State to buy Grandfather

Hugh Morton in front of Grandfather Mountain peaks, circa 1940s

“Grandfather is protected for good, over and done, period.”
–Crae Morton

North Carolina is buzzing with this news today, so we would be remiss not to mention here on A View to Hugh the announced sale of Grandfather Mountain to the state of North Carolina.  The Asheville Citizen-Times provides additional details on the deal, and Grandfather Mountain has also put out a news release.
It is extremely gratifying to know that as we work here at UNC to preserve and ensure access to Morton’s “mountain” of photographs, the same will be done for his “other” Mountain, in perpetuity. Hugh Morton would be proud.

2nd pass in the bag—on to the finding aid

[Trees at top of hill covered with yellow wildflowers, circa 1980]

Well, I’m feeling pretty good about life (work life, anyway), which is why I’m sharing these happy “flowers and sunshine” images. I have just about wrapped up the second “pass” through the Morton negatives and transparencies — and it now looks like only a third and final pass will be required to get this stuff reasonably well organized, properly housed, and accessible. Mind you, there are still the slides and motion picture film to contend with! (I guess that’s why this is a multi-year processing project).
The transparencies, such as those in this post, were much simpler to plow through than the negatives—not only because they’re easier to look at (being positives), but because their numbers are much more manageable.

Scenic view at Wilmington, NC area azalea garden (Greenfield?)

So, how exactly WILL the Morton collection be accessible, you ask? One of the ways is through an online archival “finding aid.”  What is a finding aid, you may then wonder? Extremely valid question. Here’s how the Society of American Archivists defines it:

Finding Aid: n. ~ 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records. – 2. A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.

Finding aids (and archival collections) are typically organized into groups of like material called “series.” The following links will lead you to two examples for collections in the UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries: Preliminary Inventory of the Don Sturkey Photographic Negatives (for a photographic collection) and Inventory of the Terry Sanford Papers (for a manuscript collection).
The Morton finding aid, however, will look pretty different from both of these. For one thing, it will be much, much, MUCH longer (remember, half a million items!). For another, there’s a strong likelihood that the Morton finding aid will be presented in series by subject, rather than by date or format.
So, this means that instead of having series names like “Pre-1960 Material,” as in the Terry Sanford example, or “Negatives,” as in the Don Sturkey example, the Morton finding aid will be arranged into groupings called, for instance, “Sports,” “Grandfather Mountain,” “Nature/Scenic,” and “North Carolina.” Within those series would be listed groupings (or “sub-series”) of images that reflect that subject, regardless of their format.
Further explanation, as well as a discussion of the difficulties of arranging and describing a photographic collection in this manner (and believe me, there are plenty!), will have to wait for a future blog post.

A Whale of a Storm

“In North Carolina, the toll: 19 people killed; 15,000 homes or other buildings completely destroyed or with major damages; 39,000 homes or other buildings with minor damage. Total property losses: $125 million.”

This quotation comes from page 15 of the book Making a Difference in North Carolina, co-written by Hugh Morton and Edward L. Rankin. Though most of the pages are filled with intimate portraits of politicians and other influential individuals who operated on the state as well as national level, one chapter is devoted to Hurricane Hazel (arguably just as influential a figure as the others in the book).
Hazel visited the Coastal Carolinas as a Category 4 hurricane in the middle of October of 1954 after striking Haiti with deadly results. As we in the Carolinas are just coming out of the zone of influence of another H-named storm and, as a nation, are about to be assaulted by an actual hurricane, it seems appropriate to post some pictures that Hugh Morton took during the 1954 hurricane season. All of these pictures are from Carolina Beach, NC.
Let’s begin with an award-winning photo:

Julian Scheer wading through debris after Hurricane Hazel (1954), Carolina Beach, NC

This picture of Julian Scheer, a Charlotte reporter (and later NASA Public affairs Chief during the Moon race), won Morton the “first prize for spot news in the NC Press Photographers Association,” in 1954  (Morton, Rankin 15). The houses in the background are disappearing into the ocean, and the house in the mid-ground is on fire. Aside from these details, I don’t think it needs much of a caption, as it speaks, dramatically and clearly, for itself.

Some more pictures that were really interesting and are in need of identification are ones that appear to be the wrecked remnants of a boardwalk.

Hurricane damage at Carolina Beach, NC, 1954

I was able to identify one of the stores, the Ocean Plaza Bathhouse (that appears in the background of the picture, but gets more prominence in other ones in the series), a somewhat well-known institution of the time at Carolina Beach. Does this place still exist? Or did a hurricane and/or a decline in interest towards bath houses contribute to its closing? And how about the rest of the Carolina Beach boardwalk?

Woman walking next to Carolina Beach (NC) whale during/after Hurricane Hazel, 1954

This whale, probably a familiar symbol to those who visited and lived in Carolina Beach, seems to be faring better than some of the other structures. The woman standing to the left seems to be weathering the storm in her own right, but I wonder what she was doing out in the storm? Perhaps she was a local politician, a member of the chamber of commerce, or a friend of Hugh Morton.  I suppose everyone has their reasons for facing a storm; I suppose it still happens today.
If you are one of those individuals, until the hurricane season is over, be safe!
–David

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.”

Endangered Species Day

Just a quick post to acknowledge that today (May 16) is Endangered Species Day, “an opportunity for people young and old to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions that we can take to help protect our nation’s disappearing wildlife and last remaining open space,” according to the Endangered Species Coalition.
As we saw in the previous post about Venus flytraps, Hugh Morton was concerned about the preservation of native and rare species, especially later in his life. His greatest impact in this area was on Grandfather Mountain—Morton donated and sold thousands of acres to The Nature Conservancy, establishing a permanent, protected habitat for endangered plants and animals. (In 1992, the mountain was recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve).

[Azalea] Vaseyi [on Grandfather Mountain], 1955

Grandfather is home to several imperiled and rare species, including types of spiders, turtles, salamanders, flying squirrels, peregrine falcons, Heller’s Blazing Star (a vascular plant), and Azalea Vaseyi (pictured above—according to Sherpa Guides, Grandfather has the largest population of Vaseyi in the world).

Rare Bats [on Grandfather Mountain], Spring 1984

This negative was in an envelope labeled “Rare Bats, Spring 1984.” These critters could be Virginia big-eared bats, an endangered species found only on Grandfather Mountain and in one other location, the Cranberry Iron Mine. They could also be Northern Long-eared Bats or Eastern Small-footed Bats, which are both on the list as well. (I’m unable to tell from this image whether these bats have ears that are unusually big and/or long, or if their feet are exceptionally small, but at any rate, I’m glad they have a home on Grandfather).

Collection highlights: time exposures

As I’ve been sorting through Hugh Morton’s negatives over the past few months, it’s been fun to keep an eye out for different technical aspects of his work—how he would occasionally experiment with various film types and lenses, lighting, focus, depth of field, etc. One trend I have noticed is his fondness for time exposures, or the use of longer exposure times (leaving the shutter open for multiple seconds, minutes, or maybe even hours) to convey motion in the images he created.
You’ll often see this technique used in photos of waterfalls, where a longer exposure gives the water a silky, almost foggy look. This isn’t the greatest example, but take it from me—Morton experimented heavily with waterfall photography. (Anyone know where this was taken?)
Waterfall, 1979
One of Morton’s best known time exposures is on page 41 of the 2003 book Hugh Morton’s North Carolina—the one where Morton got a security guard to drive his car up and down the road to Grandfather Mountain while he held the shutter open. (I would have included that image in this post, but I’m thus far I haven’t found the original!). NOTE: See update at end of post.
I love the image below, which I presume was taken at one of the ski slopes in the Boone area. (Anyone know which one? While I did grow up in Boone, I was not physically coordinated enough for skiing. Also, my mother worked for a while in the local emergency room, so I knew the possible consequences). The light trails create a wonderful and somewhat creepy effect in combination with the “ghostly” skiers at the bottom.
Long exposure of skiers on ski slope near Boone, NC, ca. 1970s
Here’s another striking example from Morton’s younger days—this one’s labeled “Rides, Carolina Beach,” and was taken sometime in the 1940s.

“Rides, Carolina Beach,” long exposure, ca. 1940s

Finally, here’s an example of a time exposure gone wrong (or right, depending on your perspective—I think it looks cool). Believe it or not, this is a nighttime image of UNC’s Old Well, taken sometime around 1940. Perhaps he hadn’t yet invested in a tripod?

Old Well, UNC-Chapel Hill, experimental long exposure, ca. 1940

UPDATE 5/20/2008: Stephen’s been messing around with the new scanner, and I just happened to notice that he had done a test scan of one of Morton’s time exposure slides of the road up to Grandfather Mountain. Here it is:

Night view of road to the top of Grandfather Mountain

 

A Visit to Grandfather

Grandfather Mountain, distant view, circa late 1930s-early 1940s
Philosopher William James visited Grandfather Mountain in 1891, calling the town of Linville “the most peculiar, and one of the most poetic places I have ever been in” (see The Letters of William James for James’ complete thoughts on his visit). Of the mountain he wrote, “The road, the forest, the view, the crags, were as good as such things can be….Later, doubtless, a railroad, stores, and general sordidness with wealth will creep in. Meanwhile let us enjoy things!”
Well, I’m happy to report that in the century or so since then, relatively little sordidness has been allowed to encroach. I visited Grandfather this past weekend with my family, where we were lucky enough to meet the Morton family and get a personalized, behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities and surroundings from Hugh’s grandson Crae, the current President. Growing up in Boone, obviously I had been there before—but it’s been years, and I’ve become far more accustomed to looking at the mountain in two dimensions only (at work). It’s far more impressive in three. (Especially impressive, but not recommended, is crossing the Mile High Swinging Bridge in winds gusting to 95 mph. “We’re about to close the bridge due to safety concerns,” they said . . .”but you can go across first.” Big mistake.)
There’s no question that Hugh Morton developed an amazing ability to photograph the mountain and its surroundings to their fullest advantage. Crae drove me around to several of Hugh’s best photographing spots, including his favorite tree in MacRae Meadows, the point from which you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the Charlotte skyline, and the rock from which he took those gorgeous shots of the Parkway. To illustrate my point, here’s a photo I took from the Viaduct rock:

Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct, 3/22/2008

And, here’s one of Morton’s photos of the Viaduct, which I borrowed from Go Blue Ridge Card blog (I’m sure it’s around here somewhere . . .):

Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct in Fall

Obviously, it helps to go at certain times of the year. But it also helps to be patient and persistent, as Hugh was (photographing from the same spots over and over again, waiting for lighting and cloud placement to be exactly right). And, Crae let me in on another secret—sometimes Hugh would recruit (or coerce) a volunteer to position the foliage just so, to achieve maximum framing effect. Who knows, maybe just outside the frame of this very image there is a young Crae Morton, straining on his tiptoes to hold up those leafy branches in the foreground while his grandfather snaps the shutter . . .

Nowhere else on earth

Early in the process of surveying the Morton collection, I came upon a few mounted images from a “picture story” he had submitted to Life Magazine in 1951—not sure if it was ever published. The title of the photo essay was “Venus Fly Trap Moves Nearer Extinction,” and I was surprised to learn from reading one of the captions that the “moist pine barrens within 40 mile radius of Wilmington, NC are the only spots in the world where [the flytrap] is found growing wild.” News to me!
That same evening (I swear it’s true), I just happened to begin Josephine Humphreys’ novel Nowhere Else on Earth, and what did I read on page 2 but the following beautiful description of the swamps near Wilmington:

Some were pocosins, shallow egg-shaped basins landlocked and still, scattered northwesterly as if a clutch of stars had been flung aslant in one careless toss from heaven, leaving bays that sometimes filled with rain and sometimes dried in the sun, growing gums and poplars and one tiny bright green plant found nowhere else on earth, the toothed and alluring Venus flytrap.

Venus flytrap, September 1951

I scanned these two negatives used in the picture story and cropped them almost exactly as Morton did in his enlargements. The image below shows Mrs. Cecil Appleberry (left) and the Cape Fear Garden Club Conservation Committee, at whose insistence, according to Morton’s caption, “a 1951 North Carolina Legislature law restricting commercial shipment of the Venus Fly Trap was enacted.” While presumably a step in the right direction in terms of conservation, Morton also noted that “the real extinction threat comes from drainage.”
Mrs. Cecil Appleberry and the Cape Fear Garden Club Conservation Committee, Sept. 1951
These photos highlight not only the conservation history of a rare species, but the fact that Morton himself was interested in native plant protection at this early stage in his career, before he is typically associated with “environmental” causes.
While it has not become extinct, the Venus flytrap still faces threats from a variety of sources. “Vulnerable Venus Flytraps,” an article from the Winter 2006 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine, describes clever new methods being employed to deter poachers. “Carnivorous Plants in the Southeast Coastal Plain,” a slide show on the Nature Conservancy website, also provides some fascinating background on the flytrap.

Morton the environmentalist

Grandfather with Turk’s CapWhen my good friend who works for the Nature Conservancy in NC heard that I was going to be working on the Morton photos, she could barely contain her glee. Hugh Morton, you must understand, is somewhat of a rock star in environmental and land conservation circles. This lovely eulogy by Morton’s good friend and Appalachian State professor Harvard Ayers (a former professor of mine, actually!) details Morton’s legacy and contributions in these areas—donating thousands of acres of land on Grandfather, championing the Linn Cove Viaduct to “minimize the ecological impact of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” and making the influential 1995 documentary “The Search for Clean Air”—to name just a few.

Rural scene near LinvilleBut Morton’s most powerful statements on behalf of nature were his photographs, which he used to great effect to show damage done by pollution and irresponsible development, to document rare and endangered species, and to capture rural life in NC. As these sample images illustrate, his eye for composition and remarkable ability to highlight natural features to their greatest impact made a stronger case for conservation than words could have.

We would love to hear from people who worked with Morton on environmental causes or who saw him in action on this front. Did you attend one of his slide show lectures? When and where? What images stuck with you?