Elisha Mitchell: A Man, His Watch, and a Mountain

Professor Elisha Mitchell taught chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at UNC until he fell to his death trying to prove that Mt. Mitchell was the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River.  At the time, the mountain was called Black Dome, but was later renamed in Mitchell’s honor.  At a height of 6,684 ft., Mt. Mitchell is in fact the tallest peak in the Eastern US.  The image above is a copy of an engraving in the NCC’s photo archives, 87-188.

Mitchell was wearing this pocket watch, which is believed to have stopped at the exact time of Mitchell’s death – June 27, 1857, 8:19:56.  The pocket watch is part of the North Carolina Gallery’s collection, as is Mitchell’s mortar and pestle.

The real photo postcard below was recently uploaded to the North Carolina Postcards website, which has several more views of Mt. Mitchell that can be browsed here.  In addition to biographical information, The NCC holds some material on Mitchell’s scientific research, and even a script for the theatrical performance of Mitchell’s last climb up the Black Dome.

3 thoughts on “Elisha Mitchell: A Man, His Watch, and a Mountain”

  1. I might just add a few random tidbits about Dr. Mitchell:

    Elisha Mitchell was originally the Math professor at UNC, later teaching Chemistry and still later Geology.

    Mitchell Hall at UNC is named for him and is the home of the Geology Department, of course.

    Mitchell’s home was (at least for a time) at the intersection of Cameron Ave and Columbia Street, about where the Scuttlebutt was until recently, between Abernethy Hall and Swain Hall. Later I believe he moved to another location in Chapel Hill, maybe further west down Cameron Avenue.

    Someone please correct me if I got any of that wrong.

  2. I’ve heard this story several times – and when I was out in the Raleigh area I had hoped to stop in and see the watch for myself at the museum. Unfortunately I was there for business and I never had a chance to get to UNC.

    I have only one question – what kind of pocket watch is this? I have wondered that since I first heard the story but I have never been able to find out online. I’d really like to know – I am very interested in antique pocket watches and this is a mystery to me.

    I’d REALLY like to know what kind of watch this is. None of the pictures I have seen are clear enough to even make an educated guess.

  3. William:

    Here’s some information on the watch as supplied by the Keeper of the NC Collection Gallery:

    “According to our database, the inner case bears the maker’s mark T.H.J.H., which is the mark of Thomas and John Hilsby of Liverpool.”

    Let us know if you have any other questions.

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