“When [author Yunte] Huang visited Mount Airy, or Mayberry U.S.A., he learned of a Chang and Eng exhibit kept in the basement of the Andy Griffith Museum. In other words, a shrine to an American myth of old-timey homogeneity was literally built on the more convoluted reality. Huang knew that the symbolism was almost too much to bear: ‘As Sheriff Andy says, “If you wrote this into a play, nobody’d believe it.” ’ ”
— From ” ‘Inseparable’ Finds Pride, Indignity and Irony in the Lives of Siamese Twins Chang and Eng” by Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times (April 4)
Limitless seems shelf space for biographies of the brothers Bunker.
“Chang and Eng Bunker’s widows didn’t want to give away their husbands’ bodies after death, even when offered large amounts of money, even though they were left with many children to support. But the College of Physicians of Philadelphia convinced them it was ‘a duty to science and humanity that the family of the deceased should permit an autopsy,’ so the widows allowed the postmortem on the condition that the band between the brothers not be cut….
“If you go to the museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia – the Mütter Museum – today, you can see the conjoined livers of Chang and Eng displayed right below the plaster death cast the college made of their bodies while they were briefly in its possession. It isn’t clear if the Bunker widows knew that the livers would be taken, no less displayed. One of Eng’s descendants asked me, years ago, if I could help her figure out if there had, in fact, been permission from the Bunkers. She had been to the museum and found it a little strange to have people making fun of her ancestors’ organs. Not disgusting or upsetting or anything – just strange….
“I asked the descendant what she’d want to do if we did find evidence that the Bunker widows explicitly did not want the livers kept by the college. She laughed…. Should it be buried, she asked me rhetorically, at the gravesite containing the bodies, in Mount Airy? Should it be passed around the hundreds of living descendants, displayed on various mantels around the country in turn?
“I pictured an old conjoined liver treated like the Stanley Cup….”
— From “Visiting your leg” by Alice Dreger at Aeon (Nov. 16, 2016)
“Is Andy Griffith our Robert Burns? One should argue Whitman or Poe, or even Frost, makes for a richer comparison. Certainly self-invented Whitman, who loved Burns, is the triumphant American version — yet the Whitman house in Camden, New Jersey, receives scant visitors. The same is true for Poe’s tidy home in Baltimore, now temporarily closed for lack of community support; and poor Frost’s New Hampshire farmhouse was vandalized and set aflame by a horde of drunken teenagers, who literally pissed on his stuff. Maybe these aren’t fair comparisons. But in the second half of the 20th century, television is popular culture.
“Perhaps whatever impulse propelled Keats in the 19th century — and Clark Gable, Irving Berlin, Joe Louis, and the Prince of Wales over a century later — to make a pilgrimage to the simple birthplace of poet Robert Burns, propels people to commune with the spirit of Andy Griffith in Mount Airy.
“The city earned over $100 million last year because people want to witness the place where this man came into being, and as any casual observer can discern from fans talking on the candlestick courthouse phone, they desire to exist inside his fiction.”
— From “Our Town: Andy Griffith and the Humor of Mourning” by Evan Smith Rakoff” in the Los Angeles Review of Books (April 20, 2013)
— The last word on Tar Heel Bread?
— Philanthropic apples drop far from High Point tree.
— Was Asheville really part of Walt Disney‘s world?
— Whistling’s “electric Dylan” moment.
— Unlikely Confederates: Sons of Chang and Eng.
— One less drive-in movie, one more display lot for metal buildings and carports.
— Wouldn’t Thad Eure get a laugh out of the rise of ramps in ritzy restaurants?
“”The WPA gave its enemies more ammunition than they needed in tiny Mount Airy, North Carolina, when workers there built a lake that proved not to have a water source.
“Sardonic stories in the press described the 200-yard-long, 40-foot-thick dam of native rock and concrete holding back a six-inch puddle, the order placed for 30,000 fish to stock the lake and the town residents who had built boats in anticipation of going fishing.”
–From “American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA” by Nick Taylor (2008)
Such questionable New Deal projects came to be known as “boondoggles” — check out the word’s colorful origins.
This week’s speculation over the identity of Clyde Hoey (and a camera-shy Harry Truman?) brought to mind shorpy.com, “a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s” (’60s, actually). Some are familiar (Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange), but others may surprise.
Some North Carolina examples:
— Petersburg provost marshal’s office, 1864
— Mount Airy Indian-themed 1964 birthday party
— Mount Olive homestead, 1800
— Pitt County 1910 chain gang
— Sapphire lodge, 1902 and (here too)