As hurricane rattled ship, an impromptu jazz concert

On this day in 1933: “En route from Havana to New York, the luxury passenger ship Morro Castle was stranded off Cape Hatteras in a hurricane. The entire orchestra was seasick and the ship’s 140 passengers gathered in the lounge because of water in some cabins.

“Twenty-two-year-old Gwendolyn Taylor of Philadelphia distracted the crowd with piano playing and singing. ‘I thought I ought to do something,’ she later recounted, ‘and the only thing I could do was play. So I played. I sang, too; only cheerful things. I think some of the women wanted to hear hymns, but I thought they needed jazz more.’ ”

— From “On This Day in Outer Banks History” by Sarah Downing (2014)

Being stranded overnight off Hatteras was far from the worst misfortune the Morro Castle would encounter.


Booker T. Washington signed it — and the rest is mystery

“On a warm January day in 1903, the most famous and influential black leader in America came to San Diego.

“Booker T. Washington created such a stir that roughly 15 percent of the city’s population showed up to hear him speak on ‘The Negro Problem.’

“Washington’s visit is a little-known episode in the city’s halting march forward on civil rights, and now it has a fascinating footnote, a bit of cross-country serendipity involving an autographed first-edition book, a library sale and a retired law enforcement administrator with a keen eye for what things are and where they belong.

“The book is ‘Character Building,’ a 1902 collection of speeches by Washington. He signed it and gave it to his host in San Diego, George Marston, the city’s most prominent merchant, who in turn cherished it enough to put one of his personal bookplates on the inside of the front cover.

“And then, somehow, it wound up in North Carolina 112 years later….”

— From “Book bought in North Carolina comes home to San Diego” by John Wilkens in the San Diego Union-Tribune (Sept. 5)

It was High Point Public Library volunteer Bill Phillips who spotted the book, paid $2 for it and donated it to the San Diego History Center. But Phillips has not a clue to its puzzling past: “I hope some unsuspecting person will come forward and say, ‘Oh, that was in a batch of books I left there.’ “

Might any Miscellany readers know (or want to speculate) how “Character Building” made its way from San Diego to High Point?


Chapel Hill drinkers to ABC stores: Got rye?

“Statewide, [liquor] drinking habits follow patterns, sometimes unexpected ones. Rural counties like Bertie, Greene and Hertford have an outsized appetite for gin, while Dare, Currituck, Onslow and other coastal counties imbibe rum at an accelerated rate….

“Tennessee whiskey sells better closer to North Carolina’s western boundary….  Wake, Durham and Orange counties all are significantly ahead of the state average in rye sales, peaking at 463 percent above the norm in Orange County.

“ ‘Rye is a hot new trend right now, for sure. Most of my business is on the south side in Chapel Hill,’ said Barry Roberts, buyer and warehouse manager for Orange County’s ABC board. ‘Rittenhouse Rye is particularly hard to find. I order it 50 cases at a time when I can get it.’ ”

— From “What We Drink in North Carolina,” an entertaining data dive in the Wilmington Star-News (Sept. 6)

Not so beloved: Elvis Presley Coconut Water Vodka

(Hat tip: John L. Robinson)


Welcome to North Carolina — not so fast, Comrade

“On a 1926 lecture tour, Lucia Ames Mead — the 70-year-old grande dame of peace activism — was ambushed in North Carolina by anti-radicals led by Margaret Overman Gregory, daughter of Senator Lee Overman, who had conducted the famous hearings in 1919 to expose the alleged crimes of Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution….

“Gregory, state DAR regent, warned that North Carolina was ‘the target of the most desperate efforts of the Soviet propagandists seeking the overthrow of the American government and planning for a Red Russian invasion of the South.’

“Gregory and her followers attended Mead’s appearances en masse and prevented her from delivering addresses in Charlotte and Salisbury….”

— From Battling Miss Bolsheviki: The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States” by Kirsten Marie Delegard (2012)


Bill Powell vs. dictionary over ‘Tar Heel’ vs. ‘Tarheel’

“A professor of history at the university in Chapel Hill believes [Tar Heel] should be two words….and he has been campaigning quietly to get the matter corrected and standardized….

William Powell has petitioned Merriam-Webster… whose definition in Webster’s Third Unabridged Dictionary reads: ‘tarheel, also tarheeler: from Tarheel State, nickname for North Carolina; a North Carolinian — a nickname.’

Frederick Mish, joint editorial director for Merriam-Webster, says the spelling as one word is not likely to change for a while.

” ‘We have to weigh evidence from North Carolina as well as evidence from other places. There has to be a clear-cut preponderance one way or another as to spelling….'”

— From “Tarheel or Tar Heel?” by the Associated Press in the Wilmington Star-News (Dec. 11, 1977)

However long it took Merriam-Webster to find its requisite “clear-cut preponderance,” today the online Unabridged refers to “Tar Heel or Tarheel also Tarheeler.”

“Tarheeler”? A topic for another day….