“According to legend in Calabash, N.C., comedian Jimmy Durante and his troupe passed through the little Brunswick County town sometime in the 1940s. While there, he made friends with a young restaurant owner.
“Brunswick County historian Susie Carson says that woman was Lucille ‘Lucy’ Coleman, a claim repeated in Theresa Jensen Lacey’s ‘Amazing North Carolina.’ Soon afterward, Durante adopted his trademark sign-off — ‘Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!’ — for his radio show. According to Coleman’s daughter, Clarice Holden, and others, it was Durante’s anonymous tip of the hat to her mother, who died in 1989.
“Not everyone accepts this theory, though….”
— From “Who is Mrs. Calabash?” by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star News
“Segregation of public facilities — including water fountains and restrooms — was officially outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson….
“In Raleigh, Wilmington and other Southern cities, businesses seem to have complied grudgingly but promptly…. In smaller towns and rural areas, however, Jim Crow customs lingered longer.
“Local history librarian Beverly Tetterton remembers seeing fading ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ signs on the restrooms of shuttered gas stations when she first came to town in the 1970s.
“Elliott Erwin of Magnum Photos took a celebrated black-and-white photo of a segregated water fountain in North Carolina in 1950.”
— From “When did segregated water fountains end?” by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington StarNews (June 5, 2009)
“In one of his anecdotal books, ‘Only in America,’ [Harry] Golden said that he once persuaded a North Carolina department store owner to put an ‘Out of Order’ sign over his ‘white’ drinking fountain. Little by little, whites began drinking out of the ‘colored’ fountain, and by the end of the third week ‘everybody was drinking the “segregated” water.’ ”
— From “Harry Golden, an editor and humorist, 79, dead” in the New York Times (Oct. 3, 1981)
On this day in 1935: The first ABC store in North Carolina opens in Wilson, with a line of customers waiting — so many that more than 100 had to be turned away at the 6 p.m. closing time.
— From “ABCs of N.C. liquor sales” by Ben Steelman, part of a fact-packed and entertaining Wilmington Star News project on “What We Drink in North Carolina.”
“It’s one of the more glamorous stories of the Cape Fear coast: Confederate spy Rose O’Neale Greenhow, widow of a minor Washington bureaucrat and a sometime diplomat, is riding a blockade runner back into Wilmington. Her ship runs aground and she drowns in the Atlantic — weighed down by treasure sewn in the linings of her gown.
” ‘I kind of hate to bust people’s bubbles,’ said Chris Fonvielle, historian at the University of North Carolina Wilmington….”
— From “Romantic story of shipwrecked Confederate spy is true, mostly” by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star-News (June 9)
Ben Steelman offers a footnote to the Virginia Quarterly Review drama-turned-melodrama:
“The VQR’s founding, in 1925, was in large part the work of a Wilmington native, UVa President Edwin A. Alderman. Ten years earlier, Alderman had called for ‘an organ of liberal opinion …’ (that’s as in liberal arts, not politics) ‘solidly based, thoughtfully and wisely managed and controlled, not seeking to give news, but to become a great serious publication wherein shall be reflected the calm thought of the best men.’
“Born in Wilmington on May 15, 1861 — Alderman Elementary School, off Independence Boulevard, is named for him — Alderman served as president of three major universities: Chapel Hill when it was THE University of North Carolina (1896-1900), Tulane, down in New Orleans (1900-1904) and Virginia (1904 until his death in 1931). He was actually the first president of UVa — Thomas Jefferson’s ‘academical village’ had always had a loose governance until he took over.”
“Not seeking to give news” seems an unlikely goal for a literary magazine, but maybe Alderman was prescient.