Ahoy there matey from the Sturdy Beggar!

pirate day

In honor of Talk Like a Pirate day, we bring you the The Sturdy Beggar Fantastic Ship’s Bar.  This postcard ca. 1940-1969 from the Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards reads:

“Sturdy Beggar Fantastic Ship’s Bar Located in the Charcoal Hearth Restaurant at the Holiday Inn is the South’s most beautiful Lounge. Visit the Pirate’s Cove at the junction of Highways 17 & 70 in historic New Bern, N.C.”

The Sturdy Beggar was a sloop of war ship active during the American Revolutionary War. In a September 17, 1777 letter to then Gov. Richard Caswell, Joseph Leech, a prominent figure in New Bern and a colonel in the Craven County minutemen, credited the mere presence of the Sturdy Beggar and another ship, the Pennsylvania Farmer, with momentarily saving the day from two British ships sailing near New Bern. These British ships had been sailing around the North Carolina sounds capturing various vessels. Thanks to the Sturdy Beggar being unexpectedly delayed in New Bern for maintenance reasons and the Pennsylvania Farmer arriving to port, John Leech surmised that the two British ships thought twice before coming up river where two armed ships were currently housed.

Remember the Goat Man?

I was searching for some information on the Remember Cliffside website several days ago when I stumbled upon a story about the Goat Man. Reno Bailey, the creator of Remember Cliffside, recalls from childhood a man who used to pass through town with a wagon pulled by goats and made money by taking photographs of children posed in his wagon. Bailey described how his young imagination had added a few details to the Goat Man’s biography. In his mind, the itinerant goatherd was a Nazi spy taking photographs of the town’s power plant and other installations. Of course, as an adult, Bailey learned that the Goat Man was not a spy. Instead he was a man who traveled the South’s backroads with his goats and, occasionally, some two-legged companions, preaching and living off the land and the kindness of strangers.

I probably wouldn’t have given the story much more thought if I hadn’t come across these two images of the Goat Man in the North Carolina Postcards online collection yesterday.

Postcard of the Goat Man with his wagon

The Goat Man preaching

I figured if there were postcards of the Goat Man and if he drew such large crowds when he preached, then someone must have written about him. Heck, I thought, maybe there’s even a Wikipedia page about him. Indeed, there is. There’s also a book and a song about the Goat Man, whose real name was Charles “Ches” McCartney.

According to several biographies on the web, including one in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, McCartney was born on an Iowa farm in 1901. At 14 he left home and headed for New York City. There he met and, eventually, married a Spanish woman who had a knife throwing act. McCartney, who was allegedly 10 years his wife’s junior, served as her knife throwing target. When the couple had a son, they left the city and began a life of farming. The Depression hit the couple hard and McCartney searched for other work. In 1935 McCartney was injured while cutting timber as part of a Works Progress Administration project. Some accounts suggest that a tree fell on him and several hours elapsed before he was found. According to those stories, McCartney was pronounced dead and taken to a mortuary. As the undertaker inserted a needle with embalming fluid into his arm, McCartney stirred.

Whether because of this supposed near death experience or for other reasons, McCartney underwent a religious reawakening. He hitched up a wagon to a team of goats and, accompanied by his wife and son, he took to the road preaching. Wearing goatskin clothes fashioned by his wife, McCartney called for sinners to repent or face eternal damnation. He marked his path with signs bearing such messages as “Prepare to Meet Thy God,” with the fires of hell painted at the bottom. Eventually McCartney’s wife tired of the itinerant life and she left, taking their son with her. McCartney continued his travels, inspired, he said, by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the Bible, two books he carried with him. Along the way, McCartney married two more times and may have fathered several more children. At some point his son, Albert Gene, joined him on the road.

Portrait of Charles McCartney, the Goat Man, from the 1950s. Image from Davie County Public Library
Portrait of Charles McCartney, the Goat Man, from the 1950s. Image from Davie County Public Library

McCartney established a base in Twiggs County, Georgia, calling his home the Free Thinking Christian Mission. From there, he continued his travels, claiming to visited all of the lower 48 states as well as Alaska and Canada during almost 50 years on the road. Although he eventually forsook goatskin clothing for denim overalls, his fiery sermons and eccentric appearance left strong impressions on those whom he encountered. Flannery O’Connor mentioned the Goat Man in letters and may have incorporated some of his ways into her characters. It is believed that Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree includes a character based on McCartney.

McCartney retired from the road in the late 60s or early 70s, shortly after a mugging during which three of his ribs were broken and two goats killed. When his mission building burned in 1978, McCartney and his son moved into a broken down school bus. He made one last road journey in 1985 when he set out on foot toward Los Angeles in hopes of meeting and marrying the actress Morgan Fairchild. After a mugging on that trip, he returned to Georgia and lived in a nursing home until his death at the age of 97 in 1998.

If you met the Goat Man along the way, please share your memories with us.

Connecticut lays claims to N.C. first


License plates in North Carolina may be forced to undergo redesign if new research gains ground suggesting that the Wright Brothers weren’t the first in flight. An article published last week in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft advances a claim that Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant to Connecticut, made the first powered and controlled flight on August 14, 1901, two years prior to Orville Wright’s taking to the air at Kitty Hawk. According to Jane’s, Whitehead built an aircraft with two acetylene-fueled engines. The Condor, as his plane was named, had a 10 horsepower motor for the wheels and a 20 horsepower engine as the main source of forward flight. (unfortunately the full article is behind a paywall):

In the early hours of 14 August 1901, the Condor propelled itself along the darkened streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, with Whitehead, his staff and an invited guest in attendance. In the still air of dawn, the Condor’s wings were unfolded and it took off from open land at Fairfield, 15 miles from the city, and performed two demonstration sorties. The second was estimated as having covered 1 1/2 miles at a height of 50 feet, during which slight turns in both directions were demonstrated.

Historians have long known about an account of Whitehead’s flight in the Bridgeport Herald. But photographic evidence didn’t exist until recently, when a Bavarian amateur historian discovered a photograph of a 1906 exhibition on flight that included a picture of what appears to be Whitehead’s Condor in flight.

A top official at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum says he’ll wait for further evidence before changing his–and the institution’s–stance that Orville and Wilbur Wright are responsible for the first powered flight.

Perhaps Bridgeport mayor Bill Finch is showing the true skills of a politician. He told NPR that Connecticut’s license plate could read “Firster in Flight.” That seems to leave room for “First in Flight” to remain on N.C. plates.

W.A. Simpkins and the State Fair

W.A. Simpkins exhibit at N.C. State Fair

The North Carolina State Fair is set to open for its 145th year tomorrow in Raleigh. The event has changed over the years. Electricity arrived in 1884 and the first Midway ride was erected in 1891. The first food booths opened in 1900. And the first airplane exhibit was held in 1910, almost seven years after the Wright brothers first successful flights on the Outer Banks.

One constant in the early 1900s was an exhibit by William Alonzo Simpkins. The Wake County native boasted of his Simpkins Prolific Cotton Seed, which was reported to double yields and have strong resistance to the boll weevil.

Born in 1868, Simpkins worked as a manager on the cotton and truck farm of V.C. Royster. He remained there for several years, according to Moses N. Amis’s Historical Raleigh, “proving himself to be most industrious, highly capable, and a man thoroughly familiar with his business in all its details.”

Simpkins eventually began farming on his own, working land about two miles southwest of Raleigh. As Amis wrote in 1913, Simpkins’ farms were “models, in all respects, of agricultural skill, and exemplify in an eminent degree the high perfection to which agriculture may be brought when under the care and supervision of a master mind and hand.”

In 1907 Simpkins was awarded a gold medal at the Jamestown Exposition for his truck crop. According to an obituary in the January 26, 1941 edition of the Raleigh News and Observer, the medal proved one of Simpkins’ most prized possessions.

Stalk of Simpkins Prolific cotton

Amis records that one of the keys to the success of Simpkins Prolific Cotton Seed was the plant’s maturation before the emergence of boll weevils each year. “The Prolific is exclusively planted by the North Carolina A. & M. College [later known as North Carolina State University] on its cotton farm, and for the past seven years has taken first premium on best stalks, best seed, best lint and best acre,” he wrote.

Postcard for W.A. Simpkins cotton

A contest Simpkins held annually at the State Fair may help explain the caption in the postcard above. He offered $15-$35 prizes to Wake County boys who produced the best cotton and the single stalk with the greatest number of bolls. Could S.J. Betts, mentioned in the caption above, be a boy who didn’t win the prize? If so, Simpkins clearly placed self-promotion above a gentle encouragement of the young. Perhaps, instead, Betts was actually Batts (see other exhibitor in top postcard). In that case, Simpkins was engaging in the ages-old practice of business–deride your competition. Of course, both explanations may be wrong. What do you think?

In addition to farming and seed sales, Simpkins devoted himself to his church. He served as a minister to a host of Primitive Baptist churches in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 25 years. Simpkins died on January 24, 1941, eight months after suffering his fourth stroke. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

Dirty Dancing at Lake Lure This Weekend

Postcard of Chimney Rock Camp
There will be lots of recalling Baby and Johnny this weekend as the town of Lake Lure holds its 3rd annual “Dirty Dancing Festival.” Parts of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, featuring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey as star-crossed lovers Johnny and Baby, were filmed in and around Lake Lure. Scenes of Johnny, Baby and the hotel staff thrusting their hips and locking their bodies provocatively were shot in the old gymnasium of the Chimney Rock Camp for Boys and Girls (girls were not yet campers at the time the postcard above was printed). Sadly, the gym burned down several years after the film was shot. Although the inn featured in the film is in Virginia, the Lake Lure Inn (see postcard below) served as lodging for Swayze, Grey and other cast and crew members.

Although some, including this writer, may find Dirty Dancing‘s love story overwrought, the dance scenes have ensured the film’s place on classic movie channel schedules and popular movie rental lists. The film’s popularity has also guaranteed a steady stream of visitors to Lake Lure, as fans search for the spots where their favorite tear-jerking scene occurred. As for whether you’ll have the time of your life this weekend at Lake Lure, that likely depends on who you’ve got on your dance card.

EXTRA CREDIT: Can you name another North Carolina connection for actress Jennifer Grey?

Postcard of Lake Lure Inn

Honors for ex-keeper of Pea Island Life Saving Station

Postcard of crew of Pea Island Life Saving Station

Benjamin Bowser had first come to the station the season before. Etheridge had initially hired him to be the ‘winter man’–the number seven surfman who augmented the crew by one from December through March, the most dangerous months.

As the newest and lowest-ranking member of the crew, Bowser had to prove he deserved his place among the veterans. He was the designated volunteer for all the least desirable duties. When they made mock rescues during the weekly Monday and Thursday drilling with the beach apparatus, Bowser stood in as the ‘shipwreck victim,’ waiting out on the wreck pole to be hauled in on the breeches buoy while the others operated the Lyle gun, lines and crotch. And the keeper thought nothing of waking up a rookie surfman in the middle of the night–any of the crew, for that matter, but especially a rookie–and having him recite on the spot procedures and codes from the ‘blue jacket’ manual. Each man understood that, even in a haze of sleep, he’d better know the material….

At twenty-eight, Bowser was the youngest of the crew, and standing five feet eleven inches, he was also the tallest. Lithe and bespectacled, he looked sharp: quick-witted and nimble afoot. Before joining the service, Bowser, like his father before him, had fished….

The future surfman learned quickly to work an oar and steer a boat in both sound and sea. He understood the tides, weather, and such of the region, and the Bowsers, father and son, had success fishing….Still, despite his good fortune as a fisher, the steady income and the status of being a surfman drew the younger Bowser to Pea Island.

–from Fire on the Beach : Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers by David Wright and David Zoby.

Benjamin Bowser Jr. served at the Pea Island Life Saving Station from 1884-1900. The lifesaving station was staffed by an all-black crew and is credited for saving more than 600 lives, the greatest number of rescues of any station in the Life Saving Service. Bowser worked under Richard Etheridge, Pea Island’s first station keeper. When Etheridge died in 1900, Bowser took over as keeper. Sadly, he served as keeper for only a few weeks before dying. Bowser is being honored tonight in Jarvisburg.

On 124th Birthday of First Belk Store: Where’s Belk?

On May 29, 1888 William Henry Belk opened a dry good store in his hometown of Monroe. Although the store was originally known as New York Racket, the name was changed to Belk Brothers in 1891 when John Belk, an Anson County doctor, joined the company. The business grew as the Belk brothers partnered with other businessmen and opened stores in downtowns throughout the Carolinas and beyond. In the 1950s, a second generation of Belks took over the company and, in recognition of changing consumer shopping habits, guided the department store chain as it migrated from downtowns to suburban malls.

We remember downtown Belks with the postcards below. Can you find the Belk store in each?

Postcard of downtown Monroe  with Belk in foreground

Postcard of downtown Waynesville with Belk store

Postcard of downtown Charlotte with Belk store

Postcard of downtown Dunn with Belk store

Postcard fo downtown Fayetteville with Belk store

Postcard of downtown Kannapolis with Belk store

Postcard of downtown Lincolnton with Belk store

Remembering UNC’s War Dead

Postcard of Memorial Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill
Memorial Hall was the University of North Carolina’s first monument to graduates killed in war. Occupied in 1885, the building honored the University’s Civil War dead as well as David Lowry Swain, who served as the University’s president from 1835-1868, and others who served the University. Memorial Hall was the first building erected on campus after the Civil War. It served as an auditorium, chapel and gymnasium. The walls featured marble tablets listing the names of war dead and others who served the University. A total of 287 UNC graduates died during the Civil War.

By the 1920s Memorial Hall’s interior wood trusses had decayed, leading University officials to declare the building unsafe. Its Victorian Gothic architectural style was also considered outdated. Consequently, the building was demolished in 1930 and a new one, in the Colonial Revival style, constructed in its place. The marble tablets were moved to the new building, and both the tablets and the building remain today. There’s more on Memorial Hall and other campus buildings in the North Carolina Collection Gallery’s exhibit A Dialogue Between Old & New: Notable Buildings on the UNC campus.

A total of 716 UNC alumni have died in military actions that span from the War of 1812 through Vietnam, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Their names are included on The Carolina Alumni Memorial in Memory of Those Lost in Military Service, which sits between Memorial and Phillips halls. The UNC General Alumni Association has created an online database with the names and biographies of the war dead.

Happy Birthday, Morehead Planetarium

Morhead Planetarium

We assemble in the little village of Chapel Hill on the old campus of the University of North Carolina to dedicate to youth and truth, beauty and goodness, the Morehead Building. This building is now forever to be the home of the Genevieve Morehead Memorial Art Gallery, the Morehead Planetarium, and the Morehead Foundation for scholarships and fellowships. The conjunction of stars in their courses, revealed in the Planetarium, suggests to us the conjunction of persons, ideas, engines, enterprises and nations, revealed in the heritage, life, services and aspirations of John Motley Morehead III, devoted son and benefactor of the University of North Carolina….

As philanthropist, his vision and benefactions will enrich his alma mater and, through a nobler alma mater, will serve the world through unending generations of worthy youth whom his endowment will bring for training in this place for the service of mankind….

The Morehead Gallery and Planetarium are not only for the youth of the University, but as an organic part of the University, which would ever share its life, are also for the people beyond the college walls….In the Planetarium will be the meeting of earth, skies, and people who need new acquaintance with the goodness of the earth and the majesty of the heavens.

To the human being, as an infinitesimal bit of life on a tiny speck called the earth in the vastness of the universe, will come a deeper humility, a higher reverence, and a nobler aspiration of the human spirit in the presence of the God, whose physical laws are as wide as the universe and whose moral sovereignty is deep in the consciousness of men. Humble, reverent, and aspiring, we look upward into the heavens and inward into the soul for God, the Father, Who gives us our majestic heavens, our good earth and our common brotherhood in daily sustenance of the body, mind and spirit of man for the human pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God.

In the dedication of the Morehead Building, its Foundation, Gallery, and Planetarium, we rededicate the University of North Carolina.

Remarks from U.S. Senator Frank Porter Graham during dedication ceremonies for the Morehead Building (commonly referred to as Morehead Planetarium) on May 10, 1949.

The Lost Colonists set sail for 425 years of fame and mystery

By mid-April three vessels were being readied for the passage to America: a 120-ton ship named Lyon, a flyboat, and a pinnace. When the little fleet finally set sail from Portsmouth on April 26, it was reported that 150 men had signed on as colonists, not counting wives and children and, apparently, some single women.

Two other passengers on White’s vessels are mentioned only casually in the written accounts. These were Indians, natives of coastal Carolina who had been brought back to England by either Lane or Grenville the preceding fall. One was Towaye, who may have been the Indian captured by Grenville when he visited Roanoke Island and found the fort and settlement deserted. The other was Manteo….Having spent his second winter in England, again probably in Raleigh’s household, Manteo seems to have so ingratiated himself with his host that Raleigh instructed White to install him as head of the deceased Wingina’s domain when they returned to Roanoke Island….

The departure of three vessels from English waters, already later than had been customary for the prior crossings of the Atlantic, was delayed further when White made stops at the Isle of Wight and Plymouth after sailing from Portsmouth. It was thus May 8 when they finally cleared for the long crossing to the West Indies, a voyage that took forty-two days….Apparently, they encountered bad weather off the coast of Portugal, for there is a single sentence entry in White’s report that reads, ‘The 16. Simon Ferdinando Master of our Admirall, lewdly foresooke our Flie boat, leaving her distressed in the Baye of Portingall.’

From Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America by David Stick. Today marks the 425th anniversary of the departure of a group of English settlers for Roanoke Island. The fate of most remains unknown to this day. They are remembered as the Lost Colony.