‘What of a state’ that refuses to accept fair criticism?

“[I am] pained at the implication in your letter that I was ashamed of North Carolina — only what is N.C. willing to do for me? I don’t think there is a place there now for anyone who cares for anything besides Rotary and Lions and Boosters Clubs, real-estate speculation, ‘heap much’ money, social fawning, good roads, new mills — what, in a word, they choose to call ‘Progress, Progress, Progress.’.…

“N.C. needs honest criticism — rather than the false, shallow ‘we-are-the-finest-state-and-greatest-people-in-the-country’ kind of thing. An artist who refuses to accept fair criticism of his work will never go far. What of a state?.…”

— From Thomas Wolfe’s letter to his mother, Julia, on April 21, 1924. Excerpted in “Thomas Wolfe v. the state of North Carolina, 1924” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (July 19, 2016).

Wolfe, 23, had just begun teaching at New York University.  It would be another five years before publication of “Look Homeward, Angel.”


Ouch! Brits repatriate Lost Colony’s Queen Elizabeth I

“A rare 16th century portrait of Queen Elizabeth I resided for nearly 60 years at the Lost Colony site in Manteo. Proud locals dubbed it ‘the Manteo Queen.’

“Late last year, however, the North Carolina garden club that owned the portrait shipped it quietly to Britain where a buyer acquired it for a reported $51,000 at Sotheby’s, although it had a $100,000 appraisal.

“The buyer, Philip Mould, a London dealer in historic portraits, said he has since resold it to a private collector ‘enthusiastic of royalty.’  ‘It will be staying in England,’ said Mould, who stars in a BBC television show called ‘Fake or Fortune?’

“The abrupt loss of the monarch’s portrait to an overseas dealer – there are only a few of her portraits in the United States – has outraged the American scholars who helped bring international attention to the painting in 2010 after a battery of scientific tests.

“ ‘I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut,’ said Larry Tise, a historian at East Carolina University, who spearheaded the analysis of the painting. ‘This unique portrait – both as a work of art and as a historical artifact – was a great treasure to North Carolina.’ ”

— From “The Lost Colony of Roanoke loses its portrait of Queen Elizabeth I” by Andrew Lawler in the Washington Post (Dec. 21)


1835 constitution spelled hard times for black people

“There early began to be some internal development and growth of self-consciousness among the Negroes…. In North Carolina until 1835 [its] Constitution extended the franchise to every freeman, and when Negroes were disfranchised, several hundred colored men were deprived of the vote. In fact, as Albert Bushnell Hart says, ‘In the colonies freed Negroes, like freed indentured white servants, acquired property, founded families, and came into the political community if they had the energy, thrift, and fortune to get the necessary property.’ ”

— From “The Negro” by W.E.B. Du Bois (1915)


Artifact of the Month: Goody’s Headache Powder store poster

It’s hard to believe that, in more than thirteen years of this blog, we haven’t once mentioned Goody’s Headache Powders. But a search through our archive suggests that may well be true. We’ll remedy that [pun sheepishly intended] with our December Artifact of the Month, a Goody’s Headache Powder store poster.

Goody's Headache Powders sign

According to NCPedia, headache powders have traditionally been popular in North Carolina and throughout the South. Marketed as fast-acting because there’s no pill to dissolve, these remedies were originally formulated as powders because they were cheaper to produce than pills.

The Goody’s brand was born in Winston-Salem in 1932 when tobacco and candy wholesaler A. Thad Lewallen bought the formula from pharmacist Martin C. (Goody) Goodman.

This sign was part of a donation brought to us by retired journalist and frequent Miscellany contributor Lew Powell, who visits the Gallery every December with a delightful aggregation of North Carolina ephemera.

He shared our amusement at the slogan “They are good,” which its creators considered so profound they rendered it in quotation marks.

Lew Powell
Lew Powell lays out his amazing finds.

Based on the price — 2 powders for a nickel, 12 for a quarter — Powell’s educated guess is that the sign dates from 1932 to 1950. We’d welcome comments from any readers in the know who could narrow that down further.

We’re grateful to Lew for another fantastic trove of North Caroliniana. Readers who are interested in seeing more can view the Lew Powell digital collection. It contains only a fraction of the huge collection, but we’ll continue adding to it!

A colorful public life that began on a chandelier

Eaton Brooks, the UNC sophomore whose drunken chandelier-swinging at a 1964 Hamptons house party  earned him a trip to court and attention in the national press, has been a longtime occupant of my  “Whatever happened to…” list.

This 1980 profile in Charlottesville’s Albemarle magazine answers that question in rich detail, at least up to his suicide three years later at age 40.

“Meet Eaton Brooks,” writes Mark MacNamara, “master raconteur and self-acclaimed ‘controversial’ criminal attorney, whose ‘flamboyance’ follows him like a caption after a bi-plane. He is a man whose public image arouses unusually visceral extremes of criticism and praise — even among people who hardly know him.”

Footnote: Hamptons house parties that lurch out of control didn’t end in 1964.


Insurance ‘to protect their most precious commodity’

“In Richmond, Va., an enterprising New York Life agent sold more than 30 policies in a single day in February 1846. Soon, advertisements began appearing in newspapers from Wilmington, N.C., to Louisville as the New York-based company encouraged Southerners to buy insurance to protect their most precious commodity: their slaves….

“Policy No. 1150 covered Anthony, who labored amid the whirling blades of a sawmill in North Carolina….”

“Insurance Policies on Slaves: New York Life’s Complicated Past” by Rachel L. Swarns in the New York Times (Dec. 18) 


‘Fearless men who jump and die’ top pop charts

On this day in 1965: Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, recuperating at Fort Bragg from a punji-stick wound suffered in Vietnam, records “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” The tribute to his Special Forces comrades (“Fearless men who jump and die. . . . Men who mean just what they say. . . . “) will spend five weeks atop Billboard’s Top 40 list and become the best-selling single of 1966.

The Special Forces, an elite unit created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, are headquartered at Fort Bragg. At the height of the Vietnam War they number about 15,000 men.

Despite the success of “Green Berets,” the nation is fast losing its appetite for war, reinforcing Sadler’s prediction that “In two years I’ll be forgotten.”


A Moravian Christmas

Possibly nothing is more festive during the holiday season than making a special trip to a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in Germany, filled with fragrant firs, twinkling lights, and warm Glühwein. Short of booking a trip to Germany to experience this first-hand, the next best thing may be to witness something akin to German Christmas traditions right here in North Carolina among the Moravians of Old Salem, in what is now Winston-Salem, Forsyth County.

Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. — Christmas, 1907

The Christmas Eve Love-Feast

The Moravian traditions are described in numerous histories and with particularly wonderful detail by Winifred Margaretta Kirkland in her pamphlet about Christmas in Old Salem. She vividly explains the Children’s Love-Feast ceremony, as well as other visual and aural sensations of the holidays in Salem. The Love-Feast is a Christmas Eve ceremony where candles are distributed, songs are sung, and sweet buns are eaten with milky coffee or tea. Particular attention is given to children of the church, providing them a central role in the proceedings. Recipes for the special coffee and other holiday treats can be found in cookbooks such as those published by Friedland Moravian Church and Fries Memorial Moravian Church.

Music is central to the Moravian Christmas traditions. Special hymns are sung at the Love-Feast and at Christmas Day services. One example from 1798 is completely in German, with a translation of a verse below.

Zur ChristnachtSecond Choir: 

Oh venerable night, a thousand suns shine upon you!

You brought the baby Jesus, so that we can reconcile with God.

That day is today, as my healing lays in swaddling clothes.

And a hymn from 1813, in both German and English, with a translation:

Zur ChristnachtCongregation:

Full of heaven’s glory and splendor, praise that night, which brought us salvation.

The spirits of that world, their light surrounded the shepherds’ faces;

For a lifetime, our thanks were also sung in their praises!

The Christmas Putz

As the caption of the photo below explains, “Every Christmas tree has its Putz:”

A typical Christmas Putz

The Putz is another central component of the Christmas holiday celebrations and a means for the community to come together, both in its construction and its display. The Putz is comprised of model buildings, small figures, and in modern times, sometimes lit with electricity. It typically has a nativity scene at its center, and can be small to accompany a tree, or large enough to even fill a room. Some are so elaborate, admission is charged for viewing.

These are a few of the traditions practiced by the German Moravians who settled in North Carolina, with their origins in Europe dating back to the 18th century. And while the inspiration may have come from Germany, the implementation has a new American – and North Carolinian – flair.

Aluminum house inventor belonged to distinctive family

Thanks to Joe Elliott of Asheville for this response to my query about the fate of the aluminum house conceived and built (circa 1951) by his father-in-law, Thomas Edison Westall of Marion:

“Ed built onto the structure later, converting part of it into a popular local restaurant called the Pilot House. Sometime after the restaurant was sold, it suffered fire damage and eventually was torn down.

Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott
Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott

“Ed Westall was a truly remarkable man; one who, had he been more materially ambitious, might have become a rich man. However, his real passion was for design and invention. It was something that brought him great joy. In addition to the restaurant, Ed worked for many years as a mechanical engineer for American Thread, during which time he patented several inventions. He was also a licensed small-engine pilot.

Ed Westall with his family on a boat he built. Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott
Ed Westall with his family on a boat he built. Photo courtesy of Joe Elliott

“Ed was a quiet man with a mind that never stopped. He was, I think, most alive & at peace in the wide open spaces. Maybe that’s why he loved Emerson so much. He was a generalist in the best since of the word: he loved learning about everything.

“Someone once told my wife, ‘Your dad was the smartest man I ever knew’….
Ed’s family, the Westalls, were from the mountainous Toe River region of North Carolina. Thomas Wolfe’s mother’s maiden name was Westall, and she belonged to the same extended clan. Ed sometimes talked about his great Uncle Bacchus (BACK-US). I believe Wolfe incorporated Bacchus into some of his stories. When I told my old English professor Frank Hulme (who won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award back in the 1970s) that I was marrying a Westall, Frank (whose sister also married a Westall) raised his hand to stop me. ‘Say no more!’ he declared. ‘Say not a word more!’ Frank had been acquainted with Wolfe in Asheville back in the 1930s.

“Like Wolfe’s mother, the Westall clan is an interesting lot….”