the Sing, I see a mention on page 12 of “that old esteemed and lovable friend John Cable from Butler, Tennessee, who has always attended and helped out in the work of the Lord and we all hope some day to meet him in Glory.” Is John Cable Happy John, perhaps?
This image really makes you curious about the stories of the people pictured in it. Can anyone provide those stories? Is there someone here you recognize?
UPDATE 5/13/2008: I’ve been able to gather a bit more info about John Wesley “Happy John” Coffey, thanks to his granddaughter Thelma Coffey of Blowing Rock, NC, and to Jerry Burns, editor of the local paper The Blowing Rocket. Jerry sent me a copy of an article by Ruby P. Ellis called “Remembering Happy John” that originally appeared in “a state newspaper in the 1950s” (re-run in the Rocket in October 2006). From the editor’s note for the 2006 reprint:

Happy John Coffey remains a legend in the mountains and is considered one of the pioneer musicians whose tunes reflected the deepest roots of the mountaineer—his tragedies, his sorrows, and his happy-go-lucky lifestyle. Happy John, as best we can find out, was born in the early 1870s and lived until around 1967. He was the most important attraction in the settlement at the time and as Blowing Roc becase chartered as a villave in 1889 and until he died, Happy John continued to draw the attention of visitors who delighted in listening to his music played on a contraption he built himself that he called his “mountain harp.”

From Ruby Ellis’ article we learn that a since childhood burn prevented Happy John from being able to pick a banjo or bow a fiddle, he invented his own instruments and “picks” (kind of a combination of an autoharp and a hammer dulcimer). He was a fixture at “Singing on the Mountain,” usually performing with his brother Roby Coffey on fiddle (pictured in the red cap above), and could often be found at the Blue Moon filling station near Blowing Rock “an hour or two each day ‘pickin’ and singin’ for the folk.'”
A wealth of genealogical information about Happy John and many other Coffeys/Coffees can be found on the blog Coffey/Coffee Call. Thanks to all (Jerry, Thelma, Robert Hartley) for contributing information, and please share whatever else you may know!

What is the Fancy Dress Ball?

“Please Squeeze Us, We’re Charmin”
What the heck is going on here? I’m not sure, but I like it. This image is from a set of negatives labeled “Fancy Dress Ball.” From what I can gather, the Ball is an annual event that takes place at the Eseeola Lodge at Linville Golf Club. Attendees dress up in wacky and sometimes incredibly elaborate costumes—or at least they used to. Images from the 2007 Ball on this photo blog seem to indicate that the costumes are a thing of the past. Too bad!
I would love to know more about the origins, history, and purpose of this event, for which Hugh Morton seems to have been an “official” photographer (primarily during the 1960s and 70s). The earliest marked negatives I see so far are from 1958. What can you tell me?
For fun, I’ll include a few more sample images: another from the 1974 Ball, followed by one I think is from the 1950s (though it wasn’t labeled, and may not even be from the Ball at all—I’m just guessing).
Attendees at the 1974 Fancy Dress Ball dressed as roaches and a can of raid, Eseeola Lodge, Linville, NC

Kids dressed up as the “Kon-Tiki,” probably at the Fancy Dress Ball, Eseeola Lodge, Linville, NC, ca. late 1950s