It seems that privacy concerns during times of conflict are not a new problem. On February 2, 1776, Anglican clergyman James Reed wrote a letter to the secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. In the letter, Reed comments on the “exorbitant passions of Men” and the “desolating progress of civil discord” occasioned by the American Revolution. As a loyalist sending a letter to London, he obviously realized that the correspondence would arouse suspicion and would likely be opened. So, he added a nota bene, which stated:

“Any person prompted by curiosity to open this Letter is desired to Seal it up again in a Cover and forward it.”

This letter made it to London, but we unfortunately do not have any record about how it arrived–opened, sealed, or opened and resealed.

Literary Festival in Cullowhee

The Spring Literary Festival at Western Carolina University will take place this year from March 26-29 and will feature readings from Charles Baxter, Gish Jen, and many other authors. This only confirms my earlier claim that North Carolina has an embarrassment of riches these days when it comes to literary gatherings. Scarcely a month seems to pass without another big event like this taking place somewhere in the state.

Early N.C. Images Available Online

The North Carolina Collection is excited to announce the launch of a new online exhibit: Picturing the New World: The Hand-Colored De Bry Engravings of 1590. This site contains high-resolution images from the NCC’s rare, hand-colored edition of Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. These illustrations represent the first images of North Carolina to be published in Europe.

These are striking images, but they are also interesting cultural objects. The engravings, by Theodore De Bry, are based on original watercolors by John White. De Bry took some liberties with the images, especially those of the native inhabitants of the area around Roanoke Island. While White’s drawings are judged to be generally authentic depictions of late 16th-century Native Americans, De Bry’s figures appear with Europeanized features and in poses that reflect classical statuary. The person who colored the volume took it even a step further, adding a pale skin tone and blonde hair to many of the people, and bright, unnatural colors to some of the vegetation.

There is still a strong interest in the original settlements on and around Roanoke Island. Today’s News and Observer has an article about current efforts to determine the site of the original 1585 fort. The De Bry engravings may not be accurate enough to give much help to modern archaeologists, but they are certainly a fascinating example of early European efforts to understand and interpret Native American life and culture.

March 1948: The Death of Zelda Fitzgerald

Watercolor by Zelda Fitzgerald
“Hospital Slope.” Watercolor by Zelda Fitzgerald, ca. 1946. North Carolina Collection Gallery.

This Month in North Carolina History

Late on the night of March 10, 1948, a fire started in a kitchen of the main building of Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Spreading rapidly through a dumbwaiter shaft, flames reached every floor, and, in spite of efforts by hospital staff and local fire fighters to evacuate everyone from the building, nine patients died. Among the victims of the fire, identified only by her slipper, was Zelda Fitzgerald, who with her husband, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, represented for many the talent, sophistication, glamour and excess of American life of the 1920s.

Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama state supreme court justice, met Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald in 1918. She was a Montgomery, Alabama, belle, pretty, vivacious, and independent, and he was a former Princeton student from the midwest with a burning ambition to make his name as an author. Their marriage in 1920 was followed almost immediately by Scott’s emergence as one of the most popular writers in America. With the substantial income from Fitzgerald’s short stories and novels Scott and Zelda lived a life of excitement and sophistication in Europe and America.

Beneath the surface of their marriage, however, Scott and Zelda were an increasingly unhappy couple. Their personalities clashed in an environment made stressful by their extravagant lifestyle. In 1930 Zelda suffered a breakdown and was diagnosed (perhaps incorrectly) with schizophrenia. From then until 1940 her life was spent mainly in mental institutions in Europe and America, except for short periods living with her family. At the same time Scott’s popularity waned and his income fell. Looking for a less expensive place to relax and recover, he began visiting the area around Asheville, North Carolina. In 1936 he moved Zelda from an institution in Maryland to Highland Hospital in Asheville.

Zelda remained for four years at Highland under the care of Dr. Robert S. Carroll, who has been described as “something of an original in American psychiatry.” Carroll believed in treating mental illness in part with a regime of diet and exercise although he also used other standard therapies of the day. Zelda, who saw her husband, daughter, and other family infrequently, was often lonely at Highland, but she made progress there. She participated in activities such as hiking and playing tennis, and she continued to write and paint, pursuits she had begun in the 1920s. Zelda’s painting reproduced on this page was purchased from a collector for the North Carolina Collection Gallery in 1991. It is identified on the back as depicting a Highland Hospital scene.

In 1940 Carroll agreed to release Zelda to live with her widowed mother in Montgomery. Over the next decade Zelda returned several times to Highland for brief periods of treatment, including the visit which ended in her death in the fire of March 10.

By the time of the tragic fire, Highland Hospital had become part of the Duke University medical system. Duke sold the hospital to a private psychiatric business in the early 1980s. The hospital closed for good in 1993 and today the property includes an office park and shopping plaza.

Milford, Nancy. Zelda: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: An American Woman’s Life. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004.

Image Source:
North Carolina Collection Gallery

Zelda Fitzgerald in North Carolina

Zelda Fitzgerald signature

The March This Month in North Carolina History feature looks at the tragic death of Zelda Fitzgerald in Asheville, N.C. in 1948. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time on and off in Asheville during the latter years of their lives.

There are at least a couple of Zelda Fitzgerald items in the North Carolina Collection. The NCC Gallery has one of her watercolors, done while she was a patient at the Highland Hospital, and there is a letter of condolence from her to Louise Perkins following the death of Maxwell Perkins in the summer of 1947. This letter (the signature is shown here) is in the Aldo Magi Collection of Thomas Wolfe materials.