New in the collection: Arnold Palmer ‘thank you’ button

Pinback button with the words thank you Mr. Palmer and Wyndham Championship.

“Widely considered the most important figure in golf, Arnold Palmer played a significant role in Wyndham Championship history, and today, a plaque in his memory was unveiled on the tournament’s ‘Wall of Champions’ behind the ninth green at Sedgefield Country Club with Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders in attendance….”

— From an announcement by the Wyndham (Aug. 15, 2017)

Since its founding in 1938 as the Greater Greensboro Open, the tournament has gone through several changes of names and courses.


1918 epidemic found new use for flasks

“The social impact of the [1918 flu] epidemic extended well beyond medical masks.

“According to the [Asheville Citizen], the health scare led to the reemergence of flasks, despite the state’s 1908 referendum on Prohibition.  Rather than nipping on whiskey, owners now carried mouthwash in the containers. ‘[I]t’s easier to practice oral hygiene when the disinfectant comes from the receptacle which formerly held … Scotch,’ the paper observed.”

— From “The 1918 influenza changes social norms” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (Oct. 31)

New in the collection: Legislative protest button

Pinback button with the words we will not yield and an image of a megaphone.

“Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat who represents New Hanover and Brunswick counties, stood up after the [surprise vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the budget] and began shouting at Republican House leader Tim Moore.

” ‘How dare you do this, Mr. Speaker,’ she shouted. ‘I will not yield.’ ”

This button was quickly distributed by the N.C. Democratic Party.

Behind the Scenes of the First Educational Film Made in North Carolina

Image provided courtesy of ECU Libraries

Over the years, many classic films have been produced and shot in North Carolina. But the story of the first educational film ever made here begins in 1921. Using the state newspapers available on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, we can track its history.

Newspaper article announcing the filming of the history of Roanoke Island

In May 1921, the State Board of Education announced they would outline the history of Roanoke Island, from the British colonists’ ships landing in the 16th century to the 1920s. Captain Albert O. Clement, a photographer from Goldsboro, was initially slated to direct a “picturization” and W.C. Crosby, the director of the Division of School Extension in the state Department of Education, would assist.

Newspaper article announcing re-creations of colonial settings on Roanoke Island

A movie being filmed in North Carolina was a big deal, and even bigger for the people living on location in Dare County. Filming was scheduled for that September, and it would not be a historical recreation “in pageant form, but with an eye to reality.”

The movie was to be directed by Elizabeth Grimball, a veteran theatre play producer, and Dr. Frederick H. Koch, professor of dramatic literature and playwriting at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mabel Evans Jones, the Dare County school superintendent, was to help with production and distribution.

$3,000 in state money was appropriated for the project. One editorial in the Elizabeth City Independent argued that $3,000 wouldn’t be enough to do the project justice, and that the producers would have to rely on “donated properties, donated costumes, and such amateur theatrical talent…” Normally, a project of this size at the time would have required more than $50,000.

Newspaper editorial discussing the cost of the Roanoke film project

Indeed, as pre-production began, nearby counties volunteered their manpower to make the movie a reality. Money and other supplemental resources were brought in by the State Fishing Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard. The people of Roanoke Island built ships and sets. A number of citizens from across the state, including several newspapermen from Greensboro and Raleigh, volunteered to act in the movie.

File photo of several men dressed in colonial outfit as part of the movie production

Production for “The Lost Colony” began on September 20th, and there was an excitement in the air surrounding the filming. 150 cast members came from nearby towns – 100 were from the town of Manteo alone.

Producers from the Atlas Educational Film Co. in Chicago were present on set, as well as historian Frederick A. Olds.

News coverage of the filming was very favorable, with reporters remarking on the elaborate scenes, the depth of the story, and the striking colors of the costumes (the film was, of course, in black-and-white).

Newspaper article about the film production on Roanoke IslandFilming was finished by the 27th. Although there was some grumbling that the film wouldn’t be entirely historically accurate, reporters were gleeful when Crosby promised the finished product would be viewable by around November of that year. Indeed, it premiered on November 7, 1921 in the Supreme Courtroom in Raleigh.

Evidently, Crosby had also promised the people of Manteo that they would be the first people to see it. When Raleigh papers reported that the film would be shown all over the state before Manteo, the town was incensed. They were also hurt that the leading actors were from outside the community and didn’t reflect the time and energy put in by the people of Manteo.

Newspaper article about Manteo residents' indignation to the movie not being shown there first

Newspaper article announcing "The Lost Colony Film" would be shown in Elizabeth City

It was quickly rectified – the first public showing would be in Manteo after all, on the night of November 19. The film would be shown in Elizabeth City after that. One writer reckoned that “everybody in Elizabeth City will try to see the great historical film…” 

And they did. On November 22 alone, an estimated 3,200 people paid admission to see the first movie ever filmed there. This was the “greatest day’s business” ever recorded by the Alkrama Theatre in Elizabeth City. The 1920 census recorded 8,925 living in Elizabeth City at the time, which would mean nearly 36% of all residents turned out to see the movie.

Hundreds entered the theater without paying, crowding out the doors. Hundreds more were turned away, and the lobby and street outside were so full of people that the police threatened to close the venue. This made theater manager John Burgess “so hot in the collar” that he and the police chief nearly came to blows.

Newspaper article about the crowds of thousands to see "The Lost Colony Film"

Reviews were mixed. The Independent said it was “lacking in many dramatic details, but as far as it went it was good.” Another editorial remarked on the irony of watching English colonists exact violence against the native Americans living here, arguing that the contemporary colonizing of the Philippines and Haiti prove that “we haven’t progressed much in the more than three centuries since.”

Directed by Elizabeth Grimball and written by Mabel Evans Jones, “The Lost Colony Film” was to be the first in a series entitled “North Carolina Pictorial History,” but none ever followed. The film is available as part of the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library, and it is available to view on a kiosk in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

New in the collection: James Taylor album poster, 1979

Poster with an image of James Taylor and the words James Taylor Flag

“The James Taylor who gazes out from the gatefold of Flag is an emaciated, jaundiced Yankee eccentric glaring at us with cold, eagle-eyed skepticism. The picture is almost the negative of the movie-star-glamorous photo on the cover of JT, the album that marked Taylor’s corporate switch from Warner Bros. to Columbia in 1978.

“But the aesthetic shift from last year’s debonair to this year’s dour isn’t just a gimmick. Whereas the material and tone of JT suggested a similar mellowing of Taylor’s personality, Flag‘s thorny songs and hard, tense arrangements bear witness to the stark and piercing artwork.”

— From“Flag” by Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone (June 28, 1979)

I’m imagining this 3-foot by 4-foot poster less fittingly in a dorm room than in a Record Bar ….


New in the collection: Carolina Beach decals

Two decals with words Carolina Beach, NC. One has an image of a woman sunbathing. The other has an image of a sailboat.

Carolina Beach was the answer for perhaps the most challenging of the Miscellany’s “Where the Heel?” competitions. Would it still be billed today as  “North Carolina’s largest beach resort town”?

I imagine these vivid tourist decals being displayed in a wire rack on a drugstore counter in the 1950s — just about the time Hurricane Hazel almost wiped out the town.

How ‘The Lost Colony’ Outdoor Drama Got its Start

Every summer, people from around the country visit Manteo, North Carolina, to see an outdoor drama called “The Lost Colony,” a dramatization of the famous failed colony on Roanoke Island. By exploring historic North Carolina newspapers, we can see how that play began and how it became a yearly production.

On July 4, 1937, Paul Green, a professor of drama and philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill, showcased the history of Manteo as the location of the failed Roanoke Colony by staging the first showing of “The Lost Colony” at the specially-built Waterside Theatre. In 1936, Green was approached by W. O. Saunders, editor and publisher of The Daily Independent from Elizabeth City, N.C. Saunders was inspired by the Passion Play of Oberammergau, Germany, to create an outdoor drama for North Carolina, and he wanted Green to be the show’s playwright. Because 1937 marked the 350th anniversary of the birth of the first English child in North America, the lost Roanoke colony into which she was born provided a fitting subject for the production.

Like the play at Oberammergau, The Lost Colony took the effort of the entire community, as well as a few federal agencies, to make Manteo ready to stage the outdoor drama. The sponsors of the play partnered with the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Theatre, the North Carolina Historical Association, the Roanoke Island Historical Association, and the Carolina Playmakers to stage the show. Those organizations provided actors, stage management, and building labor to complete the Waterside Theatre and amphitheater seating for the audience.

Setting for the Lost Colony, as published in a newspaper from 1937.

The Lost Colony opened to a crowd of 2000 on its first night, despite the difficult drive required to get to Roanoke Island. An early review had only positive things to say about the production value; the acting by Federal Theatre actors, Carolina Playmakers, and local residents; and singing by the Westminster Choir of Princeton, New Jersey.

An early review of the play, published in The Daily Independent from Elizabeth City, N.C.

A later review by the Roanoke Rapids Herald gave less favorable reviews for the accommodations provided for the audience. They noted that the town was not prepared with restaurants to feed the thousands of people who were coming to the town for the play, that the outdoor seating was uncomfortable to use for the two-hour runtime, and that parking conditions trapped attendees long after the play had finished. Despite those complaints, that review still noted the excellence of the show itself and the impressions it had made on the reviewer.

The play continued to bring large crowds to Manteo throughout the summer, the largest of which formed when President Roosevelt visited Roanoke Island to celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. The crowd so overwhelmed the town that the hotels in Manteo and Nags Head were completely filled, so residents opened their private homes as guest lodgings.

Roosevelt attending The Lost Colony during a visit in 1937.
(L-R) President Franklin D. Roosevelt riding in open car with Governor Clyde Hoey and Congressman Lindsay C. Warren at the entrance to rebuilt Fort Raleigh, Manteo, NC, on or just before August 18, 1937, when he came to see the Lost Colony. From the State Archives of North Carolina, Call Number: ConDev57-314.

Roosevelt’s visit brought national attention to “The Lost Colony.” By October 1937, locals were calling for the play to become a yearly production and pushing for the area to become a state park instead of “turning the site over to National Park Services.” Still, in 1941, nearby Fort Raleigh Historic Site and the Waterside Theater were transferred to the National Park Service.

Today, The Lost Colony still runs every summer at the Waterside Theater—with the notable exceptions of four years during World War II and Summer 2020, when it did not run due to COVID-19.

Additional Resources:

Green, Paul, and Laurence G. Avery. 2001. The lost colony: a symphonic drama of American history. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

New in the collection: National Folk Festival button

Pinback button with words not your average folk festival and an image of a guitar neck.

After a three-year run the annual National Folk Festival bid adieu to Greensboro but not without spinning off the locally-staged North Carolina Folk Festival.

And quite a gift to the city it has been (well, until along came 2020).