“If the South had 40 editors like W. O. Saunders, ” H. L. Mencken wrote, “it could be rid of most of its problems in five years.”
Saunders put out the weekly Elizabeth City Independent from 1908 until 1937. He exposed corruption and bigotry with great courage, but he attracted more attention with his rambunctious humor. A typical editorial page filler reported deadplan that a local political boss had been spotted “in the courthouse with his hands in his own pockets.”
The Independent’s fame and circulation extended nationwide, thanks to such pranks as a full-page satire on a New Deal privy project and Saunders’ pajama-clad stroll down Fifth Avenue in advocacy of more sensible hot-weather clothing. (When a New York reporter asked him how he felt, he admitted, “Like a damn fool.”)
“The truly noteworthy things I have done receive scant notice….” Saunders once lamented. “But when I walk out on the streets in pajamas on a sweltering summer day or print a satire on new-fangled backhouses, the whole country gives me a big hand.”
“Not the most beautiful portions of the U. S. are the Carolinas. Apart from the sea islands to the east and the mountains to the west, the bulk of both States is flat, sandy, scrubby, down-at-heel. Yet local pride burns high. The Carolina Motor Club of Charlotte decided that the ugliest excrescences on their land’s flat face were the rural rows of raffish, rusty mail boxes propped on old wagon wheels and rotting fence posts. Prize money was assembled, and the Rural Mail Box Improvement Campaign was launched.
“The North Carolina prize committee, chairmanned by Author Struthers Burt (“The Diary of a Dude Wrangler,” “Festival”), [awarded] $5 to B. B. Britt of Garner. Mr. Britt’s mailbox [had been] propped on a fence rail between tin signs advertising Coca-Cola and a tonic known as DR. PEPPER (“Good for Life”). Beautifier Britt took down these signs, cleared away assorted lengths of rusting barbed wire, old tomato cans, broken peach baskets, bits of kindling, corn stalks. Then he bowered his mailbox in flowering vines, shrubs, sun flowers, and a border of sweet alyssum.
“There were also $1 prizes for Lula Williams at Autryville, who moved her mailbox to an oak tree and planted petunias around it, and for Mrs. Z. I. McBane of Graham, who put her mailbox into what looked like an outhouse on stilts.”
— From Time magazine, Jan. 21, 1935