Loblollies and truffles — match made in heaven?

“On a frosty February morning in North Carolina’s Piedmont region [near Burlington], the enterprising trio who has finally broken America’s strange truffle curse walks beneath orderly rows of loblolly pine, trying very hard not to step on the precious nuggets beneath their feet….

“For the past two years, I’ve been hunting truffles around the world for a forthcoming book. I’ve followed some very muddy dogs through medieval Italian landscapes in the dead of night. I’ve dug black truffles in the arid oak plantations of the Spanish highlands. I’ve watched deals go down in Hungarian parking lots. I’ve seen stupendous truffle patches. But I’ve never seen a patch as productive as the one in these pines — especially not in America, where truffle farming has been a 20-year train wreck….”

— From “Has the American-Grown Truffle Finally Broken Through?” by Rowan Jacobsen in Smithsonian magazine (June)

A decade ago North Carolina’s fledgling truffle growers found a different way to make national headlines.


Ex-slave or governor’s daughter — who named Burlington?

“Burlington’s original name, Company Shops, is a shortened version of Company’s Repair Shops, and in 1864 the townspeople — who hated the name — briefly changed it to Vance, only to have the North Carolina Railroad tell them to change it back to Company Shops.

“On February 1, 1887, after the North Carolina Railroad had made mass layoffs in Company Shops, the town held a meeting to discuss the name.

“Various names were suggested, including Carolinadelphia, but no one could agree — until one man spoke up.

“ ‘After hearing all of this arguing, former slave and former town commissioner John Lane remarked that he had not heard such a fuss since the stock law requiring all livestock to be penned up that had been passed a short time before, resulting in the confinement of Burlington, a tame Jersey bull belonging to [postmaster?] Daniel Worth, [local historian Walter] Boyd said.

“The townspeople’s ‘ears perked up’ at the name, and it was chosen as a compromise….”

— From “Historian finds Burlington’s story in the details” by Jessica Williams in the Burlington Times-News (Nov. 20)


“The name Company Shops was applied to the community until 1887, when a list of names suggested by local citizens was referred to a committee for decision. Burlington is said to have been suggested by Katherine Scales, daughter of Governor Alfred M. Scales.”

— From “The North Carolina Gazetteer,” edited by William S. Powell and Michael Hill (2010) 


Once upon a time, a landline was a very big deal

“On Dec. 16, 1948, Ray Hewitt installed a telephone in the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Pace in Alamance County — the millionth rural telephone added by the Bell System since the end of World War II….

“[Hewitt’s wife] Martha, a telephone operator in Burlington, made the connections so Pace could speak with President Truman at the White House. (The president’s number: National 1414.)

” ‘The president’s words cannot be heard,’ the Southern Telephone News would report later, ‘but whatever he is saying seems to be pleasing farmer Pace. Mrs. Pace smiles as she watches her husband and looks mighty proud.’

“Everyone seemed to be crammed into the Paces’ farmhouse that day. There was a film crew. The ceremonial calls, broadcast live by WPTF in Raleigh, were carried by 16 N.C. stations.

“Also at the house were Sen. J. Melville Broughton, Gov.-elect Kerr Scott, Southern Bell President Hal S. Dumas and radio star Kay Kyser ….”

— From “President Truman on the line” by Mark Wineka in the Salisbury Post (Jan. 5)


Damien Hirst window-shopped at Carolina Biological

“In 1992, [Damien] Hirst moved to New York, where he met John LeKay, a 31-year-old British artist….

“Hirst mentioned that he was looking for a source of butterflies, and LeKay gave him a spare copy of the Carolina Biological Supply Co. Science catalogue, which he had been using as a source of ideas. They reached an agreement, said LeKay: ‘I put yellow stickers on the pages with the skeletons, skulls, mannequins and resuscitation dolls I was working on. He said he would stick to the animals and I would do the humans and he was very happy.’….

“LeKay’s gift of the catalogue manifested as a dramatic development in Hirst’s oeuvre within a few months. One of the items illustrated was a model cow bisected lengthways. In the 1993 Venice Bienniale, Hirst exhibited Mother and Child Divided, a cow and a calf bisected lengthways….

“Another Hirst exhibit was This Little Piggy Went to Market, a pig split in two lengthways (in vitrines of formaldehyde). One of the pictures in the Carolina Science catalogue was an anatomical model of a pig split in two lengthways….”
— From “The Art Damien Hirst stole” by Charles Thomson at 3:AM magazine (Sept. 14, 2010)

Carolina Biological Supply, founded in Burlington in 1927, immodestly but inarguably bills itself as “truly one of the most extraordinary companies in the world.” Among its nonscientific distinctions: capturing the plum web address carolina.com.

h/t David Perry


Choosing cheerleaders: It was about race, but more

“While the integration of white and black athletes in the 1960s and ‘70s took place with relatively few problems, cheerleading squads were more problematic.

Pamela Grundy, a [Charlotte] sports historian, told a crowd at the county library [in Brevard] that ‘Either you can hit the basket or you can’t…. It’s clear who’s good…. Cheerleading was very different from sports.’

“Since blacks were often in the minority, they rarely were selected by the student body to be on the squad. When it came to committees or the cheerleading coaches, they too were mostly white and selected white cheerleaders.

“Grundy said selections were based more on style and culture, not necessarily race.

“A photo of the Myers Park (a top-tier all-white school in Charlotte) cheerleading squad revealed girls with similar hairstyles standing very straight with limbs in the same position….

“Another photo showed cheerleaders from the same year at West Charlotte (the black equivalent of Myers Park). They had different hairstyles and different poses. Grundy said they used their legs and hips more than their arms.

“And [black] cheerleaders involved the crowds, often in a ‘call and response’ format whose precursors were African chants.  ‘Foot stomping was turned into an art,’ said Grundy.

“When black girls were excluded from cheerleading [at predominantly white schools], students protested. In 1969 in Burlington, violence erupted when Walter Williams High selected all-white cheerleaders. One man was shot to death.

“Grundy said that once those who selected the cheerleading squad realized what a huge issue it was and that blacks were being excluded, either intentionally or not, things began to change….”

— From “Historian: Integration Of Cheerleaders Was Difficult To Achieve” by John Lanier in the Transylvania Times (Oct. 8)


A ‘hands up’ racial controversy in Burlington, 1969

1969: As integration spreads at Southern schools, some black cheerleaders refuse to dance to ‘Dixie’ or wave the Confederate flag…. Violence erupts in Burlington, North Carolina, after recently integrated Walter Williams High School fails to select any black cheerleaders. The governor [Bob Scott] declares a state of emergency and a curfew, and 400 National Guard troops arrive to quell riots. A black 15-year-old student named Leon Mebane is killed.”

No one was ever charged in Leon Mebane’s death.

“It’s like a blank moment in history,” said Daniel Koehler, who recalled the case in a 2010 documentary, “Burlington: A City Divided.”  “The newspapers say Mebane was caught in the crossfire, but eyewitness reports say that Leon was stopped by Burlington police, put up his hands and was shot 17 times.”