New in the collection: Rhododendron Festival pennant

Pennant reading "Asheville Rhododendron Festival."

“The Rhododendron Festival was started in June 1928 by the Chamber of Commerce to bring more tourism to Asheville and lasted until 1942 when the U.S. went to war. At its height it was a weeklong event featuring a parade every day, beauty pageants and upscale balls….

“It was also designed to showcase the rich traditions of southern Appalachia…. Bascom Lamar Lunsford of Mars Hill was the principal organizer of the Appalachian music events and successfully spun off the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival….

“The festival crowned a King and Queen of Rhododendron, a mythical fairyland built in the baseball diamond at McCormick Field…. Dogs and livestock were also paraded around and judged….”

— From “The Rhododendron Festival”  by Cliff Mori at

Asheville historian Nan Chase notes that the festival “started during a period people were so destitute that men were hunting squirrels in town for food and picking up coal along the railroad tracks to sell. I call it a ‘pageant of hope.’ “

Chase also happened onto an early mention of Billie Burke – later Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” — tap-dancing at a festival pageant atop the Grove Arcade.


A Hayloft Sweetheart goes to Raleigh

On this day in 1974: Myrtle “Lulu Belle” Wiseman, twice voted America’s most popular female radio entertainer in the 1930s, is elected to the N.C. House.

Before retiring to Spruce Pine in 1958, she and her husband, Scotty, had performed for almost a quarter-century as the Hayloft Sweethearts on the “National Barn Dance” on Chicago’s WLS, hosted a daily TV show for eight years and made seven Hollywood movies.

The Wisemans wrote or co-wrote such classics as “Good Old Mountain Dew” (with Bascom Lamar Lunsford), “Remember Me” and “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”

In her two terms in the legislature, Lulu Belle Wiseman will make her most dramatic impression when, arguing for the death penalty for rapists, she tells her stunned colleagues about her own rape 10 years earlier.


Mountain music man shattered expectations

“[Bascom Lamar Lunsford] turned out to be just the opposite of what I expected. He sings like an old mountain reprobate, full of glee and friendliness. He turned out to be a reactionary aristocrat. The first question he asked us was ‘Are you Communists?’ He claims that hundreds of Communists have been going around the country with tape recorders and collecting songs and using them for progressive causes.

“Telling him we were friends of Pete [Seeger] and Woody [Guthrie] and from New York didn’t help….”

— Folk singer Guy Carawan, recalling a 1953 visit to Asheville (as quoted in “Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970” [2002]  by Ronald D. Cohen).