The flower ladies of Chapel Hill

Robert House with Chapel Hill flower ladies
On our Facebook page and Twitter feed Wednesday, we shared this quote from former UNC Chancellor Robert B. House.

As I saw Franklin Street in 1912, it was a dusty red avenue cut through a forest of magnificent trees….My first impression of Chapel Hill was trees; my last impression is trees….It is no wonder that Chapel Hillians are ardent tree worshippers and the symbol of the place is Davie Poplar.

The mention of House and his comments about symbols of Chapel Hill sparked me to recall the postcard above. It’s from our North Carolina Postcards online collection. That’s Chancellor House buying some flowers from the “flower ladies” on Franklin Street. They, too, were a symbol of Chapel Hill, selling their fresh-picked flowers near the Intimate Bookshop on the north side of Franklin Street almost daily.

No one is sure when the flower ladies began their sidewalk sales. But they had been going strong for a decade or two when, in the late 60s, town leaders passed an ordinance banning sidewalk sales. The law was designed to curb another type of sales that had sprouted on Franklin Street. Some vendors had taken to selling leather goods, jewelry and pot pipes on the street. But if the “hippie” merchants had to go, so, too, did the flower ladies. They were no longer allowed to sell from their Franklin Street location.

After an outcry from towns folks, the Chapel Hill Town Council backtracked and allowed the flower ladies to continue their sales. But they couldn’t do so from Franklin Street. The flower ladies moved to an alley just off Franklin, a space that eventually become the entryway to NCNB Plaza (now known as Bank of America Center).

Sadly the flower ladies are no longer a common sight downtown. In 1983 Lillie Pratt, who does still show up occasionally to sell her flowers, told a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record that her flower sales were less a money-making venture and more a hobby. “I reckon the best you’re gonna do is swap your money,” she said. “The seeds cost a lot more than they used to, and Lordy, you ought to try to fight the bugs….I stand out in the garden and just wonder why I’m doing it, why I’m fighting all these bugs.”

The newspaper writer added:

It’s funny and a little silly to Lillie Pratt that she and the other ladies should be so highly regarded because they tend gardens and sell flowers for a hobby.

She crinkled her nose at anyone who would call her a landmark, and goes ‘Oh, pshaw,’ to anybody who would take her picture and talk to her as if she were the governor.

But, still she comes back, two or three times a week, every week. And she will keep coming back, Lillie Pratt said, as long as her hobby holds her interest and she can keep the bugs at bay.

And as long as there are daffodils in the spring.

Here’s hoping the flower ladies will sprout again.

Deal to sell Grove Park Inn after 60 years

"Big Room" and fireplace at Grove Park Inn
After 60 years as owners, the Sammons family plans to sell the Grove Park Inn to a private equity group. KSL Partners of Denver say they will spend $25 million on renovations in time for the inn’s 100th birthday in 2013. Along with guest rooms, the spa and the restaurant, the inn’s signature Great Hall (termed the “Big Room” in the postcard above) will undergo changes. The sale price was not disclosed.

We’ve got plenty of postcards of the Inn in times past.

Recalling Past Easter Sundays in Old Salem

Postcard of crowd at Easter Sunday service in God's Acre

Postcard of flowers and people in God's Acre on Easter Sunday

People in City of Equal Dead in Old Salem

Worshipers and musicians will assemble early Sunday morning for the 240th Easter sunrise service in Old Salem. According to the Salem Congregation, the first Moravian sunrise celebration of Easter occurred in the town of Herrnhut in Saxony (now a part of Germany) in 1732. A group of men met in the town’s graveyard to sing hymns “and meditate upon the great fact of Christ’s death and resurrection.” From that date forward, the sunrise service became an annual feature of the Easter celebration for Moravians around the world. In Old Salem the same order of worship has been followed since 1772, when the first celebration was held by Moravians in that community.

Admittedly, the postcards above fail to capture the real beauty of the service, which emanates from the assembled brass band. The top postcard appears to show a group of musicians on the right end of the short row of worshipers.

Cleveland County courthouse will serve as home to one tribute to Earl Scruggs

Postcard of Cleveland County Courthouse
Friends and family of Earl Scruggs say they’re disappointed that the legendary banjo player didn’t live to see the opening of the Earl Scruggs Center in the old Cleveland County courthouse (point of clarification: the building was new when the above postcard was printed some 100 years ago). The Cleveland County native died in Nashville yesterday at the age of 88. Scruggs’ nephew, J.T. Scruggs, told the Shelby Star that his uncle was thrilled by the project. Destination Cleveland County, the non-profit behind the Scruggs Center, received a $1.5 million grant in 2010 to help pay for renovation of the courthouse. Plans for the center include a permanent exhibit showcasing the life of Scruggs as well as rotating displays on local history and music. Brownie Plaster, the chairwoman of Destination Cleveland County, told the Charlotte Observer that volunteers gathered more than 300 hours of taped interviews with the star of the three-finger picking style. The center is tentatively scheduled to open in the fall.

Wright Brothers Took to the Air 108 Years Ago Today

Worl'ds First Hangar
By all accounts the day was gray and blustery. A coin toss had determined who would make the first flight of the day. Orville lay down on the flyer and then man and aircraft ascended about 10 feet into the air. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered about 120 feet. The brothers each made two flights that day. Wilbur traveled the farthest and longest, staying airborne for 59 seconds and covering 852 feet. In the years that followed, some would argue that the Wrights did not make the first powered flight. But there is no doubt that they took to the air on that December morning.

The postcard above is from the North Carolina Postcards online collection. There’s no information about the men in the photo. Perhaps it’s the Wright Brothers. But it’s hard to tell.

This year’s commemoration of the Wrights’ flights will also pay tribute to the 100th anniversary of naval aviation. And, so, as a salute to naval pilots, we recall the Naval Pre-Flight Training Program that ran from 1942-1945 at UNC-Chapel Hill. The university was host to the second stage of a one-year training program for pilots. Beginning in May 1942 cadets arrived at the rate of about 300 every two weeks until a quota of 1,875 was reached. To accommodate the influx of servicemen, the University renovated ten dormitories, expanded Woollen Gymnasium, and built a new infirmary, recreation center (Navy Hall), and athletic field. The list of individuals who traveled through Chapel Hill as part of the Navy Pre-Flight School in Chapel Hill include president Gerald Ford and George Bush, baseball great Ted Williams, and legendary Alabama football coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. The Pre-Flight School closed in 1945. The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive holds about 6,000 negatives of photographs documenting the Navy program.

Naval Pre-Flight Postcard

Peas or Peanuts: What’s Going On?

"Pea picking near Goldsboro" postcard
This postcard was recently added to our North Carolina Postcards online collection. Although the title reads,”Pea Picking Near Goldsboro, N.C.,” at least one North Carolina Collection staffer (hint: a proud Haligonian) thinks the pictured individuals are actually picking digging or, maybe, dusting peanuts. The foliage of pea and peanut plants is similar so we can’t rule out the Haligonian’s theory based on that distinction. And we’re starting to wonder whether he might have a point. That’s a massive field of peas. Did anyone grow peas on such a large scale in North Carolina? We’re still searching the stacks for a definitive answer. Care to weigh in?

‘Literary, commercial, normal’ — and barely remembered


Despite its undeniable gift for self-promotion, the Whitsett Institute (1888- ?), a boarding school in Guilford County,  didn’t leave a big footprint in the educational terrain. But the collection does have this pinback button and 10 campus postcards, including wish-I-knew-more images of Gov. W. W. Kitchin and a contingent of Cuban students.

Idle thought: Were postcard inscriptions — “Hello! Maud, how are you these fine days. Say why didn’t you let me know Miss Angle was going to be visiting, didn’t know it until after she left…. Guess it is as dry a time around there as usual” — simply predigital tweets?

So how often do you happen onto “a verbal concision that can rise to a high level of eloquence”?


Jessie J. Lossie, the proud Cherokee

Postcard of Jessie Lossie
We recently surpassed 9,000 images on our North Carolina Postcards website. The card above is among the lot that took us over the mark. It stood out to me because of the man’s proud bearing. The caption reads:

JESSIE J. LOSSIE–Cherokee Indian–on the banks of the Oconaluftee River, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina. The Qualla Reservation on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the home of more than 3000 Cherokees belonging to the Eastern Band.

Curious about the story behind the image, I searched around for information on Jessie J. Lossie. I haven’t been able to find much. According to the Social Security Death Index, Jesse Lossie (note the spelling of the first name) was born April 1, 1906 and died in August 1961. His Social Security card was issued in North Carolina. Are Jesse Lossie and Jessie J. Lossie one in the same?

My search also suggests that W.M. Cline Company of Chattanooga,Tennessee, the postcard’s publisher, sold a lot of copies of this card. Numerous websites offer the card. Prices range from 90 cents to $12.90. This information provoked more questions. How was Jessie J. Lossie chosen for the photograph? Did he dress in such Native American finery all the time? And, considering our state’s and nation’s troubled relation with the Cherokee, was Jessie Lossie sufficiently compensated for posing? If you can add to the story, please do so.

R.J. Reynolds Building: Make Your Offer Now

R. J. Reynolds Building
Winston-Salem’s Art Deco landmark is still on the market. But a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco says the building is attracting interest from potential buyers.

Its sky-high cafeteria sure did churn out a tasty and inexpensive lunch back in the early 90s. More than a few Winston-Salem Journal employees filled their bellies there (this writer included).