They’re at it again … and so are we.

Although television ads for the U.S. Senate race have been at saturation level since early summer, the traditional campaign season started just this month. Before long our mailboxes will be filled with postcards, letters, and flyers touting or demonizing one candidate or another. You may not love this, but we in the North Carolina Collection do. The North Carolina Collection attempts to document the heritage of the state—and that includes our politics. Would you save the political postcards, letters, and flyers that you receive and send them to the North Carolina Collection?

We’re interested in races at all levels—county sheriff to senator. We would like our collection to be representative of the whole state, both geographically and ideologically. Those of you who are registered as independents are likely to get the most mailings. People who are registered with a party affiliation will get fewer, but many of us have family members or friends who are independents or whose politics differ from ours. Would you consider asking them for the mailings that they get? Whatever you collect can be put in a box or envelope and send them to:

North Carolina Collection
P.O. Box 8890
CB 3930, Wilson Library
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27515-8890

We collected over 1,400 pieces of campaign ephemera relating to the 2008 election and somewhat more than that in 2012. Let’s do it again!

Buying a house, 1980s style

Somethings never change, but other things surely do. Real estate agents have traditionally been a newcomer’s source of information about neighborhoods, housing, and financing for home purchases. The North Carolina Collection recently received a map of Raleigh and Cary that was distributed by Merrill Lynch Realty in 1985. Along with information on roads, streets, neighborhoods, and parks, it included this handy mortgage loan calculator. I don’t know what’s more shocking, the interest rates or the implied house price. Click on the image and you can decide.

Robert Ruark still gets around

When I travel abroad, I often checkout the local bookstores to see if they carry books by any Tar Heel authors. I am used to finding translations of blockbuster novels by Kathy Reichs, Nicholas Sparks, Orson Scott Card, or Patricia Cornwell. There were some of those in a bookstore in Bratislava that I went in last month, but imagine by surprise to find this:


It’s a 2012 Slovak edition of Robert Ruark’s The Honey Badger. Seeing this book piqued my interest–are Ruark’s books currently being published in other places and other languages? Yes. Since 2000, translations of Ruark’s books have appeared in Chinese, Czech, German, and Vietnamese.

And the winner is ….

Although the volume of campaign mailings and posters appears to be as high this year as it was in 2008, there was a falloff in creativity and strong imagery. Nothing compared to the blood hound looking for Elizabeth Dole or the image of Barack Obama in lederhosen. The one mailing that did standout for strong imagery—and expense—was this tri-fold mailer that appeared in the mailboxes of independent voters in the North Carolina House District 63. This contest was for an open seat, vacated when Alice Bordsen, a Democrat, decided not to run for a sixth term. Steve Ross (R), a financial advisor and former Burlington mayor, ran against Patty Philipps (D), an attorney and member of the Mebane City Council. Taxes and jobs were the big issues, but the race got personal, with Rich being accused of using public office to feather his own nest. When Phillips was arrested for DWI a month before the election, her driving record became the subject of several mailings. Interest groups such as the Americans for Prosperity-NC and the North Carolina Chamber funded some mailings, but this one was produced by the Democratic Party of North Carolina. When the votes were tallied on Election Day, the Republican Ross beat Philipps 56.5% to 43.3%–approximately the same margin as Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama in Alamance County.

Working Up the Senior Set

The national debt was much discussed this past election season. Voters were urged to think of the future generations—all those children and grandchildren who will be burden by our fiscal irresponsibility and that of the politicians that we’ve elected. But cute little kids don’t vote, and senior citizens do, so both major parties made appeals to this group. Seniors were told that Mitt Romney “will end guaranteed benefits for Medicare” and that his tax plan “could mean hiking taxes on Social Security benefits.” Meanwhile “Obamacare cut $716 billion from Medicare spending to pay for new entitlements” and will result in “loss of access to doctors and treatments.” Seniors were warned that they face a precarious future of reduced access to doctors, rationing of medical treatments, raised prescription drug costs, higher taxes on Social Security benefits, and victimization by private insurance profiteers. Death panels were not mentioned as they were in 2009, but seniors were given plenty of other things to worry about. You can see the concern on their faces as they appeared in mailings that some North Carolina voters received from the North Carolina Democratic Party (left image) and Americans for Tax Reform (center and right images).

Who Threw That Hat in the Ring?

I am a person who wears hats, so perhaps it was inevitable that I would notice when campaigns used headgear to make a point. Chapeaux faux-pas have been a bit of a tradition in American politics—many of us remember the unfortunate images of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in a helmet or the tittering when John F. Kennedy didn’t wear a hat at his inauguration. None of the hats below was voluntarily donned by candidates, rather they were Photoshop creations, assigned to a candidate to signify some aspect of his unsuitability for office.

The green triangular cloth cap is instantly recognizable as Robin Hood’s hat of choice. Here the North Carolina Democratic Party uses it to get your attention while it accuses Mitt Romney of being a reverse Robin Hood—taking from people of modest means to give to the rich. The verso of the card details how he will do this. It also includes a photo of “Romney Hood and his Merry Men in Congress”—John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Eric Kantor—all looking anything but merry.

We received a lot of mailings for the race for the open seat in North Carolina House District 63. From the material we received, it appears as though both candidates were well funded, and that the race got personal at times. (More about these points in a later post.) Here Republican candidate Steve Ross has been Photoshopped into a classic “Greetings from …” postcard, to make an issue of his trip to Mexico that the Democratic Party of North Carolina claims was taxpayer funded.

But the winner for most distinctive headgear goes to this creation of the North Carolina Republican Party. Jim Messina was the Democratic candidate challenging the incumbent representative, Republican Thomas Murry, in North Carolina House District 41. Messina graduated from Harvard University and works in high tech, but in this mailing he is accused of supporting “an extreme agenda that rejects modern scientific fact and will ultimately kill economic expansion in North Carolina.” This is apparently an oblique (at least to me) reference to Messina’s objections to fracking and/or his belief in climate change. Messina lost to Murry by 1,489 votes.

Something to fill the time between inaugurations

Loyal blog readers and sundry others know that the North Carolina Collection collects political ephemera, including those annoying post cards and letters that fill our mailboxes in election season. During the 2008 presidential election cycle, friends of the Collection sent us more than 700 pieces of campaign ephemera. During the 2012 campaign season we received approximately 1,400 pieces. Thank you! The collection doesn’t span Murphy to Manteo, but it is darn close—Yancey County to Manteo, and points in between: Carrboro, Cary, Elizabeth City, Fayetteville, Gastonia, High Point, Mayodan, Mebane, and Wilmington, to name a few.

We’ll organize these postcards and flyers by office being contested and have them ready for researchers this spring. In the meantime, I’d like to share some observations—and a few sample images—with you. Watch for postings on Wednesday and Friday of this week, and on Inauguration Day. Please keep in mind this selection is subjective in the extreme. These are items that caught my eye based on the image, or how an issue was framed, or the humor. Don’t read politics into my choices. This is more a popular culture exercise than a political one.

It’s the season for yard signs

The daffodils have been and gone, but the dogwoods are at their peak. This year yard signs for and against Amendment One are popping up like dandelions–a sign that the 2012 election season is not far off. Soon we should start seeing signs for the primaries in May. Who knows, the Republican presidential race may still be undecided. Wouldn’t that guarantee that we will be bombarded with mailings and robocalls?

The North Carolina Collection attempts to document the heritage of the state—and that includes our politics. We have a good political ephemera collection–flyers, postcards, fundraising letters, etc.–and it has grown in recent years through donations from friends of the collection. Since 2008 we have received over 1,400 pieces of campaign ephemera from across the state. This postcard was one of my favorites from 2008.

Would you help us this year? Just set aside the mailers and flyers that you get, stuff them in an envelope, and send them to:
Eileen McGrath
Associate Curator, North Carolina Collection
PO Box 8890
Wilson Library, CB#3930
Chapel Hill, NC 27515-8890

We’re interested in contests at all levels—everything from the Republican presidential primary to the race for county sheriff. Scholars of the future may be particularly interested in the literature for and against Amendment One.

We have difficulty saving larger pieces such as yard signs. If you see a yard sign or billboard that seems striking or distinctly representative of a particular campaign or issue, would you photograph it and send the file to us an email attachment? Please tell us where and when you took the picture. Email those files to

Thanks for helping us build this collection.

Abe Lincoln-Lost Colony Link

Generations of Tar Heels have debated whether or not Abraham Lincoln was conceived in North Carolina while his mother, Nancy Hanks, was a servant in the household of Abraham Enloe. Who could have imagined that there might be a connection between Lincoln and the primeval North Carolina story–that of the Lost Colony?

Seth Grahame-Smith did. Grahame-Smith, author of the bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, recasts our sixteenth president as a vampire killer in his new novel, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. In Grahame-Smith’s telling, several of Lincoln’s family members, including his beloved mother, were killed by vampires. Burning for revenge, Lincoln leaves home to hunt these monsters. Lincoln’s success rate is low until the vampire Henry Sturges takes him in and tutors Lincoln on the habits and vulnerabilities of the bloodthirsty undead. Henry was a good man, made a vampire by the evil doctor among the colonists on Roanoke Island. The reader of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is treated to a ten-page retelling of the Lost Colony saga. “CROATAN” is explained, and we learn Virginia Dare’s fate (not good). I guarantee that the story is not the one you learned in school.