The Carolina Playmakers in the North Carolina Collection

Archival collections hold thousands of scrapbooks, (the Library of Congress has at least six thousand) and the North Carolina Collection is no exception. Perhaps the largest single group there is the fifty-plus scrapbooks of the Carolina Playmakers, a university group dedicated to folk drama. Started in 1918 by Frederick Henry Koch (1877-1944), the Playmakers produced a number of writers and theatre artists including Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green, his wife Elizabeth Lay Green, Andy Griffith, and many more.

“Proff” Koch, as he came to be known, was from the University of North Dakota, where he had already built a reputation for his theatre work. (The North Carolina Collection group includes three scrapbooks about the Dakota Playmakers.) The largest group, though, documents the work of the Carolina Playmakers in annual volumes from 1918 until it’s demise in the early 1970s. There are also three volumes on the activities of the Bureau of Community Drama (an extension program from 1923-30), three about the Federal Theatre Project in North Carolina (1935-39), and two scrapbooks covering Koch’s annual performances of Dickens’ The Christmas Carol.

These scrapbooks, especially the earlier ones, contain virtually all of the Playmakers’ history. In them are newspaper and magazine articles, play programs, announcements, photographs, University memos and reports, and correspondence. It includes not only information about what was happening on campus, but also information about Playmakers’ alumni and their activities elsewhere.

In them, for example, the researcher can find in one place the first Tar Heel articles about the Playmakers, written under the direction of the newspaper’s managing editor, T. C. Wolfe; photographs from the same student’s first play, “The Return of Buck Gavin;” and a letter from Wolfe to Koch written from graduate school at Harvard in 1920, where the future author of Look Homeward, Angel was studying to be a playwright.

Researchers and archivists tend to avoid scrapbooks because they become increasingly fragile with age and use. That is true of the Playmakers scrapbooks (at least the ones I’ve made it through thus far). That’s why I recommend using a microfilmed version of the first twenty or so scrapbooks, done in the 1980’s. Along with the microfilm of the Carolina Play-Book, a journal that the Playmakers published from 1928 to 1944, these resources are a rich resource for scholars interested in early twentieth century arts and culture.

More white solidarity = fewer murders?

“The decline of the homicide rate came later in North Carolina than in New England or the Chesapeake, but by the mid-18th century it… also had a low rate ….

“Indian warfare and political strife (including three rebellions against the colonial government) had periodically reduced the colony to lawlessness. But as racial slavery took hold in North Carolina in the 1720s and 1730s, white solidarity increased, and as the colony’s government became more effective, the homicide rate declined….”

— From “American Homicide” (2009) by Randolph Roth

Moving out of Biltmore House? Brits appalled

“The American mogul William A. V. Cecil told a bi-national meeting at Leeds Castle, Kent, in 1980 how he had transformed his North Carolina estate, Biltmore, from debt-laden encumbrance to lucrative honeypot by moving out of the house. This horrified the custodial English, bent on tenanting their stately homes even if bankrupt. Britons cared about living in their homes, Americans about owning them.”

– From “The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History” by David Lowenthal (1996)

Black Gold in N.C.

Cover of "The Story of Esso No. 1"

With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill still very much on our minds, we thought it timely to share with you a few items from our collections about oil drilling in the Tar Heel State.

Here are a few facts garnered from the various items. From 1925 to 1976, oil explorers drilled 120 wells in search of black gold. Their quest took them to 23 counties. The first exploratory oil well in the state was drilled near Havelock, in Craven County, in August 1925. Great Lakes Drilling Company probed to 2,404 feet. Most of the exploration was along the coast, but in 1974 Chevron drilled 5,348 feet in search of oil in Lee County. The deepest well in North Carolina was drilled within sight of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse in Dare County. Standard Oil of New Jersey, a precursor of today’s ExxonMobil, drilled 10,044 feet, but found no oil. In fact, none of the exploratory wells drilled between 1925 and 1976 resulted in oil production.

More recently oil exploration has focused mostly on deepwater drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, federally-regulated waters off the U.S. coast. As relates to North Carolina, oil companies are interested in an area known as the Manteo Unit, about 40 miles off of Cape Hatteras. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mobil and Chevron sought to drill exploratory wells in this area. But their efforts were slowed and eventually halted by court and federal government action. A federal moratorium on offshore drilling expired in 2008 and with its expiration there was renewed interest in drilling off the North Carolina coast. Currently there are no leases for drilling. But the potential for drilling prompted state legislators to create an advisory subcommittee to study the issues related to oil exploration. That subcommittee released its report a week before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

And here are some of the resources available from the North Carolina Collection.

Map of exploratory oil wells of North Carolina, 1925-1976 . Note Well #1 in Dare County is the 10,044 foot well. Well #1 in Craven County is the first well dug in N.C. And Well #1 in Lee County is the western-most exploratory drilling.

James C. Coffey’s Exploratory Oil Wells of North Carolina, 1925-1976 provides a background and detailed key to the map.

The drilling of the state’s first well in Havelock is discussed in a 1927 publication from the N.C. Department of Conservation and Development.

Standard Oil published The Story of North Carolina Esso No. 1, an account of the drilling of the 10,044-foot well in Dare County.

Even prior to the drilling at Havelock, the Carolina Petroleum Company was trying to interest investors in oil exploration on the N.C. coast.

Possible oil among the coal shale in the Deep River Valley prompted Frank C. Vilbrandt to pen this report in 1927.

Mobil’s Initial plan of Operation Atlantic: offshore North Carolina: Manteo Area Block 467 details the oil company’s plans for drilling in the Offshore Continental Shelf in the late 1980s.

Atlantic outer continental shelf: final environmental report on proposed exploratory drilling offshore North Carolina includes the federal Minerals Management Service’s views on the potential impact of drilling on the North Carolina coast. The draft and preliminary final reports are also available.

Midweek link dump: Prehistoric ‘Bones’

— Lakers vs. Celtics, old school. Old, old school. Check out this game program  coverboy.

— Sea Level’s loss is Staten Island’s gain.

— The House that 4-H Peanuts Built has been relocated to a former camp for German POWs.

A prayer for judgment reversed

“[Rev. J. William Jones, a Virginia Baptist] was the most influential and well-known clergyman in the cult of the Lost Cause.

“When the Charlotte, North Carolina, school board adopted a book by a Northern author, Jones gave speeches and organized protests by veterans’ groups. He called the book ‘utterly untruthful,’ written with ‘all of the prejudices and stupendous ignorance of a conceited Yankee’….

“While Jones was a chaplain at the University of North Carolina [around 1900], he gave the following prayer:

” ‘Lord… We acknowledge Thou had a divine plan when Thou made the rattlesnake, as well as the song bird, and this was without help from Charles Darwin. But we believe Thou will admit the grave mistake in giving the decision to the wrong side in 1865.’ ”

— “From “Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920” by Charles Reagan Wilson (1983)

Fatal Vision Revisited

We noticed in a recent news story that the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission may get involved in the Jeffrey MacDonald case.

MacDonald was convicted and is serving three-life sentences for the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters at their Fort Bragg home in 1970. He has long maintained his innocence.

See below for material that the NC Collection has on a case that has intrigued numerous individuals over the years:

Jeffrey R. MacDonald (as subject)

Jeffrey R. MacDonald (as author)

Jeffrey R. MacDonald (biography clippings files)

President Obama Quotes Dr. H. G. Jones

Dr. H. G. Jones, who served as curator of the North Carolina Collection from 1974 to 1993, was quoted by President Barack Obama in a speech on the “Post-9/11 GI Bill.” Appearing at George Mason University in August 2009, the President stated:

No number can sum up this sea change in our society [due to the GI Bill]. Reginald Wilson, a fighter pilot from Detroit, said, “I didn’t know anyone who went to college. I never would have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill.” H.G. Jones, a Navy man from North Carolina, said, “What happened in my rural Caswell County community happened all over the country…going to college was no longer a novelty.” Indeed, one of the men who went to college on the GI Bill, as I mentioned, was my grandfather, and I would not be standing here today if that opportunity had not led him West in search of opportunity.

Dr. Jones’s quote comes from his Kemp Plummer Battle Lecture to UNC’s Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies on University Day, October 12, 1990.

A video and transcript of the President’s speech can be seen or read at the following link:

To read the Battle Lecture, you can visit the NC Collection and request the item. The call number is C378 UK3 1990 Jones.

One wonders though…how did the quote come to be in President Obama’s speech? It is, of course, a perfect fit, but I wonder who suggested its use?

‘Poster child’ concept originated in Hickory

“In 1944 polio swept through defenseless communities…. The worst epidemic, near Hickory, North Carolina, would provide the first real test for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

“The foundation agreed to equip and staff a makeshift polio hospital…. Like most polio epidemics, the one in Hickory faded with the cooling winds of fall. The  hospital had treated 454 patients.  All told, the foundation spent about $400,000 during the epidemic…..

“The publicity was priceless. ‘The Miracle of Hickory’ became a staple in future fund-raising efforts. Photographs of smiling victims were distributed nationwide. The caption read: ‘These are some of the Children your Dimes and Dollars Helped.’…Here were the first poster children….

“In 1946 the [National Foundation’s] March of Dimes introduced its first ‘official’ polio poster child. The idea was controversial….How did one portray a polio victim? As cheerful and optimistic or frightened and sad? … Guided by the ‘Miracle of Hickory’ campaign, the foundation chose option No. 1….”

–From “Polio: An American Story” (2005) by David M. Oshinsky

NC Collection Online Resources: Gone But Not Forgotten

Here’s another digital resource from our past…

Gone But Not Forgotten: North Carolina’s Educational Past

This site was designed and produced in 2006 and 2007 by Jennifer Townes, a research assistant in the North Carolina Collection.

Items selected for digitization were taken from the College Ephemera Collection, which contains ephemeral material from 164 scholarly institutions in North Carolina. For this site, defunct colleges are defined as collegiate institutions which have ceased to function in any academic role. We identified nine institutions which fit this criteria and selected items from those collections for digitization. Only defunct institutions whose ephemera physically resides in the North Carolina Collection are included in this site.

The site is organized alphabetically and information will be added as we receive it. Each section contains a historical sketch of the institution, digitized ephemera, and sources for further research.