UNC researcher debunks ‘Black Friday’ origin

“Beginning in the nineteen-thirties, fans thronged Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium for the Army-Navy football game…. The game was frequently held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and just as visiting fans were showing up the day before, holiday shoppers also would descend on downtown…. The cops nicknamed the day of gridlock Black Friday, and soon others started to do the same….

“Retailers worried the phrase would scare people away…..  A few decades later, when the term came to describe a day when retailers’ ledgers shifted ‘into the black’ for the year — a connotation also pushed by marketers — people assumed that had always been the connotation.

“That idea never made sense to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an amateur etymologist. ‘Since when was “Black Friday” ever used in a positive manner?’ she wrote in an e-mail. She searched for the earliest uses of the phrase, finally landing on [the Philadelphia]  reference, a discovery Taylor-Blake reported to the listserv of the American Dialect Society….

“Puncturing the myths surrounding Christmas, even cynically manufactured ones, can make a person feel like the Grinch, but Taylor-Blake hasn’t suffered. ‘I’m fortunate that family, friends, and co-workers I’ve shared this story with are, like me, skeptical at heart,’ she said. She doesn’t care much for shopping; on Black Friday, she plans to stay home.”

— From “”Everything You Know about Black Friday is Wrong” by Amy Merrick in the New Yorker (Nov. 28)


A challenging assignment for Thomas Hart Benton

“Thomas Hart Benton… counterposed the truth of his art against the lies of advertising in an account of his dispute with the American Tobacco Company in 1943.

“The company, pioneering what has become a standard business practice, sought to counteract its federal conviction for price-fixing by hiring N.W. Ayer to surround it with ‘jes’ folks’ imagery. Benton was a natural choice for the assignment: His work was accessible but carried connotations of high-art legitimacy. Yet when Benton was sent to the hills of south Georgia, and painted what the saw — black people harvesting tobacco — the agency executives complained: ‘The Negro institutions would boycott our products and cost us thousands of dollars if we showed pictures of this sort. They want Negroes presented as well-dressed and respectable members of society. If we did this, of course, then the whole of the white South would boycott us. So the only thing to do is to avoid the representation of Negroes entirely in advertising.’

“So Benton went to North Carolina ‘where the hillbillies handle tobacco’ and produced a picture of an old man and his granddaughter; the agency thought it was fine but that the girl was too skinny. ‘ “Everything about tobacco must look healthy,” the advertising people declared….’ ”

— From “Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America” by Jackson Lears (1995)


Happy Thanksgiving AND Hanukkah! (Recipes from the collection)

Turkey-in-the-bag - Soup to Nuts

Turkey-In-The-Bag from Soup to nuts : a cook book of recipes contributed by housewives and husbands of Alamance County and other sections of state and country.

Onion-Braised Overnight Brisket - Cooking in the Moment

Onion-Braised Overnight Brisket from Cooking in the moment : a year of seasonal recipes.

Baked Macaroni with Cheese - Supper's at Six

Baked Macaroni with Cheese from Supper’s at six and we’re not waiting!

Challah - Pass the Plate

Challah from Pass the plate : the collection from Christ Church.

Corn Bread Stuffing-Hallelujah! The Welcome Table

Corn Bread Stuffing from Hallelujah! the welcome table : a lifetime of memories with recipes.

Latkes (potato pancakes) - Columbus County Cookbook II

Latkes from Columbus County cookbook II.

String bean casserole - Favorite Recipes of Women's Fellowship of The United Church

String Bean Casserole from Favorite recipes.

Noodle Kugel - Mountain Elegance

Noodle Kugel from Mountain elegance : a collection of favorite recipes.

Grandma's pumpkin pie - Historic Moores Creek Cook Book

Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie from Historic Moores Creek cook book : a collection of old and new recipes.

Doughnuts - Capital City

Doughnuts from Capital city cook book : a collection of practical tested receipts.



Pick up the phone, it’s Lee Harvey Oswald

Fifty years ago today — the day after Oswald killed Kennedy, the day before Ruby killed Oswald — a telephone call may have been attempted from the Dallas jail to a number in Raleigh. Regardless, no call went through.

This lengthy and evenhanded account of the episode appeared in the News & Observer in 1980, but what has become known to the conspiracy community as “the Raleigh Call” continues to defy convincing explanation.


UNC responds to John F. Kennedy’s assassination

“….Students and townspeople, returning to work or classes after a late lunch, heard the news and flocked to radios, television sets and wire service tickers in town and on the campus. Preparations for the Beat Dook parade ground to a halt as the parade was canceled…. As the news spread over the campus and the town, traffic gradually slowed and shocked people didn’t want to comment on their feelings.”

“Campus Reacts in Shock as Tragic News Spreads,” The Daily Tar Heel, November 23, 1963.


“Three minutes after news of the President’s death was received, the bell in South Building began tolling, followed by knells from the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. An ROTC Band ready for the Beat Dook parade walked at slow-time through the University campus, with horns muted in a funeral dirge. Then a combined Air Force and Naval ROTC unit held a retreat ceremony at the campus flagpole. Some 200 yards from where the President had spoken in Kenan Stadium on Oct. 12, 1861, a lone bugler blew ‘Taps,’ and from a hilltop overlooking the stadium another bugler echoed the mournful notes.”

“A Funeral Dirge & Mournful Taps,” The Chapel Hill Weekly, November 22, 1963.


“Full comprehension of President John F. Kennedy’s death came slowly in Chapel Hill. Hours after official confirmation of his death an air of disbelief hung about most of the Town, almost as if people were trying deliberately to avoid the full impact of the news. There were few public displays of open grief, none of anything like hysteria. But the affairs of the Town slowed perceptibly almost everywhere, in places halted totally. Activity that continued did so with numb roteness.

All along Franklin Street knots of people bunched around radios and television sets in stores. It was possible to pace completely through the business block and never be out of earshot of news of the President’s assassination. The Post Office flag was lowered to half-mast immediately on confirmation of the President’s death. Many of the crowd along the street had come to watch the Beat Dook parade, but news of the parade’s cancellation did not circulate completely right away. About a hundred expectant spectators sat on the wall along the south side of Franklin Street.

….In front of Electric Construction Company a crowd bulged along the sidewalk, watching a television set placed in the door. Trade, at times pretty desultory, continued at most stores. The banks opened their doors for regular Friday afternoon business, but customers had no trouble finding a vacant teller’s window.

At the corner of Graham and West Franklin Street Patrolman Parrish Womble waited for rush hour traffic that never did rush. The Graham Street area, usually a merry one on Friday afternoons, was noticeably slow.

….Graham Memorial was hushed except for television sets. Student government offices closes, all student functions were cancelled. A few students shed quiet tears, but remained watching television for hours after the news first came. The Bell Tower pealed ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ over the campus….

When the news came, many University classes were immediately dismissed.”

“Chapel Hill Mourns the Loss,” The Chapel Hill Weekly, November 24, 1963.


“When President Kennedy was assassinated, the report of his death was met with cheers by students in a Durham County schoolroom. A Chapel Hill grade school student’s reaction was, ‘I’m glad.’ Members of a fraternity at the University here frolicked at an out-of-doors beer bust which might not have been promoted in observance of the President’s death, but certainly was not at all sobered by the news. One coed, asked if she had heard, replied, ‘So what?’ A UNC instructor and his companion dining in Lenoir Hall were openly pleased. A formerly respected businessman said, ‘He … had it coming.’ This is what Chief Justice Earl Warren meant when he spoke of the hate and bitterness that has infected the blood of America… the outspoken hatred of supposedly mature and intelligent people is a festering sore on the face of America and it makes you wonder what in the name of God we are coming to….”

Editorial, The Chapel Hill Weekly, November 27, 1963.


Thanks to North Carolina Miscellany friend Lynn Roundtree for sharing these excerpts.

Prometheus undone and historic evidence gone missing

This account of how British scientists in 2006 accidentally killed the world’s oldest known clam reminded me of a how a UNC Chapel Hill scientist in 1964 accidentally killed the world’s oldest known tree.

Felling the bristlecone pine that came to be known as Prometheus put geography graduate student Donald Rusk Currey at the center of intense criticism. But the incident led to greater protections for ancient trees and to the creation of Great Basin National Park in Nevada, thanks in part to Currey’s own lobbying of Congress.

He was professor emeritus of geography at the University of Utah when he died at age 70 in 2004.

Currey had been unaware of the age of the not-yet-famous tree until he took a pieced-together, polished cross-section back to his lab at Chapel Hill and counted its 4,844 rings.

I asked Barbara Taylor Davis, manager of the geography department, about the cross-section’s current whereabouts. “Dr. David Basile, who was Department Chair from 1967-1977, and retired in 1985, was the last known person with the slab,” she said.  “Unfortunately, he passed away in 1985…. I wish I could be more helpful — the department would love to still have ‘the slab’!”


Raleigh, please forgive us. What if the oceans DO rise?

One day, I’ll look back fondly and tell my grandkids about the week I spent flooding the planet.

It began as a lark. For the past few months, I’ve been writing installments of a serialized science fiction novel about a world in which the oceans have risen nearly 80 meters and most of the human race now lives at sea. As the characters in my story ventured closer to shore, I realized I needed a simple way to visualize what that world would look like. I took to Google Earth and Inkscape—both free, readily available software packages—and simulated 80 meters of sea level rise. The results were stark, post-apocalyptic images of city skylines, submerged. Los Angeles was completely inundated south of the financial district. In D.C, only the Washington Monument rose above the encroaching Potomac. Telegraph Hill was an island in the expanded San Francisco Bay. North Carolina was a warm, shallow sea stretching from the Outer Banks to Rocky Mount. Florida was gone.

–Duke-trained marine ecologist Andrew David Thaler from “Why I Drowned L.A. and the World”. Thaler, the editor in chief of “Southern Fried Science”, offered instructions on “How to Drown Your Town.”

Image of Raleigh with 105 meters of sea level rise
Raleigh with 105 meters of sea level rise
Raleigh with 108 meters of sea level rise
Raleigh with 108 meters of sea level rise
Duke University at 120 meters of sea level rise
Duke University at 120 meters of sea level rise
Kenan Stadium with 135 meters of sea level rise
Kenan Stadium with 135 meters of sea level rise
The Old Well with 150 meters of sea level rise
The Old Well with 150 meters of sea level rise
Charlotte with 220 meters of sea level rise
Charlotte with 220 meters of sea level rise

He paid high price for being a Communist

On this day in 1954: Junius Scales, head of the Communist Party in the Carolinas, is arrested by the FBI and charged under the 1940 Smith Act with membership in an organization advocating violent overthrow of the government. Scales, a longtime resident of Chapel Hill, is a scion of a prominent Greensboro family — both his father and grandfather were state senators.

Scales will be convicted at his trial in Greensboro and sentenced to six years in prison. In 1961, after an unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Scales (who resigned from the Communist Party in 1957, soon after the Soviet invasion of Hungary) begins serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. On Christmas Eve 1962 President John Kennedy frees Scales, the only American to spend time in prison for being a Communist, by commuting his sentence to parole on his own recognizance.


Sorry, Thomas Wolfe….Sorry, Charles Frazier….

“…I clicked immediately, curious to see ‘the most famous book’ set in North Carolina. Would it be Thomas Wolfe’s ‘Look Homeward Angel?’ Charles Frazier’s ‘Cold Mountain’? Or maybe ‘A Long and Happy Life,’ the debut novel that vaulted Reynolds Price to national fame?
“Wrong, wrong and wrong. The most famous book set in North Carolina, according to Business Insider, is….”

— From “What’s the most famous book set in North Carolina?” by Pam Kelley at charlotteobserver.com

A somewhat similar undertaking from 2012: “The six most influential books in telling North Carolina’s history….Discuss!”


Artifact of the Month: Slide rule, 1916

Sam Cooke was just being clever when he sang “…don’t know what a slide rule is for.”

I, on the other hand, genuinely don’t know. But that won’t stop me from declaring a 1916 slide rule to be November’s Artifact of the Month.

slide rule

slide rule

slide rule

UNC alumnus Bill Higgins generously donated this artifact as part of a collection of student memorabilia that belonged to his father, Charles W. Higgins, UNC Class of 1917.

yearbook scan
Charles W. Higgins in the 1917 UNC yearbook

The rule’s manufacturer, Keuffel & Esser Co., operated out of Hoboken, New Jersey and sold slide rules from 1886 to 1976, according to The International Slide Rule Museum.

slide rule

This version, model 4053 3, features a conversion table on the back. Like the rule itself, many of its conversions bear little relevance to life in 2013.

slide rule

slide rule

The International Slide Rule Museum tells us that in 1967, Keuffel & Esser Co. commissioned a study of the future, predicting that Americans in 2067 would live in domed cities and watch 3D television. “Unfortunately for the company, the report failed to predict that slide rules would be obsolete in less than ten years, replaced by the pocket calculator.”

Still, it’s easy to believe that Charles Higgins, a Mathematical Club member, probably made good use of this tool in 1916. And while we in the NCC Gallery can’t fully appreciate its mathematical value, we certainly do appreciate its historical value.