Unsolved mysteries: Whence Mrs. Calabash?

“According to legend in Calabash, N.C., comedian Jimmy Durante and his troupe passed through the little Brunswick County town sometime in the 1940s. While there, he made friends with a young restaurant owner.

“Brunswick County historian Susie Carson says that woman was Lucille ‘Lucy’ Coleman, a claim repeated in Theresa Jensen Lacey’s ‘Amazing North Carolina.’ Soon afterward, Durante adopted his trademark sign-off — ‘Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!’ — for his radio show. According to Coleman’s daughter, Clarice Holden, and others, it was Durante’s anonymous tip of the hat to her mother, who died in 1989.

“Not everyone accepts this theory, though….”

— From “Who is Mrs. Calabash?” by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star News

Wilson was ready for its ABC store (was it ever!)

On this day in 1935: The first ABC store in North Carolina  opens in Wilson, with a line of customers waiting — so many that more than 100 had to be turned away at the 6 p.m. closing time.

— From “ABCs of N.C. liquor sales” by Ben Steelman, part of a fact-packed and entertaining Wilmington Star News project on “What We Drink in North Carolina.”


Reality takes bite out of Confederate spy tale

“It’s one of the more glamorous stories of the Cape Fear coast: Confederate spy  Rose O’Neale Greenhow, widow of a minor Washington bureaucrat and a sometime diplomat, is riding a blockade runner back into Wilmington. Her ship runs aground and she drowns in the Atlantic — weighed down by treasure sewn in the linings of her gown.

” ‘I kind of hate to bust people’s bubbles,’ said Chris Fonvielle,  historian at the University of North Carolina Wilmington….”

— From “Romantic story of shipwrecked Confederate spy is true, mostly” by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star-News  (June 9)


Editors hung up on hazardous holiday highways

“The StarNews continued its odd fascination with traffic-fatality predictions with the main headline on Page 1: ‘Memorial Day Weekend Traffic Toll Promises to Reach Appalling Mark.’

” ‘Safety experts,’ the story said, ‘stuck to their grim prediction that the period threatened to be “one of the most deadly we have ever recorded.” ‘ The article noted that so far the holiday weekend traffic death toll was averaging four fatalities per hour nationwide.”

— From a  50-years-ago “Back Then” item in the Wilmington Star-News (or, as it now styles itself, the StarNews)

The National Safety Council, formed in 1953 at the behest of President Eisenhower, continues to predict holiday weekend death tolls — here’s how —  but they no longer command much newsprint, even in Wilmington.