Brenau threatens end to speculation about Dare Stones

“Brenau [University] President Ed Schrader… has begun to assemble a team of experts in various disciplines—archaeology, geology, history and the study of Elizabethan writing—to re-examine the quartz stone. Sometime in this year or next, he wants to launch an expedition to the Chowan River near Edenton, N.C., where the first [Dare Stone] is believed to have been found, to search for more evidence.

“ ‘If it is real, it is the most important pre-colonial artifact by Europeans in the Americas,’ the 64-year-old says, softly placing is fingers on the stone. ‘The speculation’s gone on long enough.’ ”

— From “Is This Stone Linked to the Lost Colony of Roanoke?” by Cameron McWhirter in the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 21)


He led ‘fanatical cult’ of home freezer owners

“Last year Americans ate nearly a billion pounds of commercially frozen foods. About a half-billion more pounds were stored in 5,000 cold-locker plants by some 1,500,000 U.S. families. The quick-freezing boom is growing fast. Last week magazine Writer Boyden Sparkes published a book predicting the next big move will be toward freezing and storage in the home (“Zero Storage in Your Home”).

“Many food technologists believe that after the war quick freezing will supplant canning and dehydration. To Zealot Sparkes, such speculation is overcautious. He asserts that food freezing may revolutionize the U.S. standard of living. City people will buy their food wholesale. People ‘in modest circumstances,’ Sparkes glows, ‘may eat cheaply such meals as heretofore were available only to rich gourmets.’ Farm families will have an easily preserved, tasty winter supply of their own produce.

“Author Sparkes has a 26-cubic-foot freezer on his North Carolina farm, keeps it stuffed with whole lamb carcasses, chickens, cream, sweet corn, grapes, strawberries, quail, pigeons…. He also keeps in touch with other members of the small but fanatical cult of U.S. citizens who own home freezers.”

— From Time magazine, June 26, 1944

Boyden Sparkes is a name familiar to followers of the Dare Stones saga — he wrote the 1941 Saturday Evening Post expose.  And he coauthored autobiographies for carmakers Alfred Sloan and Walter Chrysler, celebrity chef Henri Charpentier and heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, last private owner of the Hope Diamond and last victim of con man Gaston B. Means.

Anybody know more about the wide-ranging Mr. Sparkes?

NC Historical Review online? Um, not so fast

I was excited to see in Carolina Comments (July) that plans were being laid to take the North Carolina Historical Review online, first with a listing of all articles since 1924, later with full text. Editor in chief Donna E. Kelly provides Miscellany readers with the somewhat-less-encouraging details:

“A list of Review articles has been prepared but has not been posted online yet because we are trying to determine the best way to post it. There are no immediate plans to post entire articles online because that would take an inordinate amount of staff time and we have just lost four staff members to recent budget cuts. Moreover, we have so many back issues, that we need to sell out of most of those before we even consider posting the articles free of charge. We might consider posting some of the really early articles, but from the 1960s forward, we have so many back issues, that it wouldn’t make sense to put them online.

“At some point I envision that the Review will be available through online subscription only, but we have not yet explored that route. Our IT people would need to set up a secure way of making the access password protected.

“In any event, just keep checking our Web site periodically for updates. We’re hoping that it will get a facelift at some point, but we have to wait until the DCR IT staff gets around to us.”

What a shame, however budgetarily understandable  — and what a contrast between the current reach of the Review in print and its limitless potential online. Consider, for instance, the attention deficit for David La Vere’s provocative July 2009 article on the Dare Stones.

Dare Stone: Does debunking need debunking?

In the July 2009 North Carolina Historical Review, David La Vere, professor of history at UNC Wilmington, argued for taking seriously the “Dare Stone” found near the Chowan River in 1937:

“Scholars have dismissed the stone as a forgery, but a closer look shows it might well be what it purports to be: a last message from Eleanor Dare and the Lost Colony…. It tells a credible story….”

Now Dram Tree Books in Wilmington has published Dr. La Vere’s  “The Lost Rocks: The Dare Stones and the Unsolved Mystery of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony.”

I asked him whether the stone might yield its secrets to modern forensic science.

“The Stone’s language has been examined many times,” he replied. “I had an Elizabethan scholar look over the language. He went in with the idea to discredit and came away amazed how it all fit Elizabethan English. He was particularly interested in the word ‘salvage’ (for savage) which was used in English (from the Italian word for forest) during only a few years…. The Lost Colony fit in with that period.
“I don’t know when the physical aspect of the stone was examined last. In the 1980s it was looked over, but they found they could not come to any new evidence on it. It still looks like a chisel did it. The problem was that it was ‘corrupted’  from the time it was found — gone over with a wire brush, pencils and nail. New techniques would entail destroying parts of the stone, and Brenau [University, where it resides] doesn’t seem willing to do that.

“So it could be real, or it could be a good fake.”

Paging Sam Spade….