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Tragedy at Bostian Bridge, 1891

This Day in North Carolina History - 12 hours 51 min ago

The wreck at Bostian Bridge. Image from the State Archives.

On August 27, 1891, one of the worst train wrecks in North Carolina occurred at the Bostian Bridge, two miles west of Statesville.

In the wee hours of the morning, a westbound passenger train jumped the tracks and hurtled off the 60-foot high bridge. At the bottom of the fall, seven train cars crashed into Third Creek. A few of the passengers walked into Statesville for help. Others crawled out of the wreckage, dazed and confused, while some wandered around. Still others sat on top of the train cars until help arrived.

When that help did come in the form of Statesville townspeople, the group began to pull and cut people out of the wreckage. Since the water in the creek was high, some of the injured drowned. By dawn a large crowd of townspeople had arrived and began to move the dead and wounded into town.

The dead were laid out in the Farmers’ Tobacco Warehouse. Twenty passengers were killed outright and nine were seriously injured. About 20 more received minor injuries.

The Bostian Bridge train wreck has been the subject of many ghost hunting expeditions, as a ghostly specter of the train is said to be seen each year on the anniversary of the tragedy.

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David Schenck and the Battleground at Guilford Courthouse

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 06:30

Schneck. Image from the National Park Service.

On August 26, 1902, David Schenck, the “father” of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, died.

Born in 1835 in Lincolnton, Schenck and his family moved to Greensboro for his job as a lawyer for the company that became Southern Railway.

Schenck became immersed in local history almost immediately after moving to the area, and he showed a special interest in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He traversed the ground with locals, inquiring as to the specific pieces of property associated with the 1781 engagement. He knew that, if the battlefield was not protected, it would be lost to encroaching development.

In 1886, he recorded in his diary that he decided to buy the land to, in his words, “redeem the battlefield from oblivion,” and the same day he purchased 30 acres of the battlefield to achieve that end.

The following year Schenck organized the Guilford Battle Ground Company. Although he died in 1902, the organization carried on and, through its actions, the battleground was donated to the U.S. Department of Interior, which organized it as the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in 1917.

The battlefield was the first from Revolutionary War to be protected by the federal government. The Guilford Battleground Company, as Schenck’s organization is known today, continues to purchase property associated with the site and donate it to the National Park Service.

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


North Carolina’s Milestone Move Toward Self-Government, 1774

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:30

On August 25, 1774, 71 delegates were present at the roll call for North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress. It was the first such meeting held in any of the colonies. Though the rebellious Congress was held in New Bern near royal Governor Josiah Martin’s residence at Tryon Palace, no attempt was made to stop the assembly.

A month earlier, William Hooper had convened a meeting of colonists from the Cape Fear region who felt that a Provincial Congress, separate from North Carolina’s royal government, was urgently needed. Invitations to send delegates were dispatched and, in response, 30 counties and four towns held elections without delay.

The congress, which only lasted for three days, endorsed the proposal that the colonies hold a Continental Congress. To that end, the group selected William Hooper, Joseph Hewes and Richard Caswell as delegates to that convention.

Aside from revolutionary topics, the delegates also discussed basic rights and responsibilities of government. They were eager to exercise control over North Carolina’s affairs. The concluding pledge to support the actions of the forthcoming Continental Congress was a testament to their goal of self-government and to their preparedness to achieve that goal.

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Dolley Madison and the British Assault on the White House, 1813

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 06:30

An engraving of Dolley Madison saving an important document.

On August 24, 1813, Dolley Madison rescued several important state documents and a now-famous oil portrait of George Washington from the White House as Washington, D.C., was being burned by invading British forces.

Born Dolley Payne in 1768 in Guilford County, the future First Lady met her would-be husband through mutual acquaintance Aaron Burr in Philadelphia 1794. The couple married less than a year later. While James Madison served as Secretary of State for the widowed Thomas Jefferson, Dolley became the unofficial “first lady,” hosting events for politicians and international guests. The 1809 inauguration of her husband, therefore, made for an easy transition to the role of the president’s wife.

As Washington came under siege from the British as part of the War of 1812, President James Madison asked his wife to stay behind in the White House and gather important documents so that the building could be abandoned quickly if needed. As the invading force drew near, the First Lady decided to abandon the Pennsylvania Avenue mansion.

Though popular legend tends to tell the story in such a way that Madison herself ripped the portrait out a frame and hand-carried it and other important documents out of the White House, contemporary historians revisiting the subject argue that household slaves most likely did the heavy lifting under her orders.

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The Lost State of Franklin

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 10:10

John Sevier

On August 23, 1784, the State of Franklin declared its independence from North Carolina. The independence would prove to be short-lived.

Settlers in far western areas had long discussed separating from the Old North State, criticizing the General Assembly for ignoring western interests. Led by John Sevier, the settlers formed their own state. Though they wrote their own state constitution and elected an assembly, western representatives were still sent to North Carolina’s General Assembly.

Governor Alexander Martin was outraged by the separatists and threatened to use force against them.  The Confederation Congress, the federal governing body at that time, refused to recognize the new state and it quickly fell apart. Sevier was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1789 and the state of Franklin came to an abrupt end. That same year, North Carolina ceded its western lands to the United States government, and, in 1796, those lands became part of the new state of Tennessee.

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North Carolina’s “Year Without a Summer,” 1816

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 06:30

Mountain waterfalls in ice and snow, circa 1910. Image from the State Archives.

On August 22, 1816, a heavy frost was recorded in the state.

The unusually early frost was attributed to the Mount Tambora volcano eruption in Indonesia in April of the previous year. The eruption was the most powerful of the 19th century and is thought to have caused a number of strange weather phenomena around the world. Mount Tambora is still an active volcano to this day.

The year 1816 is often referred to as the year without a summer because of the unusually cold weather during the spring and summer months. The bizarre and destructive weather was the result of massive amounts of volcanic dust being thrown into the upper atmosphere by the eruption.

Much of what we know about the climate of the period comes from The Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Those records indicate a fickle weather pattern of unusual heat in June, an abnormally stormy July, an early August dominated by drought and heat and the descent of the frost on the 22nd. The frost was followed by more drought, extended periods of rain and cold and raw weather from late September to the end of the year.

Many crops failed and others had dangerously low yields that threatened the livelihoods, and indeed, the lives of many North Carolinians.

For more, check out a guide on resources related to weather from the State Library.

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


Dirty Dancing Filmed at Lake Lure

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 06:30

On August 21, 1987, the blockbuster movie Dirty Dancing was released in theaters across the county.

Though set at a resort in the Catskills Mountains of Upstate New York, Dirty Dancing was shot entirely in Virginia and North Carolina. The filming came to the Southeast almost by accident. When the crew began production in September 1986, they found all the resorts in the New York mountains were closed, so they headed South.

Many of the film’s most famous scenes, including the “lake lift” scene where Patrick Swayze lifts Jennifer Grey in the water, and the shots of Grey practicing her moves to the song “Wipe Out” on the stairs on a mountainside were shot at Lake Lure. The nearby Rumbling Bald Resort’s golf course was used for the scene where Grey asks her dad for money, and the Esmeralda Inn was used for interior dance shots.

In 2010, the town of Lake Lure decided to begin celebrating its close association with the smash hit by hosting the Dirty Dancing Festival. Now an annual event, the festival draws thousands to Rutherford County each August to commemorate the now classic film and raise money for pancreatic cancer research.

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


Long Political Career for Governor Cameron Morrison

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 06:30

Gov. Cameron Morrison on his inauguration day in 1921. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On August 20, 1953, “Good Roads Governor” Cameron Morrison died.

Born in 1869, Morrison attended school in his native Richmond County. He did not attend college, but briefly studied law before opening a practice in Rockingham in 1892. Morrison began his political career as mayor of Rockingham, before being elected to the state Senate in 1900. After serving there for one term, Morrison took a 20-year break from politics before being elected governor in 1921.

A Democrat, Morrison devoted himself to internal improvements. He prompted the legislature to fund the construction of 5,500 miles of hard-surface roads. He also advocated for improvements in higher education and increases in funding to the state’s charitable institutions.

Though he was a leader of the “Red Shirts” and promoted white supremacy tactics that included harassment and threats of violence against African America voters earlier in life, as governor, Morrison sought to improve race relations and all but ended lynching in the state.

Following his term as governor, Morrison returned to private life. In 1930, he was appointed to fill an unexpired U.S. Senate term. He served one term in U.S. House in the early 1940s, but was defeated in another bid for the Senate in 1944. He died in 1953.

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Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain Date Back to 1956

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:30

The caber toss at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC Chapel Hill

On August 19, 1956, the first Grandfather Mountain Highland Games were held near Linville.

The Grandfather Mountain games were conceived by Agnes MacRae Morton and Donald MacDonald. Already active in with several Scottish-affiliated organizations in the U.S., MacDonald was inspired to start games in North Carolina after attending a similar event on a trip to Scotland. Morton heard of a similar gathering in Connecticut and thought that Grandfather Mountain would be the perfect setting to try something comparable in North Carolina.

The pair chose the August 1956 date to commemorate the anniversary of an important event in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion against in Scotland, though the event was moved to the second weekend in July two years later.

The Avery County event quickly gained international fame, and its competitions in athletics, bagpiping, drumming and dancing are recognized worldwide. The games also have the distinction of being the largest “clan gathering” in the world since it draws so many Scottish family heritage groups.

The tradition of highland games across North Carolina is owed to the face that the Tar Heel State had the largest settlement of Highland Scots outside of Scotland until well into 1800s.

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


Origins of the “Lost Colony” Mystery

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 06:30

A sketch of John White discovering “CROATOAN”
on a Roanoke Island tree

On August 18, 1590, Englishman John White returned to Roanoke Island to resupply the colony established on the island in 1587.  White found the settlement abandoned. A single word “CROATOAN” was carved on a post in the fort.

In 1587, at the urging of fellow colonists, Governor White had returned to England to gather supplies for the blossoming colony. Before leaving Roanoke Island, White and the colonists agreed that they would carve a message in a tree if they moved. Additionally, a Maltese cross would also be carved if the move was a forced. Since White didn’t find that particular distress signal, he was hopeful that the colonists would be found alive. White’s granddaughter, Virginia Dare, had been born exactly three years earlier.

After arriving back in England in October 1587, White was prevented from immediately returning to Roanoke Island because of England’s war with Spain. His attempt to do so in 1588 ended when pirates stole all his supplies. Finally, he was granted permission to return in early 1590.

White had the misfortune of arriving at Roanoke Island in poor weather and terrible landing conditions, leading to the death of seven mariners by drowning. The weather forced White to leave without searching adjacent areas for the colony.

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Frank Stick, Lindsay Warren and Cape Hatteras National Seashore

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 08/17/2014 - 06:30

Surf fishing with the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the background, circa 1956. Image from the State Archives.

On August 17, 1937, the U.S. House of Representatives authorized the country’s first national seashore at Cape Hatteras.

North Carolina Congressman Lindsay C. Warren sponsored the bill that sought to preserve the distinctive barrier islands of the Outer Banks. Because support for the park waxed and waned over the years, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was not officially established until 1953. The formal dedication ceremony was held in 1958.

The park was a long-time dream of conservationist and developer Frank Stick, who first came to the area on a fishing excursion in the late 1920s and was impressed with the pristine beaches and seemingly endless opportunities for recreation. He began lobbying for “a coastal park for North Carolina and the nation” soon after moving his family to the Outer Banks in 1929.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, administered by the National Park Service, now includes more than 70 miles of beach from Nags Head to Ocracoke. Initial plans called for a much larger park that included portions of Roanoke and Colington Islands. More than 2 million people visit the seashore each year to enjoy its beaches, fish, swim, surf, bird watch or see one of the lighthouses−Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke–that are found in the park.

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Diminutive Circus Duo Retired to Salisbury

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 08/16/2014 - 06:30

John and Mariah Nail Mertz, circa 1883. Image from the Davie County Public Library.

On August 16, 1883, circus performers John Mertz and Mariah Elizabeth Nail were married on the stage of the Buckingham Theater in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to one story, the justice of the peace asked if they were old enough to wed because they were so small, with Mariah standing at 36 inches and John only about 10 inches taller. At the time they married, they were both around 30-years-old.

Nail was born in Mocksville in 1852. Her husband, Mertz, also known as “Major,” was born in Austria or Hungary around 1853. At age 21 he joined the circus, where he met Nail. After a long career of touring with several circuses, the pair retired from circus life sometime around 1911 and made their home in Salisbury. Mertz worked in Salisbury as a store clerk at T. F. Kluttz & Co., among other job.

The couple quickly became famous in Salisbury and has continued to live on in the community’s memory. Nail passed away at age 69 in 1922. Mertz died in 1938 at age 85. They are both buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

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


Monroe Nathan Work of Tuskegee Institute, Chronicler of Black History

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 08/15/2014 - 06:30

On August 15, 1866, Monroe Nathan Work, one of the most distinguished historians of the African American experience, was born in Iredell County.

Both of Work’s parents had been enslaved and, so with the promise of new horizons outside the South, the family moved to Illinois shortly after he was born. Work attended seminary in Chicago but decided that being a minister wasn’t for him and became a sociologist. While teaching in Georgia, he attracted the attention of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute.

At Tuskegee, Work found his calling and life’s work. At the height of the Jim Crow era, he dedicated himself to documenting African American life and history and to assisting those seeking social justice.

In 1912, Work began compiling The Negro Yearbook, a sort of almanac with information and statistics on the black experience. Among other endeavors he took care to document lynchings, lending credibility to the anti-lynching movement.

His masterwork was the Bibliography of the Negro in Africa and America, which appeared in 1928 and included 17,000 entries.  That year he received the Harmon Foundation Award for Distinguished Achievement.

Work died at his home in Tuskegee in 1945.

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Couple Immortalized on V-J Day

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 08/14/2014 - 06:30

V-J Day in Times Square. Photo by
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

On August 14, 1945, Life magazine photographer Albert Eisenstaedt captured the spirit of celebration of the United States’ victory over Japan in World War II in an iconic photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square.

The sailor had been running down the street kissing random women when he was spotted by Eisenstaedt, who snapped a few quick pictures when he grabbed a nurse in white nearby. Because of the chaos in the streets Eisenstaedt did not have time to get the names of the couple.

Many people have claimed to be the sailor or the nurse over the years, but North Carolina native Glenn McDuffie went to lengths to prove that he was the kissing sailor. Tired of disputes as to the sailor’s identity, McDuffie asked Lois Gibson, a forensic artist with Houston Police Department, whether she could make a positive identification.

Glenn McDuffie with a Navy photo of himself during World War II and V-J Day in Times Square

In 2007, Gibson, who also compared the photo with those of several other kisser-claimants, reported that McDuffie’s features were an exact match to those of the sailor in the photograph. He enjoyed several years of celebrity, being invited to fundraisers and veterans’ events.

Born in Kannapolis in 1927, McDuffie was 15 years old when he forged documents to join the Navy. He died in 2014 in Texas.

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