‘Tweet-tweet’ went the mountains’ money machine

On this day in 1957: A coal-burning, narrow-gauge engine that once hauled iron ore from an Avery County mine to a Tennessee smelter returns from retirement as the centerpiece of a Blowing Rock amusement park.

The East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad began doing business in the late 1800s. Locals dubbed the ET & WNC the “Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes” railroad, then the “Tweetsie,” after the “tweet-tweet” of its whistle.

After competition from trucking shut down the line in 1950, actor Gene Autry purchased Engine No. 12 for an attraction that never materialized. Autry then sold it to entrepreneur Grover Robbins Jr., who laid three miles of track around Roundhouse Mountain and brought the Tweetsie back home in a 50-mile motorcade that shut down whole towns along the way.

Tweetsie Railroad will prove to be a popular and financial success for many decades, helping to finance such real-estate developments as Hound Ears and Beech Mountain.

Pictured: Pinback button and personalized marshal’s badge from Tweetsie Railroad.


The Carolina Parakeet, in all its splendor, in the Gallery

Carolina Parakeet drawing

It’s hard to imagine now, but the North Carolina skies were once teeming with brightly colored parakeets. Conuropsis carolinensis, the Carolina Parakeet, was the only species of parrot native to the eastern United States. The story of the Parakeet is one of abundance and extinction, beauty and tragedy. Our current Gallery exhibit celebrates the life of the Carolina Parakeet and laments its decline.

The exhibit, “The Carolina Parakeet in Art: Images from the Powell Collection,” showcases the collection of William and Virginia Powell, who have been collecting art works depicting the Carolina Parakeet for decades, as well as prints, photographs, paintings, and books from the North Carolina Collection.

Highlights include an original print by John James Audubon, an illustration by British naturalist Mark Catesby in his 1771 The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, and a 1918 newspaper article documenting the death of the last known Parakeet in captivity.

Take a Carolina Parakeet home with you

And if you’re a fan of the Carolina Parakeet, beautiful works of art, or supporting the library, visit our 1000 Museums portal where you can purchase a high-quality archival print of Mark Catesby’s The Parrot of Carolina and the Cypress of America.

Mark Catesby parrot illustration

Catesby was an English naturalist who traveled to South Carolina, Georgia, and the Bahamas between 1722 and 1726. The book he subsequently published, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, contains gorgeous, colorful illustrations of the flora and fauna he encountered in his travels.

In addition to the Carolina Parakeet, seventeen other Catesby illustrations are now available for purchase through the Library’s partnership with 1000 Museums. Sales of the prints benefit the library, making this a rare opportunity to simultaneously do good and elevate your home décor.

Should Raleigh, Durham be chasing ‘creative class’?

“[A] test has been done by Mel Gray, who teaches eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of St. Thomas, and the results cast doubt on the idea that a flour­ish­ing artis­tic envi­ron­ment will cause eco­nomic growth….

“Gray told me, ‘I spent a sab­bat­i­cal in North Car­olina, and both Raleigh and Durham have estab­lished these Offices of Cre­ativ­ity, and they’re all doing this with­out a huge amount [of], if any, evi­dence that it makes that big a dif­fer­ence.’ ”

— From “The Fall of the Creative Class” by Frank Bures in Thirty Two Magazine


Welcome, Mr. President — how ’bout those ditches!

When the 44th president speaks at Bank of America Stadium, will he say something memorable? The record of his predecessors is an interestingly mixed bag.  Can you can identify the presidents or future presidents who made these comments on their visits to Charlotte?

1. “I have seen the denuding of your forests, I have seen the washing away of your topsoil, I have slid into the ditch from your red clay highways.”

2. “Every four years, the Republican candidate or his supporters comes down to North Carolina, Texas or some other Southern state and warns the Democrats in this section of the United States that they have been abandoned by the national party.”

3. “I regret that some people in this country have disparaged and demeaned the role of the homemaker. I say — and say it with emphasis and conviction — that homemaking is good for America.”

4. “Because of our young men and women in uniform, things really have changed around the world. You know, America used to wear a ‘Kick Me’ sign around its neck. Well, we threw that sign away. Now it reads, ‘Don’t Tread on Me.’ ”

5. “This will have a lot of subsidiary good benefits. For example, it’s doing those white folks up there a world of good to sing in a choir like that. That may be a racially insensitive, politically incorrect remark, but having spent countless hours of my life in Baptist church choirs, I do know what I am talking about… I can’t believe I said that.”

6. “The world today, although joined physically by a few hours of flight or by an instant in telecommunications, is further apart in idea, in political belief, in basic philosophy, than it ever was — even before the discovery of the Western World.”

I’ll append the answers tomorrow.

And here they are:

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt at “Green Pastures” rally (Sept. 10, 1936).

2. Sen. John F. Kennedy at campaign rally (Sept. 17, 1960).

3. Gerald Ford at state convention of Future Homemakers of America (March 20, 1976).

4. Ronald Reagan at campaign rally for Sen. Jim Broyhill (Oct. 28, 1986).

5. Bill Clinton at first joint meeting of Progressive National Baptist Convention and Alliance of Baptists (Aug. 9, 1995).

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Freedom Celebration Day (May 18, 1954).


Charlotte: Underappreciated hub of Confederacy

I asked historian Michael C. Hardy what surprised him most in researching his forthcoming “Civil War Charlotte”:
“How little recognition that Civil War Charlotte has gotten over the past 150 years….
“Charlotte was a major rail hub, had some major private sector manufacturing facilities, had one of the most important Confederate naval manufacturing yards, plus Confederate medical works and chemical works, and was the last capital of the Confederacy.
“Yet the role of the city and war in most Civil War histories is relegated to a sentence or two, usually about the week Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government spent here at the end of the war.”


UNC’s James K. Polk Tower?

“Plans were announced today for a 21-story residence for men students to be constructed on the University campus here.”

“It will be one of the tallest buildings in the state…And probably the tallest college residential structure in the Southeast.”

“Already dubbed ‘The Tower,’ construction on the new 1,000-man unit is expected to begin next March…’The Tower’ will be named for James K. Polk, 11th president of the United States, a native of North Carolina and an alumnus of the university. Polk received the A.B. degree here in 1818, the M.A. in 1822 and the LL.D. in 1845.”

“The new building will house James K. Polk Residence College.”

These are some quotations, all dating from April 1966, from several articles I recently found in our university clippings files. I knew the building had not been built, but I did wonder where they had thought about constructing “The Tower.” Well, according to the articles, the location was near Kenan Stadium, directly across the street from Scott Residence College (Avery, Parker, and Teague dormitories). My map and directional skills point to the current location of the George Watts Hill Alumni Center as the proposed location of this gigantic residence hall.

What happened? Why wasn’t it built? That is an even more interesting story of miscommunication and apparently one department not knowing what the other department was doing, saying, or releasing to the media. Within two weeks of the original story being published in several newspapers, there was another story (Chapel Hill Weekly, 27 April 1966) stating that the university had considered the idea, but that no action on building “The Tower” had ever been approved. The story also mentioned concerns about “stripping the campus bare of trees and wooded areas and destroying all the places of natural beauty.”

How is N.C. culture shaped by east-west axis?

“In his famous 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel [geographer Jared Diamond hypothesized that] along lines of latitude there will be more cultural homogeneity than along lines of longitude.

“To test that prediction, researchers at Stanford University used language persistence as a proxy for cultural diversity, and analyzed the percentage of historically indigenous languages that remain in use in 147 countries today relative to their shape. For example, the team looked at the difference between Chile, which has a long north–south axis, and Turkey, which has a wider axis running east to west.

“The researchers found that if a country had a greater east–west axis than a north–south one, the less likely it was for its indigenous languages to persist…. The result, say the authors, supports Diamond’s theory….”

— From “How geography shapes cultural diversity”  in Nature (June 11, 2012)

I couldn’t help wondering: Might this correlation even extend to the South?   That is, is some of the greater cultural diversity of North Carolina as opposed to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia attributable to our east-west orientation?
Political scientist David Laitin, who led the Stanford research team, graciously agreed to  speculate:
“In principle, if we had data on persistence by state, we could test this. It might be neater to compare (a) the 13 colonies and California, both with N/S orientations; to (b) the South and the Plains, both with E/W orientations — with persistence of native American languages as the dependent variable.
“I bet you could get data for such a test, though with [values] n=4, I’m not sure we could do too much in the analysis!”


The Grand Library of Ephesus: Not Celsus. But Wilson?

Below lay the library, eight Greek columns with Doric capitals, great graceful glass doors like reflective eyes.

‘The library is the focal point of the university,’ he said.

They walked step by step toward it. It was the shape of the Parthenon. The smell that came out the swinging doors toward them was cool, bookish, and echoey.

‘Let’s go in!’ he whispered.

‘Are we supposed to?’

‘Of course!’ Actually he did not know whether they were allowed or not, but because she questioned, he bade, his authority staked on it.

Step by step they mounted the stairs. They stopped under the columns, looking upward. Isn’t beautiful?’ he asked, reveling….

They entered through the glass doors. Once in the elegant foyer, they were awed by the tallness of the high green dome, the marble floor, the chiseled staircase, the cold draft, and the whispers. They clung near each other, inching toward the carved banisters that led to the second floor, the Main Library.

‘Are you a bookworm?’ she whispered.
‘I am too.’

There was a naked statue of a Woman of Learning with nothing on and a book in her hand. She stood at the bottom of the stairway near a glass display case showing pictures of textile machinery.

‘I am going to this university too,’ Urie suddenly announced.

Her words felt momentous. These were the first words since the Bishops had arrived in Ephesus that gave a definite direction to her future. Yet the minute she had spoken them, it seemed settled and lost all importance. On the way upstairs they passed a drinking fountain. They bent down and drank out of it….

At the top of the stairs there was another statue. It was of a naked boy faun taking a splinter out of his foot. He had a wicked look on his face, and his big toe pointed to the card catalogue.

‘Urie,’ said Zebul.
‘Let’s take out a book!’
‘Can we?’
‘But what if it’s just for college students?’
‘All they can say is No, isn’t it? We’ll say we are students. They’ll never know whether college or high school.’
‘How old are you?’ she asked.
‘Thirteen, but my birthday is in sixty-four days.’
‘I am one month older than you,’ she said.
‘Be very nonchalant,’ ordered Zebul.
He headed for the card catalogue. She followed him. He opened a drawer. It was like a mouth opening. They stared at the names, thousands of them slipping before them.

–From Entering Ephesus, the 1971 novel by Chapel Hill writer Daphne Athas. The passage is part of a larger excerpt from Athas’s novel that’s featured in the recently-published compilation 27 Views of Chapel Hill.

Entering Ephesus is a coming of age novel centered around the Bishop family–parents and three daughters–living an impoverished, and somewhat bohemian, life in the towns of Haw and Ephesus. Haw, a working class town with an old mill, resembles Carrboro. And Ephesus, a college town, appears modeled after Chapel Hill.

The ancient city of Ephesus featured a grand library that also served as the tomb for the Roman governor Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. But the library described in the passage above bears a remarkable resemblance to a place closer to home and near to the hearts of North Carolina Collection staffers, the Louis Round Wilson Library. Wilson was the main library at UNC for more than 50 years.

I hate to ruin the beauty of Athas’s writing by planting a real image in your heads. But here’s a photograph of The Boy With a Thorn, a statue that rests at the end of the main hallway on the second floor of Wilson. It’s a late 19th-century Italian marble copy of the original Greek bronze titled The Spinario, which dates to 500-400 B.C. The sculptor of the statue in Wilson was P. Bazzanti of Florence. Bazzanti’s work furnished the home of George Watts Hill of Durham until he gave it to Wilson Library in 1952.

Photo of marble statue of Boy with Thorn in Foot

Some “summer” recipes to celebrate this 1st day of summer.

From High Hampton Hospitality.

From Dixie Dishes.

From Good Eatin’ from Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, Durham, North Carolina.

From Carolina Cooking.

From The Charlotte Cookbook.

From Soup to Nuts: a Cook Book of Recipes Contributed by Housewives and Husbands of Alamance County and Other Sections of State and Country.