Amid this coronavirus pandemic, with two recently approved COVID-19 vaccines in the news, it’s worth noting that 100 years ago this coming summer, the poliovirus struck a then-39-year-old Franklin Delanno Roosevelt. It caused the disease poliomyelitis, commonly called polio, that permanently paralyzed his legs. Polio is a disease known to ancient worlds, with epidemics striking many cultures and countries over centuries. Outbreaks commonly occurred during the summer months.
The first documented poliovirus epidemic in the United States occurred in 1894. It wasn’t until 1905 that Ivar Wickman discovered from a Swedish epidemic that polio was highly contagious and that one could have the disease without exhibiting symptoms. By the early 1950s, polio had reached pandemic proportions.
To inoculate people against the coronavirus, the pharmaceutical industry has thus far developed two COVID-19 vaccines within ten months. As a comparison, polio vaccine development and trials took twenty years. The first polio vaccine trials began in 1935, but success was not reached until April 12, 1955 when the medical profession declared Jonas Salk’s controversial vaccine safe, potent, and effective after testing 1.8 million children during the previous spring in advance of the summer infection season. The United States Government licensed the vaccine that same day, and mass distribution began the following day. A United Press news story declared it to be “the biggest mass assault on disease in history.”
Textile workers who held onto their jobs faced long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions. Consequently, they joined unions and went on strike for livable wages and safe working conditions. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, mill employees across the state struck until their demands were met. For example, in 1921, at Cannon Mill locations in Charlotte, Concord, and Kannapolis, an estimated 9,000–11,000 people went on an 8-week strike.
Using Chronicling America, we can research these strikes and find out more about the history of organized labor in North Carolina.
Readers can see the same reasons behind the strikes. Many mention wage reductions, especially impactful during the years of the Great Depression. Sometimes these wage cuts were documented to be as high as 25%.
One of the other common reasons for strikes was because of “stretch-out.” Officially called “scientific management,” it was a time management system that was designed to save companies money by making workers more efficient, leading them to do more in less time.
However, mill workers saw it as a way to cut jobs and have fewer people do more work without an accompanying rise in pay. Mill workers called it “stretch-out” as they felt they were stretched to their limits. In August 1932, over 1,000 workers in Rockingham and Spindale walked out, demanding an end to “stretch-out,” and restoration of their wages to pre-cut pay levels.
Most strikes were nonviolent, although there were exceptions. The most infamous strike occurred in Gastonia in June 1929 where violence broke out and strike organizers were killed. In February 1932, a strike of 500 cotton mill workers in Bladenboro ended after three officers were shot, although “[n]o one was wounded seriously.” One fearful 1937 editorial wrote that striking inevitably meant violence and death – “Bloodshed follows a Southern textile strike almost as inevitably as night follows day.”
A strike’s success was not always guaranteed – neither was positive reception. In 1934, mill workers in Mecklenburg County were “hot” for a strike, but those in Rutherford County, Gaston County, Marion, and High Point all responded negatively. One editorial in The Independent (Elizabeth City) asked why people across the state were striking, and if the cause was “hunger, communism or a general state of dissatisfaction…”
In 1933, President Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which set minimum wages for textile workers in the South – about $12 a week. In September 1934, a massive national strike was held, but many textile workers felt that because of a lack of union support, membership was not important, and union numbers in North Carolina never recovered.
The oft-told story is that the telephone officially came to North Carolina on March 10, 1879. That is typically seen as the day when Major Bowling W. Starke, the manager of the Western Union Telegraph Co. office in Raleigh, strung a wire that carried his voice from his office to his home four city blocks away.
Chronicling America, the archive of historic newspapers created by the Library of Congress, suggests otherwise. You might have heard 1879 was the year of the telephone, but our research says something different.
It was actually a year earlier, on April 14, 1878, when Starke made the first telephone call from Raleigh to Wilmington. Maj. Bowling W. Starke connected to Wilmington, and Governor Vance conversed with former Confederate Attorney General George Davis. Several men formed a choir to sing several hymns, “which were re-duplicated by singers in Wilmington.” The “melodies were perfectly audible,” and the first long-distance telephone call in North Carolina was a success.
People immediately saw the potential for the telephone as a tool to connect people in new and exciting ways.
In 1879, Starke threaded the city of Raleigh with additional telephone wires, and communication was soon established between Raleigh and Durham. A few days later, several houses in Chapel Hill, including the home of Julian S. Carr, had telephones.
In preparation for their telephone exchange, the Asheville Citizen included instructions on how to call someone, and how you should answer the phone (“What will you have?”). Once it was established, the Asheville telephone exchange answered more than 15,000 calls in June 1890 alone – “the biggest month’s work” up to that point.
Over the years, many classic films have been produced and shot in North Carolina. But the story of the first educational film ever made here begins in 1921. Using the state newspapers available on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, we can track its history.
In May 1921, the State Board of Education announced they would outline the history of Roanoke Island, from the British colonists’ ships landing in the 16th century to the 1920s. Captain Albert O. Clement, a photographer from Goldsboro, was initially slated to direct a “picturization” and W.C. Crosby, the director of the Division of School Extension in the state Department of Education, would assist.
A movie being filmed in North Carolina was a big deal, and even bigger for the people living on location in Dare County. Filming was scheduled for that September, and it would not be a historical recreation “in pageant form, but with an eye to reality.”
The movie was to be directed by Elizabeth Grimball, a veteran theatre play producer, and Dr. Frederick H. Koch, professor of dramatic literature and playwriting at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mabel Evans Jones, the Dare County school superintendent, was to help with production and distribution.
$3,000 in state money was appropriated for the project. One editorial in the Elizabeth City Independent argued that $3,000 wouldn’t be enough to do the project justice, and that the producers would have to rely on “donated properties, donated costumes, and such amateur theatrical talent…” Normally, a project of this size at the time would have required more than $50,000.
Indeed, as pre-production began, nearby counties volunteered their manpower to make the movie a reality. Money and other supplemental resources were brought in by the State Fishing Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard. The people of Roanoke Island built ships and sets. A number of citizens from across the state, including several newspapermen from Greensboro and Raleigh, volunteered to act in the movie.
Production for “The Lost Colony” began on September 20th, and there was an excitement in the air surrounding the filming. 150 cast members came from nearby towns – 100 were from the town of Manteo alone.
Producers from the Atlas Educational Film Co. in Chicago were present on set, as well as historian Frederick A. Olds.
News coverage of the filming was very favorable, with reporters remarking on the elaborate scenes, the depth of the story, and the striking colors of the costumes (the film was, of course, in black-and-white).
Filming was finished by the 27th. Although there was some grumbling that the film wouldn’t be entirely historically accurate, reporters were gleeful when Crosby promised the finished product would be viewable by around November of that year. Indeed, it premiered on November 7, 1921 in the Supreme Courtroom in Raleigh.
Evidently, Crosby had also promised the people of Manteo that they would be the first people to see it. When Raleigh papers reported that the film would be shown all over the state before Manteo, the town was incensed. They were also hurt that the leading actors were from outside the community and didn’t reflect the time and energy put in by the people of Manteo.
It was quickly rectified – the first public showing would be in Manteo after all, on the night of November 19. The film would be shown in Elizabeth City after that. One writer reckoned that “everybody in Elizabeth City will try to see the great historical film…”
And they did. On November 22 alone, an estimated 3,200 people paid admission to see the first movie ever filmed there. This was the “greatest day’s business” ever recorded by the Alkrama Theatre in Elizabeth City. The 1920 census recorded 8,925 living in Elizabeth City at the time, which would mean nearly 36% of all residents turned out to see the movie.
Hundreds entered the theater without paying, crowding out the doors. Hundreds more were turned away, and the lobby and street outside were so full of people that the police threatened to close the venue. This made theater manager John Burgess “so hot in the collar” that he and the police chief nearly came to blows.
Reviews were mixed. The Independent said it was “lacking in many dramatic details, but as far as it went it was good.” Another editorial remarked on the irony of watching English colonists exact violence against the native Americans living here, arguing that the contemporary colonizing of the Philippines and Haiti prove that “we haven’t progressed much in the more than three centuries since.”
Every summer, people from around the country visit Manteo, North Carolina, to see an outdoor drama called “The Lost Colony,” a dramatization of the famous failed colony on Roanoke Island. By exploring historic North Carolina newspapers, we can see how that play began and how it became a yearly production.
On July 4, 1937, Paul Green, a professor of drama and philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill, showcased the history of Manteo as the location of the failed Roanoke Colony by staging the first showing of “The Lost Colony” at the specially-built Waterside Theatre. In 1936, Green was approached by W. O. Saunders, editor and publisher of The Daily Independent from Elizabeth City, N.C. Saunders was inspired by the Passion Play of Oberammergau, Germany, to create an outdoor drama for North Carolina, and he wanted Green to be the show’s playwright. Because 1937 marked the 350th anniversary of the birth of the first English child in North America, the lost Roanoke colony into which she was born provided a fitting subject for the production.
Like the play at Oberammergau, The Lost Colony took the effort of the entire community, as well as a few federal agencies, to make Manteo ready to stage the outdoor drama. The sponsors of the play partnered with the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Theatre, the North Carolina Historical Association, the Roanoke Island Historical Association, and the Carolina Playmakers to stage the show. Those organizations provided actors, stage management, and building labor to complete the Waterside Theatre and amphitheater seating for the audience.
The Lost Colony opened to a crowd of 2000 on its first night, despite the difficult drive required to get to Roanoke Island. An early review had only positive things to say about the production value; the acting by Federal Theatre actors, Carolina Playmakers, and local residents; and singing by the Westminster Choir of Princeton, New Jersey.
A later review by the Roanoke Rapids Herald gave less favorable reviews for the accommodations provided for the audience. They noted that the town was not prepared with restaurants to feed the thousands of people who were coming to the town for the play, that the outdoor seating was uncomfortable to use for the two-hour runtime, and that parking conditions trapped attendees long after the play had finished. Despite those complaints, that review still noted the excellence of the show itself and the impressions it had made on the reviewer.
The play continued to bring large crowds to Manteo throughout the summer, the largest of which formed when President Roosevelt visited Roanoke Island to celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. The crowd so overwhelmed the town that the hotels in Manteo and Nags Head were completely filled, so residents opened their private homes as guest lodgings.
Roosevelt’s visit brought national attention to “The Lost Colony.” By October 1937, locals were calling for the play to become a yearly production and pushing for the area to become a state park instead of “turning the site over to National Park Services.” Still, in 1941, nearby Fort Raleigh Historic Site and the Waterside Theater were transferred to the National Park Service.
Today, The Lost Colony still runs every summer at the Waterside Theater—with the notable exceptions of four years during World War II and Summer 2020, when it did not run due to COVID-19.
The nationwide prohibition of alcohol began 100 years ago. But the alcohol temperance movement had been fermenting in North Carolina for quite some time before that.
There were efforts to limit the use of alcohol in North Carolina as far back as the early 1700s, but the temperance movement didn’t begin in earnest until the 1800s. Tar Heels organized a temperance convention in 1837.
Such groups as the Order of the Sons of Temperance in North Carolina had their own newspapers, namely the Spirit of the Age. Individual temperance activists also gained national notoriety.
Carrie A. Nation (also spelled “Carry”) grew frustrated with the lack of prohibition enforcement in her native Kansas and became famous for taking matters into her own hands. She visited local saloons and used hatchets and rocks to break windows and alcohol bottles. Despite several stints in jail, she continued her attacks on bars, saloons, and taverns.
Nation reportedly covered her legal fees through speaking tours and selling merchandise, including miniature hatchets. Indeed, this is what happened when she visited Asheville in late 1902.
Although she was there to gather funds for a “home for drunkards’ wives in Kansas City,” she sold hatchets to her audience while she railed against the government “as an agent of the liquor traffic.” Because of these stunts, she was a fixture of state and national newspapers. As a member in good standing of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she was popular among women, as well. On other occasions, she sold her books instead of hatchets.
During the summer of 1907, Nation toured North Carolina, warning crowds of the dangers of alcohol, cigarettes, and more. She drew attention to societal ills and didn’t pull punches. When she visited Salisbury on June 29, she decried drinkers and smokers alike, calling Salisbury “a hell hole” with “plenty of poverty, degradation and suffering…”
She also didn’t shy away from connecting alcohol consumption and moral decay to national politics. At one point, she said that the United States was in a “state of anarchy,” President Theodore Roosevelt was a “beer guzzling Dutchman,” and argued that there was no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. However, she did speak kindly of North Carolina Governor Robert Glenn because of his positive attitude towards temperance.
Despite her harsh words, she drew crowds everywhere she went – from Charlotte to Hickory to Durham to Oxford. Indeed, she was always fodder for newspaper writers, one of whom said she “does not seem to be the noisy, belligerent individual she has been pictured…”
Another said she was a “fanatic” yet “has an attractive face…”
Nation traveled to over half a dozen North Carolina cities during July and August 1907, speaking to delighted crowds of up to 4,000 people.
Her words likely had some effect on the state’s residents, because less than a year later, North Carolina voted to pass a state prohibition bill, the first in the country.
Prohibition won by over 44,000 votes, and went into effect on January 1, 1909. As for Carrie A. Nation, she moved to Arkansas and founded a home that she called “Hatchet Hall” before passing away in June 1911.
Nation left a legacy. In the 1930s, to protest the repeal of prohibition, women in Kansas pledged to keep the state alcohol-free using hatchets if necessary. Pearl McCall, a former assistant United States district attorney, urged women to take up hatchets themselves and march on Washington, destroying gambling halls in the process. She said, “what this town needs is a Carry Nation.”
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.
Walter Raleigh, a man of many talents and accomplishments, distinguished himself as a soldier, historian, poet, businessman, and politician. As an explorer, he helped set the stage for English colonization of the New World.
He was not, however, renowned for his facility with a paint brush.
In addition to sharing the painting with the public, the Tower has also opened a special “Lost Garden” to commemorate the anniversary of Raleigh’s death. This is one of several worldwide remembrances, including one at the North Carolina State Capitol on Saturday, October 27.
It could have been the result of damage from hurricane Florence or tropical storm Michael. Maybe it was just (extreme) old age.
During the week of October 21, UNC Grounds Crew felled one of the most consistently photographed trees on UNC’s campus.
Don’t worry… the Davie Poplar is fine…
Another tree, not as prominent or easily identified as a landmark on campus as the Davie Poplar, a majestic Post Oak that was a fixture in images of Old West Hall (when photographed from the north side looking to towards South Building), was cut down.
The tree was there when Old West was constructed in 1823 and appears in the first images in the University’s possession of the building, dating from the 1880s-1890s.
In 2005 the (UNC) Chancellors Buildings and Ground Committee approved a report from the Task Force on Landscape Heritage & Plant Diversity.
In that report the committee identified and described it as:
“(Heritage Tree #) 74. Quercus stellata (Post Oak) — an impressive specimen.”
A rendering of a tree appears to be in the same location on the north side of Old West in this early engraving by W. Roberts from a drawing by William Momberger of the University campus as it appeared circa 1855 (Old West is right side of illustration).
It was difficult to get a “long-view” of the west face of the building AND include the Old Well…. without capturing “Tree 74” in the image.
On October 23, 2018 this is what remained of “(Heritage Tree #) 74. Quercus stellata (Post Oak) — an impressive specimen.”