Asheville blacked out (mostly) for air raid drill

“In the wake of Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into World War II, Asheville prepared for the threat of additional foreign strikes on American soil….

“At 10 p.m. Aug. 10, 1942, the mountains went dark for 30 minutes. ‘The blackout test was almost 100 per cent effective,’ The Asheville Citizen wrote.  ‘Excessive cigarette lighting by persons in the downtown area was reported from one town. Carelessness by autoists was reported from another.’

“A lighted window on the top floor of the building on the corner of North Market and East Walnut streets ‘offered a perfect target, until an air raid warden got busy,’ the paper explained.

“The newspaper concluded its account of the blackout with a gruesome anecdote:  ‘A group of boys and girls tied a dead mouse to the doorknob of the Battery Park avenue store which did not observe the black-out. One of the boys borrowed a lipstick from a girl and scribbled this on the glass door. “You had better black out next time.”'”

— From “Air raid warnings sound in WNC, 1942” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (Nov. 29, 2020)

New in the collection: department store mirror

Circular plastic item with images of birthstones around the edge and the words "The Leader, Asheville's New Big Department Store" and the store's address in the center.

The Leader department store was once among more than 80 Jewish-owned businesses on  Patton Avenue. Its building remains, but — more typically for contemporary Asheville — now houses a grass-fed-beef burger joint  and “a small-batch hand-craft nano-brewery and ale house.”

This nifty little celluloid lagniappe, circa 1920, includes a pocket mirror on the back and a supply of straight pins around the rim.

Travels with Zeb (post mortem)

“The controversy began shortly after his April 14, 1894, death, when The Asheville Daily Citizen reported that [Zebulon] Vance’s second wife, Florence Steele Martin Vance, had removed the former governor’s body from its original plot ‘to the spot on the highest part of Riverside cemetery.’

“Florence had visions of a monument placed at the site of his new burial (as opposed to its eventual 1898 placement in Pack Square). The problem, however, was Zebulon’s grown children claimed no foreknowledge of their stepmother’s plans and disapproved of her actions.

“On June 11, 1894, The Asheville Daily Citizen informed its readers that the former governor’s son Charles N. Vance had had his father’s body once again disinterred and relocated to its original plot. Furthermore, ‘Special officers Sam and Howell have been guarding the grave day and night[.]’ ”

— From “The three burials of Zebulon Vance” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (May 30)

New in the collection: Civil engineers convention badge

American Society of Civil Engineers badge for Asheville meeting
Not a lot of historical significance attached to Asheville’s hosting the 1903 national convention of the American Society of Civil Engineers, but the members’ badges — manufactured by Whitehead & Hoag of Newark, N.J. — sure were handsome.

Afterwards the engineers expressed special appreciation to Richard S. Howland “for the courtesy of his invitation to visit Overlook Park on Sunset mountain… as well as for the  hospitable ‘Barbecue’ which added so much to the pleasure and comfort of that occasion.”

 

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