Sticking Up For / Sticking It To Senator No

Tonight, at 9 p.m., UNC Television will premiere the 90-minute documentary Senator No: Jesse Helms. The film offers an in-depth look at the life and public career of one of North Carolina’s most significant political leaders in the second half of the twentieth century.

Some historians and political analysts go even further in their evaluation of Helms. He was, they claim, the most influential and effective leader of the New Right movement that transformed the national political scene and culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. First as a Raleigh-based television editorialist and then as a United States senator, Helms combined criticism of the civil rights movement and warnings about the threat of communism with sharply stated conservative positions on controversial social issues, such as abortion and gay rights. His political action committee became the largest in the nation, pioneering in the use of direct mail and in hard-hitting, negative television ads that energized his supporters and outraged his opponents.

Few people were neutral about Helms. In 2002, near the end of his 30 years in the U.S. Senate, The Almanac of American Politics asserted that “No American politician is more controversial, beloved in some quarters and hated in others, than Jesse Helms.”

A recent gift to the North Carolina Collection provides a unique, if unscientific way, to gauge the prominence of Helms in state and national politics. In December 2007, Lew Powell of Charlotte donated 2,698 North Carolina-related pin-back buttons, badges, ribbons, cloth swatches, promotional cards, and stickers. Among the most extensive subsets of items in The Lew Powell Memorabilia, as the gift will be known, is the collection of pin-back political campaign buttons.

Over several decades of collecting, Powell gathered hundred of buttons distributed during Tar Heel campaigns for offices ranging from mayor to county commissioner to Council of State to governor to congressman to senator to president. But Helms is the clear winner as the politician who generated the greatest variety of buttons. Helms for Senate. Helms for re-election to Senate. Helms for Vice-President. Helms for President. And lots of anti-Helms buttons, too. In all, there are forty-nine Helms-related buttons in the Powell collection—fascinating, if unusual, documentation of the long and important place of North Carolina’s Senator No in twentieth-century American politics.

Here’s a sampling of Helms-related buttons:


Another Drought in North Carolina

September 1, 1953 (P082_SN_12)

This isn’t a recent picture of Falls Lake using a black and white setting; this is what the Burlington City Lake/Reservoir looked like in September of 1953. North Carolina was suffering from a multiple year drought that lasted until the extremely active hurricane seasons of 1954 and 1955 provided some relief. 1953 was a year that saw minimal amounts of rainfall and set a record for the longest consecutive 90+ degree days in a row, a record that stood until this past summer. Let me introduce myself and explain how I came across these images. My name is Patrick Cullom and I was hired last year as a Visual Materials Archivist in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. The first collection with which I have been working is a series of approximately 100,000 images taken by Mr. Edward J. McCauley, a photographer for the Burlington Times-News (Burlington, North Carolina), from 1949-1974.

These are the front pages from the September 1-3, 1953 editions of the Burlington Times-News (McCauley took all images used, note image from above).

Burlington Time-News September 1-3, 1953 (From microfilm)

As I processed images taken in 1950-1953, I noticed that there were multiple images depicting low levels in reservoirs, public conservation campaigns, and construction of water treatment facilities. Since the images with which I work contain almost no descriptive data, except for a year, the Times-News microfilm has been of great assistance as a reference tool as I continue to work with this collection. As I skimmed the Times-News from 1950-1953, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the articles related to the drought document some of the same strains (growth of business and population) and proposed solutions (conservation, importing water, expansion/development of new water sources) being discussed today as the state deals with another exceptional drought.

This is an image documenting one of Burlington’s public campaigns from 1951, early in the 1950’s drought.

Burlington police officer and two residents look at conservation display (P082_51_1231)

Charlotte Speedway, Ghost Track of the Carolinas

One of the greatest mysteries I’ve encountered here in the North Carolina Collection has revolved around this postcard of “Charlotte Speedway:”


Curious about this predecessor to today’s Lowes Motor Speedway, I sleuthed around a bit to learn more about the track. What I found was perplexing: most sources described Charlotte Speedway as a dirt track built near the old airport in 1949, where stock car races were held. And yet, pictured here was an indy race on a wooden track, and the card appeared to be much older than 1949. I kept searching for traces of the speedway, to no avail. It seemed that maybe this indy track had been utterly forgotten here in stock car country.

Months have passed since my initial investigation, but today while browsing the index to “The State” magazine, I spotted this listing: “First Speedway Race Track.” Though I expected this lead would end up yet another reference the 1949 stock car track, I had to give it a shot. When I opened that November 1979 issue, I saw it: an image of a wooden track identical to the one pictured in the postcard.

Sure enough, there was another Charlotte Speedway built in Pineville in 1924, where indy races were held. According to the brief article by Bugs Barringer, the track was made of green pine two by fours, so that the wood would cure and shrink, allowing ventilation between the boards and preventing the tires from burning during races. Apparently a few stock car races were held at the track but, ironically, they attracted too few spectators to be profitable.

Models of Sewing Instruction

The North Carolina Collection recently received as a gift the sewing model book created by Helen Bales when she was student at the Home Industrial School in Asheville in 1898-1899. Helen was studying to be a teacher at a time when it was expected that common schools would teach young girls how to sew.

Miss Bales had to demonstrate that she could teach over a dozen types of stitching. Her samples are presented one to a page. On the facing page is a handwritten explanation of the materials employed and the likely uses of the stitching style. Some pages also include verses to read to the children as they stitch. Here is one such verse imposed on the model for an apron:


Helen Bales’ excellent model book was graded at 95%. After finishing her education, Helen Bales married Bruce Slaughter and taught school in Robbinsville, Graham County, North Carolina.

Glasgow County, N.C.


When I first spotted Glasgow County in eastern North Carolina on an old map, I thought it must be a mistake. I checked David Corbitt’s The Formation of the North Carolina Counties and it turns out that the map was correct — but not for very long. Glasgow County had a very short existence, lasting just eight years. It was formed in 1791 from Dobbs County and named for the current Secretary of State, James Glasgow. However, after Glasgow was implicated in a complicated land fraud inquiry in the late 1790s, the state legislature looked for a more appropriate namesake for the new county, settling finally (and permanently, this time) on Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, for whom the county was named in 1799.

Tobacco Road Roundball Millions

According to many of the major polls, the Tar Heels men’s basketball team is #1 in the country right now. According to an article from Forbes Magazine, the Tar Heels are also atop another poll. With an estimated value of $26 million dollars (read the article to discover how this value was determined), the Tar Heels are the most valuable college basketball team in the nation.

Our Tobacco Road neighbors, Duke and NCSU, are ranked fifth (at $22.6 million) and thirteenth (at $13.6 million), respectively. With the ACC basketball season just under way, we’ll see if these values translate into tick marks in the win column.

Vanished: New Feature on NC Postcards

Vanished screenshot

From training camps, to parks, to opera houses: Vanished North Carolina features images from North Carolina Postcards of selected historic places that no longer exist. Use the interactive map to zoom in to each historic site and see what’s there today. You can find Vanished North Carolina along with our other special features on the Browse by Subject page.

January 1961: Bombs Over Goldsboro

This Month in North Carolina History

Detail of Rural Delivery Routes map of Wayne County, 1920. Shows Eureka
On the night of January 24th, 1961, the quiet farmland surrounding Goldsboro was disturbed by an airborne alert mission gone awry. “I heard the whine of an airplane about to land, then there was a big explosion. It almost knocked me out of bed. I got up and ran to the window and saw my whole field on fire,” stated a local farmer. Witnesses said the plane spun through the sky “like a roman candle,” finally hitting somewhere near Musgrave’s Crossroads, between Patetown and Eureka. The B-52 jet carried two thermonuclear bombs and had been in the air for about twelve hours before it experienced a drop in fuel pressure. While attempting an emergency landing, the crew lost control of the aircraft, and they were ordered to bail. Five men ejected and landed safely. One ejected but did not survive the landing, and two died in the crash.

Lieutenant William R. Wilson, one of the survivors, told of his experience parachuting into the surrounding swampland: “I don’t know how it happened. I know when I landed in the field I felt awfully good. I felt like running. I went to a house and a fellow got his wife up and they fixed some coffee. They thought at first I was a prowler when I told them I had jumped out of an airplane. I must have been bad looking.” The co-pilot, Major Richard Rardin, also gave his account of the crash: “I could see three or four other chutes against the glow of the wreckage. The plane hit ten or twelve seconds after bail out. I hit some trees. I had a fix on some lights and started walking. My biggest difficulty getting back was the various and sundry dogs I encountered on the road.”

The next day, local newspapers reported that as the plane went down, one of the nuclear bombs on board was ejected and parachuted to the ground, while the other was found among the wreckage. Air Force officials stressed that there was no danger of radiation affecting the area because the two bombs were unarmed, meaning that there were safety devices in place to prevent explosion. Later sources indicate, however, that an explosion may have indeed been a real concern. In a 1983 statement, Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, admitted that when the parachute-less bomb was found, its arming mechanism had accidentally gone through all but one of the seven steps toward detonation.

More alarming information about the crash was revealed later. In 1992, Congress released a summary of the Goldsboro accident indicating that, according to investigators, upon impact the parachute-less bomb had broken into several pieces, one of which was never found. The missing piece contained uranium, and it was believed that it may have struck the ground so hard that it sank deep into the soft, swampy earth. Crews excavated the surrounding farmland to a depth of fifty feet, but were unable to recover the missing piece. Two days after the accident, officials at nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base asked that all visitors to the crash site return any aircraft parts they may have removed. The officials claimed that these parts were needed to assess the cause of the accident, though they made no mention of the missing portion of the bomb. The Air Force eventually purchased an easement to the area surrounding the crash site, in order to prevent any land use or digging.

Radiation tests have been conducted on the crash site and surrounding area over the years, though no harmful substances have been detected.


“Survivors Relive Story of B-52 Crash.” The Goldsboro News-Argus (Goldsboro, N.C.), 25 January 1961.

“Air Force Wants All Parts from Crashed B-52.” The Goldsboro News-Argus (Goldsboro, N.C.), 26 January 1961.

“Trio Dead, Five Safe in Crash of B-52 Jet.” The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 25 January 1961.

“Broken Arrow: Goldsboro, N.C. The Truth Behind North Carolina’s Brush With Disaster.” Accessed July 1, 2014

“Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving U.S. Nuclear Weapons, 1950-1980.” ENERGY AND WATER DEVELOPMENT APPROPRIATIONS ACT (Senate – August 03, 1992). Congressional Record for the 102nd Congress (1991-1992).

Greensboro Daily News, 16 September 1981, p. A1.

Image Source:

Detail from Rural Delivery Routes, Wayne County, N.C. [Washington, D.C.]: Post Office Dept., [1920].