‘Faculty of generalizing’ trumps mountain reality

“At precisely the same moment that Southern Appalachia was being irrevocably altered by widespread industrialization and immigration, social reformers and travel writers insisted on depicting the region as a remote outpost inhabited only by rawboned and coon-capped Anglo-Saxon Celtic (today’s Scotch-Irish) mountaineers.

“Harding Davis published a short story in 1875 in Lippincott’s Magazine that excoriated these fulsome travel writers of her age…  ‘The Yares of Black Mountain’ tells the story of a Northern Civil War widow and her ailing baby and their journey to the North Carolina mountains. Arriving near Asheville, where a tourist from Detroit establishes the outsider’s view that ‘civilization stops here,’  they are joined by… the hilarious Miss Cook [from New York], who is working on a book, ‘Causes of the Decadence of the Old South.’

“Instead of the picturesque…  Cook finds mountaineers dressed in ‘dirty calico wrappers’ and the panorama lacking grandeur. After a short tour of the town, she has ‘done the mountains and the mountaineers.’ She adds in the wonderfully affected parlance of the travel writers of her era that she doesn’t need to do any research or backwoods journeys, because she possesses the ‘faculty of generalizing.’ Cook’s story is over; the stereotypes for her readers will remain intact.”

— From “The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America”  by Jeff Biggers (2005)

What race should a talking cow be?

“The first stop on the tour [of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte] is Bessie, a big Holstein waiting in her stall … to talk about Reverend Graham as a child. Bessie’s head mooves left and right, her lower jaw mooves up and down to approximate speech. She describes young Billy Frank’s cold hands on her udder. She tells us that he practiced preaching to tree stumps and sometimes while milking her….

“Here’s what really floors me: Bessie’s words are definitely spoken by an African American woman.

“Does this choice of voice strike anybody else as weird here in this mighty white shrine, especially given the South’s vexed racial past? The feisty delivery makes it like sound like this actress is enjoying  herself — maybe she appreciated the irony or tone-deaf cluelessness of the casting….”

— From “Just As I Am Not: A Poet Visits the Billy Graham Library” by Michael McFee in Southern Cultures (Summer 2010)

Editors hung up on hazardous holiday highways

“The StarNews continued its odd fascination with traffic-fatality predictions with the main headline on Page 1: ‘Memorial Day Weekend Traffic Toll Promises to Reach Appalling Mark.’

” ‘Safety experts,’ the story said, ‘stuck to their grim prediction that the period threatened to be “one of the most deadly we have ever recorded.” ‘ The article noted that so far the holiday weekend traffic death toll was averaging four fatalities per hour nationwide.”

— From a  50-years-ago “Back Then” item in the Wilmington Star-News (or, as it now styles itself, the StarNews)

The National Safety Council, formed in 1953 at the behest of President Eisenhower, continues to predict holiday weekend death tolls — here’s how —  but they no longer command much newsprint, even in Wilmington.

“Something Doing Every Minute. Miss It And You Will Regret It”

Excerpt from Toe River Fair poster

1916 was an eventful year for the town of Spruce Pine located in Mitchell County in western North Carolina. Not only did “the burgeoning town” witness the construction of its first brick building in Dr. Charles Peterson’s Spruce Pine Pharmacy, but major flooding of the Toe River on the edge of downtown occurred during the summer. The fall brought the Toe River Fair, described as “the best fair in this section of N.C.” With “big free acts day and night” and “band concerts afternoon & night,” the Toe River Fair was “the best of the best new shows.”

The North Carolina Collection has a broadside for the 1916 Toe River Fair that was designed and printed by the famous Hatch Show Print letterpress print shop in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in 1879 and one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, Hatch Show Print provided poster advertisements for vaudeville, circus, and minstrel shows across the country. Beginning in the 1920s and into the 1950s, the print shop specialized in posters for country music singers, such as Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash.

Back of the end zone = back of the bus?

“The University of North Carolina’s first Negro students found that they were free to eat and study with whites, but not to cheer. At football games, they were barred from the cheering section, herded into special end-zone seats.”

— From Time magazine, Oct. 8, 1951

“The University of North Carolina, overwhelmed with protests, changed its mind….  Last week the Negroes got regular student passes.”

–From Time magazine, Oct. 22, 1951

Labor vs. capital showdown never came

“A 1976 advertisement in Forbes symbolized the state’s priorities. ‘North Carolina has a commitment to provide the most favorable climate to industry that is possible.’  By that year previously agricultural North Carolina had become the eighth most industrialized state…. Only 6.8 percent of its nonagricultural workers belonged to unions….

“A writer for The Progressive believed a great showdown was in the offing. ‘In North Carolina… the battle between labor and capital is still in its infancy. It is a replay of the struggles witnessed elsewhere from the 1880s through the 1930s.’  Those epic confrontations never came. … By 1988, less than 5 percent of workers…  belonged to unions.”

— From “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975” by Jason Sokol (2006)

By 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina’s unionization rate had fallen even further, to 3.1 percent — still the lowest in the country.

Roger Maris no fan of N.C. sportswriters

“Roger’s long torturous season [1961, in which he hit a record 61 homers] was over…He had committed to a traveling, postseason home-run-derby exhibition that also featured Harmon Killebrew and Jim Gentile…. He had a miserable experience. Again, the press was at the heart of his problems. Gentile recalls:

” ‘We went to Wilson, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro and a couple of other places….  After spending a whole season being given a hard time by hostile reporters in New York, having a bunch of new writers on his back was tough for him. He told them, “If I had known that you were going to ask me the same old questions, I would have brought a tape with me.”

” ‘In Wilson we had a real nice crowd, but then what Roger said wound up in the papers and it cut us down a little. They didn’t write anything nice about us after that ….

” ‘Poor Roger couldn’t go anywhere. He’d step out of the hotel and people were chasing him… I thought of Roger when I saw what happened to the Beatles.’ ”

— From “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero” by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary (2010)

Maris died in 1985. Killebrew, whose only minor league experience came with  the Charlotte Hornets in 1956, died last week.  Gentile, 76, lives in Edmond, Okla.

Where are you, Daughters of United Sons of N.C.?

This eBay item caught my eye. Handsome badge, grand name — but Google returns no  mention of the Daughters of the United Sons of North Carolina (and only a 1932 tax reference to the United Sons themselves). I’m skeptical of the seller’s “Civil War Confederacy” designation.

Complicating the question is a ribbon in the collection from the Supreme Grand Lodge of the Sons & Daughters of North Carolina, a black fraternal society “organized mainly [according to a 1900 letter in the New York Times] for benevolent purposes — to foster a feeling of friendship and brotherly love among the North Carolinians in the North.”

Might these similarly-named organizations been related — or even the same? Is there an expert in  Miscellany land?

When Shelby Foote met Ambrose Burnside

“Work goes slow and well, particularly on little-known events, like Roanoke Island, whose neglect I cannot understand…. Loss of that island lost the Confederacy the whole NC coast, both Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds and Norfolk to the north.

“Also it began the career of Ambrose Burnside — so perhaps it was a Southern gain after all, collectable at Fredericksburg.”

— Shelby Foote in a letter to best friend forever (and fellow UNC Chapel Hill alumnus) Walker Percy, Jan. 31, 1955

Foote, who had just marshaled his fountain pens and ink blotters to undertake the three-volume “The Civil War: A Narrative,” was referring to Gen. Burnside’s mismanagement of Union troops in a failed attempt to take the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Cumming Collection Maps Now Available on North Carolina Maps Digital Project

Big map news! Forty-one maps from the renowned William Patterson Cumming Collection at Davidson College are now available online through the North Carolina Maps digital project.

Cumming, a longtime faculty member at Davidson College, was an authority on the early mapping of the southeastern United States. His book, The Southeast in Early Maps (UNC Press, 1958, revised 1998), is the standard work on the subject, containing a thorough bibliography of early maps of North Carolina and the southeast. Cumming’s research was supplemented by an impressive private collection, which is now maintained in the Davidson College Library.