New in the collection: Little Rebel pickle label

Rectangle label with the words Little Rebel and an image of a soldier in a blue uniform.

Mount Olive Pickle Co. captions a Little Rebel label as “circa 1940,” which makes me wonder whether the concept sprang from the 1935 movie “The Littlest Rebel.”  (Quite a plot! “Shirley Temple’s father, a rebel officer, sneaks back to his rundown plantation to see his family and is arrested…. Shirley and ‘Bojangles’ Robinson beg President Lincoln to intercede.”)

Regardless, Mount Olive updated its labels in 1953 and again in 1967, gradually eliminating its distinctive brands such as Little Rebel, Carolina Beauty and Mopico.

And here’s a colorful label from Mount Olive’s onetime rival Chas. F. Cates & Sons of Faison.

From Ahoskie to China with a single goal

“In 1916, Lee Parker left his father’s tobacco farm in Ahoskie, North Carolina, for Shanghai, China. He wrote 60 years later in his memoir, ‘I was fresh from the United States, sent by BAT, the British American Tobacco Company, to “put a cigarette between the lips of every man and woman in China.” ’

“Parker’s father had sent him to Wake Forest College in hopes he would, upon graduation, join the small white professional class. But even with a college degree, ‘jobs was hard to come by for a country fellow,’ Parker recalled. He had heard that a buyer at the tobacco market in Wilson, North Carolina, hired young men for jobs in China, so he borrowed five dollars from his brother and made the journey to Wilson. After an interview on the tobacco warehouse floor that lasted ‘between 30 seconds and two minutes,’ Parker’s life path veered sharply east, and he headed to China to work as a cigarette salesman for one of the world’s first multinational corporations.

“Parker was one of hundreds of young white men who journeyed from the bright leaf tobacco–growing states of Virginia and North Carolina to work for BAT-China from 1905 to 1937, the very years that cigarette consumption skyrocketed worldwide….”

— From “Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism” by  Nan Enstad (2018)

New in the collection: Meck Dec medal

Gold-colored, heart-shaped metal with the words Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, Charlotte, N.C. and an image of a night cap

While Charlotteans were celebrating (in their nightcaps?) the 131st anniversary of the Meck Dec — and commemorating it with this brass badge — big trouble was on the way.

“Despite North Carolina’s efforts,” Ronnie W. Faulkner writes in NCpedia, “a number of scholars outside the state maintained that the Mecklenburg document was a fraud. The ultimate scholarly blow came in 1907 with the publication of William Henry Hoyt‘s The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing That the Alleged Declaration of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, Is Spurious.

“Using the latest methods of scientific history and internal criticism, Hoyt maintained that the evidence was overwhelming that the reconstructed declaration was a misconstruction of the Mecklenburg Resolves of 31 May 1775, which contemporary newspapers proved had been written. Most North Carolinians ignored Hoyt’s work, but not Samuel A. Ashe, editor, historian, and descendant of one of the state’s most prominent families. The first volume of Ashe’s History of North Carolina (1908) presented both sides of the issue but ultimately agreed with the naysayers.

“A bitter fight broke out in the North Carolina General Assembly over a bill authorizing the purchase of Ashe’s book for the public schools. House Speaker Augustus W. Graham, the son of a governor and descendant of a ‘signer’ of the Mecklenburg Declaration, took the floor and defeated the authorization bill. Opponents of the measure, appealing to patriotism, noted that the date of 20 May was enshrined on the state flag and seal….”

When Langston Hughes met (the future) Nina Simone

“[Langston Hughes and Nina Simone] first met when Simone was still Eunice Waymon from Tryon, North Carolina: an aspiring classical pianist, ‘president of the 11th-grade class and an officer with the school’s NAACP chapter,’ explains Andrew J. Fletcher, a board member of the Nina Simone Project in Asheville.

“This was 1949, and Hughes had come to Asheville to address Allen High School, the private school for African-American girls Simone attended through a scholarship that her music teacher and early champion collected from her hometown. The poet ‘could not have known,’ Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, ‘that [Simone] would soon revolutionize the music canon under her stage name.’ But nearly 10 years later, he recognized her talent immediately.

“On the release of Simone’s first album, Little Girl Blue, [in 1958] Hughes was ‘so stunned that he lauded it with lyrical ardor’ in his column for the Chicago Defender:

“She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis, and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl. She is a club member, a coloured girl, an Afro-American, a homey from Down Home. She has hit the Big Town, the big towns, the LP discs and the TV shows — and she is still from down home. She did it mostly all by herself. Her name is Nina Simone.”

— From “Nina Simone Writes an Admiring Letter to Langston Hughes: ‘Brother, You’ve Got a Fan Now!’ (1966)” at (Aug. 24, 2020)

New in the collection: tonsillectomy solicitation

Card and letter about tonsillectomy

“Public health officials around a century ago decided that tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy surgery was a fine measure to improve the welfare of American children. The reasoning was that tonsils were a gateway to infection….

“The tonsil push in North Carolina started in earnest in 1917 when George Cooper was appointed director of the State Board of Health’s Bureau of Medical Inspection.

“The Sylva Herald [as turned up by local researcher Nancy Sherrill Wilson] included accounts of 84 children having their tonsils removed in 1944, 50 more in 1945 and a 1947 article recounting that ‘Children who attended the clinics were operated on in the morning and remained overnight, sleeping in the gymnasium of the school on cots, under the care of a night nurse.’

“Debates over the effectiveness of tonsillectomies, reason for conducting them and other approaches saw the practice decline going into the 1950s after peaking at around 1.5 million procedures a year [nationally]. Today tonsillectomies are often used to treat sleep apnea….”

— From “A public health strategy and a forgotten public panic” by Jim Buchanan in the Sylva Herald and Ruralite (Oct. 20, 2021)

Remarkable, isn’t it, that such a once-widespread procedure has virtually disappeared? One Red Springs physician estimated he had performed 17,000 tonsillectomies over his 35-year career.

This letter and card from the State Board of Health were sent to parents in Stokes County in the 1920s.

Tent city proposed for Asheville tourists

“A housing shortage was a top concern for Asheville at the start of 1920 — imagine that! But unlike today, the emphasis was on how the scarcity  would damage the city’s reputation as a summer resort.

“ ‘People will not return season after season if there is no assurance of a place to sleep,’ The Asheville Citizen warned. ‘Let word gradually go out that in summer Asheville is uncomfortably crowded, and Asheville will be condemned through her own negligence to the position of a third-rate resort.’

“Heeding the warning, the paper continued, the Board of Trade adopted plans to send ‘the estimated cost of Kiosk shacks … to boarding houses and others who might be interested in building these small tent-like structures near places where board can be secured. In addition, it was suggested that a tent city be formed with larger tents for dining rooms, recreation and rest centers [which] could have electric lights, water and the usual conveniences.’

“On June 18, 1920, The Asheville Citizen again reported on the dire need for housing tourists, but at this point talk of tents and kiosk shacks appear to have dropped from the conversation.”

— From “City faces housing shortage for summer tourists, 1920” by Thomas Calder at Mountain Xpress (Oct. 24, 2021) 




New in the collection: campaign thimble

Thimble with words Sew Right for North Carolina Governor Charles W. JohnsonAdvertising thimbles are almost always twentieth-century American in origin. Generally, they were made of plastic or aluminum and mass produced and inexpensive. Used to support products that appealed to homemakers, these promotional thimbles were stamped or embossed with a business name or logo. What better way to get your business in front of your target audience than have her wear it on her fingertip?

— From “Timeless Tools: Thimbles” by Dawn Cook Ronningen at PieceWork (Aug. 17, 2020)

“Sew right for North Carolina” wasn’t enough to put Charles M. Johnson over the top in his 1948 gubernatorial primary against Kerr Scott,  but Dan K. Moore gave it another shot in 1964 — and he won.

It’s a long way to Barstow, even without the sign

“Route 66 connected the Midwest and California, but I-40 is truly cross-country….

“A few miles outside Wilmington, North Carolina, the eastern terminus of 40, as well as the hometown of Michael Jordan and port of Civil War blockade runners, a sign stands on I-40 that reads: Barstow, Calif.  2,554. Nowhere else is the power of our highway system to cast the continent in its net more dramatically stated. We forget how astonishing it is that one can get on a strip of asphalt and drive without stoplight or intersection for a distance greater than the diameter of the moon (a mere 2,160 miles).”

— From “Highway” by Phil Patton in American Heritage (October 2002)

The famous Barstow sign, erected in 1990, met with repeated thefts until the N.C. Department of Transportation decided not to burn yet another $600 in replacement costs. Decorators of dorm rooms and man caves wept.