Chapel Hill Time Capsule?

I found this very interesting “Chapel Hill Letter” in an issue of The Mebane Leader from May 18, 1915. The letter describes a project led by Kemp Plummer Battle to preserve a collection of “articles used in industries in avocations” in 1915 and seal them up in a “hermetically sealed box” to be opened again in 1965 and 2015. At each opening, one of Battle’s descendants would offer a prize of $50 to a student to “write a thesis on the change of the preceding semi-centennial period.”

The North Carolina Historical Society, led at the time by J. G. deRoulhac “Ransack” Hamilton, was charged with keeping the box.

So what happened to it? Does anybody know whether it was opened in 1965? And if we can succeed in tracking it down sometime in the next couple of years, are there any Battle descendants out there who would be willing to offer the $50 prize for an essay?

Here’s the full letter:

‘Nation’s most famous leper’ sought refuge in Tryon

On this day in 1938: John Early, referred to in newspapers as “the nation’s most famous leper,” dies at the federal leprosarium in Carville, La. Early, 64, was born near Weaverville. He contracted leprosy (later known as Hansen’s disease) while serving in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. On his return he was captured and quarantined — leprosy was widely feared, though only slightly contagious.

After the first of many escapes, he took refuge on a small farm near Tryon. Neighbors objected, however, and he admitted himself to the Carville leper colony, then operated by the Catholic Church. In 1921 he escaped to Washington, where he walked in on a startled congressional committee and spoke for a bill that would put the Carville facility under the U.S. Public Health Service. In large part because of his lobbying, the bill passed.

In 1927 Early again fled to Tryon. This time his neighbors petitioned the surgeon general to suspend the federal law mandating segregation of lepers and to let him live in isolation on his farm. Their effort failed, however, and Early was returned to Carville for the last time.


Mayodan’s Washington Mills Disappearing Brick by Brick

Photo of Washington Mills Pressing Department
Pressing Department, Washington Mills Co., August 1931. Image courtesy of Rockingham Community College Foundation, Inc., Historical Collections, Gerald B. James Library.

Word reached these parts today that workers have begun dismantling the old Washington Mills in Mayodan. The mill’s origins date to 1896 when Colonel Francis Fries and W.C. Ruffin built a dam on the Mayo River in Rockingham County and set up a factory to spin uncolored yarn. The town of Mayodan soon formed around the mill and blossomed as demand for products from the Mayo Mills Company grew. In 1911 the company built a knitting factory, which manufactured men and boy’s underwear in the “long-handled” and “red-flanneled” styles. During World War I, the company supplied underwear for troops serving in Europe. In 1921, the mill owners consolidated their Mayodan plants with those in Fries, Virginia and created Washington Mills Company. After World War II, Washington Mills expanded its line to include the manufacture of “sportswear,” including polo-style shirts for men and women. Eventually, Washington Mills was sold to Tultex, which ran the factory until it closed in 1999.

According to the Greensboro News & Record, a development group bought the old mill after its closure and planned to turn it into a gospel hall of fame and events center. But those plans didn’t materialize. The plant is on the National Register of Historic Places, but such a listing does not prevent a property’s owner from changing or destroying it.

Our colleagues at the James Library of Rockingham Community College have done a great job of preserving some of the mill’s history with an online collection that includes mill badges, an ad for Mayo underwear, a stock certificate and plenty of photos. They’ve also put up a Flickr site with lots of images of Mayodan and the mill.

Winston-Salem’s little ‘puddle jumper’ that could

On this day in 1948: Piedmont Airlines, headquartered in Winston-Salem, inaugurates passenger service with a DC-3 flight from Wilmington to Charlotte to Cincinnati.

Over the next four decades Piedmont will grow from what competitors dismiss as a “puddle jumper” to the nation’s eighth largest airline. In 1987 Piedmont is bought by Washington-based USAir [later US Airways] for $1.6 billion.

Pictured: Pinback button promoting Piedmont’s new flights from Charlotte to London Gatwick in 1987; plastic badge for child passengers; pinback button promoting Piedmont’s in-state Florida shuttle service, circa 1985.


Warren G. Harding, enemy of the state?

“The Louisville Courier-Journal… by no means confines itself to the narrow bounds of Kentucky. Hear it fight North Carolina’s battles:

” ‘Each time the President goes on one of these golf-hunting trips of his to Indian River in Florida, newspapers report that: “President Harding is passing through North Carolina.” Why is it that the President persists in “passing through” the Old North State? Why is it that he doesn’t stop off there?’ ”

— Time magazine, March 17, 1923 (In Time’s third issue, it makes this second-hand first mention of North Carolina.)

So did Warren G. Harding ever alight in North Carolina? If not, Harding is the only president since Chester Alan Arthur not to pay the state at least a token visit — campaigning, vacationing or (in the case of Benjamin Harrison) serving in Sherman’s army.


NC one of Americans’ favorite states

The Tar Heel state can proudly claim its place in the top 10 of favorite states. That’s according to polling by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling. In surveys conducted since October, Public Policy Polling has asked voters nationally for their impressions of each state. Hawaii grabbed the number 1 spot, with 54 percent of respondents viewing the Aloha State positively and 10 percent viewing it negatively. Colorado and Tennessee took second and third, respectively. The only other state south of the Mason-Dixon to rank in the top 10 was Virginia, which grabbed fifth, with 45 percent of respondents holding a favorable view of the state and 13 percent holding a negative view. Truth be told, NC has to share 10th place with Pennsylvania. Both states earned favorable ratings from 40 percent of respondents and unfavorable ratings from 11 percent of respondents.

Black voters ranked North Carolina second to Hawaii as their favorite state. Forty-two percent of African-American respondents held a positive view of North Carolina and eight percent held a negative view. In fact, North Carolina was one of only three states from the eleven-state South that earned a favorable rating. Virginia and Tennessee also scored more positive ratings than negative ones.

More NC City Directories Online

We’ve been working steadily on the North Carolina City Directories digital project and now have well over 300 volumes online, representing 44 different cities and towns. The collection includes every directory from the North Carolina Collection published prior to 1940, as well as a few from the Durham County Library and Forsyth County Library.

Arthur Murray’s Asheville, sweet and sour

“At summer’s end [of 1914], Arthur went from Marblehead [Mass.] to the Battery Park Hotel, a sprawling resort sitting on its own 40-acre hill in the middle of Asheville.

“Almost at once he became the favorite dancing partner of Mrs. George Vanderbilt. At nearby Biltmore he taught young Cornelia Vanderbilt the currently popular Lulu-Fado.

“The standard fee for dance lessons was $5 an hour, which Arthur and [his teaching partner] the Baroness split. Soon there was a falling out. Arthur discovered that the Baroness was charging Mrs. Vanderbilt $50 a lesson, while giving him only $2.50. Moreover, although Arthur never took a drink, the Baroness never refused one. When the management asked her to leave, Arthur maneuvered himself into the position of social director of the hotel…. It was a fabulous life indeed for the poor boy from the slums.

“Whenever Arthur talks about Asheville… he looks wistful. ‘Never before had I seen such attractive people, nor dreamed of such delicious little tea sandwiches  and fancy cakes.’ ”

— From “My Husband, Arthur Murray” by Kathryn Murray (1960)

Arthur Murray Studios became the world’s most successful chain of dance instruction, and Kathryn had a 10-year run on network TV hosting “The Arthur Murray Party.”

More details from their daughter’s recent memoir.

Celebrating Mardi Gras in the Gallery

For our friends on the Gulf coast, celebrating Mardi Gras means wild revelry in the streets. For us at the NCC Gallery, it means highlighting a few of our lesser-known holdings.

Cleopatra Mardi Gras doubloons

These aluminum doubloons are throws from the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Throws, of course, are the trinkets thrown from Mardi Gras floats, including strings of beads, plastic cups, and small toys. While krewe members have been throwing trinkets since the 1920s, doubloons weren’t introduced until the 1960s.

Argus Mardi Gras doubloon

Each doubloon is stamped with the name and logo of the krewe, the year, and the year’s theme. As a result, no krewe’s coin is like any other’s, and every krewe’s doubloons differ from year to year. It’s this customization that makes the pieces collectible.

Zeus Mardi Gras doubloon

The trio pictured here includes a 1975 doubloon from the Krewe of Cleopatra, a 1976 doubloon from the Krewe of Argus, and a 1981 drachma from the Krewe of Zeus.

But why are they here?

Mardi Gras medals don’t fall under our typical collecting scope of North Caroliniana. But they do represent an interesting example of numismatics, an area in which the NCC Gallery’s collection is particularly strong. Most of the Gallery’s currency holdings are North Carolina specific, including Bechtler gold coins from the state’s gold-rush era, North Carolina paper money issued prior to the Civil War, and bills of credit issued in the state during the Colonial era. (Images and more information on these holdings can be found in the online exhibit Historic Moneys in the North Carolina Collection.)

So, while our focus remains on the history of North Carolina, one of the pleasures of having a strong numismatics collection is coming across unexpected finds like these.

From all of us here at the NCC, laissez les bon temps rouler!