When Charleston quakes, N.C. shakes

On this day in 1886: The Charleston earthquake, the most destructive ever recorded in the eastern United States, leaves its mark on North Carolina.

Buildings throughout the Piedmont shake and sway. At Swannanoa a railroad tunnel caves in. Gold mines in Cabarrus County collapse, but miners escape injury because the quake hits between the day and night shifts.

“The old expression ‘solid as the Earth’ has been brought into disrepute of late,” observes the Concord Times.

One death explained, dozens still in cold case file

Nothing like a “ghost train” fatality to cast the international spotlight, however fleeting, on our vale of humility.

But the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 27, 1891, disaster at Bostian Bridge (hat tip to gendisasters.com) was perhaps as curious as last week’s deadly pursuit of paranormality.

An Iredell County  grand jury spread the blame among rotten cross ties, excessive speed and “a loose rail, the bolts and spikes of the same having been taken out by some person or persons unknown.”

Though none came to trial, a number of vagrants were hauled in as suspects. According to a newspaper report, “The tramps … are smiling. They are getting themselves … put in jail, getting square meals at the county expense and getting fat.”

Also benefiting was a Statesville man who undertook to manufacture walking canes from timber salvaged from the train cars. He had already made 40, it was reported, and was unable to keep up with demand.

Weekend link dump: Fog of war, roots of rivalry

Vietnamese-American writer sets latest novel in Boiling Springs, peoples it with Virginia Dare, Wright Brothers and slave poet George Moses Horton.

Fog of war hinders recount of state’s Confederate dead.

— Student paper at N.C. State emphasizes importance of campus history, such as  “old rumors that our rivalry with UNC-Chapel Hill started when UNC students urinated in the old well in Yarborough Square.”

— Ceremony at recently discovered Surry County slave cemetery honors “Bob and Jacob, Melissa and Isabelle and Charles, Sarah and Delsie.”

— Before Rupert Murdoch took over, how many Wall Street Journal stories did you see datelined Cherokee?

Traveling while black: A Jim Crow survival guide

A revival of attention to “The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide” (1936-1964) roused my curiosity about what places in North Carolina welcomed black travelers under Jim Crow.

It isn’t long, but the list in the 1949 edition includes some evocative names: the Carver, Lincoln and Booker T. Washington hotels; the Friendly City beauty parlor; the Black Beauty Tea Room; the New Progressive tailor shop; the Big Buster tavern and Blue Duck Inn.

Also mentioned is the Alexander Hotel in Charlotte, where such prominent figures as  W.E.B. Du Bois and Louis Armstrong stayed before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 required that public accommodations be public.

Montford Point Marine Day

Today was “Montford Point Marines Day,” and according to the Jacksonville (N.C) Daily News, around 20 original “Montford Pointers” returned to celebrate the anniversary.

Montford Point was a segregated training facility for African American Marines at Camp Lejeune. Starting on August 26, 1942, and ending in 1949, over 20,000 soldiers trained at the camp.

You can find out more about the Montford Point Marines at Montford Point Marines Association, Inc. You can also read the Senate resolution at: http://www.montfordpointmarines.com/Mari/Montford%20Point%20Marine%20Day.html

Monkey in the Middle

Poole Bill

It’s the first day of classes for children in North Carolina public schools. And, as students return to the books, some will find themselves discussing the origins of humans. The word evolution will eventually make its way into the dialogue. No doubt some parent or child from Murphy to Manteo will find the topic doesn’t agree with their beliefs. And the long simmering debate over the teaching of evolution will continue. Tar Heels have argued the subject for more than 75 years. In 1927, legislators tried to ban the teaching of “Darwinism or any other evolutionary hypotheses that links man in blood relationship with any lower form of life.” Check out The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s.

Lucky Strike Means… Fine Public Schools?

“At the Asheville, N.C., City College last fortnight Dean Henry Dexter Learned gave students, including girls, permission to smoke in the college building between classes. An outraged Board of Education planned to oust Dr. Learned…. The Dean calmly explained: ‘If nobody smoked cigarets what would happen to the public school system of North Carolina? This is the biggest cigaret producing state in the Union.’

“The pedagogs did not heed this economic plea [and] voted to dismiss the Dean….”

— From Time magazine, Aug. 12, 1929

Midweek link dump for the time-impaired

— Before you pocket that arrowhead….

….maybe you’ve found the vanished village of Secotan!

— Inspired by Bill Ferris, he mined the obits for Southern nicknames that deserve eternal life.  (Unfortunately absent online is the full list that appeared in print.)

Kingsolver’s ‘perfect’ setting: ’40s Asheville

In addition to Mexico, why did you choose Asheville, North Carolina as a main location for this story?

“In the early months as I laid out the plot, I cast around for a setting for the U.S. portion of my story: a medium-sized city within a day’s drive of Washington, whose history I could research thoroughly.  My character would live there throughout the 1940s, so it would be ideal for me to find a city that had preserved a lot of architecture from that era, both public and private.  I would love to find intact neighborhoods, downtown blocks, grand old resorts, preserved WPA road systems and parks, all kinds of places where I could walk around and visualize my setting down to its finest details.  Asheville was perfect, just a couple of hours from where I live.

“Because it’s an old resort town, its history is very well documented in words and pictures.  The city’s unique story became its own contribution to the novel.  I discovered, for example, that in the summer of 1948 Asheville had the worst polio epidemic in the nation, putting the whole town under quarantine.  I learned this during my research and it became a key plot element, creating a perfect, claustrophobic backdrop to the suspenseful narrowing down of choices for my protagonist.  I love this fantastic synergy between discovery and creation, in writing historical fiction.  It feels like magic.”

— From an interview with Barbara Kingsolver about her historical novel “The Lacuna.”

Hemingway begged to differ with Miss Redmon

“[On being introduced to Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba in 1955] I was eager to steer the conversation around to Miss Redmon’s class in American literature at the University of North Carolina. I had always been a bit skeptical of her ability to see into the minds of authors and extract hidden meanings that routinely went over my head.

“I recalled vividly one lecture in which she had explained the exquisite symbolism she discerned in this brief preface to ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’: ‘Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and it is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngàje Ngài,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.’

“Could we not see, she wondered, the beautiful metaphor therein expressed: the leopard, sensing impending death, climbing the mountains as if reaching out to God? Hemingway was alluding to the bond that exists between God and nature. I quoted Miss Redmon as best I could remember and asked Hemingway if this was what he had had in mind.

” ‘Bulls——!’ he said. ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about! I just thought it was a hell of a good story, that’s all. If you ever see her again, Lieutenant, you tell her what I said.’ ”

— From “My Day with Hemingway ” by Wallace Paul Conklin in American Heritage,  December 1995

Just curious: Is Miss Redmon remembered on campus?