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Minibikes and the Wrestling Mat: Hendersonville’s McCrary Twins

This Day in North Carolina History - 2 hours 40 min ago

The McCrary Twins. Image from Good Spark Garage.

On December 7, 1946, Billy and Benny McCrary, the world’s largest twins, were born in Hendersonville.

After contracting measles at age 4, the twins’ weights quickly ballooned. By age 10, they each weighed 200 pounds, and by 16, each tipped the scales at more than 600 pounds. Billy and Benny would top out at 814 and 784 pounds, respectively according to the Guinness World Book of Records. Their enormous size has since been attributed, at least in part, to pituitary gland damage caused by the early bout of measles they both experiences.

To stem the boys’ growth, their parents bought a farm, believing perhaps the boys would burn up calories while working. But they had wanderlust and quickly quit high school to move to Texas and brand cattle. In a promotion with Honda and Holiday Inn, the McCrarys rode motorcycles from the east coast to the west. They entertained on the Tonight Show and at Myrtle Beach, big men atop tiny minibikes. They went on to become professional wrestlers under the name of the McGuire Twins, training in Mexico and appearing across the U.S. and Japan.

The McCrary Twins as immortalized on Family Guy (left) and The Simpsons (right). Image from Good Spark Garage.

Billy died in 1979 during a minibike stunt at Niagara Falls. Benny took other wrestling partners, among them Andre the Giant, before entering semi-retirement devoted to golf and evangelism.  He died in 2001. Their fame continues to grow. They have been immortalized in animation on The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Jacob Henry and Religious Liberty

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 12/06/2016 - 05:30

On December 6, 1809, Jacob Henry, North Carolina’s first Jewish legislator, delivered a rousing speech about religious liberty to the General Assembly. Henry represented Carteret County in 1808 and 1809, a time when people were bound constitutionally to affirm the “truth of the Protestant religion” before holding any public office.  He served his first term without incident, but, in 1809, a newly-elected representative took issue with Henry’s religious affiliation and introduced a resolution to remove him from office.

The legislators decided to take up the resolution the next day, giving Henry time to prepare his defense. Without specifically mentioning Judaism, he addressed “natural and inalienable rights” and equalized religious sects with phrases such as “the ruler of the universe.”

Ultimately Henry was allowed to retain his seat. His inspiring and eloquent speech to the 1809 General Assembly has been published and quoted frequently ever since. It is considered a touchstone of religious rights and tolerance.

Visitors to Beaufort can see the Federal era house that he built at 229 Front Street, where it still stands today. Henry lived there with his wife, Esther Whitehurst, whom he married in 1801.

Upper House of Assembly Meets at the Newly-Constructed Tryon Palace

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 12/05/2016 - 05:30

Plans showing the front elevation of Tryon Palace designed by John Hawks in 1767. Image from the Office of Archives and History

On December 5, 1770, the Upper House of Assembly first met in the Council Chamber of the newly-constructed “Government House” in New Bern. Later that evening, Governor William Tryon hosted a grand ball – complete with fireworks. The newly built Government House was not celebrated by all North Carolina citizens, however. In fact, many people, upset over the taxes imposed to build the structure, began to call the Government House “Tryon’s Palace.”

Tryon Palace served as the backdrop for North Carolina’s transformation from colony to statehood. In May 1775, then Royal Governor Josiah Martin fled the palace as patriot forces approached New Bern. When North Carolina became an independent state, the first four governors resided in Tryon Palace until Raleigh became the new capitol in 1794.

After a fire destroyed all but the kitchen and stable offices in 1798, most of the original land was utilized in highway and housing developments. In the 1940s, public interest and private donations convinced the state to consider the feasibility of bringing Tryon Palace back to life. The palace, reconstructed to the original design, opened as a public museum in 1959. Now a state historic site, Tryon Palace stands as a reminder of North Carolina’s rich historical legacy.

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North Carolina Approves the 13th Amendment

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 12/04/2016 - 05:30

African American Heritage Commission Chair Harry Harrison, Historical Commission Chair Jerry Cashion, Secretary of Cultural Resources Linda Carlisle and N.C. Council of Women Executive Director Jill Dinwiddie unveil plaques commemorating ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

On December 4, 1865, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery. In order for a state to be readmitted to the Union following the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson  required states to approve the amendment. Ten days following North Carolina’s vote the requisite three-quarters of the states had approved its ratification and thus it became law.

This action by the legislature in 1865 actually came almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed slavery in the southern states.  Following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the freedmen’s convention met a few blocks northwest of the N.C. State Capitol.  That assembly was the first effort by the state’s African Americans to press for full political rights.

On December 6, 2010, officials of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, and others met to dedicate and unveil four plaques commemorating the extension of civic and voting rights.  In addition to one focusing on the 13th Amendment, the others so remembered were the 14th Amendment (granting rights to all citizens), the 15th Amendment (extending voting rights to new citizens) and the 19th Amendment (extending voting rights to women).

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Bewitched from the Start

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 12/03/2016 - 05:30

A 1919 journal article on witchcraft
in North Carolina

On December 3, 1679, a North Carolina law was passed directing local juries to investigate “felonies, witchcraft, enchantments, sorceries, and magick arts, among other crimes.”

Throughout history, witchcraft was often blamed for bad luck, illnesses, crop failures and infidelity. Unlike the infamous witch trials in Salem, Mass., many cases in North Carolina were dropped, not prosecuted. In most of the cases that were brought to trial, the accused were found innocent. Those accused of witchcraft also often successfully countersued their accusers.

As early as 1768, royal Governor William Tryon issued commissions to the Justices of the Peace to hear cases involving charges of enchantment, sorceries and art magick, and as late as 1951, a law was written and passed by the General Assembly against witchcraft in North Carolina. A case was considered in Morganton against a potential witch as late as 1976. The law was finally repealed in 2004.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

New Roundhouse at Spencer, 1924

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 12/02/2016 - 05:55

A circa 1950 aerial view of Spencer Shops.
Image from N.C. Historic Sites

On December 2, 1924, the Bob Julian Roundhouse at the Spencer Shops Southern Railway Repair Facility opened. The structure replaced

A locomotive inside the roundhouse in 1945. Image from N.C. Historic Sites

a smaller 15-stall roundhouse that had been built in 1896. The new building was more than twice the size, with 37 work bays for repairing and servicing Southern Railway’s growing number of locomotives. Southern officials announced the project in February 1924, and construction began almost immediately. In addition to the roundhouse, a new turntable was built to accommodate the increased number of stalls.

Remarkably, the old structures were demolished and the new ones erected within a span of only 10 months. The new 120,000 square-foot roundhouse and the 100-foot turntable cost approximately $500,000. Railroad officials named the new facility for roundhouse supervisor, Bob Julian.

The Bob Julian Roundhouse is now a part of the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Historic Spencer Shops. Visitors can see restored locomotives, passenger cars, a mail car and a World War II hospital car in the refurbished roundhouse. They can take a ride on the still-functioning turntable and learn more about the roundhouse’s history, as well as the entire facility that made up the once-thriving Spencer Shops.

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The Spanish Explore the Interior

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 12/01/2016 - 06:00

Helmets like these were worn by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. This particular one can be seen at the N.C. Museum of History.

On December 1, 1566, Spanish Captain Juan Pardo left Santa Elena (in present day South Carolina) with 125 men to explore the region and claim the land for Spain while pacifying local Indians.  It was also hoped that he would find an overland route from Santa Elena to the Spanish silver mines in northern Mexico.

In January 1567, Pardo and his company arrived at Joara, a large native town in the upper Catawba Valley near the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. At Joara, he built Fort San Juan, and manned it with thirty soldiers.  Although previous expeditions in the interior had made seasonal encampments or had temporarily occupied native towns, Pardo explicitly built Fort San Juan to expand Spanish holdings. In so doing, he founded the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States.

Although relations between the two groups were good initially, by May 1568, news reached Santa Elena that Indians had attacked all of Pardo’s forts and that all were destroyed.

In Morganton, where significant Spanish ceramics and hardware have been recovered, archaeologists have identified a compound of five burned buildings. It is believed that the Spanish artifacts and burned buildings represent the material remains of Fort San Juan.

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Warren Wilson College Established

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 11/30/2016 - 06:00

1912 photo of Asheville Farm School campus, courtesy of the Warren Wilson College website.

On November 30, 1894, the Asheville Farm School, primary forerunner of Warren Wilson College, was established as a mission school by the Presbyterian Church. The site selected was a 420-acre farm in the Swannanoa Valley about ten miles east of Asheville.

By combining farm work with education, the school aimed to provide new opportunities for young men in the mountains. In 1942, the school merged with the Dorland-Bell School, a Presbyterian institution for young women in Hot Springs. Junior college classes were added and the new school was named for Warren H. Wilson, a leader in Presbyterian rural mission work.

In 1966, Warren Wilson became an accredited, four-year, liberal arts college offering the bachelor of arts degree.  The school is no longer associated with the Presbyterian Church’s national missions, but true to its origins, Warren Wilson requires that every student, in addition to classwork, to contribute three hours of labor each day to the college in return for room and board.

A highway marker in Buncombe County honors the college.

SS James Iredell Launched

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/29/2016 - 06:00

The SS Zebulon Baird Vance being launched. The Iredell would have been launched in a similar way. Photo from NCpedia

On November 29, 1942, the SS James Iredell, a Liberty Ship constructed by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, was launched.

Along the Tar Heel coast maritime industries mobilized with the coming of World War II. Mine sweepers were built at New Bern and submarine chasers at Elizabeth City; naval repair stations operated at Morehead City and Southport. By far the largest construction effort of the war, the building of 243 Liberty Ships and other cargo vessels took place at a shipyard on the Cape Fear River three miles south of downtown Wilmington.  Workers there could complete a ship, from the laying of the keel to launch, in 25 days.

Initially the yard built only Liberty Ships, cargo vessels 440 feet in length. Called “ugly ducklings,” the Liberty Ships were the workhorses of the war. The 126 Liberty Ships built at Wilmington were named for prominent historical figures, many of whom were from North Carolina. as James Iredell, for instance, was one of the first U.S. Supreme Court Justices.  The SS James Iredell was scuttled as a breakwater off of Omaha Beach as part of the U.S. invasion of German-occupied France on June 8, 1944.

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Arthur Talmage Abernethy Appointed State’s First Poet Laureate

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 11/28/2016 - 05:55

On November 28, 1948, Arthur Talmage Abernethy was appointed Poet Laureate, just before the end of Governor R. Gregg Cherry’s term of office.

Abernethy’s term was to expire with the end of Cherry’s term.  Abernethy was therefore officially Poet Laureate for only a few weeks, from November 28, 1948 through January 5, 1949.  However, because Governor Kerr Scott did not appoint a successor, Abernethy remained the designated Poet Laureate until August 1953, when Governor William Umstead appointed James Larkin Pearson to the post.

Abernethy’s career included time as a professor and a journalist, and he also served as a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace, frequently filing his annual reports in verse. He also found time to write more than 50 books and thousands of poems.  The books covered history, southern folklore, and evangelical subjects. Surprisingly, history records none of his poetry published in book form.

North Carolina has had seven Poets Laureate.  Writer and professor Joseph Bathanti was named to the position in September of this year, succeeding Cathy Smith Bowers.

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Rehearsal Speech in Rocky Mount

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 11/27/2016 - 05:54

An image of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks in Durham in 1958
from the State Archives

On November 27, 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a speech in Rocky Mount. Before a crowd of nearly 2,000 in the gymnasium at Booker T. Washington High School, King used a number of expressions that made their way into his landmark “I Have a Dream” address at the Lincoln Memorial, which was part of the March on Washington in August 1963.

Near the close he built toward these lines: “I have a dream that one day right here in Rocky Mount, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will meet at the table of brotherhood, knowing that one God brought man to the face of the Earth. I have a dream tonight that one day my little daughter and my two sons will grow up in a world not conscious of the color of their skin, but only conscious of the fact that they are members of the human race. . . .”

Clayborne Carson, editor of the King Papers, notes that while this was not the first use of the “I have a dream” phrase, it “appears to be an important new rhetorical formulation.” By the spring and summer of 1963 the words were among the most frequent of King’s refrains.

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Alexander Mebane, Patriot and UNC Trustee

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 11/26/2016 - 05:50

On November 26, 1744, Alexander Mebane was born at Hawfields in Orange County. An ardent patriot, Mebane played an active role in the Revolutionary War. In December 1776, he served as a delegate to the Provincial Congress in Halifax and, the following year, became sheriff of Orange County, a post he held until 1780. Mebane also served as an officer in the Orange County militia.

At the war’s conclusion, Mebane was elected as an Orange County representative to the General Assembly and served as brigadier general of Hillsborough District militia. He also served as auditor of the Hillsborough Constitutional Convention of 1788 and the Fayetteville Convention of 1789. An Anti-Federalist, Mebane voted against ratification unless a bill of rights was included.

That same year, Mebane joined the first board of trustees of the University of North Carolina. In 1792, he served on the committee that chose New Hope Chapel Hill as the site for the new school. He even helped lay the cornerstone of Old East, the first building erected on campus. In 1793, Mebane was elected to Congress. The Alamance County town of Mebane is named in his honor.

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Planning North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Defense

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 11/25/2016 - 05:47

On November 25, 1780, senior officers of the Southern Department of the Continental Army met at Camp New Providence, near Charlotte, to develop a strategy to respond to General Charles Cornwallis’s impending invasion of North Carolina.

Decisions made at the meeting led to the Battle of Cowpens, perhaps the most complete American victory of the Revolutionary War.  Between October and December 1780, the Americans took the opportunity provided by Cornwallis’s retreat into South Carolina to regroup their army at the winter encampment.

The number of men at Camp New Providence ranged from 1,300 to 2,600 and consisted of both militia and Continental forces. Most of the major historical players in the Southern Campaign, including Generals Horatio Gates, William Smallwood, and Daniel Morgan, as well as lesser-known but equally important figures such as Otho Holland Williams, John Eager Howard and Thaddeus Kosciuszko, were stationed there.

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USS Huron Ran Aground Near Nags Head

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 11/24/2016 - 05:45

The USS Huron. Photo courtesy of the Navy Historical Center.

On November 24, 1877, the USS Huron ran aground near Nags Head, en route for Havana from New York.  Commander George P. Ryan chose to sail close to shore to prevent having to travel against the Gulf Stream or taking the time to maneuver a route beyond the current.

During the night, rough seas and dense fog hindered the officers’ ability to navigate the treacherous coastline. The Huron came too close to the shore and ran aground around 1:30 A.M. Although the closest lifesaving station was only two miles away, it was closed until December. Some of the sailors braved the strong currents and cold temperatures and: 36 made it to the shore and 98  men died.

Two months later, another 85 men died when a second ship, the Metropolis, ran aground north of the Huron wreck. The two disasters prompted Congress to fund additional lifesaving stations and to increase their months of operation. Today, the wreck of the USS Huron is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources designated the wreck site as North Carolina’s first “Historic Shipwreck Preserve.”

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