Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hunting Legends in Chapel Hill

It was about as hot as it gets in Chapel Hill.

Nevertheless, we found a parking spot near Franklin Street and started walking…swapping stories…pointing out the places that had changed beyond recognition, and the places that hadn’t. It was, and it wasn’t, the same place where we had studied and worked and partied back in the seventies. It brought back a lifetime of memories. Make that two lifetimes of memories.

The Rathskellar...Carolina Coffee Shop...the rose garden in front of the planetarium...Davie Poplar...the Old Well...the arboretum...it was all good.

When the doors of Wilson Library opened, we rushed in to escape the heat of the day, and to peruse an exhibit of historic North Carolina postcards from the past century, beautifully presented. I could spend years digging through the treasure troves of Wilson Library, now home to the North Carolina Collection, the amazing Southern Historical Collection and the Southern Folklife Collection. But all that will have to wait.

Following a brief stopover, we reluctantly left Wilson Library to meander and talk some more:

“When I first came to Chapel Hill a fellow took me on a tour of the campus. We were walking along here when he told me about the dunce cap on Wilson Library.”

“A dunce cap? Is that so?” I said, “That’s one I never heard.”

“That’s right. He said there was a rivalry between John Motley Morehead and Louis Round Wilson. And because of that, Morehead had the Bell Tower built in just the right place so that Wilson Library wears a dunce cap.”


I looked over my shoulder and could see the dome on the library...representing Wilson’s bald head. But I couldn’t see the pointed cap.

“No, not yet. We have to go farther up the hill toward South Building.”

A few steps later, I could see the seal of the University of North Carolina.

“That’s it. Go stand over there and look.”

I stepped onto the seal and turned around. Sure enough, the dunce cap of the Bell Tower sat perfectly on the dome of Wilson’s bald head.

“Whoa! Amazing. It’s just too bad they stuck that #$%^#*% flagpole where it obstructs the view. What a woefully misguided gesture of patriotism!” I complained. It meant moving to the side to snap the picture displayed here, hence the cap appears to sit slightly askew.


I admired the scene for a minute, awestruck by the ingenuity of the elaborate practical joke. “Hmmm,” I pondered, “do you think the story is really true? I’ll have to research this one.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will...you're crazy.”

And research it I did. Let me say now that if you relish the legend of Wilson’s dunce cap, you might want to stop reading. Otherwise, here’s the rest of the story:

A 2002 article in the Daily Tar Heel recounted the tale and included some additional information from Neil Fulghum, curator of the North Carolina Collection Gallery. (Ironically, we had met Mr. Fulghum during our visit to Wilson Library, before we continued our stroll around campus.)

From the DTH article:

One of the most circulated stories overheard from campus tour guides involves Wilson Library and the Bell Tower. The top of the Bell Tower, funded by John Motley Morehead, can be seen above the dome of the library, named in honor of Louis Round Wilson.

The legend says there were ill feelings between Morehead and Wilson. Morehead had the tower built tall enough so that when looked at from in front of the library, the tower's conical peak appears to sit like a dunce cap on the library's dome, which represents Wilson's bald head.

Fulghum said the story has no grounds because the library was named in honor of Wilson in 1956, 25 years after the completion of the Bell Tower. "I don't know whether there was an actual disagreement between Morehead and Wilson, but this story has been circulated and alluded to for half a century," he said.

There you have it. Yet another urban legend bites the dust.
Sorry about that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's Keep It Simple

Balsam Mountain Preserve needs to repair the damage they did to the environment NOW. Enough of the lame excuses, academizing their wrongdoing (s) and refusal to come clean. The dam broke and they need to act like adults and pay the fines. They need to repair the damage they caused NOW.

Since they destroyed the beauty and habitat in Jackson and Swain counties, they must absorb the costs to improve it. Even if they pay the fines, that isn't enough. They cost the community a lot!

For starters, they could pick up the tab to fix up Mill Street (paint buildings, erect curbs, plant foliage, hide wires, etc), or make a significant financial contribution to the Bridge Park Pavilion, or pay for a full time police officer to "police" downtown Sylva. Maybe they could pay for a lawyer to investigate the missing $700,000 of taxpayer money from the JDC.

Someone wrote that we get the kind of communities we deserve. I hope we deserve better than to turn our heads on negligence and ineptitude.

This is all about corporate greed and power. They want to weasle out of the fines they owe so they pushed the case to Raleigh. Apparently BMP has the corporate clout that you and I don't.

Will you be active or passive?