Smithfield loses out on Ava Gardner costumes

Among the disappointed underbidders at the recent Debbie Reynolds memorabilia  auction was the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield.

According to Donna Bailey-Taylor, acting director, the nurse’s uniform Gardner wore in “The Sun Also Rises” fetched $2,500 (plus premium), $1,000 past the museum’s limit.

The museum had already returned to the Reynolds collection several items on loan from “Show Boat” and “Mogambo.” “Our appeal to Debbie was that we would care for and showcase these two iconic movies’ artifacts for visitors to enjoy,” Bailey-Taylor says, “but alas she was not inclined to donate or sell to us privately.”

A second Reynolds auction is scheduled for December, and the museum hopes to bid again. Want to pitch in? Contact

Addendum: This Virginia Postrel column marveling at Marilyn Monroe’s 22-inch waist led me to ask Bailey-Taylor about Ava Gardner’s.

“We have measured some of her costumes at the museum, and we can verify that
her waist was 19 inches in her costume from ‘The Great Sinner’ [made in 1949, when she was 26]…. It’s a stunning black velvet dress with whalebone corset sewn in — I’m not sure how she sat down in it.  It must have been very uncomfortable.”

How Duke University lost its religion

“Trinity, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a small Methodist college with strict rules governing student conduct, required daily chapel attendance and college-sponsored annual revivals. As the school expanded [and was renamed for benefactor James B. Duke], students began  to engage in more and more extracurricular and social affairs, student self-government took over the burden of overseeing campus discipline and the religious orientation and enthusiasm of students declined markedly. The YMCA  lost its once central position to become an object of barely veiled contempt….

“In 1924 the editor of the Chronicle noted the general indifference to religion that marked an undergraduate’s life: ‘Someday he may settle down to the pew and the prayerbook, the prayer meeting and the Sunday sermon. But not now. Life is too sweet and too short….’

“Religion had become an encumbrance to students at Trinity-Duke.  Revivals were officially suspended in 1927 and required chapel exercises significantly reduced.”

– From “The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s” by Paula S. Fass (1977)

Learn About the Rapunzel Club and More with the Yearbook Photo of the Week

I wonder if these young women spent much time hanging out of windows?

The Rapunzel Club, from Weaver College in 1926, is the latest Yearbook Photo of the Week on the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center’s Facebook page. Become a fan of the NC Digital Heritage Center to keep up with news, featured collections, and other highlights from

Ngram Viewer is back, and it’s taking (N.C.) names

It’s been a while since I last dumped a batch of North Caroliniana into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, that instantaneous measure of phrase frequency over the decades.

Caveat e-lector: This is data at its rawest — conclusions should be jumped to for entertainment purposes only.

Here goes:

— Duke lacrosse vs. Duke football and Duke basketball

— Grandfather Mountain vs. Cold Mountain

— Oprah Winfrey vs. Michael Jordan and Colin Powell

— Charlotte North Carolina vs. Raleigh North Carolina

— Southern fried chicken vs. Buffalo wings and Chicken McNuggets

The Short Lived Monument to Elisha Mitchell

Mitchell Monument
Today marks the 154th anniversary of the date on which Elisha Mitchell is believed to have died. Mitchell, a professor at UNC, fell about 40 feet to his death after apparently slipping on a precipice by a waterfall that now bears his name. The UNC professor was in Yancey County to measure the altitude of a mountain then known as Black Dome. Mitchell had recently come under attack from Congressman Thomas Lanier Clingman for his claim that Black Dome was the tallest peak in the eastern United States. Clingman claimed that another mountain in the Black Mountain range was taller.

Mitchell was last seen alive at about noon on June 27, 1857. He dismissed his son Charles, who had accompanied him on the survey trip, and told him that he would meet him two days later. While Charles Mitchell headed toward an inn in a nearby valley, his father set out in the opposite direction to meet guides who had worked with him on a survey of the peak in 1844. When Elisha Mitchell did not appear for the rendezvous with his son, local residents mounted a search party and scoured the mountain. Mitchell’s body was found July 8 at the base of what is now known as Mitchell Falls. His claim to having identified the tallest peak was later borne out and the 6,684 foot mountain today bears his name.

Although originally buried in Asheville, Mitchell’s body was re-interred at the top of Mount Mitchell in June 1858. The burial site was marked by a simple cairn until 1888 when the monument pictured in the postcard was erected. Fabricated of white bronze in Connecticut, the memorial was packed in seven cases weighing a total of 1, 041 pounds and transported by train and wagon to a spot about 10 miles from the peak in early August. The nine-piece monument was then unpacked and fastened to poles so that a team of men could carry it the remainder of the way to Mitchell’s grave. On August 8th the group was forced to abandon a “wigwam” in which they were sleeping and take shelter under a rock overhang as a violent thunderstorm raged overhead.

Describing the storm several months later in a speech published in The University Magazine, team member William B. Phillips wrote:

The thermometer fell to 40 degrees F., the wind blew with a violence unknown in these lower regions, while the incessant and blinding sheets of lightning lit up the sombre gorges to right and left and before with lurid and ghastly flames, and each neighboring peak echoed in thundering reverberations the shoutings of the great storm king….

On Thursday, August 9th, however, the sun rose majestically from behind the sharp outline of the Pinnacle, gazed for a moment upon that cowed and shivering group and then betook himself to his daily task of warming and beautifying the earth.

The monument was erected and the last screws of the inscription plate turned on August 18. The plate reads:

Here lies in hope of a blessed resurrection the body of the Rev. Elisha Mitchell, D.D., who after being for 39 years a Professor in the University of North Carolina, lost his life in the scientific exploration of this mountain in the 64th year of his age, June 27, 1857.

Phillips writes that no ceremony marked the erection of the monument. His account of the transport and building of the memorial was delivered as a speech at UNC in October 1888. Phillips closed his address with these words:

This simple bronze monument will stand for many generations, overlooking the beautiful valley of the Catawba and the Estatoe, fronting the graceful outlines of the Linville Mountains and Grandfather, marking the spot where repose the remains of a great and good man, whose example shineth ever more brightly, and whose memory will ever be cherished at this venerable seat of learning, so dear to him, so full of memorials of one of the wisest and best of teachers. Si monumentum queris, circumspice!

While Elisha Mitchell is remembered in numerous ways today–the mountain, the waterfall, a building at UNC and the state’s scientific society–the monument pictured above lasted just 27 years. A victim to defacement by “irreverent visitors” (in the words of former Governor Locke Craig), the bronze memorial was blown down by the wind in January 1915. However, a plaque bearing the inscription cited above sits at the base of the observation tower on Mount Mitchell. Could it be the original?

Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar

“[James B.] Duke’s only failure came when he attempted to integrate the cigar industry into his increasingly extensive fold. Cigars, he found, fit poorly with his system of mechanization, standardization and national marketing…. Production of cigars would remain labor intensive, skilled work; they continued to be distributed in small quantities to specialized dealers….

“The cigar represented the past, the cigarette the future. [But] for Duke, who had transformed his father’s plug business into a multinational giant, it was all just tobacco. His aggressive moves to incorporate the full range of tobacco products would ultimately bring him into conflict with the federal government.”

From “The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America”  (2007) by Allan M. Brandt

Link dump works weekends to serve you better

— Greensboro to Wilmington by boat?

— Reared in Granville County, he was Tennessee’s wealthiest free black — and a slaveholder.

— The before and after life of a 1956 National Science Fair winner.

— Tobacco heritage may be embarrassment to baseball  in Tampa, but not in Wilson.

— On eve of labor landmark’s demolition, “I grabbed as much paper and stuff as I could.”

— Fontana: a dam site better, now that it’s incorporated.




Family Bible Records Update

We last updated you on this project, which is a collaboration between the North Carolina State Archives and the State Library of North Carolina, in August 2010 (see blog entry). A long-time reader and blog-post-suggester extraordinaire, pointed out the most recent addition of 400+ more Bible records, and you can read about that addition here:

Over 400 Bible Records Added to Family Records Collection

You can access the Bible records here:

North Carolina Family Records Online

As one who used to pull the paper copies of these records for patrons, I can speak to their value and popularity. The genealogical content of a family Bible can be a goldmine of names, birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, maiden names, and lots of other important family history. If you have a North Carolina connection, take a look at this project. You never know what you’ll find.

Woodrow Wilson’s honeymoon hideaway

On this day in 1885: Woodrow Wilson and the former Ellen Louise Axson, married the previous day in Savannah, Ga., arrive at their honeymoon cottage in Arden. They will spend about two months in the four-room clapboard house while he prepares to begin his teaching career as professor of history at Bryn Mawr College. She compiles the index for a new edition of his acclaimed “Congressional Government, A Study in American Politics.” They read and take long walks through the rhododendron-crowded mountains.

In 1914, during her husband’s first term as president, Mrs. Wilson will die suddenly; Edith Bolling Galt, whom Wilson marries 16 months later, virtually assumes the presidency after he suffers a paralyzing stroke during his second term.

North Carolina State Fair Premium Lists Now Online

Have you ever wondered how much first prize money you would have won at the State Fair in 1915 for your favorite Percheron gelding or mare? How about the best tray of “Nancy Hall” sweet potatoes in 1929? Well, fear not, now you can find out with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks at:

North Carolina State Fair Premium Lists

The website is hosted by the State Library of North Carolina and contains a few premium lists provided by the North Carolina Collection to help complete the set.