‘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.

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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.