New in the collection: Charlotte Speedway pinback

Blue pinback with words "World 600. I'll be there!"

A 600-mile stock-car race? How come? Because Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner, owners of the brand-new Charlotte Motor Speedway, wanted to one-up the famed Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day 1960.

Undercutting their ploy, construction problems delayed the track’s opening by three weeks –and even then the rough, uncured surface caused a memorable mess. Six drivers – Richard Petty, Lee Petty and Junior Johnson among them — were disqualified for cutting through the grass for pit stops to replace blown tires.

By 1981 Charlotte Motor Speedway had put its ragged debut behind it, and World 600 drivers could confidently promise, “I’ll Be There!”

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)

New in the collection: campaign emery boards

Two emery boards. One has sentence "Keep Mizell Your Congressman." The other has wording that reads "W. Kerr Scott will work for you as your U.S. Senator" and includes a small icon for a union.

I had called these humble political giveaways fingernail files, but more specifically — according to an expert — they are emery boards.

That distinction likely made scant difference to candidates such as W. Kerr Scott and Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell.

Mizell’s emery board would be from one or more of his 1970, 1972 or 1974 reelection campaigns. Scott’s, from his successful 1954 campaign for U.S. Senate, is notable for its union bug, given the state’s often chilly attitudes toward organized labor.

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)

New in the collection: socklet garter ad

Package for socklet garter featuring image of young girl holding doll.

I’ll admit it — I was startled to see that the Gem-Dandy Garter Co. advertised on this 2- by 4-inch card is still operating, though with a modernized name and product line.

Here’s how Gem-Dandy Accessories, headquartered in the Rockingham County town of Madison, traces its path into the 20th century:

“The Penn Family started Gem-Dandy in 1921 as a successor to the Penn Suspender Co.  Green Penn, the first company president, invented and patented the GEMCO Adjustable Garter — the world’s first fully adjustable garter for men, women and children….

“Gem-Dandy entered the belt business during World War II. The Danbury name was registered as a brand name in the 1970s and sales expanded across the country into thousands of men’s specialty shops.

“Today, Gem-Dandy distributes a wide variety of belts, wallets, suspenders and other accessories in dress, casual, work wear and western styles. We are the proud licensor of several popular brands such as Greg Norman®, Pebble Beach® , John Deere®, Berne Workwear®, Roper®, REALTREE® and Colours by Alexander Julian®. We also have our own proprietary brands including Danbury Golf, Danbury Workwear, Lady Danbury, G-Bar-D Western Outfitters and Cowgirls Rock. Our products can be found in major department stores as well as smaller venues.”

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)

New in the collection: Little Rebel pickle label

Rectangle label with the words Little Rebel and an image of a soldier in a blue uniform.

Mount Olive Pickle Co. captions a Little Rebel label as “circa 1940,” which makes me wonder whether the concept sprang from the 1935 movie “The Littlest Rebel.”  (Quite a plot! “Shirley Temple’s father, a rebel officer, sneaks back to his rundown plantation to see his family and is arrested…. Shirley and ‘Bojangles’ Robinson beg President Lincoln to intercede.”)

Regardless, Mount Olive updated its labels in 1953 and again in 1967, gradually eliminating its distinctive brands such as Little Rebel, Carolina Beauty and Mopico.

And here’s a colorful label from Mount Olive’s onetime rival Chas. F. Cates & Sons of Faison.

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)

New in the collection: Meck Dec medal

Gold-colored, heart-shaped metal with the words Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, Charlotte, N.C. and an image of a night cap

While Charlotteans were celebrating (in their nightcaps?) the 131st anniversary of the Meck Dec — and commemorating it with this brass badge — big trouble was on the way.

“Despite North Carolina’s efforts,” Ronnie W. Faulkner writes in NCpedia, “a number of scholars outside the state maintained that the Mecklenburg document was a fraud. The ultimate scholarly blow came in 1907 with the publication of William Henry Hoyt‘s The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing That the Alleged Declaration of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, Is Spurious.

“Using the latest methods of scientific history and internal criticism, Hoyt maintained that the evidence was overwhelming that the reconstructed declaration was a misconstruction of the Mecklenburg Resolves of 31 May 1775, which contemporary newspapers proved had been written. Most North Carolinians ignored Hoyt’s work, but not Samuel A. Ashe, editor, historian, and descendant of one of the state’s most prominent families. The first volume of Ashe’s History of North Carolina (1908) presented both sides of the issue but ultimately agreed with the naysayers.

“A bitter fight broke out in the North Carolina General Assembly over a bill authorizing the purchase of Ashe’s book for the public schools. House Speaker Augustus W. Graham, the son of a governor and descendant of a ‘signer’ of the Mecklenburg Declaration, took the floor and defeated the authorization bill. Opponents of the measure, appealing to patriotism, noted that the date of 20 May was enshrined on the state flag and seal….”

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)