Unsolved mysteries: Whence Mrs. Calabash?

“According to legend in Calabash, N.C., comedian Jimmy Durante and his troupe passed through the little Brunswick County town sometime in the 1940s. While there, he made friends with a young restaurant owner.

“Brunswick County historian Susie Carson says that woman was Lucille ‘Lucy’ Coleman, a claim repeated in Theresa Jensen Lacey’s ‘Amazing North Carolina.’ Soon afterward, Durante adopted his trademark sign-off — ‘Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!’ — for his radio show. According to Coleman’s daughter, Clarice Holden, and others, it was Durante’s anonymous tip of the hat to her mother, who died in 1989.

“Not everyone accepts this theory, though….”

— From “Who is Mrs. Calabash?” by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star News

Beach developers ousted black farmers

“At the start of the twentieth century, [historian Andrew W.] Kahrl writes, shorelines were the South’s ‘most forsaken and forgotten lands.’ They were unsuited to most agricultural purposes, prone to violent storms, and covered in forests where dangerous animals lived. But developers were beginning to see the promise in creating seaside getaways.

“One barrier standing in their way was Black farmers, many of whom had been relegated to the less-fertile land near the ocean. By the 1920s, nightriders were burning Black-owned homes across the coastal South and warning African Americans to sell their land. Local jumps in real estate values were accompanied by increased racial terrorism.

“Some Black locals responded with their own development plans. In 1923, a group of Black doctors, lawyers, and ministers bought Shell Island, North Carolina, and turned it into a resort.

“ ‘After three successful seasons, it suffered a series of fires “of undetermined origin” that eventually forced investors to cut their losses and abandon the property, thus restoring the “color line” in North Carolina’s coastal real estate market,’ Kahrl writes.”

— From “How the Beaches of the South Got There” by Livia Gershon at JSTOR Daily (July 6) 

Samuel A. Ashe still has fans in SCV

“The arguments [made in the Sons of Confederate Veterans Heritage Defense manual, 2016] are drawn exclusively from…  ‘The Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern states and the War of 1861-65,’ published by Samuel A. Ashe in 1935. Ashe served in the Confederate army, was elected to the North Carolina state house in 1870 and was vice president of the SCV’s forerunner organization, the United Confederate Veterans.

“The document follows Ashe in arguing that the war was not primarily about slavery, but driven by anger at taxes imposed by a Congress dominated by Northern politicians, and a fear not about the dissolution of slavery per se, but because emancipation would ‘devastate the capital infrastructure’ in the South.”

— From “Manual advises how to stop removal of Confederate statues: don’t mention race” by Jason Wilson in The Guardian (July 4) 

‘Died Fighting for Liberty!’… Uh-huh

” The most terrible thing about War, I am convinced, is its monuments – the awful things we are compelled to build in order to remember the victims. In the South, particularly, human ingenuity has been put to it to explain on its war monuments, the Confederacy. Of course, the plain truth of the matter would be an inscription something like this: ‘Sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.’ But that reads with increasing difficulty as time goes on. It does, however, seem to be overdoing the matter to read on a North Carolina Confederate monument: ‘Died Fighting for Liberty!’ ”

— From “The Perfect Vacation” by W. E. B. Du Bois in The Crisis (1931)

“Died Fighting for Liberty!” certainly fits the content and tone of Confederate monument inscriptions, but I can’t find evidence of where Du Bois might have spotted it…. Is there a monumentalist in the house? 

‘A disastrous period called Reconstruction’

“A travel guide to North Carolina [published by the Department of Conservation and Development, circa 1950] proudly informed visitors that the state contributed more ‘heavily in men to the Confederate armies than any other.’

“After the war, the guide reported, the ‘State went through a disastrous period called “Reconstruction” [that] included temporary military occupation by African-American troops and passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, giving full citizenship to the newly freed slaves….'”

— From “Driving While Black” by Gretchen Sorin (2020)

Travels with Zeb (post mortem)

“The controversy began shortly after his April 14, 1894, death, when The Asheville Daily Citizen reported that [Zebulon] Vance’s second wife, Florence Steele Martin Vance, had removed the former governor’s body from its original plot ‘to the spot on the highest part of Riverside cemetery.’

“Florence had visions of a monument placed at the site of his new burial (as opposed to its eventual 1898 placement in Pack Square). The problem, however, was Zebulon’s grown children claimed no foreknowledge of their stepmother’s plans and disapproved of her actions.

“On June 11, 1894, The Asheville Daily Citizen informed its readers that the former governor’s son Charles N. Vance had had his father’s body once again disinterred and relocated to its original plot. Furthermore, ‘Special officers Sam and Howell have been guarding the grave day and night[.]’ ”

— From “The three burials of Zebulon Vance” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (May 30)

Would Brad’s Drink have hit the spot?

“Coca-Cola’s success spawned a host of cola imitators. The drink that would prove Coke’s strongest and most enduring copier was conceived in a North Carolina drugstore in 1896.

“New Bern pharmacist Caleb D. Bradham, an erstwhile medical student, served dyspeptic customers a drink he had created to calm their stomachs. To his surprise it became a hit with his other patrons, who would ask for ‘Brad’s drink.’ Forfeiting his opportunity for immortality, Bradham rechristened the drink ‘Pepsi-Cola.’ The name suggested two of the drink’s ingredi­ents, the digestive enzyme pepsin and the kola nut, in a form and cadence suggestive of Pepsi’s Atlanta competitor.”

— From “Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation: The Life and Times of a Philadelphia Entrepreneur”  by Bill Double (2018)

 

Batman goes to Kollege. Absurdity ensues.

“Batman (with [Kay] Kyser following for some reason) tracks the bad guys down, but after Kyser accidentally knocks Batman out with a wind instrument, the two are captured and placed in a room slowly filling up with deadly gas. Luckily, Kyser freed some putty from the floor and saves the day with some musical instrument knowledge…”

— From “Batman Meets Kay Kyser!” by Brian Cronin at Comic Book Resources (June 11, 2013)

How am I just now discovering this wildly imagined collaboration from 1949? Highly recommended! 

The rocky history of concrete ships

“Concrete ships were first built in the mid-19th century. There were some short-lived efforts to build concrete ships during and right after World War I, in part due to the high cost of steel.

“Wilmington’s Liberty Shipyard constructed concrete ships on what had been the Kidder Sawmill site. Work on the yard began in May 1918, but the first ship wasn’t launched until after the war ended. The Liberty Shipyard closed in October 1919.

“Less than one year later, the Newport Shipbuilding Corp. leased the old Liberty Shipyard land from the city of Wilmington. In May 1921, this new endeavor’s first concrete river steamer was launched. Still, this second concrete shipbuilding enterprise did not last long either — the yard stopped producing concrete ships in the summer of 1922.”

— From “In 1921, concrete ship launched into the Cape Fear River” by Jan Davidson in the Wilmington Star-News (

‘Constitutional right to work’? No thanks

“The first federal child labor law was passed in 1916…. Less than a year later it was declared unconstitutional by a five-to-four decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, on the ground that it transcended ‘the authority delegated to Congress over commerce,’ and interfered with states’ rights….

“Six years after that decision a Scripps-Howard reporter interviewed Reuben Dagenhart of Charlotte, N.C., the boy whose ‘constitutional right to work’ overthrew the law which sought to cut his hours of labor as a 14-year-old, from 12 to 8 a day. ‘What benefit did you get out of the suit which you won in the United States Supreme?’ the reporter asked.

“ ‘You mean the suit the Fidelity Manufacturing Co. [his employer] won? I don’t see that I got any benefit. I guess I’d been a lot better off if they hadn’t won it. Look at me! I may be mistaken but I think the years I’ve put in the cotton mills stunted my growth. They kept me from getting any schooling. I had to stop school after the third grade and now I need the education I didn’t get… But I know one thing, I ain’t going to let them put my kid sister in the mill.’ ”

— From “Children Wanted” by Beulah Amidon, in Survey Graphic (January  1937)