Our State’s 100 N.C. Icons: What’s Missing?

Our State Magazine's 100 N.C. Icons
The July 2012 issue of Our State includes the editors’ list of 100 North Carolina icons. The list is a mix of the broad and the specific. The state can proudly lay claim to Doc Watson, Krispy Kreme, Thomas Wolfe and Belk. But I don’t think clay, sweet tea or black bears are exclusive to North Carolina. Tell us what or whom you would include and, just as importantly, what or whom you would leave out.

We’ll get you started. We don’t see the North Carolina Collection on the list.
Now it’s your turn. Don’t delay!

As others see us: ‘Hanging truck’ tours Sixth Avenue

“After two decades of living in Manhattan, this average New Yorker believed he had seen everything. Today proved that a false assumption…. Someone is driving around with the President hanging in effigy on a truck? Why?…

“VR Phipps from North Carolina believes family members were murdered by local law enforcement and a massive cover-up has prevented him from getting justice. So, Phipps built a gallows in his backyard and also constructed a hanging truck….  [In addition to Obama] the version seen today [on Sixth Avenue] has a judge, a highway patrolman, a former N.C. attorney general, the current governor of North Carolina, a chief counsel and a county sheriff.”

— From “Why Is a Hangin’ Truck Driving Around NYC With President Obama On a Noose?”   by Mike Opelka on The Blaze (May 4)

This sighting of the hanging truck is weeks old, and its current whereabouts are unknown. Perhaps VR Phipps has returned it to Duplin County, where he staged this video entitled “President Obama Visits the Hanging Truck.”

Despite the burst of attention on political blogs, this isn’t the truck’s first trip to New York — and downtown Raleigh got its own eyeful in 2010.

According to Phipps’ blog, his troubles are nothing new: “Duplin County is known for its family run corrupt judicial system since the 1898 marriage of the Johnsons and the Stevens.”


Heat, flies welcome Union troops to New Bern

On this day in 1862: Private D.L. Day, Co. B, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, writing in his journal in New Bern:

“It is so hot most of the time we are scarcely able to do anything more than keep ourselves as comfortable as possible. All duty is suspended except guard duty and dress parade, and we are getting almost too lazy to eat. In fact we do miss a good many meals unless they happen to have something we like. We lie around in our tents in the shade. I thought I had seen flies at home, but I really believe there are more flies in this camp than there are in the whole state of Massachusetts. Besides, they are regular secesh [secessionist] ones.”


Artifact of the Month: Chang Bunker’s rifle

If you’re a regular follower of the Artifact of the Month, you’ll remember that last month’s post featured Chang Bunker’s silverware. (And if you’re not a regular follower of the Artifact of the Month, why aren’t you?)

This month we’re pleased to share another artifact that sheds some light on the everyday lives of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins.

Chang Bunker's rifle

Recently, Chang’s hunting rifle was generously donated by Dr. Vance Haynes, one of Chang’s descendants.

Chang's rifle

The .41 caliber rifle was made by Jacob Kuntz (Kunz) of Philadelphia and is over fifty-five inches long.

Rifle accessories

Accompanying the rifle are a bag-style copper powder flask, a single-cavity iron ball mold, and a copper funnel.

rifle close-up

The rifle is impressive in its beauty and the quality of its craftsmanship. But what’s even more remarkable to the twenty-first century observer is its weight. This is a heavy weapon. To imagine lifting it — let alone shooting it — even without being a conjoined twin is a reminder of how much hardier our nineteenth-century forbears really were. That Chang fired it, as he did, attached at the sternum to his brother is yet another reminder of the Bunkers’ resilience.

Beech Mountain’s Yellow Brick Road too seldom traveled

On this day in 1970: The Land of Oz, a theme park based on “The Wizard of Oz,” opens atop Beech Mountain.

The park, imaginatively conceived by Charlotte artist Jack Pentes, proves too low-tech, too small and too remote — and the weather is often dreary. Attendance is 250,000 the first year but only 60,000 in 1980, when the park closes.

A residential development will eventually supplant the abandoned Oz. Artifacts such as the Yellow Brick Road and mechanical pig wind up in Boone’s Appalachian Cultural Museum  — until the museum, too, closes in  2006.

Pictured: Pinback buttons from Land of Oz.


Where small-time journalism digs out big-time corruption

“Yancey County is located in the mountainous western stretch of North Carolina, about 45 minutes from Asheville. The county’s population is less than 18,000, and yet it has two local papers: the Yancey Common Times Journal, which has been in publication more than a hundred years, and the ‘other’ newspaper, the Yancey County News, founded in 2011.

“The paper’s masthead lists only two people — husband and wife Jonathan and Susan Austin — but nevertheless, its first year out the Yancey County News has won two major journalism awards… for stories reporting on corruption in the county’s official channels.”

— From “The Tiny Newspaper in North Carolina that Scooped up Journalism’s Big Prizes” in the Awl, June 8. (Hat tip to John L. Robinson at Media, Disrupted)

How exhilarating in the midst of such depressing newspaper news to be reminded what wonders can be achieved by two people with a press. Congratulations, Austins.

Wilmington 1775: Join resistance or suffer consequences

“In Wilmington, North Carolina, [in 1775] a committee [of insurgents] went door to door for signatures to a new loyalty oath. According to its own minutes, the committee gave holdouts six days to reconsider before it published their names and ordered fellow-citizens to shun and boycott them — a stern but legal measure.

“In the journal of a visiting Englishwoman, however, [was] found another version. In downtown Wilmington one day, the woman saw a number of her American friends on the street: ‘I stopped to speak to them, but they with one voice begged me for heaven’s sake to get off the street, making me observe they were prisoners . . . and that in all human probability some scene would be acted very unfit for me to witness.’

“Probably, they expected a punishment like tarring and feathering, which would be more humiliating if a woman they knew was watching.

“Militiamen said the Englishwoman’s friends were free to go if they signed the loyalty oath. She waited in a house nearby while her friends held out, and sometime after two in the morning they were released.”

— From a review of  “American Insurgents, American Patriots” by T.H. Breen in The New Yorker, Dec. 20, 2010


Honors for ex-keeper of Pea Island Life Saving Station

Postcard of crew of Pea Island Life Saving Station

Benjamin Bowser had first come to the station the season before. Etheridge had initially hired him to be the ‘winter man’–the number seven surfman who augmented the crew by one from December through March, the most dangerous months.

As the newest and lowest-ranking member of the crew, Bowser had to prove he deserved his place among the veterans. He was the designated volunteer for all the least desirable duties. When they made mock rescues during the weekly Monday and Thursday drilling with the beach apparatus, Bowser stood in as the ‘shipwreck victim,’ waiting out on the wreck pole to be hauled in on the breeches buoy while the others operated the Lyle gun, lines and crotch. And the keeper thought nothing of waking up a rookie surfman in the middle of the night–any of the crew, for that matter, but especially a rookie–and having him recite on the spot procedures and codes from the ‘blue jacket’ manual. Each man understood that, even in a haze of sleep, he’d better know the material….

At twenty-eight, Bowser was the youngest of the crew, and standing five feet eleven inches, he was also the tallest. Lithe and bespectacled, he looked sharp: quick-witted and nimble afoot. Before joining the service, Bowser, like his father before him, had fished….

The future surfman learned quickly to work an oar and steer a boat in both sound and sea. He understood the tides, weather, and such of the region, and the Bowsers, father and son, had success fishing….Still, despite his good fortune as a fisher, the steady income and the status of being a surfman drew the younger Bowser to Pea Island.

–from Fire on the Beach : Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers by David Wright and David Zoby.

Benjamin Bowser Jr. served at the Pea Island Life Saving Station from 1884-1900. The lifesaving station was staffed by an all-black crew and is credited for saving more than 600 lives, the greatest number of rescues of any station in the Life Saving Service. Bowser worked under Richard Etheridge, Pea Island’s first station keeper. When Etheridge died in 1900, Bowser took over as keeper. Sadly, he served as keeper for only a few weeks before dying. Bowser is being honored tonight in Jarvisburg.

O. Henry had to die to make it back to North Carolina

A work as ambitious as John Sutherland’s just-published “Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives” is bound to contain errors, but of course the one that caught my eye was the mislocated North Caroliniana:

“[William Sydney Porter] died, aged only 48, of alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver, in North Carolina where he had gone to recover his health.”

Actually, the Greensboro-born Porter — known to generations of readers as O. Henry — died in New York City (on June 5, 1910, which made him 47, not 48). He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, near his wife’s hometown of Weaverville.