Did chestnut blight originate in Rockingham?

“If you look at a book on trees or on Wikipedia, it will say that the [American chestnut] blight was first spotted in 1904, or came over ‘ca. 1900,’ through certain Long Island nursery men, but I found old newspaper clippings suggesting… that the blight had begun much earlier, either right before or right after the Civil War, and had begun in the interior, not on the coast and not in the Northeast but in places like Georgia and Virginia, the Carolinas.

“The first manifestation I could find of whatever it was occurred in Rockingham, North Carolina…. I started finding these newspaper stories, first from small-town papers around Rockingham and then from a widening radius. People would be meeting in these towns, having meetings basically to ask, ‘What are we going to do about the chestnuts dying?’ ”


Forest-harvested ramps — the new truffles?

“Ramps are wild onions that Native Americans have harvested for thousands of years. They’re also a staple ingredient in traditional Southern Appalachian kitchens. Over the last several years, the bold-tasting green has become wildly popular among foodies, apt to appear on the menu of a trendy restaurant or bunched at farmers’ markets.

“[Forest resource specialist Tommy] Cabe said forest-harvested ramps fetched as much as $50 per gallon last year. ‘That’s a pretty good economy for someone who can spend a day in the woods,’ he said. The website Earthy.com listed the retail price of one pound of fresh ramps for $15.95, though currently out of stock in the off-season.

“While a permit is required to harvest ramps from national forests, not everyone follows those regulations, which can be difficult to enforce. As a result, Cabe and other gatherers must go deeper into the forest to find healthy plants….”

Wouldn’t Thad Eure be tickled!

‘Intertidal zone of the linguistic South” — that’s us

“The Tar Heel State is the intertidal zone of the linguistic South: Overwhelming forces wash in and out, but weird, fascinating little tide pools remain….”

— From “Why North Carolina Is the Most Linguistically Diverse U.S. State… But it might not be that way for much longer” b at Atlas Obscura (Dec. 11)

Cited at length: N.C. State’s Walt Wolfram, “one of the great American linguists of the past 50 years.”


New in the collection: Wright Brothers Memorial miniature

Small model of Wright Brothers memorial“A period of renewed interest in flight culminated with Charles A. Lindbergh’s nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. The increased flight activity of the late 1920s encouraged recognition of the Wright Brothers.
“At the local level North Carolinians, led by W. O. Saunders, editor of the Elizabeth City Independent, organized the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association to ensure a proper commemoration of the Wrights’ first flight effort.”

— From “Commemorating the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk” by the National Park Service

This pot-metal souvenir stands 3 inches tall.

Hushpuppy Corporation of America, R.I.P.

“In 1948, an entrepreneur named Walter Thompson from the tiny coastal town of Swansboro, North Carolina, decided to take hushpuppies nationwide. He concocted a ready-mix blend of cornmeal, flour, and seasoning, packaged it in pasteboard tubes, and branded it Thompson’s Fireside Hushpuppy Mix. ‘Just add water,’ the label promised. ‘A delightfully different Southern hot bread.’ It sold for 30 cents a can.

“Thompson ambitiously named his company ‘The Hushpuppy Corporation of America.’ He struck deals with distributors throughout the South, but his big score was landing John R. Marple & Co. of Westfield, N.J., which became the national distributor for Thompson’s Fireside Hushpuppy Mix and promoted it through a series of newspaper and radio ads.

“Thompson got out of the business just a year after launching it, selling the Hushpuppy Corporation of America to several investors, who moved it to the larger town of Jacksonville, North Carolina. They kept Thompson’s Fireside Hushpuppy Mix on the market for at least two more decades. The Hushpuppy Corporation of America was purchased around 1970 by House-Autry Mills of Four Oaks, North Carolina, which still sells two varieties today: Original Hushpuppy Mix and Hushpuppy Mix with Onion.”

— From “The Real History of Hushpuppies” by Robert Moss at Serious Eats (Aug. 10, 2018)

New in the collection: King Rat brochure

Flier from Infallible Rat Exterminating Company featuring illustrations, including one of King Rat sitting on a throne,.

“Mr. J.W. Stephenson, a native of Winston-Salem, has for many years given his entire time and attention to the war on King Rat, working in some of the largest cities in the country and being present during the memorable fight on rats in New Orleans when the city was forced to kill all the rats in order to save herself from being wiped out by bubonic plague….
“Winston-Salem has the chance to become known as a ratless city. Will she embrace the opportunity or will she continue to harbor this filthy, disease breeding pest and retain her reputation of having the highest death rate, per capita, of any city in the United States?”
— From a brochure for the Infallible Rat Exterminating Co. (1917)

I can find no record of Winston-Salem taking up Stephenson’s offer (or, for that matter, of the city’s suffering such an appalling mortality rate). Forty-five years later, however, city government awarded a $9,600 contract for a one-year program that “involved the carefully supervised placing of poison bait in the sanitary sewer manholes to destroy rats and was considered very successful.”