Who Am I? – Highland Games edition

Every year, the second full weekend in July sees the arrival near Linville, NC of the largest collection of Scoto-philes in Eastern America . . . As North Carolina’s largest Tartan Jamboree, this Track & Field, Bagpipes and Highland Dance extravaganza must arguably be America’s ultimate spree in ethnic indulgence.

This quote comes from page 1 of a recently-published book, America’s Braemar: Grandfather Mountain and the Re-birth of Scottish Identity Across America, by Donald MacDonald (2007). MacDonald, first President and co-founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (with Hugh Morton’s mother, Agnes MacRae Morton), has written what surely must be a definitive history—at 487 single-spaced pages, I can’t imagine anyone having more to say! (I only wish it had an index.) The book, which is heavily illustrated with Morton photos, can be ordered online.

With the 53rd annual Games coming up this weekend, I’m hoping readers can help identify some of these Morton images. Perhaps, even if you don’t recognize the people involved (or they’re too small to see), you can tell us about the events depicted? What are your Highland Games memories? (I’ve only attended once, as a child, and pretty much all I remember is that it rained really, really hard). I do know that the two images below were taken at the very first Games, in 1956.

The man shaking the runner’s hand below I know to be N. J. (Nestor Joseph) MacDonald, President of the Games from 1962 to 1977—Morton photographed him often. Any ideas on the runners?

And lastly, I assume this man is singing? Or bellowing? Or doing some kind of highland yodel?

9 thoughts on “Who Am I? – Highland Games edition

  1. The tall, thin lad on top of the winner’s stand is none other than my uncle, Jim Morton (one of Hugh’s two sons, the other being my father, Hugh Morton, Jr.). Jim was a track star at Episcopal HS and quite the athlete, and I’m proud to see the navy t-shirt says “UNC” on it.

    The telephone pole being thrown is the caber toss event, a traditional Scottish contest of strength. Looks like a highland dancing competition in the other one…not sure about the man singing, but that’s certainly the gravel track in MacRae Meadows behind him.

  2. Image #1 appears to be the “Pipe Bands Pass in Review” followed by the “Parade of Tartans,” and according to the Highland Games program book, these events usually occur on Sunday afternoon.

    Image #2, as Jack Morton says, is the caber toss. In the July, 1982 issue of “Carolina Lifestyle” magazine, there is a sidebar story to a Hugh Morton profile called “Of Cabers, Clachnearts and the Games Scots Play.” In it the events of the games, like the caber toss, are explained. (page 49)

    Image #4 is also pictured in the 1970 Highland Games Souvenir Program and Review on page 19. The caption reads: “President N. J. MacDonald of the Grandfather Highland Games presents First Place in the High Jump to James McKay Morton, who set a new record (6 feet 3 1/2 inches) in the event at the 1969 games.” There is an action picture in the 1974 program of Jim competing in the long jump. That picture is on page 47.

    And there are at least two Hugh Morton “State” magazine covers showing participants in the games…August 11, 1956, and July, 1990…also, there is a story in the July 1, 1969 issue called “Scotland in the NC Mountains.”

  3. Elizabeth: Just a quick follow up to my comments from last night. I think I know who the other two guys are in image #4. Assuming the Highland Games award ceremonies follow the same format as the Olympics…that is winner in the center, #2 finisher to his right, and #3 finisher to his left.

    The 1969 picture shows high jump winner Jim Morton in the center…number 2 finisher Bill Gamble from Erwin, TN to Jim’s right…and number 3 finisher Ken Bowers from Lancaster, SC to Jim’s left.

    The source for the information is the 1970 Souvenir Program and Review, page 33.

  4. The fun thing to me about the highland dancing photo is the backstory behind the dance platform.

    Grandmother (Agnes Morton) asked Daddy if her carpenters could get some materials from the shed at Grandfather Mountain where they stored lumber from the late Julian Morton’s workshop (Hugh’s father, Agnes’ husband).

    Julian Morton was an accomplished furniture maker – so his cache included walnut and cherry and other fine hardwoods. Daddy had a fit when he saw the completed platform crafted from all those fine woods, evidenced by all the different shades of boards.

  5. Hello from Edinburgh, Scotland’s Festival City; and thanks, Elizabeth Hull, for your complimentary remarks about my history of the GMHG. And you’re right: the book sorely needs an index! Competing in the Highland Fling atop that platform (of walnut and cherry hardwoods) is Margaret Fletcher, Asheville, NC, first place winner of the Clan Donald Society Medal, a silver prize fashioned by Gerrard’s of Regent St, London, Silversmiths to Her Majesty the Queen. In the final photo, the man who is, in fact, singing–and what a singer he was–was famed Basso Norman Cordon from New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company. Norman, his wife, Dean, and daughter, Susan, had a summer home in Linville. His most famous role was as Mephisto in Gounod’s “Faust”. He also had the leading male role in Kurt Weill’s Broadway musical, “Street Scene”. Norman was Music Director of our first two Games (1956 & 1957). Thanks again, and Cheers!

  6. Catherine Morton had her story straight about the fine wood used in the dancing platform. She failed to add that the guys who worked for him who constructed the platform said that that was the only time that they ever heard Hugh swear. That must say something about him because many of his employees worked for him for forty or more years.

  7. Elizabeth: Tha mi dulich, dulich, dulich! (pronounced Haa mee DOO-lick, DOO-lick, DOO-lick, which is Scots Gaelic for “I am sorry, sorry, sorry!”) Please forgive me for my somewhat angry comments about the few errors in the contents of at least two of the Wilmington essays..Guess I was really just totally peeved over the fact that no mention was made of my 50-year account of the Highland Games with my tribute to Hugh and my thanks for the free use of so many of his excellent photos.. And just as I wrote in my previous blog, how unfortunate it is that I never got around to compiling an index. I’ve tried often to sell the book by telling This-and-So that he or she is mentioned in the book. He or she thereafter asks me Where? And I’ve had to admit that I cannae tell ’em because I cannae find ’em! So there goes another sale, even at the reduced price of $20. However, I managed to part with six copies at this year’s Games (where I spent 4 days teaching Gaelic songs and sayings to the crowds)..but 6 x $20 doesn’t exactly add up to the inflated price nowadays of a flight from London to Charlotte….£719 I paid, and that’s POUNDS. My previous trip, to the Games in 2008, cost a mere £280. I haven’t always been such a parsimonious Scotsman…but I’ve decided never to fly again until I become an angel. And if THAT happens it won’t be long off. I turned 84 last Friday! Now if someone will just dig a tunnel underneath the Atlantic……I’ll go to the next Highland Games by rail. Moran taing..pronounced MORE-run TANG, meaning Many thanks, Donald MacDonald.

  8. a little off the subject. I have a photograph signed by James McKay Morton dated 1989 that my wife purchased for me several years ago as a gift somewhere in NC. Can I assume that the photographer is the son of Hugh Morton. If so he sure shares some of his fathers gifts. thanks

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