For whom the bell tolls (seriously?)

“A raven tapped on Edgar Allen Poe’s door and window, but in Western North Carolina it has been owls, doves and turkey buzzards that have presaged death. As the story goes, the buzzard even tolls a bell.

Gary Carden, noted Sylva storyteller and folklorist, has noted that the last recorded sighting of the messenger vulture was on the evening of Aug. 13, 1926, in Leicester. Ed Rhymer, a farmer, followed the sound of a tolling bell to a buzzard, which had flown off, taking the sound with it.

“It had been a Friday the 13th, which suggests a twist, perhaps a prank. In fact, there is evidence of such pranks….”

— From  “Visiting Our Past: Buzzard pranks, Holy Ghost Doves and other bird lore”  by Rob Neufeld in the Asheville Citizen-Times (Dec. 16, 2008) 

And of course there’s….

New in the collection: Petty-approved snake oil?

VX-6 box with image of Lee Petty and the words "I'd rather race without tires than without VX-6 in my battery."

Verso of VX-6 box with words "The contents of this package will end the number 1 crippling cause of battery failure."

“If you’ve been to enough swap meets, you’ve no doubt spotted a yellow and black [or red and black in this example] box of VX-6, often with the likeness of NASCAR legend Lee Petty endorsing the contents with the phrase, ‘I’d rather race without tires than without VX-6 in my battery.’

“VX-6, produced by National Dynamics (originally of New York), and others like it, is actually cadmium that, in theory, is supposed to prevent or halt sulfation. Those who swore by it insisted that inserting small doses into each cell of a new battery saw improved start time, longer life and brighter illumination of all lights in/on the vehicle. Although some period testing resulted in a finding of ‘no improvement,’ and others insisted that it was just an automotive snake oil [a view strongly suggested by the Federal Trade Commission], it’s hard to overlook the decades of satisfied customers.

“Original VX-6 boxes may have collectibility today — often with $5-$20 asking prices — however, the product has not disappeared with time. Today it’s marketed under the brand name Charge-It Concentrated Battery Additive by Solder-It in a 2-ounce bottle at a cost of $10.99, most commonly through another legend in the automotive world — [now defunct] JC Whitney.”

— From “Keeping the Spark Fresh: A collectible chemical fluid is still offered to extend battery life” by Matt Litwin in Hemmings Motor News  (Jan. 5, 2016)

When Lee Petty plugged VX-6 in the 1950s and ’60s, NASCAR’s endorsement machine had barely started rolling. It took son Richard’s alliance with STP in the ’70s to stomp on the gas.

Smokies worked no magic for Kephart’s ‘health’

“[Horace Kephart, who would be remembered as father of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park] embellished considerably in constructing his own legend. His tale of arriving in a virtually unknown corner of Appalachia seriously overstated how much of a mystery the region was to the outside world, left out the fact that he came as a writer hunting for material, and characterized his life as far more solitary than it actually was.

“Perhaps the most glaring omission from Kephart’s story of himself was the fact that his ‘health’ — his euphemism for sobriety — was not, in fact, restored. He was, by all accounts, prone to the same multiday alcoholic binges in North Carolina as he had been in St. Louis….”

— From “The Appalachian Trail: A Biography” by Philip D’Anieri (2021)

New in the collection: Transit tokens

Six tokens of various shapes and designs.

“On Monday, the city takes over the bus system. There’ll be a new name, Greensboro Transit Authority, revised routes, some new stops, expanded service and, best of all, a new fleet.

“For the first time since 1934 the Duke Power name won’t be on buses. Before 1934, Southern Public Utilities, with ties to Duke Power, ran the public transit service — whose origin dates to the 1890s when a tired old mule pulled a trolley along Elm Street.

“Electric streetcars came in 1902 and disappeared in 1934. Overhead trolleys became extinct here in 1956. Now, it’s goodbye to Duke’s buses.

“Duke Power leaves behind many memories, good and bad: Tokens, transfer slips, longtime route names such as Pomona-Bessemer and White Oak-Glenwood and those dreadful signs that long ago greeted black passengers when they stepped aboard: ‘Colored must step to the rear.’ ”

— From “Duke Power takes its last ride” by Jim Schlosser in the Greensboro News & Record (Oct. 4, 1991)

Before buses came to dominate public transit, Duke Power also had owned streetcar systems in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, High Point, Salisbury and Durham in North Carolina and in Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson in South Carolina.

But Duke Power held no statewide monopoly, as demonstrated by these additional tokens from Gate City Transit Lines (Greensboro), Shelby Transit, Power City Bus Lines (Albemarle), Safety Transit (Rocky Mount) Gastonia Transit and M and B Transit Lines (Burlington).

Despite its limiting name, Chicago Transit & Railfan offers remarkably detailed information on North Carolina

‘Ground game’ election strategy has football roots

“A 1921 article in the Charlotte Observer previewed a matchup between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Davidson Wildcats by noting that ‘the aerial game’ was expected to be ‘used extensively by both teams,’ while ‘a great ground game if successful is also hazardous.’

“It would take another 60 years for the football terms to enter the political field of play. In a 1981 column for the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Young, then between stints as U.N. ambassador and mayor of Atlanta, made the athletic analogy explicit.

” ‘So get ready for the big playoffs in 1982 and the Super Bowl in 1984,’ Mr. Young wrote, alluding to the coming midterm and presidential elections. ‘The far right will take to the air. The opposition will launch a new ground game, which would be helped by an air attack if the money is available.’ ”

— From “How ‘Ground Game’ Moved From the Gridiron to Politics” by Ben Zimmer in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 5, 2014)

New in the collection: Greensboro wooden nickels

Four wooden nickels with images of John Motley Morehead, O'Henry, General Nathaniel Greene, and Captain John Sloan.

Verso of wooden nickels with words Greensboro Sesquicentennial.

“Fifty years ago this month, the city’s 150th anniversary celebration featured a little bit of everything, including lots of trouble and a funny name.

“‘Even the kids know how to pronounce sesquicentennial,’ one editorial writer quipped. ‘(But) not one in a thousand can tell you what it means.’

“Over 10 days in May, sesquicentennial meant things like a nightly outdoor pageant complete with a cast of 1,250; simulated atomic bomb blasts; a dog that walked a 15-block parade on its hind legs; merchants handing out wooden nickels [with Nathanael Greene‘s name misspelled]; a marching band playing ‘Dixie;’ and pie-eating, beard-growing and husband-calling contests.

“Organizers even ‘prohibited’ women from wearing makeup and jewelry in public unless they bought certificates that allowed them to.

“‘It was like Mayberry,’ said Gayle Fripp, the Guilford County historian. ‘Andy Griffith could have been there.’

“But the headline turned out to be the weather. Because of heavy rains and sparse crowds, the celebration wound up mired in red ink and mud to match….”

— From “’58 festivity a washout” by Donald W. Patterson in the Greensboro News & Record (May 17, 2008)

By the time the city’s bicentennial celebration rolled around, the agenda reflected enormous civic and cultural upheaval. “Dixie” had disappeared from the playlist, for instance, and if wooden nickels had been issued they probably wouldn’t have been limited to dead white men.

Al Capp brings Sadie Hawkins to campus

“On Nov. 8, the students of the co-educational University of North Carolina gave themselves over to a day of humorous osculation. It was Sadie Hawkins Day, only holiday based on events in a comic strip, and all over America 500 schools, colleges, clubs and Army camps were commemorating the day when the original Sadie Hawkins of Dogpatch, Ky., a fleet but uncomely lass, chased and nailed a husband.

“To North Carolina for the event repaired the originator of the famous Li’l Abner cartoon strip himself, Al Capp, to guide and instruct the celebrants in their burlesque. This year there is a new Dogpatch girl, Cynthia the Siren, who is out to get girl-shy Li’l Abner, and on these pages the co-eds from the University of North Carolina demonstrate her effective techniques for kissing the unwilling male.”

— From “On Sadie Hawkins Day, North Carolina co-eds show how to kiss girl-shy boys” in Life magazine (Nov. 24, 1941)

Stephen Fletcher and Elizabeth Hull have lots more on the barely prewar festivities, including the familiar names of Life’s photographer and the Daily Tar Heel’s. 

New in the collection: Dixie Fire Insurance blotter

Dixie Fire Insurance, chartered in 1906, is long lost into a series of industry mergers, but its handsome headquarters — at five stories, once Guilford County’s tallest skyscraper — remains as the nominally truncated Dixie Building.

Now that Winston-Salem has renamed the Dixie Classic Fair the Carolina Classic Fair and Winn-Dixie has beaten a retreat from the state, the Dixie Building may be the Triad’s most prominent bearer of the increasingly-contentious name.

Also from Dixie Fire Insurance’s store of desk accessories: this eye-catching mirror/paperweight from World War I.

One Englishman’s Goldsboro, 1957

“There were no interstates in 1957, only the old numbered federal highways that wandered the stagecoach routes between city and city. US 1 was the route we chose southward out of Washington on an itinerary only partly planned, and it took us to Richmond, then — Americans still laugh when I tell them — we headed over to Goldsboro, North Carolina, thence to Charleston, and so to Atlanta.

“Gentle memories of Goldsboro, hick town though Americans may think it, remain with me still. I liked it because in the middle of unfettered space, its citizens had chosen to build what then passed for a skyscraper in the South, a touching symbol of civic pride. I liked it because it was the first town in which I stayed in a motel, that brilliantly creative American contribution to the conveniences of travel, the American caravanserai, without vermin, camel smells, importunate hangers-on, or unspeakable sanitation. I liked it because in the growing cool of a Southern evening, I could sit outside above the dust of an unpaved sidewalk and watch the beautiful legs of girls otherwise unseen in the dying twilight walking—where? I longed to know. I longed to follow. The English girls with whom I had grown up wore skirts below their knees. Southern girls, even in 1957, wore abbreviated shorts above golden, athletic thighs….”

— From “One Englishman’s America” by John Keegan in American Heritage (February-March 1996)

New in the collection: FCX pinback

Pinback with words "FCX Farm and Garden, 50th Anniversary, 1934-1984"

“FCX Inc., then known as Farmers Cooperative Exchange, opened its first outlet in Burlington in 1934. Seven more stores quickly followed… during the Great Depression.

“In the 50 years since then FCX has grown into an operation with 95 centers and gross sales of about $500 million a year. In 1984, it ranks as the No. 1 farm supplier in North and South Carolina.”

— From “FCX Marks 50 Years of Self-Help Success” by Eugene S. Knight in Carolina Country (March 1984)

Alas, by this time the declining farm economy had already pushed FCX to the brink of bankruptcy, and in 1986 it accepted a buyout offer from Richmond-based Southern States Cooperative.