Remembering the day I almost found a cure for cancer

“2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the year in which humanity finally cured cancer. Readers of today’s obituary pages may doubt this. But I know about the anniversary because I broke the cancer cure story for the Associated Press. Forty years later, alas, my story remains unmatched. The experience taught me a valuable lesson about journalism.

“I was a 23-year-old reporter working for the AP in Charlotte, alone in the office on an autumn Saturday evening….”

— From “Reporter at Work: It Could Have Been My Biggest Story” by Bob Cullen at (Dec. 13, 2012)

Reporters such as Cullen have always struggled with speed vs. accuracy. Unfortunately, as coverage of the Newtown killings illustrates, speed now seems to have claimed the upper hand. 


North Carolina’s faithless elector in 1968

Clip from December 17, 1968 News and Observer
Following the Constitutional mandate that they gather on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of the month, the state’s 15 electors met at the old state Capitol building earlier today and cast their votes. The outcome of their balloting was as expected. Reflecting the Republican ticket’s victory in the popular vote here, the electors unanimously backed Mitt Romney for President and Paul Ryan for vice president.

Although tradition holds that North Carolina electors select the slate that won the popular vote, there is no law requiring them to do so. Lloyd W. Bailey made that point clear—and earned the title of faithless elector—on December 16, 1968 when he voted for the American Independent Party slate of George Wallace and Curtis LeMay. The Republican ticket of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew won the state’s popular vote in November. But Bailey, a Rocky Mount ophthalmologist and John Birch Society member, told his fellow electors that he believed Nixon would not produce change in Washington. He defended his stance further by noting that some Nixon appointees are “members of the un-American and infamous Council on Foreign Relations.” Bailey cited Henry Kissinger, diplomats Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and Robert D. Murphy, and economist Paul W. McCracken as members of the group. “This organization, called The Invisible Government by Dan Smoot in his book by this title, is one which seeks to undermine our national sovereignty and merge us with the other nations under a world government, perhaps like the United Nations,” he said. Bailey also pointed out that the Wallace-LeMay ticket had carried the district he represented.

Bailey’s protest vote is one of several facts that distinguish the 1968 electoral college gathering in North Carolina. The meeting was the first for Republican electors in 40 years. And, as reported in Dec. 17, 1968 edition of The News and Observer, the session was delayed for about 75 minutes by “the absence of anyone acquainted with the procedures involved, the absence of a judge to administer the electors’ oaths and by an error in the minutes, which had been prepared in advance.”

State GOP chairman Jim Holshouser, who, in 1972, would become the first Republican elected governor of N.C. in the 20th century, served as the temporary chairman of the meeting. Electors should have received instruction in the process from Secretary of State Thad Eure, but he was sick with the flu. Holshouser enlisted Chief Judge Raymond Mallard of the N.C. Court of Appeals to administer the oath. Twelve of the 13 electors placed their hands on a single Bible brought by Mallard and took the oath. The 13th elector, Mrs. R. Curtis Ratliff, was a stand-in for her husband, who, as clerk of Buncombe County Superior Court, stood to violate a state law prohibiting double office holding if he voted as an elector. The meeting’s minutes required altering because they had been prepared in advance by the state Attorney General’s office on the assumption that all electors would vote for Nixon and Agnew.

At the conclusion of the much-delayed session, the vote tally of 12 for Nixon-Agnew and 1 for Wallace-LeMay was sealed and sent to Washington, D.C., where it was tabulated by Congress on January 6.

Wright Brothers in the News, 1903

Our friends at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources remind us that today is the anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Here’s how the story was reported in the Chatham Record published on December 24, 1903:

The story goes on to describe the dramatic scene, but, unfortunately, the microfilm that was digitized was quite faded, making the story difficult to read. Aviation aficionados may still want to give it a shot — by zooming in all the way on the text, it’s possible to make out just about every word. The story is on page two, at the top of the page.

Just in from Charlotte: A new variation on ‘y’all’?

As a lifelong Southerner, I have witnessed many abuses to “y’all.”

I have seen its apostrophe misplaced.

I have heard it misused to address one person, rather than two or more.

But until recently I hadn’t even considered the possibility of redundant pluralization.

As a friend and I finished breakfast at a local Pancake House, the waitress handed us the check with a cheery “OK, this is y’all’s-es’.” (Spelling suggestion, anyone?)

What a word! More amusing than offensive, at least to my ear. Is it a fledgling neologism — or have I just not been paying attention?


Beethoven bonfire at Black Mountain?

“In 1948, his first year of teaching at Black Mountain College, John Cage gave a lecture on Erik Satie, at the time a little-known French composer. To make his point about Satie’s significance, Cage weighed him against a composer who needed no introduction. ‘Beethoven was in error,’ he said, ‘and his influence, which has been as extensive as it is lamentable, has been deadening to the art of music.’ All that could be said of the German composer is that his legacy was to ‘practically shipwreck the art on an island of decadence’….

“For his apostasy Cage not only alienated several friends among the Black Mountain music faculty but inspired, at least if the anecdotes can be believed, a number of students to torch their Beethoven records.”

— From “Roll Over Beethoven” at (Dec/Jan 2013)


Artifact of the Month: Joe Camel holiday lighter

Camel lighter

We reached into our tobacco ephemera collection in search of something seasonal and found our December artifact of the month, a holiday-edition “Joe Camel” lighter. On the lighter, Mr. Camel is smoking, naturally. He’s also jamming on a keyboard, wearing sunglasses and a red bowtie. Just off to the side, a red cocktail with a holly garnish stands at the ready.

Joe, the Camel cigarette advertising mascot, gallantly wishes “a smooth holiday season to all.”

Camel lighter

A brief history of Joe Camel, for those not smooth enough to remember: Joe was born in 1974, first used to advertise Camel cigarettes in a French poster. He didn’t appear in the U.S. until 1987, when his image was used by Greensboro-based Trone Advertising to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Camel. In 1991, R.J. Reynolds boasted that Joe Camel’s line of merchandise brought in $40 million a year in advertising revenue.

In 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that Camel didn’t consider very cool: The study found that there was no difference between the number of 6-year-olds who could match Joe Camel with cigarettes and the number who could match the Disney Channel logo with Mickey Mouse. Other studies followed. Things got litigious, with complaints and lawsuits between the Federal Trade Commission and R.J. Reynolds.

Eventually, in 1997, R.J. Reynolds voluntarily ended the use of Joe Camel in its advertising.

Is this really an important artifact?

This particular Joe Camel lighter is disposable, made of cheap plastic, designed to be discarded after lighting its last Camel. So why, then, has this bit of “junk” found a home in the NCC Gallery, along with Civil War artifacts and Chang Bunker’s rifle?

Our collection of tobacco ephemera provides a three-dimensional record of the tobacco industry’s public face, particularly as it’s changed over the years. Cigarette marketing and advertising give us a singular glimpse into the appeal and perception of tobacco use by the American public, as well as industry efforts to shape those perceptions.

Joe Camel hasn’t been gone for long but the cultural moment that allowed him to exist already seems like ancient times. We’re glad to have the lighter as a relic of that bygone era.

Why Duke parents should stick to radio

“That they will spend $60,000 a year to send their son to Duke and then they will will turn on the TV and see him half-naked with his face painted blue, contorted, screaming at some poor guy from Wake Forest or Clemson shooting a free throw.”

— Frank Deford, describing “American parents’ worst nightmare” on NPR’s “Morning Edition”


Santa Claus in North Carolina

We’ve been mining the collections at DigitalNC for references to and images of Santa Claus in the Tar Heel state. We put together a Flickr set with some of our finds, which include some terrific images of Santa in Rocky Mount, Pinehurst, Burgaw, and Ashe County, lots of ads, and my favorite, a photo of Santa on mop duty at the Overseas Relocation Depot in Greensboro in 1944.

I was particularly interested in looking through the old newspapers we’ve digitized to see how early I could find a reference to Santa Claus in North Carolina papers. The oldest I could find was from 1848, a quarter-century after Clement Clarke Moore first published “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

The Lincoln Courier from January 20, 1848 ran a piece by a “Major Jones” about hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve. It was written in dialect, and did not have any clear local connections, so I’m assuming this was reprinted from another publication. Major Jones writes,

When I was a boy I never used to miss hanging up my stockins, and I’ll have to be a good deal older than I am before I forget with what hopeful morality I used to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, or with what eager expectation I used to wake in the mornin to count over the ginger-cakes and lasses candy which I was always sure to git from good old Santa Claus.

The earliest reference I could find with a definite local connection was from an issue of the Wilson Advance published on December 16, 1881. A correspondent from Whitakers, N.C., described as “one of the liveliest little places on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad,” writes,

Santa Claus is seen in every store and shop window, and from all appearances the little ones will awake on Christmas morn with full stockings and glad hearts.

Recipes for every kind of fruit cake you can imagine and then some.

“Easy Fruit Cake”

“Ice Box Fruit Cake” from Historic Moores Creek Cook Book: A Collection of Old and New Recipes.

“Japanese Fruit Cake”

“Applesauce Fruit Cake” from Hyde County Cook Book.

“Black Fruit Cake” from Auntie’s Cook Book: Favorite Recipes.

“Grandmother Hall’s Scotch Fruit Cake”

“Inexpensive Fruit Cake” from Favorite Recipes of the Lower Cape Fear.

“White Fruit Cake” from Dixie Dishes.

“Uncooked Fruit Cake” from Just like Grandma Used to Make.

“Molasses and Fruit Cake” from Buffet Benny’s Family Cookbook: Recipes, Stories & Poems from the Appalachian Mountains.

Check out what’s new in the North Carolina Collection.

Several new titles just added to “New in the North Carolina Collection.” To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the “New in the North Carolina Collection” tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.