Population center just keeps on relocating

“The cities of Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Fayetteville make a rough rhombus across Central North Carolina. Smack-dab in the middle is the state’s center of population, just east of Interstate 74.

“The closest town is the unincorporated community of Erect, founded in the 18th century by German settlers who made a name for themselves in the pottery business.”

— From “Each state’s population center, visualized” b

Once North Carolinians’ early and rapid east-to-west migration took hold, this demographic distinction has slowly zigzagged southward.

The geographic center of the state? Well, let’s let Jeremy Markovich wrestle with that one….

New in the collection: Fli-Back paddleball

Paddle-shaped board with an image of a cowboy or gaucho on horseback swinging a rope with a ball on the end. The word "Fli-Back" is printed above the image.

“In 1931, James Emory Gibson began manufacturing paddle ball games after being inspired by a promotional toy his daughter brought home. As demand for the games grew, Gibson began producing paddle balls, yo-yos and spinning tops under the name Fli-Back.

“Although Fli-Back was sold to the Ohio Art Company (makers of the popular Etch-A-Sketch) in 1972, the company continued to manufacture Fli-Back paddleball games in High Point until 1983.”

— From “Fli-Back items continue to live on at museum” by Jennifer Burns of the High Point Museum, Oct. 2, 2004, in  the Greensboro News and Record

I visited the Fli-Back plant in 1976, when annual sales still topped 5 million but were speeding downhill. As an early paddleball promoter lamented to me, “There isn’t a kid on earth who can hit the damn thing a second time, because nobody’s taught them how to do it.”

Tobacco ignited growth of Durham, Winston

“Much of the limited urban growth in post-Civil War North Carolina owed to the  increased manufacturing of tobacco, the South’s oldest staple crop. “In the late 19th century the state’s dominance of the expanding tobacco industry resulted from several factors — declining cotton prices that induced farmers in the Piedmont to plant more tobacco, technological developments that initiated the mass production of cigarettes, improved railroads that connected North Carolina with national and international markets, and the bold entrepreneurship of men like James B. Duke and R. J. Reynolds, who formed vast monopolies and drove less ruthless competitors from the field. The success  of Duke and Reynolds brought Durham and Winston, the communities in which they located their enterprises, to the forefront of the state’s emerging urban network.”

— From “Tobacco Towns: Urban Growth and Economic Development in Eastern North Carolina” by Roger Biles in the North Carolina Historical Review (April 2007)

New in the collection: Ronnie Milsap pass

Plastic card with an image of Ronnie Milsap and the words "Suite, January 23, and Ronnie Milsap."

“Born blind into an Appalachian family [in Robbinsville, N.C.] named Millsaps, he went to live with grandparents at age one. According to his 1990 autobiography, Almost Like a Song, his mother regarded his blindness as divine punishment and asked his father to take Ronnie away.

“At age six, having heard gospel music at church and country music via radio, he entered the State School for the Blind in Raleigh, North Carolina. Despite harsh treatment, he blossomed musically, learning the school’s classical techniques while absorbing pop styles available on radio….”

— From Ronnie Milsap’s Country Music Hall of Fame bio (2014)

This pass is from Milsap’s 2015 show at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel  in Prior Lake, Minn.

Big-time college football, RIP?

“The cost of assembling, equipping and maintaining a successful [college football] team has become so inflated that some schools are losing money and giving up the game in disgust….

“$275,000… is what it cost the University of North Carolina to stay big time last season. …

“North Carolina’s well-dressed footballer wears out one pair of the finest yellow kangaroo shoes a season at $18 a pair…. The squad wardrobe consists of 146 complete uniforms at $132 apiece; the latest-type plastic headgear costs nearly as much as a whole uniform did back in the 1920s. The team eats at a training table that costs $23,000 a year to set and travels by chartered plane….”

— From “Football is pricing itself out of business” in Life magazine (Oct. 16, 1950)

New in the collection: S. LaRose watch parts tin

Watch parts tin with the words "S. LaRose Inc." in the center of the cover. The words "Materials, Tools, Supplies, Greensboro, N.C." circle around the name of the company.

S. LaRose Inc. was a familiar presence in downtown Greensboro from 1939 until its dissolution in 2006. The family-run, mail-order wholesaler must’ve distributed thousands of these watch-parts tins, if how many appear at flea markets and on eBay is any indication. This one is an inch in diameter, but at least two larger versions survive.

LaRose Properties remains one of downtown’s most significant property owners and developers.

When Bankers lived to ‘go wrecking’

“In talking with some of the people who live on the Outer Banks—Bankers, they are called—I soon discovered that wrecks like that of the Deering have a way of serving as points of personal reference. One venerable gentleman who lives on Hatteras recalled that when the barkentine J. W. Dresser came ashore on July 23, 1895, it was his 12th birthday; a lady told me that she well recollected the wreck of the schooner Catherine M. Monahan off Ocracoke on August 24, 1910, because she had the worst toothache in her life; another lady remembered that some of the nicest hats she ever owned were acquired at a salvage auction on Nags Head beach after the steamer Elizabeth was blown ashore on March 19, 1919.

“ ‘There was everything aboard the Elizabeth,’ she said. ‘She was on her way from Baltimore to the Canal Zone and she carried everything from three automobiles to a case of silk shirts. The men had a lighter and a schooner boat and they unloaded her cargo in that. Soon as they’d get a load of stuff ashore, it would be auctioned off on the beach. I bought in a case of white hats, a dozen, and they were the nicest hats you ever saw. There was much more on the Elizabeth than the men could get off. A big tide came in and she floated herself on the fifth day and that was the end of the auction. There’s been nothing like the Elizabeth to come ashore since. Those hats lasted me for I don’t know how long.’ ”

“Few events in the more recent history of the Outer Banks, I gathered, exceeded the Elizabeth auction in importance. The achievement of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, only a few miles from where the Elizabeth grounded herself, was obviously nowhere in the same class. And I gathered, also, that there was a certain amount of nostalgia for the days when ‘going wrecking’—plundering wrecked ships—was the leading cottage industry of the Outer Banks.”

— From “If Tortugas Let You Pass” by Hamilton Basso in American Heritage (February 1965)

New in the collection: Sir Walter room key

Skeleton-style key with plastic key fob with the words "Hotel Sir Walter."

“In the 1950s, back in the days when legislators stayed in downtown Raleigh’s Hotel Sir Walter during legislative sessions, you couldn’t buy a drink anywhere in town.

“And didn’t need to. Each of the 45 liquor salesmen who supplied N.C. ABC stores had three cases of liquor a month to give away – and much of it was delivered to the loading dock of the Hotel Sir Walter and quickly stored (wink, wink) in a room ostensibly rented to A.B. Carter. Notice anything cute about Mr. Carter’s initials?

“A memorable front page from the News & Observer on May 28, 1957 featured seven photographs of liquor arriving, being unloaded, carried into the hotel and delivered to certain rooms by a bellhop around noon. The local Alcoholic Beverage Control board office was notified at 3 p.m. and sprang into action. And sprang. And sprang. After, oh, about an hour and a half, ABC agents finally entered the room where the contraband booze had been taken – and it was empty. What a surprise. The newspaper’s photos proved what had happened, and once again the state’s ABC law enforcement officers looked like Keystone Kops – without as much action….”

— From “Liquor in North Carolina, from A to C” by Jack Betts in the Charlotte Observer (Dec. 3, 1995)

“A.B. Carter” was actually Frank Sims, former lobbyist for the Association of County ABC Boards, who was later fined $100 for registering at a hotel under an assumed name. 

Forgive me if I like to imagine one of those deliveries being made to this key’s Room 940.

Nottla to Nags Head? Whew, close call….

I recently happened to look back at a 2014 Miscellany post on the history of  “Murphy to Manteo” and rediscovered John Blythe’s enlightening and entertaining response, which surely deserves a post of its own. So here it is:

It seems that we might have Walter Hines Page, the Cary-born editor, publisher, and statesman, to thank for promulgation of “Murphy to Manteo.” Using Newspapers.com to search historic North Carolina newspapers, I found that the phrase started showing up in 1883, the same year that Page’s State Chronicle began publication in Raleigh.

In a letter to the editor of the News and Observer on Sept. 1, 1883, Page announces the Chronicle’s debut and writes:
“Its first number (September 15) will contain contributions from more than fifty leading men in North Carolina on a topic of prime importance to every voter in the State, and from distinguished journalists in other States. It has already been ordered FROM MURPHY TO MANTEO, and it will go in every county and to very nearly every postoffice in North Carolina.”

Two weeks later, on Sept. 22, in what may be self-promotional advertising, the Chronicle published a letter from a Raleigh reader asking, “What is the most beautiful town in North Carolina? I mean the one which a stranger would be most likely to pronounce the most attractive in appearance?”

The paper responds: “If you wish to become involved in an endless discussion and to be called blind and idiotic, prejudiced and insane, then you may venture to tell the people of one town that another is handsomer. But if you wish to live in peace, you had better keep your mouth shut on all such questions. The Chronicle’s information bureau is familiar with with almost every town, fair or foul, from Murphy to Manteo, but it values life and peace too high to undertake to select one as the fairest.”

Page or his staff seemed to like creating alliterative phrases to describe the state’s wide expanse. Issues of the Chronicle from the 1880s also include the phrases “Nottla to Nags Head” and “Nags Head to Nottla.” Notla, as it is spelled these days, is in Cherokee County.

The October 21, 1885, issue of the Wilmington Morning Star includes an advertisement for the newly published State Chronicle (a product of the merger of the Chronicle and the Farmer and Mechanic). The ad copy reads, “It will aim to keep up with the news from Murphy to Manteo, or, as the politicians put it, from Cherokee to Currituck.”

Page and his staff seemed to recognize that they had hit on a good phrase. In 1885 a column begins appearing in the State Chronicle titled “Murphy to Manteo” and later titled “From Murphy to Manteo, Some Things that Are Happening in North Carolina.”

New in the collection: Auto safety pamphlet

Booklet cover featuring images of soldiers fighting, an explosion on a road, a wrecked car, and the words "Worse than War"

“1 — I will not hang on the back of trucks, busses, automobiles, or horse drawn vehicles while skating.

“3 — I will not play baseball, football, basketball or roll hoops on or near the streets or highways.

“7 — I promise not to stand on the side of the highway and ‘hitch-hike’ (beg rides)….

“9 — I will not climb telephone, telegraph or electric light poles.”

— From the “10 Point Safety Pledge” proffered in “Worse Than War,” a booklet published by the Carolina Motor Club (1930s?)

Although the cover illustration suggests World War I, the Lost Cause scores a vivid walk-on role:

“Almost a century later we read of that futile war between the states, with brother fighting against brother, that sent the southerners back home to desolate plantations, with their negroes gone, their wives and children quivering with hunger, and their brothers sleeping on the battlefields at Gettysburg….”