“As Close to Magic as I’ve Ever Been”: Thomas Wolfe at Chapel Hill

Image of Thomas Wolfe smoking a pipe. The photo reportedly shows him during his senior year at UNC.
Thomas Wolfe during his senior year.
One hundred years ago today the tall, rather awkward, not quite yet sixteen-year-old Thomas Clayton Wolfe boarded an early morning train in Asheville bound for Durham. There he was met by his brother-in-law who drove him the twelve miles over to Chapel Hill to enroll at the University of North Carolina. Wolfe had longed to attend the University of Virginia. But his father had insisted he go to Chapel Hill, foreseeing a possible legal career and future in politics for his youngest child. Once at Chapel Hill, however, Tom quickly dove into both coursework and campus activities with a passion and focus that quickly made him among the most prominent and popular students on campus.

Upon arrival in Chapel Hill, Tom signed up for room and board at the three-story rooming house of Mrs. Mattie Eva Hardee, a widow originally from Asheville–$15 a month for board and $7.50 for a student’s half of a room. Writing to his brother-in-law a few days later, he declared the food “splendid” but the room rent “exorbitant.” His professors were “all fine fellows” for whom he hoped to “do well in all my studies and my guess is that I’ll have to ‘bone’ up on math.”

During the next four years, Wolfe would do well in his studies—as a junior winning the prize in philosophy for best student thesis and earning multiple A’s that same year from favorite professors Edwin Greenlaw in English, Frederick Koch in dramatic literature, and Horace Williams in philosophy. His achievements in student publications and as a leader of campus organizations were equally outstanding—assistant editor, then managing editor, and finally editor-in-chief of the Tar Heel student newspaper; assistant editor, then assistant editor-in-chief of the University Magazine; associate editor of the Yackety Yack yearbook; member of student council; author of and sometimes actor in plays performed by the campus Carolina Playmakers campus theater company; and class poet.

After graduating from UNC in 1920, Wolfe studied playwriting at Harvard, then moved to New York where he initially did some teaching at New York University. But soon he turned his legendary intellectual energy and passion to fiction writing. In 1929 his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was published, winning wide praise among literary critics and creating a sensation because of the thinly-veiled autobiographical nature of the book. The life and experiences of the book’s protagonist, Eugene Gant, are often unmistakably similar to those of Thomas Wolfe. In Look Homeward, Angel, however, young Gant attends the state university at Pulpit Hill, not Chapel Hill. But the sense of adventure, excitement, and intellectual stimulation he experienced there as described in Look Homeward, Angel, echo loudly the fond memories of Thomas Wolfe for a place and time he would later describe as being “as close to magic as I’ve ever been.”

October 1942: The Southern Conference on Race Relations and the “Durham Manifesto”

This Month in North Carolina History

Cover of Southern Conference on Race Relations statement of purpose
As he opened the Southern Conference on Race Relations on October 20, 1942, sociologist Gordon B. Hancock compared the meeting of fifty-seven African-American professionals to the gatherings of revolutionaries two centuries before in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. “The matter handled in Faneuil Hall was delicate, but it was firmly handled and the world thereby was blessed,” he told those assembled at the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham. “So in this historic meeting today, whatever advance step we may make in race relations will rebound to the advantage of the South and nation no less than to the advancement of the Negro race.”

Hancock, a 57-year-old professor at Virginia Union University in Richmond and a nationally-syndicated columnist for African-American newspapers, had joined with several other prominent African-Americans from the South in calling the Durham meeting. They were concerned about the poor state of relations between blacks and whites in the South. Lynchings were still occurring. Black unemployment was high. And, as had happened during World War I, African-American soldiers were fighting for democracy overseas while facing segregation at home. In a December 1941 column titled “Interracial Hypertension”, Hancock had cautioned that “unless matters are speedily taken in hand and shaped according to some constructive plan, we shall probably lose many important gains in race relations that have been won through many years, through sweat and tears.” In a subsequent column, Hancock called for a “Southern Charter for Race Relations.” Such a document, Hancock wrote, would “set out specific demands such as the moral right to work for an honest living; the right to share equitably in the educational opportunities, without which [African-Americans] cannot function in a democracy; the right to vote for the mayors and governors, law makers and law enforcers, officials who control [African-Americans’] daily life, as well as for the President, who is powerless in local affairs.”

Hancock’s call for a charter sparked interest from other African-American leaders. Luther P. Jackson, a historian at Virginia State College in Petersburg, and P. B. Young Sr., the publisher of the Norfolk Journal & Guide, joined in the push for a conference to draft the document. Young even published a feeler in the May 24, 1942 issue of his paper, asking readers whether they would attend such a meeting. The response was largely positive.

Once agreed on a time and place for the meeting, the planners focused on the list of invitees. Jackson argued that they should invite African-American leaders from throughout the country. But Hancock and Young worried that such a move would lead Southern whites to dismiss the meeting as the work of Northern agitators. Eventually their view prevailed.

Planners sent invitations to seventy-five prominent African-American professionals living in the South. And on October 20th, 1942, fifty-seven people showed up in Durham for the meeting. Others sent letters or telegrams of support. Attendees included university presidents, educators, ministers, physicians, businessmen, labor union officials and social workers. Conferees were mostly male, with only 5 women participating. Noted African-American writer and scholar W. E. B. DuBois had been invited. But he declined the invitation.

After officially designating the meeting the Southern Conference on Race Relations and listening to Hancock’s keynote address, conferees split into seven committees to discuss specific issues affecting African-Americans. Groups looked at political and civil rights, industry and labor, service occupations, education, agriculture, military service, and social welfare and health. They spent the day drafting reports that outlined their complaints and offered remedies.

As the day’s deliberations drew to a close, Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, urged attendees to draft a conference statement. Charles S. Johnson, a sociologist at Fisk University in Nashville, was selected to lead the drafting committee. The group immediately set to work. But they were unable to complete the document by day’s end and they chose to continue their discussions at subsequent meetings. During deliberations in Atlanta (November 6, 1942) and Richmond (November 26, 1942) members seemed to fall into three camps – those who wanted a complete and unequivocal denunciation of segregation, particularly in education; those that feared a strong denunciation of segregation would threaten partnership with Southern, white liberals and consequently favored wording that showed an openness to compromise; and those who favored conciliatory language that opposed segregation and stressed the importance of economic opportunities for blacks.

It fell to Johnson to synthesize the various views into one statement and he did so, releasing A Basis for Inter-racial Cooperation and Development in the South: A Statement by Southern Negroes on December 15, 1942. The document, which came to be known as the “Durham Manifesto,” broached the topic of integration in a carefully worded preamble. Johnson wrote that conferees were “fundamentally opposed to the principle and practice of compulsory segregation,” but that they regarded “it as both sensible and timely to address ourselves now to the current problems of racial discrimination and neglect and to ways in which we may cooperate” in improving race relations. The statement then laid out steps for improving the treatment of African-Americans in education, the legal system, farming, the workforce, the military and health care.

The Southern white press had generally favorable reactions to the statement. But the African-American press was mixed in its response. The Houston Informer called the statement an “historical achievement destined to play a large part in bringing about adjustments” and a blueprint for African-American rights. But the Carolina Times, published in Durham, was less enthusiastic. Editor and publisher Louis Austin wrote that he thought the statement would do neither harm nor good. “About the only purpose it can serve is to give Negro intellectuals in the South an opportunity to show off by appearing profound, and Negro hirelings an opportunity to square themselves with the bosses of the opposite group…” he wrote. “So we say let the ‘Leading Southern Negroes’ rave. They no more have the leadership of the mass of Negroes in the South than if they didn’t exist. Let them get out their little statements and have their little meetings from time to time; it’s good exercise for them.”

Despite the mixed reaction to the “Durham Manifesto” from the African-American press, several prominent African-American leaders expressed their support. Both W.E.B. DuBois and Walter White, the head of the NAACP, backed the statement.

Many prominent Southern white moderates and liberals also found the “Durham Manifesto” inspiring. More than 100 of them met in Atlanta in April 8, 1943, to discuss it and then released their own statement in support and calling for further black-white dialogue to improve race relations. At subsequent meetings in Richmond and in Atlanta, a committee of African-Americans and Southern whites worked out plans for a bi-racial organization in the South. And in February 1944, the Southern Regional Council (SRC) held its charter meeting in Atlanta. Under the leadership of UNC-Chapel Hill sociologists Howard Odum and Guy Johnson, Fisk University’s Charles Johnson, and Atlanta University sociologist Ira Reid, the Atlanta-based organization began its fight against racial injustice—a battle that it continues to wage today through advocacy, education, and research. The Southern Conference on Race Relations may be all-but-forgotten, but its offspring lives on.


Egerton, John. Speak now against the day: the generation before the civil rights movement in the South. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Gavins, Raymond. The perils and prospects of southern Black leadership: Gordon Blaine Hancock, 1884-1970. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1977.

Holloway, Lin. How southern conference of race leaders became standing goodwill group. Atlanta: Southern Regional Council, 1958.

Hancock, Gordon B. Interracial hypertension. Atlanta: Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1942.

Hancock, Gordon B. Needed…: a southern charter for race relations. Atlanta: Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1942.

Southern Conference on Race Relations. Southern Conference on Race Relations, Durham, N.C., October 20, 1942: statement of purpose…. [Durham, N.C.?: Southern Conference on Race Relations?, 1943?]

The Southern Regional Council: its origin and purpose. Atlanta: Southern Regional Council, 1944.

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Southern Conference on Race Relations. Southern Conference on Race Relations, Durham, N.C., October 20, 1942: statement of purpose…. [Durham, N.C.?: Southern Conference on Race Relations?, 1943?]

October 1853: The North Carolina State Fair

This Month in North Carolina History

State Fair button from Lew Powell Collection in NC Collection Gallery

October in North Carolina is the season for the State Fair. Crowds from around the state are drawn to an exciting combination of agricultural exhibits and midway attractions. A visit to the pig house, followed by a ride on the “Ring of Fire,” topped with fried chicken and funnel cake makes for a happy visit, especially if your digestion is robust. Popular entertainers, baby ducks, fireworks displays, pony rides, the world’s biggest frog, and the best peach preserves in North Carolina (blue ribbon) are all part of the mix.

The Fair itself grew out of the agricultural reform movement of the mid-nineteenth century. The North Carolina State Agricultural Society, organized in 1852, encouraged the adoption of good farming practices and agricultural education. In 1853 the Society organized the first State Fair to promote scientific farming and recognize the efforts of individual farmers. The Fair, a popular success in the 1850s, was interrupted by the Civil War but began again in 1869. The state of North Carolina took over the Fair from a financially strapped Agricultural Society in 1930, and for a few years the Fair was run by a circus promoter. In 1937, however, it was made a division of the Department of Agriculture where it has remained ever since.

The exhibition of prize livestock and crafts was the main emphasis of the Fair in its early days, but there was always an element of entertainment. Political speeches were an important part of the Fair if it were an election year. Horse racing was a perennial favorite activity almost from the beginning up through the early twentieth century. Athletics had a part in the Fair from early days. In the latter nineteenth century first baseball and then football games were played at the Fair. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, North Carolina State University played annual games on Thursday of Fair week, often against either the University of North Carolina or Wake Forest University. Individual entertainment events began early—a favorite was a balloon ascent followed by a parachute jump. In the 1870s carnival events and “freak” shows began appearing, and by 1895 a modern midway of rides and shows was an annual feature.

The State Fair was a popular occasion from its origin and has become a fixture of the social life of the state. The entertainment aspect of the Fair has grown over the years, but the heart of the event remains the crafts and the animals. People crowd in to see the prize winning pies and preserves, the beautiful horses and cattle, the blue ribbon pigs and mules, and unusual breeds such as silkies, a type of chicken covered all over with fine feathers. A young fan of the Fair, on seeing them for the first time, pronounced them to be “chickens with pants on.” All of this and more is on display at the North Carolina State Fair.

McLaurin, Melton A. The North Carolina State Fair: The First 150 Years. Raleigh: Office of Archives and History and the North Carolina State Fair Division, c2003.

Image Source:
“Souvenir of Fair, Raleigh, North Carolina,” button from the Lew Powell Memorabilia Collection, North Carolina Collection Gallery, Wilson Special Collections Library.

October 1918: North Carolina and the “Blue Death”

This Month in North Carolina History

On October 3, 1918, Governor Thomas Bickett issued the first order in North Carolina’s battle with an enemy which would prove more deadly to the state than the soldiers of the Central Powers against whom troops from North Carolina were fighting thousands of miles away in Europe. A hitherto unknown strain of influenza had appeared in Wilmington and was spreading west over the state, following the rail lines. North Carolinians were familiar with older forms of influenza, often called the “grippe,” which were debilitating but only occasionally deadly. The new type of flu struck fast, causing two or three days of high fever which, in a distressingly large number of cases, led to death. The lungs of victims filled with fluid and their skin turned a dark blue, as their respiratory system failed and their tissue was starved for oxygen. The old influenza was most dangerous for the weak or elderly; the new flu preyed on the young and healthy.

The influenza epidemic overwhelmed North Carolina’s medical community and rudimentary public health system. The medicines and folk remedies on which people customarily relied were useless. The state’s primary public health response—forbidding public gatherings and quarantining victims—began late and was almost impossible to enforce. When local public health services failed or where they were nonexistent, people working through war-preparedness groups and the Red Cross, organized volunteers to visit the sick and fetch medicine or food. Emergency kitchens were set up to cook for those too sick to help themselves.

What was happening in North Carolina was a part of the worst influenza pandemic in modern times. Present day research has identified the cause of the disease as an influenza A virus strain. The virus produced a violent reaction in the human immune system, which ironically led to the disease being deadliest among those whose systems were strongest, the young and fit. The virus swept in three waves through the populations of Europe and North America, already dislocated by World War I, and eventually spread to all parts of the earth. Overall, as many as 20 million people may have died.

More than 13,000 of those dead came from North Carolina. Influenza killed people in all walks of life and was particularly deadly on those who cared for the sick, both professional and volunteer. It killed with something like the speed of modern warfare: in many cases less than 48 hours passed between the first sneeze and the last breath; the president of the University of North Carolina died near the beginning of the epidemic; his successor died a month later. Soldiers in crowded training camps were especially vulnerable. At the railroad station that served Camp Greene near Charlotte coffins were stacked from floor to ceiling, taking home the bodies of young soldiers who never saw the war.

In some ways North Carolina benefited from the influenza epidemic. The 1920s witnessed an unprecedented boom in hospital construction in the state, fueled, at least in part, by the inadequacy of the old health care system, so graphically demonstrated in the epidemic. For much the same reason, the public health system began to take hold in North Carolina during the years following World War I. In the end, however, the disease, while deadly, was over quickly, and memory of the Blue Death faded. Old stories still circulate: a lonely house in the country where an entire family, parents and children, were found dead in their beds or the four country doctors serving an area at the beginning of the sickness, only two of whom were alive at the end or the woman who, on seeing a new-dug grave, said it reminded her of 1919, when the graveyards looked like they had been turned with a plow.

Image with caption "The way the Germans did it at Chateau Thierry" from The Health Bulletin. Raleigh, North Carolina State Board of Health. vol. 34:10 (October, 1919)Image with caption "The Way North Carolinians Do It at Home" from The Health Bulletin. Raleigh, North Carolina State Board of Health. vol. 34:10 (October, 1919)

David L. Cockrell. “‘A Blessing in Disguise’: the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and North Carolina’s Medical and Public Health Communities,” North Carolina Historical Review, vol. 73:3 (July, 1996).

Selena W. Sanders, “The Big Flu,” The State, vol. 44:7 (December, 1976).

Robert Mason, “Surviving the Blue Killer, 1918,” Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 74:2 (Spring, 1998).

Jim Nesbitt, “When killer flu struck,” News and Observer, November 26, 2006.

Annie Sutton Cameron. A Record of the War Activities in Orange County, North Carolina, 1917-1919. [electronic resource] [Chapel Hill, NC] Academic Affairs Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel, 2002.

Image Source:
The Health Bulletin. Raleigh, North Carolina State Board of Health. vol. 34:10 (October, 1919)

October 1960: The Andy Griffith Show

This Month in North Carolina History

Photograph of Andy Griffith by Keith Longiotti
Andy Griffith. Photograph by Keith Longiotti. September 9, 2007, Wilson Library. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

“Anybody here know why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

With this opening line, a pop-culture phenomenon was born on October 3, 1960, at 9:30 p.m. when The Andy Griffith Show premiered. The show starred Andy Griffith, a North Carolina native and graduate of the University of North Carolina, who had risen to national fame with the comic monologue, What It Was Was Football, and a starring role in the stage and film version of No Time For Sergeants.

The series pilot aired on February 15, 1960, and was actually an episode of The Danny Thomas Show. It introduced viewers to Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by Griffith, and the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, which is widely believed to be based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina—although he has often denied it. The following October the series officially began with an installment titled “The New Housekeeper.” The show opened with Andy’s former housekeeper, Rose, getting married and moving away. Andy then asks Aunt Bee, who helped raise him, to assist in taking care of his son, Opie. Although he adamantly opposes Aunt Bee in the beginning—she can’t fish, catch frogs, or play baseball like Rose—Opie ends up accepting her into the household, fearing that she can not survive in a world with such limited skills. This episode also introduced viewers to Deputy Barney Fife, Sheriff Taylor’s comically inept sidekick.

Although The Andy Griffith Show remains one of the most popular television series of all time, it was initially disparaged by several media commentators. A review in the October 4, 1960 New York Times commented that the show was “only mildly entertaining.” Jack Elinson, a script writer during the first two seasons, remarked that the show was not “treated too kindly by the critics out here, the hip Hollywood people” and that the “cast and everybody was just a little glum.” On October 6, in the “Goings On” section of the Raleigh News and Observer, Raymond Lowery wrote that the reviews from the New York papers “weren’t good,” but that “they weren’t all bad” and that the “gentle, relaxed, family-type series would bear watching [and] that it had possibilities which may be realized later.”

What several reviewers disliked, however, countless television viewers loved. Elinson went on to say that the cast and crew calmed down and cheered up when they received the show’s “through the roof” Nielsen Ratings. Other commentators began to notice the show’s popularity as well. On October 16, 1960, only 13 days after the series’ debut, writer Earl Wilson observed that Andy Griffith was already “a big TV star.” One year later, at the beginning of the show’s second season, a Newsweek article noted Griffith’s “strangely popular situation comedy.” The show’s status only increased during its eight-year run, and it even garnered the Nielsen Rating’s number-one ranking in its final season. In the almost forty years since the last episode, The Andy Griffith Show continues to appeal to countless fans, and it remains as one of the most well-liked television series in American history.

Ken Beck and Jim Clark. Mayberry Memories: The Andy Griffith Show Photo Album. Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 2000.

Lee Pfeiffer. The Official Andy Griffith Show Scrapbook. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group, 1994.

Dale Robinson and David Fernandes. The Definitive Andy Griffith Show Reference: Episode-by-Episode, With Cast and Production Biographies and a Guide to Collectibles. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996.

Earl Wilson. “Barbara Cries With Andy’s Happiness.” The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 16 October 1960.

Raymond Lowery. “Goings On.” The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 6 October 1960.

“Andy Griffith Show,” New York Times, October 4, 1960.

October 1896: Rural Free Delivery

This Month in North Carolina History

On the 23rd of October, 1896, J. B. Goodnight of the United States Post Office set out from China Grove, in Rowan County, North Carolina to deliver the mail. A routine task today, in 1896 Goodnight was taking part in an experiment which would launch the postal service on the biggest and most expensive endeavor in its history and help change the life of rural America.

At the turn of the twentieth century some parts of American mail service had taken on a recognizably modern form. The old system of charging postage based on the number of pages in a letter and the distance it had to travel had been replaced by a flat rate fee. Instead of the receiver of the letter paying the cost, the sender of the letter paid the postage in the form of stamps. For a few pennies one could send a letter from border to border or coast to coast, and, if you lived in a city of 10,000 or more, the mail would be delivered to your door. Postal service in rural areas in the United States, however, had changed little. Postal routes extended outward from towns and cites to small rural post offices which were often part of a store. Many farmers could not pick up their mail more than once or twice a week. and resented their urban cousins who got mail delivered daily to their home. Unhappy farmers complained to their congressmen, and Congress put pressure on the Post Office. In 1896 the Post Office agreed to try an experiment in which mail would be delivered to rural residents over a total of forty-four special routes scattered among twenty-nine states. West Virginia had the first experimental route established, and the second route was created in Rowan County, North Carolina, part of the district of Congressman John Steele Henderson, chairman of the Post Offices and Post Roads Committee of the House of Representatives. In his annual report for 1897 Postmaster General James A. Gary declared the experiment in rural postal service a success. Mail was being delivered daily to enthusiastic recipients. Over the next few years Rural Free Delivery extended to all parts of the country. In the end it was the most expensive program ever created by the United States Postal Service and one of the most popular. Ironically, considering it got the second RFD route in the country, North Carolina was initially less excited about the service than other states. Carrier Goodnight of China Grove complained that farmers on his route were suspicious and unwilling to accept the service. China Grove’s postmaster, J. C. Deaton, reported that he had to “beg the people to let us deliver their mail.” As late as 1901 there were only 11 RFD routes in North Carolina compared with 42 in South Carolina, 93 in Georgia and 142 in Tennessee. In the end, however, Rural Free Delivery was accepted with enthusiasm and, along with the improvement in rural roads that it helped foster, RFD broke down the isolation of rural North Carolina.

Fuller, Wayne E. The American Mail; Enlarger of the Common Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Scheele, Carl B. A short history of the mail service. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970.

History of the North Carolina Rural Letter Carriers’ Association. [North Carolina ?: The Association, 1965?]

October 1864: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

This Month in North Carolina History

Image from Harper's Monthly titled "Mrs. Greenhow and the Two Other Passengers Demanded to be Set Ashore."

At dawn on the first of October 1864 the body of Rose O’Neal Greenhow washed ashore in the surf near Fort Fisher in North Carolina. Perhaps the most famous spy of the Confederate States of America had died as dramatically as she lived.

Rose was born in 1813 or 1814 into a planter family in Maryland. Her father, John O’Neal, was murdered by one of his slaves in 1817. His widow, Eliza O’Neal, was left with four daughters and a cash-poor farm to manage. In part to help family finances, Rose was sent, in her mid-teens, to Washington, D. C. along with her sister Ellen to live with their aunt, Maria Ann Hill. Mrs. Hill and her husband managed a highly regarded boarding house across from the U. S. Capitol. The house was often referred to as the “Old Brick Capitol” since it originally had been built as the temporary meeting place of Congress after the Capitol had been burned in the War of 1812. Pretty, lively, and intelligent, Rose was popular with the members of Congress who boarded with her aunt, and she had several suitors. In 1835 she married Robert Greenhow, a wealthy bachelor who had trained as a physician but ultimately became an official in the United States Department of State. In addition to bearing a large family, Rose became an important figure in Washington society. She was charming, witty, politically astute, and a fervent champion of the southern states in the increasingly bitter sectional struggles of the 1840s and 1850s. The death of Robert Greenhow in 1854 left Rose financially stretched, but she continued her association with important national political figures, particularly President James Buchanan. Rose considered the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to be a national disaster and whole-heartedly supported secession and the newly formed Confederacy.

Sometime in 1861 Rose Greenhow was recruited as a spy for the Confederacy. She quickly formed a network of agents from among her Washington circle of Confederate sympathizers and began enthusiastically and efficiently gathering information about the Union Army camped around the capital, which she transmitted to General P. G. T. Beauregard who commanded Confederate forces in nearby Virginia. Rose charmed information from important beaureaucrats, army officers, and politicians including, it was rumored, a Republican senator who sent her passionate love letters. She gave Beauregard the date on which the Union Army would began its advance on his position in 1861 and was credited by him with an important contribution to the subsequent victory at the battle of Manassas. Rose refused, however, to become the stereotypical spy who blends in with her background to escape detection. She continued vigorously to defend the southern cause and lambast Republicans. After Manassas she began to come under suspicion. She was arrested in August of 1861 and held for the next year and nine months without being charged or brought to trial. Rose was hardly a model prisoner, reviling her guards, complaining about her treatment and generally making herself a thorn in the side of the Lincoln government. At the end of May 1863 she was exiled to the Confederacy.

Rose Greenhow was given a heroine’s welcome in Richmond and thanked personally by President Jefferson Davis for her aid to the Confederacy. Davis also took the unprecedented step of asking Rose to promote Southern interests in England and France as his personal, if unofficial, representative. In August 1863 Rose and her youngest daughter, also named Rose, sailed on a blockade runner from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Bermuda where she booked passage to England. Rose was warmly greeted by many in the English aristocracy who sympathized with her and her cause. Over the next year she spoke with a number of leaders of British politics and society including Thomas Carlyle and Lord Palmerston. She was granted an audience by Napoleon III of France and visited with southerners who had taken up residence abroad. A British publishing house brought out her memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolitionist Rule at Washington, which was a success.

In August 1864 Rose returned to America, convinced that she could do nothing to persuade the British or French governments to recognize the Confederacy. On the last night of September her ship, the blockade runner Condor approached the mouth of the Cape Fear River on the run to Wilmington. It was spotted by a U. S. naval vessel early on the morning of October 1st and ran aground trying to escape. Rose was carrying dispatches for President Davis and her book profits in gold coins in a leather bag around her neck. She demanded that the captain set her ashore immediately, although he tried to convince her that the ship was safe under the guns of Fort Fisher until she floated off the shoal. In the end Rose had her way and with several other people was launched in a boat for the shore which was only a few hunded yards away. Within minutes the small boat capsized. Rose sank out of sight immediately while the others clung to the overturned boat and ultimately survived. Her body was buried in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Blackman, Ann. Wild Rose: Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy. New York: Random House, 2005.

Ross, Ishbel. Rebel Rose: Life of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy. New York: Harper, 1954

Greenhow, Rose O’Neal. My Imprisonment and the first year of Abolition Rule at Washington. London: R. Bentley, 1863.

Image Source:
“Mrs. Greenhow and the Two Other Passengers Demanded to be Set Ashore.”
Half-tone plate engraved by C.E. Hart from a drawing by Stanley M. Arthurs.
In Harper’s Monthly Magazine, March 1912, p. 575.

October 1954: Hurricane Hazel

This Month in North Carolina HistoryPhoto by Roland Giduz of tree fallen on car in Chapel Hill

Fifty years ago this month, North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Hazel, at the time the greatest natural disaster in the state’s history. On the morning of October 15, 1954, Hazel slammed into the coast near the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, a strong category four storm packing winds of 155 miles per hour. Beachfront property along the southeastern coast was decimated, leaving entire sections where not a single structure was left standing. The storm moved due north, continuing to inflict damage. In Wilson, there were gusts of up to one hundred miles per hour and even in Chapel Hill, more than 150 miles from the coast, the storm remained strong, bringing sixty-eight mile per hour winds, uprooting trees, destroying homes, and dumping about four and a half inches of rain on the town.

The damage done by Hazel was catastrophic. Nineteen North Carolinians were killed, fifteen thousand buildings were destroyed, and thirty-nine thousand more were damaged. Thirty North Carolina counties were affected by the storm. Although some recent hurricanes have rivaled Hazel in the amount of damage measured in financial terms, none have topped its strength. In the fifty years since Hazel, no other storm at a strength of category four or higher has reached North Carolina.

Map showing path of Hurricane Hazel

Suggestions for Further Reading
Jay Barnes, North Carolina’s Hurricane History. Third edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

“Hurricane Hazel Was Biggest Catastrophe Ever to Hit N.C.” Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N.C.), October 24, 1954.

“Town Pulls Through Hurricane, But Damage is Heavy.” Chapel Hill News Leader (Chapel Hill, N.C.), October 18, 1954.

Image Source:
Chapel Hill in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. Photograph by Roland Giduz, 1954. Roland Giduz Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.