New in the collection: anti-Depression ink blotters

Message on Seeman Printery blotter. It reads "Things we have learned since 1929." And then lists seven things. They are "That trying to keep pace with the Joneses isn't essential to happiness." "That a man may be broke and yet be intelligent and a gentleman. That the largest fortunes can collapse very easily." "That the deflation of our conceit has been considerable." "That no one of us is so terribly important." "That we are all very dependent upon each other for our welfare" "And that these things learned make us more fit for the future and more deserving of the ultimate return of true American standards of living." The list is ascribed to Daniel Rand.

Another part of the blotter. It includes calendar for May 1932 and the message "Stop Talking Deptression: When all the world seems gone to pot and business is on the bum, a two-cent grin and a lifted chin, helps some, my boy, helps some." An additional message reads, "Try a stiff dose of self confidence and see what happens."
The Seeman Printery, whose products included the labels for Bull Durham tobacco, dispatched these promotional blotters into the teeth of the Great Depression.

Despite the Printery’s longevity the best-remembered Seeman may have been Ernest — son of the founder — who left the family business in 1923. He went on to head the Duke Press, to lose his job after doing battle with the administration and to write the Durham/Duke roman a clef American Gold.

 

Joan Didion got an education in Durham

“In Durham [one of the places Joan Didion’s parents lived during World War II] we had one room, with kitchen privileges, in the house of a fundamentalist preacher and his family who sat on the porch after dinner and ate peach ice cream, each from his or her own quart carton. The preacher’s daughter had a full set of Gone With the Wind paper dolls, off limits to me.

“It was in Durham where the neighborhood children crawled beneath the back stoop and ate the dirt, scooping it up with a cut raw potato and licking it off, craving some element their diet lacked.

Pica.

“I knew the word even then, because my mother told me. ‘Poor children do it,’ she said, with the same determinedly cheerful expression. ‘In the South. You never would have learned that in Sacramento.’ ”

— From “Where I Was From” by Joan Didion (2012)

 

New in the collection: Montgomery Ward employee badge

Pin back badge for Montgomery Ward in Durham

South Square Mall in Durham was opened in August 1975 as a 790,000-square-foot regional shopping mall at a cost of about $25 million.

“The original anchors were Belk-Leggett (later renamed Hudson-Belk) and J.C. Penney.   Montgomery Ward was built as the middle anchor several years after opening — only its second location  in North Carolina.

“Montgomery Ward closed in 1985 as part of a corporate downsizing.  A year later that space would be filled by Ivey’s (later Dillard’s).  South Square closed in 2002 due to competition from the newly-opened Streets at Southpoint mall.”

— From southsquaremall.com

Montgomery Ward closed the last of its stores in 2001. This badge has a pre-’70s look, but I’m not finding evidence of an earlier presence of Montgomery Ward in Durham. 

 

New in the collection: Durham Soap Box Derby pinback

Pinback button that reads "Go 'Lucky Seven,' Kenny Walker, Durham, 1978

 

Soap Box Derby used to be be big, both nationally and in North Carolina. Today the derby apparently survives in the state only in Morganton, where it has its own track at the Burke County Fairgrounds under the sponsorship of the Morganton Optimist Club.

Newspaper archives offer a look back at the race’s glory days in Raleigh and in Charlotte.

In 1970 a Durham contestant won the national championship. Less illustriously, a 1993 champion from Huntersville — perhaps influenced by the local culture? — was stripped of his title for using unapproved materials.

 

Durham sees exodus of blacks because of Jim Crow

On this day in 1917: Black business leaders C.C. Spaulding and Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore tell the Durham Chamber of Commerce that 1,500 to 2,000 blacks have left the city in the previous 90 days.

The exodus of black Southerners to the North, begun during Reconstruction, has accelerated since 1900, when white supremacists resumed legal and political dominance.

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Former VP receives rude welcome in Durham

 On this day in 1948: Former vice president Henry Wallace, now presidential candidate of the left-leaning Progressive Party, attends its state convention in Durham. The convention nearly turns into a riot as anti-Wallace demonstrators march with signs, explode firecrackers and pelt Wallace with eggs.

Running against Harry Truman, Thomas Dewey and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, Wallace fares poorly in North Carolina and everywhere else; he receives no electoral votes.

[Wallace’s unlikely North Carolina ally.]

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Durham was serious about stopping ‘stoping’

“On October 13, 1944, a North Carolina citizen was brought before a judge in traffic court for having parked his car immediately in front of a sign that read ‘No Stoping’…. The defendant argued that the missing letter in the sign meant that he had not violated any law. Brandishing a Webster’s dictionary, he noted that ‘stoping’ technically means ‘extracting ore from a stope, or, loosely, underground.’

” ‘Your honor,’ said the man, ‘I am a law-abiding citizen, and I did not extract any ore from the area of the sign.’  The judge…let him off….”

— From Just My Typo: From ‘Sinning with the Choir’ to ‘the Untied States’ “ by Drummond Moir (2014)

The absence of attribution aroused skepticism, but I found a corroborative contemporary account in the Burlington Daily Times News. The court was in Durham, and the imaginative defendant was A. E. Floyd.

 

They would’ve loved Don Draper in Durham

Lucky Strike [since appearing prominently in “Mad Men”]

THEN Once this best-selling brand in the United States (and the cigarette of choice for Don Johnson’s character on “Miami Vice”) was selling 23 billion cigarettes a year.

NOW Its seemingly omnipresent place in Don Draper’s hands may not be the direct cause, but sales have grown by 35 percent since 2007. Even Don’s public cri de coeur against ever representing tobacco companies again, published in a letter to The New York Times after Lucky Strike left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in Season 4, hasn’t put much of a dent in sales.

— From “A Lucky Strike, Indeed: ‘Mad Men’ Enters Its Final Season in an Altered World” by Lorne Manly in the New York Times (April 11)

 

Durham in auction season: Let the carnival begin

“A popularly circulated saying about warehouse people was that ‘they work like hell, drink like hell, and loaf like hell.’ But the long months of loafing came to an end when Durham’s warehouse district woke up and the auction season began.

” ‘During these busy days,’ [Leonard] Rapport observed [circa 1940], ‘shooting galleries, medicine shows, sidewalk preachers, string bands, 10¢ photographers, beggars, and flimflammers have established themselves along Rigsbee Avenue or on its cross streets.’

“Rapport vividly described the intensity of the warehouse district at night: ‘All during the night — warm for November — the streets are alive with men. The cafes are filled. Shooting galleries and fruit stands stay open until one and two or later. There is a movement of men walking, riding; and all-night stirring; slow talk, laughter, lights, shouts of drunks, music of guitars, radios, shouting of doormen, the rumble of a heavy truck on the wooden drive.’ ”

— From “Reasons to Talk About Tobacco” by Pete Daniel in the Journal of American History (December 2009)

Leonard Rapport, a Durham native and UNC graduate (’35), joined the Federal Writers’ Project to collect the life stories of tobacco warehouse workers. As this passage suggests, his eye for the scene was remarkable.

Rapport left his papers to the Southern Historical Collection, where they are being processed.

 

Rescued from chicken droppings, a photographic treasure

“Inside or outside his [Durham] photo studio, Hugh Mangum created an atmosphere — respectful and often playful — in which hundreds of men, women and children opened themselves. Though the late-19th-century American South in which he worked was marked by disenfranchisement, segregation and inequality — between black and white, men and women, rich and poor — Mr. Mangum, who was white, portrayed all of them with candor, humor, confidence and dignity….

“The images that remain — about 700 glass plate negatives preserved in Duke University’s Rubenstein Library — were salvaged from the tobacco pack house on the Mangum family property where the photographer built his first darkroom. For decades, the negatives caught the droppings of chickens and other creatures living in the pack house. Today they are in various states of deterioration. Some are broken and the emulsion is peeling on others, but the hundreds of vibrant personalities in the photographs prevail, engaging our emotions, intellect and imagination.”

— From “A Penny Picture Photographer in the American South” by Sarah Stackein the New York Times (Aug. 27, 2013)