“Perhaps [no populist politician in the South and West] used barbecue more effectively than Eugene Talmadge, who served three terms as governor of Georgia….
“In 1932 he kicked off his first campaign with a rally in his hometown of McRae. Local farmers donated over 10,000 pounds of pigs and goats, and they were cooked over a shallow pit by Norman Graham, the ‘Barbecue King of Telfair County’…. Talmadge staged similar barbecues in most of Georgia’s rural counties. ‘We didn’t carry any counties with streetcars running in them,’ he later noted, but he won the election handily.
“During Talmadge’s reelection bids, ‘the Tree-Climbing Haggards of Danielsville’ became a regular part of the barbecues. The elder Haggard and his eight sons dressed like Gene Talmadge in black suits, wide-brimmed hats and red suspenders. They climbed to the top of tall pine trees around the barbecue grove and shouted down scripted cues like, ‘Tell us about the schoolteachers, Gene!’ and ‘Tell us about the old folks!’
“One afternoon a Haggard boy ate a little too much barbecue at the previous campaign stop and dozed off. He tumbled through the pine branches to the ground, bringing Talmadge’s speech to a crashing halt and demonstrating the perils of too much political barbecue.”
— From “Eugene Talmadge and the Art of Political Barbecue” by Robert Moss (southernfoodways.blogspot.com, Sept. 11)
Of course, North Carolina has its own history of “the perils of too much political barbecue” — or at least the perils of complaining about it.
“In the important town of Charlotte, North Carolina, I found a white man who owned the comfortable house in which he lived, who had a wife and three half-grown children, and yet had never taken a newspaper in his life. He thought they were handy for wrapping purposes, but he couldn’t see why anybody wanted to bother with the reading of them. He knew some folks spent money for them, but he also knew a-many houses where none had ever been seen….
“I found several persons — whites, and not of the ‘clay-eater’ class, either — who never had been inside a school-house, and who didn’t mean to ‘low their children to go inside one.”
— From “Three Months Among the Reconstructionists” by correspondent Sidney Andrews in The Atlantic (February 1866)
About that “clay-eater” reference: In 1866, a dispatch in The New York Times described “the notorious clay-eaters [as] the lowest representatives of the United States … little more than mere animals … strange, undeveloped [and] repulsive…. For the most part, however, they are long-lived and rarely ill, realizing the old notion that dirt is extremely healthy.”
By 1984 the Times was regarding the practice less with disgust than with clinical curiosity.
“Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the title of a 1960s television series named for its star. It was ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ not ‘The Andy Griffin Show.’ ”
— From “Recalling TV’s Golden Age, Stars Pitch Products Tied to Their Shows” in the New York Times (Dec. 5)
“I’m an editor at The Duke Chronicle, and I received a request from a researcher at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism to fill out a survey designed to ‘identify attitudes toward the implementation of monetization of mobile media products.’ Pretty standard stuff in media research these days. But here’s the punch line: it came in the mail — snail mail.
“This isn’t just a Blue Devil looking to rat out a Tar Heel. I just can’t believe that in 2013 someone would mail a survey to college students, let alone a survey about digital media!”
— From Lauren Carroll’s letter to jimromenesko.com (Dec. 4)
The Napoleon death mask in the North Carolina Collection Gallery, described by Nicholas Graham as “what must be the Gallery’s most unexpected holding,” is rare indeed but not unique. In fact, the recent sale of a similar mask and its proposed export from England are causing a minor international incident.
Interviewed in June by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — Pittsburgh has its own Napoleon mask — former Gallery keeper Neil Fulghum compounded the controversy by expressing doubts about the provenance of the mask sold in England.
If that Napoleonic issue is ever settled, perhaps we can concentrate on the origins of “Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba.”