Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What's for Dinner?

Some folks peruse the old historic narratives to learn more about the big events and the great people. But I gravitate toward the passages that reveal the mundane events in the lives of the little people. For instance, let’s return to the chroniclers that I’ve been quoting recently to find out what’s on the dinner table.

Turning back to 1864, the narrator was a fugitive whose adventures eventually brought him through Cashiers and Webster. But few meals during his journey were as welcome as one he enjoyed in Virginia:

A luxurious repast was in preparation, to be eaten at the quarters before starting, but a frolic being in progress, the banquet was transferred to the barn. The great barn doors were set open, and the cloth was spread on the floor by the light of the moon. Certainly we had partaken of no such substantial fare within the Confederacy. The central dish was a pork pie, flanked by savory little patties of sausage. There were sweet potatoes, fleecy biscuits, a jug of sorghum, and a pitcher of sweet milk. Most delicious of all was a variety of corn-bread, having tiny bits of fresh pork baked in, like plums in a pudding.

In July of 1883, another correspondent writing from Cullowhee described the dietary preferences he observed in this valley:

If you are fond of rice, corn bread and milk, come along. All fresh meat is scarce except chickens, and eggs are plenty. The natives of these mountains prefer simple living. Once a lady who was invited to the minister’s to tea, found a boiled custard on the table. This was a new dish to her, but one that tickled her palate immensely. She passed her saucer the second time with the remark, "I’ll take some more of that soft stuff with no kiver on. It tastes nation good."

For the final course of this little banquet let’s hear from R. H. Graves, writing from Springdale in Haywood County July 6, 1901:

On the dinner table is piled an array of food that would pale the sufferer from indigestion, but the mountain air is supposed to kill that malady, and the stranger finds his appetite voracious in the face of green soda biscuits, greasy fried ham, ill-cooked trout or bass, chicken, mutton, cornbread, bad coffee, and good milk. The average farmer of the middle type will have set before him all of these eatables at the same time, sometimes without condiments or extras, but most often supplemented by the best of butter and such home-made seasonings as the different dishes require.

It’s enough to make me hungry just reading about it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Welcome to Marion, North Carolina

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Marion, North Carolina a dreadful little town. The Chamber of Commerce types would coo, "Oooooh, it GROWS on you!" The same thing could be said about jock itch: "Oooooh, it GROWS on you!"

You have to wonder about a town that finds it necessary to greet visitors with the warning not to park on the sidewalks.

Was that a problem?

Were hordes of drivers so stupid they could not distinguish a sidewalk from a parking space? And if they were that stupid, what makes you think they would read a sign, much less heed it? But I guess the sign works. I mean, I didn’t park on the sidewalk ONCE during my visit.

Before I could finish pondering the first sign at the edge of town, a great big billboard caught my attention.

At best, using celebrities to promote mental health services is a questionable strategy. But Abraham Lincoln? Vivien Leigh? What demographic was Tanyi trying to reach with this billboard, anyhow? The Rhett Butler - Ulysses Grant set?

The guy that called me "depressive and shrill" last week should go to Marion. Right there in black and white on the Tanyi’s billboard is the very image of "Depressive" and "Shrill" personified as the beloved "Abe" and "Viv". I feel better now.

While visiting Marion, North Carolina you could go shopping at the Lady Marian Plaza.

But why would you?

Their sign must have been the most modern thing in town. In 1966. And why Lady Marian? Robin Hood’s girlfriend, I assume. But that’s Marian with an "A". The town is Marion with an "O". So why do we have the Lady Marian Plaza? What’s the point? Might as well throw in a "T" and call it the Lady Martian Plaza!

It was lunch time and my belly was rumbling. I pulled over at the Western Sizzlin and was about to scurry in for a quick bite until I read their sign. The ENTIRE sign. "Mr. Roach?" Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Actually, there was only one reason I left Interstate 40 to cruise Marion. I intended to take a photograph for you. But the one and only photograph I planned to take was the one photograph I could not take.

You see, Marion did have one feature I found attractive, and that was a camera shop built to look just like…A CAMERA!

I went out of my way to snap a picture of it, but there was just one small problem. The camera shop was gone! Vanished! Vamoose! Poof!

I learned my lesson. I should have taken a picture of it last year, when it was still there. Thank goodness for cyberspace, where I did manage to find an old photo of the camera shop that looked like a camera.

So while I wouldn’t go so far as to call Marion, North Carolina a dreadful little town, I contend that now more than ever the virtual Marion is far preferable to the real one.

I discovered the photo of the Marion camera shop on a really nifty blog by Sarah Bryan called "Field Guide to What’s Good." It's an awesome collection of photos showing us the South at its very finest!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Darrington Connection

If you start out from Sylva, you can get to any Jackson County town in less than an hour. Make that any Jackson County town except ONE. There's a Jackson County town that's about 3000 miles from here, and it's called Darrington, Washington.

You don't see it quite as much these days, but back in the 1970s and 80s, you'd read the names of Darrington and Sedro-Wooley, WA without fail when you browsed through the the obituaries in the Sylva paper. The migration of Jackson County families to the Great Northwest is well-documented and I intend to post more than one story on this subject. But to start things off, here's an extended excerpt from an article that appeared in Pacific Stars and Stripes, November 1969:

Earl Jones, originally of Jackson County in western North Carolina, has just hauled off and sung one, his nasal hardpan voice stripped of all flatland Yankee lisping, phrasing the lyrics to the resonances of Fred McFalls' five-string Gibson banjo, thrumming hard on his own scuffed and definitely not electrified guitar.

Earl and Fred are having a little get-together at the McFalls home in Marysville up by the Skagit Valley country of Washington State, and the windows are vibrating from the twanging and musicating, and the youngsters are tapping their feet and jigging. There is fun and love in that house, boy.

The neighbors of half a mile around can hear the good sounds, too, and some of them are switching off Beatles albums and even the Kountry Kayo radio station to listen.

Oh, my Uncle Mort
He is sawed off and short
He don't measure but five-foot-two
But he thinks he's a ji'nt
If you give him a pint
of that good old mountain dew.

Earl, who is quite a bit younger than Fred and has learned a lot about pickin' and singin' from him, is cutting down on That Old Mountain Dew because a minute before the talk had touched on moonshine. ("There's drinkin' whisky and there's sellin' whisky; one tastes like wild honey and the other like coal oil.") Both men sort of put on as if cooking mash and plinking revenooers were full-time avocations for folks in the Valley and up in the high Cascades foothills.

Of course, this isn't the case. Most of the transplanted Carolinians (pronounced Caro-leen-yuns) of the region, like Earl and Fred, work in plywood plants, in sawmills or in the woods, performing the same basic labors they pursued back in Tarhill until the timber thinned out....

...You leave Marysville, head up to Sedro-Wooley (everybody around there calls it just plain "Wooley), then cut due east along the Skagit. The steelhead fishermen stand in their flatbottomed boats, silhouetted in the river mists like mackinawed ghosts. You have reached the start of real mountain country now.

If the terrain were a little less savage, the air a little wispier, the trees hardwood instead of fir, cedar and vine maple, it could be North Carolina, along the foggy periphery of the Great Smokies. You climb higher. The road twists like a fleeing garter snake. The canyons grow wilder and steeper, the stump ranches look more forlorn. Then the hulk of Whitehorse Mountain blocks out the horizon, hanging over the town below like a malign fang.

You are in Darrington, Wash., population 1,182. You are also, more or less, back in North Carolina.
(That Good Old Mountain Soul, Bob Houston, Pacific Stars and Stripes, November 16, 1969)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Moon Over Oscar

Total Lunar Eclipse, 2/20/2008, 11:16 PM

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Tales of the Barbarians

When we left him yesterday, R. H. Graves was looking down from his lofty perch in Haywood County, aghast at "the less tutored natives" who were "little better than barbarians."

Graves’ 1901 article in the New York Times typified a particularly offensive style of Appalachian literature from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Often as not, magazines and newspapers wanted sensational anecdotes that caricatured mountain people.

Like many other writers of his time, Graves delivered the goods. He tells of Ike Ivester, who operated a moonshine still "near the Pigeon River, on a little brook about eight miles up the river from Springdale." According to Graves, a party of eight revenue officers attacked the distiller:

He fought them and when the fight was over all of the revenue force lay on the ground dead or dying. It is said that Ivester used no weapons save his fists. …

Later in life he settled down to an honest, law-abiding life. Last Winter he died, aged ninety-nine years and ten months. His family were sorely distressed, for they had hoped he would live to be a full hundred, that future generations of Ivesters might boast about it. A consultation was held at the bedside where the aged moonshiner had just breathed his last. The oldest son, Simeon by name, said, "Let’s we-uns keep the body."

"Why" asked the other sons and daughters.

"So we-uns can bury it arter it’s a hundert years olt."

Simeon’s suggestion was greeted with applause, figuratively speaking. As it was in cold weather, there was no trouble about preserving the corpse, which was simply placed in a box and shoved under the house. There it froze hard and was kept as solid as though it had been pickled after the fashion of an Egyptian mummy. Two months passed. Ike Ivester’s one-hundredth birthday came, and his funeral was celebrated with all the splendor due to such a patriarch….

All in all, Ike Ivester was put under ground in fine shape, frozen though he was, and all his sons and daughters now boast that they alone of all the good Pigeon Valley folk had a "pa" to live a whole century.

Whew! Talk about shoveling it! Let’s hear one more story in the same vein, from an unnamed correspondent for the Philadelphia Press. Writing from Cullowhee, NC on July 20, 1883, his story begins:

We left the railroad at Pigeon river and crossed the Balsam range in a wagon drawn by mules. On the front seat sat a mountaineer clad in homespun garments, and on his head a broad-brim, palmleaf hat. …

He pointed to a small log house we were passing and remarked that his present wife lived there before he married her.

"I’d a been a widower nigh onto forty years," he said, "so one day I rode over to the widder’s. I hedn’t seen her but onct, but I’d heerd she was a likely woman. When I got to the gate I stood there a right smart while, for I knowed if I went in I was a goner."

"She’d bin talkin’ of rentin’ a piece v’ land v’ mine, but I says to her, ‘I can’t rent ye the land, but if ye like, ye ken come an’ live on my farm.’ So she seemed mighty willin’, but I says, ‘ye’d better go over and look at the land and see how ye like it.’"

"I got my married darter to come up with her, an’ they stayed a week. Then she said she liked the land. I begun to get scared, so I went over an’asked one o’ the neighbors ‘bout her, an’ she says ‘There’s nothin’ agin her.’ "

"So I felt a heap better, an’ we got married."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Little Better than Barbarians

For the past twenty years I’ve collected accounts written by nineteenth century travelers through these mountains. By this point, I figured I had read all the really good ones. But just this month I found a classic: an engaging story, vivid description, skillful writing, and something more. That something more was a respect and fondness for the mountain people that the writer encountered along the way. And it was obvious that those feelings were reciprocated.

It was a sharp contrast to much of the other literature turned out by magazine writers and newspaper correspondents of the day. Consider the example of R. H. Graves who submitted a story to the New York Times from Springdale, (Haywood County) N.C., July 6, 1901. You don’t have to read far to detect Mr. Graves’ disdain for mountain folks. In fact, he outlines what amounts to a caste system, with three "classes" of mountaineers:

Many of these people cannot read and write, but there are communities in which the better classes of natives outnumber the lowest class and exert themselves to educate the latter. Taken throughout, the roughest mountaineer class gets little out of the public schools scattered among the valleys and settlements.

Should an expert psychologist go to live among the cabin dwellers of Western North Carolina, he would doubtless find much food for thought in studying the mental life of the "rugged mountaineer." Many queer stories are told about the way these folks think and act, about the curious names they give to places and people, about their superstitions and their myths.

As Graves builds up to his rousing closing argument, he sounds uncannily similar to some current leaders who would deliver us from our present-day barbarism:

On the whole, the educated, prosperous agriculturist of the mountains of Western North Carolina, with his big cultured home and his modern farm buildings, is the man one likes to meet. Doubtless no countryman anywhere in the world is more congenial to the visitor from town, who enjoys, without fully realizing it, a companion who knows as much as he does about the world in general and a great deal more about that part which is not contained in municipal limits; whose home, though surrounded by the wildest mountains, is as comfortable as though its only view were one of bricks and mortar; whose personality is strong enough, despite uncivilized environments, to laugh at the influences of a wildness which makes the less tutored natives little better than barbarians.

Mr. Graves was born a hundred years too early. He would fit right in with today's cheerleaders for "Charlanta," who think these mountains are "improved" by paving over any traces of rugged wildness and eradicating the barbarians.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The George W. Bush You Never Knew

Have you run across anything lately that caused you to do a double-take?

I remember when we had a little restaurant in town called the Rare Bear. Except one morning after a prankster had shifted the letters on their portable signboard out by the street. Driving by like I did every day…WHOA, WHAT'S THAT AGAIN…it was for a brief time, the Bare Rear.

This week I did another double-take, where my brain had to process something that it simply wasn’t expecting.

I was enjoying a walk along Main Street when I saw that cart of books the Friends of the Library roll onto the sidewalk in front of their store. These books are the dregs, priced to go. Even so, I’m not somebody who can pass by a cart full of books without stopping.

So I did.

I pick up one or two books that catch my curiosity. Then I spot a slim paperback with an interesting title on the spine. I see right away that the edges of the pages are yellowed with age. Pulling the book from the shelf, I would guess it to be about 40 years old.

I glance at the cover:

53 Outstanding Black Americans

Then I start flipping through the pages of the book, which has a chapter devoted to each one of the outstanding black Americans, their names in bold letters at the top of the page. Quickly thumbing through the book, I scan the names you’d expect to find:

Marian Anderson

Crispus Attucks

Ralph Bunche

George W. Bush

George Washington Carver

My brain does a double take…WHOA, WHAT’S THAT AGAIN?

George W. Bush? In a forty-year-old book on outstanding black Americans?

Something’s wrong here.

I turn back the pages to sort it out.

Perhaps YOU'VE known about the OTHER George W. Bush all along. But I’d never heard of the man.

Here's what I learned from this 1969 paperback:

George W. Bush was born free in Pennsylvania in 1790. Although he was a Quaker, he fought under Andrew Jackson in the the Battle of New Orleans. After that War, he roamed the West as a fur trader for the Hudson Bay Company.

He moved to Missouri where he was a prosperous farmer until the state passed a law banning free blacks. He moved to Oregon only to find a similar ban.

George W. Bush packed up one more time and moved to the British territory that would later become Washington state. He staked his claim on what came to be known as the Bush prairie. Once again, his farm prospered. He shared generously with those in need, and helped new settlers to get established. He lived a good life and died in 1863.

So the next time a friend mentions George W. Bush you can respond with the question, "Which one?"

And there’s a good chance you’ll get to see that friend do a double-take.

(George W. Bush, 1790 - 1863)

Another article on the other GWB

Friday, February 15, 2008

Jackson County Gets a New Flag

Look out, Jackson County.
We’re getting a new county flag this year. And I’m afraid it’s going to be a real doozy.

They say that people get the government they deserve, and I suppose that’s correct. How much can you blame the politicians – for doing what politicians do – when the citizens fail to keep an eye on them?

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is no exception. Unless people think there’ll be an opportunity to hoot and holler at each other for a few hours, they just skip the meetings. Thus, freed from the scrutiny of a vigilant citizenry, the commissioners proceed to wreak havoc.

I’ll give you an example from a recent board meeting that I DID bother to attend. Where were all the rest of you that night? Huh? You should have been fulfilling your commitment to maintaining freedom and democracy in Jackson County, but nooooo…’s just too much trouble for you to attend.
Sometimes, the populace disgusts me.

But I forgive you. However, I’m finding it more difficult to forgive the county manager.

During that recent meeting of which I speak, Mr. Westmoreland informed the commissioners that Jackson County lacks its own official County flag. As a result, Jackson County will not be represented in the Parade of County Flags during the annual meeting of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners in New Bern this coming August. That is, Jackson County will not be represented in the procession unless we get busy and develop a suitable flag by this summer.

So far, so good, Mr. Westmoreland.

But then, the county manager went too far. He announced that he had already entrusted this sacred responsibility with....get this…JON JICHA'S ART CLASS at Western Carolina University.

Heaven help us!

Obviously, the county manager has not been taking in many student art exhibitions at our local university.

I have.

And based on what I’ve seen, I can tell you right now that the new Jackson County flag will reflect a painful amount of existential angst rather than any artistic proficiency.

Jackson County, is THIS who you want creating the flag that will represent your beloved county?

Hell, the last time I saw a mess like that was on the walls inside Bradley’s old slaughterhouse out past Webster.

Really now, do you want a flag that looks like this?

I figured that by the time college students completed their art training they could paint something a little more advanced than the work of eighth graders at Fairview School.

But from what I’ve seen, they can’t.

If the Jon Jichas and all the other no-talent art professors at WCU were worth their salt, they’d be turning out artists who could paint like Thomas Kinkade or Bob Timberlake. You know, real artists producing beautiful paintings that you’d be proud to hang above your sofa.

But no, they thumb their noses at the sensibilities of sensible people, fling a few gobs of paint onto a canvas, and then concoct some pretentious story to try to justify it. They think they can bullshit us into believing it’s ART.

Some of us aren’t so easily fooled.
But it looks like the county manager fell for it. Where’s former commissioner Roberta Crawford when you need her? Wasn’t it just last year that Roberta said, "Since when did we allow WCU to tell us how to run our county?" Right on!

Let’s put this into perspective. When the Rowan County commissioners found themselves flagless back in 1986, they did what any wise leaders would do. They went to the Condor Flag Company in Charlotte and asked for a flag that would have all five colors of the county seal. And the Condor Flag Company said to the Rowan County Commissioners, "Sure, that’ll be $1200 bucks for a dozen flags. When do you want ‘em?" The minutes from THAT meeting report "the commissioners were asked to think about this matter."

And so at this critical juncture in time, I would ask the Jackson County commissioners to "think about this matter." You’ve handed off a job of historic importance to a bunch of art majors with plucked eyebrows, multiple nose rings, spiked hair, and sullen attitudes. What makes you think they’ll come up with anything as classic as the Catawba County flag:

Or as regal as the Orange County flag :

Or as smartly modern as the Hoke County flag:

Or...umm...with as many BIRDS as the Onslow County flag:

I’d be happy with a Jackson County flag comparable to any of those. But that’s NOT what we’ll get from Jon Jicha’s art class at Western. When they come back with some cock-and-bull story and a flag that looks like this:

...don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While I blame for the county manager for getting us into this mess, the ultimate responsibility goes back to the citizens of Jackson County who thought they were "too busy" to attend that crucial meeting. It’s just like Edmund Burke said:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

So, come August of this year, when they have the Parade of County Flags at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, our new flag will make its debut, and at that moment Jackson County will become the laughing stock of the entire Tar Heel state.


Monday, February 11, 2008

You Uns Is Plum Hitched!

There’s much more from the Union lieutenant who returned to Jackson County 25 years after he was here during the Civil War…

Like James Wells Champney, who had also visited Webster, he was well known as an artist and illustrator. Examples of his artwork are included in this post. (He also provides tantalizing details of setting up a camera and taking pictures at the forks of the Tuckasegee...and at other locations near Cashiers. Oh, to track down those photos now!) But that part of the story will have to wait.

For now, here’s another excerpt from his account of the 1890 visit:

North Carolina exacts a tax of $2 for a marriage license, and to avoid the outlay of this pittance the mountaineers will tramp 50 miles down to the South Carolina line. I heard an amusing story of a youthful pair, rich in affection and poor in money, who were overtaken by a wag from Cashiers valley as they were coming down the slope of the Blue Ridge.

"How far to South Car’lina, capen?" demanded the eager but weary bridegroom.

"You uns done crossed the line ‘bout a quarter back," said the Cashiers valley man. "Youse plum in hit now. Keep this yer road ‘bout a mile down into the settlement, an thar you uns will find a preacher by the name of Bennet, an he don’t ask nary cent for marryin folks. I’ll just ride ahead an have everything ready."

Bennet, who had no more authority to perform the ceremony than he had to declare war, stood, spelling book in hand, on a sandy spot in the road when the couple arrived, and concealed behind the fences were several of the neighbors to witness the sport.

"Jine hands," said Bennet. "Hold on! I never seed a gal married in her bare feet. Seein as how you uns is got to the end of your journey, I ‘low the bride better sit plum down and put them shoes on. South Caroliny law says no bride ain’t married bein her shoes is tied round her neck endurin the ceremony.

"An you, young man, jest lay your ‘baccy on that rail. Now jine hands.

"You are goin to take this gal for better or for worser, for to be your wedded wife. Great Scott! Got a rale golden ring? What’ll you uns take for hit? Give you half a dollar. Won’t sell hit? All right. Keep a-holt. You gal, you ‘cept him for your old man an swar to milk the cows and feed the young ones? All right, friends. You uns is plum hitched. John, you kiss the bride. Now go home, an good luck to you."

Mine host Hooper, who had witnessed the scene, came to think that it was rather a serious joke and told Bennet that he had gone a little too far. Whereupon Bennet waxed exceedingly wroth and declared that his reputation was as good as any man’s in the settlement, and he wouldn’t have his integrity impeached.

A week later Hooper handed a note to the mail rider informing the happy couple that the ceremony was a fraud, and that Colum Long and Jack Davis were the practical jokers who had victimized them. The mail rider found the girl’s mother at the post office and left her the maddest woman on Chunky Gal mountain.

A few evenings thereafter as Hooper was sitting on his porch along came the same pair from the south, re-enforced by the bride’s father. "Can’t you give us something to eat, neighbor?" said the old man. "I allow my gal is rightly married now. Whar’s them varmints, Colum Long and Jack Davis? I ‘low to put the law on to them."

The party was fed and the old man pacified and advised that it would be better to keep the matter quiet and prevent unpleasant gossip up Chunky Gal way.

Reading this account reminds me of my own boyhood, growing up in the Southern Piedmont of North Carolina during the 1950s and 60s. Even then, it was not uncommon for young couples to "run off to South Carolina" because of the less restrictive requirements for getting married there. But until now, I never did hear about any fraudulent justices of the peace presiding over ceremonies as a little practical joke!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Along the Tuckasegee - 1890

Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain-bound "Inman" was not the only escaped prisoner-of-war to maneuver his way through Western North Carolina during the Civil War. If you dig deep enough into the archives, you’ll find accounts of actual prisoners and fugitives who traversed these mountains.

One such man made his way through Jackson County during the War and returned here 25 years later:

"to carry out my long cherished purpose of paying a visit to the mountaineers who had harbored our party in the winter of 1864."

It appears that we have at least two written accounts from the same party…and at some point, I’d like to pull those stories together and add a few notes to put it all in perspective. But for now, I’ll toss out one little morsel, written during that return visit to Jackson County in 1890:

As we drove into Webster, the court town of Jackson county, three miles from the station, a mass of white thunder caps rolled over the mountains and the big drops were beginning to patter down. I found shelter in the village store and the driver sought cover for his trap.

Webster is a sorry country town, where the razor backed hogs root wallowing places about the door of the store undisturbed by the village loungers, who chew tobacco, jocked back in splint bottomed chairs on the porch. I felt very jolly, however, when I recalled a certain faraway morning when I tramped out of the town shivering, with the mud and snow oozing through my broken shoes at every step.

The old brick jail stood in the next yard, and despite the rain I jumped over the gate and ran into the hall and inspected the corner room where we three ragged boy lieutenants had once passed a night.

For six miles farther our road wound along the picturesque bank of the Tuckasegee river, the same road along which we had come to Webster under guard. Crossing to the opposite branch by a pole bridge, we passed into the Cullowhee valley, with its frequent cabins and cornfields and orchards, dotting the fertile bottom lands along the winding creek.

Here was abundance for consumption, but evidently no market for the surplus. We passed little groups of haystacks which had been rotting for years in the meadows, some of the stacks almost hidden under the vines which were rapidly growing over them….

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Chancellor and the Robot

(From left - Phil, Chuck, John and Hal)

I see where that apologist for the WCU administration is at it again over at Bardo Express-Empower Your Mind. So, with apologies of my own to J. W. Black, I'm reprinting his latest offering:

The Ballad of John W. Bardo
-by J. W. Black
(to the tune of John Henry)

John Bardo is our Chancellor,
He rules over Cull-O-Whee,
And he’s bound to take us
If we’re ready or not, to the 21st century,
Lawd, Lawd, to the 21st century.

The bosses said to John Bardo
“Your campus is way too small.
You’d better get busy and build it up.
Don’t worry ‘bout them laggards when they squall,
No, no, don’t worry when they start to squall."

John Bardo grabbed his shovel.
He knew what he had to do.
He rolled up his sleeves and he spit in his hands,
Bringing Progress for me and you,
Lawd, Lawd, bringing Progress for me and you.

“Fast'r and fast'r,” cried the bosses,
“Dig just as fast as you can.”
Then they brought in a shovel-totin' robot,
‘Cause they thought it could out-shovel any man,
Lawd, Lawd, they thought it could out-shovel any man.

They sat the robot next to John Bardo,
And they had them both begin.
All the bosses they watched and they waited,
To see if Bardo or the robot would win,
Lawd, Lawd, if Bardo or the robot would win.

Dirt and “other stuff” started flyin’
So thick you could barely see.
John piled it so high the robot laid down and died.
John said, “There’s no way you can out-shovel me.”

The moral of this little story,
The tale that I’m trying to tell,
Is if you get in the way of Chancellor Bardo,
Then you might as well go to hell,
Lawd, Lawd, you might as well go to hell.

The honoree of Mr. Black's ditty has issued a statement from his offices in mid-town Charlanta:

What is clear from the current situation is that there is widespread confusion and different expectations between many internal members of the university community and many policymakers and their constituencies. At the same time, public support for universities is dependent upon university’s responsiveness to the needs of the people who fund them. In these circumstances, it is critical that differences in expectations be minimized. As leaders in higher education, we therefore need to promote alignment of internal and external expectations with regard to economic development and develop and implement a clear and effective communications plans.

Based on that, I'd have to agree with Mr. Black on one point: we do have a "shoveler" of legendary proportions in our midst.

[When the Sylva Herald ran the picture shown above, 12/16/99, they included the following caption...REALLY they did...I guess J. W. Black was too embarrassed to mention it.]

The robot on the right malfunctioned, refusing to lift the ceremonial first shovelful of dirt. The robot did, however, lift a sign, welcoming the large crowd gathered for the occasion.

Sarah Gudger - The Rest of the Story

You might recall Sarah Gudger, who made an appearance on this site back in September:

Sarah Gudger was born into slavery on September 15, 1816. One hundred twenty-one years later, from her home in Asheville, she shared memories of life before and after the Civil War. The interview was conducted for the Works Project Administration Federal Writers Project. In addition to preparing state guidebooks and historical pamphlets, FWP authors gathered more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 photos of former slaves.

Sarah Gudger was 121 years old when interviewed in 1937 about her time as a slave in McDowell and Buncombe Counties. She spoke of slaves being torn away from their families by speculators. She described [presumably] the Leonid Meteor Showers of November 12-13, 1833. And she told of soldiers marching past her home during the Civil War.

We've always heard the saying, "it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop." But Aunt Sarah has a saying I've never heard before. Describing the night sky illuminated by the Leonids, she said it was so bright, "you could pick a pin up." Thank goodness someone had the vision to create the WPA Writers Project.

Last September, I wasn’t able to find information on Sarah Gudger’s death. At last, I’ve come across a couple of more stories that fill in the gaps, and discovered one more remarkable twist in a remarkable life story.

It turns out that Sarah Gudger survived for 40 years after suffering severe burns in an 1898 mishap. From the June 28, 1898 Landmark (Statesville, NC):

Mrs. Sarah Gudger, aged 70, widow of the late Mack Gudger, who lived with her son-in-law, Mr. Geo. Lytle, 11 miles east of Asheville on the Swannanoa, was left alone for a short time Friday afternoon and when the family returned she was found lying in the fire place, horribly burned. It is supposed that she suffered an attack of vertigo and fell in the fire. At last accounts she was alive but she cannot recover.


(Equally amazing is the fact that she was 70 years old in 1898 and 122 years old in 1938, but we all know the years fly by faster the longer you live…so that makes perfectly good sense.)

United Press reported that Sarah Gudger died October 19, 1938. From the Amarillo Globe, October 20, 1938:

Friends of Aunt Sarah Gudger, 122-year-old slave who gained freedom at the age of 49, mourned her death today but promised a funeral she would have been proud of, at the little Baptist Church of St. John. Aunt Sarah, who celebrated her 122nd birthday September 15, died yesterday as she has said she would – “propped up in bed takin’ things fair and easy ‘til the ole marser calls me away.” She was believed to be one of the oldest persons in the world. Until slightly more than a month ago when she became too feeble to “git aroun’ much,” she was very active. She learned to write her name under tutorship of WPA instructors of the adult education program.

In April 1936, the Associated Press had a very brief report on Sarah Gudger that appeared in many newspapers around the country:

ASHEVILLE, NC – Sarah Gudger, who believes she is nearing 120, says she harbors one ambition: “To join my mother in death…in the near future.”

On July 17, 1937, The Robesonian (Lumberton, NC) made mention of Sarah Gudger in an article titled “Death Ends Aid Grants to 4692 Aged Carolinians”:

Oldest of the 19 Tar Heel centenarians to die [during the fiscal year ending June 1939] was Sarah Gudger, negro woman of Asheville, who received a government grant for the last 16 months of 122 years of life.

Earlier posts on Sarah Gudger:

“I Took a Thousand Lashings in My Day”

“Helpless Critters Going Away to Get Killed”

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
- John Muir

Watching the clock is not the same as watching a sunrise.
-Sophia Bedford Pierce

To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.
-Henry David Thoreau

Monday, February 4, 2008

President's Daughter Visits Cullowhee

No, I’m not talking about one of those hard-drinkin’ Bush tarts. (But by the way, what is it about George and Laura Bush? They name one of their twins after his mom, and the other one after star. Google "Jenna" if you don't believe me. Is that weird or what?)

But no, I'm talking about Margaret Truman, who died last week at the age of 83.

I suspect you wouldn’t have to go far today to find someone who was in Cullowhee on October 4, 1949 to hear Margaret Truman sing. It must have been a memorable night:

CULLOWHEE, NC, Oct. 5 – Margaret Truman sang in Italian, German and English last night to an audience which traveled from all over Western North Carolina and jam-packed an auditorium in the little college town of Cullowhee to hear her.

The President’s daughter presented a program which ranged from opera to 18th century folk songs.

Miss Truman’s appearance at Western Carolina Teachers College, which excited the little school as nothing has in years, was the first of three North Carolina concerts of the soprano’s Southern tour.

Heck, this was even bigger than Jay Leno coming to town!

Just a month after her concert in Cullowhee, Truman made her first appearance in Carnegie Hall.

In 1947, Harry S Truman’s only child had made her professional singing debut with the Detroit Symphony. The radio broadcast attracted 15 million listeners and drew mixed reviews from the critics.

After a performance by the coloratura at Constitution Hall, Washington Post music critic Paul Hume said "she cannot sing very well…she is flat a good deal of the time" and added that she had no "professional finish…. Miss Truman is still too much of a vocal beginner to appear in public."

President Truman fired off an angry note to Hume:


Mr Hume:
I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay."

It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful.

When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work.

Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!

Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry.


You go, Harry! Or should I say, "Give 'em hell, Harry!"

After Hume released the note to the press, Margaret Truman defended her father, saying "I’m glad to see chivalry is not dead."

She went on to enjoy a career as a radio and television host, and later as a mystery writer and biographer. Her book, Murder in the White House reached the best-seller lists after its publication in 1980. And there was more where that came from. Like "Murder on Capitol Hill," "Murder in the Supreme Court," "Murder at the FBI," "Murder in Georgetown," "Murder at the Kennedy Center," "Murder at the National Cathedral" and "Murder at the National Gallery."

Margaret Truman became a celebrity almost as soon as her father assumed the presidency upon FDR’s death. According to the LA Times:

She set off something of a public relations food fight when she quietly instructed a waiter, "No potatoes, please," and later said she drank tomato juice while dieting. The Potato Growers Assn. quickly lodged an official complaint and peppered the White House with protest letters. The Tomato Growers Assn. countered with an onslaught of supportive letters. The groups waged a marketing war in the national media, touting the nutritional value of their products.

When Truman was photographed wearing a scarf, Women's Wear Daily editorialized that she had damaged the millinery industry -- a dispute quieted only after she wore a hat to another publicized event. Her hatted photo, in turn, set off protests from hairdressers.


Here’s to Margaret Truman (February 17, 1924 – January 29, 2008) who graced Cullowhee with her charm and talent almost sixty years ago.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Legends of the Walton War

Some people call Transylvania County the "Land of Waterfalls".

Today a place of wild splendor, it was - two hundred years ago - a place of confusion and turmoil.

Remember how the boundaries of early states ran from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Mississippi River? By 1787, South Carolina ceded to the United States government a narrow strip of land between the northern border of Georgia and the southern border of North Carolina.

Over the next decade, 800 people settled in the area. By 1800 they petitioned Congress to have the land turned back to South Carolina, but the South Carolina government wanted no part of the orphan strip that some say gained a reputation for harboring desperadoes and outlaws.

Federal legislation, the 1802 Act of Cession, made Georgia responsible for the territory but did not establish whether the strip belonged to Georgia or North Carolina. Before long, Georgia claimed it and established Walton County, named for George Walton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (The original Walton County GA, not to be confused with a later Walton County GA, included much of present Transylvania County and parts of Henderson and Jackson Counties.)

Unfortunately, some of the Walton County residents held South Carolina land grants while others held North Carolina grants… resulting in jurisdictional conflicts between leaders of Walton County, GA and Buncombe County, NC.

Walton officials tried to intimidate citizens who favored Buncombe rule in the area. In December 1804 Buncombe constable John Havner was killed by a blow to the head with a musket stock. The Buncombe militia responded with 72 men who marched into Walton County on December 19. They apprehended ten Walton County leaders and took them to Morganton to be tried for Havner’s death. But the prisoners escaped from the jail and were not seen again.

Meanwhile, North Carolina secured a claim to the orphan strip. Eight years after it was established, Walton County, Georgia ceased to exist. Writer Harry McKown would say that was all there was to the legendary "Walton War."

Other writers, not quite so burdened with footnoted sources, tell a different tale. For instance, Richard E. Irby, Jr. describes a December 1810 confrontation, (rather than 1804) in which the Buncombe sympathizers marched into Walton County and removed the leadership:

The major engagement was fought at McGaha Branch about one mile south of present day Brevard near the Wilson Bridge on U.S.Highway 276. The North Carolina Militia killed an unknown number of the Georgians and took about twenty-five prisoners. A second stand was made by the survivors of McGaha Branch at Selica Hill some three miles southwest of Brevard. The Georgians were either shot or taken prisoner. The fate of the prisoners is still uncertain. Sporadic snipping continued for some weeks but the main engagements were over.

Another version of this story, from Carol Greenberger, discusses the subsequent survey to establish the borders of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In 1811, disgruntled Georgia leaders hired the highly regarded scientist and surveyor Andrew Ellicott to verify the location of the 35th Parallel, the intended demarcation between North Carolina and Georgia:

Ellicott followed the Savannah River north, up the Tugaloo River and then the Chattooga River until he determined by astronomical observations where the true line lay. He marked a rock in the east bank of the Chattooga, now known as Ellicott’s Rock. Ellicott’s survey determined that Georgia had been claiming territory eighteen miles too far north. The legislative commission was unhappy with Ellicott’s findings and refused to pay him. However, Georgia’s governor finally accepted the verdict and said "it appears that no part of the territory heretofore claimed by this state remains in Georgia."

So, the next time you head south from Brevard on US 276, keep in mind that you’ll drive past the bloody battleground of the Walton War.

But then again, maybe you won’t…

[As recently as 1971 Georgia considered reopening a separate dispute about the boundary and the North Carolina legislature “in a jocular mood” mobilized the National Guard to protect the state from usurpers.]