New in the collection: Central Bank money bag

Money bag from Central Bank in Asheville, N.C.

“Asheville was already in a slide when the stock market crashed in October 1929. The coup de grace came when several major banks in town failed in November 1930….

“The city, county and public schools had nearly $8 million in deposits in the failed Central Bank & Trust. Its closure exposed politicians’ bad bet for all to see.

“Criminal indictments followed, and at least two officials committed suicide, including former Mayor Gallatin Roberts.

” ‘My soul is sensitive, and it has been wounded unto death,’ Roberts wrote in a suicide note addressed to the people of the city. ‘When I went into office nearly four years ago I found millions of dollars of the people’s money in the Central Bank, and I tried with all my soul to protect it. … What would you have done?’ ”

— From “Some thought ’20s boom would endure” by Mark Barrett in the Asheville Citizen-Times (Sept. 6, 2009)

“Asheville suffered a greater financial hardship than all others from the 1929 Crash, shouldering a per capita debt burden that was the greatest in the country. Today, the liability that city carried for almost 50 years has turned it into an American architectural treasure….

“During those years the city stayed much as it was before that black day in 1929. The tax base was small enough that growth was slow, and what tax monies were generated funded more pressing needs than the destruction of old buildings….”

— From “Asheville’s Architecture Treasure Chest” at Romantic Asheville

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New in the collection: chitterling strut poster

Chitterlings/chitlins, a notoriously pungent exemplar of Southern cuisine, are seldom seen (or sniffed) these days.  (None too soon, my mother would’ve said. Not my father, who took advantage of her absences to boil up a bucket of hog intestines and have his pals over to share.)

One early reference to the chitterling strut, as a dance step, appeared in the Asheville Citizen (June 30, 1926): “The Chitterling Strut, the Breakfast Bounce and the Rolled-Sock Dance are the latest terpsichorean novelties in Asheville’s darktown…. Wallace Walker had been charged with operating a dance hall without a license but was released when it was found that the cost of chitterling strutting was only 15 cents a head….”

The step may be long forgotten, but its name lives on most prominently in the annual Chitlin Strut in Salley, S.C.

Thanks to whoever thought this undated marker-on-cardboard poster was worth saving. Karen Brann at the Caswell County Public Library has lived in the county since 1987 but has no recollection of Fat-boys. Any Miscellany readers who can fill us in?

 

In Asheville, Eleanor Roosevelt held her tongue

“I was asked if I was open to political questions and said ‘yes.’ But I did not know until I heard the question if I would answer it or not. One of the first was, ‘Would I consider that the Administration had done all that it could to give leadership in the question of desegregation.’

“Suddenly I could visualize the headlines which would focus on this much-argued point in the South as against the real reason for our visit. So I promptly announced that I had come here to talk about the United Nations and I thought that my views on the subject of civil rights were well enough known for me not to discuss them on this particular visit. That saved me from any further difficulties on that score.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt in her “My Day” column, recalling her 1956 visit to the YWCA in Asheville

Though reluctant to address race in her talk, Roosevelt had stipulated a venue that would accommodate both blacks and whites — scarce in still-segregated Asheville.

h/t Mountain Xpress

 

‘Successive thrills’ for audience at ‘The Birth of a Nation’

“Although [‘The Birth of a Nation’] played only in larger cities, by one estimate 90 percent of Southerners had seen the film by 1930….The Charlotte Observer reported that the local theater had received mail and telephone orders from towns as far away as 75 miles….

“These audiences consumed the picture actively….In Asheville, the ‘large crowd experienced successive thrills, several people becoming excited almost to the point of hysteria….’ ”

— From Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940″ by Amy Louise Wood (2011)

 

When is it libelous to misidentify someone’s race?

“Although there are many decisions to the effect that it is actionable per se to call a white person a Negro, not one can be found deciding whether it would be so to call a Negro a white person. [But] one event looks, in a measure, in this direction.

“The city of Asheville, North Carolina, in 1906, contracted with a printer to have a new city directory issued. The custom of the place was to distinguish white and Negro citizens by an asterisk placed before the names of all Negroes. After the directory had been distributed, it was found that asterisks had been placed before the names of two highly respected white citizens….

“The [Raleigh News & Observer] report says: ‘On the heels of this suit brought by [the white] Mr. Lancaster, it is said that [the black] Henry Pearson is considering bringing suit against the same people because an asterisk was not placed before his name. Henry, proprietor of the Royal Victoria, a Negro hotel, complains that he has been the object of unpleasant jests since publication of the directory, and likewise inquiries as to just ‘when he turned white.’ Pearson fears that if the report goes abroad that he is a white man it will damage his hotel…’

“This case is unique; whether it has been brought to court is as yet unknown….”

— From “Race Distinctions in American Law” by Gilbert Thomas Stephenson (1910) 

If Henry Pearson did in fact take his grievance to court, I haven’t found evidence thereof.

 

Grove Park Inn: Court’s nuclear retreat (with golf course!)

In mid-1955, the Supreme Court set about identifying its own relocation facility [in the event of nuclear war] and sent clerk Harold Willey to hunt for a spot. Willey surveyed several properties in North Carolina and reported back that ‘Because all large cities are considered to be prospective enemy targets, a hotel in a secluded small city, wherein approximately one hundred people could both live and work, with spaces available for a court room and clerical offices, seems a most appropriate facility for the Court.’ Making the case for the 141-room Grove Park Inn, Willey added that ‘A golf course adjoins the Inn and the new owners … plan to build a swimming pool.’

“A brief contract was inked on April 3, 1956… and the Cold War history sleuths at CONELRAD dug up Grove Park’s copy in a hotel filing cabinet in 2013. Lacking a sunset clause, it remains legally binding to this day. Let’s hope it will never be invoked. ”

— From “The U.S. Supreme Court’s secret Cold War relocation facility in the mountains of North Carolina” in Atlas Obscura

 

Fame, it is fleeting (but obscurity can be, too)

Remember Stephen Lee, the Confederate colonel and headmaster whose historical significance was found — on second thought — not worthy of the state highway marker that had stood for 65 years in Asheville?

Now, thanks to some persuasive research by his great-great-granddaughter, the marker review committee has decided — on third thought — to restore Lee to his former perch alongside Tunnel Road.

 

E. W. Grove: You can rest here, but you can’t be sick

“After moving to Asheville in 1898, [patent medicine magnate E. W. Grove] decided that, if the city were ever to fulfill its potential as a pleasure resort, it would have to to shed its image as a health retreat….

“First, Grove quietly purchased a number of Asheville’s tuberculosis sanitariums and rooming houses that catered to invalids and tore them down. In his many real estate speculations he attached covenants to lots that he sold preventing construction of any structures for tuberculosis patients…..

“In 1913 he opened the Grove Park Inn, touted as ‘the finest resort hotel in the world…. not a sanitarium, a hospital or a health resort. It is a resting place for tired people who are not sick.’

“To ensure that guests were not at risk of encountering any pestilence, the hotel used only new dollar bills, washed all coins and boiled all silverware twice….”

— From Tourism in the Mountain South: A Double-edged Swordby C. Brenden Martin (2007)

 

Asheville library reaping benefits of early postcard boom

“The North Carolina Collection at Pack Library [in Asheville] currently has over 3,650 postcards….

” ‘It’s unusual for a library of this size to have a postcard collection,’ says Terry Taylor, a member of The Friends of the North Carolina Room. ‘Some libraries have a few, but this library is making a concentrated effort to document the history of North Carolina. And it’s such a vivid history.’

“There’s a reason for local postcards’ prominence, Taylor notes: ‘That was a really popular thing from about 1905 to 1930. You could send your film to either a developer here in town or to Kodak and they would send you back prints that were on postcard stock, with a little stamp-marking on it.’ ”

— From “Greetings and salutations: A look at Asheville’s postcard history” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (March 10)

UNC’s North Carolina Collection is home to more than 15,000 postcards, about 8,000 of which were donated by the late Durwood Barber.

 

Asheville’s black bears: How many are too many?

“Black bears and North Carolinians have tussled over space for centuries. While traveling through the western part of the state in 1774, naturalist William Bartram complained about them in his journal, writing ‘the bears are yet too numerous.’ American pioneers hunted them for food and for sport, often to excess — when trapper ‘Big Tom’ Wilson died in Asheville in 1908, his obituary bragged that he had killed 110 bears. All of this barely dented their numbers.

“Starting in the 1920s, though, development and deforestation began taking their toll. When a midcentury bout of chestnut blight decimated the bears’ food supply, they were already struggling. By 1970, there were only about 1,500 left in the state, and North Carolina conservationists began setting aside protected land to bring their numbers up, but things still looked grim.

“Then came the 1990s, and the housing boom. New developments were perfect safe spaces for bears, full of food and birdseed and free from hunters…. In 1993, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission got 33 calls about human-bear encounters. In 2013, they got 569.

“[Today] somewhere around 8,000 black bears range around western North Carolina, and many make Asheville part of their meandering….The scientists behind [N.C. State’s] Urban-Suburban Bear Study are interested in figuring out this new habitat’s ‘social carrying capacity’ — exactly how many of these new neighbors the human residents of the city are willing to tolerate….”

— From “The Civilized Black Bears of Asheville, North Carolina” by