Court seats back-to-back Tar Heels — then no more

On this day in 1800: Alfred Moore of New Hanover County, who fought the British as soldier and saboteur during the Revolutionary War, is sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. President John Adams has appointed Moore to replace the late James Iredell, the only other North Carolinian ever to serve on the court.

At four feet five inches Moore is the shortest Supreme Court justice ever.

The flower ladies of Chapel Hill

Robert House with Chapel Hill flower ladies
On our Facebook page and Twitter feed Wednesday, we shared this quote from former UNC Chancellor Robert B. House.

As I saw Franklin Street in 1912, it was a dusty red avenue cut through a forest of magnificent trees….My first impression of Chapel Hill was trees; my last impression is trees….It is no wonder that Chapel Hillians are ardent tree worshippers and the symbol of the place is Davie Poplar.

The mention of House and his comments about symbols of Chapel Hill sparked me to recall the postcard above. It’s from our North Carolina Postcards online collection. That’s Chancellor House buying some flowers from the “flower ladies” on Franklin Street. They, too, were a symbol of Chapel Hill, selling their fresh-picked flowers near the Intimate Bookshop on the north side of Franklin Street almost daily.

No one is sure when the flower ladies began their sidewalk sales. But they had been going strong for a decade or two when, in the late 60s, town leaders passed an ordinance banning sidewalk sales. The law was designed to curb another type of sales that had sprouted on Franklin Street. Some vendors had taken to selling leather goods, jewelry and pot pipes on the street. But if the “hippie” merchants had to go, so, too, did the flower ladies. They were no longer allowed to sell from their Franklin Street location.

After an outcry from towns folks, the Chapel Hill Town Council backtracked and allowed the flower ladies to continue their sales. But they couldn’t do so from Franklin Street. The flower ladies moved to an alley just off Franklin, a space that eventually become the entryway to NCNB Plaza (now known as Bank of America Center).

Sadly the flower ladies are no longer a common sight downtown. In 1983 Lillie Pratt, who does still show up occasionally to sell her flowers, told a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record that her flower sales were less a money-making venture and more a hobby. “I reckon the best you’re gonna do is swap your money,” she said. “The seeds cost a lot more than they used to, and Lordy, you ought to try to fight the bugs….I stand out in the garden and just wonder why I’m doing it, why I’m fighting all these bugs.”

The newspaper writer added:

It’s funny and a little silly to Lillie Pratt that she and the other ladies should be so highly regarded because they tend gardens and sell flowers for a hobby.

She crinkled her nose at anyone who would call her a landmark, and goes ‘Oh, pshaw,’ to anybody who would take her picture and talk to her as if she were the governor.

But, still she comes back, two or three times a week, every week. And she will keep coming back, Lillie Pratt said, as long as her hobby holds her interest and she can keep the bugs at bay.

And as long as there are daffodils in the spring.

Here’s hoping the flower ladies will sprout again.

Chapel Hill to Time: We’re not snoozing!

We…  object to the reference to Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh as “a sleepy corner of eastern Carolina.” Wake up! Chapel Hill has long been known as the “Intellectual Center of the South.”
Get out of your concrete office and come down to visit modern, industrial North Carolina.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
— Letter to the editor of Time magazine, February 4, 1957
In later life, Sonny would become better known as Eli — and as author of “The Provincials.”

The most recent amendment to N.C. Constitution

Session laws describing 2010 constitutional amendment

Session laws describing 2010 constitutional amendment

In fall 2010 North Carolina voters ratified a Constitutional amendment forbidding a convicted felon from serving as sheriff. The push for a change to the Constitution was sparked by six felons’ runs for sheriff in spring of 2010. The most notable campaign was that of former Davidson County sheriff Gerald Hege. He was removed from office in 2004 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. Hege was unsuccessful in his bid to regain office (so, too, were the other five convicted felons). But the felons’ runs for sheriff troubled many North Carolinians, including members of the N.C. Sheriffs Association. That organization said that even a felon’s campaign for sheriff tarnished the integrity of the office. Interestingly, prior to approval of this amendment, felons could not be police officers or deputies, but they could be sheriff.

The 2010 vote marked the 43rd proposed amendment put before North Carolina voters since 1968, when legislators and a special commission began working on a revision to the 1868 Constitution (the revised document is referred to as the Constitution of 1971). Thirty-five of those proposed amendments were ratified by North Carolina voters. John L. Sanders, former director of the Institute of Government (now School of Government) at UNC-Chapel Hill, has written a detailed account of North Carolina’s Constitutional history. It’s available for download from the N.C. Secretary of State’s website (see the document titled “N.C. Constitution”). We’ll share more about the state’s Constitutions (there have been three) and some of the changes made to the documents in coming weeks.

Trail to Donner Pass began in Rowan County

On this day in 1846: George Donner, born in the part of Rowan County that would become Davidson County, leads a California-bound wagon train out of Springfield, Illinois.

The Donner Party will be caught in a weeks-long snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada. Many will die, and some resort to cannibalism.

In what is later known as the Donner Pass, a bronze statue commemorates the bravery of all pioneers who went west.

In 2010 a publicist’s misreading of research by an Appalachian State anthropologist would give the Donner Party a moment of unmerited exoneration.


Artifact of the Month: Autographed Roanoke Colony first day cover

Sir Walter Raleigh first day cover

Look closely at the autographs on this first day cover and you’re sure to recognize some familiar names. Yes, that does say Jesse Helms, right alongside Terry Sanford and Jim Martin. And that’s Rufus Edmisten and Jim Hunt near the top. The scribble in the middle is John Edwards.

The cover, our April Artifact of the Month, was issued in 1984 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first English colony at Roanoke Island. The cachet (the artwork on the envelope) depicts an English ship next to a drawing of Sir Walter Raleigh, who sponsored the Roanoke Colony.

If you look even more closely, you’ll see that the autographs have dates spanning from 1984 to 2007. The donor of this item carried the cover with him to events and had it autographed by prominent North Carolinians when the opportunity arose. Descriptions of those events are included in the label below, which is framed with the cover.

First day cover label

It took more than twenty years to create, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more purely Tar Heel artifact.

Prohibition gave Coca-Cola break it needed

On this day in 1902: In Charlotte, J. Luther Snyder dispenses the first Coca-Cola bottled in the Carolinas. Until now Coke had been available only at soda fountains.

Snyder will recall that business is mediocre until the arrival of Prohibition in Charlotte in 1905: “Eighteen saloons, two breweries. . . . I had a terrible time selling soft drinks with that kind of competition.”

Leonard Decaprio in “It Happened One Night”?

On March 2, 1933, a train pulled into the station in Rocky Mount, unloaded the body of a newlywed septuagenarian… and J. Edgar Hoover became director of the FBI.

Well, the story is a bit more involved, but here goes, according to “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets” by Curt Gentry (2011):

“Tom Walsh, a confirmed bachelor since the death of his first wife in 1917, had remarried, taking as his bride a member of one of Cuba’s most prominent families. After the wedding… in Havana, the pair had flown to Florida. Feeling ill, Walsh had consulted a doctor in Daytona Beach, who treated him for indigestion. The pair had then boarded the train for Washington and the inauguration [of Franklin D. Roosevelt]. Shortly after 7 a.m… Mrs. Walsh had wakened to find the senator lying face down on the floor next to his berth. By the time a doctor could be found, Walsh was dead. A physician in Rocky Mount listed cause of death as ‘unknown, possibly coronary thrombosis’….

“Apparently the 72-year-old attorney general-designate [and former Montana senator] had died following a too strenuous honeymoon with a much younger bride….”

(Or maybe he was the victim of a Cuban political conspiracy….)

Walsh made it clear his first act as AG would be a housecleaning at the Bureau of lnvestigation, starting with director J. Edgar Hoover.  Instead, Hoover used his serendipitous reprieve to ingratiate himself with Walsh’s successor and to lock up what turned out to be a lifetime appointment as FBI director.


Tar Heels Have Long Known Frances Benjamin Johnston

Hayes Plantation Photo
Hayes Plantation, by Frances Benjamin Johnston

The Library of Congress today released online images of more than 1,000 lantern slides of American gardens taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Johnston’s name may be familiar to North Carolinians. Her photographs of North Carolina houses and other buildings, taken from 1935-1938, provide rich documentation of the architectural styles present in the state. They also record the disrepair and neglect that had befallen some of North Carolina’s classic homes–conditions brought on by the Depression and earlier economic deprivations.

Johnston is considered one of the country’s first female photographers. She was born in Rochester, New York in 1864. Her family later moved to Washington, D.C., where she was educated. At the age of 19, she headed for Paris to study art at the Academic Julien. Two years later she returned to Washington, D.C. and enrolled in the Art Students’ League. With time, Johnston applied her artistic talents to newspaper illustration. But eventually she focused on photography because she considered it more accurate.

From 1933-1940 Johnston worked on the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, a project devoted to recording the early buildings and gardens in Maryland, Virgina, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. Johnston’s negatives for that project are housed at the Library of Congress.

While photographing for the Carnegie Survey, Johnston also worked on other projects. In 1936 the American Council of Learned Societies paid her $3500 to capture images of early North Carolina architecture. She had guidance on the project from North Carolina historian Albert Ray Newsome, UNC sociologist Howard Odum and Duke historian and librarian William Boyd. During the course of her work in North Carolina she rambled through 48 counties. Many of the photographs she took were later printed in The Early Architecture of North Carolina, a book she co-produced with Thomas Waterman and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1941.

Johnston died in 1952.

The New York Times and Washington Post have articles on Johnston and her lantern slides in today’s editions (You may need a login and password for the Times). A biography of Johnston was published in 2000.