New in the collection: Gastonia milk bottle


One-quart milk bottle with the words Sunrise Dairy, Gastonia, N.C. in red letters.

“As with cotton, the price of milk was volatile. ‘Milk wars’ were common, as distributors continuously undercut one another….

“According to the Gaston Gazette, a milk war was occurring in Shelby in 1972, when Ab Wolfe of Sunrise Dairy in Gastonia said of a proposed regulation, ‘It discriminates against the little distributor. The big boys are going to eat us up.’ ”

— From “Cleveland County Agriculture” (2016)

“Sunrise Dairy, Gastonia, N.C., ceased operation in June after 46 years as a dairy processor. Management is liquidating and disposing of equipment.”

— From “Sunrise Shutters” in Ice Cream Field and Ice Cream Trade Journal (1974)

More on North Carolina’s once prominent dairy industry, as told through its bottle lids here and here.

A second side of one-quart milk bottle with the words "Please Return Bottles Daily," and an image of a man carrying a large milk bottle on his back.

New in the collection: Gastonia strike photo

Photograph of man speaking to crowd

“The ILD [International Labor Defense] sent Karl Marx Reeve, editor of its monthly paper, the Labor Defender…. Reeve stayed for less than two months, but  later he would considerably inflate his role in the strike.”

— From “Gastonia 1929: The Story of the Loray Mill Strike” by John A. Salmond” (2014) 
Text on rear of image noting that speaker in photo is Carl Reeves.

Communist activist Karl Marx Reeve was also known in this ACME Newspictures caption and elsewhere as Carl Reeves.

New in the collection: Mill worker insurance policies

Policy from Prudential Insurance for Hazel A. Hester

“The Roosevelt administration signed sweeping worker protections into law, addressing many of the issues that drove Loray employees to strike in 1929.

“And, [Gaston County historian Jason] Luker says, things changed dramatically when the mill was sold to Firestone [in 1935]. People were paid better, worked better schedules and were even able to buy houses from the company in the mill village.

“ ‘The people who worked for Firestone worked for Firestone for 30, 40, 50 years,’ Luker said. ‘That’s a far cry from the people who struck multiple times. It’s a completely different mindset.’ ”

— From “90 years ago, a Gastonia strike was world news” by Dashiell Coleman in the Gaston Gazette (March 29, 2019)

Among other benefits newly available to Firestone workers: life, disability and hospitalization insurance (“room and board, not exceeding $3.50 a day”).

As tire-making technology advanced, the mill switched from cotton to synthetic fibers, then closed in 1993. In 2013 developers began renovating it for residential and commercial use.


So much to know about Lionel Shriver

“Nearly overlooked in the hubbub [over the 2010 National Book Awards] was the first-time nomination of an under-recognized author who [was born in Gastonia and] grew up in Raleigh — Lionel Shriver, for her novel ‘So Much for That.’

“Shriver was raised in Raleigh until high school, when her family moved to Atlanta. Since 1987, she has spent most of her time in the United Kingdom; she now lives in London and Brooklyn. Her fifth novel, ‘A Perfectly Good Family’ [2007] was set in an historic house on Blount Street in downtown Raleigh.”

— From “Raleigh native’s [sic] book picked” in the News & Observer (Oct. 18, 2010)

“Her father [Donald Woods Shriver Jr.] was a Presbyterian minister and, later, a professor and president of Union Theological Seminary…. At the age of 8, she decided that she did not want to have children of her own. When she was 12, she announced she would not be going to church any more. Her father dragged her into the car by her hair. ‘I have a rebellious streak a mile wide,’ she says, ‘and admire people who get away with things.’

“She changed her birth name Margaret Ann to Lionel when she was 15: ‘I was a tomboy. I grew up with brothers. So I chose a boy’s name…. A friend tells me that if I am so perverse as to change my name to Lionel, then I deserve the tedium of having to explain it to everyone I meet.’ “

— From Time to talk about her big brother by Viv Groskop in the Observer [of London] (April 21, 2013)

“Officials at an Australian writers festival were so upset with the address by their keynote speaker that they publicly disavowed her remarks….

“[Lionel Shriver] had defended her right to depict members of minority groups in any situation, if it served her artistic purposes.

“ ‘Otherwise, all I could write about would be smart-alecky 59-year-old 5-foot-2-inch white women from North Carolina,’ she said.”

— From “Lionel Shriver’s Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival” by Rod Nordland in the New York Times (Sept. 12, 2016)







‘A shower of Flesh and Blood’ in Sampson County

“In 1850, a strange package arrived at the North Carolinian [in Fayetteville]. It contained a letter and what appeared to be the rotting organ of an animal.

“ ‘The piece which was left with us,’ the editors wrote, ‘has been examined with two of the best microscopes in the place,’ and certainly contained blood. ‘It has the smell, both in its dry state and when macerated in water, of putrid flesh; and there can be scarcely a doubt that it is such.’

“Thomas Clarkson, who lived on a farm about 13 miles southwest of Clinton, wrote the accompanying letter: ‘On the 15th of Feb’y, 1850, there fell within 100 yards of the residence of Thos. M. Clarkson in Sampson county, a shower of Flesh and Blood, about 50 feet wide, and… 250 or 300 yards in length.’….

“The Clarkson family were not the only witnesses to this strange phenomenon in North Carolina. It was reported to have rained flesh on a farm near Gastonia in 1876, and a shower of blood in Chatham County in 1884 was investigated by none other than F. P. Venable, a young chemist who went on to become president of the University of North Carolina.

“These are only a few of the two dozen reported such cases occurring in 19th-century America. Blood and meat were claimed to rain down on slave and soldier, adult and child. Even if all the events were hoaxes, it remains one of the strangest and most obscure artifacts of our cultural psyche.”

— From “The day it rained blood and guts in North Carolina”  by Tom Maxwell at Indy Week (Oct 29, 2014)

More on “flesh falls” from Harnett County historian John Hairr.


Black baseball player sparks racist outrage in Gastonia

On this day in 1934: The American Legion baseball team from Springfield, Mass., withdraws from a tournament in Gastonia because of local resistance to its lone black player.

Ernest “Bunny” Taliaferro was barred from the team’s hotel, and the Charlotte Observer reports that “those in charge of the tournament would not guarantee the safety of the Springfield nine when it went on the field in the face of heckling and manifestations of hostility by the onlookers.”

Scorned and threatened in Gastonia, Taliaferro and the rest of team would return home to a heroes’ welcome. In 2003 a monument bearing all their names will be erected at the Springfield ballpark. And there’s even a children’s book.


Gastonia’s marker dispute — and Greensboro’s

“In 1986, a state proposal to erect a historical marker [to recognize the 1929 Loray Mill strike] failed because Gastonia officials objected to the wording.

“They wanted to omit any mention of the deaths in the strike and include a reference about local citizens defeating ‘the first Communist efforts to control southern textiles.’ The state didn’t like the alternate wording and shelved the project.

“Attitudes changed. In 2007 Gastonia officials asked the state to reopen the proposal — with the same text the state had originally wanted.”

— From “Saving Gastonia’s Loray Mill by Joe DePriest, reprinted from the Charlotte Observer (July 5, 2012)

Does the proposed “Greensboro Massacre” marker face a similar decades-long mothballing? Or is City Council about to come up with an acceptable compromise?


R.I.P., Buddy Lewis: Big bat, bad glove, long life

John “Buddy” Lewis, onetime Washington Senators slugger, died last week in his native Gastonia.

At 94 Lewis was the 11th oldest living major league baseball player — and the only one whose career had begun before 1936. (Second-oldest: 98-year-old Clarence “Ace” Parker, Duke’s two-sport star.)

Lewis’s chronic weakness was fielding. Before the Senators exiled him from third base to right field, he committed a jaw-dropping 140 errors over four seasons. But at the plate he was a menace from the get-go — at the age of 24 only Ty Cobb had recorded more career hits.

World War II cost Lewis nearly four seasons of his prime. He flew more than 350 cargo missions “over the hump” in India.

After the war he came back strong — starting in the 1947 All-Star game alongside Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio — but retired after the ’49 season to concentrate on his Gastonia Ford dealership.

He seems also to have been the last remaining player to witness Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” farewell speech in 1939.

Depicted: This cheaply made tab-style button from the collection was a candy or gum premium, circa mid 1930s. It’s probably coincidence that the odd, open-mouthed image of Buddy Lewis  suggests he’s desperately searching the sky for a pop fly, but….

And here are his baseball cards from 1939 and 1940 and 1941.

Lit-crit link dump calls for guitar backup

Gastonia native “strengthens her already credible claim to the title of best living American writer.”

Greensboro praised (?) as “that true American anomaly – a place where there seem to be more people writing serious books than reading them.”

— Much to applaud, per usual, about Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s country-and-Eastern show last night in Charlotte. “I Am a Town,” her tribute to the sad two-lane from D.C. to the Outer Banks, always moves me. Also notable: on bass guitar, Chapel Hill’s ubiquitous Don Dixon.

Found in Gastonia: A journalist’s angry voice

“It was in the textile mills of North Carolina [in 1934 that Martha Gellhorn, a 25-year-old investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration] found the writing voice she had been looking for. It was clear and simple, a careful selection of scenes and quotes…. What made it her own was the tone, the barely contained fury and indignation…..

“Returning from a mill town where those fortunate enough to still have jobs were forced to pay half again as much for their food at the company store, she added: ‘It is probable — and to be hoped — that one day the owners of this place will get shot and lynched.’

“In Gastonia, among those who had lost everything, she at last had her subject. For the next 60 years, in wars, in slums, in refugee camps, she used this voice again and again…. It became her hallmark.”

— From “Gellhorn: A 20th Century Life” by Caroline Moorehead (2003)

Martha Gellhorn’s celebrated career as a foreign correspondent stretched from the Spanish Civil War to the invasion of Panama, although she is perhaps more widely remembered as Ernest Hemingway’s third wife — a distinction she abhorred.