David Sedaris and Briggs Hardware: Not a good match

“September 17, 1981

“Raleigh

“I’ve had it with Briggs Hardware. Again today when they asked what I was looking for, I was at a loss to tell them. ‘Something wooden,’ I’ve told them in the past. ‘Something shiny.’

“I don’t want a tool to do something with; I just want something to draw. In the toy department I asked to look at one of their jack-in-the-boxes. The saleswoman got snippy when I didn’t want to buy it, and when I reached for my knapsack and said I could explain, she said, ‘I don’t want to see none of your old mess.’

“I turned to leave and saw all the employees standing at the front counter talking about me. They think they’re hot stuff because the store was pictured in National Geographic.”

— From “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)” by David Sedaris (2017)

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A breakfast break that changed face of Raleigh

On this day in 1831: In Raleigh, a workman who goes to breakfast in the midst of soldering leaks in the zinc roof accidentally burns down the Capitol.

Backers of Fayetteville, a larger town with livelier commerce — that was just recovering from its own disastrous fire — will lobby unsuccessfully to have the capital relocated there.

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David Sedaris gets a job (and maybe an alarm clock?)

“March 28, 1979

“Raleigh

“I found a job. Today I’ll work, really work, for the first time since December. I’ve been hired as a waiter at a little restaurant next to the Arthur Murray Dance Studio called the Breakfast House, so I’m up at five. The last time I was up at five was because I hadn’t gone to bed yet.”

— From “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)” by David Sedaris (2017)

Sedaris spent the late ’70s and early ’80s in Raleigh, working odd jobs, making art and getting high. Despite his record of unreliable narration   “Theft by Finding” more often than not struck me as credibly poignant. The guy can sure tell a story.

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At State Fairgrounds, a rival to Pantheon and Penn Station

“I had first encountered [Dorton Arena] in an architecture class, where my professor waxed poetic about this dramatic modern building, noting that had its designer, Matthew Nowicki, not been killed in a plane crash, he would have become one of the outstanding avant-garde architects of the 20th century….

“Nowicki’s Raleigh pavilion bears positive comparison with some of the magnificent grand spaces of history — the Pantheon in Rome, France’s Amiens Cathedral, and the original Pennsylvania Station in New York….

“Although pretty much taken for granted in a capital city that has choked itself with unbridled and hideous suburban development…this architectural wonder also stands as a testament to North Carolina’s golden age, when it was emerging from depression and world war to become the symbol of a progressive New South — a leader in education and modern architecture.”

— From “One of the Best Examples of Modern Architecture Is a Former Livestock Pavilion in North Carolina” by William Morgan at Slate (July 14)

 

Making amends for soldier’s mislaid remains

“John O. Dolson died in a military hospital in Gettysburg, Pa., on Sept. 3, 1863, two months after the Civil War’s bloodiest battle left him with a punctured lung while engaged in a critical Union counterattack on the rock-strewn hill known as Little Round Top….

“Dolson was wounded with a Minie ball to the lung on the second day of the Gettysburg clash, but we don’t know much more. In fact, history lost track of him for nearly 150 years.

“But in 2006, researchers unearthed a major typo as they combed through records from Camp Letterman, the military hospital where Dolson died.

“Dolson was buried near the hospital until 1871, when Southern states raised funds to disinter and return Confederate war dead. That’s when the sharpshooter from Minnesota headed south by accident.

“Dolson joined 136 Confederate soldiers whose remains were buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, N.C. A headstone in Oakwood was chiseled with the name John O. Dobson of Company A, 2nd North Carolina Infantry — even though muster rolls from the Confederate unit list no such man.

“When researchers a decade ago realized it was actually Dolson buried there, a new, rounded headstone — signifying a Union soldier — was added to the sea of pointed stones marking Confederate soldiers’ spots.

“At 2 p.m. [today] in Richfield’s Veterans’ Park [near Minneapolis], a ceremony will be held to unveil a new marker explaining Dolson’s mislaid remains. They still may be in North Carolina, but now both the old ‘Dobson’ gravestone and a new plaque tell his story at a park in his hometown….”

— From “Two Minnesotans at war, both teens, were witnesses to history” by Curt Brown in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (May 28)

Josh Shaffer of the N&O was on this story as it unfolded in recent years.

 

Coca-Cola was the real thing…. Rheumacide wasn’t

“Dear Sir:

“Coca-Cola has had a big run at my fountain, and is gaining in popularity all the time.

“A line of soda drinks is incomplete without it.

“Coca-Cola has come to stay!”

— From an 1892 letter to Coca-Cola from Raleigh pharmacist J. H[al] Bobbitt

Four years later, Bobbitt moved to Baltimore to manufacture a “general blood purifier” called Rheumacide.

In 1915 Bobbitt Chemical Co. was found guilty of violating the Food and Drugs Act for selling a product that “contains no ingredient or combination of ingredients capable of producing the therapeutic effects which were claimed.”

 

Welcome to the mansion, Miss Hepburn — need a light?

On this day in 1941: After appearing at Raleigh’s State Theatre in the stage version of “The Philadelphia Story,” Katharine Hepburn attends a cast party at the Executive Mansion hosted by Gov. and Mrs. J. Melville Broughton.

“Miss Hepburn wore a mink coat over tan gabardine slacks and jacket, with white blouse of crepe silk and brown suede shoes with crepe rubber soles,” reports the News & Observer. “Her informal attire and equally informal manner put at ease all her admirers.”

The accompanying photo shows her enjoying a smoke while conversing with the Broughtons.

Hepburn, 33, tells reporters she hasn’t seen enough of North Carolina to form an opinion, “But the beds in the hotel are nice.”

 

In China, a 50-year future for N.C. tobacco farmers?

“The China National Tobacco Corp. is by far the largest cigarette maker in the world. In 2013 it manufactured about 2.5 trillion cigarettes. Its next largest competitor, Philip Morris International, produced 880 billion. …

“Last year, China National opened an office in suburban Raleigh to facilitate its growing purchases of American tobacco…..

“A few years ago, a delegation from China National showed up at the farm of Thaddeus ‘Pender’ Sharp III, whose family has grown tobacco near Sims, N.C., since the late 1800s. Wearing business attire and bearing gifts, they told Sharp they wanted to buy some of his tobacco. Sharp says China’s cigarette market reminds him of the U.S. of his childhood, when ‘people smoked everywhere but church’ and the government didn’t care much about tobacco’s effects. Inevitably, he says, China will strengthen its antismoking laws….For now, though, China National represents a way for the Sharp family to prosper.

” ‘It’s not like we are going to quit because 50 years from now everyone might not smoke,’ says Sharp, who hangs his gift from China National, a hand-painted scroll, near the door of his office. ‘Hell, no! We are going to make a living for 50 years.’ ”

From “The Chinese Government Is Getting Rich Selling Cigarettes” b at businessweek.com (Dec. 11)

 

Lexicographers stumped by ‘fade barn’

“Of all the major American dialects, South Mouth is the most consistently difficult to translate.

“Among the most amusing examples is the expression a fade barn that the editors of the Dictionary of American Regional English tried to track down for a couple of years. The editors knew that the expression existed because field interviews had recorded it in North Carolina without establishing its meaning.

“When a Raleigh newspaper joined in the search, the answer was quickly apparent. Dozens of correspondents chided the editors for not knowing, in the words of one North Carolinian, that ‘a fade barn is whar you stow fade (feed) for the livestock.'”

— From “The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms”  by Robert Hendrickson (2000)

 

Ted Williams makes secret trip to Raleigh (shh!)

“In the late 1940s, when the Red Sox were in Washington to play the Senators, Williams received a telegram from a doctor in North Carolina who was attending a dying boy. The doctor said the boy talked about him constantly and wondered if Williams could send him an autographed ball to give him a lift. Ted flew down [to Raleigh] to deliver the ball in person and returned to Washington that night.”

— From “The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams” by Ben Bradlee Jr. (2013)

According to Bradlee, the often-cantankerous Williams made at least three such long-distance deliveries, always avoiding publicity about his generosity.

John Blythe has detailed Williams’ earlier stay in Chapel Hill for Pre-Flight School.