Notes from a pandemic….

“On my way to Charlotte, I had to stop at a convenience store for the restroom. I walked far around one employee on a smoke break outside the store. I was the only person of perhaps 20 inside who was masked and was clearly being given the stink eye.

“I brought a drink to the counter to pay and the employee behind the plexiglass screen asked me if that was all. I said yes, and he said, ‘Take it.’ I was like, ‘Oh thanks, happy Mother’s Day?’ And he said, ‘No, your mask is scaring us.’ ”

— Facebook commenter Kay West of Asheville, cited in “What It’s Like to Wear a Mask in the South” by Margaret Renkl in the New York Times (June 1)


Death noted: Bill Scarborough, defender of Confederacy

Lost Cause apologist William Scarborough, whose doctorate and bachelor’s degree were from UNC Chapel Hill and whose papers occupy 27 feet of shelf space in the Southern Historical Collection, died May 17 at his home in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was 87.

Here’s what I wrote about Scarborough in 2017 after he sprang to the defense of the Confederate iconography embedded in the Mississippi state flag.

New in the collection: Colonel Shelby cigar brochure

Two page advertising spread that reads "Dealers are enthusiastic over Colonel Shelby Cigars" and includes images of several cigar boxes.

The story of Col. Joseph Shelby, the Overmountain Men and the Battle of Kings Mountain is well documented — less so the cigars named for him in the town named for him.

This ad appeared in the Danville (Va.) Bee on April 18, 1927: “Wanted: Responsible Salesman To sell Hava-Rexa, Champagne, and Colonel Shelby cigars to retailers. Attractive line; liberal commissions. Rex Cigar Co., Shelby, N.C.”

“Colonel Shelbys are growing in favor,” this pitch to dealers claims, but a Cleveland County history notes only that “After several years the business moved from North Carolina and smokers lost the pleasure of a local cigar.”

New in the collection: Clinton, Gore, Hunt pinback

Pinback that reads "4 more for Clinton/Gore and Governor Jim Hunt, Chicago 1996 Democratic National Convention" and includes a map of North Carolina superimposed over a map of the U.S.

The “4 More” theme on this somewhat crowded convention badge linked the Clinton-Gore ticket’s bid for an encore in the White House with Gov. Hunt’s simultaneous run for his fourth and final term.

Reelection ruled. Hunt defeated Robin Hayes 56-43 percent. Nationally Clinton received only 49 percent — 44 percent in North Carolina — but that was enough because Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy kept Bob Dole from topping 41 percent.

New in the collection: ‘Pride in Tobacco’ patch

Patch that reads "RJR, Pride in Tobacco" and features a hand holding a tobacco leaf.

“The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. created ‘Pride in Tobacco’ to promote this pro-tobacco culture and oppose tobacco-control policies…. through news releases, billboards and also materials such as bumper stickers, posters, window decals, baseball caps, stamps, and brochures….

“A 1978 Tobacco Institute newsletter stated that ‘RJ Reynolds “Pride in Tobacco” campaign won praise in four North Carolina newspapers.’ Examples are ‘Those of us in tobacco country have stood by in embarrassment and shame and have silently taken the abuse for too long. It’s time for us to tell our story’ (Greenville Reflector). The campaign ‘not only is appropriate, it is important to North Carolina’ (Goldsboro News-Argus). ‘The embattled tobacco community must unite in developing a counterattack to bolster its image’ (Wilmington Star). ‘North Carolinians have nothing to be ashamed about in the production of tobacco products’ (Franklin Times).”

— From “Tobacco-Control Policies in Tobacco-Growing States: Where Tobacco Was King” by Amanda Fallin and Stanton A. Glantz in the Milbank Quarterly (June 4, 2015)

Was the desperate clamor of “Pride in Tobacco” the death rattle of decades of North Carolina’s unenlightened self-interest?


New in the collection: Hamlet ‘Hub’ license plate

Front license plate that reads "Hamlet, The Hub of the Seaboard."

“No Carolinas train tour can omit quaint Hamlet, just east of Rockingham. It was here that the rails of the Seaboard Air Line crossed and headed into the four cardinal directions. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 30 trains a day paused on journeys to New York, New Orleans, Norfolk and Florida.

“ ‘Hamlet was like the Charlotte airport is today,’ says Miranda Chavis, who manages the rail museum beside the restored 1900 passenger station built in grand Queen Anne Victorian style. ‘Small town, big railroads.’

“It was one of the nation’s earliest tourist traps. There were seven hotels and many boarding houses for transferring passengers in the town nicknamed “Hub of the Seaboard.” Shops and restaurants catered to visitors. There was an opera house where tenor Enrico Caruso once performed. Lavish accommodations were to be found at the Seaboard Hotel, which fronted the tracks.

“Hamlet, pop. 6,000, is still a railroad town. Amtrak stops twice a day, and Seaboard’s successor railroad CSX has a massive switching yard just outside town. In front of the Hamlet station, the tracks still cross and trains constantly thunder through, attracting train watchers. In the book ‘Guide to North American Railroad Hot Spots’ by J. David Ingles, Hamlet is listed as the prime watching spot for train fans in North Carolina.”

— From “Love of railroads spans the Carolinas” by Mark Washburn in the Charlotte Observer (May 26, 2013)


New in the collection: Charlie Justice, cover boy

Sport magazine cover with photo of Charlie Justice in football uniform and helmet

Not every striking photo of Charlie Justice was taken by Hugh Morton. Credit for this one from 1949 belongs to the remarkably prolific magazine shooter Ozzie Sweet.

The cover story by Lewis Burton of the New York Journal-American promises “The Truth about Charlie Justice” but addresses only glancingly those “persisting rumors about fabulous sums his touchdowns command…. A distinctive feature of the whispers is that they discount the altogether mundane possibility that Charlie might actually crave a college education….”