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)

‘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)

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. 

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)

‘A bastard born in sin and secession’

“Before Reconstruction, most Southern state legislatures had the sole power to appoint judges. But at North Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional convention, the state gave voters the power to directly elect judges. One of the delegates who voted in favor was Abraham Galloway, a former fugitive slave, who explained why this issue was so important for black voters.

” ‘[Galloway] said…that the Judiciary in New Hanover [County] was a bastard born in sin and secession,’ reported the convention notes. ‘In their eyes, it was a crime to be a black or loyal man. He said that the Judge of the Criminal Court had already sent men to the work-house merely to prevent their voting upon the ratification of the Constitution.’ ”

— From “How Power Grabs in the South Erased Reforms After Reconstruction” by Becky Little at History.com (Dec. 20, 2018)

How lamps lit up the naval stores industry

“In the 1840s North Carolina planters transformed a marginal backwoods industry worked by small, poor, mostly white producers into a booming, slave-based engine of light.

“Not particularity profitable in colonial America, the ‘naval stores’ industry, which consisted mainly of tar, pitch,  turpentine and other products made from the wood of resinous pines — products sold mostly to the British navy — had centered early on in the piney woods of North Carolina, where the sandy and swampy soil supported little agriculture….

“It was the discovery in the 1830s that spirits of turpentine could be mixed with alcohol to produce a bright, cheap illuminant that catapulted naval stores to prominence….”

— From “American Lucifers: The Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750–1865” by Jeremy Zallen (2019)

Federal Writers’ Project sagged in South

“In January 1936 Katharine Kellock, field representative for the Federal Writers’ Project, set out from Washington to survey the project’s offices in the Southeastern states….

“Kellock was dismayed by what she found. She discovered incompetent editors and incorrect filing systems and improper spending. Some workers were turning in useless copy. Others weren’t entirely sure what the FWP was supposed to be doing. The national staff had anticipated that the Southeastern office would be thin on expertise and experience; the density of writers in, say, Georgia, didn’t compare with that in New York or Illinois.

“But now Kellock could see how this disadvantage looked in practice. A federal writer on the North Carolina project described her colleagues this way: ‘A skilled city editor, victim of retrenchment — and a newsroom hanger-on to be described as only a moderate drunk. A man who had been good at his craft, in his day, but was simply too old to adapt. And housewives, some college women, some widows with only high school, or less. There were former teachers set adrift by cuts in staff. We had a few boys and girls who had really had no jobs at all.’ ”

— From “Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America” by Scott Borchert (2021)

Alcohol vs. abstinence: The mule ruled

“The heyday of alcohol drinking began in the 1790s and lasted until the first prohibition efforts in Asheville in the 1830s — an effort backed by women and ministers alarmed by alcohol’s effect on work habits, church attendance and marriage.

“In the 1790s, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury had just come to North Carolina to start the Great Awakening. He noted how liquor consumption led to excess and distracted from a different kind of spirit; but he could only be cautionary in this regard.

“Whiskey was not only considered a social amenity and a health-giving potion, but also an economic necessity in the mountains.

” ‘A mule could carry about four bushels of corn on the long journey to market,’ Bruce Stewart writes in his book, ‘Moonshiners and Prohibitionists.’ ‘After it was distilled into whiskey, however, a mule could haul the equivalent of twenty-four bushels of corn.’ “

— From “Eavesdropping on an Asheville committee in 1792” by Rob Neufeld in the Asheville Citizen-Times (April 1, 2013)

From Ahoskie to China with a single goal

“In 1916, Lee Parker left his father’s tobacco farm in Ahoskie, North Carolina, for Shanghai, China. He wrote 60 years later in his memoir, ‘I was fresh from the United States, sent by BAT, the British American Tobacco Company, to “put a cigarette between the lips of every man and woman in China.” ’

“Parker’s father had sent him to Wake Forest College in hopes he would, upon graduation, join the small white professional class. But even with a college degree, ‘jobs was hard to come by for a country fellow,’ Parker recalled. He had heard that a buyer at the tobacco market in Wilson, North Carolina, hired young men for jobs in China, so he borrowed five dollars from his brother and made the journey to Wilson. After an interview on the tobacco warehouse floor that lasted ‘between 30 seconds and two minutes,’ Parker’s life path veered sharply east, and he headed to China to work as a cigarette salesman for one of the world’s first multinational corporations.

“Parker was one of hundreds of young white men who journeyed from the bright leaf tobacco–growing states of Virginia and North Carolina to work for BAT-China from 1905 to 1937, the very years that cigarette consumption skyrocketed worldwide….”

— From “Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism” by  Nan Enstad (2018)

When Langston Hughes met (the future) Nina Simone

“[Langston Hughes and Nina Simone] first met when Simone was still Eunice Waymon from Tryon, North Carolina: an aspiring classical pianist, ‘president of the 11th-grade class and an officer with the school’s NAACP chapter,’ explains Andrew J. Fletcher, a board member of the Nina Simone Project in Asheville.

“This was 1949, and Hughes had come to Asheville to address Allen High School, the private school for African-American girls Simone attended through a scholarship that her music teacher and early champion collected from her hometown. The poet ‘could not have known,’ Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, ‘that [Simone] would soon revolutionize the music canon under her stage name.’ But nearly 10 years later, he recognized her talent immediately.

“On the release of Simone’s first album, Little Girl Blue, [in 1958] Hughes was ‘so stunned that he lauded it with lyrical ardor’ in his column for the Chicago Defender:

“She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis, and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl. She is a club member, a coloured girl, an Afro-American, a homey from Down Home. She has hit the Big Town, the big towns, the LP discs and the TV shows — and she is still from down home. She did it mostly all by herself. Her name is Nina Simone.”

— From “Nina Simone Writes an Admiring Letter to Langston Hughes: ‘Brother, You’ve Got a Fan Now!’ (1966)” at openculture.com (Aug. 24, 2020)