Gerald Ford in Chapel Hill

President Gerald Ford spent time in Chapel Hill on a couple of occasions as a young man. He was enrolled at the UNC Law School in the summer of 1938, and then returned to campus in 1942 to attend the U.S. Navy’s Pre-Flight School training program. Ford reflected on his time here in 1979 in response to questions sent by Mary Layne Baker, a UNC graduate student who was working on a thesis about the Pre-Flight School.

When he came for the Pre-Flight training, Ford and two other officers rented a “small cottage off the Durham Rd. about 3 miles out of Chapel Hill.” The future president remembered the university as “a beautiful, quiet but potentially a well-organized campus.” In regard to the general community, Ford said of Chapel Hill that “There was a good but not too demonstrative feeling of patriotism. It was wholesome & constructive.” And finally, it appears that he kept out of trouble when in town. In response to a question about the social life in Chapel Hill, Ford wrote that it was “Not too bad considering my heavy Navy schedule.”

Life’s Luxuries

I like the detailed engravings that you find in so many 19th-century books and periodicals. The complicated machine shown here is from the Historical and Descriptive Review of the State of North Carolina, a business directory published in Charleston in 1885. The engraving appeared in an ad for James Redmond of New Bern, a “wholesale liquor dealer, and manufacturer of ginger ale, sarsaparilla, lemon soda, buffalo mead, California pear cider, &c.” Apparently this is some sort of bottling contraption. The entry for Redmond in the book describes his business as furnishing “one of the staple luxuries of life, lager beer.”

Bottler Engraving

Old Christmas

Not had your fill of Christmas? January 5th marks the celebration of “Old Christmas” in Rodanthe on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Folks will be celebrating the day Christmas used to fall on before the British Empire adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. Find out more about the celebration and about “Old Buck,” who puts in an appearance every year, on the feature in This Month in North Carolina History.

We’re Number Ten!

The Census Bureau’s 2006 State Population Estimate, released yesterday, has North Carolina passing New Jersey to become the tenth most populous state in the country. But this is no long rise to glory, rather, it’s a return to a spot we know well. North Carolina has hovered around the tenth spot in the population numbers for the past 70 years, but if you look back further, we’ve been even higher in the rankings.

North Carolina was once the third most populous state in the nation. This may not seem quite as impressive, however, when you take into account that there were only thirteen states in the country at the time. The first federal census, taken in 1790, showed North Carolina trailing only Virginia and Pennsylvania in total population. There was a steady decline from there as, apparently, North Carolina in the 1800s was not the idyllic place it is today and many citizens left for greener pastures, often to the new territories in the west. North Carolina fell as low as 16th in population, hitting that number in 1880 and 1910 before the population began to climb again. Here are the rankings by Census year:

1790 – 3rd
1800 – 4th
1810 – 4th
1820 – 4th
1830 – 5th
1840 – 7th
1850 – 9th
1860 – 12th
1870 – 14th
1880 – 16th
1890 – 12th
1900 – 11th
1910 – 16th
1920 – 14th
1930 – 12th
1940 – 11th
1950 – 10th
1960 – 12th
1970 – 11th
1980 – 10th
1990 – 10th
2000 – 11th

Tidbits from the CSR

For those of you who haven’t heard, the North Carolina Collection and Documenting the American South are digitizing the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, a thirty-volume set of transcribed documents covering the history of North Carolina from the 1600s to 1790. Now, before you start searching Google for the electronic versions of this wonderful resource, let me warn you…we’re still at least two years from being finished with the project! However, I occasionally run into interesting tidbits that simply have to be “published,” and I think the North Carolina Collection’s blog is the perfect outlet. I can’t promise weekly postings, but I’ve already seen index entries for “Beer, lack of” and “Girls and Soldiers,” so I can’t imagine they’ll be far between.

The first tidbit involves Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, an influential pamphlet published in Philadelphia in January 1776. On February 14 of that year, John Penn, one of North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress, wrote from Philadelphia to Thomas Person in North Carolina concerning military matters and troop requisitions. With the letter, Penn enclosed a copy of Common Sense and in the postscript stated, “I send you a pamphlet called ‘Common Sense,’ published here abt. a month ago.” Is this the first copy of Paine’s pamphlet to find its way into North Carolina? I can’t say, but it is most definitely one of the earliest.

Committee of Secrecy

Insurgents, secret subpoenas and hearings? When you hear these topics, you probably think of current events, right? Well, that may be the case, but North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress, called and led by patriot leaders from April to May 1776, dealt with these issues as well. The congress created a “Committee of Secrecy, Intelligence, and Observation” and gave it the power to compel the attendance of suspected loyalist insurgents and witnesses at hearings. In an effort to quell dissent, the committee could also remove insurgents from their homes and force them to reside in remote locations where they could not “influence” their friends and neighbors. The Committee of Secrecy could even withhold information from the Provincial Congress if they felt it would “tend to defeat the purpose of [the committee’s] appointment.”

Poetry from the Big Rigs

Drivin 'N Dreaming

If you’re looking to start a book collection, but are having trouble finding the right niche to specialize in, I’ve got just the thing: trucker poetry. I stumbled across what appears to be the North Carolina Collection’s sole title in this genre, Rotha Dawkins’s Driving ‘N Dreaming (Your Treasure Publications, 2001). Dawkins is the author of the popular trucker romances Red High Heels and Red High Heels II.

I checked WorldCat to see if anything else would show up under the subject heading “Truckers — Poetry,” and sure enough, there were four more titles: Trucker’s Life, by Daren Flynn (Vantage Press, 1997); Driver: Sixteen Gears and Lonely, by Joe Walsh (Violin Roads Press, 1987); Soft Slow Motion by Dixie Schnell (Turnaround, 2001; and The Road Leads North: A Collection of Poems of the North Country Through an Alaskan Trucker’s Eyes, by Robert D. Birt (R.D. Birt, 1989). With all that time on the open road to contemplate and compose, it’s no wonder that some of these folks are starting to commit their thoughts to verse.

Limbs and Needles

I’ve been catching up on my holiday reading, browsing through back issues of Limbs & Needles, the journal of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association. So far I’ve learned about Sudden Oak Death, the proper time of year to graft a Fraser Fir, and the possibility of importing Turkish Fir seedlings from Turkey.

Limbs & Needles has been around for a while, publishing since the 1970s. The North Carolina Collection holds issues from 1989 to the present. The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association has been in business even longer, and is now approaching its fiftieth anniversary. I’ve learned from the association’s website that there are currently five times as many live Christmas trees in North Carolina as there are people. Fortunately, North Carolina trees are popular around the country, else our living rooms would get pretty crowded.

Claymania in the NCC

Just in case you had the impression that the North Carolina Collection was nothing more than a collection of dry, historical tomes, I want to point out that with the recent acquisition of Out of the Blue: “Clay” it Forward: How One Man & His Fans are Changing the World, we now hold seven titles on Clay Aiken.

I did a quick survey of other popular culture figures in the collection and found 23 titles on Dale Earnhardt, 30 on the Andy Griffith Show, and an impressive 82 titles about Michael Jordan. But it’s not all fun and games: we do have dry, historical tomes, too.

Trees Grow in Chapel Hill, Too

Betty Smith Bookplate

I found this bookplate in one of the North Carolina Collection’s copies of Hugh Lefler’s Orange County, 1752-1952 (Orange Printshop, 1953). Apparently the book belonged at one time to the library of the best-selling author to have come from Chapel Hill.

Betty Smith came to Chapel Hill in the 1930s to work with the Federal Theater. She was a prolific playwright while here, publishing many one-act plays and often working with Frederick Koch and the Carolina Playmakers. In the 1940s, Smith wrote a novel based on her childhood in Brooklyn. Published in 1943, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was an instant and enduring success, ultimately selling over six million copies.