“He Was Such a Stupid Get”

A friend of mine and former graduate student employee here in Wilson just can’t get her mind off of all things North Carolina–even though she now lives over 700 miles away.

She emailed me after hearing Sir Walter Raleigh–namesake of our fair capital city–mentioned in the Beatle’s song, “I’m So Tired.” Here’s a portion of the lyrics:

I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink
I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink

I’m so tired I don’t know what to do
I’m so tired my mind is set on you
I wonder should I call you but I know what you would do

You’d say I’m putting you on
But it’s no joke, it’s doing me harm
You know I can’t sleep, I can’t stop my brain
You know it’s three weeks, I’m going insane
You know I’d give you everything I’ve got
for a little peace of mind

I’m so tired, I’m feeling so upset
Although I’m so tired I’ll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get.

Cool reference, but the last line had me stumped. What does “stupid get” mean? I had to guess it wasn’t good. This is what I found in the Oxford English Dictionary:

“In contemptuous use = brat. Also specifically a bastard; hence as a general term of abuse: a fool, idiot. (Cf. git n.) Now dial. and slang.

Raleigh’s star just keeps falling!

When textiles thrived, so did textile league baseball

Textile league baseball was once huge in the Carolinas, and in 1937 the team representing Asheboro’s Acme-McCrary hosiery mill made it all the way to the national championship tourney in Wichita, Kansas.

Here and here are some colorful recollections of the team — hat tip to randolphhistory.wordpress.com —  including photos of not only players but also  a surviving (and obviously game-worn) uniform.

Interestingly, the eagle on this pinback button isn’t the one on the uniform sleeve patch, which mimics the one symbolizing FDR’s National Recovery Act.



Prescribing a double dose of ‘Southern Exposure’

“At the birthing of our magazine in 1973, long lists of prospective names were prepared. What to call a journal that challenged and criticized the region, yet embraced it as our home?

“It wasn’t long before the name Southern Exposure emerged as the obvious choice. Not only did the words carry the double message we wanted, they carried on the tradition of the muckraking journalism embodied in Stetson [Kennedy]’s original “Southern Exposure” [1946] — a tradition that links analysis to action, that tells the truth and makes clear the imperative for change….”

Bob Hall, founding editor, Southern Exposure magazine, published by the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham

 Stetson Kennedy, one of the mid-century South’s most memorable wave-makers, died Saturday at age 94. His obituaries may be the first (and last) to cite the Ku Klux Klan, Jean-Paul Sartre,  Superman, Woody Guthrie and Freakonomics.


At 65 mph, who needs architecture?

“… In rural parts of North Carolina where roads are small, it’s possible to see the face of a farmer coming towards you in his truck because you are both driving slowly. As often as not he will wave. (Imagine doing that on an interstate highway or a six-lane suburban throughway.) In the 200 or so years before automobiles came to North Carolina, our counties were sized based on the distance a farmer could travel on horseback in a day to pay his taxes at the courthouse, or sell his crops at market….

“Country stores, now usually shuttered, [were] spaced every few miles within walking distance of farmsteads; and country churches [rang] steeple bells at a quarter to 11 on Sunday morning to remind folks they had 15 minutes to walk to service.

“High-speed roads have liberated these older landscapes…. And on the whole, this is better. But as [Greensboro journalist] Jim Schlosser  observed, architecture began to go downhill with the construction of the Interstate…. Since people no longer slowed down to drive through cities, architects designed buildings to be viewed at 65 miles per hour, with a consequent loss of scale, texture, and detail.”

— From  “No One Drove Faster than a Horse” by Raleigh architect Frank Harmon (architectsandartisans.com)


Yelling ‘Firestarter’ in a crowded theater would be hard

It bombed at the box office, but this 1984 sci-fi thriller marked the beginning of Wilmington’s lively movie industry.

Pictured: Pinback button depicting 9-year-old Drew Barrymore, probably worn by staff in moviehouses or video rental stores.


Albert Rabil, Jr. Captures Post-WWII Rocky Mount

Albert Rabil's Bishop Laundry Photo
Courtesy of Albert Rabil, Jr. Collection, Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount, N.C.

As archivists and librarians we’re frequently confronted with piles of books, letters, photographs…you name it. And it’s easy to become so focused on cataloging and describing them that we forget to actually stop and think about the stories they contain and the people who created them. That’s especially the case when the name doesn’t immediately jump out as a noted North Carolinian. But here’s an example of why it’s good for us to occasionally stop and take note.

During a North Carolina Collection staff meeting on Thursday, a colleague mentioned that she recently added photographs by Albert Rabil Jr. to Digital NC, a website administered by the North Carolina Collection and featuring scans of yearbooks, scrapbooks, newspapers and various and sundry other items from libraries and archives around the state. The Rabil photographs were just one in a number of collections that she listed as new to Digital NC. And neither she nor anyone else at the meeting commented further on them. But the name jumped out to me. At least the surname did.

I’ve long had an interest in the Lebanese who settled in North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century. And I recognized Rabil as the surname of some of those settlers. I wondered if Albert Rabil Jr. might be (or have been) of Lebanese ancestry and, just as importantly, whether he might have photographed some of the early Lebanese settlers or their descendants.

The prints and negatives that make up the Albert Rabil Jr. Collection are held by the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. The subjects of the Rabil photographs on Digital NC include dances, groundbreakings, weddings, Boy Scout gatherings, homes, businesses, sports and many other aspects of daily life in Rocky Mount in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But, alas, there are no images of Lebanese celebrations or people who appear to be Lebanese.

Rabil photo of Artcraft Glass Company worker
Interior of Artcraft Glass Company with Worker, Albert Rabil, Jr. Collection, Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount, N.C.

I wanted to know more about Albert Rabil so I looked for his name among our holdings. But I found nothing by or about him. Then I turned to Google. That search yielded several sites promoting books on Renaissance history and literature. Could Albert Rabil the photographer be Albert Rabil the scholar? Albert Rabil the scholar had ties to the State University of New York at Old Westbury. Could a Rocky Mount boy end up in New York? Sure, I told myself. We’ve been a mobile society for at least a half century. Digging deeper into the Google search results, I discovered that Albert Rabil the scholar earned an undergraduate degree at Duke. Then I struck gold. In 2004 the scholarly Mr. Rabil lived in Chapel Hill. And, there, on a web page, was his phone number.

I dialed the number and shortly thereafter spoke with Albert Rabil the scholar, who was also Albert Rabil the photographer and Albert Rabil a Tar Heel Lebanese. Here’s his story.

Rabil, 77, grew up in Rocky Mount. Three of his four grandparents emigrated from Lebanon. His father, Albert Sr., and his mother, Sophie, opened Vogue Dress Shop in 1932 and later started a construction business, Modern Builders. Rabil took up photography when he was about 12. There was a polio outbreak in town and he and his friends were isolated in their homes. Rabil worked with a Speed Graphic camera, the standard tool for American press photographers until the mid-1960s. He set up a dark room in his father’s toolshed.

Albert Rabil self-portrait
Courtesy of Albert Rabil, Jr. Collection, Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount, N.C.

Rabil’s Speed Graphic was his constant companion, accompanying him to plays, sporting events, dances and family gatherings. At Rocky Mount High School he shot photographs for the yearbook, The Hi-Noc-Ar, and eventually became the publication’s editor. The young photographer found a mentor in Osmond L. “Bugs” Barringer, a one-time news photographer who opened a portrait studio in Rocky Mount in the early 1940s. Rabil spent as much time as he could in the company of Barringer on photo shoots or at the older photographer’s business on Western Avenue. Barringer and his wife, Dot, never had children and Rabil says the couple treated him as their adopted son. Barringer, a freelance photographer for The News and Observer and for 42 years the newspaper’s gardening columnist, shared his press contacts with Rabil. And, as a result, the young photographer had several of his images published in the Rocky Mount Telegram and The News and Observer.

Rabil continued taking photographs at Duke, where he enrolled in the fall of 1952. He was active in the university’s Methodist student fellowship and during his freshman year he shot photographs of the group’s activities. At the end of the school year he compiled those images into a book, which he published and distributed to his fellow students. Rabil says he was proud of that book, but sadly he’s lost his copy and knows of no others.

Rabil started out as an engineering major at Duke, a path he thought would prepare him to take over the family’s construction business. But Rabil says he found history more to his liking. By the time he graduated from Duke in 1957, he had stopped taking photographs. He also had ditched the name Albert in favor of Al.

Rabil went on to further study and teaching history in such locales as New York City, Berkeley, Chicago, Hartford and Old Westbury, New York. He married, raised two children and published (and continues to publish) books on the Renaissance. Now retired, Rabil says the camera has never again become the companion it was in the late 1940s and 1950s. A year ago, at his brother’s urging, he donated his photographs to the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. Until yesterday he hadn’t seen his photographs online.

After taking a look at them, he emailed to say that we had the wrong last name for one of the subjects of his photos (we’re working on getting that changed). He described the photo as one featuring Blanche and “her boyfriend, later her husband” Koka. He wrote that he thinks that Koka’s last name is Booth, but that he wasn’t sure. A quick check of some clippings on Koka Booth, the longtime mayor of Cary, verified that his wife is indeed named Blanche and she’s from Rocky Mount. Could the photo below be an early photo of Koka Booth?

Rabil photo of Blanche Wilkins and Koka Booth
Blanche Wilkins and Koka Booth at SDA dance. Courtesy of the Albert Rabil, Jr. Collection, Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount, N.C.

Rabil may have photographed a young Koka Booth, but sadly (at least from my perspective) he didn’t capture (or at least preserve) photographs of his Lebanese ancestors and their celebrations. Rabil says his family used to dine at his grandmother’s on Sunday nights and she laid a beautiful table with Lebanese fare. He thinks he photographed the spread. But those images are lost to time. In an email he wrote,” I wish I had gotten interested in all this at an age when it might have been useful, i.e., when I could have learned things and taken photographs that would now have great historical interest.” But, he says, like many a child or grandchild of immigrants, he was focused on blending in—on playing the same games, eating the same food and speaking the same ways as his longer established neighbors.

Al Rabil may not have preserved the Lebanese of North Carolina. But he’s preserved mid-20th century Rocky Mount. And for that, we’re grateful.

North Carolina Online Soil Survey Manuscripts

A colleague with the US Department of Agriculture just sent me this link:


Soil surveys are produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey, a joint effort
of the United States Department of Agriculture and other Federal agencies, State
agencies including the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, and local
agencies. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) has leadership for the Federal part of the National Cooperative Soil Survey.

Also see the soil survey maps on the North Carolina Maps website.

Edison liked nature but thought ‘Man is a fool’

On this day in 1918: Concluding a rustic road trip that began nine days ago in Pittsburgh, inventor Thomas Edison, automaker Henry Ford, tiremaker Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs check into Asheville’s Grove Park Inn.

The celebrity nature-seekers, who camped in tents by the mountain roads, were delayed along the way by crowds of admirers. In Weaverville, Edison declined calls for a speech but answered the Asheville Citizen’s request for a comment on the world war: “Man’s foolishness. That’s all you can make out of it. Man is a fool.”

Court goes delusional over interracial affair

“A stunning example of the absurd and twisted logic of race-based legal judgments in the immediate aftermath of Reconstruction was exhibited in an 1877 divorce case, for which North Carolina Supreme Court justice William B. Rodman wrote the final decision.

“In granting a husband’s divorce from a wife accused of having an interracial affair, Judge Rodman stated as fact that if a white woman gave birth to a black man’s child, then all her future children, even those fathered by white men, would forever carry the ‘taint’ of African blood.

“Here was the ultimate indictment of interracial sexual intercourse: the permanent pollution of a white woman’s bloodstream, to the point where she could no longer produce a pure white child for her white husband.”

— From “The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies” by Victoria E. Bynum (2010)

First in flight no match for latest in millinery

“In talking with some of the people who live on the outer banks — bankers, they are called — I soon discovered that wrecks like that of the [Carroll A. Deering in 1921] have a way of serving as points of personal reference. One venerable gentleman who lives on Hatteras recalled that when the barkentine [a sailing ship with at least three masts] J. W. Dresser came ashore on July 23, 1895, it was his 12th birthday; a lady told me that she well recollected the wreck of the schooner Catherine M. Monahan off Ocracoke on August 24, 1910, because she had the worst toothache in her life; another lady remembered that some of the nicest hats she ever owned were acquired at a salvage auction on Nags Head beach after the steamer Elizabeth was blown ashore on March 19, 1919.

“ ‘There was everything aboard the Elizabeth,’ she said. ‘She was on her way from Baltimore to the Canal Zone and she carried everything from three automobiles to a case of silk shirts. The men had a lighter [a barge] and a schooner boat and they unloaded her cargo in that. Soon as they’d get a load of stuff ashore, it would be auctioned off…. I bought a case of white hats, a dozen, the nicest hats you ever saw. There was much more on the Elizabeth than the men could get off. A big tide came in and she floated herself on the fifth day and that was the end of the auction….’

“Few events in the more recent history of the outer banks, I gathered, exceeded the Elizabeth auction in importance. The achievement of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, only a few miles from where the Elizabeth grounded herself, was obviously nowhere in the same class. And I gathered, also, that there was a certain amount of nostalgia for the days when ‘going wrecking’ — plundering wrecked ships — was the leading cottage industry of the outer banks.”

— From “How Cape Hatteras earned its evil notoriety….” by Hamilton Basso in American Heritage, February 1956

Basso, a journalist and novelist (“The View from Pompey’s Head,” 1954), lived for a time in a cabin in Pisgah Forest, where he sometimes hosted Thomas Wolfe.