N.C.: Where future terrorists matriculate?

Samir Khan, the al-Qaida blogger killed in a recent U.S. airstrike, studied at Central Piedmont Community College in 2005.

Can you name the future terrorist who…

attended Chowan College and graduated from N.C. A&T in mechanical engineering?

spent two semesters at Western Carolina University?

served as president of the UNC Chapel Hill Psychology Club?



Artifact of the Month: Surgical instrument

October’s Artifact of the Month is a surgical instrument used by Dr. Benjamin Abel Sellars (1816-1896), a native of Alamance County. An aging identification tag indicates that the tool may have been used in the 1850s when B.A. Sellars, as the doctor was more commonly known, moved to Randolph County to practice medicine.

According to Alamance County: The Legacy of Its People and Places, Sellars’ father, Thomas Jr., was a prominent cotton planter in Orange and Alamance counties during the late eighteenth century. Sellars attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation in 1844, he moved to Randolph County to practice medicine. There he met his wife, Frusannah Elizabeth Kime (1833-1922). The two had eleven children (depicted in the photograph below). Records indicate that Sellars also practiced for an unknown length of time in Guilford County, perhaps during or after working in Randolph County.

from Alamance County: The Legacy of Its People and Places edited by Elinor Samons Euliss

Sellars moved to Company Shops, North Carolina by the early 1870s and opened up a small store there. Remarkably, the store would stay in business until the 1980s, lasting through the city’s evolution from Company Shops to Burlington.

And so, this story brings us to this ambiguous artifact…

This tool could have been used as a surgical probe, which allowed doctors to examine a particular area of interest, or a cauterizing tool, which would be heated and then applied to an open wound to encourage healing. Barbara Tysinger, the Cataloging and Resources Manager for UNC’s Health Sciences Library, suggests that the tool could have been used in a procedure known as trephination, the process of carving a small hole in an individual’s skull with the purpose of relieving pressure. Our handheld instrument may have in fact been an awl used to aid in this process.

Regardless of whether it is a probe, an awl, a cauterizing tool, or something else, the origins of this item are a testament to the remarkable people and objects that make our Tar Heel past so memorable in the present.

Early Issues of Black Ink Available Online

Early issues of Black Ink, the newspaper of the Black Student Movement at UNC-Chapel Hill, are now available online through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. Dating back to 1969, Black Ink documents the experience of and issues related to African American students at UNC. The paper provides especially good coverage of student protest movements in the early 1970s.

Issues of the paper through 1981 are available as part of the North Carolina Newspapers project. The Digital Heritage Center is continuing with the digitization and will be adding more issues in the coming weeks.

Call home immediately, Maurice R. Thurlow

On this day in 1927: The schooner Maurice R. Thurlow runs aground during a storm off the Outer Banks. It signals for help, and its crew of nine is taken ashore in a Coast Guard surfboat.

Few ships stranded on Diamond Shoals are ever refloated, but after the storm the Coast Guard can find no trace of the Thurlow. Thirteen days later a Dutch tanker will sight it in the North Atlantic. Every few days the wayward schooner is reported in a different location but is never overtaken. Its fate remains unknown.

Hank Jr.’s latest: ‘Are you ready for some link dump?’

— Art Pope profile clarified praised  … and  panned as “tendentious, poorly-researched, and weakly argued.”

— Is Pinehurst risking its National Historic Landmark status?

— In Los Angeles Times, Charleston chef deconstructs Texas governor’s insult to North Carolina barbecue.


He came in through the bathroom window….

“By the mid-1970s, Bruce Ivins had earned his doctorate and was a promising researcher at the University of North Carolina. By outward appearances, he was a charming eccentric, odd but disarming. Inside, he still smoldered with resentment, and he saw a new outlet for it.

“Several years earlier, a [University of] Cincinnati student had turned him down for a date. He had projected his anger onto the young woman’s sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. There was a Kappa house in Chapel Hill, and Ivins cased the building. One night when it was empty, he slipped in through a bathroom window and roamed the darkened floors with a penlight.

“Upstairs, he found something that fascinated him: a glass-enclosed sheaf of documents, called a cipher, necessary for decoding the sorority’s secrets. The cipher would help him wage a personal war against Kappa Kappa Gamma into the sixth decade of his life….

“Investigators believed the poisoned envelopes [in the 2001 anthrax attacks] were deposited in a curbside mailbox in downtown Princeton, N.J. Only years later would the significance of that location become clear.

“The mailbox stood beneath the fourth-floor office of a college sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.”

— From the Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2011

Despite a wealth of circumstantial evidence pointing at Ivins as the anthrax terrorist,  new questions have arisen.


In Pinehurst, a general grand but not grandiose

“In the last few years of his life [George C. Marshall, General of the Army and recipient of the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize]  used to drive downtown most days from his small house in Pinehurst, North Carolina, buy his groceries in the supermarket, tote them to his car to the accompaniment of a nod from the townspeople, a bit of gossip with the drugstore clerk, and then get into his car again, receive the flourish of a salute from the traffic cop, and drive home again. Yet on [Oct. 16, 1959] wherever in the world the American flag flies, it was lowered and flown for him.”

— From “Letter from America: 1946-2004” by Alistair Cooke (2004)

Sinking of sidewheeler leads to mandatory life preservers

On this day in 1837: The steamship Home, seeking to break its own record for fastest passage from New York to Charleston, fails to survive a storm off Cape Hatteras. Of 135 passengers and crew members, 90 perish.

The storm is not especially violent by Outer Banks standards, but the sleek, 220-foot sidewheeler, converted from inland to sea use, can’t handle the high waves.

When the boiler fires go out, the captain turns the Home toward land and grounds it seven miles east of Ocracoke village. As the ship begins breaking up, chaos rules – only three lifeboats and two life preservers are aboard.

At the time the Home disaster is the deadliest ever on U.S. shores. In response, Congress will pass the “Steamboat Act,” requiring all passenger ships to carry a life preserver for each person on board.


John Brown without tears (to say the least)

“Fanaticism in the North is rampant….On yesterday, the godly city of Boston, built up and sustained by the products of negro slave labor, went into mourning, fasting and prayer over the condign punishment of a negro stealer, murderer and traitor….

“In all the Noo England towns and villages, we may expect to hear that mock funerals have been celebrated, and all kinds of nonsensically lugubrious displays made. (It is a pity that they haven’t a witch or two to drown or burn, by way of variety.)….

“The Yankees have no objection to mingling money making with their grief, and they will, unless Brown’s gallows is known to have been burned, set to work and make [from it] all kinds of jimcracks and notions… and sell them. Let the rope which choked him, too, be burned or we shall see vast quantities of breast pips, lockets and bracelets… for sale. Barnum is already in the market for Old Brown’s clothes….”

— From an editorial in the Raleigh Register, December 3, 1859