Jules Verne in North Carolina

Master of the World

One of the surprises lurking in the stacks of the North Carolina Collection is Master of the World by Jules Verne. We have both the original French edition and an English translation. Sacre bleu, you say. What does the creator of Captain Nemo and his submarine, Nautilus, have to do with North Carolina? Verne never visited North Carolina, and, in fact, seldom journeyed far from his home in Amiens. The settings of his novels, however, range widely over the face of the earth, and Master of the World is set, in part, in western North Carolina. There folks are in a tizzy, in Verne’s story, because strange explosions and eruptions of smoke on top of a mountain called “The Great Eyrie” suggest that the mountain may be a volcano coming to life. An intrepid party climbs to the top of the mountain and finds, not a volcano, but a villain. Robur, an ambitious and somewhat twisted genius, has built a workshop on the flat top of the mountain where he has constructed the Terror – a combination automobile, ship, submarine, and airplane. With his invention he plans – you guessed it – to conquer the world! I leave you to follow the rest of the story.

“The Great Eyrie,” which is pictured on the cover of our English translation, bears a strong resemblance to Pilot Mountain, although Verne has moved it far from its real home. North Carolinians will be struck as well by other oddities. For instance, Verne vividly describes the Spanish moss growing in the trees in the vicinity of Morganton! Richard Walser and E. T. Malone, authors of the 1986 edition of Literary North Carolina, suggest that Verne may have been inspired by newspaper accounts of earthquakes that shook Rutherford and Burke counties in 1874. He then filled in the details from reference works (none too accurate) available to him in France. Judge for yourself. See you on the Great Eyrie.

Don’t judge a book by its cover


When I began buying books for the North Carolina Collection, I was amazed and delighted to see the role that trust plays in the buying and selling of rare and out-of-print books. Sellers trust me to be the person I represent myself to be, and I trust them to describe honestly the books they are selling. Confident in the accurate the description of a book, I then decide if the book is worth the asking price. In the decade plus that I have been doing this job, I have rarely been disappointed in a purchase. Last week, I thought I was about to experience one of those disappointments.

I purchased, from a bookseller I have long done business with, a small 1928 pamphlet, The Archers Handbook. It is a manufacturer’s catalog and guidebook from the Archers Company, a small Pinehurst firm. When I opened the carton from the bookseller, my spirits sank to see a small, slightly battered 4 x 6 inch pamphlet. While the pamphlet clearly deserves a place in the North Carolina Collection because it documents this firm and provides insights into the history of recreation in the state, I thought I had overpaid for it. That gloomy thought troubled me until the end of the day when I sat down and went page-by-page through the volume and became enchanted by the clear drawings and color illustrations in the volume. The clean, crisp images of bows and arrows are a delight, even for someone who left archery behind when she quit the Girl Scouts. My trust was restored. But don’t take my word for the beauty of these illustrations, see some of them for yourself.

Friendly to flyers

As some state officials and many private citizens try to prevent the Navy from establishing an outlying landing field in Beaufort and Washington counties, readers might be interested to know that in an earlier time North Carolina civic leaders courted a different aviation facility. The North Carolina Collection has a copy of An Invitation to the Air Force Academy to Establish in Moore County, North Carolina. This pamphlet, put together by the Southern Pines Chamber of Commerce, touts the location, infrastructure, recreational possibilities, and natural advantages (such as a “healthful and invigorating” climate) of the Sandhills Region. The invitation was sent to the Air Force Academy Site Selection Committee in 1950. Southern Pines was one of 580 sites proposed for the new academy; it was not one of the three sites recommended to the Secretary of the Air Force.

Barbecue Origins

In the neverending quest to find the true origins of North Carolina barbecue, I submit this image from the North Carolina Collection’s new online exhibit of hand-colored Theodore De Bry engravings:

Native Americans Cooking Fish

I know what the purists will say: that’s grilling, not barbecue, and it has to be pork to count. Nonetheless, I hold firm that this is the first image of North Carolina barbecue ever to be published. Now if only we knew what kind of sauce they used.

Tar Heel Money

So if we can’t rightfully claim Andrew Jackson, who has appeared on the twenty dollar bill since 1928, does that mean that no North Carolinian has ever been featured on a piece of federal currency? I’ve looked, and the only Tar Heel I could find on a bill or coin was Guilford County native Dolley Madison, who appeared on a commemorative silver dollar in 1999. It looks like these were primarily collector’s items and would not have been likely to wind up in your pocket. But that’s not the case with the new Presidential one-dollar coins, due to be issued starting this year.

In 2009, North Carolinians can finally look forward to finding one of their own on a piece of regular U.S. currency when the James K. Polk dollar appears. Although he, like Andrew Johnson, left North Carolina when still a young man, Polk was born in Mecklenburg County and attended the University of North Carolina, spending more time in our state than any other president to date.

Happy Birthday Old Hickory

Happy Birthday to Andrew Jackson–the president claimed as a native son by North and South Carolina, but who was elected while a resident of Tennessee. As a person who was educated entirely within the confines of and by the State of North Carolina, I was convinced that our southerly neighbor’s claim to Old Hickory was bogus. Yes, he was born on March 15, 1767, in the nebulous Waxhaw region, which lies along the border of the Carolinas near present-day Charlotte, but we had a statue on the State Capitol grounds in Raleigh claiming him (along with James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson) as our own. Well, I can’t offer the definitive answer on the controversy and different opinions still exist, but according to Robert V. Remini’s biographical sketch of Jackson in American National Biography, Old Hickory “always believed and repeatedly stated that he was born in South Carolina.” I wonder if a similar disagreement will arise if John Edwards is elected as president.

The Perfect Season

p031-13271_a.jpgThis year is the 50th anniversary of McGuire’s Miracle…32-0…the perfect season…UNC’s 1957 NCAA National Championship. On March 23, 1957, the Tar Heel men’s basketball team, coached by Frank McGuire and led by All-American Lennie Rosenbluth, defeated Wilt Chamberlain and the University of Kansas Jayhawks in a triple-overtime thriller in Kansas City, Missouri.

The North Carolina Collection honors this anniversary with “McGuire’s Miracle: UNC’s 1956-1957 Championship Basketball Season.” The website features individual and team photos, action shots from league and tournament games, game results, and a list of references for further research on this remarkable season.

Encyclopedias of the Carolinas

I continue to enjoy my wanderings through those two excellent new reference works, Encyclopedia of North Carolina and South Carolina Encyclopedia. Lately I have been musing on alcohol – the drinking kind. Surely the subject is relevant to both states. After all, perhaps the best known joke about the two Carolinas is “What did the governor of South Carolina say to the governor of North Carolina?” The answer, of course, is “It is a long time between drinks!” I was not surprised, therefore, to find that things alcoholic were well represented in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, with full entries for whiskey, beer and breweries, moonshine, and wine and wine making. There were also full entries on such related topics as the Anti-saloon League, blind tigers, and blue laws, not to mention prohibition.

Well, imagine my surprise when I turned to the South Carolina Encyclopedia and found virtually nothing on the demon rum in any of its various forms: no whiskey, no beer, no wine, and only one mention of moonshine and that in the article on Berkeley County. Come on! Thinking back to my youth in dear old Spartanburg County, I distinctly remember that there were a few folk who would take a drink – at least a small glass of port at Christmas. I call to mind riding down the road with a friend when we passed a sign advertising ginger ale. “Drink Canada Dry?” he said. “I haven’t drunk South Carolina dry yet!” How can I explain this? Have South Carolinians suddenly developed amnesia about their tipsy past? Has spiritous drink become a taboo subject south of South of the Border? For these dark and troubling questions I have no answer.

I cannot leave this subject without noting that the SCE, for all of its weird silence on booze, does have a couple of good alcohol-related articles. People my age will remember when liquor was sold in South Carolina at “red dot stores.” These are discussed, as is the dispensary system, Pitchfork Ben Tillman’s particular, not to say peculiar, contribution to prohibition in America. Until next time, Cheers.

Destinations of Distinction

Hillsborough, the one-time state capitol and current center of statewide literary activity, has been named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the country’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2007. It’s been a few years since a North Carolina town has made it onto the list. The National Trust has been publishing its distinctive dozen since 2000, highlighting Asheville in 2002 and Edenton in 2003.

Hillsborough Postcard

What’s for Dinner?


The Jargon Society, founded by North Carolina poet Jonathan Williams, has been publishing fine press editions of innovative poetry and art for more than half a century. But apparently that’s not all they do. I ran across White Trash Cooking (Jargon Society, 1986) in the North Carolina Collection stacks this afternoon. Of all of the outstanding recipes in this book, if I had to pick just one to share, I think this would be it:


Make sure all the hair is cleaned off the squirrel. Cut it up. If it’s old and tough, put it in the pressure cooker for about 15-20 minutes.

Salt and pepper it. Cover with flour and fry in a cast iron skillet on a medium fire until brown and tender. This is a real sweet meat.

You can smother a squirrel just like a chicken.

This begs the question, what kind of wine would you serve with a fried squirrel? I think the answer is obvious: Cheerwine.