Artifacts of the Month: Chang Bunker’s silverware

Chang & Eng Bunker

The North Carolina Collection Gallery exhibit on Chang and Eng Bunker, the original “Siamese twins,” continues to fascinate and intrigue visitors. Among the items on display are artifacts from Chang and Eng’s many years on tour, a time when they were presented as walking curiosities to paying spectators in town after town. Figurines and advertisements in the Gallery’s exhibit provide a window into the twins’ travels, compelling us to wonder what it was like to live on display.

But for many visitors, what’s even more absorbing are the materials that illuminate the Bunkers’ lives at home in North Carolina, with their wives and dozens of children, away from the inquisitive eyes of the world. A picture of Eng’s home in Surry County. A letter opener. A photo of the twins with two of their sons. These items speak of extraordinary efforts made to lead ordinary lives, despite challenges that most of us can barely imagine.

Our May artifacts of the month fall into that second category. These pieces of silverware, recently donated by one of Chang’s descendants, bear on their handles the initials “CE,” for Chang and Eng. The silverware pattern was known as “Fiddle Thread” and was made by Tenney.

Chang's silverware

It is precisely the ordinariness of these artifacts that makes them worth contemplating. They offer one more reminder that daily life for Chang and Eng was not all that different from the lives of their neighbors.

Artifact of the Month: Autographed Roanoke Colony first day cover

Sir Walter Raleigh first day cover

Look closely at the autographs on this first day cover and you’re sure to recognize some familiar names. Yes, that does say Jesse Helms, right alongside Terry Sanford and Jim Martin. And that’s Rufus Edmisten and Jim Hunt near the top. The scribble in the middle is John Edwards.

The cover, our April Artifact of the Month, was issued in 1984 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first English colony at Roanoke Island. The cachet (the artwork on the envelope) depicts an English ship next to a drawing of Sir Walter Raleigh, who sponsored the Roanoke Colony.

If you look even more closely, you’ll see that the autographs have dates spanning from 1984 to 2007. The donor of this item carried the cover with him to events and had it autographed by prominent North Carolinians when the opportunity arose. Descriptions of those events are included in the label below, which is framed with the cover.

First day cover label

It took more than twenty years to create, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more purely Tar Heel artifact.

Lux Libertas in Perpetuity: Historic Preservation at UNC

Cold winds swept through its ill-fitting swinging doors. There was no toilet… The only washing facilities — and they were then a modern improvement — were long galvanized iron troughs in the corridors with cold water taps above them. Undoubtedly the recollection of great earlier students filled the rooms. In their time, they must have shivered too.

— Mr. Jonathan Daniels, recalling in 1966 his days as a student resident of Old East

Old East, circa 1929
Old East, circa 1929

Old East is, rightly, the beginning of any history of UNC’s built environment. When its cornerstone was laid in 1793, its builders surely knew that it was the first state university building in the nation. But could they have known then that it would still be standing in 2012? Could they have imagined the changes it would see in its lifetime: first toilets, then television, then microwaves, then wi-fi?

In 1922, Old East was condemned as unsafe and that could have been the end of the story. Fortunately, those at the helm had the foresight (and the hindsight) to recognize the building’s value and invest in renovations. As the result of a legislative appropriation, its walls were reinforced and its east-side portico restored. In 1966, Old East was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The effort to preserve Old East is one of the stories Wendy Hillis will share during “Lux Libertas in Perpetuity: Historic Preservation at UNC.” Hillis, UNC’s historic preservation officer, will deliver the talk as the 2012 Gladys Hall Coates University History Lecture on April 4 at 5:30 in Wilson Library.

The talk celebrates two current Library exhibitions about campus architecture. A Dialogue Between Old and New: Notable Buildings on the UNC Campus is on view in the North Carolina Collection Gallery. Knowledge Building(s): The Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is in the gallery of Davis Library. Both are open through May 31, 2012.

Artifact of the Month: 1930s UNC banner

From now through the end of May, visitors to the NCC Gallery can view the exhibit “A Dialogue Between Old and New: Notable Buildings on the UNC Campus.” A quick stroll through the exhibit reveals how much architectural styles have changed since 1793 — but also how much student life has changed in that time:

  • A 1905 photo of nude male students in the campus pool speaks of a time when women’s access to campus facilities was restricted.
  • A 1930s picture of undergrads playing billiards in Graham Memorial Student Union recalls an era when jackets and ties were typical student attire.
  • And in a photo dated 1970, students lounge barefoot in a dorm room under a poster advocating peace — an image so perfectly of its time that it almost looks staged.

One thing that hasn’t changed with the decades is a spirit of UNC pride in the student body. In that spirit, our Artifact of the Month is a Carolina banner that belonged to John DeWitt Foust, Jr. of the class of 1938.

blue Carolina banner

The banner is made of felt with an interlocking “NC” logo in the lower left. A leather seal in the upper right bears the school’s Latin motto “Lux libertas.” The banner likely hung on the wall in Vance Hall dormitory, where Foust lived for his first year or two at UNC.

yearbook page

As this page from the 1938 Yackety Yack shows, John DeWitt Foust — or J.D., as he was called — earned an Engineering degree. He graduated in the last class before the Engineering department was moved to NC State. After graduating, he worked as a mechanical engineer with Newman Machine Company in Greensboro, which later became Newman-Whitney. In 1944 he married Margaret Langston, who later graduated from UNC-Greensboro. They lived in Greensboro until J.D.’s death in 1988.

This banner was donated by J.D. Foust’s son in memory of J.D. and the NCC Gallery is pleased to preserve and share it. We invite other alumni and their relatives to contact the Gallery if they’re seeking a good home for their UNC memorabilia.

Celebrating Mardi Gras in the Gallery

For our friends on the Gulf coast, celebrating Mardi Gras means wild revelry in the streets. For us at the NCC Gallery, it means highlighting a few of our lesser-known holdings.

Cleopatra Mardi Gras doubloons

These aluminum doubloons are throws from the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Throws, of course, are the trinkets thrown from Mardi Gras floats, including strings of beads, plastic cups, and small toys. While krewe members have been throwing trinkets since the 1920s, doubloons weren’t introduced until the 1960s.

Argus Mardi Gras doubloon

Each doubloon is stamped with the name and logo of the krewe, the year, and the year’s theme. As a result, no krewe’s coin is like any other’s, and every krewe’s doubloons differ from year to year. It’s this customization that makes the pieces collectible.

Zeus Mardi Gras doubloon

The trio pictured here includes a 1975 doubloon from the Krewe of Cleopatra, a 1976 doubloon from the Krewe of Argus, and a 1981 drachma from the Krewe of Zeus.

But why are they here?

Mardi Gras medals don’t fall under our typical collecting scope of North Caroliniana. But they do represent an interesting example of numismatics, an area in which the NCC Gallery’s collection is particularly strong. Most of the Gallery’s currency holdings are North Carolina specific, including Bechtler gold coins from the state’s gold-rush era, North Carolina paper money issued prior to the Civil War, and bills of credit issued in the state during the Colonial era. (Images and more information on these holdings can be found in the online exhibit Historic Moneys in the North Carolina Collection.)

So, while our focus remains on the history of North Carolina, one of the pleasures of having a strong numismatics collection is coming across unexpected finds like these.

From all of us here at the NCC, laissez les bon temps rouler!

Artifact of the Month: 1936 commencement marshal sash

This blue-and-white sash, the February Artifact of the Month, was worn by Nannie Louise Davis in UNC’s 1936 commencement exercises. Badges at the shoulder and hip ornament the sash and gold tassels hang from the ends, rendering it an appropriately regal piece of regalia.

Davis was a junior when she was elected marshal by her class in 1936. This page from the Yackety Yack shows her with her fellow marshals. If she stands out from her peers on this page, it’s with good reason: Louise was the first woman to hold the position.

Davis was born in Goldsboro in 19241914. She began her college career at Duke and transferred to UNC as a sponsored sophomore. As a UNC student, she lettered in basketball and graduated in 1937 with a B.S. in Commerce. The 1937 Yackety Yack also identifies Davis as the Secretary of the Woman’s Association, Treasurer of the Woman’s Athletic Association, President of the Co-ed Class, and a member of the Glee Club. With a résumé like that, it’s no surprise her classmates selected her for the honor of serving as a commencement marshal.

After graduating, Louise lived in Raleigh with her husband Otis Vance Jones Jr. They raised three children and, in 1950, started the Jones Brokerage Company. Louise died two years ago, on Feb. 16, 2010.