“The year in Raleigh [1930, playing in the Class C Piedmont League] was an experience. At first I didn’t fit in. I encountered more curiosity than hostility. My teammates were a bunch of farm boys, and I was a big, ungainly kid from the city. One day I was standing on the field when I became aware of a teammate walking slowly around me, staring.
” ‘I’ve never seen a Jew before,’ he said. ‘I’m just looking…. I don’t understand it. You look just like anybody else.’
” ‘Thanks,’ I said.”
— From “Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life” (1989)
The Bronx-born Greenberg went on to become the first Jewish superstar. For most of his career he played first base for the Detroit Tigers. In 1938 he hit 58 home runs, threatening Babe Ruth’s record.
I’ll go with Greenberg’s autobiography, but for the record I’ve also seen this anecdote placed in Beaumont, Texas, in the 1932 season.
“Grey-haired John Sprunt Hill rose from his desk in the Senate chamber at Raleigh, hunched his venerable shoulders and sang out loud & clear: ‘Chickadee, chickadee, chickadee-dee-dee.’
“No sudden madness had gripped the distinguished Senator…. North Carolina was one of only five States without an official bird. Winner of a Statewide newspaper poll had been the Carolina chickadee, and the State Federation of Women’s Clubs asked the Legislature to elect the chickadee.
“Senator George McNeill of Fayetteville trooped over to the State museum, brought back a stuffed chickadee to enlighten his urban colleagues. Someone told Salisbury’s veteran Representative Walter Pete Murphy that the chickadee eats insects. ‘For God’s sake,’ cried he, ‘don’t turn the chickadee loose on this House.’
“When legislative wit had run its course both houses conferred official status upon the chickadee. Then it was the State’s turn to have fun. The chickadee is a member of the titmouse family. Editors remembered ‘Little Tommy Tittlemouse’ who ‘lived in a little house,’ began to refer to the ‘Tomtit Legislature.’ Clubs and societies stirred uneasily at the prospect of North Carolina’s becoming known as the ‘tomtit State.’
“The legislators withstood the waggish barrage for ten days. Then another bill was quietly introduced. With no voice raised in opposition, North Carolina’s Senate & House last week repealed the chickadee.”
— Time magazine, May 29, 1933
Hill was more successful, of course, in his munificent advocacy of the North Carolina Collection.
“As chief justice, [John] Marshall was assigned by the Judiciary Act of 1802 to [hold court on] the North Carolina circuit, which convened in Raleigh…. The state government had moved to Raleigh from coastal New Bern, and the new capital had all the trappings of a piedmont frontier town as it struggled to accommodate the various legislators and state officials who descended upon it. Jonathan Mason, a former United States senator from Massachusetts, described the town as ‘a miserable place, nothing but a few wooden buildings and a brick Court House.’
“In 1803 Raleigh’s population numbered fewer than 1,000. Marshall found lodging in the boardinghouse of Henry H. Cooke — a rickety frame building about a quarter of a mile from the courthouse. The rooms were spartan, and Marshall had to gather his own wood and make his own fires. But for the next 32 years he stayed with Cooke whenever he held court in Raleigh.”
— From “John Marshall: Definer of a Nation” (1996) by Jean Edward Smith. Strange as it seems today, not until 1911 did Congress permanently free Supreme Court justices from circuit-riding duty.