A Holiday Tradition: Frederick Koch’s Reading of a Christmas Carol

A drawing, in green on a white background, of Frederick Koch seated at a table with a candle on it, holding a book and pointing as he reads.
An illustration of Koch performing A Christmas Carol, 1943 (From the Carolina Playmakers Scrapbook, 1942-1943, North Carolina Collection)

When Carolina Playmakers founder Frederick Koch came to UNC in 1918, he brought with him a holiday tradition – annual dramatic readings of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Each year, he performed the classic Christmas tale on campus and in towns across North Carolina and beyond, sometimes performing it 15 or more times each season. The tradition started in 1906, when Koch was at the University of North Dakota:

Far away, it seems now, on the winter prairie of Dakota I was impelled with the desire to read again for my own enjoyment Charles Dickens’ immortal ghost story, A Christmas Carol. Fresh from Harvard, I was then a very young instructor at the State University of North Dakota… In that lonely isolation on the Great Flat I was pretty homesick, I guess, when I thought of the cheerful fireside associations I had left behind me in the East – of home, and friends at Christmastime. It was a Sunday afternoon that I read the story, and felt myself greatly cheered by it. So much so, that I mentioned the fact to a little group at supper in the University commons that evening with the comment: “Everybody ought to read Dickens’ Christmas Carol every year before Christmas.”

The dean of women spoke up: “Well, if you feel that way about it, you ought to read it for us.” On the following Sunday afternoon, the last Sunday before Christmas, I read A Christmas Carol, seated in a great armchair beside a crackling wood-fire. Outside the snow was blowing and drifting with a bitter wind, but inside all was warm with the glow from the hearth and from the mellow light of the candles. I remember distinctly the big bowl of crisp, green holly leaves someone had brought, and the soft singing of girls’ voices of the old songs we cherish at Christmas: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World.” So it began. The next year, and the next, and the next.

-Frederick Koch (Burlington Daily Times-News, December 13, 1933)

(An audio clip from one of Koch’s performances, year unknown, from the Records of the Department of Radio, Television and Motion Pictures, University Archives)
Program for a 1943 performance of A Christmas Carol (From the Carolina Playmakers Scrapbook, 1942-1943, North Carolina Collection)
Program for a 1943 performance of A Christmas Carol (From the Carolina Playmakers Scrapbook, 1942-1943, North Carolina Collection)

Koch’s performances brought the story to life without the aid of elaborate costumes or sets. The Raleigh News and Observer said that at a 1919 performance in Gerrard Hall, he “[sat] alone on the stage, the chapel dark except for the light at his table, with a background of Christmas trees gaily decorated behind him.” According to the newspaper’s report, he read “with spirit, vividness, and a fine touch of feeling,” and the two intermissions during the show featured carols by university singing groups.

By the end of his life, Koch had performed the story over 245 times – 39 times on the UNC campus. His readings had been broadcast on radio and television, and were a beloved annual tradition for many. After Koch’s death in 1944, the tradition was taken up by Samuel Selden, Koch’s successor as chair of the Dept. of Dramatic Art and director of the Carolina Playmakers. From 1966 through the early 1980s, the annual reading was performed by Earl Wynn of the Department of Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures.

See also: “A Christmas Carol with a Playmakers’ Flair,” North Carolina Miscellany

Now Available: Records of the UNC Cardboard Club

University Archives is pleased to share a newly processed collection – the records of the UNC Cardboard Club. The Cardboard Club, started in 1948 by UNC cheerleader Norman Sper, coordinated and produced displays at UNC football games, using colored cardboard squares to form words and images in the stands.

Animated GIF made from photos from a 1967 football game between UNC and Wake Forest, in the Records of the UNC Cardboard Club (#40354), University Archives.










Members of the club planned out their designs on gridded paper, and placed cardboard squares and cue cards listing the upcoming “stunts” on the seats of the “card section” of Kenan Stadium the night before football games.

GIF made from photos of a 1966 UNC versus Duke game from the Cardboard Club Records (40354), University Archives.
GIF made from photos of a 1966 UNC versus Duke game from the Cardboard Club Records (40354), University Archives.










The club was funded by the Carolina Athletic Association. It was discontinued in 1987, in part due to safety concerns–students often sent their cardboard panels flying towards the field at the end of games, hitting fellow spectators.

See more photos of the Club’s game day stunts in the collection finding aid.


New Edition of the Records Schedule Released

sched_coverWe’re excited to announce the release of a new, improved edition of the University’s General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. The Schedule is a guide to the records produced by UNC Chapel Hill and UNC General Administration and their disposition – whether and when records should be discarded or transferred to University Archives.

The new edition, which can be found on our website, supersedes the previous schedule released in 2012.  so I encourage you all to review the sections of the new schedule that are most relevant to your records and update any of your unit’s internal documentation and policies that refer to the old schedule.

Many thanks to everyone on campus, at the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and at UNC General Administration who provided vital feedback and support during the revision process.

Please direct any questions you have about the new schedule and other records management inquiries to recman@unc.edu.

Recent Acquisition: The Russell Link Scrapbook

Last month, University Archives received a fascinating scrapbook from donor John Sneden. The scrapbook, compiled by Russell Link, then a UNC student, contains photographs, clippings, and ephemera related to theatrical productions by the Carolina Playmakers and other groups on campus in the late 1950s.

Take a look at pages from the scrapbook in the gallery below.

[Pages from the Russell Charles Link Scrapbook, University Archives]



Human Dissection in the Early Years of Medical Education at UNC

The UNC School of Medicine opened in 1879 as a two-year preparatory program under the direction of Dr. Thomas West Harris. As dean of the fledgling school, he was not paid by the University but rather directly by students who took his classes. Dissection of human cadavers was considered an important part of the study of anatomy. The UNC course catalog of 1884 noted, “Dissection is made obligatory on students of anatomy. After the dissections are over, a short course on the operations of surgery is given. Students have the opportunity of making the operations for themselves.”

Dean of the UNC Medical School Dr. Richard Whitehead (center), medical students, and an assistant (front right) pose with a cadaver in the 1890s. From the University of North Carolina Image Collection, North Carolina Collection.
Dean of the UNC Medical School Dr. Richard Whitehead (center), medical students, and an assistant (front right) pose with a cadaver in the 1890s. From the University of North Carolina Image Collection, North Carolina Collection.

However, at this time it was difficult to procure cadavers for dissection, and medical schools were notorious for using bodies disinterred by graverobbers or “resurrectionists.” These men preyed on the graves of marginalized people – in the South, primarily African Americans. It is unclear how the University obtained cadavers in the earliest days of the Medical School, but students operated almost exclusively on on the bodies of African Americans, some of which may have been stolen.

At the time the Medical School was founded, there were no laws in North Carolina against graverobbing. In his history of the University, Kemp Plummer Battle, who was president during this period, recalled that one night, a woman who had worked as his father’s cook came to his house. She told him that a body had been stolen from a cemetery and a group was coming to search the University. Battle then confronted Dr. Harris, who only responded, “They will not find anything.” Battle reported that the body was not found and the culprits never identified, and professors assured the community that their students would not steal bodies. In 1885, the state made graverobbing a felony. According to Battle, this was in part due to local anxiety about dissection at the medical school.

After six years at UNC, Dr. Harris resigned to continue practicing medicine full-time in Durham and the Medical School closed. It reopened in 1890 under the leadership of Dean Richard Whitehead. In a letter Whitehead wrote to Professor Francis Venable shortly before beginning his tenure as dean, he emphasized the importance of dissection in his teaching.

Believing that only nature’s drawings are true, the instruction in [anatomy] will be eminently practical. The statements made will be proven by actual demonstration upon the cadaver, bones, and prepared specimens, and the student will be required to verify these statements for himself by dissecting and studying the dissected cadaver, as this is the only way in which a useful acquaintance with anatomy can be obtained.

According to Warner Lee Wells’ “Medical Education at Chapel Hill,” Whitehead was “vigorously opposed” to graverobbing and, once, when he learned a body had been disinterred, demanded that it be properly reburied. Whitehead instead purchased bodies, but they were often hard to obtain. Wells says that when cadavers were scarce, Whitehead would dissect one half of the body as a demonstration and then allow the students to dissect the other half.

In his 1891 annual report to the Board of Trustees, President Battle explained that new legislation might improve the situation:

If the bill now pending in the General Assembly which is like those of many other states, giving to this school the unclaimed bodies of convicts shall become law, there will be abundance of material for dissection. If not such material must be obtained as heretofore, at considerable expense, from a Western City.

It’s unclear which “Western City” Battle is referring to – the report Whitehead submitted to Battle the week before Battle presented to the Board says that cadavers were being bought from New York.

Soon after, a bill did pass granting medical schools in the state the unclaimed bodies of convicts. When the law was repealed in 1899, Whitehead lamented that the school’s “existence [was] in jeopardy . . . unless dissecting material can be obtained, it will be necessary to close the school.” He lobbied for a new bill, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. On January 19, 1899, the News and Observer reported:

[Whitehead] said that there are two methods by which bodies can be obtained: One by systematic robbery of graves; and one is by law. He didn’t think the law ought to apply to any one except outcasts.

The proposed bill, he said, was a copy of the law in operation in a neighboring State. ‘I have been buying bodies in Northern States, but I can no longer do that. All the States now have laws forbidding the exportation of bodies, and no one can be found bold enough to undertake it. When I was able to get them they cost $40 apiece. Now I can’t get them at any price, and personally I’m not going into the grave robbing business.

So you will see some such law as this is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the medical schools of the State. Anatomy cannot be taught properly without the dissection of human bodies. For my school about nine bodies a year are required. I do not know how many are required for the other two schools – Davidson and Shaw.’

Dr. Whitehead thought under this law the bodies would cost about $10 each.

In his statement to the Judiciary Committee, Whitehead also revealed that UNC’s medical school, like many others, especially in the South, relied almost exclusively on the bodies of black men and women. According to the News and Observer, Whitehead testified that “only one white person had ever been dissected in his school. That was a young white man, about 18, that died in the criminal insane department.”




Farewell, Electronic Records Archivist Lawrence Giffin

In December, UARMS bid a fond farewell to Electronic Records Archivist Lawrence Giffin as he departed UNC for a new opportunity at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City.

Lawrence first joined the University Archives staff in 2011, serving as Records Services Archivist from 2011 to 2014. He returned to UARMS in 2015 as Electronic Records Archivist, and since then has done much to advance our policies and procedures surrounding the collection and preservation of born digital records. He will be greatly missed here in UARMS, and we wish him all the best!

Please direct inquiries about electronic records to University Archivist Nicholas Graham at ngraham@unc.edu or (919) 962-0043.



“Throwing the Sand from the Spit-box”: More Student Misconduct, 1841-1847

Last month, we shared a selection of student infractions from the misconduct ledger for the 1840 academic year, found in the Office of the Registrar Records (#40131). Today we’re breaking out the ledger for 1841-1847 for a fresh batch of unusual misbehavior.


“Watson – whittling a stick at Evening prayers”

ruffin“Tos. Ruffin – calling a Dog into Rec[itation] Room”

lucas“Lucas – throwing the sand from the spit-box”

larcy“Larcy [?]- Throwing acorns, or other missiles in the chapel on Sunday”

hooker“Hooker – taking seat by the fire and stubbornly refusing to leave upon repeated commands to do so”

holmes“L. Holmes, Shepherd – Playing at chess during study-hours”

brevard“E.J Brevard, Murphy, Wilson, Donohs., Thomas – Engaged in very unbecoming amusement on Tuesday afternoon”

caldwell“Caldwell – crying like a sheep as he passed the Fresh[man] R[ecitiation] Room”

johnson“Johnson, Hines?, Rogers? – sleigh riding in study hours”

scales“Scales – Crowing like a Rooster before Prof. Hooper’s Recitation room door”

“Exceedingly Improper” Student Behavior, 1840

For a number of years, student absences and instances of misconduct were recorded in ledgers by University administrators. Several of these ledgers, dating from 1838 to 1847, have survived in the Records of the Office of the Registrar (#40131) and provide an fascinating (and often entertaining) view of student life on campus in this period.

Students were frequently cited for eating, talking, sleeping, or being generally “disorderly” during class or prayers, answering for other students during roll calls, and bringing the wrong books to class. Other offenses were more unusual. We’ve rounded up a few of the most interesting from the October-November 1840 ledger below.


“Webb – Playing on the flute in study hours (not the first time)”


“Bruce – patting Hawkins on the shoulder during Rec[ication] in such a manner as to produce a laugh”


“Barnett – throwing water over the bannister at a retreating student”


“Lucas – persisting in cutting and eating sassafras”


“Battle Freshman – pouring water on Mitchell Sunday evening. Mitchell making an outrageous noise thereupon.”


“Daniel – calling out ‘snap’ as he came to Rec[itation]”


“R Tate – putting finger into his mouth, then making ugly noise on withdrawing it”

ivyetal“Ivy, Manly, McIlhenny, Shorter, Taylor – Exceedingly improper conduct at Sunday Recitation.”

[From Volume 9, the Records of the Office of the Registrar (#40131), University Archives]


Nicholas Graham Appointed University Archivist

Nicholas GrahamUniversity Archives and Records Management Services is pleased to announce the appointment of Nick Graham as University Archivist.

In this position, Nick will provide vision and leadership for the University Archives and Records Management Services (UARMS) department.  He will be responsible for managing the University records program in accordance with State of North Carolina public records laws and records schedules, including the ingest and preservation of University electronic records of long-term value.  He will also provide administrative reference service for UNC administrators, faculty, and staff; develop programs recognizing and promoting UNC history; and solicit and acquire appropriate collections of faculty papers.

Prior to this appointment, Nick was the Program Coordinator for the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and the Assistant to the Director of Wilson Library at UNC.  He was previously the North Carolina Maps Project Librarian for the Carolina Digital Library and Archives at the Wilson Library and Head of Public Services for the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library.

Nick holds a B.A. in British and American Literature from New College of Florida in Sarasota and an M.L.S. from the UNC School of Information and Library Science.

Welcome to UARMS, Nick!

The Battle Challenge: Part Two

Ward_Flier_800-618x800Montgomery Ward Catalog Challenge, Part II
Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015
5 p.m. Reception and viewing of materials | Lobby
5:30 p.m. Program | Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Library
Free and open to the public

Join us Tuesday evening for the final installment of the Kemp Plummer Battle Montgomery Ward Catalog Challenge, a program set in motion 100 years ago.

In 1915, former UNC president Kemp Plummer Battle presented the North Carolina Historical Society with a metal box containing a current Montgomery Ward catalog and a letter outlining a challenge – the box was to be opened in 1965 and in 2015, and the catalog compared to one from the present day. Back in April, we held the first installment of this challenge, which featured talks from UNC professors John Kasson and Dana McMahan. Tuesday evening, the discussion continues with talks from professors Peter Coclanis and Lee Craig.

Fitz Brundage, chair of the Department of History at UNC, will introduce the program. Special guest John Baumann, President and CEO of Colony Brands, which owns and operates Montgomery Ward catalog and online retailer, will also make brief remarks on the topic “Montgomery Ward Today.”

In preparation for the event, the 1915 and 1965 Montgomery Ward catalogs and Robert B. House’s 1965 essay have been digitized and are available online.

We hope you’ll join us Tuesday for the finale of this 100-year challenge!