Saving Hatteras Light

. . . Mr. Byram and his handful of youths went along this ridge and when they came to a dead bush they cut it. Lacking a vehicle that would negotiate the sand, they dragged it to the Lighthouse and before nightfall they had built a hedgerow thirty inches high for a distance of sixty feet, set well back out of reach of the tide. . . Daylight next morning found Mr. Byram and his boys out to see what had happened in the night. Nothing except the tops of their hedgerow of dead brush was visible.—from Ben Dixon MacNeill’s The Hatterasman.

Edward Jefferson Byram was the leader of the advanced detachment of the Civilian Conservation Corps contingent assigned to the land and lighthouse on Cape Hatteras in August 1935. Deeded to the state of North Carolina for a state park, the state transferred the land to the National Park Service in December 1936.

Governor Hunt holding aerial photograph of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Governor Jim Hunt holding an aerial photograph made by Hugh Morton of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Morton made the photograph on August 6, 1981—one month prior to the kickoff of the Save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse fundraising campaign. Morton made this portrait after Hunt spoke at an unidentified meeting of the Travel Council of North Carolina.

Today, September 8, 2021 marks the fortieth anniversary of another attempt to thwart the ravages of wind and sea against the lighthouse: the Save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse fundraising campaign kickoff at the Mission Valley Inn at Raleigh. In 2009, Jack Hilliard wrote an extensive blog post about Hugh Morton’s role in saving the lighthouse. Jack’s story includes that event, but what happened the prior year that led to Morton’s involvement?

From time-to-time, Morton’s executive planners provide answers or clues. There are only a few entries on the topic in his 1981 planner:

  • April 30—“TV 7-8AM WCTI-TV New Bern at Mission Valley re Lighthouse Jerry Dean”
  • August 6—“Fly Hatteras Robert Baker”
  • September 8—“noon—Gov. Hunt—Sen Helms Raleigh”
  • October 8— 8:00 a.m. “Lighthouse meeting” with an additional entry: “Gov. Hunt – Nags Head – Hatteras”

Morton’s photograph held by Governor Hunt is from a 120 format negative (roll 1-101-3-3, frame 5). Several prints from that roll of film are in the Morton collection with a typed caption:

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in August 1981, with ocean shown less than 100 feet from its base. These photographs are a featured part of information being provided to the 100 County Chairmen in the lighthouse drive for funds in regional meetings in Asheville, Salisbury, Clinton and Rocky Mount Wednesday and Thursday April 7 and 8.

Hugh Morton’s name first appears in the press in association with saving the lighthouse on 26 July 1981. The previous day, during a news conference in Wilmington Secretary of the Interior Department James Watt and United States Senator Jesse Helms announced that Morton would head a general subscription to raise funds, harkening Morton’s campaign to bring the U.S.S. North Carolina to Wilmington in the early 1960s. Morton’s planner, however, has him in Linville and Grandfather Mountain.  As listed above, his planner does suggest earlier involvement in April. (There is no planner extant for 1980.)

As for the lighthouse itself, public awareness of the lighthouse’s imminent danger surfaced in an Associated Press Reports article published by The Charlotte Observer on October 14, 1980. The report noted that local residents feared the lighthouse “might not make it through the winter” because tides were “gnawing away at its foundation” and its steward, the National Park Service, did not have a plan to save it. Ray Couch, president of the Outer Banks Preservation Society, said that its members were writing letters to their congressional representatives to draw their attention to “the seriousness of the situation.” William Harris, superintendent of Hatteras National Seashore, stated that only sixty to ninety feet of sand remained between the ocean and the lighthouse and acknowledged that the beach erosion at the site was “very acute.” He also stated that an architect and engineering firm was assessing the situation.  He closed by saying, “The cheapest option is to move the lighthouse,” but “we have no money.”

Ten days later, a fierce storm struck the North Carolina coast and work crews “began a desperate battle against the sea,” wrote Charlotte Observer writer and photographer Jim Dumbell. Workers continued their prevention effort into Saturday as the storm produced twelve-foot waves that pounded the shore. The Associated Press picked up the story on October 27, which reads like a shorter version of Dumbell’s feature. The following day, news reports announced that the National Park Service agreed to construct a jetty as a $60,000 stopgap measure. An Associated Press article described the jetty as an “underground metal wall.”

An article the following year by National Geographic writer John L. Eliot revealed that the then recent round of erosion actually arose in early March 1980 after a strong nor’easter socked the eastern United States as far south as Florida, where the temperature plummeted to thirty degrees Fahrenheit in West Palm Beach. The North Carolina coast was hit with thirty inches of snow and sixty mile-per-hour winds. More importantly at the lighthouse, ten-foot waves battered the shore when high tides were the highest since the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962. After the October storm described above, another struck in December requiring more emergency buttressing along the shore near the foundation.

Addenda (September 9, 2021): Governor Hunt gave a prepared speech on 10 November 1981 during the three-day meeting of the travel council, making that date a candidate for the date Morton made the above portrait. The meeting took place at the Holiday Inn–Woodlawn in Charlotte. Also, The State published one of Morton’s color transparencies made during the same flight on the cover of its January 1982 issue.

“Save Old Main”

As is often the case with Hugh Morton photographs, a single image that seems straightforward enough turns out to have a more involved story.  Such is the case with today’s post. Looking for any photographs made during the month of January led me to two sets of images: six color slides and six 120 format black-and-white negatives—and a larger story.

In 1921, the North Carolina legislature appropriated $75,000 for the construction of a new building for the Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County.  Completed in 1923, the building housed twelve classrooms, two offices, four toilets, a large auditorium that seated several hundred, and a “picture booth” on the upper floor.  Though funded by a state appropriation, the building took on a symbolic link to the Lumbee community’s efforts to sustain the school from its origin as the Croatan Normal School that opened in 1887. Over the course of time, the building became known as “Old Main.” Local newspaper accounts in which the name starts to appear suggest around 1952, but perhaps even sooner after the addition of two new buildings, Sampson Hall and Locklear Hall, in 1949 and 1950.

Old Main, Pembroke State University
Old Main, Pembroke State University (now University of North Carolina at Pembroke), January 1972.

Reflecting the Lumbee’s complex history, the school experienced many name changes during the 20th Century: first, in 1911, the Indian Normal School of Robeson County, and then in 1913, the Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County, which it retained until 1941 when it became Pembroke State College for Indians.  In 1949 the name was shortened to Pembroke State College, and then Pembroke State University in 1971. In October of that year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that enlarged the statewide university system to include all four-year state-supported institutions of higher education.  Thus Pembroke State University became part of the University of North Carolina system effective July 1972.

In July 1970, Old Main stood in disrepair. The university included in its capital improvement requests to the Advisory Budget Committee, as a priority, a replacement auditorium to cost $1.6 million. Approved in January 1971, Old Main became earmarked for demolition. A petition drive led by Daniel Dial to spare the building, however, gathered 1,000 Lumbee signatures by mid December 1971. Dial told a news reporter for The Robesonian, “People sign it weeping.  People want to sign it, beg to sign it.”  The petition’s wording was:

Let us preserve our heritage and our legacy. OLD MAIN on the Campus of Pembroke State University is the last monument to our humble yet very historic beginning,  Historic buildings are preserved all over this land and we should show this much concern for ours. We are a proud people and OLD MAIN has helped keep us so. Please sign this sheet to show your loyalty.”

Dial anticipated the collection of 10,000 signatures.  The effort drew national attention.

Save Old Main demonstrators
Photograph of the Save Old Main demonstrators at Pembroke State University, January 12, 1972. Photograph by Dolores Briggs, The Robesonian, January 13, 1972, page 1.

On Wednesday, January 12, 1972, about two dozen people carried protest signs in front of the building, chanting “Save—Old—Main.” Inside, Hugh Morton gave a noontime campaign speech at the invitation of the Student Governance Association.  Morton had officially entered the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary race six weeks earlier on December 1.

News article Hugh Morton campaigning at Pembroke
Detail of an article on Hugh Morton’s January 12, 1972 campaign speech at Pembroke State University (in The Robesonian, January 13, 1972, page 2).

On that Wednesday evening, Danford Dial met with the Pembroke Jaycees “to discuss what constructive plans can be made for the preservation of Old Main building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. By that time, The Robesonian reported, Dial had obtained signatures from “some 7,000” supporters who favored keeping the building in lieu of the proposed demolition. Dial noted that demonstrations would continue and would be “on a much larger scale.” The Robesonian‘s coverage from this period suggests January 12 may have been the first day of demonstrations.  The newspaper caption for the group photograph above states, “Some 100 members of the Eastern Carolina Indian Association are expected to join in a second demonstration at 3 p. m. today.” In less than two weeks, the topic became part of the statewide political fray. Come May, Shirley Chisholm would visit the campus as part of her presidential campaign and speak from the steps of Old Main.

I’m not a politician. I’m trying to be one, but I’m not one yet.

Morton stated during his campaign speech that he was not yet a politician, but that he was trying to be one.  He certainly was a photographer, and as you would expect Morton made several exposures outside Old Main.  Surviving in the collection are six black-and-white 120 format negatives and six 35mm color slides. If my extrapolation from the photographic caption text published in the January 13th issue of The Robesonian is correct—that is, the second demonstration would be happening “today,” thus making the previous day’s demonstration on the 12th the first demonstration—then Hugh Morton captured scenes of the first day of the Save Old Main demonstrations on film, both in color and in black-and-white.

Four of the color images are already in the online collection of Morton photographs. The two that are not online are variant views of Old Main; the black-and-white images, however, have not been viewable online before this blog post.

Save Old Main demonstrators at Pembroke color slide
“Save Old Main” demonstrators, including Danford Dial (front left) at Pembroke State University, 12 December 1972.
Save Old Main demonstrators black-and-white
One of two of Hugh Morton’s black-and-white negatives made of the Save Old Main demonstrators, January 12, 1972. Please leave a comment below if you can identify others in the photograph.
Dr. English E. Jones, Pembroke State University.
Dr. English E. Jones, president and then chancellor of Pembroke State University from 1962 to 1979.

In addition to the two black-and-white negatives shown above (but not shown here), Morton photographed himself with Dr. English E. Jones, president and then chancellor of the university from 1962 to 1979.  He also photographed Jones alone twice, as he did in color (one of which is in the online collection). The sixth black-and-white is a variant of the above group of demonstrators.

Morton with Save Old Main leaders February 10 1972
Photograph of Hugh Morton meeting with members of the Save Old Main movement on February 10, 1972, published in following day’s issue of The Robesonian.

On January 27, The Robesonian published a statement issued to the newspaper by Morton:

I feel the same about the Old Main building as I do about the governor’s mansion. If it is practical and feasible to save it and make it useful, I would certainly like to see it preserved. I don’t personally know enough about its current condition to know the answer.

Morton also stated that he had not been invited to speak again to students at Pembroke, but would be glad to do so if asked. He also noted that he planned to visit Lumberton two or three more times. Two weeks later on February 10, 1972 Morton met with a group of Save Old Main leaders at the Old Foundry Restaurant. The Robesonian news story on February 11 about his visit quoted a Morton statement, which reads as an enhancement and refinement of his earlier statement:

Old Main is very much in the same category as the governor’s mansion. It is a beautiful and beloved building which should be preserved if it is at all possible. I hope that an alternative site can be obtained for the proposed new building in order that further architectural investigation can be made into the feasibility of saving and utilizing Old Main.

A week later, Morton withdrew from the political race. The preservation race to save Old Main, however, continued.  In July the university’s board of trustees approved relocation of the new auditorium to a parcel of land previously condemned. On March 18, 1973, an arsonist set Old Maid ablaze—a potential major setback that actually turned the tide in the building’s favor. Governor James Holshouser went to the campus that evening and pledged his support to restore Old Main. A year later a restoration plan was in hand. In 1976, the building gained acceptance onto the National Register of Historic Places. Old Main, completely rebuilt, reopened in 1979. Currently it is home to several occupants, including the Museum of the Southeast American Indian, the Department of American Indian Studies, and the student newspaper, The Pine Needle.

Oak Christmas tree, oak Christmas tree . . .

"World's Largest Living Christmas Tree" in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photographed by Hugh Morton, probably during the 1950s.
“World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree” in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photographed by Hugh Morton, probably during the 1950s.

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.”
Men and women singing Christmas carols in front of the "World's Largest Living Christmas Tree" in Hilton Park, Wilmington, NC. A very similar photograph appears in "The Duke Power Company Quiz" magazine advertisement in the 15 December 1951 issue of The State.
Men and women singing Christmas carols in front of the “World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree” in Hilton Park, Wilmington, NC. A very similar photograph appears in “The Duke Power Company Quiz” magazine advertisement in the 15 December 1951 issue of The State.

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.”

Portrait of Arthur Sandlin standing outdoors with arms full of Christmas lights, probably used or to be used for the purpose of adorning the "World's Largest Living Christmas Tree."
Portrait of Arthur Sandlin standing outdoors with arms full of Christmas lights, probably used or to be used for the purpose of adorning the “World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree.”

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.

Another known unknown: Frank Lloyd Wright's "The Research Tower"

North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges and several unidentified men pose in front of the globe on the grounds of S. C. Johnson and Sons Company in early May 1958. Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect for The Research Tower, opened in 1950, seen in the background. Photograph by Hugh Morton, May 1 or 2, 1958.
North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges and several unidentified men pose in front of the globe on the grounds of S. C. Johnson and Sons Company in early May 1958. Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect for The Research Tower, opened in 1950, seen in the background. Photograph by Hugh Morton, May 1 or 2, 1958.

Another serendipitous discovery unveiled itself last Friday afternoon, and so another Morton Mystery has been solved.  (Well at least partially, and not all by itself; I had to do some digging.)  Yesterday and today just so happen to be the fifty-ninth anniversary of the event depicted, so I’m afraid there’s not time for me to do an extensive story.  So I present the images “as is” with a bit of background.  We can all contribute to the story and possible identifications in the comments for this post.
Last Friday while I was examining 120 format negatives in the Morton collection, I saw an envelope labeled “Gov. Hodges — Racine, Wisc. (factory visit)” with a date of May 2, 1958.  As I looked through the negatives I immediately recognized one of the images as being very similar to a color slide (below), which happens to be in the online collection.
Until now, the description of this photograph was "NC Governor Luther H. Hodges being greeted by men, probably at a hotel. Taken on "industry hunting" trip with Hodges administration, circa 1960, possibly to Chicago or New York." There are twenty-two slides in the collection with similar captions, now known to be erroneous.
Until now, the description of this photograph was “NC Governor Luther H. Hodges being greeted by men, probably at a hotel. Taken on “industry hunting” trip with Hodges administration, circa 1960, possibly to Chicago or New York.” There are twenty-two slides in the collection with similar captions, now known to be erroneous.

After looking at all the color slides in that group, a bit of sleuthing led to the discovery that the event was a trip taken by Governor Luther Hodges and several North Carolina businessmen to Chicago with a side trip to Racine, Wisconsin.  Morton made the slide immediately above at the S. C. Johnson and Sons headquarters, probably inside The Administrative Building (built 1936 through 1939) or possibly The Research Tower (built 1944 through 1950).  The buildings are on the list of United States National Historic Landmarks and the United States Register of Historic Places.  Can anyone determine which building interior this?  Any Frank Lloyd Wright experts out there who can help us identify the rest of these images with more specificity? I’m a Frank Lloyd Wright fan (but by no means an expert!) and it’s killing me that I cannot spend more time researching them.

There are twenty-two slides in the lot, and you may examine nine of the “Industry Mission” slides online.  (The slide above is not in the online collection.)  The slides also include scenes of the emissaries’ visit to the Case Corporation factory, also in Racine, where the company made Case-o-matic tractors.  Below is a slide depicting some of travelers along with Governor Hodges, probably at Case.  This image currently is not in the online collection.
Luther Hodges and group, probably during its tour in Racine, Wisconsin. As slide 21 of 22, it's likely at the Case Corporation plant, but the entirety of their tour has not yet been researched. Slide 22 has a hand-written label "Industry Hunting."
Luther Hodges and group, probably during its tour in Racine, Wisconsin. As slide 21 of 22, it’s likely at the Case Corporation plant, but the entirety of their tour has not yet been researched. Slide 22 has a hand-written label “Industry Hunting.”

The following links are to PDF’s of news articles and announcements found thus far:

This Saturday is a good day to go to New Bern

Carraway Gardens at Tryon Palace, New Bern, N.C.
Carraway Gardens at Tryon Palace, New Bern, N.C.

If you live in the New Bern area, there’s still time to see the exhibition “Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective” at Tryon Palace—and tomorrow, Saturday February 7th, would be a good time to visit.  Why . . . ?

  • The historic sites have free admission! Saturday is “Free Day: Working 9 to 5” at Tryon Palace. Normally tickets are $20.00, but on Saturday you can explore the Governor’s Palace, historic homes, gardens and the nearby New Bern Academy Museum for no admission fee. Trade demonstrations will allow you to explore jobs and trades from eastern North Carolina’s past.
  • There will be discounted passes to the North Carolina History Center’s permanent exhibits.
  • I will be giving my talk, “Hugh Morton’s Rise to his Photographic Peak,” at 2:00.

If you are a UNC alumnus, there is also a special “meet-and-greet” reception (details and RSVP) at 1:00.  The gathering, sponsored by the University of North Carolina Alumni Association, will provide a chance for alumni to mingle and socialize, and I’ll l be there to talk and answer questions informally about the Morton collection, the Bayard Wootten photographic collection (she was a New Bern native), the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, the Wilson Special Collections Library, or photographs in general.
Can’t make it tomorrow? No worries . . . yet.  The Hugh Morton exhibition will be on display at Tryon Palace through February 22nd.

Hugh Morton retrospective at Tryon Palace in New Bern

P0081_NTBF3_003132_03_print2_19 copy
Gertrude Carraway at Tryon Palace, New Bern, North Carolina, 1962. The State named Tryon Palace administrator Gertrude Carraway its “North Carolinian of the Year” for 1962, and used a similarly posed portrait by Morton on its 5 January 1963 cover.

The exhibition “Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective” opens for its fourth venue on Saturday, January 10th at the North Carolina History Center at Tryon Palace, 529 South Front Street in New Bern, NC. The exhibition runs through February 22nd, which is just a few days after what would have been Morton’s 94th birthday.
Current plans call for me to give my accompanying lecture “Hugh Morton’s Rise to His Photographic Peak” and a gallery tour on Saturday, February 7th—details to follow once they become finalized.

A Hall for All . . . Old, New, and Renovated

Nine years ago on September 8, 2005, the “new and improved” Memorial Hall on the UNC campus was celebrated with a grand re-opening weekend. On this special anniversary, Morton Collection volunteer, Jack Hilliard, takes a look back at this iconic building.

Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill, April 22 1987.
Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill, April 22 1987.

It became painfully clear during UNC’s commencement weekend of 1883 that Gerrard Hall was too small for Carolina’s growing family.  Afterward, officials quickly drew plans for a new 4,000-seat building on a site just west of Gerrard to be named Memorial Hall in honor of David Lowry Swain, President of the University from 1835 until 1868, and North Carolina’s Governor from 1832 until 1835.  Soon after construction began, however, the university expanded the memorial honor to include UNC alumni who died in the Civil War as well as additional outstanding Carolina alumni and North Carolina citizens.
A lagging fund raising campaign and cost overruns plagued the project, but finally construction was completed and Memorial Hall was dedicated on June 3, 1885. A project that had an original estimated cost of $20,000 had a final cost about $45,000. (That’s $1.074 million in today’s dollars.)  Despite a poor architectural design and major acoustical problems, the facility served the University until 1929. In 1896, after the campus gymnasium became a dining hall, Memorial Hall was used as a gymnasium and remained in that capacity until Bynum Gym was opened on May 29, 1905. By 1929, Memorial Hall had suffered major damage to its foundation.  The building was declared unsafe and torn down.
On January 18, 1930 John Sprunt Hill, speaking for the University building committee, recommended “the erection of a modern fireproof building of greater dignity, to replace old Memorial Hall.”  The State Emergency Fund provided $150,000 to construct a new structure on the site of the old hall.  The new Memorial Hall was completed in mid-summer 1931 at a final cost of $182,000 ($2.6 million in today’s dollars).  On University Day, October 12th, the new facility was dedicated and the building was presented to University trustee, John Sprunt Hill, by North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner.
The first performance on stage in the new building was dancer Carola Goya. For almost 30 years, Memorial Hall served the University and Chapel Hill community well with entertainment, freshman orientations sessions, awards nights, baccalaureate exercises, commencement ceremonies, lectures, pep rallies, the North Carolina Symphony, and even a beauty pageant in 1966. The list of those appearing on stage reads like a who’s who . . . Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Montovani, Marcel Marceau.  On January 31, 1942, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited campus as keynote speaker at a jointly-sponsored International Student Service-Carolina Political Union Conference on “Youth’s Stake in War Aims and Peace Plans.”
Eleanor Roosevelt standing at the stage entrance to Memorial Hall with her secretary Malvina Thompson on the left, Frank Porter Graham (second from left), and Josephus Daniels (right), during Roosevelt's January 1942 visit to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as the keynote speaker at a jointly-sponsored International Student Service-Carolina Political Union conference on “Youth’s Stake in War Aims and Peace Plans.”
Eleanor Roosevelt standing at the stage entrance to Memorial Hall with her secretary Malvina Thompson on the left, Frank Porter Graham (second from left), and Josephus Daniels (right), during Roosevelt’s January 1942 visit to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as the keynote speaker at a jointly-sponsored International Student Service-Carolina Political Union conference on “Youth’s Stake in War Aims and Peace Plans.”

Over the years, Hal Holbrook with his “Evening with Mark Twain” made several appearances as did Flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya. At the height of the folk music era  Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary stopped by. In 1987 Charles Kuralt and Loonis McGlohon performed “North Carolina is My Home.”  A speakers list includes, Billy Graham, Terry Sanford, and Ted Kennedy. Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather have been featured at the Nelson Benton Memorial Lecture series sponsored by the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, and coaches Carl Snavely, Wallace Wade, and Dean Smith were featured as part of an ongoing series on sportsmanship.  On May 13, 1989 as part of Graduation/Reunion Weekend, Hugh Morton presented a slide show from Carolina’s Golden Age to a near-full house in the storied facility.
Dan Rather during his appearance at the Nelson Benton Lecture series at UNC-Chapel Hill in Memorial Hall on April 26, 1991.
Dan Rather during his appearance at the Nelson Benton Lecture series at UNC-Chapel Hill in Memorial Hall on April 26, 1991.

When UNC’s Clef Hangers completed their annual spring concert on April 20, 2002 the doors to the ‘Great Hall” were closed for a three-year major building transformation. A partnership between the State of North Carolina and hundreds of generous donors funded the $18 million project. The new Memorial Hall now has air conditioning, seven dressing rooms, new marble lobby floor, and a new stage that is twice the size of the original. The auditorium seating configuration is improved with wider aisles and better sight lines.
On September 8, 2005 a ribbon-cutting ceremony kicked off the Grand Reopening Gala that featured stars Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman, and Leonard Slatkin—plus our own North Carolina Symphony.  Following the hall’s renovation, Carolina Performing Arts has continued to offer world-class performances in music, dance and theater, and the caliber of performers picked up right where it had left off before closing with Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Nanci Griffith, and Vince Gill.  In 2005, National Public Radio’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” originated a nation-wide broadcast from Memorial Hall, and in 2009 the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet performed a first ever concert in the Southeast.
The future is just as bright for Memorial Hall.  Performances this season include the Pittsburgh Symphony under the direction of Manfred Honeck, and Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. And of course the Holidays would not be complete without the Carolina Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”

"The soul of the beholder will determine the revelation of its meaning."

A landmark on the UNC campus celebrate its 101st birthday today, June 2, 2014.  Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard and I take a combined look at this Tar Heel icon.
Silent Sam in silhouette
Stephen Fletcher:
Perspective and context are two hallmarks of photography—just as they are with all the arts.  The photographer’s viewpoint shapes a photograph’s subject and how he or she frames the subject (by what it contains and eliminates) narrows the story or emotions that subject conveys.  As a UNC student and alumnus, Hugh Morton photographed UNC’s Confederate Monument, only a sampling of which appears in the online collection.
The Confederate Monument, commonly known as “Silent Sam,” is a controversial landmark on the UNC campus.  Last year—Sunday, June 2nd, 2013—marked its 100th anniversary.  There was no official recognition of this milestone.  All, however, was not quiet for afternoon saw nearly 100 people attend a Real Silent Sam Committee protest rally.  The Friday before, the University Archives blog For the Record posted two documents: a letter written by then-UNC president Francis P. Venable to James G. Keenan expressing his desire that its design not be a monument to the dead “but to a noble idea,” and two pages from Julian S. Carr’s dedication speech laced with Anglo Saxon supremacy and racial violence.
As you approach the statue today, its context is vastly different from those who knew the landscape in 1913.  The monument sets near the edge of wooded McCorkle Place, at the time the only campus quadrangle.  As Jack writes below, “In its park-like setting, many only see Silent Sam as a nice place to sit on a warm spring day and enjoy the beauty of William Meade Prince’s ‘Southern Part of Heaven.’”  As one looks deeper, however, one finds more meaning in the monument’s geographical context and the perspective of those who built it in their place in time.
In 1913 University leaders erected the northwest–facing statue near the northernmost point on the campus. Nearby to the monument’s southwest are three buildings, architecturally connected, named Pettigrew Hall, Vance Hall, and Battle Hall—all completed the previous year.  James Johnson Pettigrew, UNC class of 1843, was a Brigadier General in the Civil War, shot and killed while retreating less than two weeks after playing a major role in the Battle of Gettysburg.  Zebulon Vance was North Carolina’s Civil War governor.  Kemp Plummer Battle, during the Civil War era, was a delegate to the Secession Convention in 1861, president of the Chatham Railroad that hauled coal from mines in Chatham County to Confederate armament factories, and a trustee of the university.  He would later become university president.  The monument, in contextual words, was symbolically set before three Confederate stalwarts.
Jack Hilliard:
More than 1,000 university men fought in the war.  At least forty percent of the students enlisted—a record unequaled by any other institution, North or South.  At their convention in 1909, the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy decided to honor the 321 UNC alumni who died in the Civil War, as well all students who joined the Confederate Army.  Supporters raised $7,500 to erect a seven-foot statue, commissioning Canadian sculptor John A. Wilson to do the work.
The dedication and unveiling was held 101 years ago on June 2, 1913 with University President Francis P. Venable pulling off the concealing curtain and North Carolina Governor Locke Craig, UNC class of 1880, as principal speaker.  The statue’s dedication plaque reads:  “To the sons of the university who answered the call to their country in the War of 1861-1865, and whose lives taught the lesson of their great commander that Duty is the sublimest word in the English language.”

The youths, buoyant and hopeful that had thronged these halls, and made this campus ring with shouts of boyish sports, had gone.  The University mourned in silent desolation.  Her children had been slain . . . this statue is a memorial to their chivalry and devotion, an epic poem in bronze.  The soul of the beholder will determine the revelation of its meaning. —Governor Locke Craig, from his dedication speech.

Also speaking at the dedication was the chair-person of the monument committee, Mrs. Bettie Jackson London.  In her speech she said: “In honoring the memory of our Confederate heroes, we must not be misunderstood as having in our hearts any hatred to those who wore the Blue, but we do not wish to forget what has been done for us by those who wore the Gray.”
Representing the Confederate veterans was Gen. Julian Shakespeare Carr, UNC Class of 1866. Carr, namesake of nearby Carrboro and whose name is on at least one UNC campus building, captured the spirit of the times in his speech.
“The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South.”  Carr went on to say that the “purest strain” of white blood was still to be found in the South at the time, because of the duty performed by Confederate soldiers.
After the speeches, a quartet sang “Tenting on the Old Campground Tonight,” while the estimated crowd of one thousand got a close-up look at the work of art.
In his 101 years, Silent Sam has often been the subject of controversy.  There are those who think the statue is a symbol of racial oppression and there are those who believe it to be a symbol of regional pride.
On his 100th birthday, on June 2, 2013, Silent Sam had to once again endure some shots . . . this time verbal shots from a group of protestors from “The Real Silent Sam Movement,” who said the statue represents a racist past that continues in some places today.
“The reality is that Sam has never been silent,” state NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber told the crowd of about 85.  “He speaks racism.  He speaks hurt to women—particularly black women.  And he continues just by his presence to attempt to justify the legacy of the religion of racism.”
From time to time the statue has been covered with graffiti calling for an end to violence and war, as evidenced by Hugh Morton’s photographs from April 1968.  It has often been covered with dark blue paint from Duke or red from State.  Through controversy and vandalism, Silent Sam endures, continuing his watchful eye.  The area around the statue has often been and continues to be a place where students can gather and speak out on issues of the day.  And then there are those who view Silent Sam as simply a nice place to sit on a warm spring day and enjoy the beauty of William Meade Prince’s “Southern Part of Heaven.”
Stephen Fletcher:

Last year when University Archives posted documents from Carr’s speech, then University Archivist Jay Gaidmore wrote: “Over the recent decades, Silent Sam has become a symbol of controversy, caught between those that believe that it is an enduring symbol of racism and white supremacy and defenders who contend that it is a memorial to those UNC students who died and fought for the Confederate States of America. Could it be both?”
At the time of the unveiling, it would seem not.  H. A. London was a one of those students who left UNC to fight for the South.  On June 2nd, 1913 he introduced Governor Craig at the dedication ceremony as Major H. A. London (and husband of Betty Jackson London).  As he concluded his introduction, London harkened the students who pursued their “devotion to duty.”  Of their duty London said, “We thought we were right, and now we know it.
Hopefully in our time we can acknowledge that there are indeed very different perspectives about this monument—especially respecting those whose viewpoints were, by the very nature of their exclusion from speaking at the dedication ceremony, kept silent.

Back in the (Memorial) Day

Tomb of Unknown Soldier monument, with guard, at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, circa late 1930s or early 1940s.
Tomb of Unknown Soldier monument, with guard, at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, circa late 1930s or early 1940s.

Following the Civil War through 1968, Americans observed Decoration Day, which eventually became known as Memorial Day, on May 30th.  On June 28, 1968 Lyndon Baines Johnson signed “An Act To provide for uniform annual observations of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes.”  The act, more commonly know as the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act,” shifted the observance of Memorial Day to the last Monday in May.
Hugh Morton likely photographed the above scene at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery dating as early as the late 1930s or early 1940s, an estimated date range based upon a period of time that we know Morton used that film format (negative film pack measuring 3 15/16 x 3 3/16 inches).  The trees are without leaves, so Morton would have made the photograph sometime during late autumn through the winter months.  The only other possible clue about the possible creation date would be the soldier’s uniform.

Legends of the Popular Poplar of McCorkle Place

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Chapel Hill bears the name Davie Popular Chapter, taking its name from a living legacy on the UNC campus that stands more than 100 feet tall, is more than 16 feet in circumference, and is greater than 5 feet in diameter.
The University will celebrate its 220th birthday on October 12, 2013.  Morton volunteer/contributor Jack Hilliard takes a look at a campus landmark and Morton photography subject that is more than three centuries old.

Davie Poplar with fall foilage, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, circa 1970s.
Davie Poplar with fall foilage, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, circa 1970s.

The Davie Poplar Tree…a monarch, grander than its fellows, sending its branches far and wide, and drawing its life from every North Carolina County.

From The UNC Class Poem of 1893

The Funk & Wagnalls New College Standard Dictionary defines the word “legend” as “a narrative based partly on history but chiefly on popular tradition.”

Legend has it that a select committee headed by Revolutionary War general and legislator William Richardson Davie was appointed to settle on a specific site for the state university.  Davie, who was one of five North Carolina delegates to the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia, had introduced the bill to charter the university in the state legislature in 1789.  On a warm summer day in 1792, exhausted after a long day of searching, Davie and his committee sat down to rest on the grassy lawn beneath a giant tulip poplar standing near the crest of the ridge popularly known as New Hope Chapel.  The search committee, as Archibald Henderson relates in his 1949 book The Campus of the First State University, “regaled themselves with exhilarating beverages,” and after a picnic lunch and a refreshing nap, the group “unanimously decided that it was useless to search further . . . no more beautiful or suitable spot could be found.”
The legend continues.  Almost a century later, Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who was instrumental in reopening the University following reconstruction, named the giant tree Davie Poplar.  (The 1925 edition of the UNC yearbook Yackety Yack describes the Davie Popular as “Nature’s Pisa-like commemoration of William R. Davie.”)  Longtime UNC history professor Hugh T. Lefler, however, always told his students that Fred Hargett headed the search committee—not William Davie—and Lefler stressed the point that the famous tree is a tulip poplar.  Therefore, according to Professor Lefler, the famous tree should be called “The Hargett Tulip.”
The “true” history of the site selection is likely based more on economic logic and has a rotating cast of players depending on who you ask.
The Board of Trustees, meeting in Hillsborough on August 1st, 1792, decided, from a list of seven possibilities, that the university should be located at Cyprus Bridge and New Hope because of its central location.  The trustees selected a committee of eight, representing the eight districts of the state, to go to New Hope and determine the exact location for the university.  William Davie was not one of the eight.
The neighbors surrounding New Hope made generous offers of land and money.  But the offer made by James Hogg topped all the others.  He offered 1100 acres of land, 780 dollars, and 150,000 bricks for the first building.  That coupled with the beauty of the area sealed the deal. The eight-man committee made the final selection in late November, 1792 and formally proposed that Chapel Hill be the site for the university on December 3rd.  So, perhaps the famous tree should be named for James Hogg.
Neither “The Hargett Tulip” or “The Hogg Poplar,” however, have the ring that “The Davie Poplar” has.

Davie Poplar, University of North Carolina, circa 1970 to early 1980s
Davie Poplar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, circa 1970 to early 1980s.

A different legend goes something like this: if the Davie Poplar falls, then the university will also fall.  To this end, exceptional measures have been taken over the years to insure the tree remains upright.  In 1873, the tree was struck by lightning and in 1898 a severe windstorm damaged two large branches.  The tree was struck again by lightning in 1918.  These nature-inflicted woulds lead university officials and the class of 1918 to plant a grafting called Davie Jr. on March 16th, 1918.  More damage came in the form of an ice storm in 1966.  In the late 1970s, an irrigation plan was put into effect and likely saved the tree during the drought of 1986.

Davie Poplar, University of North Carolina, 1992.
Davie Poplar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1992.

Then on 12 October 1993, as part of the University’s Bicentennial observance, Davie Poplar III was planted nearby from a seed from the original tree.  Also, 100 2-foot saplings from the original tree were distributed to 100 sixth-graders representing North Carolina’s 100 counties.  UNC Head Basketball Coach Dean Smith handed out the twigs from a flat-bed truck.  They were taken back to each county and planted.  In the October, 2013 issue of Carolina Alumni Review, there is a report on some of those planting, complete with a magnificent Hugh Morton image.  There is also a website at to follow the project.

On September 6, 1996, Hurricane Fran tore through the Chapel Hill area badly damaging original Davie and once again, University officials struggled to keep the tree (and the university?) from falling.
And then there is a third and more recent legend that says if a couple kisses while sitting on the stone bench beneath the tree, the couple will marry.  I don’t know that we have any proof that legend number two and legend number three are true, but they live on as does the legend that William Richardson Davie rested under a giant tulip poplar in the summer of 1792 and helped create the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To prove it, there stands the 350-year-old popular poplar on the south end of McCorkle Place that has rightfully earned the love and admiration passed down through generations of students and faculty.
So, the next time you walk the bricks under the famous tree, tip your hat to Davie, to Hargett, and to Hogg.