“Tourism was a primary justification for this environmental preservation movement [circa 1900]. Thus Asheville, the most important resort of the Blue Ridge region, was the birthplace of municipal sanitation campaigns, modern forestry conservation and the movement to create a national park in southern Appalachia….
“On the Tennessee side of the mountains, however, there was much less interest…. Logging and mining were far more important elements of East Tennessee’s economy than tourism.”
— From “Tourism in the Mountain South: A Double-edged Sword” by C. Brenden Martin (2007)
It’s been 100 years since the first war that consumed the entire world. The North Carolina Collection Gallery explores the local implications of that global war in its current exhibition, “Doing Our Bit: UNC and the Great War.” Our April Artifact of the Month, William B. Umstead’s winter service jacket, is featured in the exhibition.
William B. Umstead (1895-1954) was born on a farm in Durham County. He graduated from UNC in 1916 with a bachelor’s degree in history. After a year teaching high school history Umstead volunteered for the army when the US declared war. He saw combat in France and achieved the rank of first lieutenant.
Umstead later served as a representative in the US House, a US senator, and governor of North Carolina.
In a diary entry dated August 29, 1917, Umstead poignantly describes saying goodbye to his elderly parents before heading off to war:
Probably the saddest time I have ever spent was Mon. night. Aug 27 when I left home. I left father and mother in tears, and it almost wrung my heart from within me. To leave them, old and feeble at home alone was the most difficult task of my life. It is easy enough to go to the execution of one’s duty, when that duty can mean death, when there is no one but yourself, but to leave parents whose joy in life rests in their paternal interest in you, is the saddest and most trying of all tasks.
You can see Umstead’s jacket, diary, campaign hat, and UNC yearbook photo in the exhibition until June 11.
“A unique bit of history occurred at Fort Macon in late 1941. A soldier placed two Civil War cannonballs in a fireplace of the living quarters to serve as andirons. One cannonball was live and exploded into a room of soldiers from the 244th Coast Artillery. Fortunately no one was killed.
“This incident ‘has been remembered ever since as the “last shot of the Civil War,” because the 244th Coast Artillery originally was the Ninth New York National Guard….’ ”
— From “Strongholds of the Coast” by Morgan Jones in Coastwatch (Holiday 2012)
“An investigation by federal explosives experts concludes that a Civil War relic hunter killed by an explosion in February was cleaning a 9-inch cannonball when a spark ignited the ancient ordnance.
“Sam White was working on the cannonball in his Chesterfield County (Va.) driveway with a grinding tool.
“The tool ignited gunpowder residue, which exploded the shell. The blast killed White and sent a portion of the cannonball one-quarter of a mile away and through the roof of another home.”
— From “Spark ignited deadly cannonball explosion in Chesterfield” in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Aug. 11, 2008)
“Archaeologists who study historic munitions say that if they’re handled properly, they shouldn’t pose much of a risk. Most black powder explosives have been rendered inert by decades and decades of water seeping in. Those that haven’t aren’t prone to go off without the help of a flame — usually a stray spark from a power tool trying to open one up.”
— From “The Air Force demolished 15 Civil War cannonballs in Charleston. But should they have?” by Thad Moore in the Charleston Post & Courier (Jan. 1)
“After moving to Asheville in 1898, [patent medicine magnate E. W. Grove] decided that, if the city were ever to fulfill its potential as a pleasure resort, it would have to to shed its image as a health retreat….
“First, Grove quietly purchased a number of Asheville’s tuberculosis sanitariums and rooming houses that catered to invalids and tore them down. In his many real estate speculations he attached covenants to lots that he sold preventing construction of any structures for tuberculosis patients…..
“In 1913 he opened the Grove Park Inn, touted as ‘the finest resort hotel in the world…. not a sanitarium, a hospital or a health resort. It is a resting place for tired people who are not sick.’
“To ensure that guests were not at risk of encountering any pestilence, the hotel used only new dollar bills, washed all coins and boiled all silverware twice….”
— From “Tourism in the Mountain South: A Double-edged Sword” by C. Brenden Martin (2007)
“[Testifying in a 1926 Congressional hearing on a bill to outlaw fortune tellers in the District of Columbia, Harry] Houdini continues to present his evidence against fortune tellers and con artists. Eventually, the spotlight is directed on Houdini’s own spiritual background. The dialogue that follows gives us a window into Houdini the man, as opposed to the mythical ‘Houdini the Great!’ ”
Rep. William C. Hammer (North Carolina): You don’t claim to do anything by divine power?
Houdini: No sir, I am human. But, mediums are trying to say I am psychic. This is not true.
Hammer: Have you any religious views?
Houdini: Yes sir. I am the son of a rabbi. For hundreds of years my forbears were rabbi….
Hammer: These people claim they have divine power. Don’t you think it is very difficult to do anything along the line of stopping them? … You have a religion, and I ask you under our form of government, if we ought not to go very slowly before we enact legislation along this line?… I want some sort of a bill…although you are rather severe in your strictures of those who disagree with you.
— From “Mr. Houdini Goes to Washington: Part I” by Neil McNally at Wild About Harry (Feb. 8, 2015)
The sparring intensifies in Part II and Part III, in which Rep. Hammer seems curiously fixated on whether Houdini is in fact Hindu. Spoiler alert: For reasons still unclear, the ban on fortune telling in D.C. never became law.
Two years earlier Houdini performed tricks and debunked spiritualism at UNC’s Memorial Hall. He found his audience considerably more receptive than the one he would encounter in Washington.
“A brief spasm of prosecutions in the mid-Atlantic region… may have been encouraged by a frequently reprinted 1755 English newspaper report describing how George Chambers was convicted of bestiality and sentenced to death….
“Farther south, North Carolina tried John Everitt for having sex with a mare in 1764 and Robert Johnson the following year for penetrating a cow. And while the language of the indictments echoes charges filed in New England — the offenses were described as ‘a venereal affair’ and ‘the detestable and abominable Crime of buggery (not to be named among Christians)’ — neither man was executed….”
— From “Taming Lust: Crimes Against Nature in the Early Republic” by Doron S. Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown (2016)
“There’s a cultural amnesia about what it means to be Native American, says Cherokee woodcarver Christy Long. ‘When you look at what people understand about a native, you get people who only understand natives from [a] romantic point of view.’
“Such misconceptions mean tourists to Cherokee seek headdresses and dreamcatchers — neither of which are native to the tribe. That doesn’t mean, however, that headdresses and dreamcatchers aren’t sold. ‘When you’re trying to make a living, you still have to look at those things that people will purchase, so that you can make money to feed your family,’ says Long. ‘It’s [an] existential struggle for a native person.’ ”
— From “Cherokee artists consider life beyond the mountains” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (Dec. 22)
From the Miscellany vault: Examples of Cherokee image vs. reality in postcards and pinback buttons.
Several new titles just added to “New in the North Carolina Collection.” To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the “New in the North Carolina Collection” tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.
“On Dec. 16, 1948, Ray Hewitt installed a telephone in the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Pace in Alamance County — the millionth rural telephone added by the Bell System since the end of World War II….
“[Hewitt’s wife] Martha, a telephone operator in Burlington, made the connections so Pace could speak with President Truman at the White House. (The president’s number: National 1414.)
” ‘The president’s words cannot be heard,’ the Southern Telephone News would report later, ‘but whatever he is saying seems to be pleasing farmer Pace. Mrs. Pace smiles as she watches her husband and looks mighty proud.’
“Everyone seemed to be crammed into the Paces’ farmhouse that day. There was a film crew. The ceremonial calls, broadcast live by WPTF in Raleigh, were carried by 16 N.C. stations.
“Also at the house were Sen. J. Melville Broughton, Gov.-elect Kerr Scott, Southern Bell President Hal S. Dumas and radio star Kay Kyser ….”
— From “President Truman on the line” by Mark Wineka in the Salisbury Post (Jan. 5)