Butter won’t churn? It’s a witch!

During the days leading up to Halloween, North Carolina Miscellany is posting articles from North Carolina newspapers about one of our favorite Halloween characters, the witch.

Witches tended to be the scapegoat for just about any problem in a person’s life. One common complaint attributed to a witch’s curse was being unable to churn your milk into butter. You could churn and churn, but the milk would never thicken. To fix this predicament, you first had to expel the witch from the churn by taking an old horseshoe and heating it to glowing hot in the fire. It was best if that horseshoe “had been worn on the left hind foot of a baldfaced horse.” You would then take the glowing hot horseshoe, drop it into your churn, and sure enough the butter would come forth.


So you think you know North Carolina ….No. 42

1. After suffering facial cuts in a 1974 crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway, what driver ordered the ambulance crew to make sure a plastic surgeon was standing by at the hospital?

2. A UNC basketball star of the ’90s shares his name with Gomer Pyle’s drill instructor — what is it?

3. How many North Carolinians who died in the Spanish-American War are not commemorated with public monuments?

4. The Union forces who captured New Bern during the Civil War were led by a man now more widely remembered today for his contribution to the lexicon. Who was he?

5. True or false: In 1978, North Carolina’s chapter of the American Cancer Society was the only one in the country not to support the Great American Smoke-out.

Answers below





1. Marty Robbins, better known for such country and western hits as “El Paso.”

2. Vince Carter. Sgt. Carter (played by Frank Sutton) was introduced on the 1964 episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” that served as the pilot for “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”

3. None. Ensign Worth Bagley is honored with a statue in Raleigh, Army Lt. William Shipp with an obelisk in Charlotte.

4. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, whose whiskers set a new style, first as “burnsides,” then as “sideburns.”

5. True.


New in the collection: Winston-Salem debate pinback

Pinback featuring photo of Al Gore for 2000 Presidential Debate in Winston-Salem


” Guns, gay rights and health care drew the hottest exchanges in the second presidential debate between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush….

“On gay rights, the two agreed that marriage is a union ‘between a man and a woman,’ but Gore pointed out that he and both  vice presidential candidates, Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, backed anti-discrimination protections for gay unions while Bush did not. Bush defended his support for equal not ‘special’ rights for minority groups….”

— From “Sit-Down Debate Makes For Fewer Bush, Gore Jabs in Round Two” on NPR Online (Oct. 12, 2000)

Wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Bush version of this handsomely designed pinback, but I can’t recall seeing it.


October Artifacts of the Month: Kay Kyser’s Costume and Mandolin

On October 5, the city of Rocky Mount installed an historical marker honoring James Kern “Kay” Kyser (1905-1985).  Kyser was a native of Rocky Mount and a 1928 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.  While at UNC, Kyser majored in commerce and was active in numerous extracurricular activities, including acting as head cheerleader for the Tar Heels and leading a band. Kay Kyser

Kyser became a bandleader when Hal Kemp, another UNC student, turned his popular band over to Kyser when he left the university to further his career. When Kyser later turned professional in the 1930s, he and his band became internationally famous.

Wilson Special Collections Library holds Kyser’s papers and several objects that belonged to him. Gallery staff worked with a researcher to select items for use in exhibits marking the historical marker celebration.  Such sessions are always an opportunity for us to learn more about our holdings.  Not only do we review the information we have about the items, we usually learn something from discussions with the visitor.  No exception this time.

Perhaps the most interesting of the holdings is a graduation cap, hood, and gown worn by Kyser in his role as the “Ol’ Perfessor of Swing.”  Kyser developed an act combining a quiz with music called Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge.

Another interesting artifact in this collection is an old Italian mandolin.  We don’t know its connection to Kyser.  The instrument was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and possibly Kyser was a member of one of many “mandolin orchestras” that formed then.  This mandolin—erroneously described as a lute in our information system and now corrected—is of the bowlback or “potato bug” variety.  The current form was developed largely by the Gibson Guitar Corp., and this type was made famous by bluegrass musicians such as Bill Monroe.mandolin

A few Kyser-related items from our collection are currently on view in Rocky Mount at the Imperial Centre for the Arts and Sciences and Braswell Memorial Library. Other Kyser-related artifacts are available upon request in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

Swamped with campaign mailings? We’ll take ’em

Lest you need reminding, Election Day is 26 days away. Candidates and their supporters are knocking on your door, calling you at supper time, and filling your mailbox with campaign literature. We have no way to protect your doors or keep your phone from ringing. But we’re glad to help with the mailbox clutter. As with past elections, we’re collecting campaign literature. Instead of dumping those mailings in the recycle bin (we hope you’re recycling!), send them to us.

Campaign ephemera from 1970s
1970s-era campaign ephemera from our collection.

Our collection of campaign ephemera includes more than 5000 items and dates back to the 1800s. We want to ensure that researchers in 2068 or, heck, 2118 are able to learn a little about today’s campaigns. We’re keen to document campaigns throughout North Carolina for General Assembly, U.S. House, and constitutional amendments. That’s hard to do from our spot here in the Triangle. Please help us. Hold on to those mailers, flyers and voter guides. Then when you can stomach the clutter no longer, send the material our way. The address is:

John Blythe
Assistant Curator
P.O. Box 8890
Wilson Library, CB#3930
Chapel Hill, NC 27515-8890

One final note. We like knowing about the yard signs, particularly ones that strike you as unique. Unfortunately, they take up significant space and it’s hard for us to store them. Before you send us the actual sign, would you mind taking a photo of it and emailing the file to us as an attachment? The address is blythej@email.unc.edu Please remember to tell us where and when you spotted it.

Feeling a little sore this morning? It’s a witch!

It’s October! That means Halloween is almost upon us. During the days leading up to Halloween, North Carolina Miscellany is posting articles from North Carolina newspapers about one of our favorite Halloween characters, the witch.

In the past if you didn’t know anything else about witches, you at least knew about the witches’ bridle. This magic bridle was used by a witch to turn an unsuspecting man into a horse. The witch would sneak in while her victim was asleep, put the bridle on him and proceed to ride him wherever she pleased until finally returning the victim to his home, sore and exhausted. Sounds like the perfect excuse to sleep in!

“Superstitions in the Cumberland Mountains.” The Wilmington Dispatch Sept. 1, 1915. p. 8.

So you think you know North Carolina…. No. 41

1. What innovation made by Warner Stamey of Greensboro in the 1950s soon became common at barbecue joints across the state?

2. Who were the 23 Charlotteans who appeared on the cover of Life magazine on July 9, 1951?

3. Jesse Helms teasingly sang “Dixie” to what fellow U.S. senator during a 1993 Capitol Hill elevator ride — Strom Thurmond, Ted Kennedy or Carol Moseley-Braun?

4. What event do the state’s ACC basketball fans remember as “Black Sunday”?

5. In a 1951 magazine article, sociologist Vance Packard described what North Carolina county as “the bootleg capital of America”?

Answers below





1. Stamey added hushpuppies, a staple at fish camps, to his menu. Before, barbecue was typically served with white bread or rolls.

2. Debutantes — “looking as gracious as any ante-bellum belles.” Inside, Life devoted a four-page spread to Charlotte’s recent challenge to “the social supremacy” of Raleigh.

3. Moseley-Braun. Two weeks earlier, the black Democrat from Illinois had thwarted Helms’ effort to renew a patent for a United Daughters of the Confederacy insignia that depicted a Confederate flag. Most recently Helms, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, temporarily held up Moseley-Braun’s nomination as ambassador to New Zealand.

4. On March 11, 1979, St. John’s and Penn came to Raleigh and posted two of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament. St. John’s, the 40th and last team selected, beat No. 2 seed Duke, and Penn of the Ivy League came from behind to beat No. 1 seed North Carolina.

5. Wilkes County.


New in the collection: Putt-Putt pinback

Button that reads, "I Play Putt-Putt on Kiddies Day"


“Putt-Putt golf was created in Fayetteville in 1954 when businessman Don Clayton opened the first course. Putt-Putt is a specific type of miniature golf that Clayton patented to focus on putting skills rather than gimmicks such as windmills and scenery.

“Putt-Putt became immensely popular, and though the corporation remained in North Carolina, more than 200 courses now exist throughout the nation.”

— From “Play Putt-Putt golf in the state where it was created” at VisitNC.com


So you think you know North Carolina…. No. 40

1. True or false: North Carolina has no remaining covered bridges.

2. How many times did Gomer Pyle say “Golllly!” on “The Andy Griffith Show”?

3. In 1950, North Carolina led the nation in number of minor league baseball teams. How many teams did it field — 15, 25 or 45?

4. Which of these is NOT a community in North Carolina: Lizard Lick, Loafers Glory, Norlina, Pumpkin Center, Social Circle.

5. What civil rights activist spent 22 days on an Orange County chain gang in 1947 for testing a state law requiring segregated seating on buses?

Answers below






1. False. It has two: The Pisgah bridge in Randolph County (rebuilt after being washed away in 2003) and the Bunker Hill bridge in Catawba County.

2. Only once (May 19, 1964). “Golllly!” became a catchword, however, on Jim Nabors’ spinoff show, “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.”

3. Forty-five. Today the number is fewer than a dozen.

4. Social Circle is in Georgia.

5. Bayard Rustin, then a little-known 35-year-old Quaker from New York. Rustin’s “Journey of Reconciliation” was essentially the first Freedom Ride. Later, as a key aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he would help organize the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which King gave his “I have a dream” speech.


New in the collection: Mount Mitchell tourist decals

Mount Mitchell decal
Mount Mitchell State Park decal noting highest peak easet of the Mississippi


“Souvenir travel decals are a part of America’s automotive vacation and touring history. They were made and sold by the untold millions during the Golden Age of highway travel –1945-1970. Today, they have virtually disappeared.”

— From Lost Highway Art Co.

Since 1888 Mount Mitchell has had five structures erected on its summit to commemorate it as the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. The one pictured here was No. 4 (1959-2005).