In 1889, Mr. E. J. Stephenson made an arduous journey from Henderson, North Carolina to Newark, New Jersey via bicycle. At times, Stephenson was unable to ride his bike and resorted to walking along dusty and bumpy roads, sometimes for twenty to thirty miles. At one point, the roads would have been so difficult to travel on that he was advised to take a brief train ride.
During his two weeks of travel, he wrote about his journey documenting the sights and his expenditures as he made his way to New Jersey. He observed the Blue Ridge Mountains, crossed the Shenandoah River, and gazed across the Susquehanna River. In addition to this, he stopped for a day in Washington D.C. to visit many of the sights that are still popular destinations today. Notably, he visited the Washington Monument stating that it “is 500 feet high and took the elevator 8 minutes to get up.”
When he arrived in Newark sixteen days after departing Henderson, Stephenson had traveled 533 miles and spent $13.00 (approximately $340.00 in modern day currency.) The current time from Henderson, North Carolina to Newark by bike is approximately 44 hours since roads can be more easily traversed by bicycles since the year Stephenson made his trek. Read about the adventure, including broken spokes and free pears from farmers, in the published pages of Stephenson’s diary in the September 26, 1889 issue of The Gold Leaf.
The St. Petersburg Times quotes Florida gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink as recalling North Carolina as “the valley of humility between two valleys of conceit.” Did the reporter misquote or the candidate misspeak?
Regardless, that mangling is no match for what N.C. Rep. Cary Allred of Alamance County concocted during a 1999 debate on clean air legislation: “a valley of despair between two mountains of deceit.”
And then there’s this: According to the New York Times, “Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have described [New Jersey] as a valley of humility between two peaks of conceit, New York City and Philadelphia.” I see the hand of a skeptical copy editor in that “is supposed to have,” but if the attribution is correct, then Franklin beat Mary Oates Van Landingham of Charlotte by a century or so.
In 1900, lamenting her state’s puny literary output, Van Landingham asked the Mecklenburg Historical Society, “Could it be that being located between Virginia and South Carolina, our people for so long have been furnished such conspicuous illustrations of self-appreciation that they have, by contrast, learned modesty and silence? Where there are mountains of conceit, there are apt to be valleys of humility.”