Artifact of the month: Skydiving jumpsuit and gear

skydiving photo
F.J. Hale with canopy (skydivers’ term for parachute), circa early 1970s.

Francis J. Hale, co-founder of the UNC Parachute Club, recently dropped in with July’s Artifacts of the Month. Hale, Class of 1973, organized the Club in 1969 with fellow student Bob Bolch. Not surprisingly, the University did not easily warm to the idea of its students jumping out of airplanes. Hale recalls “The athletic department wanted nothing to do with us. I nagged the devil out of them, until I finally got some old warm up suits from the swim team.” Undaunted by the University’s lack of enthusiasm, the Club designed suits, acquired equipment, and thrived. Members were soon winning trophies in regional contests with other parachute clubs.

yearbook photo
F.J. Hale with his ParaCommander Mk1 parachute in his 1973 Yackety Yack photo.

Army regulations were looser back in those days and Club members were allowed to jump with the 18th Corps Sport Parachute Club at Fort Bragg and later the Green Beret Parachute Club. According to Hale, UNC Parachute Club members didn’t spend too much time at Fort Bragg, but hanging around the seasoned soldiers there opened their eyes “a little too wide.”

Also included in this gift is a helmet with camera, a t-shirt with logo designed by team member Canda Sue Reaugh, a logo pendant, and, most priceless of all, the stories Hale told us about his experiences as a student. Understandably, Hale is holding onto his Parachute Club jacket, which, like his 1969-1973 jumpsuit, still fits!

man in parachute gear
It still fits! F.J. Hale in his circa 1969-1973 UNC Parachute Club gear, June 2014.

Artifact of the month: Lock of Robert E. Lee’s hair

robert e. lee's hair
“Gen. Lee’s Hair” has been carefully written in pencil on the paper that was wrapped around the lock.

When Ellen Douglas Brownlow asked the former Civil War general in 1870 for a lock of his hair as a keepsake, he would not have considered it a strange request. In fact, it was common in the Victorian era for friends to exchange a cutting of human hair. Civil War soldiers often left some of their long tresses with loved ones before departing for service. Hair was preferred over autographs, and prominent people were known to give clips of hair to admirers.

According to Brownlow’s account in 1903, Lee good-naturedly made the cut himself. The lock was then divided among several ladies, which explains why this one is more a collection of strands. It eventually ended up in the Southern Historical Collection’s Boyd Family Papers before its transfer to the North Carolina Collection Gallery earlier this month.

While many locks from historical figures are safely preserved in manuscript collections, others are part of a thriving souvenir market in celebrity hair. Prices for a few strands can reach five figures, as shown in 2011 when a fan paid over $40,000 for a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair. According to a New York Times article, a locket with a sample of Lee’s hair sold in 2012 for $12,500 at auction.

Artifact of the Month: UNC Cardboard jacket

This morning’s cool weather may have sparked some to wonder whether fall has arrived. Autumn is more than a month away, but fall sports—think football—is a mere two weeks away for UNC Tar Heel fans!  May’s “Artifact of the Month” highlighted the contributions to the game by Carolina’s cheerleaders.  This month we salute the members of UNC Cardboard, students who planned and executed card stunts during halftime at home football games.  Norman Sper, a UNC cheerleader in the class of  ’50, brought the tradition to Carolina in 1948 after admiring the card shows at UCLA. For a few decades in the mid to late twentieth century, students sitting in the lower deck on Kenan Stadium’s south side flipped colored cards to make designs and spell out words.   By the early 1950s more than 2,000 students participated in the stunts, and UNC’s card section was believed to be the largest in the eastern United States.

Jacket courtesy of F. Marion Redd
Jacket courtesy of F. Marion Redd

This navy jacket was awarded for service to F. Marion Redd ’67, who led the club during the 1966-67 academic year.  According to Redd, club leaders preplanned stunts on grid paper and hand stamped and placed all instruction cards underneath stadium seats the evening before the game


Stunt instruction card for UNC vs. Wake Forest, 1966.  Other cards used colors rather than stunt names. Instruction card courtesy of F. Marion Redd.
Stunt instruction card for UNC vs. Wake Forest, 1966. Other cards used colors rather than stunt names. Instruction card courtesy of F. Marion Redd.
"Hi Deacs" stunt, 1966. Photograph courtesy of F. Marion Redd.
“Hi Deacs” stunt, 1966. Photograph courtesy of F. Marion Redd.

UNC Cardboard was an official student organization and was funded by the Carolina Athletic Association.  It’s unclear when or why Cardboard stopped performing stunts.  In the late 1960s there were several occasions when students hurled cards at the end of games, injuring other fans. These incidents left University administrators threatening to pull the plug on card stunts at football games.  Perhaps one of our readers can offer more details on the demise of UNC Cardboard?

Artifacts of the Month: “Souvenir Mania”

rifle ball embedded in wood

For decades, patriotic souvenir hunters have chipped away at Plymouth Rock and cut fragments from White House curtains. Less exuberant collectors satisfy themselves with the mass-produced trinkets available at historic sites. In a recent article on, curator Larry Bird attributes this behavior to our desire to “touch” the past by owning a piece of our nation’s history.

reverse of Bentonville Battlefield artifact

The “souvenir mania” he describes inspired us to look through the Gallery’s own collection of relics. One of these keepsakes is a rifle ball embedded in a piece of wood. Inscribed on the back of this piece is “Rifle Ball, Battle at Bentonville, the Last Battle of the War between the States.” This 2 x 2.25 inch fragment was taken from a structure at Bentonville Battlefield as a memento of North Carolina’s largest Civil War battle.

Some relics are associated with revered historical figures, such as this unassuming half-inch piece of fabric, a fragment of the braid from General Robert E. Lee’s dress uniform donated in 1930 to the Library by one of Lee’s cousins.

braid from General Robert E. Lee's uniform

The Gallery holds a number of souvenirs and relics, and most of these are related to the Civil War. The collection of these is a testament to a universal human desire to connect with monumental events and historic personages of the past.

What relics or souvenirs have allowed you to touch the past?