The Animated Christmas Windows at Belk Beery

by Susan Taylor Block

The Belk-Beery Christmas windows, about 1958. (Photo by Martha McAllister; Hill-Taylor Collection)

I feel fortunate to have been born in 1951 – in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a quiet time in an unselfconscious place that knew not yet its beauty. Many things that seemed normal and permanent about Wilmington to my young mind have proven to be rare and somewhat fleeting. Such is the case of downtown Christmas decorations in my dear hometown.

The old street adornments were entirely different from the strange dullness of LED lights. They were a bit big, sharply bright, and very colorful. Multicolored lights crisscrossed the streets and lighted medallions dangled on each side of the street. Predictably, the only medallions I remember are the Santa Claus faces, but I think there were at least three other images.

Just like we did on Sunday afternoon rides, my parents, brother, and grandmother traveled together to see the Christmas lights. We did this several times each December. Mother and Daddy sat in the front seat, and Nana and I sat in the back seat, with my brother, Jay, sitting between us.

Those were more formal days. My parents, brother, and I were dressed casually, as we would have labeled it then, but today it would seem a bit dressy. My beloved grandmother, as always, was clad in a nice dress, and was wearing just enough jewelry.

I clearly remember the Christmas ride we took in 1957, when Jay was just 18 months old. He was perched in a baby seat, but, in those years, that merely meant it was elevated. That was a seatbelt-less era.

Nana (Flossie Stone Hill), Jay, and Susan. (Photo by J. W. Taylor, Jr.; Hill-Taylor Collection)

We rode north on South Front Street, and when we got to the brow of the hill, the dazzlement of yuletide lights below actually took Jay’s breath away. He stared bright-eyed, gasped several times, was silent, then finally began breathing normally again. He was on my left. I can still picture it and feel the relief of that episode being over.

By contrast to the nightly show, how disappointing it was to see the same downtown sight in daylight. The medallions were drained of most of their definition and the colored bulbs were dull. It would be decades before I would understand the spiritual symbolism of the Christmas phenomenon of light.

I can’t remember when I first saw the animated storefront windows of Belk-Beery, but I remember my impressions. Even though the movements were simple and slow, what was assumed to “stay still,” moved! It was like plugging the Christmas street illuminations into a Walt Disney movie.

In those days, Belk-Beery decorator, S. O. (Jack) Guyton was responsible for the Christmas windows. As soon as the draping was removed, people would leave their cars and stand quietly in front of the glimmering displays. I think background music played, but emotional memories play tricks. Except for the dreamy, moss-draped mood under the World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree, locally, there was no other secular Christmas thrill like the Belk-Beery windows.

The old, once very familiar Belk-Beery box. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

For more on the municipal tree, see:     http://susantaylorblock.com/2009/12/26/the-worlds-largest-living-christmas-tree/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Monkey Business

by Susan Taylor Block

 

Martha McAllister, Chipper, and Richard Boone, about 1962. (Photo by Southern Engraving Company)

During the 1960s, the Pet Shop at North 17 Shopping Center was a destination store for animal purchasers and a sort of neat, clean zoo for browsers. Pearl Hill Boone, Richard Boone, and their daughter, Martha McAllister owned the business, with its “get to the point” name. Pearl was the bookkeeper, Dick, the manager, and Martha was the chief salesman. Their small business had grown from a tiny one the threesome operated earlier in a World War II Quonset hut on South 16th Street.

Opening Day: Martha and Claude McAllister, with her parents, Richard and Pearl Boone. (Photo by John Kelly)

At the Pet Shop, Wilmington’s only pet store at the time, shoppers had their choice of hamsters, monkeys, tropical fish, piranhas, skunks, cats, dogs, turtles, Siamese fighting fish, goldfish, parrots, parakeets, a variety of snakes, and many other creatures. In addition to the usual products such as dog clothes and flea powder, the store stocked unusual items for the time, such as parakeet diapers, fur dye, poodle mascara, and doggy toothpaste.

Dick Boone, an old newspaperman, knew how to gain "Grand Opening" publicity. (Photo by John Kelly)

Ladies observing the unladylike. (Photo by John Kelly)

Summer was their only meager season. Vacation and beach time left  people with less time to care for brand new pets, so the Boones added an unlikely product: Model rockets. Despite the disparity, they sold well in the pet store. Martha set up a little school situation in which she taught public school teachers rocketry, a program underwritten by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Martha also boosted sales through publicity. She appeared on various local programs on WWAY -TV, and on “The Jim Burns Show,” a weekday live variety program that aired on WECT-TV for years. She also engendered bonus newspaper space through her creative ideas that involved pets as gifts.

Martha McAllister, "on the set," with an unidentified local television announcer.

This Father's Day photo of a prospective young shopper appeared in the Star News, June 16, 1963. Claude McAllister, (right), worked as a school principal, but visited the Pet Shop frequently.

Year-round, a particular monkey named Chipper was the star attraction. He arrived at the store while still a baby and won the heart of Dick Boone. Soon, the feeling was mutual. If Dick was away from the store for more than a couple of days, Chipper would quit eating and drinking until he returned. Chipper hugged his master and kissed his hand when he returned, then resumed eating from his usual personal menu of hamburger, roast beef, fresh produce, peanut butter and crackers, and, on occasion, a piece of chewing gum.

The shopkeeper and his pet. (Southern Engraving Company)

Cute little Chipper outsmarted many customers by picking their pocket while they were busy admiring him. Most shoppers never felt a thing when he slipped his slender fingers inside a pocket to grab a coin, or into a lady’s handbag to snag a handkerchief. Once his thievery was discovered, he used his long tail and feet to swing through the store, delaying capture. Even when caught, Dick Boone had to pry Chipper’s strong fingers open to retrieve a customer’s property.

Near the end of each work day, Chipper would settle into his little cubby and pull his blanket this way and that, until he had it exactly like he liked it. Then, he would sleep amid diverse creatures from many parts of the globe. None, but the boa constrictor could have been fodder for nightmares. Smartly, Skipper was terrified of the boa, but he got along famously with the other animals and visited them at their cages often. When the Boone family sold the Pet Shop, they sold Chipper, too. By 1969, the new owners had taken charge, but Dick Boone visited his beloved friend almost daily.

The boa takes center stage in this broadcast. (Photo by John Kelly)

Martha's daughter, Debbie, with her own pet, about 1960. The puppy's expression is notable. (Click to magnify)

Sources, in addition to personal knowledge (Pearl Hill Boone and Martha McAllister were Hill cousins) and the Boone’s family papers are: Star News, “Wild Animal Kingdom,” by Ed Newman (August 27, 1967) and The Hanover Sun, “Chipper the Clown,” by Lynne Gause (July 10, 1968).

This grand photo of Debbie and Martha, was taken about 1958. Sadly, as of this year, both are gone.

A Related post: http://susantaylorblock.com/2012/12/08/the-hills-of-queen-street/

 

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The Shortest Second


 

by Susan Taylor Block

 

While I’m looking both ways

At a crossroads so mean,

A horn honks behind me

When the light’s barely green.

 

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Where Two or Three Thousand were Gathered

by Susan Taylor Block

 

A normal day at the Cotton Exchange.

For twenty days during March and April of 1888, Robert Gamaliel Pearson, D.D., conducted a series of meetings in Wilmington, North Carolina. Amazing numbers of people gathered to hear the Presbyterian professor of English Bible from Columbia (SC) Theological Seminary. Circuses drew many hundreds during those years, but Dr. Pearson’s lectures attracted 2,000 to 3,500 people on the busiest nights.

The meetings took place at the riverfront Champion Compress warehouse, renamed “The Tabernacle” during the lecture series. Cotton merchant and Presbyterian churchman James Sprunt owned the building and gave use of the multi-roomed space for morning discussions and nightly lectures. Sprunt’s generosity to religious causes was well known, and extended to the construction of churches in Wilmington, Chapel Hill, and China.

 

Steamers usually loaded cotton night and day at Champion Compress. (Special Collections,Duke University)

Transforming a dusty, darkish industrial space into a house of worship took time and some money. Carpenters enlarged the cotton compress platform to the size of twenty by forty feet to accommodate seating for the ministers and choir. Churches and individuals loaned chairs of many different styles and sizes. Finally, just two days before the meetings began, electric lights were added to the building.[1]

 

The Champion Compress platform without Tabernacle extensions. (Cape Fear Museum)

Organizers scheduled additional men of the cloth to participate, usually by leading a prayer. The group included: The Rev. Dr. Alexander Sprunt, later minister of First (Scots) Presbyterian Church in Charleston; The Rev. Dr. John L. Pritchard of First Baptist Church; the Rev. Mr. Peyton H. Hoge of First Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Mr. J. W. Primrose of Second Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Mr. W. S. Creasy of Grace Methodist Church; the Rev. Mr. D. H. Tuttle of Fifth Street Methodist Church; the Rev. Mr. T. Page Ricaud of Bladen Street Methodist Church, the Rev. Mr. G. M. Tolson of Brooklyn Baptist Church; and the Rev. Mr. Kelly of the Seaman’s Bethel.[2]

The meetings began on March 18 and ran through April 11. Assemblies took place daily, except on Saturdays. Sizable crowds attended even during inclement weather, but on at least one evening, torrential rain on the tin roof drowned out the sound of Dr. Pearson’s voice.[3]

 

Robert Gamaliel Pearson

Though there was no discord, a special police force was required just to manage the crowds that arrived on foot, or by carriage, ox cart, boat, or train.  Another group of men served as ushers who began the seating process thirty minutes before each evening meeting. Those who had questions or comments were encouraged to attend the daily discussion group meetings.

Usual schedules went missing during the lecture series. Even Wilmington’s popular City Market kept business hours to a minimum “to enable butchers and others to attend the services.” Among other record-breakers,  the “vast throng” that gathered for the children’s service, on April 6, was said to be the largest gathering of local youngsters ever assembled in Wilmington.[4]

Contributions were encouraged for the Young Men’s Christian Association, an organization that had a heavier spiritual accent then than it does today . Classical scholar Theodore B. Kingsbury, editor of the Star News, covered the story himself. “The city was stirred to its depths,” he wrote of the Pearson meetings, but Kingsbury also noted skepticism of the plain-looking, plain-spoken man who seemed to take on mysterious power when speaking.[5]

 

The YMCA building on the northwest corner of Front and Grace streets was completed in 1891. It featured a large auditorium where revivals were held frequently. (Cape Fear Museum)

“He has none of the natural endowments that set off the great orator,” wrote Kingsbury. “His personal appearance is youthful, homely, unimposing. His voice is peculiar, and yet not without a certain fascination – penetrating and not unmusical when you get accustomed to it. He has clear articulation. His manner is deliberate, self contained. HIs mind is logical, acute, responsive, aggressive. He is not eloquent in any high sense. He is not a rhetorician. He scarcely uttered in his fifty minutes’ discourse one rhetorical sentence. He is not imaginative. His descriptions are not remarkable. Then with all this negation, what is he? What power has he as a preacher?

“We fear irreligious, worldly men will scarcely understand us,” concluded the bookish Kingsbury. “He has power of a very wonderful kind. It is the power that comes from God.”[6]

 

(New Hanover County Public Library)

The lecture series ended on April 11, 1888, and Dr. Pearson was remembered by many as the man who, “made clear to many minds that which they had never understood before.” The meetings caused many effects. One of the most endearing was money suddenly repaid many years after one listener had slipped onto a train without buying a ticket.[7]

“Previous to that time,” wrote another member of Pearson’s Wilmington audience of the man she knew best, “I could see nothing in my husband’s life that was inconsistent with the life of a Christian. He was a model of honor. In fact, it seemed to me that his ideals were so high that they were strained – he put himself last, always. On one occasion I knew him to lose $1,000 because he would not break a simple promise.

“From the time of … (the Pearson meetings) until his death (12 years later), I never knew anyone to live so close to God. His life was a living prayer. Nothing, not even pressing business, was allowed in between him and his religious duties. In fact, I think his zeal in this direction helped to shorten his life.

“The change from being absolutely upright and honorable, loyal, and true to every relation in his life,” the wife continued, “to that of being a spiritually minded Christian of the highest type was so great that it was mysterious even to one who knew him so intimately as I did. Nothing but the grace of God could have wrought such a wondrous change.”[8]

The Rev. Dr. Robert G. Pearson was born in 1847 and died in 1913. His parents were Quakers who left North Carolina to live on a farm in Mississippi. They gave him the middle name of Gamaliel after the learned rabbi who taught St. Paul during his days as Saul. The studious Dr. Pearson was a graduate of the Cooper Institute, and Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. He assisted Dr. A. J. Baird of the First Presbyterian Church of Nashville for several years before becoming a full-time non-denominational evangelist. His work took him to far flung states, and he held a special place in his heart for Montreat, NC, a Presbyterian stronghold near his home in Asheville.

Though Pearson was reticent to speak about his own life, others reported that he read the Bible through several times every year and spent a great deal of time in private meditation and prayer. His wife, Mary Bowen Pearson, a college instructor when they met, traveled with him and led daytime study groups for women.

Some of Dr. Pearson’s lectures survived because a stenographer recorded his words. They were published as Truth Applied or Bible Readings, and are available online. Mrs. Pearson edited the second edition of his book, published in 1890.

The old cotton compress in Wilmington used millions of pounds of pressure to squeeze a bail down to half of its original size.  Pearson’s sermons are compact, too. There is no fluff. Here are a few examples from his book:

“I have no patience with fanatics. Christ was heavenly-minded, but he could work at the carpenter’s bench; he could attend to his earthly duties, and still keep faithful to his duties to his Father.”

“I like literature, and I like to see scholarly men and women; but I have very little patience with that man who calls himself a child of God, but prides himself on his literary attainments and care nothing for God’s word.”

“I have very little patience with people who claim to be God’s children, saved by grace, and then go on and look as solemn as if they had been dead a week.”

“It is presumption to talk about us poor glow-worms ‘throwing light on his Word.’ You might as well talk about it being the business of a fire-fly to throw light on the noonday sun. Just get the texts together in their natural order, as they bear on any topic, and you will get the light…. Here is a diamond lying in the mud, sand, and dirt. What do you need to do with the diamond? Not to throw any light on the diamond, not to try and make the diamond shine, but just to take it out of the dust, and get these things away from it and out of it, and hold it up, and the diamond will do the shining and sparkling.”

Then, with the meetings over, Alexander Sprunt and Son resumed its schedule of packing 4,000 bales of cotton a day onto steamers, schooners, railroad cars, and carts. (Cape Fear Museum)

 


[1] Morning Star, March 15. 1888; Morning Star, March 6, 1888; Morning Star, March 16, 1888. NHCPL.

[2] Morning Star, April 5, 1888; Morning Star, March 20, 1888. NHCPL.

[3] Morning Star, March 22, 1888. NHCPL.

[4] Morning Star, April 7, 1888. Morning Star, April 12, 1888. Morning Star, March 30, 1888. NHCPL.

[5] Josephus Daniels, Tar Heel Editor, Chapel Hill, 1939. “…I devoured his editorials,” wrote Daniels, editor and publisher of the News and Observer,  of Kingsbury,.  Memorial of the First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, North Carolina: Seventy-Fifth Anniversary (1817-1892), Wilmington, 1892. Morning Star, April 6, 1888. Morning Star, March 19, 1888.  NHCPL.

[6] Morning Star, March 19, 1888. NHCPL.

[7] Morning Star, April 3, 1888. NHCPL.

[8] Sisson Collection. Special Collections. New Hanover County Public Library.

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Election 2012

“In the political world we have first a patriot, and then we have a political partisan. Now, what is a patriot? He is a man who loves his country first, last, and all the time, over and above his party, or any other party. Now, what is a political partisan? He is a man who loves his party, let it be Democratic, Republican, or what not, better than he loves his country; and as proof of it, he will stuff a ballot box, and move heaven, earth, and perdition itself to advance his party. When such a political partisan is at work in politics he is not working for his country….”      –   Robert Gamaliel Pearson, who spoke to crowds numbering 2,000 to 3,000 at the riverfront Champion Compress, owned by cotton merchant James Sprunt, in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1888.

(From Truth Applied, by R. G. Pearson; Nashville, 1890.)

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“It is Always the Fountain’s Fault”

by Susan Taylor Block,    August 24, 2012

Kenan Memorial Fountain, about 1935. (Photo by Louis T. Moore. New Hanover County Public Library)

Today’s Star News carried a fine editorial on the need to preserve Kenan Memorial Fountain, the centerpiece of Fifth Avenue at Market Street. The fountain was created from Indiana limestone and designed by Carrere and Hastings of New York, the same architectural firm responsible for the New York Public Library; Whitehall, in Palm Beach; the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond,  and many other buildings of distinction.

In 1921, William Rand Kenan, Jr. gave the fountain and accompanying walls and benches to the city in memory of his parents, William Rand Kenan and Mary Hargrave Kenan. Kenan also, along with Thomas H. Wright, Sr., built the Carolina Apartments building. According to Walter E. Campbell, author of Across Fortune’s Tracks:A Biography of William Rand Kenan, the fountain “represents the close connection between one man’s economic interests, in the Carolina Apartments, and his love for the city at the center of his family’s history.”

The New York City Public Library.

The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

In 1953, N. C. Highway Commission engineers decided to remove the fountain, declaring it a driving hazard. Debate had raged for more than a decade as increased automobile traffic seemed to shrink the intersection of the two boulevards. Historian, preservationist, and conservationist Louis T. Moore, a life-long friend of the Kenan family, worked hard to both keep the fountain and preserve the warmth of Mr. Kenan’s feelings for Wilmington. Suggestions to move the fountain to South Third Street, across from Greenfield Lake, or to the entrance to the Cape Fear River Memorial Bridge didn’t set well with some Wilmingtonians, but the local press continued to push hard to have it removed, one way or the other.

William Rand Kenan’s cousin, Owen Hill Kenan, M.D., noted that  some of the trouble came from drunks and reckless drivers who collided with the fountain. Known for his wit, Dr. Kenan wrote to Mr. Moore, “(but) it is always the fountain’s fault.”

Louis T. Moore went on a personal crusade to save the fountain, writing scores of letters to gather support. He visited his friend and neighbor, architect Leslie N. Boney, too, and told him the problem. The architect, also a friend of the Kenan family, created the compromise. Boney hailed from Duplin County, the Kenans’ ancestral home, and his wife, Mary Lily Hussey, was named for family friend Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. Working in the basement office of his Italianate home at 120 South Fifth Street, a block and a half from the fountain, he devised a plan to improve traffic flow through reducing the size of the monument by cutting away the lower tier and erecting a high wall….   What is left is precious.

http://louistmoore.com     http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20120823/ARTICLES/120829804

 

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Whitehall, the Palm Beach home of Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, is yet another Carrere and Hastings design.

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Advice on the First Day of School

by Susan Taylor Block

 

SAID MRS. LINEN,

MOTHER OF LESTER,

“DON’T BE COTTONING UP

TO POLLY ESTHER.”

 

(Ilustration by Corinne Malvern, in Kathryn Jackson’s book, Nurse Nancy.)

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“Blockade Running in North Carolina,” by Louis T. Moore

A GUEST BLOG: In 1956, multi-faceted historian Louis T. Moore (1885-1961) published a book entitled Stories Old and New of the Cape Fear Region. That one volume, reprinted in 1999, was just not large enough to contain Mr. Moore’s extensive repertoire of finely penned essays. The following article exhibits his ability to present the big picture while providing meticulously researched facts that bring focus. It is posted here with permission from the New Hanover County Public Library, where much of his work, including one thousand panoramic photographs, is preserved.    – Susan Taylor Block

Louis T. Moore and Lorna Doone, about 1955. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Moore Perdew)

The state of North Carolina today is as progressive as any in the field of industry, as well as in the field of agriculture. However, this was not the case in North Carolina during the War Between the States, over a century ago. Prior to the war we were in bondage industrially to the more economically progressive North. When war broke out, trade with our northern neighbors necessarily broke off, and supplies for the war had to be imported from elsewhere.

After the northern blockade of the Confederate ports went into effect, these war materials were carried in swift crafts known as blockade runners, and the cargoes they brought continually enabled the Confederacy to continue the fight for states’ rights, until shortly after the final capitulation of Fort Fisher early in 1865. As the success of the blockade runners in maneuvering through the blockade consistently was crucial to the South, perhaps a glance backwards into their operations may prove interesting.

Silent but eloquent reminders of the blockade runners are from thirty to forty wrecks along the ocean frontage of New Hanover and Brunswick counties. A list of many of these will be given at a later point in this narrative. They were swift and graceful steamers. They were employed in perilous operations and enterprises. As a matter of course, every trip brought danger either of capture or of sinking by the Northern fleet of gunboats. This armada hovered close to the coast in the effort to suspend the bringing in of supplies of varied nature for the Confederacy.

Mr. Moore caught his own shadow in this photo of Civil War sea history. (Photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library)

The blockade runners were designed for speed. In many cases the fast craft escaped capture simply by running away from lurking gunboats. Some finished trips with the regularity of scheduled mail boats. Many made from forty to sixty round trips successfully, accumulating millions of dollars for their fortunate owners. Cotton is just one example of the possibility of profit. It could be purchased on the Wilmington market at from three to eight cents per pound, and later sold at the equivalent of $ .45 to $1.90 per pound. It has been estimated that over one hundred million dollars worth of business was transacted through the port of Wilmington during the four years of the war.

Successful operation of the blockade runners depended upon the skill and daring of their commanders and pilots. Confederate naval officers were adept at avoiding capture. Many blockade runners were sunk or otherwise disposed of when about to be taken into custody.

The principal volume of traffic originated with the British port of Nassau, located in the Bahama Islands. The types of cargo loaded there and brought to Wilmington were of varied and miscellaneous nature. A large proportion consisted of “Nassau bacon.” This constituted meat was cured in northern packing houses, sent to the West Indies, and eventually brought to Wilmington. It was then distributed to the interior to feed Confederate soldiers. Other major items brought in by the swift ships were candles, sugar, cloth for uniforms, and cotton goods for dresses. Without supplies transported by blockade runners, the South would have been denied many of the necessities of life through stringency of war.

As a result of blockade runner operations, the accompanying volume of business made Wilmington one of the outstanding ports of the Confederacy. There were a great many Englishmen living in the town. They were representatives of manufacturers, English and West Indian wholesalers, and agents for ship owners. Many of these visitors received an unbounded welcome and became part of the social life of Wilmington during their stay.

On outward voyages to the West Indies, Bermuda, and other destinations, the fast blockade runners carried return cargoes of cotton and naval stores. Products such as these were assembled by the railroads and then loaded onto the ships in Wilmington. This volume had a direct effect upon the installation of new warehouses, enlargement of others, and employment of hundreds of laborers. Records indicate that during the period of May 20, 1863 through December 24, 1864, an excess of 264 blockade running steamers entered this port with their valuable cargoes.

Officials representing the Confederate States Government utilized the convenient blockade runners for trips to other countries, as emissaries from their official offices. In the fall of 1864, the Federal Government reached the definite conclusion that the way to defeat the Confederacy was to stop blockade running through the port of Wilmington. With this objective in view, a constant patrol of the coast was maintained by warships of the United States Navy.

The first attack on Fort Fisher by the Union fleet, December 24 and 25, 1864, was checked. Superior forces, consisting of an armada of 58 ships landing an army of 10,000 men, again attacked the stronghold, January 13 through 15, 1865. The outnumbered and exhausted Confederate defenders were forced to capitulate. This was followed by the fall of Wilmington and closure of its port facilities. In April, General Lee surrendered to General Grant. The suspension of a continued flow of supplies necessary to military operations made this necessary. So ended the struggle of The War Between the States, the result being the gradual welding of all states into one unit of government.

Many of the wrecks of those valiant blockade running ships are scattered along the coast, in the vicinity of Wrightsville, Carolina, and Fort Fisher beaches;  near Fort Caswell at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and southwardly in front of the Brunswick County shoreline. Some years ago, Captain R. N. Sweet, a Wilmingtonian, prepared a valuable map that shows the names and locations of thirty or more of the wrecked blockade runners.

 

The map Captain Sweet drew. (Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library)

Starting at the upper edge of New Hanover County and proceeding in a southern direction, the wrecks are listed in order, as follows:  Fanny, Jenny, Phantom, Nutfield, Wild Darrell, Dee, Venus, Lynx, Hebe, Beauregard, Nighthawk, Modern Greece, Condor, Petrel, Douro, Dare, Raleigh, Arabian, Antonica, Spunky, Georgiana McCaw, Bendigo, Vesta, Elizabeth, Ranger, and others. Each derelict along the coast represents an investment of about $150,000 in gold. The steamers were built for the most part of thick, durable iron. With rigging similar to that used fore and aft on schooners, with draft of eight to eleven feet, and propelled by side wheels, the wary runners depended entirely upon great speed and quick maneuverability for escape from blockaders, rather than upon gun or cannon fire.

The Fanny.

That the final marine resting place of so many of these fine ships is located near the entrance of the Cape Fear River is not accidental. It can well be realized from a study of the question. The changing nature of the coastline made an altogether successful blockade almost an impossibility. Main Inlet was protected by Fort Caswell. New Inlet was guarded by Fort Fisher. Existing dangerous shoals served to divide ships embraced in the blockading fleet.

The general plan was to approach the coast some thirty or forty miles above or below the inlets, and then steam noiselessly – always during the night – until they approached the protecting guns of the two forts.

At intervals, the Northern fleet had as many as 400 ships of war patrolling the waters between Nassau and Bermuda, and Wilmington’s port objective. Therefore it can be appreciated that is was only a matter of time until blockading was doomed. It was simply a question of which trip would be the last. When a commander found it impossible to escape, he endeavored to ground his ship and then set it on fire. However, few, if any of the ships were totally destroyed by such efforts. The high running waves usually extinguished a fire when the superstructure had been consumed.

Interesting traditions are attached to many of the blockade runners. Among these are allusions to the Fanny and Jenny. This ship was driven ashore one night late in 1864. The wreck now lies several hundred yards offshore, opposite Lumina Pavilion at Wrightsville Beach. Until recently (c. 1967), it was plainly visible at low tide. It has been said that the sturdy ship was bringing a gold and jewel-encrusted sword, bearing the inscription, “To General Robert E. Lee, from his British Admirers.” Maybe at some distant day this wreck will disgorge the give that was to be presented to the distinguished commander of the Confederate forces.

The wreck of the Georgianna McCaw rests in the sands a few miles south of Fort Caswell. Tradition says that the pilot of this fine ship, when they cleared from Nassau to Wilmington, had several thousands in gold in a belt around his waist. This was a fact which has been generally rumored among the crew members. A Federal cruiser is said to have spotted the McCaw and to have started in pursuit. A shot penetrated one of the furnaces and the ship was seen ablaze. The crew escaped to shore in life boats, but the pilot remained at his post.

Later, after the fire burned out, the crew returned to the ship to take off the pilot. They found him slumped over the wheel, dead, with his head crushed in, and his money belt missing. The ship’s watchman was found crouching in the water-logged boiler room. He had the pilot’s gold and confessed that he murdered the unfortunate man.

The ship Lynx had crossed the bar at New Inlet one night late in 1864, bound for Nassau. Mrs. Louis H. deRosset and her infant daughter, from Wilmington, were aboard as special passengers. When scarcely beyond the breakers the Lynx was pursued by the Federal  gunboat Nihon. Captain Reed of the Lynx determined to make a run in the effort to escape. His ship ran aground.

How could the infant be saved? Mrs. deRosset, the mother, gave the child to a sailor standing near. She got into a small boat which remained near the ship. The seaman tossed the infant to her mother and the latter caught the child. Thus, the infant was saved to grow into womanhood, later to become the wife of the late Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, former mayor of Wilmington and member of Congress.

(More photos at   louistmoore.com   –     click on “Chapters.”)

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Photo Puzzles

by Susan Taylor Block

(Photos courtesy of Cape Fear Museum. Click to magnify.)

In 1998, Wilmington photographer Melva Pearsall Calder purchased an album of photo negatives from Daughtry’s Old Books, then located at 22 North Front Street. In turn, Melva donated the negatives to Cape Fear Museum. The images are an amazing array of pictures of Wilmington, about 1910-1915. Subjects include the Holt-Wise Mansion and Hugh MacRae’s “Castle” on Market Street; the First Presbyterian Church manse that once stood at Fourth and Oranges streets; a series of pictures of newly constructed houses, views of the Cape Fear River, and shots of heavily clothed people in and near the surf.

The photo pictured above is one of many similar views that might have been snapped on Masonboro Sound. Live Oaks, the Parsley estate, seems a good candidate. Henry Bacon designed the house there, and it is one of only a handful of private residences that Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial, set his mind and pen to. Bacon’s other local residential work includes a house built for Donald MacRae in 1901 known today as the Ann Moore Bacon Church House, at 25 South Third Street, and his baronial alterations to the Wood-MacRae House at 713 Market Street that resulted in MacRae’s Castle.

Finian, William Hooper’s old Masonboro Sound residence, is another guess for the backdrop. Agnes Parsley purchased the property in 1899, and, according to Crockette Hewlett and Mona Smalley, authors of Between the Creeks, Revised, proceeded to turn it into “a sort of clubhouse, setting up pool tables inside and a bowling alley outside.”

The Calder Collection includes a view of Agnes MacRae Parsley’s 1886 residence at 711 Market Street, next door to her brother’s home.  It’s possible that the photos of fresh construction are of dwellings built almost simultaneously for other members of the Parsley family, on Masonboro Sound.

Melva Calder did a very good thing when she placed these valuable images in public hands. The folks at Cape Fear Museum conserve them and take delight in learning more about each one. If you can identify any of the people pictured on this post, please feel free to comment below. The information will be passed long to the museum’s registrar.

 

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The Rocks

Photo by John Reid Murchison II. (Click on image.)

by Susan Taylor Block

“The Rocks, which shuts out the ocean from the river.” – An observer, in 1907.

The Rocks, and called the project “one of man’s marvels.” New Inlet, named without much creativity in 1761, when it was opened by a violent storm, made passage into Wilmington more difficult. Spearheaded by cotton exporter James Sprunt, The Rocks project, begun in 1871, deepened the channel from 7 to 16 feet and allowed larger ships to enter the Cape Fear River.

Civil engineer Henry Bacon, Sr., (1822-1891) designed the coquina and granite seawall and supervised construction. The foundation of the wall across New Inlet was made by sinking a line of “mattresses” filled with logs, brush, shells, and stones. The rockier material came from Rocky Point, near the site of Maurice Moore’s plantation known as “The Vats.”

Building The Rocks. In right foreground: William Berry McKoy and future bride, Katherine Bacon, the civil engineer’s daughter. (Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum)

Three floating derricks, one of which was steam-driven, covered the dam with heavy rock. The total amount of granite alone was 16,756 gross tons. The result was a mile-long water fortress that was around 30 feet high and about 120 feet in width. The New Inlet project was pronounced complete in July 1881. Eight years later, Bacon finished another dam, twice as long, known as Swash Defense Dam, from Zeke’s Island to Smith Island.

The name Henry Bacon lives on today in Wilmington, but most references are not to the civil engineer who designed and executed The Rocks, but to his son, Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon, Jr., who spent a large part of his youth growing up in Southport and in Wilmington. Bacon’s surviving masterpieces in Wilmington are Live Oak, on Masonboro Sound, and the Ann Moore Bacon House at 25 South Third Street.

 

—–       See Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T. Moore      http://louistmoore.com/federal-point/       for a panoramic vintage view.

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