New in the collection: Dr. Grabow pipe filters

Red box with image of pipe and the words Dr. Grabow Filters
When Dr. Grabow Pre-Smoked Pipes relocated from Chicago to Sparta in 1944, it became Alleghany County’s first manufacturer. Its starting payroll of 65  would grow 10-fold before eventually shrinking to barely a dozen as once-loyal smokers either died off or lost interest in keeping their briar bowls lit.

The most recent of Grabow’s several owners abandoned “presmoking” as pointless, although the name on the old water tower hasn’t been updated.

Pipe filters are a necessary side product at the Sparta plant — a single machine operator cranks out 155,000 a day — although this box of filters is labeled Greensboro because the company kept its sales office there until 1982.

Bickett took lead against Spanish flu

“Gov. Thomas Bickett quickly realized the enormity of [the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918]. On Oct. 3 he released a 600-word statement to the press that noted the disease was transmitted through ‘spit swapping,’ which included ‘coughing or sneezing into the air instead of a handkerchief…  soiling the hands with spit … and using common drinking dippers.’

“Bickett seemed to be ahead of his own health department and the federal government, according to Laura Austin in her 2018 UNC Charlotte doctoral thesis, ‘Afraid to Breathe.’:

“ ‘Despite the fact that the day before, Oct. 2, The News and Observer reported that neither state nor national health authorities considered quarantine measures practicable, the governor was encouraging people to stay at home in hopes of decreasing the circulation of the disease.’

“Bickett then tried another tactic, reissuing the information through the North Carolina Council of Defense, created to support the [homefront]  effort during World War I — and administered within each county.

“That message got through, Austin noted.”

— From “Historic Outbreak: Spanish Flu on NC Coast” by Kip Tabb in Coastal Review (April 29, 2020)





New in the collection: bicycle licenses

Metal shaped like badges with the names of Rocky Mount and Raleigh and numbers.

I’ve been stymied in unearthing the history behind these two bicycle licenses.

What mention of bike licenses I did find was in Charlotte: In 1954 the city enacted an ordinance requiring a 25-cent metal registration tag. “The move is designed to cope with widespread bicycle theft,” the Observer explained. By 1964 the metal tag seems to have given way to reflector tape, and after that the Observer archives yield not a single mention of the license ordinance. By the 21st century letters to the editor were calling for licensing not to thwart thieves but to crack down on cyclists seen as disrespectful of drivers.

How relevant is any of this to Raleigh and Rocky Mount? Maybe not at all — suggestions welcome!

‘Tacky’: A study in upward mobility?

“The tasteless meaning of ‘tacky’ originated in the American South, where the word originally referred to a scrawny or broken-down horse….

“Within a few decades, ‘tacky’ had extended to humans, serving as a self-deprecating label for poor white Southerners who were identified with their equine counterparts. As a North Carolinian wrote in an 1836 letter documented in Norman E. Eliason’s book ‘Tarheel Talk,’ ‘I tell them I don’t know any better for I’m a mountain tackey sartin [certainly].’

“The word then made the move from noun to adjective.  A writer from Charleston, S.C., explained in 1890 that ‘tacky’ applied to ‘persons of low ideas and vulgar manners, whether rich or poor’ who exhibit ‘an absence of style.’ Clothing, he said, was considered tacky if it was ‘cheap and yet pretentious.’

“But that gaudy style wasn’t always a source of shame. Also in 1890, a Kentucky correspondent for the journal Dialect Notes reported that ‘recently we have had “tacky parties,” where the guests dress in the commonest and most unfashionable costumes.’  Such parties (often featuring awards for tackiest costumes) persisted throughout the South, particularly in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English.”

— From “The Gauche Origins of the Word ‘Tacky’ “ by Ben Zimmer in the Wall Street Journal (July 18, 2014)

New in the collection: Randolph Scott cigarette card

Card with black and white image of Randolph Scott smoking a cigarette.

Randolph Scott left Charlotte in 1917 to serve in World War I. Returning home, he went to Georgia Tech with dreams of being an All-America football player until he suffered a back injury. He then transferred to the University of North Carolina, where he studied textile engineering and manufacturing for two semesters before returning to Charlotte to work for  his father’s accountancy firm.

“In 1927 Scott traveled to Hollywood with a letter of introduction from his father to Howard Hughes. He was able to meet Hughes and score a screen test with Cecil B. DeMille….”

— From “Classics in the Carolinas: Randolph Scott.”

This German card, one of hundreds in a movie star series inserted in packs of Lloyd cigarettes,  is circa 1936.

“If to collect cigarette cards is a sign of eccentricity,”  Edward Wharton-Tigar commented after bequeathing his collection to the British Museum, “how then will posterity judge one who amassed the biggest collection in the world? Frankly, I care not.”

The Senate’s first filibusterer?

“The roots of ‘filibuster’ go back to a Dutch word for a pirate or privateer, ‘vrijbuiter.’ …. Dutch colonists of the 16th century used the term for pirates they encountered in the West Indies. In English it became ‘freebooter,’ in French ‘flibustier’ and in Spanish ‘filibustero.’

“In the mid-19th century, ‘filibustero’ became a key term in Latin America as soldiers of fortune, often hailing from the U.S., went on unauthorized expeditions to overturn Spanish colonial rule and take control of territories for themselves. These adventurers earned the ‘filibustero’ label, Anglicized as ‘filibuster’ in the American press….

“[In 1853] the word came up as the House of Representatives debated whether to annex Cuba. A North Carolina Democrat, Rep. Abraham Venable, broke with his party to denounce the idea as U.S. piracy, or as he put it , ‘now in our tongue filibuster, but still a freebooter.’ His fellow Democrat, Rep. Albert G. Brown of Mississippi, turned the label around on him — and began its transition to a new political meaning about hijacking the debate itself.  ‘When I saw my friend standing on the other side of the House filibustering, as I thought, against the United States, surrounded, as he was, by admiring Whigs, I did not know what to think.’ ”

— From ” ‘Filibuster’: A Pirating Maneuver That Sailed Into the Senate” by Ben Zimmer in the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 25, 2020) 

New in the collection: Galifianakis movie pinbacks

Two pinbacks. One has Will Ferrell's face and the words "Will" and "Campaign." The other pinback has an image of Zach Galifinakis's face and the words "Zach and Campaign."“To really enjoy The Campaign, it’s best to be a) a Will Ferrell fan; b) a Zach Galifianakis fan; or c) from North Carolina.

“It isn’t surprising that this comedy about small-town candidates battling to win a seat in Congress is set in the Tar Heel State (by way of Louisiana, with filming taking place before N.C. state lawmakers added $60 million in filmmaking tax incentives this year).

“Ferrell’s parents hail from Roanoke Rapids and he still has relatives living in Cary. Galifianakis was born and raised in Wilkesboro and attended N.C. State University. Moreover, Nick Galifianakis, Zach’s uncle, was a three-term North Carolina congressman who lost the 1972 election for U.S. Senate to a former television commentator named Jesse Helms, a campaign marred by slogans denigrating Galifianakis’ Greek heritage: ‘Jesse Helms: He’s One of Us.’ ”

— From “Zach Galifianakis settles some old North Carolina political scores with Will Ferrell and The Campaign” by Neil Morris in Indy Week (Aug. 9, 2012)

Blu-Ray discs had their day — even giving Blockbuster a moment of hope — but have faded fast since the advent of streaming video. 

When the North Carolina sank the Maine

“In February 1912 the commander in chief of the Atlantic fleet ordered two of his proudest battleships, the North Carolina and the Birmingham, to steam to Havana so that ‘a suitable force of men under arms’ could transfer the bones retrieved from the wreckage. The two vessels would then escort the Maine to her resting place amid 21-gun salutes and white-uniformed splendor.

“The Navy meticulously orchestrated the event. It was important that the Maine perform well, but there was no guarantee she would sink gracefully. She might capsize, air pockets could make her wallow and refuse to go down, and it all would be recorded in photographs and moving pictures. As a precaution the Army wired the hull with dynamite so that if the ship needed to be blown up again, the job would not have to be done with American guns.

“The dynamite was unnecessary. The uneventful trip from the harbor to international waters took two hours. At five o’clock a gun on board the North Carolina signaled the opening of the Maine’s sea valves, and a military band began playing a funeral march. Her deck covered with flowers and her jury mast flying a huge American flag, the Maine began to ship water. For 10 minutes the hull pitched heavily on the rolling seas, with no apparent change. Gradually, the forward end began to dip; the stern rose until the ship was almost vertical. There was a flash of spray and color as the American flag slid under the surface, snapping briskly until it hit the water. ‘The Maine then quickly disappeared to her last rest,’ said a witness, ‘leaving no trace, save flowers on the surface of the sea.’

“The escorting battleships fired three volleys from their big guns; a lone bugler played taps. The radiogram from the captain of the North Carolina to the Secretary of the Navy read simply: ‘MAINE sank 5:23 P.M. Whole function successful and impressive.’ And in his final report the captain specified that…  a ‘wonderful crowd’ of about 100,000 people stood silently along the waterfront and on balconies and housetops.”

— From “The Second Sinking Of The ‘Maine’ ” by Carmine Prioli in American Heritage (December 1990)