“One reason aluminum was so costly [in 1884] was because it was essential to use the highest purity aluminum oxide available, which happened to be corundum….
“The best crystals were being mined commercially in the gravels, stream beds, mountain sides and soils of the Carolinas, mostly in the Cowee River Valley of Macon County, North Carolina.
“Crystals of corundum are more familiar to us as sapphires and rubies. Rubies are the red ones. Any other color is called sapphire. They are the same gemstones rockhounds have been seeking at Carolina gem mines every summer for years…..
“Next to diamond in hardness, corundum crystals at that time were being used primarily for manufacture into ‘jewels’ for watches and other instruments requiring precision, wear-resistant bearings. Some were fine enough to be fashioned into jewelry, which was why Tiffany’s operated some of the deposits. Some were crushed and used as coatings on ’emery’ paper.
“And some were used as the ‘ore’ for smelting that new metal, aluminum, which possessed the special properties the builders of the Washington Monument found so attractive [for constructing its pyramid-shaped cap]….”
— From “What does the Washington Monument have to do with the gems of North Carolina?” by Dr. Philip Garwood at the Cape Fear Community College Department of Geology (Oct. 8, 2012)
The monument reopened to the public today, nearly three years after suffering earthquake damage.
Now about the editor’s note and the ‘small southern college’—if you see anyone who has also read the note, for God’s sake make plain what I think you understand already—that I had nothing to do with it and didn’t see it until it was published. I do not deny that I may be capable of several small offenses—such as murder, arson, highway robbery, and so on—but I do deny that I have that sort of snob-ism in me. Whoever wrote the note probably put in ‘small southern college’ because he did not remember where I did go, or because, for certain reasons connected with the book, he thought it advisable not to be too explicit.
And after all, Ben, back in the days when you and I were beardless striplings—’forty or fifty years ago,’ as Eddie Greenlaw used to say—the Hill was (praise God!) ‘a small southern college.’ I think we had almost 1000 students our Freshman year, and were beginning to groan about our size. So far from forgetting the blessed place, I think my picture of it grows clearer every year: it was as close to magic as I’ve ever been, and now I’m afraid to go back and see how it is changed. I haven’t been back since our class graduated. Great God! how time has flown, but I am going back within a year (if they’ll let me).
–Thomas Wolfe in a letter to UNC classmate Benjamin Cone, July 29, 1929. Look Homeward, Angel, which features the college town Pulpit Hill, was published in October of the same year.
Chapel Hill will serve as the gathering place for Wolfe scholars and fans on May 23-24 as they assemble for the annual meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society. This year’s conference, themed “Wolfe in His Time, Wolfe in Our Time,” will include a reading by Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina’s poet laureate, in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in the Wilson Special Collections Library at 7:30 pm on May 23. Bathanti’s appearance is free and open to the general public. Other conference programs require advance registration and include talks by Wolfe scholars and enthusiasts. For more information, call 919-962-1172.