The price of rocks in North Carolina is getting pretty steep. The State of North Carolina has just purchased Chimney Rock Park for $24 million. The scenic park, with its iconic cylindrical rock formation, had been offered for sale before. I found an article in the North Carolina Collection newspaper clippings from 1961, when the park was offered to the state for $450,000. But the Parks Committee of the State Board of Conservation and Development passed on the purchase, deciding it was too expensive for them to pursue at the time. Chimney Rock was up for sale in 1974, that time at a price of $3 million, but again failed to find a buyer. Now, after being privately owned since 1885, Chimney Rock will at last become part of the state park system in 2008.

The image here is from a promotional brochure published in the 1920s, when the park was billed as a “far famed spot of unique scenic interest . . . a blending of the sublime and the picturesque–a combination of the grandeur of the canyons of the West softened by the exquisite verdure of the Southern Appalachians.”

Chimney Rock

Harry Potter in Asheville

All loyal readers of the Harry Potter books know that when the young wizard boards the train at platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Railway Station, he is whisked away to . . . western North Carolina?

In Thomas Wolfe’s book The Hills Beyond, first published in 1941, there is a short story entitled “The Plumed Knight” about a young man named Theodore Joyner who operated a school a couple a miles from Libya Hill, a fictional version of Wolfe’s hometown of Asheville. Wolfe writes,

The eminence on which the new school stood had always been known as Hogwart Heights. Theodore did not like the inelegant sound of that, so he rechristened it Joyner Heights, and the school, as befitted its new grandeur, was now named “The Joyner Heights Academy.” The people in the town, however, just went on calling the hill Hogwart as they had always done, and to Theodore’s intense chagrin they even dubbed the academy Hogwart, too.

I found the reference to this coincidental naming in a recent review of the collection Thomas Wolfe’s Civil War (University of Alabama Press, 2004).

Crime Across the State Line

A little over a year ago, we pointed out that North Carolina had amended its law on cockfighting, making the practice a Class I felony. That may have curbed chicken battles in the state, but apparently hasn’t stopped North Carolinians from engaging in the age-old pursuit.

WRAL reports that 145 people were arrested for cockfighting Sunday in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and about three-quarters of those were North Carolinians.

This isn’t the first time that Tar Heels have slipped over the state line to engage in illegal pursuits. After North Carolina outlawed dueling in 1802, state residents who insisted on taking up arms to settle a dispute often did so in Virginia or South Carolina. The new Encyclopedia of North Carolina tells us that the last recorded duel between North Carolinians involved two men from Wilmington and took place on May 3, 1856 in South Carolina.

Langston Hughes in Chapel Hill

Several loyal readers of North Carolina Miscellany have written to ask for more information about Langston Hughes’s visit to Chapel Hill, which I’d mentioned in an earlier post.

Hughes describes his visit to the town in “Color at Chapel Hill,” a short chapter in The Langston Hughes Reader (New York, 1958). Hughes came to the UNC campus in 1931 after being invited by playwright Paul Green and sociology professor Guy B. Johnson. The visit was the source of controversy even before the poet arrived when two of his pieces were published in a local literary journal. Hughes spoke before a full crowd on campus and later dined at a local restaurant with a group of white students, only learning later that he had been the first African American to eat in the dining room of a downtown restaurant. Chapel Hill restaurants would not be formally integrated until the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964.

1898 Apology

Yesterday the North Carolina Democratic Party released an official acknowledgement of and apology for the actions of party members leading up to and during the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot. The events of November 1898 have been well documented of late with the report of the Wilmington Race Riot Commission and “The Ghosts of 1898,” historian Timothy Tyson’s compelling account, published in The News and Observer and The Charlotte Observer last November.

The North Carolina Election of 1898,” an online exhibit published a couple of years ago by the North Carolina Collection, remains a good introduction to the campaign that culminated in violence in Wilmington. The political cartoons digitized for the site offer particularly striking representations of the viciously racist tone of the Democrats’ campaign.

Small Towns

The North Carolina Small Town Fact Book, published by the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, is a great source of fun and interesting facts. Just this morning I’ve learned that, as of the 2000 Census, there were 478 towns in our state with populations of less than 10,000. Over 900,000 North Carolinians live in small towns, with more of these communities in the eastern part of the state than in the Piedmont or mountain regions. There are seventeen towns with populations of under 100, the smallest being Love Valley (pop. 30), Spencer Mountain (pop. 51), and Bear Grass (pop. 53).

Gertrude Stein in Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina has hosted a number of well-known literary visitors through the years, including Robert Frost, William Faulkner, and Langston Hughes. I wasn’t aware until recently that Gertrude Stein had passed through Chapel Hill. She remembers her visit in her 1937 book, Everybody’s Autobiography:

“I had never heard of Chapel Hill but it is important, lots of places that the name was not known not to me were and here they had the best collection of Spanish books anywhere in the world and lots of students from everywhere in the world and a nice town and a pleasant spring.”

The “Spanish books” Stein refers to are likely the collection of extremely rare (and in many cases unique) early Spanish plays that are now housed in the library’s Rare Book Collection.

Was the Old Well Red?

The Old Well

The Old Well, the symbol of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be familiar to everyone who went to UNC and, indeed, to many who have even visited the campus. But how many have seen it looking like this?

We have many historic photographs of the Old Well in the North Carolina Collection, some of which have been digitized by the Photographic Archives. These photographs document the changes in the Old Well and the area around it, but, as they’re nearly all in black and white, they don’t tell us anything about the color.

This postcard shows the well looking significantly different from how we know it today. Many of the postcards from this era are elaborately colored, and the sometimes garish colors are clearly exaggerated, however, there are enough different postcards showing the well with a red top that I think we can establish that the Old Well was, if not quite as brightly red as this, certainly reddish.

The postcard is not postmarked or dated, but shows the well with a hand-pump, which we know was in place from around 1897 until 1925. It’s strange to envision now, but in the early years of the twentieth century, the Old Well, the very symbol of UNC, wore the colors of N.C. State.

Shag Tag

Shag Tag

I was not surprised to find a video about shag dancing in a comprehensive collection like the North Carolina Collection, and I expected to see the popular dance covered in a thorough source like the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, which is discussed below, but I have to admit I was a bit taken aback to learn that the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles is about to start offering an “I’d Rather Be Shaggin'” license plate. I had no idea that the shag-dancing lobby in North Carolina was this powerful.

Encyclopedias of the Carolinas

The appearance of editor William S. Powell’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2006) comes at the same time as the publication of The South Carolina Encyclopedia, edited by Walter Edgar (University of South Carolina Press, 2006). The coincidence of publication dates practically invites comparison of these two compendia of Carolina knowledge and trivia. Convinced that my status as a South Carolinian by birth and a North Carolinian by adoption outweighs my total lack of expertise, I am taking up the challenge. To begin with, these are a couple of weighty volumes. I mean your grandma could have pressed a lot of flowers with either one of them. At 1314 pages to 1075 the Encyclopedia of North Carolina (hereinafter ENC) wins in the size category. The South Carolina Encyclopedia (SCE) is no lightweight, however, and you will not want to keep it on a high shelf.

Since both North Carolina and South Carolina have adopted the Shag as their state dance, I was interested to see how the two encyclopedias treated the subject. Both articles are well written, interesting, and informative. I couldn’t help but notice that the article in ENC dealt somewhat gingerly with the soul of the dance, while the SCE article got right down to the nitty gritty. The Shag may have links all the way back to the St. Cecilia Society in Charleston in 1760 as the ENC suggests, but the steamy dance I first saw as a kid was a lot more likely to have evolved, as the SCE argues, in black nightclubs such as Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach. Kudos to the SCE! Watch this blog for more rambles through these two great books.